The Logic of Power and Salvation
In disfellowshipping or excommunicating scholars (like Michael Quinn, Grant Palmer, and others) Church leaders create a theological paradox. Assuming that such actions are eternally binding implies that, regardless of researchersâ€™ choices, it becomes impossible for them to obtain the benefits of the Saviorâ€™s atonement.
The threatened punishment of their leaders leaves researchers with the choice of denying their findings or disobeying their leaders. Denying oneâ€™s insights is lying. Lying is a sin. And sinners are damned.
If researchers choose to be truthful, then their priesthood leaders will deny them the sacrament and exclude them from the temple, both very serious punishments. From the point of view of LDS leaders, the researchers will be damned. Thus, according to Mormon theology, the researcher cannot enjoy salvation. It is important to realize that repentant liars will not escape damnation either, because their leaders would see the act of repentance (telling the truth) again as cause for excommunication. Short of legitimizing dishonesty, claims of inspiration or divine authority cannot resolve this paradox. Whatever researchers do, they will be damned.
This official act of making it impossible for faithful individuals to meet the requirements for salvation means that, on the face of it, ecclesiastical discipline of researchers is abusive. For the same reason, disciplining researchers implies the negation of Christâ€™s atonement, which is a doctrinal perversion.
Consider the recent case of Grant Palmer, disfellowshipped in December 2004 for the alleged heretical statements in his book, An Insiderâ€™s Look at Mormon Origins. In the context of this argument, it is irrelevant what particular statements Grant Palmer may have made. I have never read his book. Even in the unlikely case that Palmer is entirely wrong, his freedom to pursue inquiries would still be beneficial to the Saints and to society.
Jesus Christ has promised us that we can know the truth and that the truth shall make us free (John 8:32-34). As Christians we value truth. Those who want to regulate research outcomes say, in essence, “What should not be, cannot be.” Such an attitude may not negate the existence of truth, but it makes it impossible for the truth to set us free from preconceptions and prejudices.
Research is valuable, but not because it is always correct. Even Albert Einstein recognized that, in the long run, he would be proven wrong. Research is valuable because the pursuit of truth results in progress. Research findings challenging our understanding of the gospel are a learning opportunity. The work of Grant Palmer and other researchers is valuable to Saints and society because rational investigation of the world will bring us closer to the truth.
Tolerance for research is a testimony to our faith. Religion and science share a commitment to the truth. The authoritarian approach undermines the scientific enterprise and violates the prohibition against lying, which is a more central principle in the Christian value system than allegiance to leaders.
Of course, the LDS Church ought to enjoy the freedom of organization. That includes setting its rules and standards for determining membership qualifications. This argument is, however, not germane to the discussion because the research-authority paradox follows from Christian premises that LDS leaders share.
The point is not that LDS leaders subscribe to the wrong values but that they apply their values in a manner that leads to contradiction and abuse. The Catholic Church faced similar problems during the Renaissance and slowly learned how to avoid the research-authority paradox: contest research on the merits, not with institutional coercion.
The truth-authority paradox can only be resolved in two ways. First, LDS authorities can emulate the Catholic example and repent from pressuring people to deny their insights. Defending and refining their positions, they would exercise the option of participating in the scientific process instead. Second, onlookers may determine that God may not hold researchers accountable for matters that are beyond their control. Insofar as the actions of our leaders suggest that conclusion, they should consider that their behavior during the last twelve years increasingly undermines their claims to divine authority.
It is Grant Palmerâ€™s obligation to justify his truth claims with reason and evidence. Those who believe that Palmer is wrong have a duty to advance their arguments with reason and evidence instead of attacking the character of the researcher. Personal judgments in academic and Church forums will harm the aggressors more than they can ever hurt Grant Palmer.
As a Christian, I have an obligation to stand with the oppressed. I believe Grant Palmer to be a man who pursues the truth to the best of his abilities. The LDS hierarchy that confronts him controls far greater academic, financial, and political resources than Palmer. Nonetheless, LDS leaders resort to the argument of power–excluding critics from society by denying Palmer and researchers like him good standing in the Church. Waylaid in their pursuit of truth, researchers require the aid of Good Samaritans. Christians who take the parable of the Good Samaritan seriously should have no difficulty determining where they need to stand.
I’m really not sure what you mean when you use the words “salvation” and “damnation.”
I use salvation and damnation in the sense of the plan of salvation, Seth. I am sure that one can find thoughtful Mormons who might disagree about the details of salvation and damnation. In the context of this argument, those differences are irrelevant.
This essay accommodates whatever meaning the terms may assume within the confines of Mormon orthodoxy.
the LDS church need not say anything more to convince me that it is perpetuating a sham on it’s believers… They don’t even bother to go to trouble of honoring their own sayings / ‘standards’; it’s all a bunch of Hype & Bunk.
I presented them with a clear-cut choice of living their own standards -or- protecting their image… Guess which they chose!
Of course, the theological escape is this: lying isn’t a sin in an absolute sense. It’s wrong because God says it’s wrong. If God (either personally or through his servants) says you should lie, that’s not a sin. The precedent is extremely clear in the Book of Mormon when God tells Nephi to kill Laban.
Sin in Mormonism is knowing God’s will and disobeying it. Sin isn’t defined by a set of specific forbidden acts–dishonesty, for example. This is also how alcohol can be a sin for Mormons now, but not in the time of Jesus. the alcohol itself isn’t inherently sinful–the fact that God has forbidden it makes it sinful.
For what it’s worth, I have more problem with the concept of excommunication in general. The idea that a human being gets to decide whether or not I have access to salvation is sickening.
Yes “Lying for the Lord” has a long and (dis)honorable history in the church, depending on how you think about things. However, when an institution lies its punishment is slow to come and not easily seen. Victors always get to write history, and to find the truth is not easy after years/centuries of obfuscation.
Alright, we need a doctrinal clarification here.
“Salvation” is free. To everyone. Even Hitler. Even Palmer.
Christ’s Atonement means that all are resurrected, all are “saved,” all will inherit a kingdom of glory. No ifs ands or buts.
“Exaltation” is achieving the highest degree of glory. That is limited and has pre-conditions set on it. It is this to which excommunication is relevant.
And even then, excommunication is hardly a finalized decision. The errors of human beings on behalf of the Restored Church will be remedied in the hereafter. So it’s not even a sure bet Palmer is “out” – even if he never retracts his statements and the Church authorities NEVER reinstate him.
“Damnation” sometimes references the regrets and internal torment that a person will endure in the temporary “Spirit Prison.” That place the wicked go to before final judgment (at which point – they typically get a kingdom of glory).
So if Palmer is in the right here, why would he suffer torment over it in the hereafter?
The same applies to another sense of damnation – the idea of being unable to progress or be with family, because you missed the Celestial glory. First off, I don’t think you can say he’s been shut-out of the Celestial kingdom to begin with. Again, if he’s right, wouldn’t God recognize that?
Ultimate and final damnation is reserved for the “sons of perdition.”
I know it’s somewhat in vogue for juvenile-minded ex-Mormons to refer to themselves as “sons of perdition” for cheap shock-value. But it exhibits a really stupid grasp of Mormon theology.
Sons of perdition refers to those who have full and perfect knowledge of God and then deliberately reject him.
Does that describe anyone here?
Didn’t think so.
So regretfully, the label is not available for anyone here, or anywhere on the DAMU I would imagine – much as they may covet it.
This is the problem Hellmut. You are mis-using deliberately inflammatory language in a bid to garner extra sympathy for Palmer.
Thing is, I already find his case sympathetic without any need to showboat about it.
I don’t think the definition of Sons of Perdition is as clear as you’re making it out to be, Seth.
Well I do. So there.
I mean, that’s fine to say, but a lot of Mormons don’t agree with you.
Why does your interpretation of made-up doctrine trump theirs?
In my entire life in the LDS faith, I’ve never heard any interpretation of the meaning of “sons of perdition” except that one.
Now, if you want to quibble about my definitions of “salvation” and “damnation” fine. There is actually more variance there.
But the “sons” stuff is pretty locked-down today as far as I can tell.
7. Seth – I have to agree with Kullervo. I think many of us MSP bloggers fit the definition (of some active LDS) of sons of perdition.
Some active LDS do not see former mormons/LDS are sons of perdition. My parents, for example, have repeatedly said that just leaving the church doesn’t mean you will end up in outer darkness.
But, that is their interpretation of the doctrine. I could find quotes, scriptural and from GAs both ways. (That I would be currently in OD – outer darkness because I left or that I would not be).
As far as scholarship and excommunication – I have to agree with Hellmut that it’s a means of control. But only if one believes in the LDS paradigm. That, even if excommunicated with sealings and baptism nulled – that one could still get into the highest level of the CK – if your writings/research are true?
No offense Seth, but that sounds like hearesy(sp) to me. I may have misunderstood what you wrote though.
Seth, maybe people change their tune when actually faced with someone rejecting the Church?
I do have to say that I have encountered a fair variety of opinions on just exactly how much of the Holy Ghost you have to deny before you’re headed to Outer Darkness. “Perfect knowledge” is not a very useful standard. Taken literally, nobody can have a perfect knowledge of anything, ever. But Mormons nevertheless believe that at least one person–Cain–is chilling in the OD with Lucifer.
But maybe people are more likely to have a narrow construction of Sons of Perdition when they’re talking theoretically in Sunday School or whatever, but they–for whatever reason–turn a hell of a lot more judgmental when actually faced with someone who calls the church a lie? Maybe it’s a siege mentality reaction? Maybe someone calling BS on the Church makes people feel threatened and provokes them to do some good old-fashioned condemnation?
No, Seth, I don’t get it. Hitler is a mass murderer. Palmer refuses to lie and tries to live by the ten commandments.
I certainly did not argue that salvation is free. You really need to read people’s arguments more closely.
I am sorry that you are frustrated but that is no excuse for calling me names and attributing arguments to me that are not in the text but are the product of your imagination.
Your argument about the meaning of damnation is not germane. Whatever theological meaning the concept may have as long as there are negative consequences associated with excommunication, it remains wrong to ask scholars to disavow their research to preserve the validity of their baptismal covenants.
Reading and logic, Seth, are not arbitrary activities. I wish that you would exercise a little more care before you call me names.
In fact, it would be nice if you would not call me names at all.
Reading and logic, Seth, are not arbitrary activities.
I disagree, by the way.
I didn’t call you any names Hellmut.
I mentioned that there is a juvenile mindset among some ex-Mormons, but I never accused you of it. I was simply referencing a larger trend I’ve seen in the DAMU as an example. Probably should have left it out for clarity’s sake.
The use of Hitler in the same breath as Palmer was not an attempt at equation. It was simply meant to drive home the point that “salvation” is rather expansive.
aerin, I just haven’t ever heard “sons of perdition” applied in any but the most narrow sense. Narrow enough that it almost doesn’t apply to anyone I know of.
I just don’t buy the assertion that Palmer is being damned here.
“Whatever theological meaning the concept may have as long as there are negative consequences associated with excommunication, it remains wrong to ask scholars to disavow their research to preserve the validity of their baptismal covenants.”
I agree with this. Always did. I just objected to your talking about him being asked to either lie or “go to hell.” I felt that was a rather sloppy treatment of what Mormon doctrine actually says.
the whole ‘salvation-exaltation’ thing has been twisted by apologistic – mainstreaming Mos who don’t want to tell others that LDS will be the only ones in ‘heaven’.
authority comes from telling the truth, which LDS leaders have squandered away covering for mistakes which shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
‘Sons of Perdition’? WHO CARES? it’s another scare tactic, That’s All.
I agree with this. Always did. I just objected to your talking about him being asked to either lie or â€œgo to hell.â€ I felt that was a rather sloppy treatment of what Mormon doctrine actually says.
I agree with this, for what it’s worth. I just wanted to point out that I agree with Seth, which hasn’t really happened in awhile.
With respect to name calling, Seth, I am referring to your accusation of show boating.
And where in the text did you find that? The word hell is not even in this post.
The argument is that scholars excommunicated for their work are damned regardless of their response. If one takes the actions of LDS leaders at face value then there is nothing that the scholars can do to obtain salvation.
That means that Packer and Co. have defined repentance into oblivion, a position that amounts to a denial of the atonement.
I am not quite sure what you are talking about, Seth, but the word hell suggests that you are superimposing non-Mormon meanings on a text that is directed to a Mormon audience.
I also have to reject the premise of this post. Jesus makes the final judgement in these matters. As someone who’s been through church discipline, I know first hand that church courts are just doing earthly paperwork. The LDS church is dissolved when Jesus returns anyway. Jesus saves, not any organization. Yeah, I’m sure you can quote some GA who states a church court decision has eternal consecquences, but it’s just the rubbish of another false prophet.
“If researchers choose to be truthful, then their priesthood leaders will deny them the sacrament and exclude them from the temple, both very serious punishments. From the point of view of LDS leaders, the researchers will be damned.”
OK, so what did you mean by that?
The more I read it, the more confused it seems to me.
“Hell”… “damned”… are you drawing a distinction between the two? Because you really didn’t seem to be earlier.
A thought-provoking post. I think that the arguments about salvation, etc., miss the point, however. It seems to me that church discipline is more about the church members who remain in the fold than about those who are ex’d or disfellowshipped. It is a tool to define the boundaries of acceptable behavior and expression. The punishments invoked are meaningful to the believer; to those outside the boundaries they carry less weight.
Church courts are serious business, they call them “courts of love” but I have never met a recipient of one of them who felt “loved” – the vast majority of the excommunicated never return to church (like around 1% return) – and frequently expose the recipient to a lot of pain without much if any gain. How is that love? How is that healing? And I fail to see why honest intellectuals should be exposed to them at all. Even if there are no eternal consequences – there are certainly emotional, family, societal consequences right down here on earth – and this is just plain wrong.
Of course, there are any number of theological alternatives to Mormon orthodoxy, Steve. I am not sure, however, if it is particularly enlightening if I were to evaluate the brethren’s actions in light of my personal views.
In some cases that might be useful. However, it is much more compelling if one can show that the brethren’s action are illegitimate in light of their own standards.
Although I find your view reasonable, I would find it problematic if someone were to argue that the brethren may do as they please because their actions will be inconsequential.
First of all, they proclaim that their actions have eternal consequences. That ought to concern the faithful.
Second, although we may disagree about the eternal consequences of Mormon sacraments, it is clear that the treatment of Mormon studies scholars at the hands of LDS authorities has had consequences in this life. People have lost jobs. Some academics have become unemployable.
To say nothing about the emotional costs and the strain on their families. The more faithful the accused are, the more they get hurt by church discipline.
Whether or not the brethren exercise power in the hereafter, they do exercise power in this life. Therefore it is important to remind the brethren and their followers of their responsibilities, especially when people are getting hurt.
Seth, I do not know any Mormon who equates damnation with hell, at least not in a technical discussion about the plan of salvation.
The point is that excommunicated scholars will end up with less than they would as church members. Typically, Mormons think of damnation in terms of a limit to personal progression.
That’s a good point, Michael. Keep in mind that the brethren profess believe. Therefore, we need to assume believe when we evaluate their actions.
One implication of your observation is that the people who care the most about Mormonism, get hurt the worst by inappropriate applications of church discipline.
Besides, less weight does not mean no weight. In Mormon circles, excommunication is a serious matter that redefines relationships. That’s no little matter and has immediate consequences in people’s families, friendships, neighborhoods, and workplaces.
In 2003, several of the September Six had a panel at the Sunstone symposium. I was not there but heard reports that everyone cried. Clearly, their excommunication remains a painful episode.
I second Michael’s motion to keep this discussion on the social aspects of the issue, rather than getting diverted on the theological side. For one thing, plenty of readers here don’t believe in a lot of the theology anyway, so it’s probably not productive.
The analysis is about how the brethren’s actions relate to their professed value system. Readers who want to make sense of it, will need to put their own believes aside for the moment.
I’m not sure I understand the difference between the social aspects and the theological aspects of this discussion – and how they could be separated.
I believe that most of the people who have participated in this discussion are well aware of the theology and theological implications.
So the social aspects are whether or not the sept. six (or scholars) should feel upset about being ex’d? Whether or not they take being excommunicated personally? Whether or not other church members treat them differently after being ex’d?
I don’t understand the excommunication process. I think it’s a method of control by the leadership. It’s used as a trump card – because of the changing nature of mormon doctrine (yeah, I said it) there is no way to govern what is and what is not part of the canon.
Take Sonja Johnson, for example. Excommunicated in the late 70s for calling that women should have the priesthood. Who can say in 100 years that women will not have the priesthood in the LDS religion? I hope I’m not alive in 100 years, but if I am, I would take that bet.
I can’t see any reason to excommunicate anyone. Because, in theory, all LDS members should be able to listen to all points of view, and the spirit should reveal to them whether or not it’s true.
Maybe this has just hit me on a strange morning, I’m not trying to be disrespectful, I’m just not understanding how the excommunication process can be defended.
Because the real issue at stake is organizational loyalty.
I can see some real reasons to excommunicate actually.
In one of our wards, we got word from a stake president in Utah of a lady who had made a career out of suing the Church who was headed our way. She’d try to draw people into one on one conversations and then sue them for sexual assault and all kinds of crap. When she left Utah, she had active lawsuits against the city, the stake president, 3 bishops, her doctor, the school board, and several various random church members.
Our bishop warned us to be on the lookout for her and if she entered the building to immediately tell a member of the bishopric and never, NEVER get stuck in a one-on-one situation with her. Always have a witness.
Within a month of her arrival she had already sued our local police department.
There are predators out there – quite unbalanced folk – and a bishop DOES actually have an obligation to protect his members.
That doesn’t get into issues of child abuse either.
Excommunication is the only real punitive power any church has.
Has it ever occurred to you that if we DID NOT excommunicate certain individuals, we would actually be condemned and called to answer by the wider society?
Furthermore, some things are serious enough that an excommunication is the only way to beat it through a guy’s skull that he has betrayed the entire community.
I’m not talking about publishing a controversial paper. I’m talking about a guy I know who sexually abused his daughter and still thinks he didn’t do anything wrong. His parole officer is completely fed up with him. You think we ought to allow that guy to fly under the radar?
Essentially, as a general rule, excommunication is called for when the person’s continued full participation in the Church is endangering the Church community.
I guess I was referring to someone who has publically spoken out against the church, who disagrees publically with a policy or doctrine of the LDS church (Sonja Johnson, Fawn Brodie, Grant Palmer, Margaret Merrill Toscano). But someone who still remains a “faithful” mormon (whatever that means) and upholds the law.
As for the issues that you bring up, about a woman suing the church (and its members) and a predator – I don’t know how other Christian churches handle those situations. I do know some Christian churches believe strongly in forgiveness – and this is actually a controversial issue within their congregation and their churches at large.
Again – the issue of someone who has been convicted of a certain type of crime who remains a member of the church/congregation, or who is severely mentally ill – whether or not they are able to work with kids, etc.
So, for the situations that you describe, I feel the LDS leadership and individuals can make/enforce guidelines to keep themselves safe. My original comment wasn’t clear – the doctrinal – public opposition thing was what I was referring to.
Seth R – I totally think excommunication should be reserved for bad behavior (ie sexual abuse, criminal conduct, etc.) and should NOT be applied to differences of opinion or doctrinal disagreements. Unfortunately, that has never been the case – JS had plenty of bad behavior and never got ex’d. Many church intellectuals have been ex’d for doctrinal issues only – issues which are ever changing. This is backwards IMHO.
does ‘endangering the church community’ include calling BULLSHIT regarding the church’s statements about the MMM? That’s what they dragged out against me….
Even tho tscc has a disclaimer of non-FP statements & klitsch books such as one finds at deseret books… I got hammered for a book review.. it’s my review of “Essentials in Church History” on amazon.com
I am with Mermaid. There are good and bad reasons for excommunication.
Excommunication for speech crimes is a bad thing even if you believe that leading people astray has eternal consequences. Withholding gospel blessings for scholarship creates a paradox that turns out to be an assault on the core message of the gospel itself.
In the case of Sonja, the church said she wasn’t ex’d for public statements, and never commented further. Later it came out through other sources it was for a lesbian affair. It was also later obvious she was a total nut job (talking about HM and eternal menstral cycles), likely not accountable and probably shouldn’t have been ex’d. I’ll also note her champions dropped her like a rock when her nutter side came out.
Back to topic, I can’t be the only one who beleives if people are wrongly ex’d or ex’d unrighteously as has obviuosly happened to some, that there can’t be any eternal consequence, and in the case of an unrepentant bully authority who push for excummunication, they will have to pay for their sin? I guess I should pray a lot more for BKP?
I agree that a church should be able to kick people out–organizations should be able to decide who gets in and who doesn’t, honestly. My problem is when a church claims a monopoly on salvation (or whatever your preferred rhetorical equivalent is) and then kicks people out.
If the Episcopal Church kicks me out, I can still go to heaven without changing my religion. But when the Jehovah’s Witnesses kick you out, they’ve essentially condemned you to
And I don’t buy the “God will work it all out in the end” argument, from a Mormon standpoint. Because if you can be saved/exalted,go to valhalla although your membership and saving ordinances have been terminated, then membership and saving ordinances aren’t really necessary in the first place. The whole point of priesthood authority is that God backs up what you do when you exercise it.
So G-d will back-up a false prophet? And don’t tell me we don’t have false prophets. Even Jesus had his Judas. We have ours.
Steve, I have no idea what God might do but I have observed that Gordon Hinckley and the Apostles have had Boyd’s back.
It’s not about “false prophet” or not. It’s about Priesthood Authority. Even the wicked priests of Noah–off track as they were–still had the priesthood, which allowed Alma to baptize people. Including, bizarrely, himself.
Even when Noah was drunk and raving, he could still throw down curses and have them stick because his priesthood was intact.
I’m with Mermaid and Hellmut on this. I agree with you, Hellmut, that excommunication and disfellowship carry consequences for the individual, whether or not the individual remains a believer. I was able to attend the 2003 Sunstone you mentioned. It was powerful, and each of the people had been affected in different ways (as well as some common ways.) Lamborn’s case is also an example- in his youtube recording of his own excommunication, he seems happy at the outcome, as it seems to have brought a sort of closure for him.
But I agree that discipline for expressing an opinion or for believing differently from the norm is something that harms more than just the person at the focus of the church court. It stifles inquiry and critical thinking, even the pursuit of spirituality. This is part of what I meant when I said earlier that church discipline is a tool the church uses to define boundaries.
Regarding Steve EM’s questions about whether there are eternal consequences for excommunication, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does; we don’t know about what happens when we die. Although some will claim to have those answers, I tend to think they are confusing knowledge and hope. I am more concerned with how people treat one another in the here and now than in the hereafter.
Lyndon Lamborn is an interesting case. Although Mormon authorities intended to punish Lamborn for discussing his doubts with his brothers, he asserted not only his autonomy but reversed roles when he taped the proceedings.
Rather than allowing Church authorities to act on him, Lamborn staged the court on his own terms. When he posted his youtube video, his accusers became the accused.
It was a brilliant move. Lyndon Lamborn could succeed because he had access to an audience. In the past, Mormon dissidents were isolated. Today, they meet on the Internet and can assist each other in creating alternative narratives of the Mormon experience.
Performers like Lyndon Lamborn can also reach out to never-Mos. Most Americans have only ridicule for fundamentalists who need to punish someone for discussing religion with family members.
38. Steve EM – I haven’t read what you’re discussing, but how could talking about Heavenly mother constitute one as being a nut job? I’ve read plenty of statements by active LDS and NOM bloggers (including others) that have to do with Heavenly mother and also talk about women having the priesthood.
And it is true, Sonja’s court preceedings were in secret, so we only have her word for what happened. Unless there were published proceedings that you’re referring to (that I haven’t read).
It’s much less embarassing as a church, when you disagree with what your member is writing or saying publicly, to have their local bishop and SP go on a “fact finding” mission to find excommunicable offenses. Rather than bring a trial for a member solely on disagreements over doctrine.
It was the ex’d Sonja proclaiming her love for HM, who suffered eons of menstral cramps and countless cycles of agony, or some such rubbish to that effect that revealed her to be utter nuts. The NOW crowd immediately dropped her after that and she sank into obscurity. IMHO, she shouldn’t have been ex’d because I doubt she was accountable. As far as the lesbian affair hearsay, agian IMHO, the church should have accepted part blame and not ex’d her because back then gays/lesbians were encouraged marry to cure their “confused” orietation. All that said, she was a nutter.