The Church often touts itself as the only church that has the answers to where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going. For those old enough, you may remembers the 13 min film called “Man’s Search For Happiness” I watched this as a kid dozens of times. It was the film shown in the Temple visitor’s centers from the mid 1960s through the 1980’s. I can still here the narrator say “Who am I?”, “Where did I come from?”, and “Where am I going?” With direct revelation through a living prophet, it should be easy to have the answers to life’s difficult questions.
Today is the first in a series of posts (spread over several months) that will look at questions that need answers, but so far have not been answered, much to the detriment of Church members. Now these are not trivial questions like can God create a rock so large that He cannot lift it, but questions that that have profound impact on members, yet we have no answers, or we have contradictory answers.
Today’s question is: “Why are some people born with disabilities that make life so hard, sometimes ending in premature death?” There is no official answer in the scriptures or First President pronouncements. But this hasn’t stopped our leaders from telling us what they think, and then the members running with it as doctrine. The answers fall on both sides of the question: Is it s blessing or a curse? Thankfully, the “blessing” category is more prevalent in todays Church.
The first story we have all heard is that a child with a sever disability, especially those that die before the age of eight, is that they were so noble and righteous in the pre-mortal life that they volunteered to come to earth with the disability, and then God took them early so they didn’t need to suffer a mortal life. This is not official doctrine, but I’m sure you all have heard it many times. This is meant to bring comfort to the parents and caregivers of a disabled child/person.
On the other side of the coin, we have pronouncements that are quite hurtful. Below are a few that are new to me, and can come across as just plain mean.
The privilege of obtaining a mortal body on this earth is seemingly so priceless that those in the spirit world, even though unfaithful or not valiant, were undoubtedly permitted to take mortal bodies although under penalty of racial or physical or nationalistic limitations.”Harold B. Lee, Decisions for Successful Living, pp. 165
There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient; more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less”Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61
While the two quotes above where mainly written to justify banning Blacks from the priesthood/temple blessings, it seems the authors couldn’t help themselves, and had to throw disabilities in there also, using the words “physical limitations” and “other disadvantages”. I wonder if this was suppose to make Black people feel better knowing their skin color was a disability like spina bifida?
It appears that these disabilities are among the physical ‘Handicaps’ that a less valiant spirit earns as a result of pre-mortal conduct described in a 1951 First Presidency Statement below:
The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind; namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of the principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the principle is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure;”Official statement of the First Presidency to BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson, dated August 17, 1951, quoted in Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrinal Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price, 1967, pp. 406- 407
This is a real issue with parents of disabled children, and parents that lose children to illness. With a church lead by a Prophet, why couldn’t he just ask? I’ll help him out with the words to use for his next prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, I have studied this out in my mind, and have come to the conclusion that children born with disabilities is a completely random occurrence of our mortal existence, and that it has nothing to do with their conduct in the pre-earth life, nor anything to do with the conduct of the parents. If thou will confirm this, I have my pen and note pad at my bedside ready to write then thou are ready. In the name of thy Son, even the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
Why do you think that God has seen fit to reveal that children of gay couples can’t get baptized, and then change His mind, yet has chose not to answer this? Are the Q15 not asking the right questions? Has this question ever been asked?
Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay
You have indeed selected an important topic to start your series. This is an area I have sincerely struggled with in regards to the church. On the one hand we’re told: ” whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same”. On the other we’re told: “oh, that isn’t doctrine, just policy (read: a man’s idea/plan)”. I have struggled to determine what is actually doctrine and haven’t come up with much. The quotes you share can’t be considered “policy” as they’re not procedural, they’re statements of belief. I am pretty literal, so perhaps I’m wrong, but I consider a statement of belief by a prophet to be doctrine.
There were some memes going around before conference featuring a big neon sign to the left of the podium. Either side could light up, so one side said speaking as a prophet and the other speaking as a man. It’s supposed to be a joke, but wouldn’t that be incredibly helpful? Haven’t we been told that we should consider conference as scripture? Isn’t scripture doctrine? Am I supposed to guess what is what?
Reading the quotes you provided, I don’t think it’s an unfair assumption that those statements were not only the policy of the church, but considered doctrine or true beliefs. I certainly was taught all those variations. I feel it is a reasonable expectation to be taught the doctrines of the faith that you attend. I vividly remember apologetically bringing up the unfaithful in the pre-existence concept in a RS meeting (though it gave me an icky feeling) and being gently corrected by another sister – the church doesn’t believe that anymore. WHAT? No one told me! I was happy to hear this. Looking back, I now realize this as the first time the church quietly changed the narrative in my experience, but neglected to tell the membership. It is a pattern of behavior that is cowardly, dishonest, and disrespectful.
The worship of whiteness, maleness, and able-bodiedness in those statements! Now it’s the worship of straightness that they are fixated on. But it’s the same kind of thing.
Our second child was stillborn. He would be 19 now and that was probably the start of my faith crisis. In large part because the church had no good answers or comfort to give us. I was told both that he would be ours to raise again as he would be resurrected as a child or that he was too perfect for this life and so didn’t need a mortal probation. Similar logic is behind our teachings about stillborn children and handicapped children and that made me so angry. Part of that was grief and depression but I was furious at how little the church had to say to comfort us. Then on top of that as clerk I realized that a stillborn child doesn’t even show up in our church records. Stillborn children can be added to genealogical records but not in MLS or church records.
The most comforting thing was accepting that random and terrible things happen and that god didn’t kill my son because he was too good for this world made me feel a lot better than any of the Mormon doctrines.
I remember when I was a teen and heard the faith promoting rumor that people born with severe mental disabilities may have been so noble in the pre earth life they chat need to be tested. Luckily it was taught to me as a theory and not a doctrine. I like the explanation at the time and it fit in to my world view and made me feel good about my beliefs. I thought of would be comforting to people with disabled children.
I later came to understand that this explanation comes with its own problems. Among other problems, it doesn’t really comfort families who want their presumably noble children to live long fulfilling lives.
I like your example prayer. On the one hand, since I no longer put much stock in revelation I don’t really want church leaders to produce revelation that purports to be from God when it is really from their own minds. I with rather that they just admit they don’t have all the answers.
But if they are going to go for a new revelation, they might just writes it before they pray, and then in their prayer they can say something like “If this is the revelation that you want us to reveal to the church as your word, please give us no sign at all.” This follows the Home Simpson theory of prophecy.
Sorry. So many typos in my first paragraph above in some places it says the opposite of what I was thinking. Hopefully you all can parse out what I was trying to say.
I really like what Rabbi Harold Kushner had to say on this topic in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People , which is basically a discussion of the Book of Job. Kushner had a child with a devastating rare disorder that made him age extremely quickly.
The biggest mistakes in the history of religion is speaking for God when God has been silent. Or worse assuming to know the will of God and pronouncing an opinion as revelation or something akin to it. These issues have plagued all religious traditions for centuries.
along with the issue of stillborn children raised in comment above, I want more divine/institutional information on miscarriages, and when the spirit enters the body (also relevant to the abortion debate)
One bad example is what B. K. Packer and J. R. Clark called pranks of nature. They apparently believed and taught that certain circumstances – I think things like being born intersex or perhaps gay (I can’t really tell) – are unfortunate and extremely rare and should be ignored or dismissed without explanation.
My own daughter was born with limb and hand birth defects and suffers significant health challenges as an adult. I guess I get to choose to believe that A) she is so strong she can can overcome the suffering willingly allowed by a loving God or B) she was not valiant in the pre-mortal life. Option C) seems like a better explanation which is that some random ways the molecules formed while she was developing in the womb resulted in her being the way she is. The pretty awesome conclusion my daughter reached is that she’s perfect the way she is and at the resurrection her hand and arm will remain as they are and that she doesn’t need a “better” limb. She bristles at the suggestion that she’s flawed now. I think many in the LGBT community feel similarly to the idea they will be made whole at the resurrection.
To leaders who think they know anything about the afterlife I respectfully say “screw you.”
Happy Easter. 🙂
This line of thought is part of that prosperity gospel paradigm where the righteous are rewarded and the evil are punished. I think this is a very immature and false spiritual narrative designed for the purpose of disciplining naughty children. Any adult ought to know better just by living in this world. It’s also an emotional crutch to imagine we control what happens to us with our righteous actions. That is simply untrue magical thinking. Only the very inexperienced can really believe this.
I prefer the verse in Matthew 5:45 where the sun shines on both evil and good and rain falls on both just and unjust.
Really, that’s how it works in life. Cells mutate and you get cancer. There’s a variety of scientific reasons this occurs. But it’s cells not evil that controls it.
We have a child that suffered all kinds of defects before birth. In my prayers I do believe he wanted to come to earth, with our particular family, even with this messed up body. Without medical intervention he wouldn’t have been able to eat or drink and would have died of dehydration. He has had 14 surgeries and countless procedures.
The narrative that he is somehow exempt from testing absolutely doesn’t fit. That is completely inaccurate. He has a normal brain and he certainly knows some things other people don’t that haven’t had his experiences. He is certainly tested. But his normal brain and endocrine function honestly have made some things easier for him, than they are for my kids that struggle with brain functions.
I have a child who struggles with autism, seizures, ADHD, verbal apraxia, and some identity issues. They have normal intelligence but so much stands in their way in life. They didn’t choose any of this. They struggle to manage these conditions best they can despite limitations of the brain they have. They certainly are learning.
I have the son who suffers with autoimmune problems, endocrine problems, sleep dysfunction and depression. His life has been so so hard. He feels angry at God sometimes. He has been harshly judged for his attitude, but his poor brain function is caused by physical medical problems.
I see all these things in a scientific way. They are caused by cellular function, not righteousness or unrighteousness. Certainly there are things spiritually we can learn from these experiences. We can learn and accept that we aren’t in control of our lives. We can be grateful for those blessings we have. We can humbly accept that we don’t have all the details of other people’s lives, so we just don’t know enough to judge them. There’s just so much we can’t know about other people. People and our experiences come in endless variety. We should quit imagining we know what someone else should have done differently to make their life turn out better. There’s so much that cannot be communicated.
So so many things we think are someone’s choices, just aren’t. We can honor agency best by letting God handle the judgement and letting other people make the hard choices in their lives, instead of imagining we know better. We can love everyone and try to support others as best we can, without imagining we could have chosen better than they did.
We can have faith in God’s all over plan that we come to earth and learn by experience. This world offers tons of opportunities for experiences. We don’t have to imagine or make up individual reasons behind every little occurrence. There’s an overarching reason of coming to earth and gaining experience. No other explanation involving controlling through our righteousness is needed.
A few times lately I have felt a tug to draw me back in the fold, a lovely funeral yesterday where the stories really touched me, where the church made such a difference in the person’s life. I feel the goodness of my church community, and my lovely family. We have a lot of family gathering right now from other countries so I’m full of these warm fuzzies and then you bring me down to earth! The quotes here I have seen before and are so egregious, and confirm to me that I can only ever count myself on the the very edge of inside. I can only stick with it in a limited way.
You said that this is the first in a series in which you intend to explore unanswered questions. You also pointed mentioned the thought process that many of us have: if we don’t know, why can’t the prophet / Brethren just ask?
That is the key issue: why don’t they just ask and then communicate to us the answer? Isn’t that the way the Doctrine and Covenants was developed…answers to questions?
Every time I hear “we don’t know” or “the Church takes no position” I wonder why they don’t ask. Actually, I think I know why.
I don’t expect the Lord to answer every trivial question. But how about some of the big ones? A few years ago I remember hearing DHO say that he doesn’t know why there are LGBTQs among us. Fair enough. Go find out bro.
When I was a missionary, my fellow missionaries and I explicitly told people the reason we have a prophet is to tell us God’s will regarding the specific questions and challenges of today. But it is clear to me now that the Q15 mostly react to the questions and challenges of today with the harmful dogmas of the past.
Why don’t they get new revelations to answer these big questions? IMO, the 3 most plausible explanations are:
1. The church used to receive legit revelations but doesn’t anymore (unlikely since the earliest revelations have also been debunked. See: Book of Abraham).
2. There is a benevolent God out there but they have mysterious reasons for not answering our questions or helping us out more.
3. God is a malevolent trickster and this actually IS his true church but he gives his prophets bad revelations (or withholds them) on purpose to toy with us.
4. Revelation is a human-made construct and it’s better to admit that we’re all just semi-intelligent apes doing our best to figure out this thing called life.
My money’s on #4. Happy Easter, everyone!
As usual (Bishop Bill) – Really Awesome Post:
I’m sure that (like everyone who has ever lived) I look back on the passage of time and wonder “how did it all pass so quickly”. At the same time I ask this fairly common “human” question, I also have to add a somewhat uncommon (perhaps even unique) query – which is “how in the world have I devoted almost half of my life to the loving, raising, nurturing….and the 24/7 management of a severely autistic child?”
I’m sure it may come as no surprise when I tell you that this is not the first time I’ve asked this question. In fact, there have been times when I have practically shouted it at the heavens; and to any God or God’s who may be inclined to listen. “What could the possible purpose be (from a loving God) to force a precious soul into a lifetime of captivity; dwelling in a broken body – with a broken mind?” And then, to “gift that child to parents in way that will slowly, inexorably grind their health, well-being and God given energy into the ground; as the demands of caring for this loved child never, ever end”.
Being the offspring of 5 generations of faithful LDS heritage, I was raised on a steady diet of stories, teachings and I suppose doctrine of how our Heavenly Father is a God of miracles; who has a keen interest in every aspect of our lives – all throughout our lives. At this point, it is important to underscore that I thoroughly internalized all of this, throughout my young life, during my missionary service for the church and in the early years of my marriage and family life.
Today, as I search my heart, my soul, my mind and my memories, I have to admit that I can no longer believe in a being who regularly bestows miracles on his offspring here on this planet. Nor, does everything that happens in our lives have purpose or reason for occurring. Yes its’ true, sometimes “shit just happens”. (Or, if you’re put off by the harsh reality of that statement, we can certainly say “life just happens”.)
I readily acknowledge the steady stream of testimonies, Facebook posts, faithful blogs and stories from people who express gratitude for the miracle of a beautiful morning, of finding lost car keys, an extra five dollar bill in an old pair of jeans and/or the road being cleared for a person to make their way to work on time on a busy morning. Generally, many of these minor miracles seem to fall under the description of “tender mercies”; as described by those who experience them.
Please don’t think I’m making light of these daily positive events which happen to everyone from time to time. Rather, I’m simply asking if all of these little, daily uplifting occurrences are gifts from a loving God, then where does this same loving, omniscient Being disappear too when the “big stuff” comes into a person’s life!
As I reflect on the life changing “hurricane” of having a severely autistic child (at a relatively young age) I feel compelled to mention that (on the opposite end of the life spectrum) my much loved Dad is now suffering through the cruel, debilitating, soul stealing condition of Alzheimer’s disease. So, for almost thirty years I’ve watched and cared for my beautiful little girl in a broken body with a broken mind and now I’m watching and help care for my wonderful Dad whose body and mind have become broken as well. And honestly – I just don’t know what to make of it all; particularly within the context of what I’ve been taught throughout all of my history with Mormonism and Christianity.
Over the course of decades, many Priesthood blessings have been given; by higher and higher authorities. My wife and I have fasted and prayed until “we’re blue in the face”. We’ve put names on the prayer rolls at the Temple and we’ve watched and waited….and waited…and waited…and waited for the hoped for divine intervention. Sadly, it hasn’t come – at least in any kind of way that I can recognize.
However, here is the reality of WHAT HAS occurred. My wife and I have worked our asses off (for years) to hold everything together; our family, our marriage relationship, our home, the well-being of our other children – let alone our own emotional, mental and physical health. We’ve been deeply bruised, scarred and very-nearly broken. We’ve given up on, or indefinitely postponed our own dreams and personal aspirations and have stoically forced ourselves to survive. But, here we stand!
To simply say that I’m intensely proud of both my wife and I really doesn’t do justice to the depth of my feelings; which I really haven’t shared much publicly.– until now. Rather than finding divine intervention from without, I’ve discovered and found life in the strength, kindness, laughter and friendship of other human beings. Additionally, I’ve mined strength from within myself that I had not known existed. This comes, I suppose, when one must choose between giving up or simply continuing to put one foot in front of another – as long and as steadily as possible.
There is a small place, deep in my heart, where I still believe in a God who cares and is willing to comfort us spiritually. At rare times, I think I can still perceive some order in the universe and perhaps intelligence behind it. But, more often than not, the harsh realities of life teach me something else entirely. That is:
We (human beings – at least in this life) are most likely all that we have – and that we must rely on each other.
Love for each other, support for each other and acceptance for each other is of paramount importance; particularly if we want to make it through this life with any semblance of sanity.
This whole business of any organized religion telling us “what we need to do” to gain God’s favor is (in large part) nonsense. I’ve chosen instead to focus on God’s grace.
No one is going to swoop in and save us from ourselves and “make sense of it all”; at least on a daily basis.
This world is all that we have. We’d better become much more diligent stewards of it.
Our time is precious – and limited. We ought to cherish each and every moment we have with those we love.
While Mormonism (and other religions as well) all make promises of comfort, assistance, miracles and relief, the only true comfort generally comes from dear friends and neighbors; within a “Ward family” Once anyone sees or experiences what is chronically real – an understanding sets in that much of what they teach is nonsense and man-made.
We are all children of the stars…..(and Yes, oftentimes, Church Leadership really “doesn’t know Jack!)
In my 65 years in the church one thing has become clear: We (church leaders and members) absolutely know something until it becomes clear that it is wrong, then we no longer have an opinion either way. The church (its leaders) has a really hard time admitting that the church (past leaders) was ever wrong about anything.
I cannot think of a time when the church has disavowed any past teaching. They may change a bad policy, but they will not admit it was a bad policy and apologize for it; they simply ignore it and move on. That is a very hurtful practice especially for those directly affected by it. The priesthood ban is the most glaring example of this. If you read Edward Kimball’s history of the priesthood “revelation”, he points out how his father, Spencer W. Kimball, finally found evidence that the ban was never from God. At that point, he had the confidence to remove the ban. However, the removal was announced as God finally changing his mind rather than announcing that the prophets from Brigham Young on down had been wrong. Strange how we are willing to throw God under the bus rather than admit that prophets are wrong about things.
The Prophets and Apostles “speak for God” until what they say turns out to be a bad or even hurtful idea, then “they were not speaking as a prophet”.
By blaming the victim of these life difficulties as being less valiant in the pre-existence, the prophets can pat themselves on the back about how they were so special and valiant they they were pre-selected to be prophet. As lWS329 above said, it is the prosperity gospel, only difference is it is projected into the pre-existence. To me it is all pukeworthy.
As to why the prophet doesn’t get an answer, do you really expect them to say, “I was so weak in the pre-existence that I had to be given an easy and not very challenging life assignment, while this disabled kid was stronger than I was, so he was given a truly tough life assignment.” If we get away from judging people n being given a hard assignment as punishment and have to admit that it is a reward because God knows they are strong enough, well that doesn’t sound good either. “My *reward* for being more valiant was being given this shitty painful life?”
Neither answer is a good answer and most people just are not mature enough to accept answer #3 “crap happens” and that it is all just random and out of our control. We would rather think we are bad than accept that we have no control.
I can almost accept that we volunteer for the hard assignments. Like there is a book called “chain breakers” where the author suggests that special strong spirits volunteer to go into abusive homes to stop the chain of abuse. As an abuse survivor, yeah I like thinking I was special and strong, but what about all the abused children who fail to stop the chain. Then the abuse actually condemns them because they volunteered and failed. Nope, I am back to stuff just happens. And then remember a woman who lost a baby. She had a hard time accepting that God would taker her child, until she had an experience where she believed that child’s spirit came to her and said not to mourn because he chose that short life. How fair is that? That he picks a short life and she is the one who endures the pain of his early death? It bothered me more than just accepting that stuff just happens and nobody chooses, it is just random.
these kinds of statements from previous church leaders reveal the currents of Calvinism still buried in the superstructure of mormonism. The idea that one’s circumstances and station are evidence of God’s favor, and therefore anyone in unfortunate or disfavourable circumstances must be evidence of God’s disapproval. To be born with more melanin, in a poor country, with a disability. They can’t fathom a god who would deliberately allow people to suffer or experience prejudice because of a circumstance outside their control, therefore they must’ve done something wrong at some point.
It’s sad predestination and prosperity gospel have become so embedded in the psyche of mormonism. It didn’t used to be that way, the movements like Methodism and derivative Mormonism were explicit rejections of the Calvinist strains of protestantism that permeated early America. Under Brigham Young’s tenure that started to shift and by the 20th century mormonism was folded back into the predominant protestantism when Church leaders made more concentrated efforts to be normal.
The quotes you include @Bishop Bill are so jarring, even through I’m old enough to remember when they represented the current thinking and were shared by leaders in my ward and stake when I was a boy in the 70’s and into my adolescents in the early 1980’s.
I read quotes like those you cite and I can’t believe they were expressed as established belief. Then again, I forget about the uninspired poison Mark E. Peterson (and Ezra Taft Benson) spewed in the 1950s and 1960s until I bump into it and reread their darkest addresses, which always puts me flat on my back, again.
Even at the time JFS, HBL and others were teaching the ideas contained in the quotes, there were more enlightened and known ways to explain why individuals were born with developmental disabilities, for example, explanations grounded in reliable medical science. Instead of contributing in wild and fantastical ways to the pre-life and after-life magical world of Mormon cosmology, these leaders could have focused more on how to apply faith in God and find purpose despite the challenges and problems of mortal life–they missed the opportunity to have had a more enduring impact as faith leaders. JFS and HBL were not victims of their time; they were victims of the entitlement of their authority. I know it’s a bold statement some will not like, but I see their bad thinking behind the quotes more as representations of ego indulgence and spiritual arrogance, and as missed opportunities for church leaders to have committed themselves to better thinking and inspiration seeking and declaring methods.
What is tragic is the church has had great and inspired thinkers who worked to reconcile rational thought with religious purpose and belief. B.H. Roberts, John Widtsoe, James Talmage and Hugh B. Brown (and there were others) were all church authorities who worked to close the gap between science and LDS church doctrines and beliefs. Their efforts sought to expand our beliefs in dynamic and inspired ways by approaching questions about our existence with more codified methods. Ultimately, these disciplined thinkers and believers were either drowned out by a more closed-minded majority of authorities who favored religious fervency over cogency (dare I say these types are the real lazy learners?), or they lost out because they didn’t outlive their more orthodox peers. Talmage’s attempts to weave scientific principles and thinking as divine context and inspiration into church teachings may be without precedent within the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Widtsoe, and quite possibly Talmage, believed in pre-Adamites…nearly a century ago. They faced off with Joseph Fielding Smith (as did Hugh B. Brown, later) in public debates about evolution versus creationism. The LDS church’s position on evolution today is much closer to what Widtsoe, Talmage and Brown believed back then. Despite Joseph Fielding Smith’s (and Boyd K. Packer’s) outright rejection of evolution, today the science is so overwhelmingly in support of principles of organismic adaptation that the church has had to quietly adjust it’s position or suffer creating massive cognitive dissonance with any educated and inquisitive member. (This is also another example of going silent on the topic of creation rather than add to our changing understanding of it–very disappointing to me personally.) My point is that Roberts, Widtsoe, Talmage and Brown were all disciplined thinkers who applied rational methodologies creatively when seeking inspired direction to core theological questions, and in Roberts’ case to material problems with the Book of Mormon he correctly warned would cause credibility issues with the BoM down the road. Had these church authorities outlived some of their peers to have had more of an influence on setting the bar for prophetic thinking and magisterial pronouncements, we may have experienced less extemporaneous proclamations by people like JFS and HBL on questions like why are some people born with disabilities. As it is, their dictates have not held up well less than a half a century later.
Bishop Bill, when you posit the question, why doesn’t the prophet just ask? Maybe we need our senior church leaders to be more honest with us and teach us the process isn’t that simple. (I guess they would have to actually believe that it isn’t that simple, and RMN, for one, gives me mixed signals when it comes to what revelation is, on what topics it is received and why.) Maybe we have it all wrong. Maybe the process is so much more difficult than what our church leaders have led us to believe it is. The church’s overall track record of modern “inspiration” isn’t one I would take to Vegas when it comes to answering many existential questions. I’ll contend that Talmage and Roberts were on to something, where on to a method that had the potential to produce much better answers than the pontificating and sermonizing we received from people like JFS, HBL and others like them. If our current leaders (starting with RMN) viewed the process of asking questions and seeking answers differently, we may not have experienced the painful whiplash of the November policy of exclusion. Hastily crafted and distributed, awkwardly revised within days, then declared by RMN as divine revelation shortly thereafter, then repealed five years later with little explanation and certainly with no apology from the church for having made one of the most costly policy mistakes in modern church history, it’s an example of what the current method gets us.
Last thought, I have a child who is neurodivergent. It has burdened him and my wife and I as his parents in ways that are difficult to describe and at times have left all of us exhausted and discouraged. When he was young, we worried constantly about his future. We still do, but much has changed for the better as he has grown into his twenties. He is also gifted and his intellectual abilities manifested themselves early in his life. I’ll jump ahead and say that today he is living mostly independently. He is a top thinker, studied as an undergrad at one of America’s most respected national universities, and is currently pushing into graduate studies in one of the most challenging quantitative fields in academia. He works routinely with life counselors and therapists to develop skills that enable him to work with others, understand them, and to be able to express himself in order to be understood. He is highly self-aware and knows why he is different and how that effects his life. Sadly, attitudes among members that trace to the HBL and JFS quotes endure. When he was 11 his primary teacher said to him in front of his peers, as a part of a lesson on the afterlife, “See, you will be normal in the afterlife and won’t be afflicted by your condition. You’ll be able to learn and understand things you can’t now.” He shared this with us when we arrived home. In a moment I found to be absolutely delicious, he said, “I don’t know what she was talking about when she said I’ll be able to learn and understand things. I know more right now about the world than she ever will in her life.” My son has helped me change the way I view and celebrate differences and how I view what we often refer to as limitations. The church could inform members in this way as well, but chooses not to, or can’t envision how it could. When some of us lament about the narrowness of old, white men in SLC, it isn’t just rock throwing–there is a real foundation for those criticisms.
Fascinating. I have vague memories of childhood-me being taught that our station in this life depended on our valiance in the premortal life. I’m glad that isn’t officially taught anymore, because it is harsh.
It’s an attempt to explain the unfairness of life in a way that blames the person suffering. That way, others can be justified in not helping. If the reason you’re in a wheelchair is because you weren’t a good person in premortality, then all the people who were more valiant than you don’t have to go out of their way to accommodate your disability so you can work and live with dignity and autonomy. Blaming people for their own problems are a way to avoid helping them, since helping them might inconvenience the able-bodied. It’s also a way to distance ourselves from suffering and believe that we’ve got some kind of control over whether or not we have a disability.
In other words, it’s a failure of charity. As others have mentioned, it’s the prosperity gospel, extended to the premortal world.
Science makes it clear that much disability is random, and when it isn’t random, it’s based on something morally neutral, like genetics. Or the byproduct of living in this world – like getting hit by a car. Even if we’re disabled because of something risky that we did voluntarily (like going skiing), that isn’t a sin/righteousness thing.
Church leaders don’t ask God the hard questions. The answer to this question would either blame people for their own disabilities, or would show that God is pretty random in the circumstances that he doles out. I think most people have conceded that life circumstances are random, but confirming that by revelation makes God look unfair and/or less powerful. If the answer is “we don’t know” then we’ve protected God.
As far as dealing with the troubling past statements/doctrines concerning those with disabilities, thanks to Allen Haynie at this month’s General Conference, worry no longer, “the key is to follow the living prophet. Brothers and sisters, unlike vintage comic books and classic cars, prophetic teachings do not become more valuable with age. That is why we should not seek to use the words of past prophets to dismiss the teachings of living prophets.” Since Nelson and the current Q15 are no longer teaching this crappy stuff from Lee and Fielding Smith about disabled people, just forget about it. In fact, let’s just all pretend like they never said those things in the first place. Now, don’t we all feel so much better about following our prophets?
Oh, if we so easily ditch the false teachings of past prophets, you’re worried that future prophets might ditch Nelson’s current teachings on LGBTQ individuals, women, the sinister term “Mormon”, etc.? Uhhh, hmm, why don’t we just all sing my favorite primary song, “Follow the Prophet” together until this question doesn’t feel so important any longer. See, aren’t we so lucky to have living prophet to blindly follow?
M Las made the comment as to how church leaders and some members would espouse a church teaching until for whatever reason they did no longer because it just became too silly or weird to continue to do so.
And then they never explained or apologized why they no longer taught said teaching they just stopped talking about it.
The quotes in this article are quite shocking and down right ugly.
I wonder why gobs of members did not say “What the …….!!” when they were first publicized and declared that they would have nothing to do with something so awful.
But we didn’t.
I expect some of us did and that probably did not go well for those who expressed a negative opinion on what the Prophet at the time was saying.
Thank Heavens times have changed, or at least I think they have.
The error made to retract baptism from children of gay couples is not a theological question. It is a legal question. The backward middle-management legal counsel (Pharisees) who advise LDS leadership were most concerned about litigation and civil suits against the institution for “damage” and “harm” caused by indoctrination. Gay parents with LDS children could easily sue the Church. There is no theology, only legal strategy—and bad strategy it was.
This kind of question isn’t isolated to the LDS institution: other organized religions wrestle with it too, and their responses are not much better. Some Jewish scholars wrestled with the race question in “RE-Presenting Texts: Jewish and Black Biblical Interpretation,” by W. David Nelson and Rivka Ulmer (Georgias Press, 2013). It is interesting to look at how other faiths handle this stuff. No easy way about it.
God hates amputees.
I used to hear this speculation, which BHodges mention in his part 1 of series “Intellectual disability in Mormon thought…”:
According to the story, a child with Down Syndrome was told in a patriarchal blessing that he “played a key role in ushering Satan out of God’s presence. The young man was told that he was so hated and despised by Satan, that he was blessed to come into this life in such a state as to be beyond the power of the adversary.”
The problem when you have people who are supposed to have a pipeline to the omniscient one is that people will elevate their ignorant opinions to gold standard truth.
We have seven children. Our fourth, a beautiful, blue-eyed boy with Down syndrome. In January 1992, when Josh was six months old, my wife, Josh, and I were in a new friend’s home with about eight other couples with special needs children. The social worker from Josh’s early intervention program in Michigan had called a meeting to give the dads a chance to meet and share their stories. The moms had already done this at school. We were the only Mormons along with a mix of Christians, Jews, and a Muslim couple.
When the time came to tell “our stories”, two things happened for me:
1. I became increasingly grateful that Josh only had Down syndrome, a ventricle septal defect, asthma, and a threat of cystic fibrosis. Some of the other families were struggling with, what seemed to me, much more difficult medical problems.
2. I felt a growing despair as I saw these wonderful people anguishing over one word, one question, one prayer – “WHY?”
We did not feel we had all the answers to the cosmic “WHY”, but at least we felt we had a context: according to church teachings, Josh was super valiant in the preexistence and had earned the reward of having Down syndrome to shield him from much of the evil in the world – allowing him to remain innocent and justified for an inevitable Celestial reward.
11 years later, we adopted a newborn African American baby girl. At some point, I decided to do a deep dive into the history of the priesthood and temple ban to answer the question “WHY”.
I was shocked to read the many prophets’ and apostles’ teachings on premortal “fence-sitting, lack of valiance, etc.” – extending even into my lifetime. Shocked not because of the teachings on Blacks – I had heard all that before. But shocked because I found multiple citations that placed Josh in the same category. He just barely earned the right to come to earth – but had to accept a flawed mind and body.
Polar opposite positions. There is no way that these two concepts can live side-by-side. Except, of course, to blame God. He is the convenient “out” for any time that the brethren need a CYA reason for what they do. It certainly comes off as a sham. Whatever their motivations, the intent is to justify their teachings and actions.
They won’t let us get away with “the Devil made me do it”. Maybe it’s time that we stop letting them get away with “God made me do it”.
Maybe our leaders should have considered what the scriptures say about this question before making stuff up about pre-existences. It turns out that Jesus was asked this EXACT QUESTION in John 9. His answer doesn’t even remotely resemble any nonsense about valiance or its lack in the pre-existence.
“Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” And the following verse is for me the most interesting: “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.”
In other words, as noted in many of the experiences described by comments above, life happens. None of your facile explanations about people deserving what life hands them are correct. The only meaning in any of this random tragedy is what our response to it is. Trials are occasions to learn how to do the works of Christ. Our only concern should be, what would God have me do as I encounter this problem?