Is there a definitive line that makes one a good standing member of the church on one side, and a not so good member on the other? One could argue that the Temple Recommend questions could be the defining guide for this line. But the TR questions do not ask if you believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, yet I think most orthodox members would say not believing in the historicity of the Book of Mormon would disqualify you as a “member in good standing”.
(This post is not a post about the historicity of the BofM, as that was touched on quite well last week on Wheat and Tares by Churchistrue)
At the time I was called as bishop, I had already decided that the Book of Mormon was not historically true. There was never a Nephi, Mormon or Moroni. I wasn’t about to blurt this out to my Stake President, but I had a former missionary companion who was a SP in another state at the time, and I asked him what I should do after I explained my feeling on the BofM. He asked if I could answer all the TR questions correctly, and I said yes. He then said I could be a bishop. Now maybe it was just “friendship roulette”, and another friend or maybe even my SP would have not said the same thing.
According to Elder Holland, it is pretty black and white:
Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of how it came forth, can be a little breathtaking. It sounds like a “sudden death” proposition to me. Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is or this Church and its founder are false, fraudulent, a deception from the first instance onward.
Not everything in life is so black and white, but it seems the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and its keystone role in our belief is exactly that. Either Joseph Smith was the prophet he said he was, who, after seeing the Father and the Son, later beheld the angel Moroni, repeatedly heard counsel from his lips, eventually receiving at his hands a set of ancient gold plates which he then translated according to the gift and power of God—or else he did not. And if he did not, in the spirit of President Benson’s comment, he is not entitled to retain even the reputation of New England folk hero or well-meaning young man or writer of remarkable fiction. No, and he is not entitled to be considered a great teacher or a quintessential American prophet or the creator of great wisdom literature. If he lied about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, he is certainly none of those.
As the word of God has always been—and I testify again that is purely and simply and precisely what the Book of Mormon is—this record is “quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow” (D&C 6:2). The Book of Mormon is that quick and that powerful for us. And it certainly is that sharp. Nothing in our history and nothing in our message cuts to the chase faster than our uncompromising declaration that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. On this issue we draw a line in the sand.
Jeffrey R. Holland, “True or False,” Liahona, June 1996
There could be an argument made that Elder Holland is talking about the BofM being “revelation” and the “Word of God”, but I think in his mind the historicity goes along with that, and the two cannot be separated.
One might say tithing is part of the line, but even that has several interpretations. Gross, net, or on your “increase” are all valid, and your bishop is not to ask how you pay, only if you are a full tithe payer.
I think the members to the right (orthodox) side of this hypothetical line think there is a line, and it is clearly defined, while those on the left (heterodox) of this line don’t think there needs to be a line.
What do you think? Is there a black and white division between a faithful member of the church and a not faithful member? Is there a line? Does there need to be a line, or can we live with “Fifty Shades of Grey” between the black and white? Is there room for a grey member like me?
Within the culture of Mormonism, I have equated Good Standing with simply showing up.
No one seems to care too much about what you believe as long as you do not share your opinions that are contrary to the party line. You can believe anything as long as you say little about it. A quick testimony of The Church Is True covers a lot of ground without really saying anything.
One the other hand, you can pay a full tithe, be a devout believer and actively engaged in missionary and temple work, but if you do not attend on Sunday and actively volunteer within the congregation, you will be seen as less devout and in need of interventions.
Observant Jew. Devout Catholic. Big Baptist. The term for a LDS member is Active Mormon. There is nothing about that term that looks at belief or practice. That term is about social interaction within the congregation. That interaction is defining.
I don’t really care whether there is an exact line or not. I have enough on my hands trying to get this darn beam out of my eye.
“I think most orthodox members would say not believing in the historicity of the Book of Mormon would disqualify you as a “member in good standing,”
I don’t think this is true. I think most orthodox members would think someone who doesn’t believe in historicity of the Book of Mormon is wrong about that and possibly that they should work on having more faith, but I don’t think most would say that crosses a line. The only person I have seen around these parts advocating that position is a jaded former member who wants to divide people and pigeonhole them for the purpose of attacking their credibility.
To be clear, the Church’s position is that the Book of Mormon is historical, but not a history. But I don’t see this line in the sand on historicity, and most of my interactions are with highly orthodox members.
Dsc, can you help me with the phrase ‘historical, but not a history’ ? I’m just not sufficiently au fait with the arguments to understand, and would like to explore my own position.
The things described in it happened, but it wasn’t written to record history. So whatever is included is included in order to “convinc[e] the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations”. It’s not an attempt to be a complete history, and treating it as such leads to errors in thinking about it.
In 1996 I was as committed in belief to the Book of Mormon as Elder Holland. I don’t know if he would say the same thing the same way given it’s been 22 years and people change, but he is still an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For me, I no longer believe the Book of Mormon is what Elder Holland and I claimed for it in 1996 though I agree with Elder Holland’s conclusion if the Book of Mormon isn’t what it claims.
Ironically, what led me on the path to question the Book of Mormon, however, was I stopped believing the Q-15 we’re getting any better revelation than anyone else. It wasn’t about historicity. It was about church leadership consistently being behind the curve to “do what is right” for so long. The priesthood ban for blacks. The continued priesthood ban for women and second class treatment of women. The continuation of the doctrine of polygamy in the Temple. I watched my wife suffer through this with her doubts and the gas-lighting she received from fellow members who don’t know the damage attitudes like this cause: “… most orthodox members would think someone who doesn’t believe in historicity of the Book of Mormon is wrong about that and possibly that they should work on having more faith”
To me Elder Holland’s rhetoric has been disappointing. As recently as April 2016 he stated “I am so furious with people who leave this church” and mocking their conviction as if they were in it for the “patty-cake, taffy-pulled experiences”.
Elder Holland, when you made that statement, my wife was asking her doctor for drugs so she could endure attending church. The church’s callousness in the well-being of members who doubt is what caused me to look twice at the organization I was a member of.
“Either Joseph Smith was the prophet he said he was, who, after seeing the Father and the Son, later beheld the angel Moroni, repeatedly heard counsel from his lips, eventually receiving at his hands a set of ancient gold plates which he then translated according to the gift and power of God – or else he did not”.
Elder Holland, many believe the same about the current Q-15. They believe and teach each member of the Q-15 have had a personnel visitation of Christ. Is this true? If so, I challenge you and your fellow quorum members to so testify. If not, it is wrong not to let those teachings stand and be party to perpetuate a lie. Otherwise it is not just the founder who is “false, fraudulent, a deception from the first instance onward”.
“[M]any … believe and teach each member of the Q-15 have had a personnel [sic] visitation of Christ.”
I thought that went away decades ago. I guess that shows again, that I don’t know anything like the full scope of how the Church is not the same everywhere.
I have never told anybody in my ward/stake about my feelings on the BofM, and in fact have NEVER heard anybody in any ward I’ve attended say they don’t believe in the historicity of the BofM. I have hope in what you say is true, and members would accept me as I am for what I believe, and I hope I do not turn into the ” jaded former member who wants to divide people”.
Lines in the sand are ephemeral. Even the next gentle wave can wipe them out.
I’ve found that life is happier and you understand people better if you avoid judging people based on what they don’t say.
In the current culture, good or bad is defined in terms of loyalty to the Brethren. The Church will say that the Leadership is fallible, but in practice, the “good” Mormons are those that hold them as infallible, and venerate them at every opportunity. It is how you virtue signal in the Church. Loyalty, loyalty, loyalty.
My brother-in-law, though a believer, is more focused on ortho-practice than orthodoxy. But actions do not spring from a vacuum. Belief and action are linked. So belief is important, although secondary. Further, my belief is that there are metaphysical blessings from heaven. So being a believer has value. But Jesus when speaking about a dividing principle spoke about how we treat others, feed, clothe, and visit (Matthew 25). He does not mention belief or religous practice.
For myself I could not serve as a bishop if I did not believe the foundational stories though. I would feel false.
The question is a line for what purpose? I agree with Dsc that most members would see an aHistorical beleiver as not being ‘outside’ rather as being ‘inside’ but lacking in the proper faith (my words, not Dsc’s). But there would be a strong line for that aHistorical beleiver when it comes to callings and social invites should they be open about their beliefs. While my aHistorical beleif has never come up, my support of LGBTQ has and that (minor in comparison for most people) had me side-lined.
I have always thought, and continue to think, that “member in good standing” refers only to outward acts and expressions, and has nothing to do with beliefs that haven’t been spoken to anyone.
@really said, “I thought that went away decades ago.”
I can’t say that it went away, but I don’t think it did. Somewhere around 2+ decades ago I say in a religion class and me and my friends came out with two totally different impressions of what the teacher said on this topic. I was convinced the teacher had indicated that prophets may not have actually have communed face to face with deity, and my friends were convinced of there opposite. This is because the teacher spoke indirectly, with questions, and so people heard what they expected to hear. Years later I spoke to a friend and again we had totally different takes in the official position of the church. I haven’t spoken to anyone on the topic since then, but I haven’t heard anything from church leadership that would have changed the minds of my friends.
It takes more than and indirect and oblique statements to make a belief or doctrine change. It seems to me that the current plan is to let members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believe what they want on the topic of personal meetings between prophets and Jesus, without actually saying one way or the other.
Well in my ward if you admitted in one year that you didn‘t pay a full tithe, and on on two occasions, one directly and one second hand, you express doubts about some church doctrine and history, you may be released from your calling, disassigned as a home teacher, not asked to lead the music in sacrament meeting anymore, nor ever give a talk or teach a class again. So there‘s one data point.
“He asked if I could answer all the TR questions correctly, and I said yes. He then said I could be a bishop.”
I concur. Being bishop is an organizational role and calls for specific skills. It helps to know God but I have a doubt that is a requirement.
I suggest that Elder Holland is speaking of and for general authorities, the “we” that is drawing the line in the sand; and the line is that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. What exactly that means appears not defined but to me means the parts that talk about principles are correct principles. As it happens, I also believe there was somewhere a Nephi, Moroni and all that, but I cannot witness to it since I wasn’t there.
“Nothing in our history and nothing in our message cuts to the chase faster than our uncompromising declaration that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. On this issue we draw a line in the sand.”
I really struggle to understand the requirement that the BoM be non-historical even if you believe the text was produced in modern times.
Seems an unnecessary leap, Ostler and even Skousen seem to believe it’s a production of our time, but still historical.
Dsc, I can definitely see there being a difference between a book being historical but not about history. The great philosophical works of ancient Greece were historical, meaning that they happened in the past when Greece was powerful, even if the characters described in the the philosophical works may not have been historical nor were intended to be historical. The purpose of the philosophical texts wasn’t to describe history after all, but engage in philosophical questions.
But the Book of Mormon is no such book. It’s purpose was to describe ancient Americans’ interactions with Jesus Christ, and not in some metaphorical sense.
Bishop Bill, you can be a Mormon, and one in good standing, and not believe the BOM to be historical. However you probably have to keep quiet about your opinions about the BOM.
Yet can you be a believer in Mormonism and not believe the BOM to be historical? And I don’t mean just say, “I’m not sure about the BOM’s historicity,” but actually believe that it is not at all a record of ancients Americans’ interactions with Jesus and that it doesn’t contain any words of ancients in the Americas. I would say that it would be highly misleading to consider yourself a full believer in Mormonism and both the majority of regular Mormon believers and former believers alike would consider you to be a non-believer.
Seriously, John W., aren’t you tired of trying/failing to win that argument already? Everyone knows how you feel. No one who is actually an aHistorical believer agrees with you. Why bother continuing to bring it up?
I don’t even know that ‘regular believer’ vs ‘full believer’ vs ‘non-believer’ vs ‘aHistorical believer’ are even useful categorizations. The only one who can judge correctly between them is Jesus Christ.
ReTx, may I ask where do you disagree with what I wrote? Last week or so when some folks rather heatedly got defensive at me saying that folks who don’t believe in a historical BOM don’t fully believe in Mormonism, what I found was that many thought I was saying that they couldn’t be LDS. Many of those folks actually ended up agreeing with me once I made the distinction.
On the idea that self-identifying believers believe all sorts of things about BOM historicity, I am skeptical. Given, we don’t have any polling data that shows that self-identifying LDS believers are claiming that the BOM contains the words of ancient Americans when they say it is true and the word of God. But based on my personal experiences in dozens of wards and branches throughout my lifetime, saying that the BOM was true didn’t seem to mean much other than saying that it was additional scripture about Jesus written mostly by ancient Americans. The folks who say that the BOM is true and the word of God but does not contain any words of ancient Americans really seem to be a small group, and I can’t imagine their idea of a non-historical true BOM gaining much traction in the believing LDS community.
I would like to give my thoughts on Bishop Bill’s final questions and something Damascene said.
First BB questions, “Is there a black and white division between a faithful member of the church and a not faithful member”? I believe there is a realm of gray between the two condition. This is the realm of the faith crisis and faith recovery, for the most part. One will move into that gray area, one may move from either the faithful side or the not faithful side, but one can not live in the gray area. The gray area is painful, and people will naturally move away from pain. So there is a line, it is just that it is a thick gray one. There is out of necessity a gray area, faith crisis and discovery have to abide somewhere. Christ and the church can abide and live with the gray, it is part of a lot of peoples growth and is part of their agency. But generally people can not live long in the gray.
Damascene: you stated: “One the other hand, you can pay a full tithe, be a devout believer and actively engaged in missionary and temple work, but if you do not attend on Sunday and actively volunteer within the congregation, you will be seen as less devout and in need of interventions.” The reason for that is that the example you gave is an unrealistic person or is such a rarity that most people have never met one or hear of one. I have know of people who are full tithe payers and never darken the door of church, but they are not engaged in missionary work or especially temple work. They are seen as less devout because they are less devout, by definition.
Last thought. BB states that the “right” or orthodox side sees a clearly define line, I suggest that they see the gray line or area and may have even experienced the gray area. The “left” or heterodox also sees the gray line or area and spends more time in it so they are more cogencent of it.
I suppose I could have been clearer. By historical, I mean that the stories in it actually happened (with allowances for variances in memory, narrator bias, and the translation process). But it’s not a history, because the goal is to teach a message, not help people understand the political and social history of a group of people. It’s kind of like if I tell you a story from my childhood, what I’m telling you is historical in the sense that it happened. But it’s not a history, so you should limit what conclusions you can draw about my life based on that story, and there are a whole bunch of questions about my life that are left unanswered.
Thanks for clarifying. But much of the BOM does read as a history. It isn’t just about ideas and messages, though much of it clearly is. It contains genealogies, years when things happened (e.g. it frequently mentions such and such happening in particular years of the reign of the judges), accounts of wars, accounts of how people lived, describes geography, different peoples, provides historical context behind interactions and messages, etc. Granted, the idea is that what we have is less focused on history and the sealed portion contains a longer more detailed history. It no doubt appears to be written in part as a history.
The BOM is very different from the D&C where the actual content of the sections is not a history but simply revelations from God to Joseph Smith, although some historical context is later provided in the headings.
But one of those roles is pastoral.
The black-and-white dichotomy is what got the Church into the mess it’s in today, with respect to historical issues, BofM historicity and other faith crisis catalysts. Perhaps learning to embrace the gray area is key to the organization’s survival, and we can see the Church doing so on many things (women’s issues, LGBT issues, etc.), but at a glacial pace.
I no longer believe the BofM is historical. I’m not obligated to make this fact known to my bishop, so I won’t tell him unless he asks me directly (which he is not likely to do). Even so, I don’t think he would revoke a temple recommend over that issue alone. My ward, like many wards throughout the Church, is struggling to get people to show up regularly, if at all. Finding enough qualified people to fill callings is a constant challenge. He can’t afford to exclude anyone over such minutiae.
I do believe Elder Holland is speaking sincerely here, but he is also subject to personal bias. This is a man who has depended on the Church for every paycheck for his entire professional life. His mind has no room to question or doubt the basic truth claims, and that tends to be something that becomes more immoveable with age.
This is a GREAT topic, Biship Bill. As always – thank you very much for discussing it so honestly and candidly!
Generally speaking, I hardly ever agree with anything that Daniel Peterson says in relation to the LDS Church. However, today he posted the following comment (as part of a larger essay) and I absolutely, totally agree with him:
“I believe, though, that it’s far preferable for the church to be attacked than to be ignored, to be considered weird than to be of no interest at all. So long as the claims of the gospel are being discussed, even negatively, there are openings for teaching. When people are apathetic, there are no openings at all.”
While I still believe that there is a God, and in the divinity of Jesus Christ – and his mission – my life experiences, study and learning (and perhaps age) have simply lead me to the conclusion that no single church (or religion) is the sole arbiter of the salvation and grace offered by Jesus Christ; INCLUDING the LDS Church. While the LDS Church has some fine doctrines and does some fine things – I no longer perceive it as being the gate-keeper for all mankind. So….for me at least….I no longer really care what they consider me to be; even though I continue to attend and support my loved ones who “truly believe.
While Dan Peterson may consider my attitude to be apathy…..I perceive it to be well informed pragmatism.
Good evening, everyone:
In light of our topic today, I thought you might enjoy this quote by Apostle Stephen L. Richards: (I believe in 1932)
Spoken by Apostle Stephen L. Richards in Conference
“I have said these things because I fear dictatorial dogmatism, rigidity of procedure and intolerance even more than I fear cigarettes, cards, and other devices the adversary may use to nullify faith and kill religion. Fanaticism and bigotry have been the deadly enemies of true religion in the long past. They have made it forbidding, shut it up in cold grey walls of monastery and nunnery, out of sunlight and fragrance of the growing world. They have garbed it in black and then in white, when in truth it is neither black nor white, any more than life is black or white, for religion is life abundant, glowing life, with all its shades, colors and hues, as the children of men reflect in the patterns of their lives the radiance of the Holy Spirit in varying degrees.”
I kinda/sorta love this…..
Lefthandloafer swings and hits a home run with his Richards quote! Thanks!
Unfortunately, Stephen L. Richard’s abundant life in the Spirit probably never knew the blissful radiance of sharing a glass of red wine with his wife at the end of the day.
At the end of the day…these kinds of words fill our souls full of hope and optimism, until we realize that the church which produced Richards is also the church that will continue to place restrictions on this “life abundant,” determining for us which shades of gray are permissible and which are prohibited.