Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunstone 2002: The Church and Its Scholars: Ten Years After

I have started to re-listen to cassettes of sessions from the 2002 Sunstone Symposium, and thought I’d offer some brief comments and observations about them. The first session I re-listened to concerned the 10 year anniversary of the 1992 Sunstone Symposium where Laviana Fielding Anderson presented her 20 year sketch on the ‘deteriorating’ relationship between the Church and its scholars. The events of that session in 92' appear to have had some effect on the eventual excommunication of Anderson, something I’ve never fully understood, along with the cases of some of her contemporaries. Anderson is obviously very attached to the Church, even loyal, certainly a believer, but one who finds plenty to be concerned about in the world of contemporary Mormonism, especially in regards to the relationship between the institutional Church and the individual member. The cases of Anderson and the dozen or so prominent LDS intellectuals to have been excommunicate between 1993 and 1995 are worthy of perusal, and you should be able to find much information there on at the Sunstone website and elsewhere.

In this session Anderson reviews what she said ten years prior and reiterates her continued agreement with, and the perhaps disturbing continuing relevance of, the conclusions she presented originally. Anderson’s basic material was pretty familiar to me still, but I got a lot out of hearing the respondent Armand L. Mauss, author of ‘The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation’, put forth his somewhat folksily styled perspective. Mauss believes that the escalation of these issues into media circuses and out-and-out conflict with the Church leadership does nothing to better the situation at hand. While sympathetic to the experiences of many of those who feel hurt by the Church in regards to a perceived backhand to there concerns and ideas, Mauss feels that one must remember that grassroots change is not likely to be imposed on the leadership of our hierarchal Church, least not in any short period of time. He advises members to remember that the Church is not a democracy and that continued affiliation means one has to live with the flaws and occasional short sidedness that comes with that. However he also says that the cultivation of good relationships with Church leaders both local and general can help get ones opinions heard, and is the most likely and least potentially destructive way to have an influence on the ecclesiastical body. I sympathize with Anderson’s idealism, but Mauss’s pragmatism better reflects the current state of the Church, and the mostly likely avenue to change in official tolerance of divergent conceptions of what it means to be a Mormon.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Extreme Mormons. Knowing satire on LDS cinema. For those not familiar with the Richard Dutcher reference click here.
Oddly fascinating video. 'Early Mormonism and the Magic World View', meets Scientology by way of the Sunday's on the E! network.
The 'Straight and Narrow blog' reviews the new Joseph Smith manual for Priesthood and Relief Society lessons.

Mormons, Catholics, and Lineal Authority

Here is a link to a little video that puts forward a common theological argument shared by Catholics and Mormons, namely lineal authority. Both faiths trace the authority of their priesthoods back to Christ, the Catholics through St. Peter and the various Bishops of Rome, Mormons through a restoration of divine authority through Joseph Smith. In both traditions this lineal authority is considered paramount to their respective claims for validity. The model here embraced being Christ's ordination of his apostles, which follows in the path of the priestly ordinations (Aaron and his son's), or divine commissionings (Moses and the burning bush) of ancient Israel. Protestant faiths (with the possible rare exception) don't make these lineal claims, of course most of there theologies accept a amorphous 'priesthood of all believers', which is helpful when ones attempts to latch on to a lineal line would prove problematic (i.e., forced recognition of at least some degree of Catholic priesthood legitimacy).
Norman Mailer Died

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

David Byrne and Temples

I am a fan of the music of David Byrne, formerly of 'The Talking Heads', and was surprised to learn he knows so much about Mormon temples. His focus of interest in temples seems to be centred on the architecture, something I gather is a hobby from his song 'Don't you worry about the Government': "I pick the building that I want to live in; it's over there, it's over there!" Thanks Ken Jennings blog for bringing this to my attention.

Mormons and Presidents: Polk- Taylor

# 11 James K. Polk (1845-1849)

Polk is a president of greater historical significance then his current relative obscurity might indicate. This is mainly in regards to the role he played in expanding the boarders of the United States through the Mexican-American War, a conflict into which the Latter-day Saints would become mildly involved, but which would have a great impact on, by bringing what would become Utah territory under U.S. control.

As mentioned before Joseph Smith was a candidate for the Presidency in 1844, having decided to run for the office after finding none of the early anticipated candidates to be sufficiently aligned with the Church’s intrests. Smith died in June of 1844 after the emergence of Polk as a ‘dark horse’ candidate at the Democratic National Convention. Interestingly Polk embraced several of the same political positions that had been central to the late prophets platform, including annexation of Texas and Oregon, and support for a strong national bank. This might explain why LDS voters favored Polk that November, helping him to win Illinois nine electoral votes by a 54% margin to Henry Clay’s 42%. Before Smith’s death there had been rumors that he would be willing to withdraw from the race and support Polk in exchange for a position of political patronage.

In office the president resisted the entireties of several prominent Illinois politicians to exert federal pressure in speeding the Mormons departure from the state. He must have felt some sympathy for the persecuted people as he is recorded to have given a $10 donation to there aid, and his wife attended a benefit dinner for the beleaguered pioneers in the summer of 1847. But Polk’s concern for the Mormons was tied not just to a sense of compassion and his recorded firm support for the exercise of religious freedom. The president was also concerned that the Mormons could complicate his plans for western expansion by either attempting to form their own independent state, or aligning with a forging power such as England. As a consequence of this the president authorized the enlistment of a ‘Mormon Battalion’ to serve in the war with Mexico, hoping to ensure loyalty through government service. This idea appears to have originated in full or in part from a Colonel Thomas L. Kane, a prominent Missourian and friend of the Mormons, who had the ear of the president. Kane felt this action would foster a sense of joint interest with the Saints and U.S. government, as well as providing the Mormons with some much needed funds from the solders wages. Ultimately the Mormon battalion saw no combat (save an encounter with a bull), but did complete the longest overland march in U.S. military history. After their discharge in California several of the solders found temporary work at Sutters Mill, and were present for the discovery of gold in 1848.

# 12 Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)

Mexican War hero General Zachary Taylor, a political novice, was elected President of the United States in 1848. One of Taylor’s main political concerns was in halting the spread of slavery into the western territories, this despite his being a Virginian and slaveholder himself. The president worried that the recently admitted slave state of Texas, owing to its incredible size, might in time be divided into multiple slave states. To counter-act this possibility Taylor hopped to admit to the union a huge non-slave state encompassing California and most of the other territory gained from Mexico, all with the intent of then splitting the new state in two as a greater counter-wight to Texan power. This plain however was not to be, owing first to a lack of support among California’s emerging political establishment, who didn’t want to be yoked, even temporarily, with the Mormons of Deseret (1). Secondly, by 1850 Taylor had become unfavorably disposed towards the Mormons, owing to the negative reports he had received concerning the Church’s practice of polygamy, as well as charges of disloyalty. The Church’s representatives in D.C., John M. Bernhisel and Almon W. Babbitt, confirmed Taylor’s hostel views of the Mormons after a meeting with the President, not to long before his death from food poisoning (2).

1. The names the Mormons gave their unofficial state, from a Book of Mormon word meaning ‘honeybee’ and signifying thrift and industry.

2. Taylor died from spoiled food consumed at a Independence Day picnic. Tests conducted on the exhumed corpse several years ago found no indication that the poisoning was intentional.