No, this post is not about low baptism numbers, low retention numbers, or low commandment observance. Rather, I see a major crisis of a different kind, a crisis of rhetoric.
Once upon a time, Mormons used to preach. The talks that were delivered had content and spunk. Sadly, I don’t think that I have been alive to ever have seen this past tradition, but it is long dead. Now, talks consist mostly of quotes from general authroities and banal observations about whatever the topic happens to be. I think that some of the responsibility for this comes from the models of the general authorities, very few of whom know how to really preach. I am sure that these well-rehearsed talks that are given in front of millions of people somehow get transformed into dull, monotone speeches upon delivery, so I don’t fault them. You have to work hard to listen to them. They rarely captivate. Like the GA’s, no one who speaks in church wants to stand out, so we just get a whole lot of mediocrity. It’s not that we don’t know how to give talks, it is just that we don’t know how to give sermons, something which really inspires, motivates, teaches, and exhorts.
Contrast this to a former generation of real orators in the church. Apostles like Matthew Cowley, and even Bruce R. McConkie knew how to give a talk. You couldn’t help to listen to them. Even casually leafing through the Journal of Discourses reveals a whole range of Mormon speech that is now lost.
Now, I don’t think that we should follow some stereotype of preaching, like pounding on the pulpit or mimiking televangelists, but we should definitely do more than bore each other. Sacrament meeting should be interesting.
Having not been to Relief Society in a long time, I don’t know if this is how every lesson about the priesthood starts there. I can assure you that every lesson I have ever been to in EQ about the priesthood starts with this question. A few answers get tossed around until the teacher settles on the one that they like the most. Having been to dozens of these lessons in my life, I still am not really sure of the answer. I don’t mean to imply that the priesthood is nothing, only that it seems to be so many things which overlap each other, I have a hard time giving any definition that is comprehensive enough. As I see it, there are several options:
1. The priesthood is an organized body of individuals whose job is to perform the administrative duties of the church, like passing the sacrament, starting meetings on-time, etc.
2. The priesthood is the procedural authorization to perform ordinances and administer spiritual blessings.
3. The priesthood is a covenant between the individual and God.
4. The priesthood is a body of esoteric knowledge and teachings.
5. The priesthood is another name for the mysterious power that God holds to perform such tasks as creation and the resurrection, or, the power over the elements.
6. The priesthood is a temporal tool for socializing men to obtain more Christ-like attributes.
7. The priesthood is the ordering principle of the universe and the church and our families that we should model in our own lives (I have never quite understood what this meant).
Are there others that you can think of? I am trying to figure out what relationship all of these definitions have to one another. Then, I would like to know the history of these ideas, how they developed in Joseph Smith’s life and experience, and how they have continued to develop in the history of the church. Is it something which we have, or that we acquire throughout our lives? What is the relationship between the priesthood as a power to effectuate and the priesthood as an authority to perform (does that make sense)? Seriously, how do we make sense of these overlapping definitions? What work is the priesthood doing?
I firmly believe that Latter-day Saints not only have nothing to fear from the academic world, but have a divine obligation to learn from and take seriously “secular scholarship.” I believe the Lord when he instructs his people to learn from the best books. However, there seems to be a profound mistrust of scholarship by many members of the church. Two recent episodes:
1. Recently in my elders quorum, a newly married convert of the church asked what resources for studying the scriptures members of the quorum had found useful, including other translations. My EQ president hastily insisted that members only read those publications which have been produced by the church because of the risk of learning “false doctrine” from other books. He seemed utterly alergic to the idea that members of the church might be interested to know something more than what the manuals supply.
2. In a recent post by eccentric blogger Mark Bulter, he matter-of-factly stated: ” The ivory tower is a better approximation to the great and abominable church than any other organization ever was.” Here, the dismissal of research that might cause him to modify his reading of scripture was justified as a righteous, pious act. Meanwhile, those who belong to the “ivory tower”, his slur towards academics in the “humanities and social ‘sciences'”, you know, the ones in the “cult of the natural man”, are depicted as being in league with Satan himself. I am sure that he would like to see BYU get rid of all of its professors in these fields. Basically, the only things he thinks we need to learn can be taught in a training camp somewhere in the mountains, which will prevent us from being infected by these so-called scholars.
Basically, I want to know where this impulse comes from in the church. Does this have to do with our isolated and isolatinist history in the 19th c.? Does this have to do with a demonstrable number of people going innactive who have actually learned something outside of Mormonism? Personally, I remain optimistic about Mormons and Mormonism in relationship to “secular scholarship”, but why do so many of my brothers and sisters disagree?
Look, I know that there is a glut of blogs on Mormonism. However, I have also grown bored by most of them, and I have thoughts too! Why should I have to wait for someone to say what is on my mind so that I can comment when I can just post something myself!
The two principal authors of the Book of Mormon, Nephi and Mormon, for the most part share a particular world-view. Both subscribe to the idea that the wicked are punished and the righteous prosper. This idea is so ingrained in the thinking of these two authors, that it forms the entire narrative framework of the Book of Mormon. Nephi’s description of the responsibilities his people bear in the Promised Land stand as a prophetic announcement, while Mormon chronicles the history of his people as the explicit fulfillment of Nephi’s warning.
Continue reading “Book of Mormon: Blessings, Righteousness, and Evil”