Monday, November 16, 2009

Random Rambling Response

A question from a reader*:

Have you read Emma: The Mormon Enigma? I have two brothers and wives who read this book and it drove them to apostasy. They now believe the Book of Mormon is some Egyptian conspiracy.

The book was actually written by a BYU church history teacher, I am not sure if she still works there or not. I mean, to actually believe Joseph had sexual relations with his multiple wives was just too much for them to take. Also, some of those wives who were 14 and 15 were "raped." Its all very interesting but very difficult to watch your dear family members leave the iron rod and embrace the great and spacious building.

I haven't read that book in its entirety, though I did use it as a source for a paper about LDS marriage/family doctrine. Another book on a similar issue (and certainly the most complete and exhaustive study of Joseph's plural wives) is a book called "In Sacred Loneliness" by Todd Compton. It is quite solid from a scholarly standpoint, but it deals with some very difficult subject matter.

When dealing with things of that nature, I think that the Church is altering its approach somewhat. In the past, many things of that variety never made it onto the Mormon radar, because the only folks that wrote about them were anti-Mormons. Today, though, we find ourselves in a situation technologically that makes it more and more difficult not to deal with these kinds of historical issues. In the late 80s and early 90s, the Church got (understandably) defensive about some of its history; pressure was exerted by LDS hierarchy not to bring up some of this information. There were even some excommunications of BYU scholars, and––though the excommunications were not exclusively about scholarship––I suspect if they had published the same things today, there probably would not have been Church discipline (at least for some of them). Church leaders were leaning pretty heavily on professors to publish only "faithful history," which put them in a very difficult position: rigorous scholarship would bother some members and leaders, but "faithful" scholarship wouldn't be objective enough to get published.

In any case, today we can get our hands on loads of information with only the touch of a button. This, I feel, is helping to change the way we approach difficult historical issues. Take for instance the "Joseph Smith Papers Project" that (over the next decade or so) is going to publish critical, scholarly editions of practically everything Joseph ever wrote (or dictated). The 2 volumes currently in print (there will eventually be about 30) have been very well-received in the academic world (one review said that they "set a new standard" in the realm of scholarly publication), and will help to bolster growing interest in Mormon studies. Even now, Mormon studies departments are popping up like daisies in universities across the country. Another example is "The Mountain Meadows Massacre," published only a couple years ago by BYU scholars who were granted unprecedented access to the Church archives. The book was actually commissioned BY THE CHURCH(!) way back in about 2003.

I think our approach is becoming something similar to a vaccination. Nobody likes to get shots; they're undeniably uncomfortable and they can leave you sore for a few days. However, I'll take a needle-prick over a full-blown case of smallpox any day! Similarly, while we don't like some of these issues in our past and they make us uncomfortable, it's better to hear about painful/confusing history within a faithful venue––that way when you get exposed elsewhere, your "spiritual immune system" won't be overwhelmed.

Of course, none of this ameliorates the pain inherent in a family member's (or one's own) loss of faith. I once read an interesting article by someone who had left the Church, describing how he went through all the same stages of grief that are associated with a loved one's death. I had a somewhat similar experience when a missionary I knew (though we had never been companions) shot himself shortly after he returned home.

There are really only two thoughts that have been of any practical assistance to me in those kinds of painful situations:

1. When dealing with an ugly/confusing issue vis-à-vis Church history (or even current leadership): It's uncharitable to expect others to be any more perfect than I am. I have no reason to feel superior just because I have a different preference in the kinds of sins I like to commit!

2. When facing tragedy in the lives of those we care about, particularly due to someone's poor choices: I have to remember that the sealing power is a manifestation of the atonement; so it's far stronger than I usually recognize.

In the end, I think God will probably surprise us all... (with a cake, I hope––I do love a good cake).

As it happens, the paper I wrote (using "Mormon Enigma" as a source) is posted here on the blog. See here. It does deal with some fascinating (and occasionally troubling) history.

A later piece regarding specifically familial blessings tied to temple worship can be found here. This post is a bit more devotional in nature, and was actually written to be part of a talk; the paper linked above, on the other hand, probably would not be very helpful in an in-Church setting, unless you want to see the Bishop spontaneously combust.

*And just so you're aware, as a reader of this blog you are a member of a very elite, VERY exclusive bunch. (And I wouldn't have it any other way!)

PS––Oh, I almost forgot! Regarding the whole "rape" issue in the question above, I would suggest that our social values are frequently different than those of our predecessors. In that part of the 19th century, age differences between husband and wife were frequently wider than they are today, and it was not at all unusual for wives to be teenagers (even young teenagers) while their husbands were in their middle age. There is a chart (though I don't have time to track it down) that some writer put together that compared the age of Joseph Smith and his wives with the ages of other married couples in the community; 14 or 15 was not at all uncommon. In some matters we can be far more prudish than our ancestors! For instance, can you guess what the age of consent was in the state of Delaware at the time the Declaration of Independence was signed? Anyone? The answer will be in the comments below...


Latter-Day Guy said...

I'll bet that whatever you guessed, it was older than SEVEN (7)!!! Crazy, huh?

Jude Ogunade said...

I sometimes wonder when people allow other peoples'characters and writings lead them to apostasy. I for one will never use people's characters as my constitution. My constitution is the scripture, perhaps the reason why I am inclined to mormon fundamentalism is the fact that I stumbled upon the Book of Mormon on my own rather than being preached to by the missionaries, in fact, if the missionaries who preached to me were not old couples, I wouldn't have even listened to their interpretation on the Book of Mormon to me. That book has made me to have a very strong believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints. Though, people persecuted and discouraged me from continuing in the faith, my testimony is such that convinced me so much that indeed the Keys were restored to our Prophet: Joseph Smith, Jnr; and of course, you expect the world to marvel and envy a 14 years old boy claiming to have received books from God and to have actually seen him and of course you expect the enemy to sow tares among the seed! Yet, I believe firmly in the Book of Mormon. Therefore, our constitution should not be in the character of anyone, at anytime but in the sublimity and purity of the messages in the scriptures. It is written so it is always read; and I say here and now, it is not what someone does or did that will stand against you on the day of judgement but the WORD. So stand with the WORD, so that, it can advocate for you on the judgement day.