Tag Archives: N. Eldon Tanner

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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Judging a Hospital for Sinners

Those familiar with me know that I have plenty of soapboxes. Some of them have to do with the non-gospel practices of LDS Church members. For example:

These soapboxes have nothing to do with the doctrine of the Church, or legitimate practices encouraged by the Church, but rather with personal orthodoxies (that I see as contrary to the gospel) preached as the gospel.

I’ve recently taken a stance on the way a BYU student reprimanded a peer for breaking the dress standards of the BYU honor code, and I commented on a follow-up story published by BYU’s paper, the Daily Universe. A Facebook friend had this to say:

You are way too worked up about this incident. Aren’t your judgmental words about the boy worse than his own?

(Never mind the irony of these kinds of statements, with the criticism of being judgmental a judgment in its own right.)

I replied that “love everyone, judge no one” is junk religion, and summed up the stance you can read about in the post mentioned above. I also inferred that the letter-writer was a “sheltered, bubble-craving isolationist” and straight-out called him “a cowardly, small-minded boy”. As an example of how short-sighted, childish actions can convict the Church in the court of public opinion, I brought up the proxy baptism scandal that has resurfaced in the wake of President Romney’s campaign (recently, LDS “dweebs” have disregarded prophetic counsel regarding the baptism of holocaust Jews). The same friend replied:

Sorry, but I still don’t see name-calling within our own religion as ‘righteous judgement.’ You are obviously free to make your opinions known; however, your negative comments may have the very effect you see these ‘dweebs’ having: harming the image of the church. Some negative opinions are better left unsaid.

And then, a few days later, a stranger posted this:

Don’t you think the guy has gotten enough flack for it by now? Who would come forward and dare express their opinion with the entire world ragging on them? The guy never intended this to go to the press. He was shy enough not to just talk to Brittany about it in the first place. Whether he was right or wrong, he probably feels terrible and wishes he never would have written the note. It was probably a built-up of all the things he saw and considered to be immodest on campus, and he thought he should do something about it this time. I’m not saying it was the right method or it was a good judgement call, but give the guy a break. We all have motes and beams from time to time, do we not? I personally wish I could find this guy, give him a hug, and say, “Okay, that might not have been the best decision, as we’ve seen, but I’m sorry for all the hate thrown at you right now.”

(Speaking of my soapboxes, why can’t people online use paragraphs?)

There are two arguments in these Facebook comments, both of which I take issue with. The first deals with concealing internal issues, and the second with withholding all judgment. While I welcome people who disagree with me, I take issues with those who discourage open dialogue and healthy disagreement. That, in my humble opinion, is reprehensible.

Internal Name-Calling

The first argument is that we shouldn’t “name-call” within our own ranks. This mirrors the view of C. S. Lewis, who said in Mere Christianity,

“So long as we write and talk about [our disputed points] we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.”

I talk about this argument when I discuss the preface to Mere Christianity. You can read more there, but in brief, I think that this position is off. Why?

An Active Faith

First, who says that talking about disputed points will deter others from investigating the gospel? Could it not encourage them to investigate further instead? I think so. In the words of William James, those otherwise uninterested in a religion can have a previously “dead” option made “genuine” as they study deeper.

All the times I’ve dug deeper into my beliefs, or investigated a controversial issue, or struggled internally with some gnawing question, I’ve come out of it with stronger faith.

What’s more, religious organizations, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not cookie cutter groups. We are not all the same. Why would we want to sweep internal conflicts under the rug, particularly in this age when things will always come out? (Brittney Molina’s own twitter picture is what originally went viral on the modesty story.) I’m not like the note-writer, or the LDS dweebs baptizing Ann Frank for the fourth, fifth, or sixth time after the First Presidency has told members not to. I want others to know! We’re not all crazy, and white-washing the mosaic that is the LDS Church is not the way to encourage people into the fold.

Religious Dishonesty

Second, it seems slightly dishonest, if not at least disingenuous, to sweep our disputes entirely under the rug. I like what Dan Peterson said in his article “The Restoration stands up to history”, which I recommend you read in its entirety.

He describes the three “versions” of history that are often used to describe the LDS Church.

  • “Thesis” is the rose-colored history taught by the LDS Church.
  • “Antithesis” is the opposite to thesis, the hardened and critical history taught by anti-Mormons.
  • “Synthesis” is the combination of the two – the fullest, most complete history that incorporates elements from both.

The history taught by the Church is not all-encompassing or historically complete, but why? Peterson offers,

“Because souls can be and are lost on [antithesis]. And, anyway, the church isn’t some sort of floating seminar in historiography. Regrettably, perhaps, most Latter-day Saints — many of them far better people than I — aren’t deeply interested in history, and, more importantly, many other very important priorities demand attention, including training the youth and giving service.”

If I were in a leadership position, I would probably make a similar decision to stick to thesis history. The purpose of the Church is to invite people to come unto Christ, not to educate them in exact historical matters that have no bearing on that invitation.

And yet I am not in a leadership position, and I am not the Church. Neither is the media the Church. The Church is more than welcome to censor its Sunday school material, but I can make my own choices about what I discuss in an open forum. An early LDS poet wrote,

Think not when you gather to Zion,
Your troubles and trials are through,
That nothing but comfort and pleasure
Are waiting in Zion for you:

No, no, ’tis designed as a furnace,
All substance, all textures to try,
To burn all the “wood, hay, and stubble,”
The gold from the dross purify.

Think not when you gather to Zion,
That all will be holy and pure;
That fraud and deception are banished,
And confidence wholly secure:

No, no, for the Lord our Redeemer
Has said that the tares with the wheat
Must grow till the great day of burning
Shall render the harvest complete.

And what of my friend’s insinuation that it’s not okay to name-call internally, but okay to name-call others? I’ll leave that to you.

Judging and “Judge Not”

The second argument, and by far the more important one, is that I was wrong to judge, and “way too worked up” over something that didn’t merit it. I should have kept to myself, and tended to my own beams rather than pulling at the motes of others.

I repeat my affirmation that “love everyone, judge no one” is junk religion, and that discouraging open dialogue is reprehensible. Where does judgment fit in to our every day behavior?

Maybe we would do well to define some of our terms before we get started.

Final Judgments

In 1972, N. Eldon Tanner talked about what he called “unjust criticism and judging without the facts.” What did he mean by this?

He gave a few examples. One example involved what’s commonly known as “self-fulfilling prophecy” or the Pygmalion Effect, when we pigeonhole someone else by treating them based on who we expect them to be. Another example involved what Crucial Conversations calls telling yourself stories, or attributing motives to the actions of others. Both of these behaviors are inappropriate, and examples of prejudice and gossip. President Tanner decries the “vituperative talk of personalities” and “trying to tear down another”.

Dallin H. Oaks gave a devotional at BYU in 1998. You can find the transcript of it here, or a copy of it in the Church magazine Ensign. He further clarifies the type of judgment that President Tanner condemns. He says,

“I believe this commandment was given because we presume to make final judgments whenever we proclaim that any particular person is going to hell (or to heaven) for a particular act or as of a particular time…. The effect of one mortal’s attempting to pass final judgment on another mortal is analogous to the effect on athletes and observers if we could proclaim the outcome of an athletic contest with certainty while it was still underway.”

Gossiping, stereotyping, or ignorantly attributing motive is “proclaim(ing) the outcome of an athletic contest” before it concludes. We don’t give others the chance to make redemption.

Intermediate Judgments

So is all judgement inappropriate? President Tanner says,

“Each must try to understand the questions and then stand firm by his convictions.”

Elder Oaks says,

“In contrast to forbidding mortals to make final judgments, the scriptures require mortals to make what I will call “intermediate judgments.” These judgments are essential to the exercise of personal moral agency…. The Savior also commanded individuals to be judges, both of circumstances and of other people.”

How can one “stand firm by his convictions” without judging? How can we make intermediate judgments “both of circumstances and of other people” without judging? The truth is we can’t.

Righteous Intermediate Judgments

We are not left to our own in determining how to make righteous intermediate judgments. Elder Oaks gives us six principles as a guide.

  1. “First of all, a righteous judgment must, by definition, be intermediate. It will refrain from declaring that a person has been assured of exaltation or from dismissing a person as being irrevocably bound for hellfire….
  2. “Second, a righteous judgment will be guided by the Spirit of the Lord, not by anger, revenge, jealousy, or self-interest….
  3. “Third, to be righteous, an intermediate judgment must be within our stewardship. We should not presume to exercise and act upon judgments that are outside our personal responsibilities….
  4. “A fourth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment of a person is that we should, if possible, refrain from judging until we have adequate knowledge of the facts….
  5. “A fifth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment is that whenever possible we will refrain from judging people and only judge situations….
  6. If we apply unrighteous standards, our judgment will be unrighteous.”

I’ll be the first to volunteer my comments to the standard given by Elder Oaks. Arguably, it may not meet that standard.

But that is not the point here. The point is that this stance, that we should in no circumstance judge other people, is far from the gospel truth.

Conclusion

I make judgments all the time. I judged that the student who wrote Brittany Molina that note did so inappropriately. I judged the actions of those who disregard the teachings of the Church, whether it be in terms of Prop 8 or proxy baptisms. These judgments aren’t in violation of the commandment to “judge not”.

Keep a close eye around you, and you’ll see righteous judgments all over the place. I can even help. Excuse an analogy that may help put my own judgment in perspective.

  • A BYU professor makes a blatantly racist statement (you can find it in the Washington Post article “The Genesis of a church’s stand on race”)
    • Remember how a BYU student wrote a remorsefully critical note of a fellow student
  • The LDS Church clarifies the doctrine and stance of the Church in a press release which clearly denounces the stance attributed to the BYU professor
    • I respond to the action and position of the BYU student using the scriptures and modern prophets.

Don’t be so quick to vilify those who take a stance against a position with which you agree. You may find yourself at odds with your own Church.

UPDATE: This past general conference, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave a fantastic talk about this subject entitled “The Merciful Obtain Mercy”. Check it out.

Mormon Observations on “The Book of Mormon” the Musical – Turn It Off

All the posts in this series.

Go back to “Turn It Off”.

A Curable Curse
“So just realize you have a curable curse”

The Church certainly does not believe that homosexuality is “curable,” or, as shown in the section above, a “curse”.

Elder Wickman said,

“From the standpoint of a parent counseling a person, or a Church leader counseling a person, or a person looking at his or her same-gender attraction from the standpoint of ‘What can I do about it here that’s in keeping with gospel teachings?’ the clinical side of it is not what matters most. What matters most is recognition that ‘I have my own will. I have my own agency. I have the power within myself to control what I do.’”

He continued that he’s aware of some cases in which there has been progress in changing sexual orientation, and others where there hasn’t been. Regardless, that’s not where the focus is for the Church, which has left such things to medical doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists.  The focus of the Church is in, as mentioned earlier, remaining worthy and keeping commandments and covenants.

As a caution, Elder Oaks added this:

“The aversive therapies that have been used in connection with same-sex attraction have contained some serious abuses that have been recognized over time within the professions…. We are conscious that there are abuses and we don’t accept responsibility for those abuses. Even though they are addressed at helping people we would like to see helped, we can’t endorse every kind of technique that’s been used.”

Mormon Observations on “The Book of Mormon” the Musical – Turn It Off

All the posts in this series.

Go back to “Turn It Off”.

Being Gay is Bad
“Being gay is bad”

President Hinckley has said, in reference to people who have same-sex attraction,

“We love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church.”

There is a distinction between the value of a behavior and the value of the individual. Homosexual behavior, we believe, is sinful and wrong. Yet this does not mean that the individual is “bad”. In fact, “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10).

While some consider same-gender attraction to be the defining fact of their existence, we can be many things. We can define ourselves as a Texan, or a US Marine, or a red-head, or a good basketball player. The ultimate defining characteristic is that we are children of God with a divine destiny, and that characteristic is far from “bad”.

Yet this love for those who experience same-gender attraction does not extend to tolerance of this behavior. I repeat the statement released by First Presidency:

“We of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reach out with understanding and respect for individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender. We realize there may be great loneliness in their lives, but there must also be recognition of what is right before the Lord.”

Mormon Observations on “The Book of Mormon” the Musical – Turn It Off

All the posts in this series.

Go back to “Turn It Off”.

Temptation is Not a Sin
“I think its okay that your having gay thoughts, just so long as you never act on them.”

When Elder Price gives the above encouragement to the homosexual Elder McKinley, it’s meant to come off as trite and silly to the audience. While it is true that the LDS Church takes this position, in the context of the song it acts as a straw man, a distorted and easily battered form of an otherwise rational argument.

Elder Oaks said this in relation to temptation and sin:

“The distinction between feelings or inclinations on the one hand, and behavior on the other hand, is very clear. It’s no sin to have inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a transgression. The sin is in yielding to temptation. Temptation is not unique. Even the Savior was tempted….

“Everyone has some challenges they have to struggle with. You’ve described a particular kind of challenge that is very vexing. It is common in our society and it has also become politicized. But it’s only one of a host of challenges men and women have to struggle with, and I just encourage you to seek the help of the Savior to resist temptation and to refrain from behavior that would cause you to have to repent or to have your Church membership called into question.”

His meaning, and the rationale behind what Elder Price has said, is that it’s completely appropriate to be tempted. That is part of the mortal condition. The expectation, though, just as it is with any other temptation, is that we resist embracing that temptation and acting on it.

That can be a seemingly cold reality. To answer this objection, Elder Oaks quoted a statement released by LDS Church leaders:

“We of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reach out with understanding and respect for individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender. We realize there may be great loneliness in their lives, but there must also be recognition of what is right before the Lord.”

Mormon Observations on “The Book of Mormon” the Musical – Turn It Off

All the posts in this series.

Go back to “Turn It Off”.

Heavenly Father’s Plan
“Boys should be with girls, that’s Heavenly Father’s plan”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes no qualms about this. The first words in The Family: A Proclamation to the world are,

“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.”

Similarly, the closing words are,

“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.”

Heavenly Father’s plan centers on families, and marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman.

But that’s not to say that some of the blessings of eternity are closed to those with homosexual tendencies. The blessings of exhalation and eternal life that Heavenly Father holds out to all of his children apply to those that keep themselves worthy, stay true to gospel commandments, and keep the covenants they make. Every blessing – including eternal marriage – is and will be theirs in due course.

But Elder Oaks emphasized,

“There is no fullness of joy in the next life without a family unit, including a husband, a wife, and posterity. Further, men are that they might have joy. In the eternal perspective, same-gender activity will only bring sorrow and grief and the loss of eternal opportunities.”

Mormon Observations on “The Book of Mormon” the Musical – Turn It Off

All the posts in this series.

Go back to “Turn It Off”.

Families and the Gospel
“When I was young my dad would treat my mom real bad”

Latter-day Saint homes are certainly not perfect. Mine suffered from it’s own form of ordinary dysfunction (I can recall my own father saying, somewhat like Elder McKinley’s dad, “Stop crying or I’ll give you a something to cry about”). Still, we try to live to the standard set up in The Family: A Proclamation to the World:

“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.”

Mormon Observations on “The Book of Mormon” the Musical – Turn It Off

All the posts in this series.

Go back to “Turn It Off”.

Blind Faith
“When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head,
Don’t feel those feelings! Hold them in instead.
Turn it off…

(If you feel the same)
You didn’t pretend hard enough”

This song’s main theme plays on the stereotype that Latter-day Saints suppress doubts or concerns, and “pretend” their way into faithful activity in the Church, or into blissful ignorance. Much like Korihor of old accused, these new detractors tell us that our attitudes are “the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so” (Alma 30:16).

Our attitude towards faith could be summarized by N. Eldon Tanner, who 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.”

Pretending is neither healthy or wise, and no one rooting themselves in imaginary ground will be able to withstand the hardships borne of being an active follower of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 13:1-23).

To learn more about what LDS leaders have said of blind faith through the years, see here.

Mormon Observations on “The Book of Mormon” the Musical – Turn It Off

For a list of all the posts in this series, see here.

In the posts relating to this song, I’ll be referencing one source quite often. It’s an interview from 2006. Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman, both in Church leadership, answer a number of questions on the Church’s position regarding homosexuality and homosexual behavior. To those interested in the Church’s position, it’s worth reading in it’s entirety. All the quotes below from Elder Oaks or Elder Wickman come from that interview.

Background

Mafala’s daughter, Nabulungi, shows Elder Price and Elder Cunningham to their living quarters. Here they meet other missionaries serving in the area. The District Leader, Elder McKinley, proceeds to teach them how to deal with the negative and upsetting feelings caused by their surroundings and Mormon upbringing.

Full Lyrics – “Turn it Off”

Elder McKinley: I got a feeling that you could be feeling,
A whole lot better then you feel today
You say you got a problem; well, that’s no problem,
It’s super easy not to feel that way!

When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head,
Don’t feel those feelings! Hold them in instead

Turn it off
Like a light switch
Just go click!
It’s a cool little Mormon trick!
We do it all the time
When your feeling certain feels that just don’t seem right
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light

And turn ’em off,
Like a light switch
Just go bap!
Really whats so hard about that?
Turn it off!

When I was young my dad
Would treat my mom real bad

Every time the Utah Jazz would loose
He’d start a’ drinking
And I’d start a thinking
How I’m gonna keep my mom from getting abused.

I’d see her all scared and my soul was dying
My dad would say to me, “Now don’t you dare start crying.”

Turn it off,
Like a light switch
Just go click!
It’s our nifty little Mormon trick!
Turn it off!

My sister was a dancer
But she got cancer
The doctor said she still had two months more
I thought she had time
So I got in line
For the new iPhone at the Apple Store

She lay there dying with my father and mother
Her very last words were, “Where is my brother?”

Turn it off!
Yeah!
Bid those sad feelings adieu!
The fear I might get cancer, too

When I was in fifth grade
I had a friend, Steve Blade
He and I were close as two friend could be
One thing led to another
And soon I would discover
I was having really strange feelings for Steve

I thought about us, on a deserted island
We’d swim naked in the sea, and then he’d try and…

WOAH!

Turn if off
Like a light switch
There its gone! (Good for you!)
My hetero side just won!
I’m all better now
Boys should be with girls, that’s Heavenly Father’s plan
So if you ever feel you rather be with a man,
Turn it off.

Elder Price: Well Elder McKinley, I think its okay that your having gay thoughts, just so long as you never act upon them.

Elder McKinley: No, because then your just keeping it down,
Like a dimmer switch on low (On low!)
Thinking nobody needs to know! (Uh oh!)
But that’s not true!
Being gay is bad, but lying is worse,
So just realize you have a curable curse,
And turn it off! 

Now how do you feel!

Elder Price: The same

Elder McKinley: Then you only got yourself to blame,
You didn’t pretend hard enough,
Imagine that your brain is made of tiny boxes,
And find the box that’s gay and CRUSH IT!

Okay?

Elder Price: No, no, I’m not having gay thoughts.

Elder Cunningham: Alright!  It worked!

All: Turn it off, turn it off
Like a light switch
Just go click! (Click click!)
What a cool little Mormon trick! (Trick trick!)
We do it all the time!

Elder McKinley: When your feeling certain feelings that just don’t seem right!
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light!
Turn it off!
Like a light switch
Shut it off!
Now he isn’t gay anymore!
Turn it off!