February 26, 2010

Welch- BoM as Keystone of Church Administration and Organization

Notes from the 2010 Church History Symposium [Bushman's are forthcoming]

John W. Welch, "The Book of Mormon: The Keystone of Our Church Organization and Administration" 

(Right click here and select "save as" to download Welch's handout.)

Wading upstream against a river of historical studies that argue the surprising lack of prominence given to the Book of Mormon by early Church members, Welch argues that the book is the keystone and foundational document of organization and administration in the Church. The elements of organization are scattered among expressed words, revelations and experiences of Nephite leaders and people. The alert reader can assemble beneficial principles, practices and procedures that are consummate with mind and will of Lord as seen in the BoM. Welch seeks to identify them and argue that earliest readers followed BoM as an administrative handbook precisely and sometimes explicitly. He builds his case from textual, practical, and historical details.

After 1829 the BoM became main revelation of the new Church, the authoritatively binding document for the  fledgling church. How could early members embrace it without taking its teachings seriously, including admin guidelines, he asks.

Modern LDS may not recognize the influence. Most people paid little notice to this essential role of BoM when writing history. Reasons BoM overlooked: Admin history not focused on often, or researchers were not well enough versed in it, or overlooked the elements, or may relegate BoM to separate cateogory of documents to spend more time with letters and journals. This is understandable, BoM not written as historical document in same sense. But writers of BoM spoke to readers, assuring them they had seen the modern day and were writing for their benefit. How could a reader not see those words as applying to them? When decisions are made today we don’t always make it explicit, don’t refer to directly to hdbk.

People should no longer ignore elephant in room, the BoM, as a persitent and even dominant source of early administrative genius.


Exhibit A: Articles of the Church of Christ, 1829.
--told a little about the "interesting background" to this document, revelation by Oliver Cowdery, never publicly used. The earliest step in preparing an admin handbook for church. He places its reception after JS and OC had translated 3 Nephi and Moroni, OC was on fire to build up the church. Gather out of 470 original mss. pages of BoM the basic instructions and guidelines around which to administer in the church. Selection process a daunting task. Must have been aided by HG to remember where admin. matters found. Included 3 Nephi 9, 11, 18, 27, Moroni 3-6 with isolated phrases from other passages. Clearly influenced directly by BoM.

Exhibit B: Article sand Covenants of Church, which would become D&C 20.
The first official handbook for the Church. Does not believe the earlier one was a draft of sec. 20. but it has similarities drawing directly from BoM.

Exhibit C: McLellan and Woodruff journals
Hard to divest selves of modern view of church. back then didn’t have primary, relief society, meeting houses, etc. but they did have the BoM. Until 1835 there wasn’t much else in print, in LDS Library. On 33 different documented occasions McLellan spoke from BoM, and on other occasions spoke on sec. 20. 1832, spoke on the “utility” of BoM. practices and doctrine. McLellan responded once to a sermon by Boynton noting he  had not mentioned BoM, which was poor form. Probably better known and used in early formative days of church than we often have realized. It was the only Mormon book at the time.

Exhibit D: Selected Administrative Directives Found in the BoM
These examples are often presumptive, implicit early uses of the BoM, showing overall conformity to these principles to modern day instructions.

Welch provided a four page document with examples from the BoM, noting some of them may be stretching. Download it here

February 24, 2010

A correction for my review of Shawn McCraney's book

One of the nice things about having a blog is the ability it gives to quickly correct discovered mistakes. About a year and a half ago I wrote a book review of Mormon-turned-Evangelical Shawn McCraney's I Was a Born-Again Mormon. It was published in the most recent issue of the FARMS Review. I wanted to fairly represent Shawn's own experiences in the review. Unfortunately, the opening paragraph contains an error I'd like to clarify:  

In this self-published book, Shawn McCraney describes his alienation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before becoming a born-again Christian. He tells of a period of deep anguish as a Latter-day Saint in the 1980s, and though he continued attending his church meetings, he felt increasingly separated from God. By 1997 he was having difficulty keeping a steady job and sustaining his marriage because of an addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol. He felt he had "lost all connection to the God [he] once longed to know."1 
During a recent interview on John Dehlin's "Mormon Stories" podcast, Shawn clarified that he was not addicted to drugs and alcohol, but that he abused them:

Someone wrote a critique against me at FARMS on my book and said I was addicted to pain killers and vodka. I was not. In fact, I say in the book, I wrote, I used them to dull the pain of my doubt and not believing in the church, being married in the temple to a wife who did, my children saying 'I wanna go to the temple' you know, and that conflict and tension was too much for me. And so I began to secretly abuse, when I could find times alone, vodka, or hydrocodone, or whatever, never addicted.2
Later in the review I use the term Shawn prefers:

In light of how McCraney discusses his own drug and alcohol abuse, he seems to believe that some Saints inevitably attribute apostasy to sin...While there is scriptural warrant that various sins can lead to apostasy (e.g., Alma 24:30; Doctrine and Covenants 93:38–39), there is also abundant scriptural precedence indicating that, if such were invariably the case, there would be no faith in God—for example, "All we like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6) and "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).3
I apologize to Shawn for the error. I added a corrective footnote to the draft on my blog. Here is the relevant selection from Shawn's book regarding alcohol and drugs:

[p. 87] When I was thirty-four, in a desperate effort to ease the pain of my cankered soul and the crumbling of one trusted golden calf after another, I turned to secretly abusing alcohol and prescription drugs. I never took them as part of my daily life but instead saved them for times of deep reflection as a way to numb and self-medicate my pounding pain. Cautious and deceptive, so as to not expose Mary or daughters to my failing ways, I would look for spans of alone time where I could inebriate myself [p. 88] without being caught. Sometimes this meant drinking half a bottle of vodka right before going to bed, or loading up on Hydrocodone before a long drive. Instead of helping me, these deceptive acts exacerbated my impulses toward self-destructive behavior. The depths to which I had inwardly sunk cannot fully be described by words...

[p. 89] Desperate and angry, and quickly losing all consideration for everyone around me, I was a spiritually, emotionally, and socially broken man. I'd given away more good jobs than I can count, broke the heart of my trusted friend and confidant Mary, and turned from most of my life-long friends. I got to the point where I was willing to accept anything that could change my sinful, unhappy condition to one of peace. Anything, except what had failed me in the past. I suppose that is why I ultimately looked to substances.4
Finally, my confusion about this issue also stems from episodes of McCraney's television program, "Heart of the Matter." Shawn not infrequently discusses his view of God's grace compared to his own sinful nature. In one episode, for instance, he depicts himself as an "alcoholic" and a "prescription drug addict." Here is an exact transcript in which he refers to himself in the third person:

I want to say something now that's going to bother some of you greatly. It will certainly be misunderstood but it's not gonna prevent me saying it. I have never, ever, met a man more evil than myself. Shawn McCraney, the man sitting right in front of you, right now, here, on the stage now, is, not was, is, a selfish alcoholic, he is a prescription drug addict, he is a rabid adulterer, a sexual deviant, and a violent man. If you need to see me in my flesh as anything else, you've got your wires crossed. And if you want me to reassure you of anything otherwise, it's not gonna happen. Right now, in my body, in my flesh and bone, live all things vile. They came with my physical entrance into this world and the experiences I had growing up as a child. Take me out and get my old man going and the right circumstances and I assure you I am capable of almost every evil act under the sun. I have nothing, nothing in myself at all that will justify my natural person before God. Nothing but my faith, and trust, and love in Him. And yet, in this state, my fallen nature while I was in sin, He came and saved me. I am a sinner saved by grace. Saved through no good thing in me and through this salvation I was made a new creature in Christ spiritually, in Jesus, in Him. Anything that comes out of me that is positive or loving or beneficial or good originates from Him and in Him alone. And for this I praise Him.5
It seems to me Shawn is employing a rhetorical strategy to emphasize his fallen nature and his being saved through the grace of Jesus Christ. It echoes James 2:10: "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." Some of Shawn's details in this quote match descriptions he has given about real-life circumstances (like the use of alcohol and drugs). Other details seem hyperbolic (like sexual deviancy). Thus, it is difficult to separate his actual acts from rhetorical claims. Such a separation is also irrelevant to my review of his book, which is still available here.

Questions, comments, corrections, etc., are always welcome.

Blair Dee Hodges, "Stillborn: A Parody of Latter-day Saint Faith," A review of  'I Was a Born-Again Mormon: Moving Toward Christian Authenticity' by Shawn McCraney," FARMS Review 21:2. I did not choose the title of the essay, I requested a different title. My unedited draft (though still using "addiction") was more clear: "He was feeling desperate and angry, struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol, having difficulty keeping a steady job and sustaining his marriage. He had lost his faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints..." (BHodges, "Shawn McCraney's 'I Was a Born-Again Mormon: Moving Toward Christian Authenticity," LifeOnGoldPlates.com, 17 June 2009). Shawn responded to this early rough draft: "I actually like your style, Hodges. I find it pretty much on track to what I have tried to say and do. I am interested in your take as to 'my maze of contradictions relative to soteriology,' but . . . whatever. God bless and I too look forward to reading your next edition," (ibid., comment #3, 7 July 2009).

Shawn McCraney on John Dehlin's Mormon Stories episode #126,  apx. 12:10-12:50.

Hodges, "Stillborn," FARMS Review 21:2.

Shawn Aaron McCraney, I Was a Born-Again Mormon: Moving Toward Christian Authenticity, New York: Alathea Press, 2003, reprinted with modifications in April 2007, 87-89.

Shawn McCraney, "Heart of the Matter," episode #190, 3 November 2009, apx. 8:48-11:05 minute mark.

February 22, 2010

"I Leave the Church But They Won't Leave Me Alone!"

Or "Dealing With a Child's Loss of Faith"

I'm not a parent yet. I can't fully sympathize with members of the Church whose children leave the fold. I can recognize, however, that in a church that places so much emphasis on eternal families, such a situation can be devastating.

Over the weekend I heard an interesting episode of "This American Life," a radio show on NPR.  The second segment of the program was called "Letter Day Saint." It told the story of a LDS family struggling with this issue:

Rebecca was 16 years old when her mother Elizabeth died of cancer. But before she died, she wrote letters to Rebecca, to be given to her on her birthday each year for thirteen years. At first the letters were comforting, but as time went on, they had much more complicated effects. David Segal tells the story. David is a reporter for The New York Times.1
The mother's letters often and repeatedly encouraged the daughter to marry in the temple and stay active in the Church. As the daughter drifted away, the father could learn and grow with the daughter, but the mother's perspective was frozen in time. The segment is only 14 minutes long, a free download is available here. It raises fascinating questions about the nature of family relationships in time and eternity.

I can think of at least two ways members of the Church help create strained relationships with family members who decide to leave the fold.2 First, is what Jeff Lindsay creatively labeled "honor chilling":
...cold treatment due to religious differences. Parents chilling their children, husbands chilling their wives, former best friends chilling each other--all because they are angry that someone has changed their religious views...Many Christians have struggled when a loved one becomes an atheist or joins a different religion, and folks from many other religions have had similar problems.3
I don't have a creative label for the second phenomenon, but it occurs when well-meaning family members try to pressure a "lost sheep" back into the fold with constant reminders, expressions of disappointment, hints, etc. The more optimistic parents would likely be comforted and encouraged by this quote from Apostle Orson F. Whitney:
You parents of the willful and the wayward! Don't give them up. Don't cast them off. They are not utterly lost....Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return....Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God...4
More recently (and perhaps more sympathetically towards the lost sheep), Elder Dallin H. Oaks urged Latter-day Saints to “never give up hope and loving associations with family members and friends whose fine qualities evidence their progress toward what a loving Father would have them become….We should never give up on loved ones who now seem to be making many wrong choices.”5

This encouragement might be taken to mean parents should repeatedly and specifically address a child's decision to become inactive...for years. Some "lost sheep" might bleat: "I leave the Church and they won't leave me alone!" I believe it's important to find ways to be supportive of and loving towards family members and friends without making that love and support conditional upon whether a person remains active in the Church.

Check out the podcast to see how one LDS mother tried to keep it together, even after death. Parents seeking practical advice can also check out Vickey Taylor's "The Sariah Dilemma: Finding Increased Faith When Our Children Misplace Their Own" from the 2009 FAIR Conference. Spencer W. Kimball's struggles with his own son, Spencer, who left the Church are recounted in Edward L. Kimball's Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball.

Episode 401, "Parent Trap," This American Life, 19 February 2010. The image is Sam Brown, "there is a possibility," Exploding Dog Comics, 16 November 2009.

I also recognize that those who leave the Church are not always blame-free in terms of family difficulties, etc. I believe members of the Church often hold the higher cards in the poker game that is the family, though.

Jeff Lindsay, "A Barbaric Practice: Honor Chillings," mormanity.blogspot.com, 19 October 2009.

Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report (April 1929): 110.

Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 32–34.