BY COMMON CONSENT
Volume 10, No. 3 September 2004
SAME GREAT DISCUSSION
The Mormon Alliance's semi-annual Conference Critique will continue its ten-year trend of analyzing the form, content, and interesting implications of talks, and current fashion trends in neckties displayed at the LDS general conference on Monday evening, October 4, 2004, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Salt Lake Public Library downtown.
Rather than meeting in the convenient but acoustically difficult room next to the children's library, we'll try out Room C, Level 1. To reach this room, do not go into the library. Rather, take the elevator just inside the east doors of the mall if youre coming from the parking elevator or plaza, or walk down the the stairs next to the ficus jungle from the ground-level mall. Go down one floor. The meeting rooms are ranged along the north wall, labeled A, B, and C. We're in C. (Think C for Conference.)
Once again, Janice Allred will moderate the discussion, giving priority to those who actually watch conference (as opposed to merely having opinions about it). A significant portion of the discussion is expected to focus on the two new apostles who should be sustained at this conference to fill the current vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve. (See "New Apostles," this issue.)
And dont forget to accumulate impressions and observations on the Relief Society broadcast (Saturday evening, September 25, with subsequent reruns on KBYU) and the general priesthood session, Saturday evening, October 2.
Out-of-the-area viewers are cordially invited to email observations, comments, historical parallels, conference-inspired songs and poems, and other conference-viewing experiences to email@example.com for sharing at the critique and in the next newsletter.
Given President Gordon B. Hinckley's unprecedented opportunity to name two new apostles to fill the vacancies caused in the Quorum of the Twelve by the deaths of Elders David Haight and Neal A. Maxwell, Churchwatchers have been thumbing their Deseret News Church Almanacs with a speculative eye.
It's high time and long overdue, most Churchwatchers agree, for a Latino apostle. Who are the front-runners? Even though dozens of Spanish-speaking men now serve in various quorums of the Seventies, most observers can't name more than a couple. Only two are serving in the First Quorum of the Seventy (Angel Abrea and Carlos H. Amado), and only two more and one Brazilian are in the Second Quorum. They simply haven't received enough air time and exposure, especially not as general conference speakers, to have achieved name recognition.
Operating on the assumption that the new quorum will look a lot like the old quorum, others are speculating that the nod will go to another educator, for instance, Merrill J. Bateman, former president of BYU (and not a popular choice with other observers for his heavy-handed control while there), or Bruce Hafen, former president of Ricks and a top administrator at BYU during the administration of Rex Lee, the last BYU president not to be a General Authority. Cecil O. Samuelsen was a former vice president for health sciences and dean of the medical school at the University of Utah and is currently president of BYU -- but he probably hasn't been there long enough. Or, in a daring outside-the-Church-school box, Rolfe Kerr, a top level administrator at Utah State University and Utah State Commissioner of Higher Education?
Then there are a fantasy calls: What if the Church made a serious statement of political evenhandedness by elevating Marlin Jensen, the Seventy assigned to tell the Salt Lake Tribune that the Church didn't mind if some of its members were Democrats? (The announcement was an eight-day wonder but had absolutely no effect on voting patterns in the next election.) What if Marion D. Hanks with his legendary compassion and progressiveness were called out of retirement?
Email outrageous guesses and hopeful dreams to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll see who came closest to the mark at April's conference critique. (See "New Location, Same Great Discussion," this issue.)
A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Garth N. Jones
As I read the report in By Common Consent (10, No. 3 [July 2004)) about the First Presidency's letter instructing Church members to consult with their local leaders and not to communicate with Church headquarters except through proper priesthood channels, I found much to praise in the General Authorities' position.
Although I long for "old-time Mormonism" with its personal contact with General Authorities, the organizational reality is that such a method of communication between the field and headquarters is simply not possible any longer. Granted, there may be some negative effects from this policy, but I was very impressed by one result that will emerge from this policy: returning control to the local level.
As an organizational theorist, I value the insights of Alfred P. Sloan, CEO of the 1920s General Motors, whose basic maxim was that large-scale organizations must be managed by centralizing financial control but decentralizing operations. Later theorists added the notion of decision-making by exception. Responsible organizational behavior must rest on trust. I agree that those "closest to the problems know best."
The massive growth in numbers and globalization has, more forcefully than ever, imposed corporate being on the Church, Mormon life, and community affairs. Personally, I fear large-scale formal organizations of any type--government, business, and religion. However, this is what Mormons now have to live with. I fear meddling by higher Church authorities and, as a staunch believer in democracy, have confidence in "local folks." I am pleased to see that the General Authorities' letter acknowledged this fact.
Having said that, however, I also want to acknowledge that this new policy will be effective only if local leaders actually take the responsibility of leading for best results to match local conditions instead of deferring to broad policies that do not, or, worse, imagining what an official Salt Lake voice might say and then following it. Since local leaders are the pipeline, they need to be intelligent in appraising local needs and articulate in representing those needs.
Let me cite two examples where the rubber hits the road. The first is Church architecture. As a result of local passivity, the Anchorage Temple parking lot was poorly designed for subarctic conditions and poorly placed. The temple recently underwent major construction after only a short term of use.
Anchorage's older ward houses, designed in Salt Lake City, are constructed out of cement blocks. Nearly every month, the Anchorage area is hit with a trembling quake. It is only a matter of time before one of these quakes is stronger than the mortar holding the blocks together. My next-door neighbor, an executive in Alaska's largest engineering firm, refuses to bid on any project involving these older ward houses, saying that they cannot be made earthquake-safe. (Newer chapels, I'm happy to say, meet Anchorage Municipality's tough building code.)
The second example involves the instructional manuals and the pressure on teachers to go "by the book." For the 24th of July lesson in our Gospel Doctrine class, the instructor followed the manual closely and stated that, despite the terrible suffering of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, "there was never any falling away of the Saints." I was about to correct him, but then decided that I did not wish to embarrass him. The manuals, by providing only part of the story, can put uninformed teachers in the position of either innocently teaching misrepresentations or, if they are informed, of presenting them with the choice of either following the manual (and telling an untruth) or violating specific instructions about their calling.
I have never quite gotten over my encounters with a stake high councilor who challenged my use of the Oxford University Bible translation in the Gospel Doctrine class I was teaching. Fortunately, the bishop supported me, ending the matter. The next week, I used my Bahasa Indonesian translation of the Doctrine and Covenants to clarify a paragraph in the English version caused by a grammar problem. Obviously the Bahasa Indonesian translator got the help of a "higher authority" from somewhere.
While time and distance dictated the organizational change of decentralization, a more serious matter still remains to be addressed: differing mind sets. Apparently the General Authorities feel secure with the sixth or more generation Mormon core with its conventional practice. What of the expanding peripheries, especially outside North America? Maintaining organizational sameness will increasingly become very taxing, even with the utilization of new communication technology. Socialization, especially of the Mormon sort, is a very different proposition, and it could be an infringement on individuals' being, a violation of integrity and character, which goes beyond the purpose of this essay.
Regardless, a heavy responsibility has been passed on to local leaders. They are charged with nurturing and protecting their "flocks," as never before in the Church's past. I feel confident that this organizational change will succeed, infusing vitality into ward activities. Local leaders generally do know best. Yet there will be a cost, as the recent American Catholic experience reveals. At least a few rogues will inevitably be called to local ward positions. Hopefully, the members will counteract in constructive ways. That's the democratic process.
DNA/BOOK OF MORMON:
How It Plays in Cache Valley
When the Logan Herald Journal published an Associated Press article in late August pegged to the publication of Simon Southerton's Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004), it used for a display kicker Southerton's statement: "I don't have any problem with anyone believing what's in the Book of Mormon . Just don't make it look like science is backing it all up."
Southerton, a former bishop in Brisbane, Australia, and senior researcher with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Canberra, Australia, is no longer active in the Church . His book, according to the AP article, points out that DNA testing provides no evidence to support the Book of Mormon version that the American Indians and Polynesians descended from Lehi's family . He also points out the irony that FARMS scholars at Brigham Young University have successfully argued for a limited Book of Mormon area: parts of Mexico and Guatemala. This popular and well-accepted theory, however, means, according to Southerton, that "you've got Mormon apologists in their own publications rejecting what prophets have been saying for decades. This becomes very troubling for ordinary members of the Church. "
Some of those troubled members responded with indignant letters to the editor. Replying to a defensive letter from Charles Ashurst attempting to reconcile the apparent conflict, Luke Stepan, a Catholic, explained his perspective that "just as an individual Catholic confesses sin in order to put that sin to death with Jesus on the cross, so must the Catholic Church , as a community, own up to the mistakes of the past in order to continue our walk with Christ. God . . . refuses to abandon us because of HIS unending mercy and love, not because of OUR attempts at perfection. We as Catholics need not put our faith in the church when we have a God like that. . . . As Catholics, our faith should lie in who we believe God is." In contrast, he said, "the Mormon religion . . . demands faith in the Mormon church itself."
Stepan then applied this belief to the implications of DNA research for the Book of Mormon : "God does not play mind games with us. He does not plant false evidence in order to test our faith. He wouldn't ask anyone to believe that the Native Americans studied would actually be of Jewish [descent] even though DNA evidence suggests otherwise."
The next day, Dave D'Addabbo, a Mormon reader, denounced Southerton's book as "a blatant lie" and cited the "skin of blackness" imposed by God on Laman and Lemuel as a curse for their unbelief (2 Ne. 5:21-25) as a precedent that God can and does override DNA. "This proves they were changed from a Jewish race to another race. Instantly by God . . . . What God did back then was to alter the genetic make-up of Laman and Lemuel. Instantly by his command. This is the only way the ancestors of Laman and Lemuel could be made to identify the same curse. . . . Thus the genetic line was altered around 588 BC and indeed the Lamanites were no longer genetically connected to the Jews. End of story."
On September 5, J. D. Ricks termed D'Addabbo's "end of story" premature: "Who am I to say that the Lord's magic is incapable of doing such a fantastic thing, but it seems odd that such a mighty magician isn't smart enough to simply make their skin darker but leave their DNA intact to avoid future controversy should the validity of his church hang on the issue of lineage. Not too smart if you ask me. And he would have avoided causing his prophets to have made inaccurate statements throughout history to the effect that the blood of Israel, not Asians, flows through their veins."
He found, as a simpler explanation, that Joseph simply picked up the "prevailing opinion" of his day "that Native Americans were direct descendants of Israel" and made it "a fundamental component of the story he was `translating' so it would be better accepted by the culture of his day." The alternative, according to Ricks, is choosing "to believe in a great magician who, though all powerful, isn't exactly the brightest twinkle in the sky."
Responding with heavy irony, Bob Rose, gratefully thanked Ricks "for educating me" and further extended his gratitude to science for answering "questions that to this point took only faith." The only reason he had for believing in Joseph Smith's First Vision "without science," he said , "was to prayerfully read the Book of Mormon and ask God if it was true. This does not follow the scientific method at all and I should have known better. I guess, after all is said and done, that many of us have been duped. I mean, give me a break, `born of a virgin?' `after three days, rose from the dead?' How ridiculous for any of us to believe such thing. . . . I mean, to believe this would take, let me see . . . FAITH!"
Jason Wooden also answered Rose's "inflammatory comments" from his position as "one of Mormon's faithful." "I believe in miracles," he asserted. "For if God is truly all powerful, then changing an ethnic group's DNA to hide its true identity is nothing compared to . . . " and a lengthy list of biblical miracles followed. Wooden cited personal "study and prayer" that led him independently to the same conclusion as D'Addabbo, adding that the commandment that the Nephites should not "mix their seed with that of the Lamanites" is "a direct reference to a change in DNA" (2 Ne. 5:23).
He also hypothesized that the reason DNA evidence does not support the Book of Mormon explanation is as a direct test of faith: "What if, in these times of great advances in science, Lamanite DNA indeed proved to be of Middle Eastern origin? That would be tantamount to President Hinckley holding up the golden plates at general conference next month and announcing that they would be turned over to the Smithsonian for verification of their authenticity. Then would Mr. Ricks believe? I would hope so, but history has proven that God doesn't work that way. You see, he proves us by our faith, not our knowledge."
Sources: Patty Henetz, Associated Press, "LDS Beliefs Affected by DNA Research, Findings," Logan Herald Journal, undated and unpaginated clipping in my possession; Luke Stepan, "Faith in Church or Faith in God?" ibid., September 1, 2004, A4; Dave D'Addabbo, "Genetic Quandary Easily Explained," ibid., September 2, 2004, A4; J. D. Ricks, "BM Needed a P.S.," ibid., September 5, 2004, A4; Bob Rose, "There Is a Thing Called `Faith,' ibid., September 8, 2004, A4, ellipses his; Jason Wooden, "DNA Evidence Can't Shake Faith," ibid., September 9, 2004, A4; typographical errors silently corrected.
INTERESTING UTAH STATISTICS
Live births per 1,000 population (1993) = 19.6 (highest in the U.S.)
Suicide as a cause of death per 100,000 population = 14.1 (12th highest in the U.S.)
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The Mormon Alliance was incorporated on July 4, 1992. Its purposes are to identify and document ecclesiastical/ spiritual abuse, to promote healing and closure for its survivors, to build more sensitive leadership, to empower LDS members to participate with more authenticity in Mormonism, and to foster a healthier religious community.
By Common Consent is the quarterly newsletter of the Mormon Alliance. Comments, articles, and items for inclusion are welcome, if they are submitted thirty days before the mailing deadlines, which are the last weeks of December, March, July, and September. Please send all correspondence about articles and subscriptions to Mormon Alliance, 1519 Roberta Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84115.
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To report cases of spiritual and/or ecclesiastical spiritual abuse, contact Lavina Fielding Anderson, <lavina@ elavina.org> 1519 Roberta Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84115, (801) 467-1617.
A rumored policy change in the Church Education System mandates a dubious equality for women teachers. They must wear "Sunday attire," specified as hose, pumps, a skirt and jacket, with a conservative blouse in conservative colors.
This policy brings women teachers into parity with male teachers, who have long been instructed that they must wear suits and ties at all times, unless the temperature in the room is such that the suit jacket (but not the tie) must be removed for comfort. At those moments, the suit jacket must be folded and laid over a chair at the front of the room so that it is conspicuously visible.