Category Archives: Church

What I didn’t say, 6 Feb 2017, topic Are Mormons Christian gospel topics essay.

This was in a priesthood lesson, using the Gospel Topics essay on “Are Mormons Christian.”  I did say some things, I probably made more comments than anybody else, but I was left with more things I didn’t say to address problems in the way the lesson material was presented.

“Emperor Constantine (the Great) decided to become a Christian.”

This is an exaggeration at best.  The only sources claiming he was baptized were the priests in  his bed chamber when he died, and they certainly had a vested interest in seeing to it that the rest of the world saw him as a Christian.  What Constantine clearly decided was that the Roman Empire should be Christian, and he did his best to build the Church into the Empire during his reign, and to root out any tools of oppression and persecution of Christians on the part of the Roman Government.  His mother was a Christian.  But I don’t accept the argument that he himself was Christian because he had a very long time to have publicly become one had he wanted to, and he didn’t.  And I’m not a believer in death-bed conversion, even if that story is true, which I’m not persuaded of.

The(first) Council of Nicea

This is a widely misunderstood event.  The problem arose that a presbyter (elder) named Arius proclaimed that Jesus was created by God, and was not co-eternal with God the Father.  This led to a slogan to the effect that “There was a time that the Father was, and the Son was not.”  Arian and proto-orthodox priests, elders and bishops gathered at Nicea to address the problems Arianism was causing throughout the Empire.  They fought about this inside the Council, while other monks chanted slogans and occasionally scuffling with staves, until Constantine the Great came into the counsel, proclaiming the proto-orthodox position to be correct, the Arian position to be anathema, and told everybody to go home and burn their Arian writings.

The reason this was such a big deal that Constantine felt motivated to intervene was that Constantine was looking at Christianity as a way to build some stability and cohesiveness into an increasingly unstable and disunited Empire.  Even when Christianity became the state religion, that didn’t mean that everybody was Christian.  Having Arian ideas like that Jesus was created left believers in traditional Roman religion (aka “pagans.”) free to say “Sure.  I believe Jesus is god, but so is Jupiter, and he was around a lot longer.”  Which was an untenable position for this would-be unifying force.

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed constituted a statement of faith that all orthodox Christians could memorize and agree with.  The business parts of the Creed (imo) are as follows:

We believe in one Godthe Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God,] Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

The payload of this section is the last part of the quoted material above.  The part about the Father, Son and Holy Ghost being “of one substance.”  Elsewhere, this is translated as “consubstantial.”  The Greek word being translated thus is ?????????, which very clearly means “one substance.”  This clearly states that the Arians were wrong, wrong, wrong, but, in case that wasn’t clear, the last section nails that down as well:

[But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’— they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]

Constantine also ordered all Arian materials to be burned.  There clearly was no respect for those of diverging opinions on display here.

Many believe that Mormonism isn’t Trinitarian, but that’s based in a misunderstanding of what the Trinity means.  Many Mormons believe that it means that Father, Son and Holy Ghost are trapped in one body, which becomes whichever of them is needed at any point in time, but this is actually a heresy known as Modalism, which Catholics dislike approximately as much as they do Arianism.  The Trinity doesn’t require its members to be in the same set of substance, and is commonly described as “God in three bodies.”  The sticky point of Trinitarianism is that, although there is a three-ness going on, there is only one god, so as to avoid polytheism.  This is a bit tricky to understand, and I suspect that most people who claim to believe in the Trinity have no great understanding of the details of how the doctrine of the Trinity is seen to work.  Also, there are places in the Book of Mormon which sound quite Trinitarian, like Ether 3:141 Ne. 11:21, and Mosiah 15:3.  However, I will posit that the Mormon concept of the Godhead does not differ significantly from the Orthodox concept of the Trinity.  Where the problem comes in is with the notion of bodies among the members, particularly the Father.  Mormons believe that Father and Son both have physical bodies which are tangible and exhalted, while the Holy Spirit is, as the name implies, a Spirit which enables him to do things which a body would make more difficult to go along with his missions as Comforter, Prompter and Revelator.  Trinitarians believe that the Father is a being of spirit (what is to have happened to Jesus’ body after his resurrection, I do not know), as well as the Holy Spirit.  This would be the most direct conflict as to the nature of the Godhead of which I am aware.

Moving along:

“We are just like the early Christians.”

This one really isn’t sustainable.  What would work more honestly would be “We see ourselves as being a continuation of the original Christians, prior to what we call the Great Apostacy.”  Because we do see ourselves that way, but the only way we could live up to the claim in the quote would be if we spent significant time studying the writing of the Early Church Fathers and showing how what they believed and taught was at all similar to what we believe and teach.  But I’ve never even heard that idea suggested in my whole life in the Church.  We tend to take a very oversimplified and presentist approach to the past.  We think that things that were written 2000 years ago are sooo ancient, and that none of them could have survived, but that’s really not the case.  To a classicist, or an historian of the ancient world, the beginning of the Christian Era (aka, when we used to measure dates as Anno Domini, aka AD, now designated as CE in the world of historians, designating “Christian Era,” or “Current Epoch,” or some combination of words to produce the acronym) is not some inconceivable period that is so long ago as to be incomprehensible —  those working with the history of Ancient Egypt, for example, work with periods going back to 10,000 BCE (Before CE).

The Great Apostacy

This is a very slippery concept.  It’s usually taught that, after the death of Jesus, there existed a single Christian Church (as we have denominations and churches today) that was administered by his chosen Apostles, possibly with Peter acting as the President of this Church, but essentially a mutatis mutandis Mormon Church in structure and doctrine.  Over time, as the original apostles died off and weren’t able to be replaced (due to inadequate transportation and communication technology of the day) until there was no longer God’s authoritative structure, and so the priesthood was withdrawn from the Earth until the early 19th Century restoration via Joseph Smith, a time period we call the Great Apostacy, or the Dark Ages.  However, we fail to account for which event in history we can use to designate when the Great Apostacy began.  Since we explicitly teach a very literalist view that John the Revelator was also John the Evangelist and John the Beloved/Apostle, and that, in the personage of John the Beloved, he was promised that he would not die, we can’t really stick to the idea that there was a point that all the Apostles were dead, since John must be alive even yet.  So, although I heard several times in the lesson that “The Apostacy had already started,” I don’t know what authority the teacher was invoking to make that claim.  I also would suggest exploration of the book The God Who Weeps by Teryl and Fiona Givens that points to many beautiful and inspired works produced during this time, and challenges many of the assumptions about this so-called Dark time.

And, for those lacking historical background, Dark Ages refers to a time with a lack or absence of written records.  Not particularly to a time when things were really evil or bad.

TBM Guide: Definitions and concepts

Groups/types of Mormons:

Belief classifications:

  • Traditionally Believing
    • The TBM.  Generally believes this group to be the only real Mormons, with other groups not really being Mormon.  Label is most likely to be imposed on someone, rather than self-selected.  Some translate TBM derrogatorially:  Truly Blind/Brainwashed Mormon, etc.  I only use it to mean Traditionally Believing Mormon, which I do not see as derrogatory.
  • Literally believing
    • Refers to literally accepting every spiritual claim of the Church and any of its leaders, and of scriptures.  This means a very literal six day creation, a young (6,000 year old Earth), literal global flood, etc.  Generally describes the TBM.  “The scriptures say it.  I believe it.  That settles it.”
  • Nuanced Believing
    • Believes in God, Restoration, Priesthood, etc., but with understandings that are less than literal.  Generally make literalistic TBMs uncomfortable
    • less literally believing
      • Looks at the same events that a literal believer takes at face value for their symbolic meaning.  Not usually associated with the TBM,  but some TBMs are open to less literal readings.  Sometimes “Mystical believers.”
    • Non Believing
      • Cultural (only) Mormons
        • Raised in a Mormon setting.  Generally model themselves around Cultural Jews — identifying themselves with the people and identity, but not necessarily as devout or believing the tenets of the religion.
    • not literally believing
    • Agnostic
      • Literally means “I don’t know.”
    • Atheist
      • Don’t believe in God.
      • Believe there is no God.
  • Some categories of less/not literally believing Mormons:

    • Sunstone Mormons
      • People involved in the Sunstone Foundation, whether through subscribing to Sunstone Magazine, or attending any of the Sunstone Symposia.
    • Dialogue Mormons
    • Bloggernacle Mormons
    • Prefix-Mos
      • A term I use to describe a number of categories of Mormons that are outside the box.  Such as:
      • Ex-Mormons
        • People no longer affiliated with the Church.  Stereotyped as “angry,” and more likely to attack the Church and become anti-Mormon from the perspective of the TBM
      • Post-Mormons
        • People no longer affiliated with the Church, who accept that their time with the Church is over, but without the assumption that they are angry about it.
    • NOMs
      • New Order Mormons, who are trying to make a space for themselves, and a less-literal understanding of Church matters.  May or may not have retained a belief in Church truth claims, but what belief and testimony they have will be much more nuanced than what it was at an earlier date.

The TBM’s guide to the wide world of Mormonism

I think I’m going to start some writing under this title and might turn it into a podcast, because I see lots of TBM oriented podcasts and lots of nontraditional Mormon podcasts, but never do the twain seem to meet.  My friend and very TBM blogger Kathryn Skaggs, who blogs as a Well-behaved Mormon Woman, tried addressing this gap a few years ago, and got jumped by her readers for labeling them.  I think staying with some explicitly non judgmental defintion of terms  might help avoid this outcome.  but, then, that’s my standard approach, which tends to produce no response, rather than outraged responses.

Thoughts on this plan are, as ever, requested.

Why this sustainer isn’t opposed to “any opposed.”

I sustain the leaders of the Church as prophets, seers and revelators.  Recently, a group of people who do not openly voted against them at General Conference, setting off a small firestorm of angry and uncharitable comments about them throughout the TBM community.  Although I disagree with their opinion on this matter, I don’t see what they’ve done as terrible or wrong.  I see it as a desperate act of those who are trying to have their concerns heard, if not addressed, and I see it as a failed effort, as the leaders of the Church, in the voice of Pres. Uchtdorf, once again refused to listen to them, and referred them to local leaders who will not pass the details of those concerns along, and will likely threaten their membership.   Continue reading Why this sustainer isn’t opposed to “any opposed.”

I won’t be Tenchi

In recent conversations I’ve had about sex, particularly among Mormons, I’m reminded of a phenomenon I’ve noticed in some Japanese anime series, most particularly Tenchi Muyo. Tenchi Muyo tells the story of 20-something Tenchi Masaki, who lives with his grandfather and a group of extra-terrestrial women, all of whom pursue him romantically. That is, they fight over him, and who “gets” him, on an ongoing basis. However, if he ever gives any indication that, at any point in the future, in any kind of context (like, after marriage), he has any interest in having sex with any of them, he is declared to be a “pervert,” and, usually, slapped.

Now, I am not the object of romantic rivalry between any number of women, let alone extra-terrestrial women. But I do find myself being treated with suspicion and accusation for wanting to talk about sex. I’ve not yet been slapped for it, or openly called a pervert (which is good — I will not hesitate to refer anyone slapping me for assault charges), but I’m not willing to let this suspicion and accusation issue go unchallenged.

In a Mormon context, sex is a very important thing. Sex with anyone other than a heterosexually married spouse violates the Law of Chastity, which is seen as among the most serious of sins (sometimes, second only to murder in severity). I don’t disagree with the standards of the Law of Chastity, although I do think the ways in which the subject is treated among Mormons can become unhealthy. Laura Brotherson, a Mormon therapist, has written a book on the subject titled And They Were Not Ashamed — Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment that discusses the importance of a healthy sexual relationship in marriage from a Mormon perspective. Interest in sex is normal, and a good thing. Discussion about it isn’t necessarily inappropriate. Sexual conversations, of course, can be inappropriate. But where the purpose of the conversation isn’t to encourage people to inappropriate sexual behavior, there is some room for conversation.

My positions on some Mormon questions.

It has occurred to me that some folks might be interested in/concerned about where I stand on some key questions about Mormonism, particularly when I’m speaking up for people who are being accused of apostasy. This will kinda be a wordy version of what could be nicely handled by a Mormon Geek Code if such a thing existed and was widely understood.

The Church is true?
Yes. But I’m not entirely certain what “true” means. But my Yes is solid and unequivocal.
The Book of Mormon is true?
Yes, solidly and unequivocally also. Again uncertain about “true” and reasonably certain that the explanation of who and where it describes that I was taught as a child is not literally true. I’m okay with the legendary descriptions of how it was translated not being literally true, and I’m also not bothered by horses, iron, swords, concrete, etc.
Prophets are fallible men inspired by God.
Yes. So stories about their frailties, mistakes and bad choices don’t blow me away – I’m interested in those stories, but they don’t impact the first question at all.
Plural marriage
Also doesn’t blow me away, even the post-Manifesto stuff. Don’t expect to practice it in my lifetime.
Book of Abraham
My position is a hybrid of the Catalyst Theory and the Missing Papyrus Theory. The papyri we have were not written by Abraham and do not contain the text of the BoA. However, there might be missing papyri which contain that text and could possibly have been written by Abraham (but I doubt that last part). The text is the word of God, and I’m not bothered if it is not literally connected to the Abraham Papyri.
Ordaining women
I don’t know. I’m not persuaded that this is necessary, or that it would be good. OTOH, I strongly support the ability to ask for this, on the grounds that it’s always okay to ask for what you want, as long as you will gracefully take “no” for an answer. I don’t accept that that answer has been given yet.

Pants Day is Coming!

I was not, originally, a fan of Pants Day last year.  I was thinking “Oh, those wacky Mormon feminists (that I love — let’s be clear) are just picking a fight they don’t need to pick, and this is a bad idea.”  But I love Mormon feminists, so I paid attention to what they were saying, and I found they weren’t being as wacky as I originally thought.  Things I learned by listening:

  • This wasn’t a protest.
  • This wasn’t violating policy — pants have been approved for women to wear to Church for decades.
  • The point was to help Mormon feminists (and fellow travelers, like me) to identify each other, and to provide a time when those who haven’t had as much contact with the Church of late could come and find people who might be able to help them find a place within the Church.
  • Wearing of pants wasn’t required to participate.  Wearing purple would do.

So, nobody was being disobedient or rebellious, and people were coming to Church who hadn’t in a long time.  Looked like all up-side to me.

And then I went to the Salt Lake Tribune’s website, and looked at the discussion on an article about the event, and was, frankly, disgusted.  Not by the rebellious, garment-burning feminists, but by the out-of-control reaction of their opponents.  Threats of violence and death — this is not an exaggeration.  Ugliness and verbal abuse all over the place by people who clearly prided themselves on being “good” Mormons, but who clearly had a shaky grip on the notion of how a Christian is supposed to behave.

That was when I decided I was going to participate and support this.  Not because I think women wearing pants to Church is very important — I don’t.  But because I wanted to do what I could to show that the hateful and disgusting rhetoric of those idiots on the discussion board do not represent all Mormons.

I wore a purple shirt and a tie with purple in it that day.  I didn’t see any women in my ward in pants, but I did see a sister wearing purple and her husband said to me “Oh, yeah.  We were supposed to wear purple today!”  He was wearing a white shirt, which he usually didn’t.  But the mission was accomplished — I had identified myself as a participant to those in the know, and had connected with folks who were open to things on the less-than-orthodox side of Mormonism, like me.

I’m going to do the same thing this year.  I’m no more feminist than I was last year (and no less, either).  I don’t think I’m going to be any more “out” because of it.  But I want to join with my feminist friends in making a space within the Church where those who feel like they don’t fit in can feel welcome.  The Church needs Mormons of all kinds, with all kinds of labels and perspectives and relationships with the institutional Church, until we all come in the unity of faith.  Not unity of opinion — unity of faith.  Those who are more drawn to notions of social justice, equality, and voting for Democrats are necessary to the Church reaching its potential, just as those drawn to notions of traditional values, hard work and voting for Republicans are.  Like 1 Cor 12 says, all kinds are needed — a body needs eyes, feet, hands, and a spleen. Even a butt-hole (try running a body without one for a while and see how that works for you), so there’s room for me.

I invite others to join me in this.  Be you eye, hand, or NOM or ex-Mo or non-Mo.  Put on some pants or trousers or purple and show up and you may find yourself in the presence of brothers and sisters you never knew you had.  I am surrounded by brothers and sisters that I see as such, who don’t see anything like that in me.  15 Dec.  LDS.org can help you find a meetinghouse close to you, or the congregation that you live within.

Letting Go Some More

God,
Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I can not change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.

We all need all of those things every day, even on good days. When the days aren’t so good, we need them more. Letting go of our desires and wishes and wants and needs and letting God drive the bus is hard. I remember days when it felt like the sun would not rise if I forgot to get out there and push to make it happen. Realizing that making my knuckles white was accomplishing little to nothing, and might actually be working against what was best was very hard. The best thing about hitting yourself in the face with a hammer over and over is that it feels so good when you stop.

My contribution to the world is small — a very small drop in a very large ocean. It will not accomplish what I want it to accomplish. It will not earn the gratitude and attention I would like to receive from it in my neediness. But it is mine to contribute, and enough drops in the ocean can make things different. If I do what God wants with it, then it will be made best use of. If I can let go of those wants, desires, expectations and even needs (hardest to justify, but not the hardest to let go of), and allow God to direct me, my needs are taken care of, and things work out for the best.

I just wish it wasn’t so hard.

Divorce and Remarriage an Abomination for Mormons? Answering a Christian Friend.

This is a response to some questions from a friend who has been in a number of abusive relationships and marriages, and is a devout mainstream Christian. Her questions sprang from a vow she made as a small child to marry once and forever. Looking at that in the light of some of the statements found in the Bible regarding, divorce, women and remarriage, she wondered if she was now destined to be single forever because she had broken this vow and the rules shown in these statements. My response is closely tied to the questions you’re not seeing, but I tried to put enough context in that you could see basically what I was responding to.

Yeah. Many have made such vows to marry once and forever, and lots of clean and pretty young Mormons with a couple or three small children and a few years into the process look down their noses at those who were not able to make it work. Life has a way of teaching us that there is more to it than we understand. I can’t speak too much to the Catholic perspective. I respect it, but I don’t understand or share all of it that I do understand.

Yeah, I know some folks get hung up on that notion of “wife forever” in a coercive way. I am not a biblical inerrantist, so hanging on a few proof-texts really isn’t my style. My personal theology includes the notion that God is not a jerk. He’s not going to force someone to be miserable through eternity for things not their fault or for bad choices they have repented of. There is a Mormon notion that God doesn’t function through compulsory means, and that individual choice is eternally protected. By “notion” I mean “core doctrine,” in this case. So, there isn’t really much doctrinal support for the notion of wives-as-chattel, and strong (IMO) doctrinal opposition to it. Continue reading Divorce and Remarriage an Abomination for Mormons? Answering a Christian Friend.