What happens to our souls when we are forced to conceal our real thoughts and feelings again and again and again?
Why are some people so resistant to healing and freedom?
Does Jesus want us to believe we need Church leaders?
These are three questions addressed in an episode of Rob Bell’s excellent podcast series, Jesus H. Christ.* The episode, which centers on Jesus healing the man possessed of a legion of unclean spirits, has eerily close parallels with what I’ve been seeing lately in the LDS Church and among Church members (even though the episode has nothing to do with the Church). Specifically, some of the developments banging around in my head while I was listening were (1) this excellent blog post analyzing (with data) the increase of mentions of Nelson among Church authorities since his tenure began, (2) this Exponent post thoughtfully reacting to that information and addressing leader-worship and how it (among other things) infantilizes members and stunts their spiritual development, (3) this talk by Elder Corbitt of the General YM Presidency where he instructs us that we should never participate in activism “towards the Church”, (4) a very similar talk by Sherri Dew expressly conflating “following the prophet” with “following Jesus Christ,” and (5) a conversation I had with someone who was absolutely adamant that even simply “hoping” for change in the Church (specifically with respect to gay marriage) was an apostate, deceitful, prophet-bashing thing to do. In other words, in the last few weeks there was a lot of airtime given to the idea of Follow the Prophet. Apparently, “Hear Him” (Jesus) has proven too permissive and problematic for the Church. It’s now Hear him (Nelson).
I’m not going to do a line-by-line on Corbitt or Dew’s talks; I honestly don’t want to spend that much time reading, thinking, or writing about them. Plus, there were some great responses in the comments on this post. Instead, I’m keeping them in mind while discussing Rob Bell’s take on Mark 5. I encourage you to listen to the episode yourself, but I’m summarizing relevant parts below. I don’t have a transcript so any quotes are my own transcription and may contain errors or mistranscriptions or modifications to suit them for written transmission, but I did my best.
- The Story
I’ll break this down into components later, but since it’s not too many verses here is the text from Mark (KJV).
And [Jesus and his disciples] came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.
And when [Jesus] was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains, because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, and cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.
For [Jesus] said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And [Jesus] asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. And he besought [Jesus] much that he would not send them away out of the country.
Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought [Jesus], saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.
And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.
And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.
And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine. And they began to pray [Jesus] to depart out of their coasts.
And when [Jesus] was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed [Jesus] that he might be with him. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.
And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.
- Repression Fractures the Soul.
The first portion of the story I want to address is the nature of the man’s affliction. He was clearly suffering greatly – “crying, and cutting himself with stones”. He was living in a ritually unclean space (tombs, and notably Jesus visited him there). And when the spirits he was possessed with identified themselves to Jesus, they identified themselves as “legion.”
What might have caused this? Bell argues that his state may have been brought about by Roman oppression and shows what happens when you have to choose between resisting and being slaughtered, or staying quiet and going mad. According to Bell (who relies on the historian Josephus), this area (Gadarenes, or Garasenes or Gerasa), had recently been the site of a rebellion against Roman rule and a bloody crackdown in which a huge percentage of the population was slaughtered. Notably, the spirits tormenting the man identify themselves as “legion”, which is the term for a Roman military organization.
This man is from a region that’s been traumatized and he’s a living, breathing picture of the larger oppression that the whole area has suffered from. You either speak up against injustice and risk getting … penalized or sent to jail. Or you don’t speak out and you repress it and then it festers under the surface. And it just eats you alive.
All throughout this region Jesus is interacting with people [whose choice is] either resist and disrupt and … risk the wrath of Rome, [which is] killing men and burning them to the ground. How do you know that what you’re doing isn’t going to incite the Romans? Because what Romans do is destroy resistance. They slaughter and crucify and burn everything to the ground. You either speak up or you stay quiet, but if you stay quiet that’s its own form of madness. Keeping it inside may have been even worse.
[This is a] confrontation between Jesus and a system of psychospiritual oppression. Jesus vs. the Roman occupation … Jesus comes to enact liberation. Jesus names the thing that everybody is terrified of and then sets you free from it.
There’s a lot to think about here, and much of the ministry of Jesus and the way the gospels describe him is to pit him against Rome–he is the opposite of Rome. But what struck me in particular on this listen is the idea of a fractured soul, of what happens to us when we are forced to choose between speaking up / showing up as ourselves and being punished (excommunicated, shamed, called apostate, released from callings, shunned by a community) or staying quiet and closeted at the expense of our integrity (literally, our wholeness). Corbitt and Dew are telling us to stay quiet. The Church is telling us to worry about our identities as covenant keepers (a relationship mediated by the Church) more than other parts of our identity.
Is the institutional Church following Jesus’s lead, or Rome’s?
- Freedom is Terrifying.
The next part of the story I want to address is how the community responded to the man’s miraculous healing. Did they clamor for more miracles from Jesus (as had happened in other places)? No! When they saw the man “sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind,” they “were afraid” and “they began to pray [Jesus] to depart out of their coasts.” They begged Jesus to leave!
Bell describes this reaction as symptomatic of a fear and despair so great that healing and liberation are terrifying:
This man was sitting there dressed and in his right mind and they were afraid. Deep despair. Malaise. A despair so great that when healing and liberation come they are terrified. The shame, humiliation, terror is such that they come to the point where someone being freed is alarming. It’s like you wake up, you get set free, you’re more alive than ever, you have questions and insights and expanded understandings and possibilities, and you share these–only to receive blank stares. You know that the despair has set in when somebody gets set free and it scares people.
Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon possessed man and to the pigs as well then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. They literally can’t receive and celebrate the good because of their fear.
Liberation can be incredibly disruptive. Here’s the thing. You used to obey. You used to follow the rules. You used to stay quiet about the insanity. You used to go along with the conventional wisdom. You used to live like the other families on your street lived. You used to not say anything. You used to do things how your family and tribe taught you how things are to be done. You used to show up at the appointed times and smile and nod and you used to make sure that you didn’t say anything about the elephant in the room. You used to play your part.
But now? You can’t. You see and you can’t unsee. You’ve tasted and you can’t untaste. And your liberation, your growth, this change, this thing that is happening within you can be incredibly disruptive. There’s a man who has been harming himself because of his bondage to evil and Jesus comes and sets him free so that he’s dressed and in his right mind and the response of the people is ‘Jesus you have to leave now.’
It is possible to be free and more alive than ever with more joy, more vitality, more generosity, more compassion, and at exactly the moment in which you’re in a better place than you’ve ever been is exactly the moment of confrontation with those who would prefer for things to remain the way they are.
How often have you seen this kind of reaction? Someone is finally free, and those who are not free feel threatened. I had a lengthy conversation with someone last week who is very entrenched in following the prophet. She could not even entertain the notion that it is ok to hope for change someday. Hoping for change, she said, was apostasy. There may be a lot of reasons she feels that way, but I couldn’t help but think that a part of it is that she and some of her loved ones have sacrificed a lot on the altar of following the prophet. For her, the idea that others feel free to follow their own consciences could be terrifying because it means she could also have done so all along. Realizing that she’s free and always has been could come with a lot of regret.
I think about someone like Oaks who has made it his personal mission in life to fight against gay marriage. He’s devoted his considerable intellectual heft, his time and talents and energy, to fighting gay marriage because he thought he was supposed to do that. Because he thought that we aren’t really free to pursue the kinds of relationships that we want to pursue. Is it any wonder that he would bristle in the extreme at any notion that he didn’t actually need to do that?
I wonder, too, what might motivate Dew and Corbitt to speak the way they speak. What are they afraid of? Who around them is free in a way that they are not, and are they reacting to that?
- Maybe Jesus Doesn’t Want You to Follow Him (or Anyone Else).
The final section I’ll discuss is the one that inspired Bell’s title for the podcast episode–“Maybe Jesus Doesn’t Want You to Follow Him.” Provocative, but bear with me. It’ll make sense.
The story concludes with Jesus and his disciples getting ready to leave the region, and the man he had healed asked to go with him. Unlike other followers–whom Jesus had told to leave their nets and follow him–Jesus instructed this man to stay in his home and tell others about his experience: “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.”
Bell talks about the trust Jesus shows in this new follower, empowering him to teach before undergoing any kind of particular training. His experience was all he needed–as Bell describes:
What about training? Doesn’t he need an undergrad? Sharpening up arguments? … You can’t just send him back to his people – that’s it? According to Jesus, apparently this is enough. The man has been set free so just go tell how you’ve been set free to your people. Go back to your family, brothers and sisters, just go tell the story.
It’s as if the man is saying let me learn with [your other disciples]. Jesus is responding you have everything you need. It’s as if Jesus has more confidence in the man than the man has in the man. It’s as if Jesus believes in the man more than the man believes in himself.
What if the man gets it wrong? None of these things appear to bother Jesus in any way. ‘You have everything you need here.’
Jesus is teaching them to listen to what they know is true. ‘You don’t need me to follow around.’
There is this tremendous human need for validation. Looking for someone to tell you you’re ok. And then there is this thing that Jesus is doing then with his disciples in which he is teaching them they have everything they need.
Bell contrasts this with how many organizations behave:
Think of how many organizations keep reminding you how much you need them. Think of how many institutions, obviously when you get into religion, how much work is done to keep reminding and keeping in front of you how much you need them. And obviously we need community and we need each other and we need support and we need a tribe and we need a table to feast at, but the goal here with Jesus is to grow up. It’s an elevation in what it means to be human. The Kingdom of God is within you. In the New Testament, Jesus tells Peter, you have everything you need to live in the flow of the divine.
Hearing this was a striking contrast to what Dew and Corbitt have been teaching. For example, Dew admonished that “[w]hatever the cost, do not separate yourself from those who hold all priesthood keys … Let prophets of God be your spiritual anchor. Listen to them. Study their words. Follow their counsel. It will protect you from deception and keep you from making major mistakes.”
Likewise, Corbitt “counseled to beware of catchphrases that somehow preserve a sense of religious sincerity to influence others, such as ‘I don’t follow the Brethren, I follow Jesus Christ,’ or ‘I am holding the Brethren accountable to do what’s right.’ ‘These dangerous claims are as counter to Jesus’ own teachings as they are confused,’ Brother Corbitt said. ‘By contrast, discipleship of Jesus Christ builds and expresses confidence, faith and prayer on behalf of Church leaders.’”
These assertions—which reflect one of the most problematic strains of LDS thinking out there IMO—flatly contradict the confidence Jesus expressed in a brand-new convert: Don’t follow me. Trust your experience. Share your experience. Why do organizations do this, and what is the cost to their members?
- Postscript–Yeah, I Could Use You.
Bell ends the episode with a postscript about this story from Mark 7. In Mark 7, Jesus returns to Decapolis–the Greek city where the man he’d healed from the legion of evil spirits had gone to share his experience (instead of following Jesus back across Galilee). As you’ll recall, in Mark 5, the people ask Jesus to leave. But when he comes back, this time there is a “multitude” waiting for him asking for healing:
And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.
And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.
And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.
And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.
And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.
Bell theorizes about the reason there is a crowd there, in this thoroughly Greek region, expecting Jesus to heal them:
Is there a crowd because this random dude who got set free went and told his story and word spread and by the next time Jesus came through so many people have heard from this one dude that a crowd has gathered? Goes back to this enduring truth that you see what Jesus. Tremendous elevation of the human. He keeps insisting that average ordinary everyday people like you and me, and people who have been liberated by evil spirits, just in witnessing to the mercy and healing of the divine, can essentially activate all sort of goodness in the world. Heart of the story is insistence that whatever you’ve been though you’re fully capable of doing interesting and compelling things in the world.
I find great hope in this. I find great comfort in this. It’s like Jesus keeps saying yeah, I could use you. Yeah we could use someone like you. I’m interested in you and who you are and what it looks like for you to be fully alive.
Is this the message you get from Dew and Corbitt? Do you feel like the Church is interested in “you and who you are and what it looks like for you to be fully alive”?
- What do you think of Bell’s take on this story? Does he misinterpret it? Does he shed light on it? Do you wish we spent more time doing close readings of scripture stories at Church? (Some of my favorite talks—woefully rare—are those that do close readings of one or two stories or verses. Other churches do a better job of this than we do because they have trained clergy.)
- Have you seen instances where repression has led to a fractured soul? Are there things in Church culture or practice that encourage this? Are there things in Church culture or practice that help with this? On a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 being Jesus and 10 being the Romans, how would you rate your ward? Stake? Top Church leadership?
- Have you ever seen someone who was free in a way that you didn’t feel free and resented them for it? Why or why not? Have you faced opposition or resentment from others for your own free actions?
- What do you think of claims that following the prophet = following Jesus? Is there scriptural support for Corbitt’s assertion that this is the case? What do you think of the logic (that I hear repeated a lot) that prophets say they speak for Jesus therefore prophets speak for Jesus? Why are people willing to believe this kind of claim when they may not likely believe it coming from anyone else?
- Do you feel like the Church wants you as you are, or only as someone else?
*Apart from reading Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, this series has been the single most enlightening thing I’ve ever learned about Jesus. It’s so good. Listen to it. Really. Bell kind of drives me nuts sometimes, I don’t like the parts at the beginning where he’s just rambling about his life and his tours and whatever else, but I promise that once he gets going, it’s mind-boggling good.
One of the main reasons why there is such a disconnect between the Church’s messaging on following Christ and actually following Christ is rooted in a huge misunderstanding about the similarities between today’s Church (COJCOLDS) and the “Church” that existed when Jesus was on earth. In sum, there was NO CHURCH when Jesus was here on earth…certainly nothing like what we have today. You can research this yourself if you don’t believe me.
If you believe that the COJCOLDS is similar to the organization that existed in Christ’s time (which I believed for around 50 years), then it’s easy to make the transition that the Brethren want you to make: that following the Prophet is like following Christ; that aligning yourself to the Brethren’s views is aligning yourself to God’s will. This is why it is so vital to the COJCOLDS that it’s faithful members (TBMs?) believe in the Priesthood and it’s authority to speak for God. Again, if you believe that you will likely believe that it is vital to stay “in the boat”.
All of us view the life of Christ differently. I used to view him differently than I do today. Instead of viewing him as some kind of RMN figure I prefer to see him as a rebel who spoke out against the virtue signalers and hypocrites and the wealthy / connected who looked down on everyone else. I don’t think Christ (if he is indeed the divine being I was taught about) wants me to follow anyone. I think he wants me to be like he was.
Another excellent post – thank you. This past Sunday, the sister giving the opening prayer in SM gave thanks for the “simplicity of the true gospel” and blessed that we would “acknowledge and understand the simplicity of Christ’s only true church on this earth”. I was taken aback by her emphasis on simplicity and associating that with the LDS Church.
I agree that the gospel taught by Jesus is simple and is based on loving and serving everyone. However, the gospel of Mormonism this sister referred to represents the antithesis of simplicity. We are required to strictly obey layers of rules/commandments in order to receive the Mormon version of exaltation. Reading the Elder Corbitt and Sheri Dew talks is infuriating. Their messages reek of worship of men, and outright arrogance. How dare we think for ourselves.
The repression referred to in the OP does indeed fracture souls in many ways. It can result in severe emotional turmoil and takes many forms. I have seen members resign, vent on social media (physician heal thyself) or remain active non-believers. This last category is destructive to emotional and physical health. Sitting in a pew hearing the same intellectual drivel week after week in the interest of maintaining a community of friends or keeping a job is the ultimate form of repression. It is destructive and a waste of precious time.
The OP asked for ratings on ward, stake and general leadership on a 1-10 scale with 1 representing Jesus and 10 representing the Romans. Using that scale my ward is an 8, and the stake/general leaders come in at a solid 12. Mormonism has become the ultimate exercise in unrighteous dominion and hero worship.
Bell’s quote saying “Its like Jesus keeps saying yeah I could use you…” is spot on. I envy those in my circle who have either resigned or stepped completely away. Without exception, they are happier and more fulfilled. My hope of living within the confines of Mormonism and hoping to be an agent of change is rapidly declining.
Lastly, following the prophet is not following Jesus. It is simply allowing a man to intercede in what should be a deeply personal relationship.
“Staying quiet and going mad” is provocative. I’ll be using that line for much longer than I remember Elder Corbitt and Sister Dew.
I would like to see an open acknowledgement of the fact that we believe in personal revelation but only when it helps us keep our temple recommend.
My personal odyssey started with the Monson illness which itself was a reprise of Benson – I feel like I have read much and put in the work, ministered to a drug-dependent child, and here I am doubting the Mormon origin story.
And also “lazily” wearing crocs, listening to Bon Jovi, watching Tik Tok, visiting honky tonks and the 7-11.
“Maybe Jesus Doesn’t Want You To Follow Anybody”
Agreed. The two great commandments are not about following anyone. It is about what you DO for others while and because of loving God.
Yep. I totally agree with the principle that is being taught here. I think we all have “divine DNA” within us, and Christ invites us to follow our divine DNA. Religion and the commandments can help us understand and recognize that divine DNA within ourselves, but it is the DNA within us that we should follow, not the rules others tell us we should follow.
(As a side note: Although I agree with the principle, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that’s what the story in Mark 5 about, but that’s okay).
I was once in a dentist office in a Bible belt state. The waiting room had a Gideon Bible on a table. I pick up the Bible to open to a “random” page, asking God to show me a specific message that I needed. I fully expected a scripture on loving thy neighbor, service, forgiveness or a similar topic. Instead, God directed my fingers to 1 Kings 13. I will let you read this chapter and draw your own conclusions. But I knew why God gave me this message, for reasons I have written about elsewhere.
I feel like there is nothing I can do about the church’s rhetoric or obsession with getting everyone to fall inline with all the correct beliefs, experiences, life. I have to just let it go and ignore it to be able to stay.
I enjoyed the take of the Podcaster and will go look him up. It goes along with the answers to my personal prayers that tell me the ultimate goal is not to obey, it’s to become.
Elisa: my most sincere compliments. This is one of the best articles of late. Very, very well done. While it’s taken almost all of my adult life to learn this lesson – I think I’m finally there. The LDS Church is nothing but a “Potemkin Village” (with deference to Dieter); it’s all painted up, gilded and presented as a perfect place and one that everyone simply has to be part of. But, it’s empty, soul less, soul grinding, mind numbing and burdensome. It’s so called leaders are simply old (worn out) men who simply cannot give up the drug like diet of scheming, wordsmithing and manipulation which suggests that they are still valued and “in the game”. Personally, I find no inspiration nor uplift from any one of them. What is truly, remarkably invigorating (and terrifying sometimes) is when one takes off and sets aside all of the old baggage, mythologies, expectations and patterns ingrained over years – and leaves them all behind. For some marvelous, thought sparking reason….the soul soars when that first step into the unknown is taken.
By the way…my home Ward would be a 9. Our stake would blow apart the top of the scale at a stunning 15! Nauseating hero worship abounds in Northern Utah County….
This is really fascinating and well-presented, Elisa. I really enjoy close readings of scriptural stories to find lessons beyond the obvious ones.
It’s true that freedom is frightening for people who have adapted to living a certain way. If being healed means reinventing yourself, that’s a huge undertaking. Not everyone wants to do that. My life’s fractured soul from repression was mostly tied up with my father. When I finally broke free and could say, “his behavior is wrong and it’s hurt me,” it was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I clearly remember on specific instance of wrestling with a pain that I wasn’t yet willing to give up. I’d hurt in that specific way for so long that I’d absorbed it into my identity and was scared of having to grow and fill in the hole that giving up that fear would leave in me.
I’d kept quiet for so long. I think in some ways, I was affected the most by my father. My other siblings weren’t, and so the repression didn’t weigh as heavily on them. For me, it was an extreme – I either stayed quiet and died inside, or I broke out and remade myself. I didn’t have a middle ground, and I believe some of my siblings did.
I’ve wondered, too, if Jesus really wants a big, institutionalized church. His influence seems to do the most good when it’s private and personal. Once an organization starts growing, rules and bureaucracy spring up. Leaders can’t do course corrections without jeopardizing their status, or at least that’s what the Church fears. Preserving the institution has to take priority, and that necessarily pulls the focus off of Jesus and his radical ideas.
Thank you Elisa. As noted above, this is well thought out and a very interesting read. I enjoy the take on the story from Mark and think it’s just as viable an interpretation as any.
“Have you seen instances where repression has led to a fractured soul?” Yes. I’ve followed David Archuleta’s story since his interview with Mayim Bialik and I think his journey illustrates this point quite well.
“Have you ever seen someone who was free in a way that you didn’t feel free and resented them for it? Why or why not? Have you faced opposition or resentment from others for your own free actions?” Even in my true believing days, I suppose I was nuanced and didn’t even know it. For example, my wife and I during our courtship decided that (1) we would presume that God was ok with us deciding when to have children and if God felt otherwise he would have to let us both know; and (2) we were going to both use our educations to pursue our vocation of choice and would let our future hypothetical children dictate if that would eventually change. We received a lot of flak for this in our BYU married ward and even in our first family ward in Southern California. The way everybody wanted us to join them in having kids we couldn’t afford financially or emotionally was really something. I don’t know why so many people felt this way but my impression, which may be wrong, was they didn’t appreciate the cognitive dissonance our pathway provided.
Now fast forward twenty years. Our engagement with the church is now such that it no longer takes up all our excess funds and time. Again, we receive some flak from friends and family about this. It feels like deja vu.
“What do you think of claims that following the prophet = following Jesus?” Sometimes it is; sometimes it’s not. But I’ve lost interest in this question. The church will never stop conflating the two so I’ve had to move on.
“Do you feel like the Church wants you as you are, or only as someone else? ” Our ward and stake don’t know what to do with us. They probably wish we would just leave already but we keep coming back like that cat. So they do try to engage with us. Recently my wife was asked to speak in stake conference about how to treat people that Mormon different than you. She’s received a lot of accolades from the community, which is nice, but I’m not sure it will have the lasting impact required. It’s complicated. I think the church does want a certain kind of diversity; I’m still not sure if our families’ diversity is what they had in mind.
On the note of the constant obsequiousness to RMN and “the Brethren” at large, and the very interesting blog post concerning such data mentioned in the OP:
if I put my optimism cap on, then the fact that that this new tack, is well, new (as of 2018), means that it may not always be the case in the future. Oaks I’m sure will unleash all kinds of new horrors upon the church when he steps up the plate, but he doesn’t strike me quite as much of a cult-of-personality guy as RMN has proven to be, less so the other immediate next-in-line apsotles Ballard and Holland.
But who knows? Could anyone have seen this coming before RMN became president of the church? During the Monson years, I was in my late 20s at BYU and a fairly active TBM at the time, and I don’t think RMN was even on my radar that much, if you had asked me about some character/personality trait of RMN’s I would’ve come up blank, he was the heart surgeon, that’s really it. I think his 2012 “ask the missionaries” GC talk made him stand a little bit more, but that was really it, for me at least.
And I have strange memory too that I can’t quite place, it must’ve been after that talk, but that’s when I was taking the required religion classes at BYU, and after a GC, instructors of such classes would always take some time in the first class period following a GC weekened to talk about GC a little bit and get students to share something. Anyway, I remember the prof of my BoM class saying something along the the lines of ‘wow, wasn’t that a great talk by RMN? he’s a favourite now!’ kind of implying that he wasn’t anyone’s favourite before, or stood out much at all.
In sum, it makes it look like RMN’s MO as president of the church kind of came out of nowhere, or very suddenly. He’d clearly been planning a lot of these things like “the changes” for some time based on how relatively quickly they were rolled out after Monson’s death.
I guess my question is, did anyone see this coming? (in particular the obsequiousness to leadership). We all already have an idea of what Oak’s presidency will look like, because he’s been hammering on the same couple of things for years, but RMN’s apparent orders to make everyone praise him all the time seems like it came way out of left field…
Can’t reveal my sources but within the family of RMN it is a mandate that he is referred to as “Grandfather” not Papa, Gramps, etc.
@purple, that’s a very interesting question. I agree with you that absent a couple of remarkable talks (one about being inspired in how to do a surgery on Pres kimball and one where he talked about wanting to quit medicine because of a child who’d died during surgery), he was mostly unremarkable.
I am surprised to have learned he was a chief architect of the family proc. I figured that was all Oaks.
Some of the teachings he’s bringing about now are not “surprising” in the sense that he gave similar messages before … like 20+ years ago … about “Mormons” and God not loving unconditionally. But surprising that they’ve come back after he apparently held them quietly for so long until now and hasn’t evolved as a thinker or person in decades.
This is a wonderful post. I went ahead and listened to Bell’s podcast. I am interested in hearing more from him.
This bible story has always been perplexing to me. Thousands of evil spirits with the terrifying name “Legion”. Thousands of pigs throwing themselves to their deaths in the ocean. People begging Jesus to leave their villages for healing someone. The possession of a person by evil spirits makes it hard for me to take this story literally. I don’t see much evidence for this sort of thing happening today, so why would it have happened in the past? It feels like a story that comes to us from another age when people did believe in this sort of thing. I know that some people like to interpret stories of evil spirits being cast out as examples of Jesus healing people of what we would today call mental illnesses. However, when people are cured of mental illnesses today, we don’t see the source of their old illness immediately jump into some nearby animal, driving the animal into some sort of manic behavior. In any case, there may be some historically accurate elements to this story, but I feel like there may be some embellishment as well.
I really like and agree with many of Bell’s ideas in his podcast. That said, I feel like he is finding a lot more in this story than is apparent to me from the text. Bell claims that the person with the evil spirits is really suffering from a fractured soul caused by recent Roman violence in the area. The only two justifications that Bell provides for this are that there really were recent Roman attacks in the area that killed many people and that the name of the evil spirits is “Legion”, which is the name given to a Roman military unit. I like how Bell talks about how Jesus frees the man from the inner oppression caused by the Roman attacks. However, Bell doesn’t really give an explanation for the crazed pigs. The straightforward explanation in the text is the legion of evil spirits left the man and possessed the pigs causing them to immediately drown themselves. While Bell mentions the pigs, if the cause of the cured man’s illness was really inner turmoil, he doesn’t really give an explanation (from what I recall from listening) for thousands of pigs intentionally drowning themselves in the ocean. While I also like Bell’s description of how the freedom that Christ can bring us can be terrifying to people, I have a hard time buying this as the reason that the people beg Jesus to leave them. I would think that even people holding back their true feelings for fear of Roman oppression would be happy to see one man cured of his madness. It seems to me like a more reasonable explanation is that the people saw that while Jesus had cured one man, he’d also robbed people of their livelihood (a few thousand pigs would presumably be very valuable in those times), and they didn’t want him to cause any more financial damage to the area. I suppose that this idea could fit in to Bell’s interpretation that the people were living in fear of Roman impression: they had just suffered terrible losses to the Romans, and now Jesus appears bringing even more destruction to their lands, so they wanted him to leave.
I have heard of Bell, and I’ve read a few small parts of things he’s written, but I don’t really know too much about him. Like I said, Bell’s discussion resonates with me even if I feel like he’s reading more into this story than is really there. I do wonder if Bell doesn’t provide an explanation for the pigs because he, like me, kind of thinks this story has been embellished with fantastic claims about evil spirits. However, Bell is trying to appeal to a largely Christian following (and I understand he has been quite popular among many Christian groups, including evangelical Christians), and he knows that if he discounts the evil spirits mentioned in the story that he may alienate some of his Christian audience (especially the people that tend to always take the bible literally). Rather than alienate some of his listeners, he just kind of leaves out an explanation for the evil spirits and the pigs. I have no idea if this theory is true or not, but it does seem kind of strange to me to attempt to provide a close reading of this story without providing some sort of discussion of the evil spirits and the pigs.
Even though I feel like Bell may be reading quite a bit into this story that just isn’t in the text, the ideas he presents do resonate with me. I do think that people can be spiritually/emotionally oppressed in an imperfect organization like the Church with its fallible leaders. I think that Church members do have opportunities to be freed from the constraints for continued spiritual growth that the Church tends to impose on people, but taking advantage of these opportunities can be very scary. It is very comforting to believe that if you just follow all the rules and fall in line with the brethren on any controversial topic that you will head straight to the celestial kingdom when you die. Do you see any issues or mistakes made by Church leaders? Don’t worry–Church leaders don’t make mistakes. Just put yet another issue on the proverbial shelf, grit your teeth a little harder, stay in the boat, and you won’t drown.
Instead of putting all the mistakes of past Church leaders on your shelf, though, there is another possible path. Instead of assuming that the Church leaders are always right, see the mistakes for what they really are: mistakes made my ordinary humans. Polygamy? Joseph Smith screwed up. Racism? Brigham Young screwed up. Evolution? Joseph Fielding Smith screwed up. Women having careers? Ezra Benson screwed up. Policy of Exclusion? Russel Nelson screwed up. The list is long and getting longer as we speak. Don’t let Church leaders co-opt your morality and make all of your decisions for you. It can be scary to realize that just following the brethren in everything isn’t good enough. It was for me, but the freedom that comes from accepting responsibility for one’s own morality and actions is so much better than living with the heavy shelf that is required when you are still trying to live in a world where Church leaders can’t possibly teach anything wrong or that violates Christ’s teachings.
The OP asks whether there is scriptural support for equating following the prophet to following Jesus as Corbitt did in his talk. Both Corbitt and Dew each quoted a handful of the common scriptures that Mormon leaders use to support this claim. The standard Mormon “out” with all of these scriptures (which I actually like) is that Church leaders speak for Jesus when they speak for Jesus, but since they are fallible men, they sometimes might not actually be speaking for Jesus when they think they are speaking for Jesus. Of course, Mormons tend to really clam up when asked for examples of when prophets weren’t speaking for Jesus. Church leaders have pushed the idea that they can’t lead the Church astray so hard for so long that Mormons believe that it’s just wrong to talk about those things on their shelves which are really just mistakes made by Church leaders that didn’t come from Jesus at all. It sure would be nice for the Church to officially recognize some of the big mistakes made by Church leaders and to include these mistakes in lessons about how we should deal with Church leaders. This would require Church leaders to relinquish much of the control that they currently exercise over members and lead to a much more mature spirituality in members, so it probably won’t happen any time soon.
Such a thought-provoking post. One thing I thought of re: resenting others who are free is the huge backlash female Mormon (sorry, can’t bring myself to do the RMN-mandated edit here) influencers/bloggers/whateveryouwanttocallit if they appear on social media in clothing that is not conducive to wearing garments. The intense backlash, I think, comes from other Mormon women who are outraged at another woman touting her Mormonism publicly while appearing insufficiently modest in appearance. Of course, that invokes all the ridiculous, sexist, and infantilizing rhetoric that accompanies an absurdly narrow and peculiar view of “modesty,” and normal people don’t worry about what sort of underwear others are wearing. But it always makes me think, if you’re so certain that strict adherence to anything the Brethren (or other leaders) say is correct, and you’re confident in your choices, why do you care what anyone else does or wears? The obvious answer is they’re not certain and not confident, and admitting that to themselves or anyone else is terrifying. Much easier to lash out at the less orthodox and tell them they’re Mormon-ing wrong.
Over time I’ve read that story as Jesus’ loving interaction with a man with mental health behavior and needs. It seemed he was relegated to the catacombs bc of ostracism. I think that Jesus knew about his circumstances, but adapted his language to something people in that time would understand. I now think the NT writers conflated two events in time (the man’s observable healing, and a herd of swine running into the sea).
The explanation about legion referring to the Roman military, and description of the genocide they had committed is insightful. It explains so much about the man. And why Jesus had such compassion for him.
I can think of many world events over the last century and even decade that make the man’s experience more poignant.
Even the last year.
I don’t disagree with the other conclusion, but for me, the example is enough.
I can’t express enough my appreciation to Elisa for broaching this subject. Aside from the horrific initial temple experience, the single most significant issue in my break with the church was that it never wanted me to become emotionally and spiritually independent. It still doesn’t want that with any members. I was introduced to Rob Bell by this post and listened to the initial podcast in his Jesus H. Christ series. This is a completely new way, to me, of discussing both Christ’s life and influence, and in many ways it tracks with Reza Aslan’s Zealot and other works that portray Jesus as a disruptor who’s primary goal was to upset the Roman world. That Elisa could move from devout belief to considering the scenario Bell presents suggest a remarkable journey that could only be embarked upon by cutting the church apron strings, which takes guts.