At the April Women’s Conference, Cheryl Esplin used the imagery of a mirror and a window to talk about reaching out to others.
‘Be someone who reaches out to know and serve others—throw away the mirrors and look through the window.’.
Business people will know very well the imagery of the mirror and the window, but used in a different way than Sis. Esplin did in her talk. The image is used in Jim Collins’ celebrated business tome Good to Great. In the book he explains that when things aren’t going well in a company, revenues or stock prices are down, employee performance is suffering, customers are leaving, mediocre leaders look out the window for explanations: to the market, competitors, customers, employees or other factors they see as mostly beyond their control or happening to them. And when times are good, sales are up, the company is booming, mediocre managers look in the mirror to congratulate themselves on a job well done and take those accolades (not to mention bonuses).
Collins warns that for companies to go from good to great, leadership should instead look out the window when successes occur, acknowledging external factors that have driven that success like the market, poor decisions by competitors, consumer trends that were lucky, etc., and when times are going poorly, great leaders look in the mirror to evaluate what they could have done better, how they contributed to the poor results, or other course corrections they can make.
I once worked with a leadership consultant who said each of us should always act as though everything that happens is 100% our responsibility, our decision, our doing. As he pointed out, it’s not necessarily true, but it is the only belief that empowers you. Otherwise, you get stuck in the blame game, feeling a victim, and paralyzing yourself as you focus on the factors beyond your control. It’s the same type of thinking Jim Collins describes in Good to Great. It creates humility rather than hubris, improvements rather than excuses, creative problem solving rather than status quo poor results.
Several posts have been written about E. Holland’s recent rant in a meeting of LDS Singles in Tempe in which he said:
“Don’t you dare bail. I am so furious with people who leave this church. I don’t know whether ‘furious’ is a good apostolic word. But I am. What on earth kind of conviction is that? What kind of patty-cake, taffy-pull experience is that? As if none of this ever mattered, as if nothing in our contemporary life mattered, as if this is all just supposed to be “just exactly the way I want it and answer every one of my questions and pursue this and occupy that and defy this – and then maybe I’ll be a Latter-Day Saint”?! Well, there’s too much Irish in me for that.”
Video of E. Holland’s remarks is posted here. His comments were met with laughter in the meeting, and with a lot of frustration and confusion across the internet. His use of “patty cake” and “taffy pull” have bewildered some given that these are dated terms. Is he referring to trivial activities? Childish ones? My immediate thought when he used those specific terms was that he was trying to avoid the use of the word “candy-ass,” an American slang term meaning “a timid, cowardly, or despicable person.” Regardless of the origin of his choice of phrase, it certainly wasn’t meant as a compliment.
Several others have already noted the timing of both E. Holland’s statement and Tyler Glenn’s of Neon Trees releasing a new video that is, according to Rolling Stone, a “slam” on the Mormon church. It is clearly the anguished work of a talented singer who up to six months ago (when the new exclusion policy was released) considered himself a true believing ambassador of the church, showing both the world and gay church members that being both a believing Mormon and gay was compatible. Since Tyler is a returned missionary and has previously used his celebrity to bolster the church, this turnabout is particularly painful to see. Was his faith and sacrifice a “patty-cake, taffy pull” experience? Was his sacrifice easily thrown away? Was he simply a weak disciple for leaving the church that put the policy in place?
Others have noted that although these two angry extremes aren’t equivalent, they do demonstrate two less useful approaches to finding common ground. Both men are angry, frustrated, feel betrayed. Two of my favorite responses are here and here, and a third response relates E. Holland’s remarks to a lecture by Malcolm Gladwell that I also enjoyed.
Martin Harris often gets a bum rap in our church for losing the 116 pages of manuscript, but aside from his funding the publication of the Book of Mormon, one of my favorite things about Martin Harris is when he offered to withdraw from the group to let them have a spiritual experience. He asked, echoing the words of Judas, “Is it I?” When things weren’t working, instead of looking out the window, he looked in the mirror.
I suspect in time Tyler Glenn will come to regret the anger of his video and the wound he sought to inflict in the manner of his expression, not because his anger is not justified, but because he is at heart a good person. I likewise hope that E. Holland’s flash of anger will give way to introspection, because despite his claimed “Irish” temper, he likewise is a good person.
Why are people leaving the church? Is it because they are weak disciples? Certainly some are, but so are many who stay. A better question, a more empowering question is, are there things that our leaders and membership need to change so that we are more Christlike and creating a more valuable spiritual atmosphere for those who are leaving? And if so, what are those things?
When I look in the mirror, here are the things I see we need to change.
- We need to quit being afraid of differences and doubts. It’s hubris to assume we have all the answers to every question. It’s ill-advised to silence people with questions. It always backfires. Am I always speaking up to share my own unique perspective or to ask thoughtful questions?
- We need to get completely out of the culture wars. Political questions are largely irrelevant to one’s ability to live a righteous life. Jesus lived in an even more politically charged environment and managed to skirt it by saying “Render unto Caesar.” I’m reminded of an exchange from the Screwtape Letters. Wormwood is rejoicing to his uncle that war has broken out in Europe, believing that the mortal peril of humans is a good thing for their devilish cause. His uncle cautions him that war is both a positive and a negative to their cause. Yes, some sinners will be killed while in sin, but others will become more repentant and righteous in the face of danger and be lost to them. Likewise, culture wars have both positive and negative effects on the human soul. Too often they foster pride, arrogance, intolerance, and a desire to control others while bolstering one’s own sense of moral superiority.
- We need new ideas, not status quo. Many church programs were created by prior generations in response to various problems. Some ideas, like Roadshows and Gold & Green Balls, have come and gone. Other ideas seem to have a stronger hold, but that doesn’t mean those programs are the right ones for today. If we are so concerned about younger generations leaving, where are the focus groups? How are we encouraging people to speak openly about why they are leaving? Referring them back to their stakes is not going to get the message through. A good focus group is directed and guided by sound principles.
- We need to focus on Christ’s teachings and applying them in our lives. While this is a focus, it often gets lost in other pet topics such as “family” and “obedience.” While these secondary topics may be fine as a supplement, they are not the main event. In a recent Gospel Doctrine class I was in, the teacher asked what the main focus was of the gospel, and believe it or not, about 80% of the respondents said “The Family.” The teacher was looking for “The Atonement.” Many weeks at church, so am I, and not finding it. These side topics have become a sort of doctrinal kudzu, taking all the energy we could be devoting to improving our discipleship and instead focusing it short of the mark.
- Admit mistakes. Not admitting mistakes undermines authority far more, particularly to this generation, than does admitting them. That may not have been the case in older generations, particularly those who fought in wars. Military experience says “you follow orders or people die, son.” Obedience is expedient in war. But not all obedience is equal, and our lives are mostly lived in peace time. When we refuse to admit flaws and mistakes and put on a mask of perfection, it is seen through. Only one is perfect, and it’s not us.
- Service missions. People learn to follow Christ when they serve others. If we changed the focus of our missionary works on service first and teaching second (or never), young people would find the experience worthwhile and attractive even if they have doubts. Investigators would want to be a part of our efforts and would feel the gospel in action in their lives through serving others. Trying to teach the gospel when you are struggling with your own testimony is difficult. Gaining a testimony through service seems more likely than gaining one through saying you have one and hoping that it becomes true (or the mantra that the testimony is found in the bearing thereof). A testimony of the “church” absent a love of Christlike service isn’t much of a testimony for a person professing to follow Christ.
- More diversity. We need diverse perspectives in all decision making bodies, not tokens. When all decisions are made by white males over 50 living in the intermountain west, they come from a position of understanding that one perspective very well, while not understanding other perspectives very well or even being aware to consider them. There’s nowhere to go but up on this one. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see how those who are barred from these decision making bodies can get their perspectives out there. How do women, gay people, singletons, intellectuals, and liberals explain their experience? For now, we blog.
- Quit making fun of people. We shouldn’t be making fun of people as members of the church of Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t be making fun of transgender people, gay people, men, women, children, those with disabilities, those who fit the mold or those who don’t fit the mold. Can’t we show some respect for God’s children and be kind? Laughing at mean-spirited jokes that are designed to pander to the base is beneath us. Let’s do better. There are plenty of things in life that are funny without belittling people for differences. It’s OK to be angry; it isn’t OK to be cruel.
- Practice Patience & Forgiveness. I like what Adam Miller has to say about the purpose of being part of a church community not being the comfort of being surrounded by like-minded people, but the challenge and growth associated with being surrounded by people who differ from us in so many ways. We all feel frustrated at times, but patience is godly. We all want to rant sometimes, but forgiveness teaches us humility.
What ideas do you have?
When I look in the mirror, here are the things I see we need to change.
If looking in a mirror, wouldn’t it be better for you to ask what things you need to change? And inviting others to ask themselves the same question? I don’t think you or I, “we” if you will, should be worrying about changing anyone else to conform to “our” standard. But each one of us should be anxiously engaged in a good cause of our own choice, and much good will come to pass.
I love this post! The point about not making fun of people has been really on my mind lately; I see a lot of mocking and condemning on social media and it is so destructive. Definitely not limited to members of the church but we need to be so much better.
I really like the metaphor of the mirror.
As much as I agree with hawkgrrl’s assessment, I think ji is right that we don’t have the ability to use the mirror metaphor with an authoritarian organization like the church. The church will simply have to learn from its own mistakes, and we have to decide whether we are going to take it or leave it.
Good and thoughtful post as usual, hawkgrrrl. The thing that keeps me going through all of the mess of being a member of this church is one of your bullet points: focusing on Christ’s teachings and applying them in our lives. If I do that, for example, in the Holland and Glenn situations, what happens is I extend love and support to both of them, forgive them if I believe they’ve made a mistake, and then check myself to make sure I’m not judging them or criticizing them.
The practical application of Christ’s maxims, I would suggest, is radical and subversive in the current LDS culture, but I nonetheless think Christ’s teachings, now more than ever, could help us through our current issues as a church. Just for fun, I once asked my students to distill the Sermon on the Mount to one core teaching. “What’s Christ really trying to teach us?” I asked. One student raised his hand and said, “He’s saying ‘don’t be an a****le.'” Sound wisdom there.
My first thought was that if all the Apostles talked like E. Holland’s “rant” then I’d be more inclined to listen to GC. That’s the most inspired thing I ever heard from upstairs, and it’s exactly what the church needs. In a word, it’s honest.
My two cents about spirituality… I think it’s critical to let go. Society trains us to value reason, logic, and factual data. I was at a church camp out at sunrise mass. The padre was talking about the conflict between spirituality and reason, and the focus on facts and reason that causes young people to abandon faith. In an instant, I felt his eyes bore into me as he quoted the verse “We see as through a glass darkly.”
That last sentence says it all. If we live our lives right, treat others with kindness, and aren’t burdened with guilt and envy, then we’ll simply shine. There will be no need to proselytize, because other people will want to be around us and will want to emulate us.
ji & Nate: I agree that the mirror means each of us individually. Certainly Tyler Glenn and E. Holland can look in their own mirrors. Collectively, though, our wards do have “personalities” and “cultures,” and we contribute to those through these types of actions or inactions. In short, the things on this list are also things that I have to see in the mirror and figure out how to do better:
– accept that there are people at church that I may disagree with, but still they have the same need to be there as I do.
– Do I instantly think less of someone for being a Trump supporter or tea party type? Yes I do. But I do find that when we ignore those political differences and keep that conversation out of church, we have plenty of common ground as Christians trying to do our best.
– As I wrote this one, obviously I’m not in charge of church programs at large, but the church does constantly try to change the programs, and it’s not easy to hit the right formula. My thought was I’m not sure I could do any better than they have, but I can do whatever I can do at the local level to help things succeed. And I do think bloggers can put ideas out there that can be useful (if they have such ideas).
– Every member can stay focused on Christ’s teachings. We teach the lessons, and even just as class members, we often set the discussion.
– I should also be able to admit mistakes.
– I need to do more service. This isn’t a strong point for me.
– I need to speak up and not just be an outside observer.
– I should speak up if I feel we are laughing at people. That takes courage.
– I intend to take Adam Miller’s counsel to heart. I love the idea that we need to let the differences in our church community exist and that the challenge to our own ideas is how we grow. People don’t grow in an echo chamber.
It’s true that no individual member can change the church, much less one like me who has very little influence if any, but I can change my corner of the church.
After a long period of major disappointments in my life I decided I would never again have expectations of anyone but myself. Wow my life is so much better and happier, my testimony is stronger than ever. As long as I see myself as entirely responsible for my entire life story and look to myself for corrections with the help of the atonement life is great!
i thought it was interesting how you compared Elder Holland to Tyler Glenn. I did the same thing this week. I think Holland will never have the kind of self reflection to see what he did was manipulation in his talk and quite frankly, not very helpful. Glenn seems more reflective though I dont think he has to come to regret the video. In the long run, it actually may help more people.
“That very weekend, via God’s Folly (a.k.a. the Internet), he discovered, as so many do, so much of what had been kept hidden from him and other church members: the multiple versions of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Smith’s polygamy, etc.”
I can understand the impact of the ‘policy’ discovery being a crushing blow, but is it really possible that a 33 year-old talented gay rock star returned missionary was not aware of those ‘hidden’ historical gems? I mean, yeah–the essays are kinda hidden on the church website, but “God’s Army” did a pretty good dramatization of the different accounts of the first vision and their potentially testimony-crushing impact in wide theatrical release and that was back in 2000, 16 years ago.
Is saying that one read discrediting historical information becoming rite associated with separating from the church for another reason? It reminds me of Casablanca where Rick is told by Captain Renault “I’m closing down your nightclub because I’m shocked to discover there is gambling going on”, and then Renault is handed his winnings.
I am sorry Tyler left, but certainly wish him health, happiness, and a path to reclaimed spirituality where his path my lead him to find it. In a more selfish way, I am disgruntled that I will have trouble listening to “Sins of My Youth” and other NT songs without seeing the Trash video overlain in my mind as a newly added layer. Trash was striking, and those images fascinating, yet not ones I wish to dwell on.
As to Elder Holland’s comments, they won’t go down as the most enduring, but considering how many talks he is asked to give per year and always be original and cheerful every time, if that’s as bad as it gets, I can live with it. He was once assigned to visit our stake conference as a 70, and just before the conference, he was called to be an Apostle. Someone else could have filled his assignment as he was likely overwhelmed emotionally and in shock, but he dutifully attended our conference anyway.
I taught a HP group lesson about the multiple versions of the first vision more than a decade ago, and I used a Deseret Book publication as my source. It was well received, no one got upset, no one wrote an angry song about it.
I think Mr. Glenn was mostly angry about the recent LGBT handbook changes. Inconsistencies in the LDS narrative were secondary.
I suspect the emotional impact from the November 5th policy did a lot to color Glenn’s view of those hidden “gems.” No amount of intellectual reasoning (for or against) can override an intense feeling of betrayal. The major emphasis of the video was about feeling personally rejected by the church.
And… Elder Anderson beat me to it. 🙂
Elder Anderson and Mary Ann–you are both right I’m sure, but the Patheos blog, taken out of his Mormon Stories Podcast interview describes those final events as a 1-2 punch. First was the policy, then was the reading of the historical information and THEN:
“That’s when he shed his faith for good”.
Some commenters have pointed out that he spits on a portrait of Joseph Smith (though Joseph Smith was not responsible for the policy change on same sex marriage). Thus that moment of artistic expression is interpreted as the colored view of those hidden historical “gems”. With the video being about being rejected by the contemporary church, it seems having the portraits of the First Presidency altered or attacked would have been more in keeping with that theme. Or perhaps I am reading way too much into this. 🙂
I haven’t even seen the video. As for the FV accounts, for me, it’s just a topic for conversation about bigger issues.
As for the symbolic significance of images in the video, chalk it up to poetic license, suspension of disbelief, metaphor, or ….. OK that’s all the phrases I recall from 7th grade English. 🙂
Rigel, to me, spitting on Joseph Smith isn’t necessarily about him. I can easily see it as a display of contempt for the church as a whole. As the founder of the religion, a pic of Joseph Smith is a good symbol for the church (just as a pic of Christ/crucifix would be a good symbol for Christianity or even organized religion in general). Then again, I could also be reading too much into it. 🙂
Just look at the number of gospel topics essays – there are a whole host of controversial issues people could run into trouble with. Tyler Glenn didn’t dive head first into those troublesome issues until *after* he felt betrayed by the policy. It feels to me in his case it was justification, not the core reason for doubt in the first place. The policy itself got a LOT of people disenchanted with the church. I’m not trying to diminish his pain in any way by suggesting the historical issues were secondary concerns.
It feels to me in his case it was justification, not the core reason for doubt in the first place.
That is a good way of articulating “The Mirror and The Window” dilemma, not necessarily in terms of Tyler Glenn’s personal experience. My own personal experience was a deep depression for a week when the policy leaked. I was praying to know if I should turn in my recommend as a ‘non-sustainer’ the very day that the policy ‘clarification’ was announced. Though the depression did not lift, the prompting was to endure–so I’m still here.
I think you could use that statement of core doubts and justification to explain E. Holland’s furious statements as well. Isn’t he saying ‘don’t you dare bail’ to those who are attempting to ‘justify’ based on core doubts. But I wouldn’t call my own depression over the policy a ‘patty-cake’ or ‘taffy pull’ experience, and I am not one who typically even speaks out on issues of LGBT rights. I shudder to imagine what it felt like for someone who felt directly betrayed.
I agree with your post hawkgirl. I would ask that the leadership while looking in the mirror ask whether they are teaching as Gospel their culture, as was done with racism.
So many are stresed in their relationship with the church they have given years to, and I don’t think it will be an issue in 20 years, but will the church grow in the mean time?
The history I can cope with, but if we continue to discriminate against people, do I want to still be associated?
I finally saw the Trash video. I kinda liked it, especially the weird set. Well done, and a good “mirror” for the LDS church.
When I hear people talk about the historical issues with the church like “didn’t you already know that?” I wonder if we grew up on two different planets.
I graduated high school in the 1990s. In church and seminary we were warned of the perils of seeking church info from non-church endorsed sources. I loved history but embraced this mindset, so much so that when a baptist friend brought a historical book about Mormonism to school I accused him of spreading anti-Mormon lies and didn’t speak to him for awhile. I kept to that concept like a good Mormon and was cautious about where I got my info.
So when I found out about the LDS essays from unofficial LDS websites like this one and read about Joseph and his wives and the Law of Sarah, you can betcha I was very disturbed and still am. Those of you who act like I should have known it all along and shouldn’t be bugged by it because there are bigger issues, it completely discounts the feelings of this faithful, active member who feels kinda duped.
Sorry I diverged from the topic a bit.
Thanks hawkgrrl for a great post.
I’ve been using my own version of the mirror/window analogy lately with some of my frustrations with the leadership. I oscillate between anger with them for how they are addressing (or not addressing) certain issues and finding fault with myself for being frustrated and my need for more humility/obedience.
You have a right to those feelings. I think the “oh, we’ve known that for yeaarrrs…. nothing to see here” statement is an attempt to minimize or negate information that, in fact, very few Mormons were aware of.
Maybee, your story is normal. To illustrate, my sister and I were discussing one time how we each became acquainted with some of the more disturbing details of Joseph’s polygamy. For both of us it was as young moms. (My mistake was researching Nauvoo genealogy online. Her mistake was leaving a PBS channel on too long after Caillou and getting an eyeful of local Mormon history in Ohio.) My sister confided in her bishop at the time about it (his reaction probably did more to affect her faith than the Joseph stuff in the first place). Our mom was sitting off to the side in shock, “How could you both not know about that?!” Yeah, funny thing about that, mom….
To further the situation Maybee describes, once we gain new information, it’s easy for us to confabulate a memory of knowing those things longer than we did. Our mind immediately changes how we remember not having known them. For example, someone who changes political affiliations will immediately begin to “remember” that they really thought that way all along. The reality is that no, they didn’t, but our minds create consistency out of thin air, building connections that weren’t there before.
“I think the “oh, we’ve known that for yeaarrrs…. nothing to see here” statement is an attempt to minimize or negate information that, in fact, very few Mormons were aware of.”
Elder Anderson, I’ve been involved with LDS blogs for more than 15 years. I’ve often seen your accusation tossed around as if it’s some kind of profound insight, when in fact it completely misses the point.
Many times over those 15 years I’ve seen people express their experience of being blindsided by facts about the church of which they were completely unaware. I am in no position to deny anyone their experience, if they say they were blindsided, upset, devastated then I have to believe them. And if that were all they were saying people like me would never weigh in.
But invariably people express more than their own experience, they want to extrapolate it into a universal. They will bemoan a church where the members are held in the dark; they will assume evil intent by old, white men who only have intentions to deceive; they will concoct conspiracy theories about the mindless religious bureaucrats at the COB or at BYU whose only intent is to keep the unknowing masses ignorant and confused.
When people take their own experience with suddenly finding out about LDS fact X, Y or Z, and create a universal truth about it, then people like me have every right to speak up and say that X, Y, and Z were never as hidden as they assumed they were. It hasn’t anything to do with minimizing their experience, it has everything to do with minimizing their error in assuming that what they personally experienced is normative for everyone else.
Thank you, KLC (no.28), for a truthful observation.
KLC, that extends both ways. When the polygamy essays came out I cheered. I had already dealt with many of the nasty aspects alone years previous. When people say they didn’t know Joseph practiced polygamy, it’s deeper than that. I had a vague idea that Joseph practiced polygamy since I was a teenager. What I had not clued in was the secretive nature of the practice – I had naively assumed the polygamy he practiced was the same as the polygamy practiced by members in the Intermountain West. So recognize that when a lot of us talk about being taken aback, we are talking more than generalities. We are taken aback at the complications and the details that are much more difficult to swallow as consistent with what we’ve come to accept with the church. If President Monson were running around marrying women in secret, maybe or maybe letting his wife know, and pubicly denying the practice, you can bet that members would be angry about it. No amount of “he’s a prophet, so whatever he did isn’t going to change my opinion of that” will automatically take away the gut reaction of disgust a lot of us experience.
When I brought up the new polygamy essays as a gospel doctrine teacher, a man (I highly respect, btw) raised his hand at the back of the class and expressed a view that he couldn’t see why the essays were a big deal – *every* member already knew the information therein. This assumption made me angry. When many members encountered these issues previously, when *I* encountered this information previously, there was no way to tell which sources I could trust. Which historians had the correct information? How could I find accurate details among the obvious biases of each author? The polygamy essays provide a baseline starting point. The church provided an authorized answer – an admission of sticky details and the faithful interpretations they offered as explanations. Most people recognize that the church’s essays provided significant bias, but it’s significant bias that many members are grateful to initially embrace to salvage a testimony of the church in the face of disturbing data. Members do not innately know what the difference is between FairMormon as an online source versus any other online compilation of historical “facts” and interpretations. If they have a question about the church, they will turn to the church first to find answers. Now the church had official answers. The footnotes provide an invaluable resource – scholarly works that members can recognize as trusted by the church.
The bad experience my sister experienced – her bishop instructed her that the (correct) historical info she was introduced to was anti-Mormon lies. Because she was disturbed by the information, he ordered her not to discuss it with anyone else. Her husband was a seminary teacher, he pointed out, so her views would be seen as carrying greater weight. Until she got over this, he would not allow her in any sort of leadership calling because of the danger of her influence. When people have these types of experiences, can you understand how they come to a view that the church as an institution is working to actively hide that information? With those essays, bishops have *something* they can offer church members by way of explanation instead of calling very normal reactions proof of deficient testimony. As in the OP, the church finally looked in the mirror and saw there was a way they could improve the approach leaders take when members brought up these issues.
Well said. I would add that when the first few essays were published it seemed, at least to me, that the LDS Church wasn’t too interested in making members aware of them. I remember at least one case of a teacher being removed from a calling allegedly for referencing an essay in class. It has only been fairly recently that the LDS Church appeared to finally endorse using the essays as a teaching resource. And even then, I personally get the feeling teachers might be reluctant to do it. Coming from me this is all just scurrilous innuendo, of course. 🙂
I understand what KCL is saying.
I’d just like to add that our church does a great job of promoting turning the hearts of the children to their fathers, and this has been a source of pride for myself and other members. I grew up with personal stories of early members of the church, the persecuted, the pioneers. One reason learning about all of Joseph’s wives was so difficult for me was that in church, seminary, etc. I wasn’t only shielded from their stories, I was shielded from their existence. By whitewashing (I”m sorry, but I just can’t think of a nicer way to put it) our history, the church essentially erased these women’s stories from my church experience. These were faithful women with their own story, struggles, etc. They were Joseph’s wives, and their faithfulness was rewarded with their disappearance from approved church history? I’m a woman and women’s experiences in the early church matter to me.
I don’t feel like I’m being dramatic when I state that it truly was devastating that their existence was purposefully hidden from me. I can say that without extrapolating evil intent by old, white men whom I love and respect. But I also don’t think it’s sacrilege to say that it was a mistake to withhold that information from our church experience, regardless of the intent.
E.A. – I remember initial newsroom pieces stating the purpose of the essays as resources for leaders when members came to them. They were marketed more as defensive measures. I believe it was a youth Sunday school teacher in Hawaii that was released for bringing up the race and priesthood essay in his class.
That’s why a lot of us are pleased by leaders using the essays in a more proactive way. However you feel about Maynes introducing a harmonized view of the FV accounts, he pointed members towards awesome resources. On the front page of LDS.org you had the link to the summary of his talk and the harmonization. You also had convenient links to the FV gospel topics essay and the JSPP website that gives each of Joseph’s 4 accounts in their entirety.
As one bishop instructed me, members come to church to be uplifted and talk about Christ. Scholarly topics might be interesting, but the essays were not useful in Sunday worship (in his view). Most members I know IRL just don’t find the essays interesting.
Mary Ann–that has been my general experience over the years, a lot of yawning.
Imagine my surprise to be told by some that people were not bored, they were part of a white washing cover-up.
“been my general experience over the years, a lot of yawning.”
That has not been my experience. My experience is that the LDS Church has only recently begun to publish these essays as damage control and as an attempt to control the message. As technology evolved, the LDS Church was caught flat footed by members who started using search engines to find uncorrelated information.
In the pre-Internet days, scholars and the general public could freely access historical information in LDS Church libraries. However, as potentially damaging information came to light, the LDS Church cracked down and severely limited access to those materials. There’s still an arcane policy in place arguing that library materials are too “sacred”, for example.
I hardly know what to make of the various apologetics sites out there. I am not sure if the LDS Church officially backs any of them. It’s all rather murky. The few times I’ve visited them, I was struck at the almost nonsensical arguments there. Whoever writes that stuff should apologize for sure. Even the language in the essays is pretty squirrelly in places (e.g. instead of 14, Helen Mar Kimball was “just shy of 15”).
Bottom line: I don’t buy for a second that the stuff in those recent essays was widely known by LDS membership before the essays were published. To me they look more like damage control.
“Most members I know IRL just don’t find the essays interesting.”
You know better than I do, of course. I just strikes me as a bit odd that members wouldn’t be interested in these essays. I mean, LDS historians went to a lot of trouble to compile them, they are approved by the 1st presidency and Q12, and members are encouraged to include them as teaching materials. I mean, to me, all that effort implies the LDS 1st presidency and Q12 *want” members to be interested. The members are saying “Meh. Your essays are boring. Thanks but no thanks.”?
I only have my experience of bringing things like this up in a number of wards for over forty years.
I appreciate your argument — it just doesn’t match my experience.
As for the apologetics websites, twenty years ago they had no formal or informal connection.
You can see Otterson’s address to FAIR (transcript is on line) — they appear to still be not correlated.
Not sure who you are calling nonsensical. I enjoy the humor of essays such as http://www.jefflindsay.com/bomsource.shtml
To be clear, I never called an individual nonsensical. I was talking about the nonsensical quality of the apologetic arguments on those sites. At first, I went to those sites hoping to find reasoned arguments favorable to the LDS Church’s position. The articles I found were awful, as if they were written by high school students. As far as a connection to the LDS Church, I know at least one was connected to BYU, and certainly the LDS Church never repudiated any of the content.
As regards member interest in the essays, I find it odd that members are uninterested in the history of their own church. I don’t dispute your experience, but it seems strange, given the interest in Pioneer Day, the history museum in SLC, and the LDS Church’s emphasis on publishing the essays. Also, the essays haven’t been around for that long, so I assume when you say 40 years, you mean you were bringing up the topics covered by the essays. Do you mean, for example, when you brought crucial events in the history of the LDS Church like the First Vision, nobody wanted to talk about them? When I was coming up, the history of Christianity was a pretty major topic in class.
The Maxwell Institute (previously FARMS) did become associated with BYU and has moved away from apologetics.
I appreciate just how dismissive you are, but I’d like to know which essays you found so puerile.
I did link you to one that I found amusing and that isn’t awful.
As for repudiating content, that would be a full time job and a half.
Elder Anderson, all I can say is that I’ve hit a lot of different points in a lot of different places. My current ward really enjoys the comments I make, though I try not to overwhelm any class.
Where have you lived and in which wards?
Or this more recent post. http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php/2016/05/20th-century-lds-thought-on-sexual-assault-some-context/
I don’t see that as a poor high school level discussion.
I am completely outmatched here, so I’ll just shut up. 🙂
Unfortunately, my experience is like Stephen’s. Most members could not care less about the essays. They aren’t aware of those issues, and they don’t really care now that they are published. They are definitely necessary for those who are aware of the issues, though, and given that they can now be introduced into the curriculum, we can quit spouting total fabrications in lessons.
E.A. – Pioneer Day is like the 4th of July – a celebration of cultural identity. Stories of church history (and family history for those with 19th century Mormon ancestry) work towards that goal of cultural identity. They offer cautionary tales that reinforce cultural taboos. They unite us under a shared history of suffering and persecution. The purpose is not typically to provide an accurate historical picture. As one cousin asserted, we have a spiritual heritage of faith. Stories that do not strengthen that heritage are best deemphasized, if not forgotten altogether.
Apologetics is typically run by amateurs, so the arguments aren’t traditionally very strong. We have some tremendous scholars in our church, but they aren’t typically the loudest voices. The most sensational theories are often the weakest, but they get attention. Our church cultivates a skepticism of secular authority, especially related to science. A farm boy with faith translated an ancient record, something that experts without faith couldn’t do. We value personal testimony and spiritual experiences over scientific data (unless the data backs up our spiritual experiences, then it’s useful). Spiritual authority always trumps secular authority, so out-there statements made by church leaders in the last couple centuries still hold significant weight. Any member can declare themselves an apologist, and many will use very weak scientific data in their arguments because they view non-scientists as having greater credibility. Since the audience for apologetics is typically believing members, the arguments hold weight. For non-members or those with more science-based background, satisfying arguments are much more difficult to tease out from the general field.
You said “The purpose is not typically to provide an accurate historical picture. As one cousin asserted, we have a spiritual heritage of faith. Stories that do not strengthen that heritage are best deemphasized, if not forgotten altogether.”
I’m not sure if you are stating this as your cousin’s view, your personal view, or what you see as the Church’s view. I can understand that many members feel this way but I personally struggle with it. Deemphasizing troubling facts in our history, I feel, does our members a disservice. I grew up with those stories being deemphasized/never mentioned. I’m thinking not only of JS’s polygamy, but also mountain meadows massacre, etc. Our heritage includes the messy stuff. I think it’s a good thing to teach kids these things in seminary. I’d like to discuss them in gospel doctrine. I think the membership can handle these things without throwing their hands up in the air and leaving. After I read the first LDS essay I decided I was tired of not having the whole truth. It felt false and inauthentic, and my shelf was getting heavy. So I’ve been tackling these issues head on.
What I’ve found is that some of the false tenants of my previous faith have been changed. The old standby’s of “the leaders of the church will never lead us astray” and my previous incorrect ideas regarding prophet infallibility are replaced with a more compassionate look at our leaders who are just as human as the rest of us. Who can unfortunately make mistakes big enough to impact millions of people, but that there is beauty in this design as it is God working with what He has. Even the dreaded Law of Sarah. I can look at that from the view of Emma and see her suffering as Joseph was wrestling with how to implement polygamy, and I can feel for both of them. It’s easier now to learn something difficult from church history as I can try to put it into a cultural perspective.
I think there is greater harm in not talking about difficult church history in our classes. It says to me as a member that my leaders feel my testimony can’t handle it. It’s also a disservice to the people who were harmed by our history. And it sets members up to feel betrayed/lied to when they have read all of the standard works, studied the gospel manuals, and yet knew nothing of very important parts of our history that we can all learn from.
I had an interaction at work with a nonmember gentleman who brought up the MMM. It was nice to talk to him about this like an adult, to nod my head in understanding that it was a big messy horrible thing. And when he asked how I could still be Mormon with that in my history, I was able to answer sincerely since I have been pondering that very question for the past couple of years. What might have been a negative interaction for me previously when I would have gotten defensive and just tried hard to get out of that interaction, was instead a positive mature conversation where we both sought to understand and felt understood.
Maybee – it was my cousin’s view. I had brought up a story where a distant family member had defiantly stood against a church leader. To me, the story was awesome because it showed the personality of that family member and brought forward the complexity and humanity of that time period. To that cousin, the story was something that was better left forgotten. There was serious disagreement in the room about it, but those of us on the research/historian angle were eventually outvoted. I brought it up as a viewpoint that still holds a lot of power in our culture.