Historical Mormon Smackdown: Benson vs. McConkie [edited]

Well, the ‘nacle has spoken and it turns out the Eliza was a greater historical figure. Who knew? I certainly didn’t, I predicted a runaway for Emma.

In this week’s version, we ask the following question:

Who has had a greater effect, internally and externally, on how the Church is perceived: Ezra Taft Benson or Bruce R. McConkie?

Ezra Taft Benson, a prophet of the Lord, Eisenhower’s agricultural secretary (at a point when people cared about the agriculture secretary), member of the John Birch society, inspired to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon, utterer of “Beware of Pride” (one of my favorite conference talks).

Bruce R. McConkie, member of the quorum of the Twelve Apostles, author of several doctrinal treatises (the most influential being “Mormon Doctrine”), a Biblical autodidact, famously and humbly retracted statements regarding Blacks and the Priesthood, utterer of “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane” (one of my alltime favorite conference talks).

So there you have it. Please vote in the blogpoll on your right!

Are we limiting God?

A few week’s back there was a discussion on Issues in Mormon Doctrine regarding the relative number of revelations and signs in the church nowadays as opposed to during the Joseph Smith period. One of the fundamental questions asked was, to paraphrase, why has the initial outpouring of revelation stopped?

I don’t know. To be honest, I am not entirely certain it has. There is Geoff J‘s take and there is Ben S‘s. But, in reading the Book of Mormon today, I came across some interesting stuff.

Let’s start with 2 Nephi 26:13:

13 And that he manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith.

This seems pretty straightforward. God’s manifestations are contingent on context, that context being provided by faith. So, if we have the faith to see the miracles, we will see them. However, this seems like a too-easy answer and it is.

To demonstrate, let’s read Ether 12:12

12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

Now, some people are of a mind that every new day is a miracle. We’ll adopt their approach for the moment. Apparently, they, through their faith, allow God to continue to produce new days. This seems terribly limiting on God. Do we really believe that we have this kind of power? That the power of God is dependent on the faith of his children? Even if you are demanding classical miracles (ie. healings, tongues, etc.), the requirement of human faith (flawed as it usually is) seems to place some sort of human control over divine will.

Here’s another interesting passage, Moroni 7:35 – 38:

35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made.

Here we see human limitations being placed on the Atonement itself. If there is anything that God wants, it is for His children to return to Him. How is it even possible for human faithlessness to deny God what He most wants? It is hard to reconcile this idea with that of an omnipotent creator.

Unless you have an idea of a self-limiting creator (which we have). The limitations on God are self-imposed as a necessary step in granting us free will. Apparently, there was no other way. As a result, we, by our limited faith in God, create limits on how He can interact with us personally. But there appears to be a way around this.

Faith, as the scriptures above point out, is a means whereby miracles can be wrought. Why? Because faithful prayer gives us access to the mind and will of God and, in those cases, we can ask Him to do for us what he would like to do. The limitation that God has self-imposed seems to be that He can bless us as He would like to do, but we must sincerely ask Him to. If we are willing to seek out His will and ask Him for His help in accomplishing it, our blessings, revelations, and miracles can presumably be limitless.

Regarding the revelation issue from the first paragraph then, if the revelatory nature of the Church has changed, the reasons may be twofold. First, perhaps we don’t have so much revelation because people don’t sincerely want God to weigh in on the matters of the day (think about the internal church discussions over gay-marriage propositions in California). Second, as the church has expanded, the need for a central source to get the kinds of revelations that you see in D&C 12, 14, 15, and 16 has gone away. Perhaps people, in approaching the Lord directly, are receiving these sorts of revelations themselves. So, my guess is that a combination of a lack of desire for institutional revelation and an increased emphasis on personal revelation (perhaps to give the Brethren more time to work on other issues) has brought about the current situation. For better or for worse…

Admin: FPR is online

Blogger had a big ol’ hardware failure yesterday. But their feeling much better today and, as a result, we are back up and running. Thanks to those who emailed with concern!

On an unrelated note, I am now the #1 reference on google for “Faith Promoting Rumor”. Yea for me!

‘Hit pigeons flutter’

I am being given a tryout at BYU this fall in the religion department. Good or bad, it won’t necessarily turn into a job, but it could. Anyhoo, I have been thinking over my BYU religion class experiences, what was good and what was bad. I had two classes from religion professors, two from a language professor, and two from grad students. My first class was horrible, my remaining classes were better, because I got better at choosing them. I think this is the general pattern of most students. The class that I didn’t like had a heavy emphasis on memorization and moralizing. The others focused more on doctrine and patterns within scripture.

The question is: BYU grads or current students, look back on your experiences in religion classes. What worked for you and what didn’t? Please don’t mention names (possible future employment is important to me), but feel free to share crazy stories. Besides, we’ll have fun trying to guess who your talking about.

I am the Bread

This past Sunday, our stake high council speaker said something that struck me as interesting. I should be clear that I am not a high council speaker basher and therefore I will not point out that this is a rare enough occurance to warrant its own post.

Instead, I will focus on what he said, sort of. In the course of his sermon, he brought up the miracle of feeding the multitude. Generally, when people talk about this miracle, they talk about how many people were fed. This speaker chose to emphasize the small amount of food.

Consider at how little food there was. A few loaves of bread and a couple fish. The implication of the miracle is that the people ate their fill and, explicitly, that there was plenty leftover. In the Gospel of John, this incident precedes Christ’s declaration that He is the bread, that we must eat his flesh and blood.

Going Synoptic, we are the leaven. We spread through the dough, raising it (or filling it with hot air). The scriptures consistently teach that the church in the last days will be small, but widespread. The truth we bear (or that we embody) will be spread to the ends of the earth. Like bread in a crowd.

Some people have argued that the threefold mission of the church is impossible. We are too few to spread the gospel to all the world or to teach it to every creature. We are too few to even get everyone baptized who needs it. They are probably right. But we have a precedent. Few, in the hands of Christ, become more powerful than many.

Welcome to the crowd.

Historical Mormon Smackdown! [edited]

Inspired mostly by your comments on my Emma post, but also because I am curious to see if this will be the runaway win that I think it will be I offer you:

HISTORICAL MORMON SMACKDOWN!

This week’s contestants: Emma Hale Smith and Eliza Snow Smith. Which of Joseph’s two most prominent wives do you think is the most important historical figure in Mormonism?

Emma, first wife of Joseph, subject of D&C 25, mentioned a few other times in the D&C, struggled with and eventually denied the revelation on plural marriage, first president of Relief Society, stayed in Nauvoo and eventually encouraged Joseph Smith III to participate in the founding of the RLDS (Community of Christ).

Eliza, a plural-wife of Joseph (I don’t know the order), wrote poetry and hymns, sister of a prophet, eventually a (sorta) general Relief Society president (first Relief Society secretary), apparently was cool with plural marriage and Brigham, gave blessings and generally acted in a manner that would not be smiled upon today.

Please vote and help us decide this most important question.

Is there anything wrong with cheap sentiment?

In the past I have heard people complaining about “Theological Twinkies,” several of which I am sure you are familiar with. The idea being that these stories are beneath us in some way because they don’t come directly from the scriptures or because they are overused. For some reason, people who use these things to help themselves feel the spirit or understand the gospel are to be condescended to because they don’t understand just how useless these stories are.

While I appreciate the concern, especially when the twinkies are teaching something that ain’t doctrinal, I am somewhat disturbed about the dismissal with which we treat people who like these stories. There is an us and them tendancy here that I don’t like. Sure, we may be able to see the holes in whatever version of the “Bridge” story we are hearing for the twelth time, But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t spiritually moving for the person who is sharing the story. Sure, Pres. Monson might tell the same stories over and over again. But that doesn’t mean that “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” can’t inspire someone lost in sin to repent.

I suppose what most people find offensive about twinkies is that they seem to dismiss the complexity of the gospel. God had no choice because the train was headed for the broken bridge. If it seems tough, don’t worry it will be worth it. These answers have some explanatory power, but they can also some across as cheap sentiment; a way to convey an emotion without actually experiencing it. I am sure that when undergoing some trial, the last thing I would like to be told is that it will be worth it.

I am a big believer in 2 Nephi 31:3:

For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.

As I see it, God recognizes that there are many different people and many different understandings of spirituality. What works for me, wouldn’t work for someone else and vice versa. Therefore, God can and will use twinkies to help those it whom it will help. I don’t think anyone argues with that.

Instead, my question is: does the identification and categorization of twinkies do anything but fan the flames of our own pride? While writing this I caught myself falling into the same “twinkie” them vs. “real-gospel” us idea that I have been complaining about. How do we account for people who approach God and the Spirit in ways that are foreign to us, in ways that we may consider beneath us? If nothing else, it certainly indicates that I (who cop to having this attitude occasionally) have got a lot to learn.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I do like the occasional Michael McClean song (just to further establish my own hypocrisy in all this(and occasional poor taste)).

So, according to Ezra Taft Benson…

I don’t have a Benson quote for this post (although I did read Beware of Pride this morning and felt a bit like I do when I read Alma 5 (chastened)). Instead I have a concern regarding the usefulness of past prophets?

Why do we feel like we can set aside the counsel of past prophets? Admittedly, we don’t ususally look at things this way, but we tend to get so caught up in the interests/inspired counsel of the current prophet that we just don’t seem to ponder the former prophets like we used to.

Does continuing revelation make us a denomination that will forever be living in the now? Possibly.

And please, don’t talk to me about the “Presidents of the Church” manuals. I appreciate them (heck, I may actually love the things)). But the powers that be have sifted through all the prophetic material in order to find the stuff that the current president (and the guy in charge) think is important. I don’t think that we are always getting a representative sample of the actual concerns of the past president (which is fine, we shouldn’t necessarily expect the beliefs and problems of 40 to 150 years ago to match ours).

So, we get the following: President Benson’s concerns were (perhaps) inspired by a much more literal reading of the Bible than President Hinckley’s. President Benson’s rhetoric is therefore much more millenarian thatn President Hinckley’s. President Hinckley never explicitly says (nor implicitely implies) that President Benson was a wacko John Bircher (at least on the millenarian front). Yet, because President Hinckley’s emphases are elsewhere, we feel like we can safely ignore what President Benson had to say (or, at least, set it aside). So, we’re no longer millenarian (also, there’s the cold war thing).

Is this a fair description of the process? Is this appropriate? If not, what can we do about it?

The philosophies of men…

Is there anything we do in an average Block meeting that isn’t to some degree the spreading of the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture? (Certainly that is what we are engaged in here on the ‘nacle).

I think that the sacrament doesn’t fit this category and in many cases prayer doesn’t either. Is there anything else?

Should something be done about this? If so, what could be done about this? Also, is this why people say that the sacrament is the real reason why me meet on Sunday?