Sunday in Outer Blogness: Losing control of the story edition!
If you’re a faithful Mormon, there are a lot of possible ways to rationalize the various sticky issues of the CoJCoL-dS. Take the problem of Joseph Smith “marrying” a bunch of teenagers and married women, and lying to his wife and everyone else about it — it can be explained away with any of the following excuses:
- Joseph Smith would never do any such thing — it must be just anti-Mormon lies.
- Sleeping with dozens of women is awesome — it’s part of what makes the Celestial Kingdom such a great reward! — and Joseph led the way.
- Joseph Smith didn’t want to do it, but he was obedient when God commanded it.
- Joseph Smith was wrong to to it (but he and/or the CoJCoL-dS had/has/have sufficient other redeeming qualities that this point isn’t a deal-breaker).
- There’s some sort of reasonable explanation for it that we just don’t know yet.
These can’t all simultaneously be right, but different choices are satisfying to different believers. As long as the CoCJoL-dS doesn’t officially commit to any one of them, each believer can believe that his/her preferred explanation is the real explanation — and that all faithful LDS believers are on the same page. The CoJCoL-dS can even help out behind the scenes by paying apologists to come up with even more possible explanations! As long as the apologists are careful to add the disclaimer that their explanations are not official, the people who like them can believe that they’re right, and those that don’t can be comforted in the knowledge that the unsatisfactory explanation just some random guy’s opinion.
That has been the church’s strategy for many years, and I have to admit that it was a really clever tactic! So why did they do a 180 and start posting official positions on various issues? Maybe it wasn’t working…
One problem with the strategy is that by conveniently never mentioning some uncomfortable issues, the Internet hands the entire discourse on these issues to the critics who are interested in talking about them. And when believers realize that the critics are, in fact, giving more accurate information than the CoJCoL-dS gives, it’s the catalyst that starts people on the path of investigating how trustworthy and good the CoJCoL-dS really is. The church and remaining faithful members can lecture the leavers all day long about how they shouldn’t feel deceived/betrayed by their discoveries, but you can’t but the toothpaste back in the tube, so to speak. Once you get the idea to look at the church from another perspective, you can’t unsee it.
So, the CoJCoL-dS has decided to try out the strategy of “inoculation” (for English-speakers) that the Bloggernacle has been recommending for years. (Not that the church gave credit for the idea or anything — it’s just a coincidence that God revealed this idea to His prophets after they’d read about it on other people’s websites.) But by picking one explanation as the official one, they’ve lost their earlier advantage — the folks that liked the other explanations better won’t be happy.
That’s what happened with the polygamy essays. The CoCJoL-dS officially chose explanation #3 — which (like the others) has a lot of problems. And Joseph Smith’s teen brides are controversial enough that I suspect the church bureaucrats are now wishing they could silently delete those latest essays, considering what they set themselves up for.
With that intro, let’s see what people are saying about Joseph Smith and polygamy! Last week‘s reasonable, faithful editorial continues to cause ripples:
Kristyâ€™s article is a very well written and educated response from a believerâ€™s perspective. While I take the logical non-believing view that Joseph Smith was simply a man who started a religion, got high on his power/authority and started acting like so many other men in his shoes by taking on additional wives, many of them teenagers, I can appreciate Kristyâ€™s integrity. Sheâ€™s standing up for whatâ€™s right and moral by asking the Mormon church to be clear that Joseph Smith was absolutely wrong in taking on teenage brides. As a psychologist with a PH. D from BYU, she clearly states the issues surrounding the Mormon church not acknowledging this heinous act, as it relates to victims of sexual abuse and the potential of this essay enabling future sexual predators within the Mormon religion to excuse their deviant actions by claiming â€œGod told me to do it, same as Joseph,â€ much like the abductor of Elizabeth Smart. In fact, the Elizabeth Smart case is a perfect example of why the Mormon Churchâ€™s essay was so wrong from the perspective of the sexual predator and the victim.
And, on the other side of the coin, presenting Joseph Smith as a “reluctant polygamist” is also kind of an insult:
First, the essay on polygamy during Joseph Smithâ€™s lifetime reflects an emerging apologetic argument that seeks to portray Smith as a reluctant polygamist who had to be coerced by an angel into engaging in sexual relations with his plural wives. Such a position misrepresents Smithâ€™s zest for life and self-perception as Heavenâ€™s lawgiver, while imposing on him a particular brand of morality that was foreign to him. “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another,” he taught (History of the church, 5:134).
Plus, hard to justify:
The problem is that he said the angel continued to threaten him even after he had entered into the practice, suggesting that God wasnâ€™t so much interested in restoring â€œthe principleâ€ of plural marriage as He was in ensuring that Joseph Smith married specific women.
Not to mention some other glaring problems with Smith’s system:
So he also married already married women. Where is that ok? Even if you want to buy the excuse that the â€œEternity-onlyâ€ marriages had no sex. What does that mean for the next life? That the other husband is screwed? He only gets his wife, who he married first, for this life? They donâ€™t even comment on that idea. They just worry about trying to put out fire of â€œOh, they probably didnâ€™t even have sex.â€ Which they have no sources saying that was the case. Again, you arenâ€™t suppose to really think about this. Just trust in them, the church is true. Letâ€™s continue on to the Celestial Kingdom together! (By the way is your wife taken? Oh she is, darn.)
(That last quote is by a blogger who is new to Outer Blogness, so please stop by his blog and say hello!)
It makes you wonder how they can invoke a love of traditional marriage when it comes to criticizing gay marriage.
Another problem: it’s hard to convince people to stick to lds.org when there’s so much more interesting stuff in church history that they still won’t touch! (This week’s Old Testament lesson explores the origins of the Mormon love of object lessons!)
So, how about that election? Yeah, I don’t want to talk about it either. How about some humor instead…?
There were some personal essays about choosing to be gay and taking Moroni’s challenge seriously. More discussion of pastoral apologetics here. (Another problem with “pastoral apologetics: Ex-Mormons are awesome!)
I can’t wait to see what the Mormons will come up with next week! Until then, happy reading!
Believers are having a hard time defending the essays, and it often just comes out really bad. When I shared the polygamy essay on my FB wall, an old co-worker from when I worked at the MTC said “Well, we can’t tell investigators the truth about polygamy because it’s like casting pearls before swine.” “So you’re comparing everyone who has any interest in the church to swine?” I didn’t get a response to that one.
I like what you do every week. Please keep up the good work!
@1 and JS’s actions are pearls…? lol. I’m not sure that’s exactly the reason they can’t tell investigators the truth. 😉
@2 Thanks! I’m glad when people appreciate my little hobby. 😀
Explanation #3 somehow reminds me of the “race and priesthood” essay that depicted Brigham Young as reluctantly instituting the ban on black ordination, but in the same breath stating that blacks would have “all the privileges and more” than their white counterparts in the future.
What is with the Church saving the face of their prophets, but in the process making God seem like an absolute douche? Is it really particularly wise to put all these historical bungles on God’s shoulders?
@4 I think there’s a certain logic to it.
Anyone who believes in the Bible and still thinks it’s a good idea to worship God is already OK with God’s awfulness. But if the CoJCoL-dS admits that it was their prophets who screwed up and led people astray, it ruins the church’s whole value-added (having prophets you can trust who have a hotline to God).
Haha, that’s a good point.
Except in the end, the idea of God not ending sexism, racism, homophobia, etc, until He wants to and no sooner, doesn’t do much for the Church’s image in terms of either God or the prophets, IMO. Other churches adjust their views of both God and human history accordingly. The LDS Church with its prophet-to-God hotline is doomed to uphold its screwed up history forever.
The intro to this post is the clearest and best breakdown of the Church’s failed strategy I’ve yet read.