Sunday in Outer Blogness: The Mormon Moment Comes Home to Roost Edition!

Mitt’s success has put Mormons in the spotlight around and the world, and it’s starting to get uncomfortable. Last week’s controversy hadn’t even cooled off yet when this new one struck!! Here’s the latest on the baptizing-other-people’s-dead-relatives scandal: The First Presidency officially told members to stop submitting names of celebrities and holocaust victims. It was the least they could do, considering who has been involuntarily baptized.

And now for this week’s mess!

If you’ve been in a cave for the past few days (mining for ore and stone to craft into a castle, for example), here’s the short version: A reporter decided to go ask a popular BYU professor what Mormons believe about black people, and — surprise, surprise! — he recounted exactly the same offensive doctrines that so many of us were taught in (LDS) church. The LDS Newsroom swiftly responded with an official statement that they’re very sorry that a BYU professor would behave in such an uncorrelated manner and tell all that stuff to the press. Here’s a chronology of all the gory details. (Plus some background on Mormons and race.)

The commentary from blogspace has absolutely nailed it!!! The first question is Is anyone in charge over there?

“Not known precisely why, how, or when…”, is what we are told. Officially. Who is running the ship? How does a policy and practice, (but apparently not a doctrine), codify itself into sermons, preaching, manuals, guidelines for temple attendance, books, talks, handbooks… all with the upmost air of authority – how does this happen and not have doctrinal roots?

Now, apparently, official doctrine comes from an anonymous committee in the LDS Newsroom, which is kinda convenient:

It is so awesome that the Lord has in-sourced prophecy, revelation, and seership to the Newsroom, I mean, talk about timely! Newsy! and Roomy! Now we can pick and sort through the newsroom announcements, and what doesnt fit our notions or doctrines, we can write off as just some lamo-bozo Zoob at Church PR, and totally NOT the PRoPHet; but what does stroke us right, is pure white 100 proof Da Churchez Rev-L-A-Shun!

The problem is that, up until last week, that “folk doctrine” was simply “doctrine”, and if it wasn’t, maybe one of those prophets, seers, and revelators could have told us so. The obvious conclusion is that, simply, nothing is doctrine, it’s jello, all the way down. (Dontcha love theology?)

Oh, and considering that the doctrine really was racist (and it’s not just Mormons), it would be nice if the LDS church leaders could repudiate it and apologize for reals, and not just pick a scapegoat. And put a stop to stuff like this:

But before I could squirm out of the conversation, he continued: he was sure that in the next life, Id become white just as the Lord has promised.

I’ve read so many Bloggernaclers argue that at least correlation keeps the ward crazies from preaching “folk doctrine” as real doctrine. I completely disagree. When nothing except a short list of pablum can be discussed openly and officially, that creates an environment where crazy folk doctrine can flourish behind closed doors, never exposed to the light of critical discussion, so even the most faithful Mormons don’t know “what Mormons believe”. Maybe discussion should be reopened.

I don’t want to come off as gloating, but I think this attention is a positive thing. I was hanging out IRL with some fellow exmos this past week, and the question of “Are the leaders intentionally scamming people?” came up. I don’t think they are. I think the institution has gone in the direction of a culture of correlation, and they’re so entrenched in the strategy of trying to control the flow of information that they can’t adapt to a world where information is free. They could use a little push to understand that they’re not doing their own institution any favors by teaching the following strategy:

Curious: Do we/you believe in the curse of Cain?

Mormon: Let me bear my testimony…

Curious: No, I asked if we/you believe in the curse of Cain!

Mormon: Why are you attacking me?

Or:

Curious: Do we/you believe in Kolob?

Mormon: Is this on the record?

Curious: No, I just want to know.

Mormon: Of course we believe in Kolob, silly! It’s in the scriptures!

alternatively:

Curious: Do we/you believe in Kolob?

Mormon: Is this on the record?

Curious: Yes, I’m a reporter.

Mormon: Um… I don’t know if we believe that. Let me talk to correlation and get back to you.

The other point that jumps out is that — if he’d said the same thing about gay people or women, not only would the newsroom not apologize for it, they wouldn’t even contradict it:

So what happens when the Washington Post writes, The LDS Stance on Women, and contacts a BYU religion professor who explains that women are too spiritual to need the priesthood; women are highly valued in LDS theology because men cant be exalted without them; women are actually blessed by not having to deal with the responsibility of holding the priesthood; [...] Will we get widespread cries of outrage, complaints about the condescension of such comments, a call for the professor in question to be disciplined, a statement from the dean clarifying that these comments do not reflect the teachings at BYU, and hurried responses from the LDS Newsroom?

On that note, this news had my eyes popping:

Now, once a month the Young Women have “service” where, instead of their normal weekly activity, they form 2 groups and have races to see who can deep clean (bathrooms, vacuum, shampoo the pews, take our trash, etc.) the fastest. All the things they used to pay someone to do. And what do the YW get in return? Nothing. Because their leaders have said that it’s part of the “service” you have to do to get their Young Woman’s award when they get older.

Sadly, even satire has some difficulty competing with the harsh reality. So, will the boys also be working towards a toilet-cleaning merit badge? Don’t answer that. I can only imagine that this is a strategy to deal with their retention problem, to deal with the fact that not as many women are exiting as men.

So which topic will hit the press next? The Kinderhook Plates? The Book of Abraham? More polygamy? Nah, it looks like it will be the money. All that money. That’s a far more sensitive topic than a scientific discussion of DNA, for example. The faithful are trying to defend the mall, but it’s kinda futile.

OK, now let’s not neglect all those intrepid bloggers who were creative enough not to write about the prevailing topics this week!!

In personal stories, the joy of new love, and the healing work of dealing with loss of faith, with the end of a relationship, and with memories of sexual abuse.

In discussion topics, thinking for yourself, BYU’s role in loss of faith, being a leader (in Mormonism), terminology: the label “Anti-Mormon” and the real history/meaning of Thee/Thou/Thy, humility, LDS doctrine on emigration, and Satan’s gift.

This has been an incredible batch of stories!! The kind that make be feel energized to keep writing, compiling, and commenting!! I kind of wish more people had responded to my pathetic plea for others to join me as co-authors here, either for a post or two, or as a permanent collaborator. Seriously, it’s fun, and I don’t bite! If you’d like to join in the fun, email me: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com. Also, don’t forget to vote for the X-Mormon of the Year, 2011.

Have a great week!!

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17 Comments

  1. 1
    Jake says:

    You know Chanson, I am actually in awe at just how much you read, comment and distill together in your weekly review. I read it most weeks to find out everything that I missed out on. So I thought I would just say its wonderful that you put this together.

       2 likes

  2. 2

    [...] etc., speculative. You don’t condemn the former without gutting the latter. (P.S., massive thanks to chanson for collecting these article, andeven more in her latest Sunday in Outer Blognes…because I surely wasn’t paying as close of attention to all the responses as she has [...]

       0 likes

  3. 3
    Goldarn says:

    “Follow the Newsroom, Follow the Newsroom, They Know the Way!”

       3 likes

  4. 4
    Alan says:

    This must be what Boyd Packer meant about “intellectuals” being a threat to the Church, lol. The Church is upset that the Washington Post quoted a BYU professor of religion about Mormonism, instead of asking “the Church” about it.

       1 likes

  5. 5
    ZW says:

    Great service — fun to read. Thanks.

    Here is something brewing — the latest scholarship on the BoA: http://mormon-chronicles.blogspot.com/2012/03/complete-translation-of-joseph-smith.html

       0 likes

  6. 6
    Dave says:

    Sunday in Outer Blogness is one of the highlights of my week, and I want to express my appreciation for putting it together every single week! Hooray for YOU, chanson!

       1 likes

  7. 7
    True Order of Hair says:

    Thank you, Chanson. You have seen and hefted, and know of a surety what you are talking about.

       1 likes

  8. 8
    chanson says:

    Thanks, everyone, for your support!! This scandal has been a fascinating one to report on because it illustrates so many facets of what’s wrong with the the COB’s mystery-bureaucratic strategy. And Outer Blogness and beyond really came through with fantastic analysis of it — so it was great fun to make a collage here of some of the best quotes!!

    The Church is upset that the Washington Post quoted a BYU professor of religion about Mormonism, instead of asking the Church about it.

    Yes, that’s the danger of having professors of religion at all. Peterson linked above notes that it’s interesting that no Mormon theologians period (perhaps to avoid the idea that someone could study to become an expert or authority on LDS doctrinal issues).

    In reality universe, people are going to assume that someone that the church hired as a professor of religion at BYU is someone who is qualified to explain what Mormons believe. To me, the most telling quote from the newsroom’s “official” (yet not prophet-level?) statement is this one:

    BYU faculty members do not speak for the Church. It is unfortunate that the Church was not given a chance to respond to what others said.

    OK, so BYU religion professors can’t officially explain doctrine. Well, who can? Can the press interview such a person? No. If you have a question about LDS doctrine, go read lds.org. What if my question isn’t there? Then T.S. for you — you never should be asking that question at all, you anti-Mormon!!

    And it’s a kind of a telling example of correlation-mentality-out-of-control that the newsroom committee thinks it’s totally reasonable to expect that reporters would give them space to disavow Prof. Botts comments when they won’t give an official statement on which parts of the “Curse of Cain” doctrine are/were really doctrine.

    IMHO, having a list of questions that can simply never be “officially” answered doesn’t cut it. The CoJCoL-dS could come up with a definitive resource on what is and isn’t doctrine, yet the institution very blatantly and obviously chooses not to.

    It’s a convenient choice for the church because — on sticky/embarrassing questions — it allows anyone to come up with any answer they like, depending on the audience. And if someone out there doesn’t like the response, no problem! It wasn’t the official response to the question, it was just someone’s opinion! Fortunately, there is no official response that the church would have to worry about standing behind.

       1 likes

  9. 9
    Alan says:

    I guess I just don’t get why the Church won’t be more forthcoming. The easiest way to resolve this is to open up the canon to teach younger generations about what happened and why. Is the assumption the Church makes that once everyone born pre-1978 dies, that this will just stop being an issue? They should already know that’s not the case. Look how long polygamy is haunting the Church. Kids born today will leave the Church over a policy that ended over a century ago! That is seriously correlation out-of-control, and it boggles the mind how the Church has created these problems for itself.

    For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began…

    This vague language has the opposite effect the Newsroom (the Church?) hopes it does. “A time” begs the question “how long?” (Answer: 130+ years, easily ascertained through Wikipedia). “Not known precisely why, how, or when” begs the question “why, how and when” (Answer: Brigham Young having a different view of racial history than Joseph Smith, and using his power as “prophet” to set in stone the “Curse of Cain” as doctrine, easily ascertained through Wikipedia).

    Correlation and the Age of Information are incompatible.

       0 likes

  10. 10
  11. 11
    chanson says:

    @10 — Thanks! I actually did link to that one in the OP, at the bottom of the third paragraph.

    Also, (to all) I’m re-reading this post I linked above, defending “the LD$ Church” against the charge of being all about money, and I’m trying to figure out whether it’s satire or not:

    Bishops do not live off donations from their congregations. They don’t even get tips for conducting weddings or funerals.

    The Mormon Church would charge members a rental fee to use temple sealing rooms for weddings. Despite what some movies have portrayed, there are no fees for temple weddings. There isn’t even a charge to use the temples as backdrops for wedding photos.

    The LDS Church would charge temple attendees for parking. Temple parking is free for attendees. [...] Mormons pay a couple of bucks to rent white clothing if they don’t have their own. They can also buy food in the temple cafeteria.

    The Mormon Church would have ATM machines or credit/debit card readers in the churches. Currently, tithing and other donations are paid discretely by members bringing cash or checks to the bishop in an envelope. No point of sale machines and no automatic withdrawals. It’s a chapel, not an insurance office. Well, maybe it’s a fire insurance office if you count the whole “burned at His coming” scenario.

    The Mormon Church would sell banner ads on LDS.org, Mormon.org, and all other official church websites.

    The Mormon Church would charge a fee for men to receive priesthood ordinations.

    What do you think? Joking or serious?

       0 likes

  12. 12
    Jack says:

    Have they baptized more holocost victims than mass murderers?
    Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Jeffry Dahmer, IdiAmin, Ted Bundy and so many more multiple murderers are all Mormons now. Even Al Capone.

    No wonder the Jews are mad – don’t want to be lumped in with them.

       0 likes

  13. 13
    Jack says:

    As for the mormons and blacks flack with the PR blitz.

    Has “The Prophet, Seer and Revelator” forgotten how to speak for himself or God? Jesus didn’t use lawyers and PR hacks. Maybe Tomas Monson is spending too much time munching old ladies cookies rather than attending to his duties? At least Joseph Smith munched younger ladies cookies and Warren Jeffs got them at any age.

       0 likes

  14. 14
    kuri says:

    @11 Not satire, I’d say after a glance at his/her front page. It’s just someone who isn’t very good at thinking critically (at least not about his/her religion).

       0 likes

  15. 15
    Goldarn says:

    I’m still wondering, days later, what the point was of my taking 6 semesters of BYU religion courses if the professors aren’t competent to explain doctrine.

    Granted, there was one or two professors (*cough* Benson *cough*) who I’m pretty sure were incompetent, but others seemed pretty much on top of things.

    It just occurred to meno wonder I left the church! I had 6 semesters of false doctrine! :-)

       2 likes

  16. 16
    chanson says:

    @14 I’m sure you’re right. Overall, it’s too rambly and not funny enough to be satire.

    But so many bits of it had me going Are you serious, or is that supposed to be a joke? OK, so you have to pay 10% of your income to get in, and you have to rent/buy the special costumes, and pay for the food. But if they really cared about the money, they’d charge for parking too!!

    Even if it’s a for-profit business, you don’t necessarily increase your profits by nickel-and-diming your patrons every item you could possibly charge for. Indeed, an expensive exclusive club needs to give some privileges to its members to help justify joining instead of window shopping.

    The funniest one is the suggestion that they’d rent out the temple sealing rooms for weddings and then charge for using the temple as a backdrop for wedding photos!!

    First, if someone rents a sealing room, then the might start to expect better service. for example, to have it just for their wedding for a reasonable length of time — instead of having the bride get dressed in a locker room with six to twelve other brides. Or to say: “Hey we rented this room, so we should get to say that Uncle Charlie can attend even though he’s fallen on hard times and can’t pay his tithing!” We can’t have that.

    And charging for wedding photos in front of the temple would be as brilliant as charging people to wear your promotional t-shirts.

    @15 That is a good point! They keep trying to figure out why so many people are leaving the church — maybe they should stop hiring religion profs that they can’t trust to explain their doctrine correctly. ;)

       0 likes

  17. 17

    [...] the Professor Bott fiasco, Dave Banack posted an amusing scorecard in which the LDS PR department wins and the BYU Religion [...]

       0 likes

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