Tag Archives: Bruce R. McConkie

Teaching the Gospel with Twinkies

This post started as a comment, but I ended up being too long-winded. I decided it’d be bad form to pontificate that much in the comment thread.

This movie terrified me as a child.

Of course, as I’ve prepared this post, it’s grown even more (I’ve got to give you some context!). Sorry about that. Still, I feel like I’ve learned some cool things, and I can totally pontificate here as much as I like.

A Twinkie?

The original post I was considering commenting on was actually a book review of John Bytheway’s recent book How Do I Know if I Know? It was generally positive, though the author, Ivan, admitted that JB is probably closer to “milk” than “meat” (in the words of Paul’s analogy). This shouldn’t surprise anyone – JB has become popular because of his entertaining style that’s aimed primarily at youth in the Church. To borrow a business term, it’s his competitive advantage.

In response to the review, someone suggested that it might be generous to label JB as “milk.” They offered that “Twinkie” or “Oreo” might be more appropriate substitutes.

Oh no you di’int!

Gauntlet thrown! Continue reading Teaching the Gospel with Twinkies

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“I am the True Vine”

You might have heard that a young Latter-day Saint was barred from missionary service for his views on homosexuality and so-called same-sex marriage.

There are two things you can be fairly confident of at this point. The first is that there is almost certainly more to the story. The second is that, of course, I have something to say about it. Continue reading “I am the True Vine”

Looking Forward to Mormon Change

In light of yesterday’s Supreme Court case, many people are (understandably) drawing a connection between the Mormon Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and past positions on blacks or polygamy. In doing so, they suggest that a change on gay-marriage is coming in the future.

Now, I’m not the prophet of the Church, so I can’t say what will happen for sure. Still, I’m fairly confident that this position, for better or worse, will not be changing. This FAQ may explain why, and I’m hoping this format makes the issues easier to grapple with.

As a side note, these are my own answers, so I would ask that you excuse any error in them. I don’t presume, and never have, to speak for the Church.

Q: When did Mormons practice polygamy?

A: Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy early in their history. We don’t know exactly when it began, except that it was likely sometime between 1830 and 1840. It ended with Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto in 1890. Anyone currently practicing polygamy is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Q: Why did Mormons practice polygamy?

A: There are only a couple scriptures that mention polygamy. Jacob, an early Nephite prophet, mentioned it while teaching about chastity. He said,

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people (to practice polygamy); otherwise they shall hearken unto these things (and practice monogamy)” (Jacob 2:30; see whole chapter).

In this verse, and similarly in Doctrine and Covenants 132:63, polygamy is identified as a method to “raise up seed”. We’re never explicitly given reasons beyond that.

Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is biblical and righteous when it is sanctioned by the Lord. It may have been practiced by Joseph Smith as part of the “restoration of all things” (he never fathered any children by any of his plural wives).

Other reasons have been suggested, but anything else is speculation. For more on this question, see here.

Q: Isn’t polygamy breaking the commandments?

A: Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is the exception, and monogamy is the rule, but that polygamy is not contrary to the commandments when it is directed by the Lord. There has never been, in the Church, anything like “self-nominated” polygamy – it was always at the direction of the president of the Church.

We believe this position to be biblical. A more in depth answer won’t be provided within this short FAQ.

Q: Why did polygamy end? The timing of Woodruff’s “revelation” is pretty convenient.

A: It’s not difficult to see that Latter-day Saints were willing to follow what they believed to be a divine commandment regardless of the cost. Convenience would have dictated abandoning polygamy much, much earlier. Church leaders did not end the practice until there was literally no other course of action that would prevent dissolution of the Church.

Woodruff later wrote the following about why polygamy ended:

“The Lord has told me to ask the Latter-day Saints a question, and He also told me that if they would listen to what I said to them and answer the question put to them, by the Spirit and power of God, they would all answer alike, and they would all believe alike with regard to this matter.

“The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?

“The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice…. I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write….

“I leave this with you, for you to contemplate and consider. The Lord is at work with us.”

We may not always understand why the Lord does things, but it’s not difficult to argue that he is often pragmatic, and the dissolution of his church would certainly have been contrary to his will. In that respect, the timing of the revelation was not only convenient, but essential.

Q: What about blacks? They were kept from holding the priesthood or participating in temple ordinances until the 1970’s.

A: During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a number of blacks were ordained to the priesthood. Early in Church history, Church leaders stopped ordaining blacks. No official explanation was given for this practice, and later Church leaders believed that a revelation was needed to alter it. They received this revelation in 1978.

Divinely sanctioned discrimination is not without precedent in biblical history. We don’t know why it was practiced by the Church in modern times. Further, it’s common to find accounts of members, prior to the Church lifting the ban, expecting it on the horizon. Of course there were racist Mormons, too, but many believed intently that the discrimination was going to end – it just hadn’t ended yet.

Many blacks were baptized and remained faithful throughout all of Church history.

I’m white myself, so it may be worth seeking out accounts of active, black Latter-day Saints and seeing what they have to say about their faith.

For more on this subject, see my post about the “Bott-gate” fiasco.

Q: This “revelation” seems awfully convenient, too.

A: It might. Yet much as was the case with polygamy, convenience would have dictated that this change happen much sooner – perhaps as much as 20 years or more sooner – than it did.

Q: So you have no idea why your Church practiced polygamy, and you have no idea why your Church discriminated against blacks. What’s the deal?

A: The deal is that sometimes we’re expected to have faith. We are often not told explicitly why we need to obey one commandment or another. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said,

“It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people [have] put reasons to [commandments] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong.”

We have seen examples of this in relation to both polygamy and the Church’s dealings with blacks. Sometimes, we just don’t know why the Lord does things.

Q: That’s a cop out, and you’re describing blind obedience. That’s one reason why people think Mormons are a cult.

A: And people are free to think what they want, but there’s quite a difference between blind obedience and faithful obedience. The former is passive, but the latter is quite active.

N. Eldon Tanner said,

“We do not suggest blind obedience, but obedience by faith in those things which may not be fully understood by man’s limited comprehension, but which in the infinite wisdom of God are for man’s benefit and blessing.”

Even though we may not comprehend everything behind the Lord’s commandments, we can still have faith in Jesus Christ and his servants. We gain this faith by actively studying out the issues and praying that God will confirm what we’ve learned and decided.

Brigham Young said,

“I will say a few words in regard to your belief in being led, guided, and directed by one man. …Our enemies hate the fact of our being led by one man. Thousands of times my soul has been lifted to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, to make that verily true in every sense of the word, that we may be led by the man Jesus Christ, through Joseph Smith the Prophet. You may inquire how we are to know that we are so led. I refer you to the exhortation you have heard so frequently from me. Do not be deceived, any of you; if you are deceived, it is because you deceive yourselves. You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home; for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind, and there is no calling of God to man on earth but what brings with it the evidences of its authenticity….

“What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.”

Q: What’s so wrong about expecting the Church to change it’s mind on homosexuality and same-sex marriage? We just talked about how the Church did it before with polygamy and blacks.

A: It may happen. With the changes in 1890 and 1978, there’s certainly precedent. One Latter-day Saint, writing about this same question, argued that change was possible and said,

“For those readers who might argue that it was the Lord that dictated the LDS Church’s positions — pro and con — on polygamy and equal rights for blacks, I argue that they allow themselves to dwell on the possibility that the Lord may also intervene on behalf of gay marriage as well.”

I can’t disagree, and this is why I gave my brief disclaimer early on. The Lord, through his prophet, may absolutely change the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and homosexuality. If that happens, I doubt that we’ll know any more about the reasons why than we know now about the reasons behind changes with polygamy and priesthood discrimination.

Q: But you’re not sold on that idea.

A: No, I’m not. I think that, at best, our understanding of the principles behind polygamy and the priesthood ban is vague. Additionally, neither was related to sinful behavior. With homosexuality, it’s different. The principles behind that position are not only well understood, but central doctrines to Latter-day Saints and core to the Plan of Salvation. Let me explain.

Look at polygamy, for example. It was never practiced widely in the Church, nor do Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is essential to salvation. Additionally, even today it’s not recognized as a “mistake” by modern Latter-day Saints; it’s culturally and socially abhorrent to us, as it was to those in the early days of the church, but we believe it was a divine principle initiated by revelation and discontinued by revelation. The purposes for that initiation or discontinuation are unclear, but Latter-day Saints do not believe that its legitimate practice was ever contrary to the commandments.

And what of the racial discrimination? President David O. McKay, in 1954, said,

“There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes (sic) are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. We believe that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it.”

Why was the policy in place? We’ve already discussed that we don’t know. The same President McKay said that, while blacks were children of our Heavenly Father, they

“were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.”

Whether we know the reasons or not, it remains that while the ban was practiced, it was not founded in any doctrine.

The Church’s position on same-sex marriage is borne of much more fundamental doctrines that will not change.

Many of those doctrines are found within The Family: A Proclamation to the World. It reads,

WE, THE FIRST PRESIDENCY and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

IN THE PREMORTAL REALM, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

WE DECLARE the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

WE CALL UPON responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

A number of the fundamental doctrines covered in this proclamation include the eternal nature of families, the rights of children to a home with mothers and fathers, and the eternal nature of gender. These principles, which are not subject to change, are not the product of an individual church leader’s musings or theorizing. This proclamation represents the testimony of the unified body of men that lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and as such, commands a much greater influence over gospel cannon than “that one thing Bruce R. McConkie said that one time” or “that sermon Brigham Young gave way back when”.

Additionally, the law of chastity is applied to everyone, not just homosexuals. True, homosexual Latter-day Saints are expected to be celibate, but so are single heterosexual Latter-day Saints who don’t marry, whether it’s because they are just plain goofy or it’s because they have some physical or mental handicap that prevents it.

This is an unimaginably difficult circumstance for those who feel same-gender attraction, and I will never fully understand that plight. Perhaps Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ words apply here. When asked if he could describe this enormously complex question in a couple of basic principles, he said,

“God loves all of His children. He has provided a plan for His children to enjoy the choicest blessings that He has to offer in eternity. Those choicest blessings are associated with marriage between a man and a woman by appropriate priesthood authority to bring together a family unit for creation and happiness in this life and in the life to come.

“We urge persons with same-gender attractions to control those and to refrain from acting upon them, which is a sin, just as we urge persons with heterosexual attractions to refrain from acting upon them until they have the opportunity for a marriage recognized by God as well as by the law of the land. That is the way to happiness and eternal life. God has given us no commandment that He will not give us the strength and power to observe. That is the Plan of Salvation for His children, and it is our duty to proclaim that plan, to teach its truth, and to praise God for the mission of His Son Jesus Christ. It is Christ’s atonement that makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins and His resurrection that gives us the assurance of immortality and the life to come. It is that life to come that orients our views in mortality and reinforces our determination to live the laws of God so that we can qualify for His blessings in immortality.”

For more on this complex issue, see Mormons and Gays and the Interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman on Same-Gender Attraction.

“God Has No Body” Part 2.1

Find Part 1 here.

Perhaps the foremost argument used by those who claim that God is incorporeal is an appeal to the scripture John 4:24, which states in part that “God is a Spirit” (KJV). This argument often also appeals to Luke 24:39, where the Savior describes spirit as incorporeal. The formal argument goes something like this:

  1. The Biblical verse John 4:24 says “God is a spirit” (KJV)
  2. The Biblical verse Luke 24:39 defines spirit as incorporeal
  3. Thus, those who are spirits are incorporeal (2)
  4. The scripture should be understood as “God is a spirit,” as it contains no language such as “God has a spirit”
  5. Thus, God is incorporeal (3) (4)

Before challenging any of the above premises, I wish to challenge three assumptions that are foundational to this argument: first, the fallacy of begging the question which is so important to this argument’s reasoning; second, the assumption that it is appropriate to use this short phrase of scripture to prove something as important as the nature of God; and third, the assumption that the Bible is infallible. While challenging these assumptions may not invalidate the conclusion of the argument, it will certainly show that this argument is not as strong as most Christians assume.

Begging the Question

First, this argument commits the fallacy of begging the question. The manner in which this argument commits this fallacy is explained by Larry E. Dahl:

“Unfortunately many have wrested the Bible into a game of “Trivial Pursuit.” In spite of the preponderance of passages describing God in anthropomorphic terms, one brief verse in John, “God is a Spirit,” is seized upon to prove the contrary… Unable either rationally or scripturally to explain how God can be absolutely one supreme being of immaterial essence, and yet be absolutely three distinct persons (one having a corporeal body of flesh and bone), the theologians resolved the dilemma by begging the question and declaring the doctrine an incomprehensible mystery” (emphasis added).

Begging the question involves circular reasoning. In this case, it goes like this:

  • “We cannot know what God is really like through our finite understanding.”
  • “Why?”
  • “Because he is an incomprehensible mystery!”

Being unable to understand God because he is an incomprehensible mystery, and then claiming God is an incomprehensible mystery because we cannot understand him, is circular reasoning.

When we fail to even attempt to reconcile this scripture with the numerous anthropomorphic references in the Bible, and instead chalk it up to one great mystery, we stand in error. Certainly God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8), but this is not a case where we are meant to be left in the dark. Jesus himself said,

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3, emphasis added).

Clearly, if God’s nature is an incomprehensible mystery, we cannot know him.

Obscure and Strained

Second, to settle a question as important as this by one part of one verse in a 66 book document is unquestionably extreme. This argument, though, claims that such extremism is acceptable. Joseph Fielding McConkie, the son of Bruce R. McConkie, said,

“Those advocating questionable doctrines or practices will virtually always seek to give them credibility through the use of proof texts from scripture. Two characteristics are common to such efforts. First, the texts will be obscure, in sharp contrast to the principles of salvation that are taught repeatedly throughout the scriptures. Second, they will be strained; the burden they are being forced to bear will not be natural to them. That is to say, they will not be justified by the context from which they are taken.

“Let me cite [this illustration]. Sectarian creeds declare God to be “without body, parts, or passions.” The text that bears the weight of that declaration is John 4:24, which states, “God is a spirit.” The difficulty here is… an assertion of such importance, one that is announcing the very nature of God, ought not rest on a single scriptural text. The burden is simply too great for a four-word sentence to carry. That has to be particularly true when the sentence is being given an interpretation that puts it at odds with hosts of other scriptural texts that describe the bodily appearance of God to prophets and others….” (emphasis added).

Our understanding of the great gospel truths should not be left to obscure passages out of reach of all but the best scriptorians. In this case, using John 4:24 is overreaching for such an important concept.

An Imperfect Book

Thirdly, the Bible is not a perfect document. Blatant internal contradictions within the Biblical text show that even minor errors remain today. The earliest manuscripts of the Bible still in existence date at least hundreds of years after they were originally composed (and far longer for Old Testament documents). There are books referenced in the Bible that make it clear that they were important anciently, but we don’t have them today. And the writers, translators, publishers, and readers of this sacred text are all human. We are naturally imperfect, and so errors happen naturally.

Latter-day Saints believe that the text of John 4:24 is mistranslated. Joseph Smith translated this text as “For unto such hath God promised his Spirit” (John 4:24 JST). Bruce R. McConkie said:

“The fact is that John 4:24 is mistranslated. It is part of a passage in which Jesus is teaching that the Father seeks true worshipers who will worship him in spirit and in truth. “For unto such,” he says, “hath God promised his Spirit.”

This point, I realize, may not be very academically strong. There is little evidence that this specific scripture is mistranslated. Still, it is clear that the Bible is not inerrant, which leaves this possibility open. Regardless, this point (while worth noting) is not vital to the denial of the argument as a whole.

See my related post regarding Biblical sufficiency and adding to the Bible.

Conclusion

The denial of these three assumptions greatly weakens the argument before we even start to look at the formal premises.

Continued at Part 2.2.