The slow, lingering death of modern millenarianism [edited]

Is millenarianism dying the slow death in LDS culture? Jeff’s comment here stung me a bit, because I thought that I was just as millenarian as the next end-of-time freak. I admit to taking both a literal and an abstract approach to the Second Coming in part because, rhetoric aside, I am not terribly convinced that the end is all that near. But then, I read quotes like the following (from Pres. Benson, natch):

I testify that as the forces of evil increase under Lucifer’s leadership and as the forces of good increase under the leadership of Jesus Christ, there will be growing battles between the two until the final confrontation. As the issues become clearer and more obvious, all mankind will eventually be required to align themselves either for the kingdom of God or for the kingdom of the devil. As these conflicts rage, either secretly or openly, the righteous will be tested. God’s wrath will soon shake the nations of the earth and will be poured out on the wicked without measure. But God will provide strength for the righteous and the means of escape; and eventually and finally truth will triumph. (“I Testify“, October Conf, 1988)

Am I just clueless? Am I marrying and giving away in marriage? Is my lamp low on oil? Am I procrastinating the day of my (food storing/72-hour kit preparing/gold hoarding) until it is everlastingly too late?

Does it seem like the the Brethren have given up on this front? Sure there are usually one or two talks in conference that reference the Second Coming, but it sure seems like there was more emphasis back in the 70’s and 80’s.

Which brings me to my point: was modern millenarianism an LDS (or generally Christian) way of dealing with the Cold War? I am not saying that the Second Coming ain’t coming, but rather did the ratcheting up of political tension during the Cold War lead us to believe it was coming sooner rather than later. Hence the urgency that we had then, as opposed to the lack thereof today.

Would this explain why it doesn’t seem so important today, in spite of the popularity of Left Behind and such?

Or is this merely a matter of us having been duped into complacency by the International Jewish Conspiracy?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an American Religion

There has been some discussion of late, prompted by Douglas Davies’s paper at the Joseph Smith Conference, regarding the status of the church as a world religion. On my mission, one of the common detractions potential investigators would make was that revolved around the idea that Mormonism is an “American” religion. In other words, Russians ought to believe in Russian religion and Americans ought to believe in American religions, so why proselyte in foreign countries?

While I don’t agree with the conclusion that these particular investigators drew, I think that their jumping off point may have some merit. The LDS faith is and will likely always be an American religion.

Let’s start with (what else) a quote from President Ezra Taft Benson:

I testify that America is a choice land. God raised up the founding fathers of the United States of America and established the inspired Constitution. This was the required prologue for the restoration of the gospel. America will be a blessed land unto the righteous forever and is the base from which God will continue to direct the worldwide latter-day operations of His kingdom. (“I Testify“, October Conference, 1988)

We seem to believe that God has taken a direct interest in the formation of the US (Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America seem to be on their own). Additionally, He seems to have a keen interest in maintaining a hand in American politics. There is the “hanging by a thread” prophecy. There is the 10th Article of Faith (which seems at least willing to acknowledge the rest of the continent). There is the current church leadership, driving innocent German Families apart (see the first paragraph).

I know there have been recent efforts for more representation of the newer areas of the church in general leadership. I know that the move to send Elders Oaks and Holland into the mission field were possibly inspired by similar concerns. We do not appear to be a church that is much interested in spreading Americanism throughout the globe per se. Monolithic church culture may be a different issue (if such a thing can survive internationalism).

But America is always going to be central to our ideas. After all, the New Zion is in Missouri, not Brazil, Congo, or Uzbekistan. And, I would assume, that the next two or three generations of leaders will also be primarily American, due to language issues and due to training issues. Correct me if I am wrong but hasn’t the boom in South America taken place primarily in the latter half of the 20th century? This would seem to indicate that the Third World representation we would all like to see probably won’t happen for a while, since we are waiting for people to grow up in a church culture in a foreign land (just think how long it is taking the Catholics).

So, for the time being, we are an American church. But since we are all fellow citizens in Christ, perhaps we make too much of this.

Why do we reverence Emma?

No, really. Why do we reverence Emma? There are plenty of other women in the early church who are admirable, yet who didn’t fall away. Why does she get such special attention and devotion?

Is it because of her close relationship with Joseph? Oliver Cowdery had a close relationship with Joseph (admittedly not as close). He fell away over doubts regarding Joseph’s call (including issues with plural marriage). And HE CAME BACK. Yet, there is not 1/5 of the time spent in discussion of Oliver Cowdery as there is of Emma (statistics made up to emphasize my point).

Is it because she is a women? One with a section of the Doctrine & Covenants devoted to her (and a couple more chastising her)? Again, there are other early church women who didn’t fall away. Why isn’t Liz Lemon Swindle being paid money to paint their posthomous portrait?

What has Emma done to get all of this good press? Why does she continue to get it now?

(ps. I’m not actually an Emma hater and I do hope those two crazy, mixed-up kids work it all out. I just don’t understand all the praise heaped upon this woman whom we all admit didn’t make the right choice in the end (assuming that we aren’t RLDS)).

The necessity of the fall?

Christian, our intrepid Evangelical friend, is asking about salvation over at his site. One of the things he mentions there (as I mulled over my as-yet non-existent response) really struck me.

# So because of our sin (both Adam’s and of our own own) we deserve to die – after all, there is no forgiveness of sin w/out the shedding of blood (Heb 10:22), and in our sin we are already dead to God (Eph 2:1). We are incapable of turning to God on our own (Rom 5:12, John 6:44). We’re in deep do-do

We’ll call this Christian’s third rule of Evangelical salvation. Go to his post to see the others.

As luck would have it, I found President Benson expressing similar sentiments:

Just as a man does not really desire food until he is hungry, so he does not desire the salvation of Christ until he knows why he needs Christ.

No one adequately and properly knows why he needs Christ until he understands and accepts the doctrine of the Fall and its effect upon all mankind. And no other book in the world explains this vital doctrine nearly as well as the Book of Mormon. “(Ensign, Nov 1987, 83)

And because you know that I am all about the quotes, here is a third, from the famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

Here is my question: Do we actually need to feel the effects of the Fall in our life to straighten up? Can we really change our life if we don’t feel like that spider facing an immediate fiery doom?

In my life, repenting seems to come in fits and starts related to personal catastrophes, so I apparently do think that imminent destruction is helpful for one’s relationship with God. Somehow, I don’t think (the Rev. Edwards aside) that this is how it is supposed to work.

Where is our sense of urgency?

Here is a quote from an Ezra Taft Benson talk I read this morning:

[The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants] are bound together as revelations from Israel’s God for the purpose of gathering and preparing His people for the second coming of the Lord.” (Ensign, November 1986, 78)

Do you ever get the feeling that we, as a people, are not millenarian enough?

Prophetic fallibility and faith

I ran across the following quote from President Ezra Taft Benson this morning:

It would be difficult to underestimate the impact the Bible has had on the history of the world.“(Ensign, Nov 1987, 78)

I am relatively certain that this is the exact opposite of what he meant to say. An Ensign editor failed to catch it and now this error is here for you to enjoy.

The story goes that Simonds Rider left the church because Joseph Smith misspelled his name. I believe that Pres. Benson’s above error is just as inconsequential (at least for me, as I have no desire to leave the church over it). But, to be frank, I revel in these sorts of errors anyway.

Moroni, in a fit of self-consciousness, wrote the following in Ether 12:23-25:

23 And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them;

24 And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.

25 Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.

I don’t believe that I really understand his distinction between the spoken word and print as I am equally awkward in both. However, print lasts longer than any individual speech, so people have much more time to pick nits regarding what you have written. If you screw up in print, your mistake is with you for a very long time.

I like that Moroni is worried about this sort of thing; it humanizes him for me. It helps me remember two fairly important things: Only God is perfect; and, for some reason, He has chosen to implement His perfect plan through imperfect people. The relationship we share with God is equally voluntary on both ends, He chooses us as much as we choose Him (if not more so). He probably could do whatever it is that He is doing much better without us, but He thinks it is important that we play a role in His plan. This makes me happy. Even if I can never get the 12-year-olds to shut up long enough to feel the Spirit, I know that God chose clumsy, accident-prone, absent-minded, little-ol’ me to play this part in the plan. I can live with that.