Feb 2005
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VOLUME 11, NO. 1 February 2005


Conference Critique


New Look on the Podium?

As predicted, interest in the semi-annual conference critique focused on the two new apostles, the first time an apostle (let alone two) has been added to the Quorum of the Twelve sine 1995 (Elder Eyring). Nobody had predicted that either would get the nod, but several people had stories that reflected well on them.

One man who had known Steven A. Bednar as President of Fort Smith Arkansas Stake described him as "a gentle-handed leader, very smart, very pragmatic, and the kids loved him." Reports from the parents of students at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) again characterized him as a good leader, able to "smooth over the rough spots" in making the transition from a two-year to a four-year institution. "Everybody seems to agree: he's a difficult man to stay mad at."

One woman speculated that this may be because he has the skills that come from professional training in organizational behavior rather than "sales and marketing." The Church is a perfect laboratory for all kinds of exercises in how organizations work.

Another participant commented on how thoroughly he seemed to know and understand the scriptures and particularly his stress on the principles of grace and love.

Dieter Uchtdorf had similarly impressed others.One former German missionary commented the Uchtdorf parents were "kind and sweet" and recalled hearing youthful Dieter speak at a couple of youth conferences. One woman's niece, serving a German mission, had a Bell's palsy episode which her mission president brushed off as "all in her head." Her mother, who was suffering from brain cancer and was beside herself with concern, called a friend who was a mission president in a neighboring mission who called Brother Uchtdorf. Brother Uchtdorf not only intervened with the mission president but saw that sister missionary was hospitalized and "visited her often until she was well."

Another former resident of Germany noted that German Saints are fairly skilled at identifying and filtering out "the cultural contamination of the Wasatch Front." East German Saints have a tendency to reject materialism and concentrate instead on "honesty and relationships." He predicted that Elder Uchtdorf could bring "a breath of fresh air to Utah Mormonism."

Some disappointment was expressed that there is still nobody in the Quorum of the Twelve who speaks Spanish as his first language, and some bewilderment about why, given the collapsing memberships in Europe (missions and wards are being combined and closed down), a European apostle was chosen instead of one from a growth area, but no one expressed disappointment with either apostle or their addresses.

There was some speculation about why neither apostle was called until Friday morning when the need to select them has been known for months. One possibility was to prevent media leaks, but since Elder Jeffrey Holland, for instance, was named an apostle far in advance of being sustained, this suggestion did not seem satisfying. Another speculation was that President Hinckley chose to wait until the very last moment to reduce lobbying or efforts to change his mind--or even discuss possibilities--from the Quorum of the Twelve. Given the history of tensions between President Hinckley and President Packer, this scenario seemed more likely.

Janice Allred again described how she had classified the talks. Institutional talks (which stress the values of the institution and loyalty to it) always comprise the largest category and this conference was no exception with sixteen. She placed nine in the category of Christian living, and one in the category of doctrine. (This sole talk was Dale Miller's discussion of "conversion," even though, as one commentator pointed out, he was really talking about sanctification instead.) "President Monson always gives Christian living talks, and President Hinckley always gives institutional talks," commented Janice. "Even his Sunday morning talk about women was about their place in the Church."

President Hinckley's tribute to his wife generated lengthy commentary, some observers finding it "mellow," "moving," communicating "a sense of equality and not that irritating pedestal women-are-so-spiritual" stuff. Also praised were the fact that he made it crystal clear that men cannot use purported Church doctrine as an excuse for abuse.

At the same time, other commentators pointed out that it was still unconsciously patronizing, still unconsciously an "us vs. you" talk. One woman wondered, "Wouldn't it sound funny if a woman gave a talk about the place of men in the Church?" Nearly everyone was uncomfortable with his willingness to blame marital problems primarily on men: "Any relationship is more complex than that."

Another praised President Hinckley's willingness to be protective of women and to encourage greater kindliness from men in their relationships with women but pointed out: "Maybe all this protectiveness wouldn't be necessary if women hadn't been socialized to be so helpless and dependent in the first place. He's dealing with the symptoms without recognizing the causes." However, everyone was willing to give him credit for recognizing and attempting to ameliorate some of the symptoms of patriarch. One woman noted the irony that President Hinckley had used as a negative example the "patriarch" whose wife and children could not accept Church callings without his permission--even though this need for patriarchal permission is mandated by the Church handbook of instructions.

Summarized one participant: "I think this talk is a case study of how progress occurs in a gerontocracy. You have an elderly man who is still a captive of the stereotypes he grew up with but is trying to frame the problem and solution in ways that will speak to a younger generation." This same participant also noted that President Hinckley's talk about pornography to the priesthood session was another example of attempting to deal with symptoms without recognizing the causes of the problems. While recognizing that the letter from the wife who blamed pornography for the destruction of her marriage was "painful," he commented, "I also found it simplistic. She blamed every problem in their marriage on that single cause. Real relationships for more complicated."

A woman also noted that President Hinckley's approach to divorce--that it's not necessary "if you'll just be nice to each other"--was again terribly painful for those who had to deal with more complex realities. "It's so simple to take the approach of fix the man and you fix the marriage. It doesn't always work like that."

Another comment was the mixed message in President Hinckley's announcement that more temples would be built in his opening address but his admonition in his closing address to attend the temple more and pay more tithing--"and of course, those two activities are closely linked."

Nearly everyone noticed the almost unanimous switch away from the "rhetoric of doom" about attacks on marriage and the family that had characterized many conference talks in April 2004. In this conference, the rhetoric of doom seemed to be focused on attacks on the Book of Mormon, on the importance of faith, of gaining and keeping testimonies. "All of which," summarized one participant, simply became other ways of stressing the importance of the Church."

Anti-gay rhetoric also seemed to be muted, especially by comparison to its repeated emphasis at April conference. "Maybe they think they've got everything lined up and don't want to talk about it anymore," mentioned one discussant.

An example was Elder Richard Scott's talk in which "he presented wonderful, true principle of the gospel like forgiveness" but then concluded by saying you're forgiven when the bishop says you're forgiven. "Bait and switch tactics," characterized one observer.

Candidates for favorite talks included Elder Groberg's story-studded testimony of divine and human love. "It felt real to me," said one commenter. Elders Bednar's and Uchtdorf's talks, plus, despite its limitations, President Hinckley's on women, also made this list.

Candidate for least favorite talk included Elder Eyring's, particularly his denunciation of people who write about "the humanity of the prophet" as doing "the work of the devil"--which was seen as a possible attempt to head off naturalistic approaches to Joseph Smith biographies as the bicentennial of his birth approaches in 2005.

Also high on the "least favorite" list were Elder Ballard's instructions on bearing testimony in which he denigrated expressions of "gratitude and love" as "not really testimonies."


Worth Repeating...

Hugh B. Brown on

Science and Religion

[From "A Final Testimony," An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown, edited by Edwin B. Brown (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988)]

Both science and religion beget humility. Scientists and teachers of religion disagree among themselves on theological and other subjects. Even in our own church men and women take issue with one another and contend for their own interpretations. This free exchange of ideas is not to be deplored as long as men and women remain humble and teachable. Neither fear of consequence or any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences.

We should all be interested in academic research. We must go out on the research front and continue to explore the vast unknown. We should be in the forefront of learning in all fields, for revelation does not come only through the prophet of God nor only directly from heaven in visions or dreams. Revelation may come in the laboratory, out of the test tube, out of the thinking mind and the inquiring soul, out of search and research and prayer and inspiration. We must be unafraid to contend for what we are thinking and to combat error with truth in this divided and imperiled world, and we must do it with the unfaltering faith that God is still in his heaven even though all is not well with the world.

We should be dauntless in our pursuit of truth and resist all demands for unthinking conformity. No one would have us become mere tape recorders of other people's thoughts. We should be modest and teachable and seek to know the truth by study and faith. There have been times when progress was halted by thought control. Tolerance and truth demand that all be heard and that competing ideas be tested against each other so that the best, which might not always be our own, can prevail. Knowledge is the most complete and dependable when all points of view are heard. We are in a world of restlessness and skepticism, where old things are not only challenged but often disappear, but also a world of miraculous achievement, undreamed of accomplishment, and terrifying power.

Science offers wonderful tools for helping to create the brotherhood of humanity on earth, but the cement of brotherhood does not come from any laboratory. It must come from the heart and mind and spirit of men and women.

Peace and brotherhood can be achieved when the two most potent forces in civilization -- religion and science -- join to create one world in its truest and greatest sense. We should continue to become acquainted with human experience through history and philosophy, science and poetry, art and religion. Every discovery of science reveals clearly the divine plan in nature. The remarkable harmony in the physical laws and processes of the universe, from the infinitesimal to the infinite, surpasses mortal understanding and implies a supreme architect, and the beauty and symmetry of God's handiwork inspire reverence.

One of the most important things in the world is freedom of the mind; from this all other freedoms spring. Such freedom is necessarily dangerous, for one cannot think right without running the risk of thinking wrong, but generally more thinking is the antidote for the evils that spring from wrong thinking.

More thinking is required, and we should all exercise our God-given right to think and be unafraid to express our opinions, with proper respect for those to whom we talk and proper acknowledgment of our own shortcomings. We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it. The church is not so much concerned with whether the thoughts of its members are orthodox or heterodox as it is that they shall have thoughts. One may memorize much without learning anything. In this age of speed there seems to be little time for meditation.

While [I] speak of independence and the right to think, to agree or disagree, to examine and question, I need to remind myself not to forget that fixed and unchanging laws govern all God's creation, whether the vastness of the starry heavens or the minute revolving universe of the atom or human relationships. All is law. All is cause and effect, and God's laws are universal. God has no favorites; no one is immune from either life's temptations or the consequences of his or her deeds. God is not capricious.

An individual's reactions to the ever-changing impacts of life will depend upon his or her goals and ideals. Every life revolves around certain fundamental core ideas, whether we realize it or not, and herein lies the chief value of religion. But while I believe all that God has revealed, I am not quite sure I understand what he has revealed, and the fact that God has promised further revelation is to me a challenge to keep an open mind and be prepared to follow wherever my search for truth may lead.

We Mormons have been blessed with much knowledge by revelation from God which, in some part, the world lacks. But there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth yet to be discovered. Revealed insights should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers -- that we in fact have a corner on truth. For we do not.

And while all members should respect, support, and heed the teachings of the authorities of the church, no one should accept a statement and base his or her testimony upon it, no matter who makes it, until he or she has, under mature examination, found it to be true and worthwhile; then one's logical deductions may be confirmed by the spirit of revelation to his or her spirit, because real conversion must come from within.




Paul James Toscano


Note: This is Part 4 of a four-part series, "Temple Worship in the Modern Church."

I wish first to observe that the validity and vitality of the endowment is, in my view, unrelated to its historical origins. Perhaps the ceremony is ancient, going back to Solomon. Perhaps it was invented out of whole cloth by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Perhaps it adapts Masonic rites known and practiced in New York in the early nineteenth century, rites whose beginning can be traced back no further than the Enlightenment and no farther away than Europe. It doesn't matter. The historical origins of the endowment are irrelevant to its ritual importance and its efficacy as an ordinance of the restored gospel. Many if not all of the ordinances of the gospel were borrowed from other traditions or were manifest in other traditions or existed in a secular or even profane form before they were adopted as sacraments of the Christian church.

For example, the breaking of bread and drinking of wine as a covenant meal were known prior to the time Christ established the Eucharist. The washing of feet was a common hospitality ritual of the region long before Christ invested the act with sacral significance. Baptism, too, was taken from known practices and given new meaning with the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The concept of making the profane sacred and renewing the old is the centerpiece of the Christian promise of justification, sanctification, resurrection, and glorification. It should not, therefore, surprise us to learn that Christ could take a commonplace act or event and invest it with new meaning and spirituality and thereby create an ordinance or sacrament of the church.

This process, I believe, occurred with the endowment. Either an old or a new collection of rituals was presented to the Latter-day Saints as something to help them transcend their own world and enter into a new and sacred world--a world of ritual whose principle purpose is to help reunite us with God. Even if the endowment ritual cannot be traced to ancient antecedents, its meaning can. The forms may be new, but the temple ordinances serve ancient sacralizing functions which appear in one mystery religion after another back into antiquity.

It seems to me that when it comes to the endowment, too much emphasis is placed upon its historical authenticity. We think, somehow, that if it is not old, if it does not originate with Adam, or Solomon, or Jesus then it cannot be true. We tend to think that the older something is the holier it is. That's why some of us prefer to use "thee" and "thou" in their prayers: they seem holier. This may carry over to our Church leaders: because they are older men, the presumption is that they are also holier men. Perhaps the first Mormon leaders, including Joseph Smith, favored the ancient over the modern. I'm not sure this is true. But perhaps they thought that because the endowment was holy it had to have been old. One gets this impression from Joseph Smith, who connected the endowment with the "Ancient of Days." In any case, we have come to expect that, if our ordinances are true and efficacious, they must be now as they were anciently. As a result of this assumption, we become disappointed if we are unable to discover any historical antecedents to these forms.

This disappointment can blind us to the mythic connection between temple worship and earlier mystery religions. Because we cannot trace the endowment rituals back through history to Solomon or because we cannot find and historical or archeological evidence of such rituals, we tend to think the endowment is a fake. We do not often enough focus on the fact that most of the ordinances, including the endowment, serve very old religious functions. With the endowment it is more probable that the form is new, but the spiritual, symbolic, and mythic function in our religion is very similar to that served by rituals in other religions, where the initiates are set a task and must walk a long journey through many temptations, a journey in which their faithfulness, their willingness to receive light and knowledge from divine messengers, and their knowledge of secret signs and rites help them on their way through transformation to some higher state.




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