Spring has been cancelled

Not really, of course. But the Church announced that the public has been invited to watch 2020 General Conference from home. Church meetings worldwide are suspended until further notice. Many universities have cancelled in-person instruction and will conduct the rest of their semesters via remote instruction.

Summer events such as the June conference of the Mormon History Association may be cancelled, depending on the COVID-19 precautions recommended as weather warms. [Current expectation is that COVID-19 will *not* be slowed by the advent of warm, humid weather.]

Even those of us without a tradition of spring cleaning are purchasing the products that get rid of 99.99% of viruses and wiping down surfaces that many hands touch. I and others have been offering outstretched elbows to bump in lieu of the traditional hand shake.

A few years ago a bad flu season blew through, and I switched our household from using common cloth towels for hand drying to paper towels – reportedly more hygienic than common air dryers. It’s a switch which I am glad to maintain in the face of this season’s challenge.

This isn’t the worst disaster. Even the worst projections I’ve seen for COVID-19 pale in comparison to the numbers who died from the Spanish Influenza a century ago.

But this is the disaster of our day. What tips do you have for how to adjust to the social distancing we’re all having an opportunity to practice?

What do readers think of #DezNat?

I don’t use Twitter, so I have completely missed the #DezNat phenomenon until now.

What is #DezNat? It is a Twitter hash tag used by people wanting to defend the Church. The reference appears to be to “Deseret Nation,” which I guess is meant to promote faithful members of the Church.

Why did the movement start? Here are some links that may describe some of the history:

https://www.abc4.com/news/local-news/deseret-nation-alt-right-mormon-militants-or-twitter-truth-defenders/

http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/72212-deznat-deseret-nation-white-nationalism/

https://www.facebook.com/DeseretNation/

To sum up what I have been able to discover, Twitter has long been dominated by questioning/left-wing/or anti-Mormons when it comes to issues related to the Church. People who post things that support the Church have been consistently derided or attacked, often mercilessly. (This is one of the many reasons I don’t use Twitter).

Sometime in the last two years or so, people began to fight back. They adopted the hashtag #DezNat. To hear supporters tell it, this finally created a sense of community where defenders of the Church (always in a minority) could find common cause. There finally were social media members willing to defend the people defending the Church.

Critics of #DezNat appear to make various claims: 1)#DezNat people are often rude and sometimes use vulgar language. 2)#DezNat people are homophobic, sexist, encourage death threats, etc. 3)#DezNat people are alt-right. 4)#DezNat people create mean-spirited memes. 5)#DezNat people sometimes go overboard and use some of the same tactics as the anti-Mormons they dislike.

This is a post that offers people the opportunity to either 1)defend #DezNat or 2)point out specific examples of bad behavior. I will be moderating comments, so no profanity and please look at M*’s comments policy.

Anybody who has followed this blog knows that I constantly have defended the Church. The tone police have often accused me of being too harsh at times. But I don’t use profanity, and I try to be as fair as possible, and I try to follow these guidelines (the link is a talk by Elder Von G. Keetch, a General Authority Seventy, to students at Brigham Young University–Idaho):

In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul teaches that members need to be an “example of the believers.” However, Elder Keetch explained that being an example “is much more than just living the principles of the gospel for others to see. … Those same principles need to be part of our conversations, of our love for others, as part of the spirit we convey, as part of the faith that defines who we are.”

When confronted about beliefs it is easy to want to “sound a hasty retreat,” or “become defensive in a point/counterpoint debate,” said Elder Keetch, who gave several suggestions on how to become an “example of the believers.”

First, he told students that whenever there is a heated argument or contention, “the best way to proceed is with love, respect, and understanding, while never abandoning the conviction of truth that we hold in our hearts.” Furthermore, it is the most effective to follow the Savior’s example and to engage people one on one, he said.

How does the above apply to social media? I think we are all working that out. Does #DezNat defend the Church in a way consistent with the above advice? That is what I am trying to find out.

Is anybody willing to defend the people defending the Church?

I have been in the on-line latter-day Saint world for almost two decades now. And in that time, I have seen several trends. One trend is that the vast majority of people active in the on-line world tend to move left over time. There are exceptions, of course, but the vast majority of people I have interacted with in the on-line latter-day Saint world are more left-wing today than they were 20 years ago.

To define terms: by left-wing I mean more willing to criticize Church leaders rather than to support them. And I also mean more willing to criticize your typical traditional, conservative latter-day Saint. I personally have observed the sad process of more than 100 people on-line transitioning from active, temple-worthy Church members to inactive, open critics of the Church. And for these people, the bad guys are always some “conservative TBM” who offended them in some way. (TBM: “True Blue Mormon” or “True Believing Mormon.”)

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Individual change is more important than trying to change society

I would like people interested in this post to watch the first half of the video above. To summarize: a climate activist asks Jordan Peterson what can be done to change society, and Jordan Peterson says people should concentrate on changing themselves first. The climate activist is very unhappy with the answer.

Setting aside the triumphalist nature of the above interchange, I believe there is a very important Gospel-related message for the Church of Jesus Christ audience: what is more important, trying to change society of trying to change yourself? The answer is clearly the latter, ie, trying to change yourself should take precedence. All you have to do is listen to one session of General Conference — or read a few chapters of Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament or read the Book of Mormon — to see that the Church of Jesus Christ concentrates on self-improvement over societal improvement.

And the reason is that true followers of Christ believe that self-improvement will naturally lead to societal improvement.

Now this does not mean you should not be involved in societal improvement. Far from it. The Church encourages its members to be involved in politics and in their communities. But the emphasis is clearly and emphatically on self improvement first.

Readers will be familiar with the Book of Mormon pride cycle. To summarize, society is doing well, people get filled with pride, things go down hill, people suffer, people are humbled, they turn to God in sincere prayer, and things get better. And then people get filled with pride again, and so on.

How does society get better? When individual people humble themselves and turn to God to overcome individual sins (such as pride).

What do the scriptures say? Jesus’ teachings concentrated almost entirely on individual improvement, not societal social justice. He called on his followers to improve themselves, and when Jesus was asked to take political stands, such as answering whether people should pay taxes, he said, “”Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21). Jesus’s message: God cares about individual improvements and individuals turning to God more than he cares about secular government.

Why do prophets and the scriptures concentrate on individual improvement? Because this is something we can control. I am not saying it is easy (far from it), but an individual has much more power to change himself or herself than to change society. On a local level, you may be able to organize hundreds of people to oppose that new development, and therefore change the society around you, but most people seem to care about big, national and international issues that they cannot control instead of the local issues they can effect.

The classic case of worrying about something that is beyond your control is of course the climate change movement. There is nothing we human beings can do to change the climate in the short term, and in the long term the amount of collective action needed to make any significant change is massive. The IPCC reports indicate clearly that collective action could only change the climate by a few tenths of a degree C over decades, and even then we see significant problems with all of the IPCC projections. There are serious reasons to believe that even collective action cannot change the climate. Yet we see people like the woman in the above video and people like Greta Thunberg spending a huge amount of energy on a issue they cannot control or change.

Satan loves it when people concentrate on things they cannot change, rather than the things they can change. Satan does not want us to improve ourselves. He wants us to spend our energies on causes that are the least important things so we will not have time for the most important things. Elder Oaks discusses this in his classic talk, “Good, Better, Best.”

Modern-prophets constantly ask us to improve ourselves through individual action: observe the Sabbath, go to the temple, spend more time with our families, study the scriptures, do ministering visits, teach Come Follow Me with your families. Notice that prophets concentrate on things that members of the Church are able to do — they don’t give us impossible to reach goals.

So, to summarize, there is nothing wrong with being concerned about international trends and national politics. I certainly am concerned about these things. But where are our hearts? Do we spend most of our time and energy on things we cannot control or on things we can control? That is the key question.