Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Journal of Discourses

This 26-volume compilation of sermons by many prominent Mormon leaders in the later half of the 19th Century, has become quite controversial over time. Now you can's read the Journal of Discourses for free, by clicking here.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Sealed Portion of the Book of Mormon

For over 175 years Mormon have longed for the contents of the 'sealed' portion of the Book of Mormon. Well this guy say's he's got them, and the Book of Lehi too.

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks on Criticism and Church Leaders

I have decided to include here a link to an (edited) copy of Apostle Dallin Oaks 1986 address to "a Latter-day Saint Student Association" on the topic of criticism of Church leaders. As you may recall from a previous post I had mentioned how Elder Oaks comments against the vocal criticism of Church leaders in the PBS documentary 'The Mormons' had raised an eyebrow on my part. Well Elder Oaks was basically giving a super-condensed version of what had said to the Mormon students in the middle 80's, and what is doubtless a widely, if not universally held opinion of those in the upmost hierarchy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As I read the piece a myriad of different responses came to my brain. For a while it looked like it would result in a rather long post. Later I though about condensing things to a brief analysis of a few choice quotes. In the end however, after reading thought the whole thing, I came to understand where Elder Oaks was coming from. The system or procedures he describes for dealing with complaints and possible abuse issues regarding Church leaders is a multifaceted one, with several backup mechanisms. It is not perfect, but I find if I'm honest with myself, my main problem with it is that it would not be very satisfying to my ego. There are other legitimate complaints I may have as well, but I suppose if they where to ever come to a head I could probably deal with them through the system. Anyway read Elder Oaks talk (its about seven pages) and ponder, its an enlightening look at the way the LDS Church prefers to handle criticism.

A Firm Foundation in a Shaky World

I am including a link to the June Ensign article "A Firm Foundation in a Shaky World", as it might be classified as part of the 'New Openness' referenced in my previous post. The article is by Adam C. Olson but contains a good number of quotations from Apostle Henry B. Eyring, as well as Portages Saints, and uses the story of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake as a metaphor for crises of faith. The article references existential crises that can result in the minds of Church members when confronted with seemingly critical information with which the know not what to do (ala Book of Abraham post). That this is recognized and acknowledged is good, the way in which it is responded too is however less good.

First off the 'shaken' person is described as of 'weak' testimony. This is more then just a little bit marginalizing of sincere people troubled by information they are unprepared for. However I can understand the temptation to use the label 'weak' on the part of the 'spiritually strong', though it is not a particularly noble one, I'm sure that I've used it (or something like it) in my past.

The article does not provide any real good advice on how to respond when a troubling question is raised by others, rather it points to the 'tried and true' 'Sunday school answers'. The Sunday School answers may be fine, but there are many among us who enjoy some more immediate and pragmatic advice to go along with it. What exactly that would be, I'm not really sure, perhaps just resources, like perhaps a Church website devoted to difficult questions would be nice, or a more advanced Sunday School class even.

Of course in all such articles the old Saturdays Warrior dictum of "line upon line, precept on precept" is advanced (yes I am aware that that is originally from the D&C, as cited in the article). I suppose that's a good fall back for ones personal ease of mind when no obvious answers present themselves. I have survived spiritually for many years on the dictum that 'I get just enough answers to just enough questions to keep me going'. However as something of an intellectual, and perhaps out of pride, I've never been greatly happy with that solution, at least in the current proportion to which I have had to relie upon it.

Anyway mentioning this problem deserves some kudos, though the way it was answered might use some work.

The New Openness?

It is interesting that the Church has released today a statement responding to charges (is that really the right word?) of a "New Openness" on its part. I have already addressed this issue somewhat on a previous post. Over the last few months, particularly since the airing of the PBS documentary on the Church, I have noticed what I perceive as an increase in officialy sanctioned pieces that address the legitimate concerns of outsiders as well as members. At the forefront of this in the Ensign article on the Mountain Meadow Massacre, which comes in the 150th anniversary year of the event, and around the same time as the release of a new theatrical movie about the massacre. I have not read the article as yet, but I understand it to be pretty honest about those shameful happenings in the Church's history.

Interestingly the Church statement seems to want to attribute the perceived openness to changes in the media cycle, which arguably have been around for years, rather then to any particular event, or pressure from any group. That's fine as far as it goes, but I think myself and many others wouldn't have a problem with the Church responding in the way that it is, due to specific triggering instances. There is precedent for responding to the times going back to the Old Testament, indeed that's largely the point of having a prophetic and inspired leadership. But public relations pressures, and a perhaps over-desire to avoid anything that seems like the Church is following a course dictated by circumstances beyond its control, make these more general, thus belated seeming statements, par for the (non outside dictated) course. I'm not saying that a changing media and information environment isn't a major factor in the welcome advent of the new openness, but I just find the timing interesting, as well as a(perceived) institutional preference for a certain rhetorical closedness even in openness.

What to do about the Book of Abraham?

I am providing here a link to a discussion on The Book of Abraham on the blog ‘Skeptical Mormon’. At the beginning of this post you will find a you tube type video about the Book of Abraham. I saw this video a number of years ago, which I rented from the ‘shelf of Mormon related video material’ at the public library that I mentioned in an earlier post. The video is packaged in such a way as to make it unclear at first glance as to what position it will take on the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. Be for warned that the position it takes is that the Book of Abraham is a fake. In fact I would classify this video as perhaps the most effective ‘anti-Mormon’ presentation I have every seen. This is in part do to what I remember as a reasonable sounding tone, but also do to the evidence provided. The most damning of which is a document written by Joseph Smith, that attempts to make explicate the translation of the Book of Abraham text from the papyri the Church purchased from a traveling showman in 1835.

It is from this papyri that the Book of Abraham is generally said to have derived within the LDS Church. In fact Joseph Smith made this point fairly explicate. The document I referenced earlier contains various symbols, or hieroglyphics from the papyrus on one side, followed by the supposed translation there of on the other. In this case you have one symbol, followed by roughly a paragraph worth of ‘translated text’ ‘derived there from’. “This looks pretty ridicules”, was my first though upon watching the video, in oh about 2003. It still looks ridicules, particularly in light of the fact that we now have translation of the same material from qualified Egyptologists. Let me explain:

Over course of time the ‘Joseph Smith Papyri’ became lost from the Church. It at one point was widely believed to have been destroyed in the great Chicago fire of the 1870’s. However in the 1960’s the Papyri were discovered in the possession of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, who turned them over to the Church in 1967 (they are now presumably in the Church archives). Anyway this discovery doubtless generated some excitement within the Church, particularly over the prospect that the text might be translated by others thus confirming the Joseph Smith translation. This however was not to be, as the ‘Book of Abraham Papyri’ is in fact a copy of the rather common Egyptian funereally text known as the ‘Book of the Dead’.

The Papyrus that Joseph Smith had was torn along several of the illustrations now included in the Pearl of Great Price. When these torn fragments are lined up along side more well preserved copies of the Book of the Dead, we find differences between the original illustrations and those now included among the Mormon cannon. The torn out areas in the Mormon text have had the illustrations completed by another hand in ways that more clearly line up with the Book of Abraham narrative, while the original illustrations look quite logically more Egyptian. The best example of this comes from Illustration # 1, where the figure that is identified in the PoGP as "The Idolatrous priest of Elkenah" turns out to in fact be the jackal headed Egyptian God Anubis.

The discovery of the ‘Book of Abraham Papyri’ has resulted in considerable rethinking of the text on the part of a number of Latter-day Saints, particularly those involved in apologetics. In order to explain why the text does not match up with the translation a number of theories have been proffered. The first I refer to as the ‘Bible Code Theory’, one which was advanced, or at least mentioned by, a senior missionary and former BYU religion professor I knew in Tennessee. This theory, like the so-called ‘Bible Code’, proposes hidden meaning within an existent text. In other words, it is translatable as one thing, but ‘hidden between the lines’ is another more esoteric meaning. This theory of course seems more then a little bit of a stretch, though that self same professor informed me that the Egyptians were notorious for layering meaning within a text. I have no further supporting information for this contention however.

The second and perhaps more popular meaning, at lest among many current Mormon apologist, is that the papyri served as the inspiration, rather then the source material for the Book of Abraham. According to this theory Joseph Smith's contemplation of the acquired papyri, would have inspired God to revel to him the contents of a missing account of Abrahams life, that is at lest tangentially related to ancient Egypt. The illustrations or facsimiles would have been filled in by Joseph or some one else for any number of reasons, perhaps simply to provide compelling and authentic seeming visuals to accompany the story.

Now none of these takes on the Book of Abraham is as satisfying as a direct translation would be. However if we grant the authenticity of the ‘rediscovered’ Papyri as being the same which belonged to Joseph Smith, as most do, then we are seemingly left in this predicament. So what are we to do about the Book of Abraham? I do not know, and have thus left the issue long upon a mental backburner, concentrating instead on other matters. But as this matter has been brought up again by my reading, perhaps now would be a good time to take a second look at the controversy, and the disturbing possible implications it offers. Now this is the first time on this blog, or possibly anywhere, that I have brought up an issue so seemingly damning to (at least certain) Mormon truth claims as this one. Let me try and emphasis that I do so in good faith. I am a practicing and largely committed Latter-day Saint, but I can not deny new sources of (seemingly) legitimate information just because they are inconvenient or I do not like them, or prefer that they were not true, ect. I must at some point, as must all who come in contact with this information to some degree, deal with it. So I open up in the comment section room for responses from all quarters as to the question, what are we to do with the Book of Abraham?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Unitarian Universalist Serive

I though I would take some time and comment on my recent visit to the Unitarian Univeralsits congregation here in Boise (or more accurately Garden City). I enjoy attending the services of other faiths from time to time because I am theologically curious. I used to attend a protestant service or two around Easter and Christmas time, so I could check out various denominations and mostly go unnoticed in the holiday crowds. I hadn’t done this in years until a couple of months ago when I attended (and quite enjoyed) a Quaker service with a friend. Anyway my current theological mode has me attracted to more liberal denominations, and one can’t get much more liberal then the Unitarians.

Last Sunday I arrived at the Unitarin worship center (it has a name but it escapes me at the moment, I know they now prefer not to call them church’s however) about ten minutes before there main service (which starts at 10 am). There were a number of vehicles with left wing bumper stickers in the parking lot, and I think I was the only attainder to wear a tie. As I approached the entrance to the building, one of the greeters was trying to get a dove to de-perch from the open door. Seriously, a dove, or something similar. He picked up the bird, it was remarkably calm, and he and a few others began to speculate that it might be a lost pet. I don’t know how the birds story resolved, because as I entered the main sanctuary (after passing through the small lobby), another man greeted me, asked if I was new, discovered I was, and gave me some informational packets, and a name tag. Apparently the Unitarians divide those attending there services into three general groups: Unitarians, Friends, and Newcomers (like in Alien Nation?), I believe I was considered a ‘newcomer’. The congregation probably numbered around fifty, but there was a healthy amount of visitors, who are asked to identify themselves in much the way we Mormons might recognize ‘newcomers’ in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. In fact the main service area looked more like an auxiliary room then a chapel, it was horizontally rather then vertically organized, with padded chairs in a rough semi-circle around the pulpit area, grand piano located off to one side.

Anyway on to the service. If I where to briefly encapsulate the experience, I would term it ‘religion by way of PBS’. Now the Unitarians have a long and varied history and have changed forms over the years. About forty years ago they would have mostly called themselves Christian, but today they are a more loosely defined fellowship composed of atheists, agnostics, Wicca, nature based spiritualists, possibly Gnostics, and Christians (the latest information I glanced indicated only about 13% of current membership identify themselves as belonging to the latter category). So there congregations are a home for many on the fringes of the American religious experience. They pride themselves on being a non-judgmental place to gather in fellowship while perusing ones own personal spiritual course. As such, many who have become disillusioned with the faiths of there childhood turn to the Unitarians.

Okay so that last paragraph didn’t turn out to be about the service, hopefully this one will. ‘Religion by way of PBS’ I said, or NPR, or a university classroom, it is eclectic and intellectual. Basically the premise is to gather from any source across the length and breadth of human experience, that you find spiritually resonate. On this particular Sunday we heard perils of wisdom from the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright (who I now have to purchase a biography on), Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Sanskrit Poet, Albert Einstein, and a deceased congregation member. Even the musical selections follow along these lines, with a ‘hymnal’ that consists of selections from various spiritual traditions, as well as great secular works (mostly folk music I would surmise) and compositions but Unitarians themselves. The primary ‘hymn’ we sang was Unitarian, and spoke of embracing change and building community. We were also favored by several selections from Beethoven, performed by a supremely talented pianist. He even did a jazzy variation on Beethoven that you can’t help but love, during the ‘passing of the plate’. I will pause and say that the one thing I really didn’t like about the service was the passing of the plate. That always makes me uncomfortable. I think Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have it right when they have members make donations in private.

Now to recap the order of the service, I may get a few things wrong, as I probably should have written this earlier as I don’t have a copy of the program and some of the events have blurred in my memory. There was a general greetings, followed by handshaking and introductions, as well as special recognition of visitors. There was a kind of a prayer, and a ceremonial lighting for urn or what have you, that stayed lit throughout the service. Announcements were made concerning congregational business and activites that would occur throughout the weak. There was a textual reading that would correspond to the scriptural recitations found in some churches. There was singing, there were piano selections, there was plate passing. I have gotten repetitive.

The main sermon/talk/lecture was from a 1955 article that Frank Lloyd Wright (who was a Unitarian) wrote for some ’homes’ magazine. In it Mr. Wright recounted a lesson on design, individuality and nature that he gave to some architecture students of his, which employed sea shells as a metaphor/example. There were actual sea shells used in the course of the monologue, and books about Mr. Wright were available for perusing after the service. This particular lesson was given by an architecture enthusiast and construction management student at BSU. Members of the congregation routinely give ’talks’, though there is also a pastor figure, who is presumably paid. This week however she was at a national Unitarian conference in Portland.

The aspect of the service that I liked the most came at the end of the ’sermon’. There was a question and answer period, a group discussion, that was quite stimulating and enjoyable. They all seemed very comfortable with one another, polite but willing to good naturedly challenge points made by others. It was at that point ’thinking how adult this kind of service was’ that I noticed there was only one child (probably about 11 or 12) in the congregation. I’ve long though that Unitarianism is really more a faith for converts then anything. The people that come to Unitarianism generally appreciate it because they did not appreciate the dogmatism of their former faith, they like the freedom that it provides. However this same amorphiesum provides relatively little in the way grounding for children. Principles are good, but young people (to my experience) tend to prefer a strong narrative grounding or mythology, in association with a strong even restrictive behavioral code to flourish in the faith of their childhood. Or as I once heard a Unitarian say, their 'children have little to rebel against', and by extension, little to anchor to, at least until they mature unto a more adult spiritual sensibility. Unitarians feel free to critique me on this.

Anyway I had to rush out after the meeting to do some home teaching so I didn’t get to stay for the informal post discussion discussion, or ask any questions. I enjoyed the Unitarian experience though, and might stop by again some other time.

Seventh-day Adventists & The Atonement

There are many who dismiss the Latter-day Saints as unchristian because of some of there more peculiar beliefs. This same standard holds for most of the faiths, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Scientists, that many protestants label as ‘cults’. An interesting exception to this rule would be the Seventh-day Adventists. In a recent post on a MySpace group someone identified this faith as occupying a ‘Christian with cult-like tendencies’ substrata of faiths, along with Pentecostalism. I have heard this same sentiment of Evangelical tolerance for the Adventists as an eccentric from of still legitimate Christianity before. In light of what I read today I find this curious. Produced below is an excerpt on Seventh-day Adventist belief from scholar Harold Blooms 1992 book, ’The American Religion’:

“Since 1844, Jesus Christ has been at work blotting out sin, which turns out to mean something very different from forgiving sin. Adventists part from Southern Baptist Fundamentalists, for one instance, in that repentance and forgiveness are hardly even provisional. You can die utterly repentant, and apparently forgiven, and yet your bad influence ongoing long after your death still can be held against you. Salvation will come only when all sins are blotted out by being placed by Christ upon poor Satan, the universal scapegoat, after which Christ will descend again to earth, as it was hoped initially he would have done on October 22, 1844.

“I cannot think of another American doctrine, even among the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that assigns so crucial a role to Satan. Were that malign spirit to be blotted out prematurely, then there could be no salvation for Seventh-day Adventists. Ellen White’s Jesus is more a defense attorney for mankind then he is the bearer of the Atonement. In a mad literalization of the rituals of Leviticus, the necessity of the Christian Atonement vanishes. Satan, unwillingly of course, takes upon himself the sins of the world, and so we are given what in effect has to be called a Satanic Atonement. Perhaps that is the final vengeance of those who suffered the Millerite Great Disappointment of 1844. Ellen White’s sturdy frustrations are at last set aside at the expense of the ultimate scapegoat. Amiable as Ellen White was, there is something dangerously unamiable about this doctrine, and one need not be a Christian theologian to observe that it is scarcely Christian.” Pg. 156 (For the recorded, Mr. Bloom does not consider Mormons to be Christian either, but rather are members of a new religious tradition.)

Now I generally give a lot of leeway to groups that want to identify themselves as Christian. As far as I’m concerned, one qualifies oneself as Christian, in a worldly sense, by embracing Jesus Christ as the central character, indeed the overarching lynchpin to ones personal salvation. However here, with the addition of Satan as a secondary but essential salvation figure, an argument of non-Christian statues to the Seventh-day Adventists might have weight. Though I hasten to add that I have not as yet firmly embraced that opinion, as I only recently learned of the doctrine and am still processing its implications. I would be curious to hear responses on this from any source. Both in terms of the implication of the doctrine, and as to the uncertain statues that Seventh-day Adventism occupies (to many) on the cult-to-Christian Spectrum.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Recent Experience

I had an experience the other day that I thought I’d share. I was in the local library, in the video section, looking around, and I couldn’t help but hear the conversation of this couple, who where probably in their late 30’s. They were looking for videos to check out, and (the man I presume to have been) the husband, picked up a copy of ‘Rain Man’ said he thought it was good and recommend they check it out. The wife dismissed this saying that she found the movie ‘kind of annoying’, and continued poking about for something to rent. I believe there was a little more conversation after that point, but I don’t recall any specifics other then that the women came across in an off putting manner, maybe she was just feeling particularly grumpy that day.

Anyway’s, after a short time they’ve both made their selections and head to the ‘audio/visual’ desk to check out their choices. I guess they may have been returning their previous rentals at that time (though maybe they had turned them in before they went looking for new selections), but the women in a very clear voice complained to the attendant that there copy of ‘Temple of the God Makers’ was bad. She said that they’d checked the tape, cleaned there VCR, and done everything they could have done to make it play clearly but it wouldn’t, she attributed this to presumed heavy use of the tape. The attendant must of communicated that there was really nothing he could do about that, because the women excused herself and quickly hunted down the shelf where the videos on Mormonism are kept. She simply skipped over the less sensational titles, and grabbed the one remaining anti-Mormon film there, I believe it was called ‘The New Mormon Challenge‘. It was as if she was determined to go home with something negative to watch about Mormonism, all the while having been pretty negative herself (largely by way of vocal tone and general demeanor).

This whole exchange upset me, and in fact I was rather surprised that it did, I thought I had gotten over such things by now. It may have just been that combination of the women’s general pissyness and air of superiority that set me off, but it also brought me back to something that I had noticed before. About half a decent sized shelf at the library is held over for video material related to Mormonism. It seems that every time I’m there most of the ‘anti-material’ is checked out, and from what I’ve gathered from the different remaining anti titles I’ve glimpsed over the years, it makes up about half of the collection. The other half is mostly church produced videos that sit there alone, undisturbed, continually unused. Even the PBS materials on the Church, or the episode of Biography on Brigham Young, mostly serve as sentinels marking the location of this section, situated between ‘Cults’ and ‘Quakers‘. It just seems that most of those who look into the church look only so far as will confirmed there pre-dispositions about it. This is particularly disturbing to me because all of these people live and work besides Mormons everyday, as Ada county (where Boise’s at) is about 20% LDS. The fact that so many of my non-Mormon neighbors are so seemingly willing and eager to believe the worst about my religion, and by extension myself, just makes me kind of sad. I mean couldn’t they afford to look at other sides of the issue? Any thoughts?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Some Thoughts on the use of the Identifyer 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' over the Term 'Mormon'

This always seems to come up every now and then, the desire to reemphasis the real name of the Church. One of the reasons its not as regularly used when describing the faith as some may wish is because its so darn long. I mean really “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”? That’s nine words, or only eight if you count the hyphen. Whatever happened to something easy like Methodist, even United Methodist? I know the name came from the D & C, buts its not a particularly practical one for others to use in conversation repeatedly. Yes I suppose they could make the effort, but come on. Now ‘LDS’ does make it easer for repeated usage and should probably be the preferred vernacular. The Church would prefer the use of “Church of Jesus Christ” for a media short hand, buts that’s not practical either, most wouldn’t know what church was being referred to, besides which it’s a trifle heavy handed on the PR front.

Mormons not a bad term, its easily identifiable. We’ve adopted it, perhaps reluctantly over the course of time, but its now intimately tied in with our sense of history, culture and identity. I mean we still call it “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir”, and we still refer to “Mormon pioneers”. I don’t have a problem with the word or title Mormon, save that people don’t always readily identify it with Christianity, and it’s a broader term not limited to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like it or not the polygamist in Colorado City and else where are as much Mormons as we are, owing to shared heritage and formative beliefs. To say other wise is like saying Free-Will, Missionary, of Seventh-day Baptists aren’t Baptists because they don’t belong to the SBC. We as a people have got to get over our bipolarized approach to the term Mormon, “We’re not Mormon, but don’t call those Mormons Mormon, people might think there Mormon like us.”

Thursday, June 7, 2007

"A Word of Warning"

I got permission from the poster of this article to analysis it here on my blog. The poster goes by the name Ammon, and posted the following text on an LDS MySpace discussion board. Having heard about such missives in Jon Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven" and elsewhere, I was excited by the opportunity to dissect one, both for style and content. Ammon could probably be vaguely defined as a Mormon, though he does not appear to be a member of the mainline, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rather Ammon suggest this group to be perhaps the most accurate organized Church in the world, accepting the Book of Mormon as scripture, yet holding to a understanding of salvation that is more Evangelical in nature.

"A word of warning from the Lord unto the churches of the restoration...Behold, I say unto my church in Salt Lake City, Repent! and remeber my covenant people even the Lamanites. Your programs have failed in times past because you have attempted to help my people with selfish motives. The money you use on rebuilding Babylon and her places of commerace should be spent on bringing relief to my covenant sons. Are they not easy to find? I have gathered them together on reservations but because of your neglect to continue uneducated and poor. Carry them on your shoulders, offer them education and relief without expectation. And you will avoid wrath when they come unpon the gentiles as a young lion amoung the sheep.Further more I say unto you... thine endowments are a stench unto me, they are a remnant of the secret combinations of satan and his angels that he gave to man in times past. Your secret handshakes and passwords will not gain you entry into heaven, but only the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Repent in sackcloth and ashes and come before Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you who have entered these dead temple works, because in many things my people do err because they are led by the precepts of men, but if you have true faith in my Son, your sins will be forgiven you.To the churches in Independence..Repent! and cease to bicker one with another. Come together in unity and show the world that the Book of Mormon is a source of true brotherhood and not contention and strife.Specifically unto the Community of Christ I say... Repent! Cease from trying to please the world, repent of the abominable pratices in your midst, which are not pleasing unto me. Cease to give that which is sacred unto those who are not worthy through baptism, cease to ordain women to my priesthood, why do you reject the role of mothers, the most important role for building up my kingdom and raising up princes and kings. I will not suffer long with you.Thus saith the Lord unto my churches. Amen and amen.June 5th, 2007"

Now that we've had the text let's begin to dissect it.

A word of warning from the Lord unto the churches of the restoration...
Opening reminiscent of the Doctrine and Covenants or the New Testament.

Behold, I say unto my church in Salt Lake City, Repent!
The text address a number of 'branches' of Mormonism, in a style similar to Biblical Epistles addressing the seven Church's of Asia, ect.

and remeber my covenant people even the Lamanites.
Read: American Indians.

Your programs have failed
The Indian Placement program and other efforts to better the Native Americans.

in times past because you have attempted to help my people with selfish motives.
Bad motives are often the cause for divine reputation in scripture

The money you use on rebuilding Babylon and her places of commerace should be spent on bringing relief to my covenant sons.
Use the money being spent on the redevelopment of downtown Salt Lake to help the Indians.

Are they not easy to find? I have gathered them together on reservations but because of your neglect to continue uneducated and poor.
Extends prophecy's found early in the Book of Mormon to there present state. The genitals would kill many 'Laminates' and drive them from their lands. Here the text suggest that this was part of God's plan, to bring the 'remnants' to reservations, where they could be best aided by his Church, in preparation for last days events. Yet the Indians by and large are still in a deplorable state of readiness, having not be adequately aided by the Church.

Carry them on your shoulders, offer them education and relief without expectation.
Help them unselfishly...

And you will avoid wrath when they come upon the gentiles as a young lion amoung the sheep.
If you do God will turn the wrath of the future reinvigorated Laminate peoples away from their Christan benefactors. Some parallels to Passover.

Further more I say unto you... thine endowments are a stench unto me, they are a remnant of the secret combinations of satan and his angels that he gave to man in times past. Your secret handshakes and passwords will not gain you entry into heaven, but only the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Repent in sackcloth and ashes and come before Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you who have entered these dead temple works,
Rejects the more esoteric and 'works' oriented theological innovations of Joseph Smith. Perhaps these are written off as the works of a fallen prophet. Endowment, ect. is works oriented not grace oriented and is to be rejected. Endowment consists of fragments from dark and secret works of Satan, parallels here to anti-Masonic fears of Joseph Smith's time, and passages in the Book of Mormon condemning 'secret combinations'.

because in many things my people do err because they are led by the precepts of men, but if you have true faith in my Son, your sins will be forgiven you.
God will forgive those of righteous heart who have been blinded by the works of men.

To the churches in Independence..Repent!
Now addressing the Community of Christ church, the former RLDS.

and cease to bicker one with another.
Referring to large theological divisions within that church.

Come together in unity and show the world that the Book of Mormon is a source of true brotherhood and not contention and strife.
C of C needs to return to proper recognition of the Book of Mormons scriptural statues, something now in dispute within that body.

Specifically unto the Community of Christ
Here Church being referenced is specifically identified, something not done in references implicitly oriented towards LDS Church above.

I say... Repent! Cease from trying to please the world, repent of the abominable pratices in your midst, which are not pleasing unto me.
Calling on C of C to reverse current trajectory in becoming like a mainline protestant church, such as the Episcopalians whose Sunday school literature they sometimes use.

Cease to give that which is sacred unto those who are not worthy through baptism,
Perhaps the C of C does not have rigours enough standards for their baptismal candidates.

cease to ordain women to my priesthood,
Something the fmr RLDS Church has done since the mid 1980's.

why do you reject the role of mothers,
This article takes said ordination of women as exemplative of a larger rejection of traditional or 'God given' women's roles.

the most important role for building up my kingdom and raising up princes and kings. I will not suffer long with you.Thus saith the Lord unto my churches. Amen and amen.June 5th, 2007
Standard closing, and presumptive date of revelation.

Conclusion: Well I have no definitive conclusions to present here as generally understood. I just wanted to analyse the thing. Mostly interested in its use of style and language that would be recognizable to Latter-day Saints as having scriptural aspirations. Ammon will probably comment below.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Jesus Camp (2006)

This is a paper I wrote for a class last semester on documentary film, thought I might include it here for discussion.

Examining Jesus Camp
Nate Dredge
Comm 494

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s documentary Jesus Camp is a well made expose of an evangelical American subculture. It is important to point out however, that the people, practices and beliefs depicted in this film, are just that, A evangelical American subculture. Someone not well versed in the varieties of American Evangelicalism, might come away from this film viewing it as representative of the movement as a whole, this is off course not true. Jesus Camp gives us a look at a particular bread of charismatic Pentecostalism, one that accepts women preachers such as Becky Fischer, embraces speaking in tongues, is militantly anti-abortion, and is within the orbit of Republican national politics. This association of conservative evangelicalism, with Republican party politics has become so commonly held in our national psyche, that the film is able to say some things about this larger national group by examination a chosen sub-set. So while much of the politics of the film are not interchangeable with Evangelicalism as a whole, it is representative of a sizeable constituency within the movement. With this constituency having grown to immense political prominence, particularly within the years of the second Bush presidency, Jesus Camp can be said to be particularly relevant to the time of its production.

The aim of the film can be seen as a political one, while the actions of the individuals depicted in the film appear non-coursed, and indeed the vast majority of the participants in the project later stated they felt ther depiction there-in to have been fair, the movie is constructed rather blatantly along political lines. Counterpoint to the Republican subjects of the documentary is provided in the framing of the film, which features radio personality Mike Papantonio, of the decidedly liberal Air America network, opining on his fears regarding the aforementioned powerful constituency. Papantonio comes in and out of the film several times, each time commenting negatively upon the group of which Becky Fischer and Ted Haggard are presented as representative. However Papantonio comes across as a balanced and removed observer, objective in a way the documentary’s other participants are not. Papantonio, who describes himself as a Christian by upbringing, can disparage against the methods and teachings of Fischer and her ilk as being, “not the Christianity I grew up with”, but rather a warped, or a just ‘not quite right’ variant there of. Papantonio is always shown to be fair and reasoning, while the others in the film are depicted as so wrapped up in their little world as to be removed from true reality.

The final scene of the film, when Becky Fischer takes here vehicle through a car wash while listening to a reverend preach conservative social politics on the radio, is subtle invocation of Papantonio’s, and by extension the filmmakers, views of their subjects religion. The car wash constitutes a ‘warped baptism’, one removed and not truly purifying of the individual that experiences it, as such it is reprehensive of Papantonio’s views of Ms. Fischers faith. This false baptism climaxes when the wash doors open reveling a Pier One Imports and a freeway, a decidedly commercial landscape. This commercial landscape of chain stories, highways, and billboards with simplistic Christian sentiments emblazoned upon them, are repeatedly displayed throughout the film, and wedded to the vision of the America Ms. Fischer and her co-religionist are trying ‘to protect’. This wedding of politically conservative and eccentric evangelicalism, with a bland corporatist Midwestern environment is cemented in these images overlay with Becky Fischer’s comments about loving and wanting to preserve there way of life.

Explicitly the film is about the experiences of children at Becky Fishers ’Kids on Fire’ summer camp in Devils Lake, North Dakota. While a good number of children are depicted in the film, it keeps its focus through following a few in greater detail then the rest. Foremost among those followed are Levi, Rachael and Victoria, with there families and associates providing additional commentary. While this is the straight forward subject matter of the film, as stated before the implicit meaning is in the packaging. The framing once again is important for this, because of the political aspects of the film. The sense of time in the film is very much built around the resignation of moderate supreme court justice Sandra Day O’Conner and the fight to appoint conservative justice Samuel Alito to fill her set. As Papantonio points out in the film, Fischers emphasis on a youth ministry serves duel theological and political purposes, that combine in fostering the creation of an youthful ‘army for the Republican party’. As the Tory children toward the end of the film (after there instructive period at Becky Fischers camp), mix with politically influential preacher Ted Haggard and travel to Washington D.C. to protest abortion, Papantonios point seems to be born out. This is also the subjective meaning of the film, Fischer and her associates dress in religious jargon something that is mostly political in social impact.

That any group socializes and instructs its young so as to perpetuate its traditions and world view is not something that in itself is liable to cause much controversy. Jesus Camp however manages to infect a slightly sinister tinge to this process as practiced by Becky Fischer and others. To make this affect in advocating a implicate sense of disconcertion on the part of the audience, it is important that its point of critique extend beyond the political. Politics is subjective, viewers opinions on the issues vary, but if an audience can be brought to think that some indoctrination method is harmful to the participants, they are more likely to reassess and think critically about what is being presented. This can be aided a little through slight and subtle tweaks with the material, such as the use of the foreboding music when showing the camp at night. More effective however is to see the effects of the process on the subjects. We are presented with many scenes in Jesus Camp of impressionable young children reacting with strong emotions to there experiences at the camp and else where. That these children have internalized and taken what they have learned at face value is manifest in many ways. The young girl speaking of ‘dancing for the flesh sometimes’ shows the assimilation of a rather heavy, sexually laden and adult conception of sin, incorporated into her perceptions of what many of her piers would doubtless view as harmless childhood play. The emotional devastation and fear shown on the faces of children called out for hypocrisy and sin by their leaders, should be enough to convince many viewers that they are witness a type of spiritual abuse, and that the kids are being harmed on a psychological level.

The movie is subtle in its implicit advocacy by its seeming neutrality. The interaction of the crew with the subjects is minimized, we don’t even hear the film makers during interviews,something that should naturally take us out of the cinema verta aspects of the work. It is perhaps not a wonder that so many of the participants in the film, failed to view the finished project in a negative light, despite implicate criticism within the context of the film. They are presented as they are, nothing explicitly negative is said. The theologically an politically committed subjects of the piece see things within a filter of belief not shared by the audience at large. It is through a purportedly objective viewing of the subjective worldviews of the participants of Jesus Camp, that the audience sees these figures within a context evoking fanaticism. The movie I think dose have a proverbial ax to grind, but it is skillfully handled and for the most part wilded in a manner that does not seem overly reactionary. As a film it displays a masterful understanding of construction and subtle implication, it allows its subjects to do its advocacy for it in a thought provoking manner.

God vs. Gods

Okay, here’s a few thoughts on the God vs. Gods thing. Ancient Israel had a problem with the idolatry, so the prophets where continually tasked to exhort the populace towards exclusive worship of their covenant God Jehovah or Yahweh. It was important to delegitimize the polytheistic worship of multiple god’s then common in Canaan. Further, since Elohem was operating mostly out of the picture, according to a common Mormon reading of the Old Testament, the pre-incarnate Christ was the only God with which they where to have anything to do. When the other members of the Godhead (Holy Ghost, The Father) were re-introduced during the New Testament period, emphasis on their unity of purpose was gradually confessed to one of substance. Hence the Trinitarian concepts of God codified in the creeds of the time of Constantine.
My friend Tom Sheepandgoats tells me that (like Glen Beck) New York state radio personality Bob Lonsberry is quarky and LDS.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Is God's Love Conditional? Or, An Excuse for Me to Write About Mormon Civil Liberties

This 2003 Ensign article from Elder Russell M. Nelson has surely caused a great number of people some concern. This is how I responded to the issue on another blog, though here slightly toned down to better suit the tone I have in mind for this blog (plus I've had a few more minutes to refine my thoughts):

This is an odd article. Elder Nelson spends some time citing scripture to indicate that God’s love is ‘conditional’. He stresses that the doctrine of God’s unconditional love is a false one inspired by the devil. Elder Nelson then references a few verses indicating the God’s love is, in fact, unconditional, or in his own parlance that ‘God loves the sinner’. He then sums the thing up stating : “The full flower of divine love and our greatest blessings from that love are conditional—predicated upon our obedience to eternal law.” So why doesn’t he just say in the text of the article (and in its title) what the summation seems to indicate, that the full blessings of God’s love are contingent upon obedience, not that God only loves the obedient? My guess is that Elder Nelson, like many other members of the church, is more concerned theologically with getting to a desired end result ( i.e. personal righteousness (read obedience + grace*) and exaltation for church members)), then complete intellectual honesty/openness and respect for the process. In other words, better to motivate through fear if it works, classifying any possible ‘slight misdirection in the details’ as of little importance. I needless to say, am not a big fan of this approach. However I do recognize its effectiveness, and that it may be born from frustration with the inherent 'inefficiency's' of the alternative system.

On my mission I served in a stake that was notoriously strict, it went above and beyond church policy in terms of its stances on the drinking of caffeine, what constituted appropriate activates for the youth, ect. However compared to the boarding stakes it had higher temple attendance, conversion rate, ect, ect. I think the perceived effectiveness of hard-line stances, and motivation through fear, such as I perceive Elder Nelsons comments may be endorsing, makes it very difficult to convince ’bottom line’ motivated proponents of such, that these stances and polices could be destructive to individual members ( i. e. causes excessive and unwarned guilt, ect). Members thusly hurt might be considered a sort of ’collateral damage’ if they are even thought about or recognized at all. However it might be pointed out that the Church’s ’higher standard’ also serves as one its greatest sources of attraction for both life long members and converts. I think a political metaphor here might be apt, some think that a suspension of some civil liberties might be apt to better further the war on terrorism, while others believe such infringements undermined the very Constitution and free society that we seek to protect. I for one am generally more comfortable with the latter approach, though would make some minor concessions (politically) given they were subject to proper judicial oversight. I would like to here other peoples thoughts on this, meaning the theological aspects explored here, but you can weigh in on the Patriot Act as well if you would like to.

*Though not necessarily in the same way most protestants understand it.