And…The Book of Abraham is de-canonized

When I was growing up, I had a triple combination. This was a copy of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Book of Abraham in one book. We studied the Book of Abraham in seminary, the same year as the Old Testament. I remember my seminary teacher actually built a cardboard replica of Urim and Thummim breastplate (and glasses) to bring to our class.

So I was shocked to read the other day that the Book of Abraham is now an “esoteric” work. I know some faithful mormons who would also find that surprising. It’s true, I don’t remember the Book of Abraham being discussed all that often (much like D&C section 132 about celestial marriage/polygamy). But it was still included as scripture, revealed (restored) to Joseph Smith by God.

If it is de-canonized, that certainly makes things easier to explain for LDS leadership and apologists. The Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) doesn’t consider it to be a religious text. The Egyptian from the facsimile and papyri do not translate into the text in the Book of Abraham.

I just think the process of determining what is LDS doctrine is fraught with peril. It would be nice if the LDS church would have a Vatican council (like the Roman Catholic church did) to better define what is and what is not scripture. Until that time, I suppose answers from a public relations specialist for a national news program will have to do (much like “I don’t know that we believe that” about eternal progression with Larry King Live.)

53 thoughts on “And…The Book of Abraham is de-canonized

  1. “Kolob” is not a planet. It’s mentioned in “the Book of Abraham,” a pretty esoteric work of scripture Joseph Smith produced late in his life that’s packed with rather obscure cosmological references to various celestial bodies with names that sound Egyptian or Hebrew: “Kolob” is a star that’s said to be near where God’s throne is.

    Frankly, most Mormons find all the astrological meanderings in the book of Abraham a bit confusing and strange; they’re not very frequently talked about, sort of like the weird murder subplot in the second season of Friday Night Lights.

    Sheesh, now the anti-Mormons are accusing Mormons of believing their own scriptures! What next?

    </sarcasm>

    When I was a kid, we were taught to stand up for what we believe in and not to be ashamed of Mormon beliefs. I’m sure I’ll be slammed as “anti-Mormon” if I remark that I’m not impressed by the morally-relativistic strategy of “whatever is good for church PR is righteous.”

  2. This didn’t seem to be a de-canonization to me. For one thing, the person being interviewed is a professor of religion, not a general authority of the church. For another thing, he didn’t say anything about it being de-canonized, merely that it was confusing, so many members chose not to refer to it.

    I also didn’t get the impression that he was anti-Mormon. It seemed to me that he was just a neutral party with a vested interest in Mormonism.

  3. Honestly, I think the controversy over the Book of Abraham has benefited LDS apologetics more than inhibited it.

    It’s forced a lot of high quality scholarship out of the ranks of the LDS faithful. In fact, I’d wager that the high caliber of current LDS scholarship is due more to the BoA dispute than any other subject in LDS studies.

  4. Re: This didnt seem to be a de-canonization to me. For one thing, the person being interviewed is a professor of religion, not a general authority of the church. and Since when does the word esoteric mean de-canonized?

    Sure, except that the point of the article is to assess the accuracy of the song “I believe”, and the interviewee (who is a well-known Mormon, presenting himself as an expert) basically implies that it’s inaccurate to portray a Mormon as fervently believing in Kolob or Adam ondi Ahman.

    I’d say that claiming Mormons believe those things isn’t inaccurate. Portraying a Mormon boldly declaring belief in Mormonism’s unique doctrines is the truly inaccurate part.

    As I said earlier, here’s an accurate portrayal of what Mormons believe:

    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! Its in the scriptures!

    alternatively:

    Curious: Do we/you believe in Kolob?

    Mormon: Is this on the record?

    Curious: Yes, Im a reporter.

    Mormon: Um I dont know if we believe that. Let me talk to correlation and get back to you.

    It’s sad.

    If the LDS Newsroom or Mormon Voices (an organization for correcting media misrepresentation of Mormonism) post a press release responding to the interview with Professor Bowman, taking him to task — correcting the misimpression he’s giving by explaining that it really is Mormon doctrine that God lives on a planet near Kolob and the Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, MO — then I’ll take it back.

  5. Chanson, that kind of double-speak is part of every culture on the planet.

    When we had a debate about cohabitation (and I’m not suggesting we revisit it – this is just an example) you mentioned positive things that had resulted from cohabitating responsibly with the person you are now married to (forgive me if I’m misrepresenting). I’m sure you and your partner also had your rough patches (most couples do). You might have discussed some of those rough patches with close trusted friends.

    Would you have discussed them with a reporter from Christianity Today whom you know is writing an article attacking cohabitation?

    Doesn’t that make you just as guilty of double-speak as the LDS Church?

  6. Seth, from my perspective, how are faithful mormons supposed to know if something is doctrine or not? I remember quite a few sacrament meeting talks where someone would hold up their scriptures (quad or triple) and say that they were the guide to living.

    More than anything, that’s what I would like to see (and what I was implying with this post). Either something is part of the scriptures, is doctrine that most mormons believe, or it’s not. Another good example is the 13 articles of faith, which I’ve also read are not necessarily doctrinal or part of the faith either. In the end, it seems that it is arbitrary. One faithful mormon has just as much say in what is doctrinal, what is “esoteric” and what is not.

    #8 – I don’t know that this rock center program is really attacking mormonism. Some mormons may argue that. But many people are simply unfamiliar with mormons and mormon beliefs. I don’t see asking questions about mormon beliefs as being inherently an attack on those beliefs. Catholics have had to answer questions for centuries about some of their faith. It’s part of the landscape. Mormons aren’t unique and shouldn’t expect to be.

  7. There are different levels of understanding the word “doctrine.”

    But isn’t that true of any concept in adult life?

    Maybe 100% certainty is something you’re just supposed to get-over when you graduate from high school.

  8. I thought dreaming about an ideal world was something you got over by the time you graduated from high school.

  9. It’s not unreasonable for any organization that I’m involved in to have clearly defined by-laws and statement of purpose. Just about every fortune 500 company certainly has one or more.

    Most mainstream Christian religions also have relatively clear and apparent beliefs. Some believe in a literal interpretation of the bible, and they believe in different versions (the NIV, etc.) Obviously, all Methodists or Presbyterians do not believe the same things. But each faithful Methodist should be able to determine what the main faith espouses.

    And it probably doesn’t depend on whether or not they graduated from high school.

    Some mormons may be comfortable with this type of ambiguity. But it’s certainly not the norm for most organizations.

  10. Oh yes it is the norm.

    Clearly you haven’t actually tried to RUN a human organization before.

    Try it. You’ll find out exactly how clear those founding principles are.

  11. @6:

    If the LDS Newsroom or Mormon Voices (an organization for correcting media misrepresentation of Mormonism) post a press release responding to the interview with Professor Bowman, taking him to task correcting the misimpression hes giving by explaining that it really is Mormon doctrine that God lives on a planet near Kolob and the Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, MO then Ill take it back.

    Far from taking Bowman to task, the LDS Newsroom instead issued a statement applauding him for “getting it right”: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormonism-news–getting-it-right-august-29

    @8:

    Would you have discussed them with a reporter from Christianity Today whom you know is writing an article attacking cohabitation?

    Doesnt that make you just as guilty of double-speak as the LDS Church?

    This is in no way analogous. Chanson does not claim that her experience means everyone else should cohabitate. Whereas the church claims that its doctrines are uniquely true and that accepting its doctrines and affirming their truthfulness are necessary to salvation. It therefore has an obligation to be very clear about what church doctrines actually are.

    And if the doctrines change, it owes people an explanation.

    @10

    Maybe 100% certainty is something youre just supposed to get-over when you graduate from high school.

    Why wait until you graduate from high school? If you’re smart enough, you can figure out well before age 18 that any organization that teaches both adults and children to say things like “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all these things I’ve been told are true” is full of crap.

  12. I’ve always thought of the Book of Abraham as sort of like The Simarillion. It’s informative background information for the main story (and interesting in its own way to many people), but only hardcore fans really get into it.

  13. That’s certainly how it’s popularly treated.

    You only get into it as a practical matter when dealing with the covenant and promises made to Abraham as part of the temple marriage ceremony. Which not a lot of people do proxy work for, and we don’t talk about much in Sunday School – so there you are.

  14. @Seth re: #15: It is true that not all members of a religious institution always believe every bit of doctrine they church teaches. So, the idea of “doctrine” might mean different things to differet people. But in most religions, the hierarchy at least is clear on what is doctrine and what is not, and their statements about any particular doctrine are clear and consistent, and don’t depend on who they are talking to.

    Case in point: The Catholic Church and transubstantiation – The Catholic Church teaches that the bread and wine at communion is literally changed into the body and blood of Christ upon the utterances of certain prayers by the officiating priest. That sounds kind of weird to some non-Catholics. Certainly other there are other Christian churches who teach that their communion bread and wine (or grape juice, depending on the denomination) is a symbolic representation of the body of Christ.

    Does the Catholic Church turn around and say, “Well, I don’t know that we really teach/believe that” when asked about the concept of transubstantiation? No, it doesn’t. Rome continues to say to anyone who asks that this is what happens at communion.

    On the other hand, the Mormon church teaches any number of doctrines over the pulpit that might sound sort of odd to outsiders. Kolob – lets take that as an example. I haven’t attended a Mormon meeting in a long time, but the existence of Kolob as an acctual place was certainly taught over the pulpit and in Sunday School and Seminary classes all the time when I was Mormon. All. The. Time. I imagine that some members believe is a literal place, while other members consider it a symbolic representation of something else. To many non-Mormons the whole conceptof Kolob sounds, well, kind of wacky. I’ll be honest. It sounded kind of wacky to me even when I was a practicing Mormon.

    So, what does the church do? They waffle and dissemble and say things like, “I don’t know that we believe that,” not just about Kolob, but about any number of things that were taught all the time as doctrine when I was LDS. Now, one of three things is going on here. Either 1) The hierarchy lacks the courage of their convictions or, 2) having a non-professional clergy isn’t doing the LDS church much good because the men in the highest leadership positions really don’t know what their church teaches or, 3) they are lying through their teeth to the non-Mormon public because they want to look more mainstream, more like orthodox (note: small o, not large O) Christianity in order to not lose investigators and to not be labeled as “that wacky cult” by outsiders.

    It’s all covered by the concept of “milk before meat”, of course, which I’ve always found to be profoundly disrespectful to the non-Mormon public and to investigators. But, no, most religious institiutions have a set of doctrines that they own to, to their members and to those who do not belong to their group. I have at least one friend who converted to Catholicism (after going through a year of RCIA; now I understand it takes two years to convet) whose explanation when questioned about why she converted was, “I asked them questions, and they answered them, and the answers didn’t change.” Now, Kolob might be more of a “folk belief” within Mormonism than a Doctrine. I don’ know. I haven’t studied the history of the concept. But it is one or the other – ether doctrine or folk belief. The Brethren can’t have it both ways. Doesn’t stop them from keeping up the attempt, however.

  15. Well, that case-in-point actually isn’t so clear. The Catholic Church has a lot more nuance and on the topic of transubstantiation than you give credit for.

  16. Besides – with Kolob you are talking about a rather trivial piece of doctrine. It’s not even remotely close to as important as transubstantiation is to Catholic thought.

    And your “I don’t know that we teach that” refers to a SINGLE quote Gordon B. Hinckley made under the pressure of a news interview.

    If you want to prove a trend, you’ll have to provide more firm examples of this kind of behavior rather than your general-sense-impressions and a single quote from a prophet in an on the spot situation.

  17. Ah, but was he speaking as a prophet or as a man?

    Anyway, I’ve heard others use the same or similar words to dismiss other doctrines, both foundational and trivial, by leaders in the LDS church. Apparently you haven’t read all the available material. But, since you’ll just dismiss anything I say here, I’m not going to bother to document. I’ve got better things to do with my time.

  18. Elaine, I’ve been all over the ex-Mormon blogging community. I doubt there’s many issues left I haven’t heard of.

    Life is complex. Doctrine is not simple when you try to apply it to the lives of adults. In fact, no concept is ever simple in application. That’s just the way human existence goes.

    But I see no point whatsoever in being bitter about it.

  19. Didn’t say I’m bitter. Just tired of being dismissed and talked down to as if I’m a child. That happened at lot in the church, and is one of the reasons I left. You know, I’m not completely ignorant of religions and how they work. I’ve studied religions in formal academic settings (and earned a degree in anthropology with a specialization in the anthropology of religions, with both general and departmental honors, so, you know, I”m not stupid and I’m fairly good at pretty sophisticated analysis) as well as informally for a good part of my life.

    “Life is complex.” Well, yeah. But my point that most Christian denominations pick a set of doctrines and then stand by them,something it seems that the LDS church has a problem doing, stands. The fact that the individual members of a denomination interpret those doctrines in a variety of ways does not mean that there is no template there, no baseline of doctrine that is officially sanctioned by the institutional church. It is very difficult to discern that template in the LDS church much of the time because the church says one thing to the membership and another thing to outsiders. As a convert to the church, I stood on both sides of that divide, and I did notice the differences in what I was told as an investigator and what I was told as a member.

    So, if all this makes me “bitter” in your eyes, fine. So be it. That’s the stereotype of the person who leaves the church, isn’t it? I don’t consider myself bitter. Cynical, I’ll admit to, but that’s a whole different thing.

  20. Elaine, I understand the feeling of not wanting to be talked down to.

    But Mormons who are still active don’t like being talked down to either or having it suggested that we’re all dishonest, in denial, sheeple, evasive, stupid or whatever else.

    And my experience of Christian denominations is the only ones who simplistically stick to doctrines and never deviate from them are the denominations you don’t know well enough yet.

    They all do this. No human organization can escape this. All general principles of behavior and teachings have nuances and complexities attached to them.

  21. @21

    And your I dont know that we teach that refers to a SINGLE quote Gordon B. Hinckley made under the pressure of a news interview.

    This might be a more convincing response to Elaine’s point if Gordon had been discussing a “trivial” bit of Mormon doctrine. Instead, it was one of the most important LDS doctrines. And it was something that all of us who’d grown up LDS knew he was lying about. It was Gordon sacrificing his integrity and creating confusion for members just so he wouldn’t look silly on a news interview. It was shameful, given how often Mormons are told that they should be proud to know and proclaim the truth—even in a forum like a news interview.

    If you want to prove a trend, youll have to provide more firm examples of this kind of behavior rather than your general-sense-impressions and a single quote from a prophet in an on the spot situation.

    Oh, you mean besides that, and Kolob, and Heavenly Mother, and polygamy, and blacks and the priesthood, and the whole “white and delightsome” thing that got erased from the BOM?

    I would hope you know about those already Seth, that you’ve paid enough attention to your own religion to remember those things, and would also be smart enough to be able to realize that they’re relevant to this conversation.

    @23:

    In fact, no concept is ever simple in application. Thats just the way human existence goes.

    If this is the case, Seth, why do you so often argue very simplistic positions, like “cohabitation is always selfish” and “sex is too potent to engage in outside of marriage”?

    Please demonstrate in the future that you truly hold this position.

    @25:

    And my experience of Christian denominations is the only ones who simplistically stick to doctrines and never deviate from them are the denominations you dont know well enough yet.

    Not all Christian denominations make the same truth claims Mormons do. And some Christian denominations are willing to admit when they’ve changed their doctrines, rather than pretend that previous positions were mysteries no one can account for.

    Mormons who are still active dont like being talked down to either or having it suggested that were all dishonest, in denial, sheeple, evasive, stupid or whatever else.

    A church that expects its members to affirm that “When the prophet speaks the thinking’s been done” demands that its members be sheeple. People who stop thinking after the prophet speaks ARE “dishonest, in denial, sheeple, evasive, stupid or whatever else.”

    So if Mormons don’t like how that equation works, they need to keep thinking–and talking–even after the “prophet” speaks. Nor should they make statements like “faith is all the reason you need. For all sorts of things” as a defense for a belief in the existence of, say, the city of Zarahemla, and expect people to respect their arguments or their logic.

  22. You know, Seth, I didn’t say anything about the membership of the church. In fact, I think I said in my post #19 that the membership of the church probably believes different things privately, but we aren’t talking about private belief here – we are talking about the doctrine set by the church, and that comes from those in leadership positions. My problem is with the leadership of the church, not with the rank and file members.

  23. Elaine, is this really just a problem with the top leadership and not a problem with the local membership experience – where the rubber hits the road, as it were?

    Every religious tradition has areas that are not doctrinally well-defined. At least, any religious tradition that actually has a tradition (Unitarians don’t count). Catholicism has its own area of ill-defined mysticism that the rest of the Catholic leadership don’t bother with much.

    When’s the last time someone attacked Judaism for not being clear about the Kabbalah?

    Have you ever heard a reasonable Muslim scholar try to define the concept of Jihad as personal struggle against unrighteousness only to have some bigot call in on the show and accuse him of being a sneaky, dishonest liar who is hiding what the concept really means?

    I have.

    This is not unique. A lot of ex-Mormons think it’s unique to Mormonism because they are, quite frankly, not even as remotely as knowledgeable about other religious traditions as they are about Mormonism – and as a result they tend to suffer from pathological “grass-is-always-greener” syndrome. You’ve indicated that that’s not you (since you’ve been more of an outsider in perspective) – but I’m kind of wondering how much the general world of post-Mormon criticism is prejudicing your view here.

    There are a lot of apples and oranges comparisons and cherry-picking going on in these critiques. Southern Baptists are “clear” on their doctrines because we only pick out the doctrines they are clear on. Mormons, by contrast, are unclear on their doctrines because we only pick doctrines they are unclear on.

    You can find a misstep like Hinckley’s Time Magazine interview in every religious tradition on the planet. Just the mere fact that the readership here isn’t as informed on the missteps of Catholic popes as they are on Mormon prophets doesn’t change that.

  24. Whens the last time someone attacked Judaism for not being clear about the Kabbalah?

    Not analogous. There are various sects within Judaism, not all of which pay attention to the kabbalah. Attacking Judaism for not being clear about the Kabbalah is like attacking all of Christianity for not being clear about Kolob. It’s not the job of all of Christianity to defend the wackiest ideas of one of its smaller offshoots.

    As for the remainder of your comment, Seth, about the fact that plenty of religions are full of contradictory and nonsensical ideas that don’t bear up under scrutiny and cannot truly be defended by those who adhere to them…. Not gonna argue with you. Maybe you’re right that all leaders of every church are just as ignorant, confused, easily distracted, embarrassed in the world at large by the claims they make in private, and therefore duplicitous, as the leaders of the Mormon church.

    But if you’re right, that’s an indictment of religion, not a defense of Mormonism.

  25. One thing I liked about the Mormonism I grew up in was that it had little doctrine. It was a religion of actions. As long as you paid your tithing and didn’t smoke cigarettes(both actions), you could believe what you wanted.
    Doctrine was what the members believed and so rather fuzzy.
    So that means Kolob is also a planet and it looks like British Columbia.

  26. No, it’s really not. Judaism doesn’t have much of a creed, but Catholicism does.

    I felt that Mormonism had a lot of doctrine when I was young–but then, I was really concerned with it, and read all the standards works, with the exception of the Old Testament, several times before I graduated from high school. I saw very clearly that there were all sorts of things Mormons were expected to believe. Testimony meeting made it quite clear that you were expected to believe certain things–and to announce that you believed them. Hence little kids who didn’t even know what they were saying getting up and chanting, “IdliketobearmytestimonyandtellyouwhatImthankfulfor,” then listing the people they love, and then concluding, “Iknowthechurchistrueinthenameofjesuschristamen.”

    But before correlation really took hold, when things were administered at the ward level, the church was simply more tolerant of different beliefs–and different behaviors–because people managed to be nice to and like their neighbors.

    Smoking wasn’t a deal breaker where I grew up. The second counselor in the bishopric when I was a teenager had a tobacco habit. My father talked about a group of men called “the smoking deacons,” adult men who, because they smoked, never got beyond the aaronic priesthood–but did on some occasions pass the sacrament. It wasn’t a big deal when he was younger.

  27. Holly
    Testimony meeting made it clear to me that beliefs were not defined. What was important, and what children were trained to do, was the action of bearing a testimony.

    Interesting about the “smoking deacons” My career military father, who once lived in a place where church was held in my parents living room, deliberately did not organize a branch. Instead they held opening exercises followed by a Sunday school lesson with no sacrament. All to avoid “smoking deacons” who outranked you.

  28. Chanson, that kind of double-speak is part of every culture on the planet.

    “Everybody’s doing it” is not an excuse — especially not coming from people who claim to be moral leaders. Don’t the leaders of the CoJCoL-dS hold themselves to a higher standard of honesty and forthrightness? I hold myself up to one.

    Would you have discussed them with a reporter from Christianity Today whom you know is writing an article attacking cohabitation?

    The discussion you’re referring to took place on the Internet, so anyone can read it and take from it what they will. If a reporter wants to cite my experience in an article attacking cohabitation, I just hope they’ll link to the original discussion.

  29. I’m not using the “everyone is doing it” excuse.

    I’m pointing out that this is ubiquitous – and there is a very good reason WHY it is ubiquitous. Because a lot of times, it’s the proper and best response.

    Just like in the reporter example (which you completely sidestepped), you would be well-advised to accentuate the positive and not bother throwing out negatives you know the reporter is simply going to misconstrue, unduly focus on, or take advantage of. You tailor your message for you audience.

    This isn’t dishonest. In fact, tailoring a message for an audience is often MORE honest than simply throwing out data you know full well will be misconstrued.

  30. I’m currently reading The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle by Kathleen Flake. http://www.amazon.com/The-Politics-American-Religious-Identity/dp/0807855014 Flake is a practicing Mormon from Arizona and the book she has written is so far from anti-Mormon that my very faithful father called it “obviously pro-Mormon.”

    Flake discusses the damage done to the church by the leaders’ habitual dishonesty. I have very little expectation of honesty from the LDS hierarchy, but I was absolutely gobsmacked by the lies they were telling, and the arrogance with which they told those lies. The first manifesto was a farce, and everyone knew it — but oh, how the leaders of the church resented being called on it!

    In much the same way Gordon Hinckley claimed not to know what LDS doctrine is, Joseph F. Smith insisted in Senate hearings that he had never received revelation, and he denied at first that one of his titles was “prophet of the church,” because he wanted to minimize his authority over the church — he didn’t want to give the appearance, for instance, of being able to tell members that they shouldn’t practice polygamy. His insistence that he was just an administrator without any sort of divine calling of course threw the membership into turmoil. Then he went home and said in Conference, “Oh, of course I am a prophet who receives revelation all the time, and when say that I know the will of God, I’m telling the truth and you need to obey. But I had to lie to those non-members, because telling the truth would have been inconvenient, and plus, they’re gentiles, and we don’t owe them the truth.”

    As evidence mounted of the lies of the brethren (how many of them had taken wives after the first manifesto, or performed plural marriages, or were anxious to protect men who had), the membership was more and more disgusted. This really irritated the leadership, who resented being called on their lies. Their basic defense was, “We have to lie! We have always lied about polygamy, and if we were ever to admit how much we lied, we would look bad! And as servants of the lord, we can’t look bad! Stupid, evil people don’t realize that we are above reproach, so we have to spin the facts in ways that make us LOOK above reproach — to THEM! So it’s not immoral for US to lie!”

    This didn’t carry much weight with members who actually cared about integrity. Flake quotes Smoot’s secretary, Carl Badger, and says that he spoke for many when he wrote, “For one I can give up my belief in prophets where it comes to choosing between them and honest men.”

    But there were those who bought the defense, and who said things like, “tailoring a message for an audience is often MORE honest than simply throwing out data you know full well will be misconstrued” — or even worse, understood perfectly. The facts don’t matter; what matters is what you want people to think of you. That’s the truth that must be attended to most faithfully — not what you did, but what you want people in a particular context to think you ARE, even if you want other people in another context to think you are something very different.

    Reminds me of this Daily Show takedown by Jon Oliver of the RNC’s approach to honesty: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-august-30-2012/rnc-2012—the-road-to-jeb-bush-2016—we-can-change-that

  31. p.s. Seth, given your refusal to accept people’s statements about their lives and your insistence that you know their beliefs and motives better than they do, you will of course understand that there’s never any reason for you to press people on a question you ask of them, as you do above @35. Chanson’s answer seems to me a terrific example of how “tailoring a message for an audience is often MORE honest than simply throwing out data you know full well will be misconstrued.”

    Surely you will admit that, and be satisfied, and respect her answer and the silence you seem to think it still leaves hanging, since she’s done what you say you respect when the church or other institutions or people do it.

  32. Just like in the reporter example (which you completely sidestepped)

    OK, if a Christian, reporter or not, asked me in a personal setting about my personal experiences with cohabitation, I would absolutely be as forthright as I was here in this discussion. I think my example (especially the mistake of jumping all the way into marriage when I wasn’t ready, and should have just cohabited instead) is relevant and could be a helpful data point for others.

    My experience is not at all secret, and I have not sought to hide any part of it.

    If, however, a reporter requested an interview with me, and if I had good reason to feel that my words would be edited/paraphrased to the point to the point of saying something other than what I said, I would decline to be interviewed. I’d point out that I’ve written about my experiences on the web, and tell them they’re welcome to quote me if the include a citation to the original discussion.

    Also note that the overwhelming majority of people from our (American) cultural background cohabitate at some point in their lives. If the article were for “Christianity Today”, I’d recommend that they interview Christians who’ve cohabitated (and feel that it was the right choice) as those experiences would be more relevant to their readers.

    tailoring a message for an audience is often MORE honest than simply throwing out data you know full well will be misconstrued.

    I wouldn’t say it’s more honest, however, if done right, it’s not necessarily dishonest. I do think that tailoring a message to a given audience is generally a part of good communication. Focus on the parts of the message that are most relevant to your audience, and present it in a way that will make sense, given the audience’s knowledge and background.

    However, there’s also a way to do it wrong.

    For one thing, if someone asks me a direct question, I give them a straight answer. I don’t choose to “answer the question they should have asked” instead, or to obfuscate so as to be sure to keep giving “milk before meat” when someone has specifically asked for the meat.

    For another thing, when I’m tailoring my message, I am very careful to be sure that what I said to audience A doesn’t contradict what I said to audience B. There’s a difference between showing two perspectives on the same thing and showing two different things.

    Im not using the everyone is doing it excuse.

    Im pointing out that this is ubiquitous

    I’m sorry, but I think that people who want to be respected as moral authorities should hold themselves to a higher standard than what is “ubiquitous”. Isn’t that what we were taught — not to just flow along with the currents of “the world,” but to do better?

    The problem with what the LDS leaders are doing is the following:

    There are a number of controversial issues (doctrinal and otherwise) that people inside the church and out would like to have some clear answers about. The CoJCoL-dS is very careful to avoid having anyone with actual (priesthood/prophetic) authority pronounce on any such subjects (after the “I don’t know we teach that” fiasco). They hide behind unofficial apologists, PR people, and a Newsroom full of anonymous newsies who write a bunch of stuff that often contradicts what past leaders have said. By ensuring that no GA’s pronounce on this stuff, faithful members can ignore the Newsroom and other unofficial sources if they feel more comfortable ignoring it (or follow them, if they like what they’re saying), and hence the leadership creates a situation where they’re simultaneously broadcasting two contradictory messages.

    This leaves the members in a confusing and stressful situation. Are they supposed to stand up for unique Mormon doctrines? Or deny them? If you believe that the Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, MO, are you supposed to defend that belief? Or are you now to understand that you were just following a silly folk doctrine? Sadly, despite the number of Prophets and General Authorities the CoJCoL-dS has, the members receive no direction on this. The confused members have no recourse except to lash out in frustration at people (like me) who point out that the double-speak, frankly, does not help people to view the organization as honest.

    It’s no skin off my nose, but, as with Holly’s example @36 of Carl Badger’s remark, the church leaders are not helping themselves or their organization by doing this.

  33. Saying you would decline to be interviewed in such case is probably wise. However, it’s still sidestepping the issue. What if your situation was such that you couldn’t avoid being interviewed? What if you were a public entity where even your refusal to be interviewed would be seen as a dereliction of civic duty, or even evidence of wrongdoing? You’ve got to at least entertain the hypothetical here.

    Under such circumstance where public exposure is inevitable, where opportunistic enemies undoubtedly exist, and anything you say can be twisted – you’re completely within the right to tailor the message carefully.

    You’d be irresponsible not to.

  34. Also, I think it bears mention that the concept of the location of the Garden of Eden, Kolob, Celestial vegetables, and any number of other concepts are… let us say – not the most crucial and important features of Mormonism.

    In fact a lot of them aren’t even of great importance in the first place. So talking a great deal about them seems a complete waste of time.

  35. @39

    Saying you would decline to be interviewed in such case is probably wise.

    Here’s something I want to know: is Seth unaware that he’s substituting watermelons for lemons? Or does he know it full well and just hope the rest of us won’t notice?

    He sets up this situation where a reporter is interviewing Chanson about her personal experience with cohabitation. Then he writes,

    What if your situation was such that you couldnt avoid being interviewed? What if you were a public entity where even your refusal to be interviewed would be seen as a dereliction of civic duty, or even evidence of wrongdoing? Youve got to at least entertain the hypothetical here.

    Public entities don’t have personal experiences, do they? Their members might, and they can easily decline to be interviewed about their personal experiences, which is the example Seth set up.

    But let’s deal with his bait and switch. Say you’re a public entity–or, better yet, the official spokesperson for a public entity, paid to speak on behalf of said entity.

    Let’s say the public entity does things like issue public statements–say, like this one, announcing that “The Standard Works Should Be Used to Judge the Truth of All Teachings” and that

    Once a volume of scripture is included among the standard works, it takes on added significance. It becomes a binding document which is part of the standard by which the truthfulness of all other statements can be measured.

    The Lord has given us in the standard works the means by which we should measure truth and untruth. May we all heed his word: Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church. ( D&C 42:59 .) (Harold B. Lee, Find the Answers in the Scriptures, Ensign, Dec. 1972, p. 3 .)

    Elder Harold B. Lee taught that if something a person says contradicts the scriptures, we may know that it is false (see The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, in Charge to Religious Educators, p. 111). President Joseph Fielding Smith also taught that principle:

    It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every mans doctrine. ( Doctrines of Salvation, 3:203.)

    Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that the works of men must be measured against the standard works and that those who speak or write under the influence of the Holy Ghost will be in harmony with the scriptures.

    The books, writings, explanations, expositions, views, and theories of even the wisest and greatest men, either in or out of the Church, do not rank with the standard works. Even the writings, teachings, and opinions of the prophets of God are acceptable only to the extent they are in harmony with what God has revealed and what is recorded in the standard works. When the living oracles speak in the name of the Lord or as moved upon by the Holy Ghost, however, their utterances are then binding upon all who hear, and whatever is said will without any exception be found to be in harmony with the standard works. The Lords house is a house of order, and one truth never contradicts another. ( Mormon Doctrine, p. 765.)

    The scriptures contain eternal, unchanging principles; the circumstances and needs of people, however, may vary in different dispensations. Prophets are sent to help the people of any given dispensation understand and apply the eternal principles found in the scriptures. It is the living prophets prerogative to interpret the scriptures. Elder Marion G. Romney explained that the Lord has not left us unguided to jangle over the interpretations of those revelations, nor does he leave us ignorant of his will on current issues. He has given us living prophets to interpret those revelations. (In Conference Report, Apr. 1945, p. 89.)

    That’s on an official LDS website. http://institute.lds.org/manuals/teachings-of-the-livings-prophets/tlp-4-2.asp

    The Book of Abraham is in the Pearl of Great Price, which is one of the four standard works. The Book of Abraham is therefore “a binding document which is part of the standard by which the truthfulness of all other statements can be measured.”

    Given that the church has issued a public statement announcing that one of its four canonized standard works is A BINDING DOCUMENT, it might well fall to a PR person to answer questions about precisely how binding that document is, particularly when it’s revealed to be utter nonsense.

    Now, the PR person might not really be able to wiggle out of being interviewed on this topic.

    But the “public entity” could have avoided the matter in the first place by not canonizing that nonsensical text and informing the world that it was A) the word of God and b) “a binding document which is part of the standard by which the truthfulness of all other statements can be measured.” No one required it to announce that this silly little bit of science fiction was anything other than a silly little bit of science fiction–except maybe (if you have believe the church’s own rhetoric) God, of course. But you’d think an omniscient being would A) know and B) have some concern for just how stupid his church would look if it elevated this utterly silly and easily discredited text to the standard of enduring, eternal truth.

    the church has been hoisted on its own petard. It has been revealed as dishonest and it is rightly embarrassed. Like Seth, it’s trying to pretend that this silly text it once proclaimed as vital scripture is instead not

    @40:

    even of great importance in the first place. So talking a great deal about them seems a complete waste of time.

    And yet, God? in his? infinite? wisdom? saw fit to have the matters in the Book of Abraham, which Seth says “aren’t even of great importance in the first place,” enshrined as scripture.

    So the questions for both Seth and the “public entity” are: do you think you know better than God? Do you think God made a mistake? Or do you think that it never should been canonized in the first place and people are wrong to consider it scripture?

    Flake reports that during the Smoot hearings, Apostle Francis M. Lyman complained to his son that the apostles “‘were at their wits end to know what to answer.’ To this the son replied, ‘Any guilty man would be.'”

    The point of Lyman’s son, and Flake in quoting him, is to make clear that the “public entity” of the church–as well as its individual apostles–were caught lying and thus found the truth uncomfortable. And they were caught lying by and upset about having to come clean to not only the “opportunistic enemies” Seth invokes, people anxious to twist what the apostles said, but by their families and supporters, who had every right to demand and know the truth.

    it has happened again, and it is the church’s fault. It’s not people outside the church who have the most problem with the Book of Abraham; it’s members. Finding out what a load of crap it is, and how dishonest the church has been and continues to be about it, is one of the things people often cite as why they leave.

    It’s crap, and we all know it. And trying to insist simultaneously that the Pearl of Great Price is scripture and not “even of great importance in the first place” just makes the church (and anyone else who tries to argue both positions at once) look even stupider in the long run than if it did decanonize the book.

  36. @38

    The confused members have no recourse except to lash out in frustration at people (like me) who point out that the double-speak, frankly, does not help people to view the organization as honest.

    or leave in droves, with or without a lot of baggage and resentment.

    And creating a whole host of people well aware that they’ve been lied to and able to call attention to and explain the lies is another way the church is hurting itself.

    By not being more honest and forthright about any number of very legitimate questions that members have, the church loses out in every way possible: it loses members, it loses revenue, and it even loses credibility–which is the thing it’s working so very hard to protect when it won’t just come clean.

  37. This comment is my very last clarification on the reporter tangent:

    My point is that there are a number of questions of doctrine and policy for which the leaders of the CoJCoL-dS won’t give a definitive, public straight answer at all, to anyone.

    For myself, (even though I am not a public figure), I am accessible. If someone asks me a direct question, I will give a straight answer or give a clear and direct explanation for why I won’t answer the question (eg. don’t know the answer or it would betray a confidence, etc.). If people want my answers to various questions, they can just post them here in a comment and I’ll answer them publicly here on MSP. I’m not obligated to donate my time and my good name to a project (article, video, etc.) that I don’t agree with — but that’s not the same thing as dodging questions (in order to let an army of unofficial spokespeople answer them in a variety of different and contradictory ways).

  38. Chanson, I doubt you’re actually that irresponsible. It’s not just your good name that is at stake in my example anyway.

  39. or leave in droves, with or without a lot of baggage and resentment.

    Right. A lot of core Mormons really care about the unique doctrines of Mormonism.

    There are committed Mormons who — at some point in their lives — courageously stood up for the doctrine of Kolob (or Adam ondi Ahman or eternal progression to godhood), explaining to someone of another religion that these ideas are no stranger than the beliefs of other religions. Now this Mormon reads the LDS Newsroom claiming that such beliefs are (at best) fringe Mormon ideas; embarrassing things that shouldn’t be pinned on Mormonism. And, though, in some sense, the Newsroom isn’t an official authority, it’s now the most active communication organ of the CoJCoL-dS — and no official authorities are jumping up to defend Mormon doctrines.

    How do you think that person will feel? Telling them that they’re “choosing to be offended” is the insult added upon injury that may direct that person to the exit.

    Similarly, the PR organs of the CoJCoL-dS are encouraging members (by example) to view questions on various Mormon topics as attacks — even though often they’re not. And when outsiders start getting a weirdly hostile vibe in response to innocent questions, it doesn’t help give them the impression that Mormons are reasonable, normal, well-adjusted, etc.

    This comes back to the point I was making in my discussion on criticism:

    Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me if the leaders of CoJCoL-dS don’t hold themselves to a high standard of honesty and integrity, and if they think that the solution to criticism is to try to shut up the critic. I would bet that there are faithful members reading this discussion who think Seth has roundly defeated me in this debate. But so what?

    Meanwhile, the problem I’m pointing out here is simply festering and worsening, unacknowledged and unaddressed — a situation which harms only the CoJCoL-dS itself.

  40. @45

    Similarly, the PR organs of the CoJCoL-dS are encouraging members (by example) to view questions on various Mormon topics as attacks even though often theyre not.

    it’s a real problem that MEMBERS’ questions are viewed as attacks. There’s always been an emphasis on some level of orthodoxy, but it was nowhere near as bad as it is now.

    this has so many repercussions. it means that there’s no safe place to ask questions within the organization. It means that people who want real answers have to go outside the organization. And that of course means that some entity other than the church and its PR people ultimately control the message, no matter how carefully those PR people try to tailor their various messages to various audiences.

    @45

    And when outsiders start getting a weirdly hostile vibe in response to innocent questions, it doesnt help give them the impression that Mormons are reasonable, normal, well-adjusted, etc.

    Especially since the questions are still there and being answered by people outside the church who might not don’t care about the church’s image. So the church and its most ardent defenders look unreasonable, not all that normal, poorly adjusted–AND paranoid and dishonest.

  41. another point: Seth’s extremely silly example of how Chanson would be wise to tailor her message should she decide, for some reason, to share with a reporter from Christianity Today extremely intimate details about problems she encountered while cohabitating with the man she would eventually marry works only if others have extremely limited access to that information, access which she can control.

    Should Chanson decide to spill some but not all of the beans about problems with her husband, presumably he would not betray her for any moments when she did not adhere fully to the truth. If he did betray her, well, then she’d face the question of why she was not honest in the first place — as well as the question of why she was foolish enough to betray her husband by dishing on him in the first place.

    These questions people pose to and about the church — they’re fact-checkable! There are millions of people who know when the LDS Newsroom is releasing “information” that isn’t accurate!

    The church is being asked to explain both why it decided to dish in the first place — on polygamy, on race, on Kolob — and why its stories now don’t match what it has told others.

    So this tailoring of the message — it’s bullshit. Not only will the church fail to control the message and the information in the way it wants, but it will look far more foolish and dishonest for both the attempt and the failure.

  42. The church once claimed a “Standard of Truth”:

    …the Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear….

    Now its standard, apparently, is “Tailor the message carefully.”

  43. How can you “courageously stand up” for doctrines that there is no real downside for agreeing with or disagreeing with one way or the other?

    Kolob isn’t embarrassing – it’s just trivial. Always has been.

  44. @49:

    How can you courageously stand up for doctrines that there is no real downside for agreeing with or disagreeing with one way or the other?

    Seth claimed recently that has “pretty much been ignoring Hollys comments for the last few months and not reading them” (even though a mere six weeks ago I was able to string him along for over 350 comments in that mega thread http://mainstreetplaza.com/2012/06/27/put-on-your-own-oxygen-mask-first/ and he was still responding to me at the end of July). I admit I did a happy dance when I read that he’d quit reading my comments, since it means I get to point out how nonsensical his comments are, and he doesn’t get to respond. But it also means that there’s no reason in asking him a direct question he won’t answer, so I’m asking anyone else still reading: does anyone even get what he means @49? It makes no sense.

    Is it that one judges one’s relationship to doctrines by how much downside or upside there is for agreeing or disagreeing with it? What does that mean? How much downside is there to agreeing that one should love one’s neighbor? I guess that depends on the audience — there’s downside to standing up for it around a bunch of Ayn Rand fans.

    But that’s the point of integrity: one stands up for the truth not because it’s convenient or not, but because it’s the truth. What matters is not the relationship others have to the truth, but one’s own relationship to the truth.

    It is really instructive to see Seth try to defend this stuff — it offers insight into what the thought processes at the LDS Newsroom might be. Dismissing a major portion of the one of the four standard works as “just trivial,” not just now but always, rather than “embarrassing” — wow. Regardless of whether a doctrine so wacky that it consistently serves as a punchline is in fact “embarrassing,” the fact that at some point, the church thought it was important enough to CANONIZE as part of the four most important books on the earth, but now wants people to believe is and has always been “just trivial” — well, that’s embarrassing. That’s REALLY embarrassing.

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