Category Archives: LDS History

Living with Fallibility

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[The following was written by James Faulconer at Patheos and is reposted here with his permission.]

Mormons have a joke that is so old it has become a cliché: Catholic doctrine is that the pope is infallible, but they don’t believe it; Mormon doctrine is that the prophet is fallible, but they don’t believe it.

Like many jokes and all clichés, that joke works because there is truth in it. The joke misunderstands the doctrine of papal infallibility, but it gets very close to the truth of the way many contemporary Mormons have thought about their leaders, not just the prophet. And for some the truth of that joke has become a tragedy.

The LDS Church’s recent postings on its history of polygamy (see here, here, and here) have caught many off guard. For a long time the Church has avoided and even covered over not only the particular facts about polygamy’s beginnings but sometimes even polygamy itself.

Frankly I understand the motive behind that avoidance: we don’t practice polygamy and haven’t for a long time, so let’s avoid talking about it so we can talk about more important things—like faith, repentance, baptism, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. But it is generally agreed that we made a mistake. That strategy has caused a lot of pain and doubt.

In spite of that, it is a mistake that I understand. As a young man I thought we should be more forthcoming about our history, but I’m not sure that had I been a leader at the time I would have done differently. Things looked different during the fifty-plus years that the Church was coming out of persecution and perceived persecution. Things looked different to people whose fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles had been expelled from Missouri and Illinois by force.

As Kristine Haglund points out, members of the LDS Church have lived in different circumstances, sometimes almost to the point of growing up in different churches. Some of us learned early on the things the Church is now writing about, so there is little new in the recent news. But not everyone did.

Many did not know about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy or about the difficulties that surrounded that practice. Even fewer, perhaps, knew about the complications of bringing plural marriage to a halt. And the institutional Church bears considerable responsibility for their ignorance.

Having known about the history of plural marriage, about issues with the Book of Abraham, and so on for a long time, I’m long past those things being trouble for me. That’s not to say that I don’t understand that they trouble others or why. It is to say that they are no challenge to my faith. I’m interested in the recently published materials, but not because of what they say or don’t say about the history of the LDS Church.

I hope that the new strategy of making our story public even when we find it difficult to explain will in the future help prevent the kinds of pain we see some people suffering now. But those documents are important to me because I also hope that they will help Latter-day Saints rethink what it means to recognize authority and to have a living prophet.

We have often been guilty of a kind of idolatry of our leaders, implicitly imputing the characteristics of God to them because we thought that is what it meant to be called by God. To my knowledge few of our leaders asked for our idolatry, but we fell into it anyway. Perhaps our new strategy will help us repent.

I hope that the recently published documents on LDS history will help us see that prophets don’t usually get definitive answers to their questions, and even when the answer is definitive, they don’t often, if ever, get definitive directions for how to put into practice what they have been told. Being called and inspired by God doesn’t remove the need to figure out what that calling and inspiration mean, nor does it remove the possibility that I will confuse my will and desires for those of God.

Prophets speak for God, but he leaves them their personality, humanity, talents—and weaknesses. As he said through Joseph Smith in 1831, revelation is ‘given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language’ (D&C 1:24). God can speak to us only where he finds us.

But if prophets are human too, how can I trust what they teach? Even if a prophet is onlyanother human being like the rest of us, it doesn’t follow that I ought not to trust him. Trust—in other words, faith—and doubt are not mutually exclusive. Trust requires uncertainty, and human agency requires uncertainty. In turn, uncertainty and human fallibility mean that, Christ excepted, even the most righteous or smartest or whatever-you-wish person will misunderstand and be wrong when he hears what God has to say or when he tries to do what he has been asked. Those who are less than such a maximally great person, which includes all of the prophets, will not only be wrong, they will sometimes even do wrong.

But I don’t believe that those called by God, whether a Primary President or the President of the LDS Church is only another human being. I believe that callings can be and usually are inspired, and I believe that inspiration means something. It means that the person called has access to inspiration about his or her calling that I don’t have.

That inspiration will almost always come as a feeling or intuition about needs or directions. It always requires that the person who receives it make decisions not only about what it means but how to implement what it suggests, and mistakes both of intellect and of will are always possible. But since I believe that those people are called and inspired, I am willing to allow what they say to have more authority over me than I would allow someone who is just another person like me.

How far am I willing to go with that? There can be no definitive answer. Obviously some could go so far as to violate the trust I’ve put in them. I know such a violation when I see it. But I give people I love and respect more room for mistakes than I do others. My children can do a lot more than can strangers before I lose faith in them. People whom I have had good experiences with previously also get extra leeway. And if I sincerely believe that a person has been called by God, I am willing to continue to trust them though I am aware of their failings.

Hans-Georg Gadamer has argued that to passively submit to someone’s edict is not to recognize authority at all. Instead it is to agree to tyranny. So recognizing someone as an authority and having faith in that person doesn’t mean following them blindly. Faith in an authority needs to be wide-eyed. But being wide-eyed doesn’t mean being unable to look beyond a person’s mistakes and even some wrongdoing. Within parameters that I cannot specify in advance, I can do what a leader asks even though I think he is mistaken, especially if I remember my own fallibility.

My hope is that the conversations the recently published materials create will help us learn that being called by God isn’t an either/or. It isn’t that either the person is called by God and never makes a mistake in their calling or he isn’t called by God at all. I hope we will begin to see the falsity of that dichotomy, that we will develop a more mature understanding of our relationship to those who lead us, one in which we neither idolize the prophets nor assume that their humanity means we ought to no longer follow them.

Articles of Faith 20: Geoff Biddulph – Why Didn’t The Church Teach Me This Stuff?

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Geoff BiddulphGeoff Biddulph is a convert to the Church of just over 15 years. Before joining he read a lot of anti-Mormon literature. However, it was the Spirit that converted him and helped him be open to being baptized. Since then, Geoff has read the book of Mormon more than 10 times and have read the entire Bible at least five times. He has a large library of Church-related material from which he draws upon as he writes for the Millennial Star blog—where he has contributed for nearly a decade. He his wife Cindy were married in the Denver temple nearly 11 years ago and they now have five kids. He is joining us by phone today from Denver, CO. Geoff is here to talk about an article he wrote for the Millennial Star Blog entitled, “Why Didn’t the Church Teach Me This Stuff”

Questions:

During your time as an LDS blogger, how have you seen the “bloggernacle” as it is often referred to, the catalog of blogs who claim some voice in the Mormon Community, how have you seen it change during that time?

While we seek to focus on Articles that come from what would be considered more academic or scholarly, we do find articles from time to time that strike an apologetic tone and regardless of the level of scholarship, the argument presented can help those struggling to reframe their position in such a way that might help calm the stormy waters of a faith crisis. Your article entitled, Why Didn’t the Church Teach Me This Stuff, was released on November 12th, 2014. This was a response to a gospel topics essay that the Church released on Polygamy in the early church, specifically during the Kirtland and Nauvoo periods. If you could, for those that haven’t read the article, summarize what one might find in that piece, specifically the parts that have caused some stir in public discourse recently.

The Church released its gospel topics essay Around October 22nd. A google search just this morning showed a massive amount of news outlets posting articles just three days ago (from the date of this recording), so on November 11th there seemed to be this bump in interest, which makes me wonder what about this topic seems to be keeping this subject around so long?

Your article is in response to a strain of discourse that centers around some discontent or uneasiness with the Church’s release of this gospel topics article. What is that position and why did that strike as something that warranted a response?

You ask the question of the reader but I want to turn it back on you, Why didn’t the Church teach me this stuff?

It is a difficult position to respond to because you don’t want to demean what someone is feeling, that kind of hurt or shock is sometimes not so easily dismissed. So, how does your article serve to address that dissonance?

This may sound like a loaded question or one that is hard to answer in a short podcast, but if people are feeling that the church hid this from them, it begs the question, what is the role or responsibility the church has towards its members with respect to topics such as this? All the lurid details as you put it in your article?

The article concludes:

The Church did teach you stuff about even controversial topics. Perhaps you were distracted or didn’t pay attention or were not curious enough to explore on your own. You are ultimately responsible for your own learning, and you are responsible for how you respond to new information. That is what that whole “free agency” thing is all about.

Fair Issues 72: How did the Book of Mormon people travel to the New World?

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MAIn this podcast brother Ash discusses how the Lehites weren’t the only Book of Mormon people to come from the Old to the New World.  The Mulekites (or people of Zarahemla) and the Jaredites (who preceded the Lehites) also begin their journeys from the Old World.  The next few issues will examine the world of the Jaredites and their journey to the New World.

The full text of this article can be found at Deseret News online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FairMormon Bookstore. Tell your friends about the Mormon Fair-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon Fair-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

The views and opinions expressed in the podcast may not reflect those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon

 

Fair Issues 71: Were there transoceanic voyages in ancient times?

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MAWhile LDS scholars agree with non-LDS scholars that the New World was populated primarily by humans who traversed the Bering Strait thousands of years ago, a growing number of non-LDS scholars agree with LDS scholars that there was transoceanic contact between the Old World and the New Worlds in ancient times.

In the podcast brother Ash explores the evidences for cultural, linguistic and botanical discoveries that confirm such voyages did take place in both directions between the 7th millennium B.C. and the European age of discovery.

The full text of this article can be found at Deseret News online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FairMormon Bookstore. Tell your friends about the Mormon Fair-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon Fair-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

The views and opinions expressed in the podcast may not reflect those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon

 

Fair Issues 69: Where is the land Bountiful?

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MAIn this podcast brother Ash discusses possible locations for the land Bountiful.

Current research supports the view presented in the Book of Mormon. In the southern Arabia country of Oman near the border of Yemen is a costal province known a Dhofar which has a fertile region – only a few miles wide – on the coast of the Arabian Sea.  This mountainous area covers more than 38,000 miles square miles and historically was the chief source of frankincense in the world.

The full text of this article can be found at Deseret News online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FairMormon Bookstore. Tell your friends about the Mormon Fair-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon Fair-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

The views and opinions expressed in the podcast may not reflect those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon

 

Mormon Fair-Cast 243: Barry R. Bickmore, “Restoring the Ancient Church”

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Barry R. BickmoreBarry R. Bickmore Restoring the Ancient Church 2nd EditionMartin Tanner who is the host of “Religion Today” on KSL FM 102.7 and AM 1160 interviews  Barry R. Bickmore  about his book “Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity.”  In this interview brother Bickmore relates how the teachings of the early Church are reflected in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Professor Bickmore will be appearing at this year’s FairMormon Conference on August 7 & 8 at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo, Utah. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

In the second half of his show Martin Tanner interviews Craig Foster about his second book on Mormon polygamy.  “The Persistence of Polygamy: From Joseph Smith Martyrdom to the First Manifesto, 1844 – 1890.

Both book are available from the FairMormon Bookstore:

Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity.

The Persistence of Polygamy From Joseph Smith Martyrdom to the First Manifesto 1844 – 1890

This broadcast originally aired on the 2nd of March 2014.

The views and opinions expressed in this podcast may not represent those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon.

What Is Apostasy?

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The following definition of “apostasy” was penned by Elder George Q. Cannon, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and editor of the Deseret Evening News, in which paper the following was published on 3 November 1869.

Here Elder Cannon sets forth the difference between “honestly differing in opinion from the authorities of the Church” and “publishing those differences of opinion, and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife.”

A copy of the original publication is available through the Utah Digital Newspapers Program. Continue reading

Faith and Reason 4: A Miracle Operation

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JS

From the book: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith

by Michael R. Ash

Most Latter-day Saints are familiar with the basic story of Joseph’s childhood leg operation, but they may not know how blessed he was to have the right doctor at the right time. The surgery performed on young Joseph was not widely known or even extensively suggested until the late 1800’s, and wasn’t standardized until after World War I.

According to the research of Dr. LeRoy Wirthlin, a Dr. Nathan Smith (no relation to Joseph) was the surgeon who performed Joseph’s operation. Dr. Smith was the only physician in the United States in 1813 who had the expertise to successfully deal with osteomyelitis, a disorder that causes long segments of the bony shaft to die and then become encased by new bone growing over the dead layer. If Joseph Smith had lived anywhere else or perhaps a few decades earlier or later, he would have lost his leg and possibly his life.

Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is the owner and operator of MormonFortress.com and is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt. He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  is a broadcast journalist living in Louisville, Kentucky. She has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Radio and Television Host, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.

Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.

Articles of Faith 3: Craig L. Foster on Polygamy and its relationship to the LDS Church

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Craig L. FosterPrior to graduating from BYU, Craig L. Foster served as a missionary in Belguim and France. Craig L. Foster earned a Bachelors degree in history and MLIS (or Masters of Library and Information Science) at BYU. He is also an accredited genealogist and works as a research consultant at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. He has published books and articles on various aspects of Mormon History. Some of his writings on Mormon History discuss the history and theology of plural marriage within the context of Mormonism. Craig is also on the editorial board of the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal. Craig is the author of the article: Separated but not Divorced: The LDS Church’s Uncomfortable Relationship with its Polygamous Past found in the Interpreter: Journal of Mormon Scripture

 

Faith and Reason 3: A Prophet’s Birth from Noble Heritage

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LMS

From the book: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith

by Michael R. Ash

In this episode, Michael Ash discusses: A Prophet’s Birth from Noble Heritage. Both Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith came from a line of worthy ancestors. Some of their progenitors were patriots, pioneers, and ministers. Seven were pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower, and three of the seven signed the Mayflower Compact.

One of Lucy’s ancestors was John Lathrop, a former minister of the Church of England who allied himself with an independent religious body when he no longer approved of the church government. For eight years Lathrop and his congregation met secretly in London until they were arrested. During his imprisonment, Lathrop’s wife became fatally ill and he was allowed to visit her in her dying moments before returning to jail. He was finally released after pleading with the bishop for the sake of his motherless children. Lathrop and his children then sailed to America, where he became a leader in church affairs.

Joseph Sr. and Lucy wed in 1796. The following year they delivered their first child, an unnamed daughter who died shortly after birth. Alvin, Hyrum, and Sophronia followed. The Smiths moved several times as they struggled to support their growing family. They finally settled in Sharon, Vermont after purchasing a farm from Lucy’s father, Solomon Mack. Joseph Sr. cultivated the farm and taught school during the winter. Gradually, their financial circumstances became more comfortable.

Joseph Smith Jr. was born on December 23, 1805. He was the fifth child of an eventual eleven to be born to the Smiths. Twenty-nine years had passed since America had declared her independence from England, and only twenty-two years had lapsed since the Revolutionary War had formally ended. The Bill of Rights had been in force for only fourteen years, and George Washington had died just six years earlier. Thomas Jefferson was serving as president of the United States –which consisted of only seventeen of our current fifty states.

Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is the owner and operator of MormonFortress.com and is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt. He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  is a broadcast journalist living in Louisville, Kentucky. She has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Radio and Television Host, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.

Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.