Monday, June 25, 2018

Tender Mercies

I've been going through an interesting transition over the last few weeks. The center where I was employed was shut down, laying off me and every one of my coworkers.  During the last two months before our final day, we all were scrambling to find new jobs.  Only three of us, including me, were able to do so before our final day of employment.  What I found was basically the same job for a better company with nearly identical pay and better hours.  I also have about a month off between jobs, during which I'm receiving severance equivalent to a paycheck for a greater length of time than I'll actually be unemployed.  Obviously, it sucked to be laid off, but when something negative with so much of an upside happens, I find myself thinking about the "tender mercies of the Lord" mentioned by Nephi and popularized by David A. Bednar:
As we learn in these scriptures, the fundamental purposes for the gift of agency were to love one another and to choose God. Thus we become God’s chosen and invite His tender mercies as we use our agency to choose God.
Had identical events happened to me while I was a faithful member of the church, I'd have credited them to the "tender mercies" God blesses us with.  I may have even somewhat callously concluded that the reason I have a comparable job lined up when the majority of my coworkers do not was due to my membership in the church.  But, in retrospect, those kinds of attitudes make no sense.

It reminds me of the "faith not to be healed" article in which Bednar basically explains that the reason the Priesthood doesn't work is because the Priesthood works.  See, because this is exactly the kind of thing I'd consider a tender mercy but for the fact that I'm a filthy apostate who's essentially voided his covenants and blessings, this never should have happened to me, right?  The whole thing appears to be a crapshoot.  It leads me to several possible conclusions:
  1. Being eligible for tender mercies does not require belief or the keeping of any commandments or covenants.
  2. There is no such thing as a tender mercy of the Lord and some people just get lucky.
  3. This is not a tender mercy and I just got lucky without divine intervention.
All of these really point to the complete superfluity of God's true church—at least when it comes to day-to-day life.  It obviously can still be argued that I'm screwed as far as my postmortal life is concerned, but as far as getting by in our second estate, why do we need the church?

If I can get tender mercies while actively opposing the church, why should Mormonism be a necessary component of my life?  If there's no such thing as a tender mercy, then why bother being a temple-going, tithe-paying member if it comes down to luck anyway?  And in regards to the third possible conclusion, why should I spend all that time being a pious Mormon if I can still get this lucky without all those blessings I supposedly need?

Obviously, my assessment of all this is that there are no tender mercies and that most of the things that are claimed to be such are really the results of luck, coincidence, charity, or hard work.  In my case, I was really lucky to find the job opening and really lucky with the time frame of my application, and the reason I got the position was because I interviewed well and because my resume is stronger than that of most of my competitors for the spot (not that my resume is really anything to brag about in most contexts).

But the bottom line is that, just like a Priesthood blessing that doesn't heal its recipient, a tender mercy is an imaginary thing.  Whatever was going to happen is still going to happen, regardless of Mormon theology's claimed role in determining the outcome of the situation.  And to me, it's fascinating—if somewhat predictable—the way a diametrically different perspective on the same kinds of situations changes our interpretations of the way events unfold.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Some Things that are Useful are Not True

One of my sisters has recently started asking me questions about my disaffection from the church.  Our discussion got to the point at which she asked me what doctrines I disagreed with.  I gave her a pretty long list, and she was surprisingly willing to go through them one by one in as much detail as you can manage in a text message conversation.  She agreed that many of my points were valid, although she stuck up for the church on a few others.  One thing that really shocked me was that, when we were talking about the Book of Mormon and how I think so many of the stories sound blatantly made-up, she volunteered a criticism. 

Ether.

She didn't understand how, when the armies of Coriantumr and Shiz were destroying each other, nobody on either side loved their families enough to flee from the violence.  She introduced the absurdity of Ether into the conversation, not me.  It was a fruitful debate and I think I did a decent job of demonstrating that my disgust for church doctrines is an entirely separate issue to how I feel about the average Mormon, so she was curious rather than offended.

A few weeks later, she followed up by email to "stick up for the Jaredites," at least for the first part of their chronicle.  She explained that she loves the story of the Jaredite journey to America because she sees it as a metaphor for life.  She told me that, because life is so hard, she likes the idea that God guides us, provides us light and direction during our journey, and greets us once we've arrived safely.  She finds comfort in the Book of Ether when she feels overwhelmed.

My sister has a lot going on.  She has three kids, some of whom have some unusual medical needs, and she's two states away from her nearest parent or sibling.  She and her husband, of course, have plentiful demands on their time from the church and they have that special brand of existential anxiety that comes from being raised as devout Mormons.  I think she feels overwhelmed more frequently than the average person does.  So it makes complete sense to me that she would like the metaphor of the Jaredite journey and that she would turn to the scriptures for comfort.

This brings to mind a kind of corollary to Boyd K. Packer's infamous assertion that "some things that are true are not very useful":  some things that are useful are not true.

If Ether keeps my sister from feeling like she's drowning, terrific.  But that's not the same thing as Ether being a true record of a true religion.  Santa Claus has helped countless parents convince their children not to misbehave in December.  Santa Claus is useful, but not true.  Ether may be useful, but it's not true.

If the Jaredite story is helpful to my sister, I'm not about to send her everything wrong with the Book of Mormon.  I'm not going to say, "Hey, look, this is all a lie, where can you turn for peace, where is your solace, and where is your god now?  Bwahaha."  That would be heartless.  But I'm tempted anyway because I'm convinced that an enormous portion of her problem stems from the church.  She wouldn't need the Book of Mormon to help her not feel overwhelmed if Mormonism hadn't overwhelmed her in the first place.

There is a huge amount of responsibility placed on us as members of the LDS church.  We're not just expected to adhere to an impossible set of stringent commandments, but we're also expected to be responsible for other people's salvation.  The missionary effort is literally about saving souls—if you love God's children, which you should, you need to be inviting them to come unto Christ.  It's part of the mission of the church to spread the gospel.  If we don't do our visiting teaching (or ministering, I suppose), we're committing sins of omission by not working hard enough to perfect the saints.  And if we're not attending the temple regularly, we're not doing our part to redeem the dead.  And, as a mother, my sister now feels responsible for the tenuous eternal fates of her three boys, whom she's raising in a world that is increasingly at odds with what she believes is right and moral.  Raising kids is expensive, and so is home ownership.  She and her husband are commanded to pay ten percent of their income to the church and the kinds of stress it would cause if tithing were to stretch their budget too thin....

Of course she feels overwhelmed.  And that's by design.  The apostles encourage this.

In April 2014's General Conference, David A. Bednar talked about the burdens and responsibilities that we bear and used the metaphor of a truck stuck in the snow.  The tires wouldn't grip until the driver piled wood in the bed of the truck to add weight.  "It was the load of wood that provided the traction necessary for him to get out of the snow, to get back on the road, and to move forward," Bednar said.  Moral of the story—more burdens are good.  Take on more than you think you can handle and it'll be better that way.

In April 2017's General Conference, Henry B. Eyring told the Priesthood that "it’s natural to feel some inadequacy when we consider what the Lord has called us to do."  Moments later, he concluded, "So if you feel a little overwhelmed, take that as a good sign. It indicates that you can sense the magnitude of the trust God has placed in you."  Moral of the story—your responsibilities are insane.  Feeling overwhelmed is actually a good thing, so just accept it.

The metaphor of the Jaredite journey may be, on its surface, useful.  But it's not true.  And it's only useful because other untrue things have made its uses necessary.  Life can be overwhelming.  But no person should have to remain in a constant state of feeling inadequate and overwhelmed.  No benevolent god or compassionate religious organization should cultivate and encourage that kind of culture.  What we all need are foundations in groups and institutions that will not lie to us or manipulate us.  What we all need are moments of peace in between the noise of natural responsibilities.  What we all need are things that are both true and useful.

Take that, Boyd.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Notes on the Sunday Evening Session

Nelson really has this Conference jam-packed with goodies for the members.  During this session, he announced seven new temples as well as a new "ministering" program that will replace home teaching and visiting teaching.  He seems to be taking full advantage of his first hundred days in office, although I'm pretty sure that's not a rule of thumb for prophets the way it is for presidents.  It's easy to see how some of these changes may energize the membership, and if the numbers reported on LDS.org yesterday are any indication, he's wise to prescribe a shot of adrenaline to the church. 

But here are some of the doctrinal insights shared during this final session of Conference:

We have made the decision to retire home teaching and visiting teaching as we have known them.  Instead, we will implement a newer, holier approach to caring and ministering to others. We will refer to these efforts simply as "ministering."  Effective ministering efforts are enabled by the innate gifts of the sisters and by the incomparable power of the priesthood.
—Russell M. Nelson
I know I've made points about sexism several times in the last couple of days, but this might be the most important indicator during this conference about how women aren't actually equal in the gospel.

The sisters have innate gifts.  The men have incomparable power.  And that's straight from the prophet himself.  Just look at the differences in the language.  "Incomparable power" is a soaring, superlative phrase.  "Innate gifts" is respectful and complimentary, sure, but it doesn't have the altitude given to the men.

I bear my own witness that these adjustments [to the elders quorums and the home and visiting teaching programs] are examples of the revelation that has guided this church from its beginning.  They are yet more evidence that the Lord is hastening his work in its time. 
Jeffrey R. Holland
The Lord has been hastening his work since the middle of the nineteenth century.  We're closing in on the two hundred year mark.  When is he going to hurry up and hasten for real?

Simple as [the planned policy of quarterly interviews between bishops and ministering companionships] sounds, my friends, those interviews are absolutely crucial.  Without that information, the bishop will have no way to receive the information he needs regarding the spiritual and temporal conditions of his people. 
Jeffrey R. Holland
Really?  The bishop will have no other way to find out what the spiritual and temporal status of his ward is?  I mean, he could also ask other people.  Realistically, bishops have a lot to do, so it would be kind of unfair to expect him to hunt everybody down to ask about any important spiritual or temporal needs.  

But...didn't the Lord provide a way for bishops to receive important information directly?  I believe it's called revelation?  Bishops can receive revelation for those in their stewardships?  You know, that long-established teaching of the LDS church?  Not ringing any bells?

Breaking news—the thing that the prophet spent fifteen minutes teaching about in the previous session of conference doesn't actually work because bishops have no other way to gather information other than having people report to him.

She replied, "We discovered that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the closest to Jesus Christ's original church than any other church we know of."
Gérald Caussé
I call bullshit.

This was a mayor whom Caussé had been trying to convince to allow a new church building to be built in her city.  So she did some firsthand research, apparently, visited an LDS meetinghouse, talked with members and with people who lived next to the chapel, and then came back to Caussé and said this.

Come on.

First of all, it's really not that close, in my opinion.  Secondly, nobody alive has actually seen Christ's original church on account of it existing two thousand years ago, so how does this woman feel qualified to say something like this?  It just sounds like a faith-promoting story to make Mormons feel good about being Mormon (like the infamous "light in their eyes" anecdotes), and it sounds so much like that as to muffle any ring of truth.  The phrasing of her comment is so perfect.  What are the odds that this happened?  If it did happen, what are the odds that her reaction wasn't exaggerated upon retelling?

Where do we stand today in fulfilling these divinely appointed responsibilities?  First, with respect to Moses's restoration of the keys for the gathering of Israel, today almost 70,000 missionaries are spread across the earth, preaching his gospel to gather his elect.  This is the commencement of the fulfillment of the great and marvelous work Nephi foresaw among both the Gentiles and the House of Israel.
Quentin L. Cook
They're teasing the numbers again, kind of like when the church essay on polygamy said that Joseph Smith married a girl who was "several months shy of her fifteenth birthday" to avoid saying she was fourteen. 

The number of full-time missionaries in the report posted online yesterday is 67,049.  Yes, that is almost 70,000.  But when most people approximate a number like that, they'd probably round down to either 65,000—or 67,000 if they're being a little more precise.  And I don't think precision is what Cook is worried about because the number of missionaries is dropping.  He needs the number to sound high, so he rounds up to "almost 70,000" so it isn't so apparent how far the numbers have plummeted since 2014's peak of 85,147.  This is the third consecutive year that number has decreased.

Like many church critics expected and like some apostles did not predict, lowering the age of missionary service resulted in only a temporary swelling of the ranks.  The bubble has burst, Cook.  It's time to come back to reality.

It is commendable that non-consensual immorality has been exposed and denounced.  Such non-consensual immorality is against the laws of God and of society.
Quentin L. Cook
Very true.  So what is God and/or his church planning to to with Joseph Bishop, who has admitted to committing non-consensual immorality while serving in a position of priesthood authority?  Nice nod to the MeToo movement, sure, but...remember that that old saying about monies and mouths?

In the Lord's church, the only culture we adhere to and teach is the culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The unity we seek is to be unified with the savior and his teachings.  As we look at the primary purposes of the church, they are but based on equality before the Lord and following the culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 —Quentin L. Cook
I really like that he denounced tribalism a second before this.  But the church really isn't based on equality.  The Bible has a lot of stuff about how Israel is God's favorite people and the Gentiles are lame.  The Book of Mormon parrots that as well and adds its own Nephite/Lamanite dichotomy.  Plus there's also that pesky teaching that God uses dark skin color to signify wickedness.  And I could get into the sexism stuff again but I think we're all tired of that.

The point is, the LDS church has a feeble grasp on the concept of equality.  And while American culture is almost certainly less unified than Mormon culture, all is not exactly well in Zion either.

With respect to missionary work, the principal qualifications for baptism are humbling oneself before God and coming forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  Education, wealth, race, or national origin are not even considered. 
Quentin L. Cook
Another qualification is denouncing your parent if he or she is currently in a same-sex relationship.  Look how egalitarian we are!

In the sacred sealing room, the eternal marriage ordinance is the same for everyone.  I love the fact that the couple from the humblest background and the couple from the wealthiest background have exactly the same experience.
Quentin L. Cook 
Wow, it sure wasn't the same for everyone forty-one years ago.  That's because before 1978, the eternal marriage ordinance didn't happen if you were black.  I mean, it's great that this is no longer in effect, but it takes a special kind of arrogance to preach to the world that your organization is a big welcoming tent that treats everyone the same when you have so much racism in your past, so much sexism and homophobia in your present, and your progress has lagged behind American society in a way that should be humiliating for an organization claiming to represent a benevolent god.
  
There has been a significant increase in the number of worthy adult temple recommend holders for many years.  Limited use recommends for worthy youth have increased dramatically over the last two years.  Clearly, the faithful core membership of the church has never been stronger.
Quentin L. Cook
I can't believe it took me until the final minutes of the closing session of General Conference to dust this old classic off, but...
Half-seriously, maybe the next person shouting from the audience during Conference shouldn't yell "Opposed!" or "Stop protecting sexual predators!"  Maybe that person should yell "Citation needed!"  Not really though.  The sexual predator thing is a much more urgent issue that the church needs to fix.  We can worry about fudged numbers later.

But this was strikingly similar oral excrement to Cook's performance in General Conference two years ago, when he explained that not very many people resign and that "the Church has never been stronger."  He was, perhaps a little less defensive this time, but it was still a bold assertion easily challenged by anecdotal evidence.  And it was an assertion that can't be proved or disproved by any old schmuck off the street.  Who has the statistics for the number of adult and youth temple recommends?  The same organization who has the church financial records!

By which I mean:  not you.

You just have to take his word for it.  Because he's been totally honest in the past and has no reason lie, so I'm sure the numbers that he didn't give us are completely accurate.

One interesting note is that he seems to be retreating from his 2015 comment a little, because here he's focusing on the "faithful core membership of the church" as opposed to the church membership as a whole.  Maybe the apostles are finally starting to see the writing on the spreadsheet.

Our message to the world is simple and sincere.  We invite all of God's children on both sides of the veil to come unto their savior, receive the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy, and qualify for eternal life.
Russell M. Nelson 
Well...not all of God's children.  Not the disfellowshipped or excommunicated ones who've apostatized or criticized the church or decided to marry someone who happens to share the same kind of genitals, right?  And not the younger ones who won't denounce their parents' homosexual lifestyles, right?

But all of God's other children are welcome.  At least, as of 1978. 
 
And there you have it.  It was a surprisingly eventful series of broadcasts.  General Conference is usually referred to as a historic event, and this one at least may have lived up to the usual hype.  It will be interesting to see how the church adapts to the changes Nelson announced and it will be fascinating to see if he continues pushing more changes to try to keep the "faithful core membership of the church" engaged.

Notes on the Sunday Morning Session

And the hits keep coming....

Our greatest desire should be to labor diligently so we can prepare the way for the glorious return of our savior.
Reyna I. Aburto
This lady was so close.  So close!  She delivered a beautiful call to action for us to exercise love for our neighbors through selfless service.  She provided several examples of regional and local LDS organizations pitching in when a specific need was identified, including a Chilean ward offering Spanish classes to Haitian immigrants in their country and members with boats ferrying families around the Houston area in the wake of last year's hurricane.  And then she says this....

No.  Our greatest desire should be to alleviate the suffering of our fellow human beings.  Our desire should be to make our world a better place to live because we care about people.  We shouldn't help just because we think it's going to usher in an age of religious euphoria.

That being said, what these people in her examples did is terrific and I sincerely applaud them.  I would imagine that most of them participated because of a genuine desire to help and serve.  But the whole point of this kind of service is that we sacrifice our own time and our own concerns to put others' more urgent or more severe needs first.  Religion shouldn't be a part of that decision.  A hurricane flattened a city.  Ulterior motives are kind of inappropriate in that sort of emergency.

But other than that one comment out of a ten-minute speech, Aburto may have given the most agreeable sermon of the conference so far.

I exhort [inactives and/or apostates] to reflect and to return because I believe that no one will be able to make excuses before our Lord Jesus Christ.
—Claudio D. Zivic
"I urge you to put your life on an almost opposite course because the God I believe in is petty enough to dismiss an honorable existence simply because you found his official church untenable or unfulfilling."  As far as inactives and apostates go, this exhortation will probably fall upon deaf ears.  It's like the Pope telling Jews how they should live their lives.

However, there is a possibility this may be effective on members whose faith is beginning to slip.  A little doubt here, a skipped Sacrament Meeting there, maybe an attempt to weasel out of a calling...anyone who's recently begun any of these kinds of little negative behaviors may consider this a warning to get back in line.  Because if you still mostly believe in the church and you're just struggling with a couple of things, the implication that you're going to have to stand at the bar of God one day and make some lame excuse about how you just didn't think you'd have time every week to prepare a lesson if you were called as the Gospel Doctrine teacher is probably pretty scary.

The cultural currents are so strong that if we ever stop paddling we will be carried downstream toward a destination we do not seek but which becomes inevitable if we do not constantly try to move forward.
Dallin H. Oaks
Inevitable?  Come on, man, stop trying to terrify people.

In your metaphor, it's not inevitable.  You can still get to the destination even if you stop paddling temporarily, it'll just take a little longer.  You're trying to make the point that if we stop trying, even for a little while, we'll be dragged downstream to whatever horrible metaphorical fate awaits at the mouth of the river.

But not only is that ridiculous, it's completely unfair.  Life is hard—especially as a Mormon balancing so many different responsibilities.  There should be absolutely no shame whatsoever if you can't fire on all cylinders all the time.  There's nothing wrong with needing a break.  I suppose my argument may not really apply that well to sins of commission, but as far as omission goes, we need to cut ourselves some slack.  Oaks is pretending like skipping a Family Home Evening during a hectic week or not showing up to a quorum service project because of competing obligations is akin to the first step down the slippery slope.  

Listen, if your arms get too tired, stop paddling.  Pausing isn't giving up, and considering there's a lot of effort required, sometimes a break can be reinvigorating.  Don't turn the kayak around and paddle downstream or anything (I guess that would be your sins of commission in this metaphor), but take a moment to catch your breath, stretch your arms, and then keep going.  Don't let Oaks tell you you're risking your eternal fate by taking five.  Any god worth believing in will understand how much is being asked of you, how hard you're working, and how dedicated you truly are.

Similarly, even small acts of disobedience or minor failures to follow righteous practices can draw us down toward an outcome we have been warned to avoid.
Dallin H. Oaks
Okay, so I guess now the metaphor is situated along the Y-axis instead of the X-axis?  This is fear-mongering, plain and simple.  Should we celebrate our minor failures?  Of course not.  But neither should we treat them like gateway drugs to murder, rape, devil worship, and spiritual death.
  
One thing is certain:  the terrible consequences of partaking of anything that can become addictive, like drugs that attack our bodies or pornographic material that degrades our thoughts, is totally avoidable if we never partake for the first time, even once.
Dallin H. Oaks
I'm impressed with you guys.  You're going easy on pornography this conference.  

I don't entirely disagree with this statement.  I use similar reasoning for why I still have never had  any alcohol.  But the difference is that I've made that choice myself based on my own goals and my own knowledge of my own habits.  But I'm a little leery of this advice coming in such absolute terms from someone in such an influential position.  And, let's be honest, any addictive qualities of porn are not the reasons you want people to abstain.  You'd be against it almost as vociferously even if viewing it once didn't generally make people want to view it a second time. 

But if you're so against addictive things, why are you so careful to advise us not to partake of tea or coffee but so silent about caffeine?  Why have energy drinks not been added to the Word of Wisdom?

Oh, also...since he's irritated me so much, I wanted to cavil a little.  Oaks is saying "the terrible consequences...is totally avoidable."  Plural subject.  Singular verb.  Rookie mistake from someone of Oaks's intellect and experience with formal oratory.  Just sayin'.  Although I'm sure he was speaking as a man, at least in a grammatical sense.


Because I know that good inspiration is based upon good information, I prayerfully met one-on-one with each apostle.
—Russell M. Nelson
Good inspiration is based on good information??  What??  So when Nephi constructed a boat and sailed to America it was because he'd first walked back to Jerusalem to ask a master shipbuilder what kind of wood he should use?  So when God came to Joseph in a dream and warned him to flee with Mary and Jesus, it was because Joseph had been keeping a keen eye on the political climate and had anticipated that there may be an order issued to murder children under two?  So when Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon it was only possible because he had gone to his local library first to read up on Reformed Egyptian so he could translate a made-up language more effectively?

Way to take the magic out of the the process of divine inspiration, chief.  

And, actually, even more troubling is stuff like Saul of Tarsus and Alma the Younger.  Those men received inspiration in the form of angelic visitation that turned them from dedicated opponents of the church into even more dedicated servants of God.  What kind of good information would they have gathered before any of that happened?

I testify that the Lord instructed me to select President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring to serve with me as counselors in the First Presidency.
—Russell M. Nelson
"Instructed."  Nice.  It makes it sound like you converse with God, but it's vague enough on the procedure to avoid sounding crazy.  Was it face-to-face?  Was it a voice you heard?  Glowing characters on a rock in your hat?  A message written in the steam on your bathroom mirror?

It's gotta be tough to walk that line in the modern era.  The church was founded on visions and heavenly visitations, but nowadays too much of that talk is gonna make you sound like you forgot to put on your tinfoil hat this morning.  So you have to imply strongly that there is some kind of holy line of communication between the leadership and the heavens because that's what gives you your legitimacy, but you have to do it without sharing any details whatsoever to avoid turning off any investigating non-believers entirely.  

To his credit, Nelson is walking that line with a balance, an agility, and a grace that you wouldn't expect from a 93-year-old acrobat.

Does God really want to speak to you?  Yes!  "As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course...as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints."
—Russell M. Nelson
If God really wants to speak to us, then why does he make it so goddamn difficult to get access to his voice?  Why do we, as Nelson termed it earlier, have to "grow into" the principle of revelation?  Maybe man's arm isn't so puny as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants if we can foil the Almighty God's attempts to communicate with us with nothing but sheer force of incompetence.

I know I've probably beaten this point to death many times here, but considering God is compared almost constantly with a loving parent, correspondence shouldn't be so complicated.  If my dad wants to speak to me, he sends an email or a text message or he picks up the phone.  If my heavenly dad wants to speak to me, I have to reach out first, be worthy of his spirit of inspiration, study things out in my mind, and grow into receiving revelation.  By that logic, I should be able to dam the Missouri by dipping my thumb in the shallows.

You do not have to wonder what is true.  You do not have to wonder who you can safely trust.  Through personal revelation, you can receive your own witness that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of this dispensation, and that this is the Lord's church.  Regardless of what others may say or do, no one can ever take away a witness borne to your heart and mind about what is true. 
—Russell M. Nelson
Actually, we do have to wonder what is true.  Doctrine and Covenants 28:11 reads:
And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him;
The section header summarizes:  "Satan deceived Hiram Page and gave him false revelations."

So, it's scripturally established that we can receive fake revelations from Satan.  So, through personal revelation we can receive a personal witness of all that stuff Nelson mentions.  But, theoretically, we could also receive a false personal witness that Kanye West is actually Jesus Christ and that he'll be ushering in the New Millennium any day now.  Or, for a less drastic example, we could receive a false witness that the LDS Church has deviated from the gospel restored by Joseph Smith and that we should join Denver Snuffer's Mormon sect.

So there's always room for doubt.  The scriptures teach that.  Kind of weird that the prophet teaches something different than what's in the scriptures, isn't it?

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Notes on the Priesthood Session

It looks like President Nelson has opted to make a strong start from the gate.  The Priesthood session was dedicated almost entirely to an announcement about a new policy reorganizing the quorums we've all become familiar with:
To accomplish the work of the Lord more effectively, in each ward the High Priests and the Elders will now be combined into one Elders Quorum.  The composition of the stake High Priests Quorum will be based on current callings.
As explained by the prophet and multiple apostles, this essentially means that Elders and High Priests will meet together instead of separately during Sunday meetings and that High Priests actively serving in stake positions that can only be filled by a High Priest will be part of a stake council thing.  There will be one Quorum President of each ward's new combined Elder's Quorum, and that President can be either an Elder or a High Priest.  The Elder's Quorum President will report directly to the Stake President instead of to the Bishop, and the Bishop, as the Presiding High Priest in each ward, will also report to the Stake President.

Don't ever let anyone tell you the gospel is simple.

Anyway, here are a few highlights from the meeting, which mostly functioned as a theocratic-slash-bureaucratic circlejerk to prop up Nelson as the awesomest prophet who ever awesomed and his restructuring as the most inspired inspiration that ever awesomed.

In much the same way that angels are authorized messengers sent by God to declare his word and thereby build faith, we who hold the Aaronic Priesthood have been ordained to teach and invite all to come unto Christ.
 —Douglas D. Holmes
This is just a depressing contrast to Sister Oscarson's approach in the Saturday evening session mere hours earlier.  Oscarson was pleading for young women to feel valued.  Holmes is simply reminding the young men about the fantastic, vital, and noble role they have in the work of God.  The tone is diametrically different—and that's because young men are filled with a sense of purpose and value because of their Aaronic Priesthood.  Young women don't have that and nothing is offered to them as an equivalent. 

These adjustments are inspired of the Lord.  As we implement them, we will be even more effective than we've been previously. 
Russell M. Nelson
"Inspired of the Lord."  That's the best he can do.  See, back in the day, God would actually, like, talk to his prophets.  Later in this meeting, Rasband will quote a prophetic revelation from generations ago that is written as the actual words of God himself.  But nobody admits to talking to God anymore or even hearing God's voice.  So this policy shift, which is being treated like Revelation with a capital R, is, at best, merely inspired by God.

We are moving forward with unanimity, in what is in reality one more step in the unfolding of the Restoration.  The Lord's direction is manifest and I rejoice in it.
D. Todd Christofferson
One more step in the unfolding of the Restoration?  Gimme a break!  The Restoration was God and Jesus in the Sacred Grove.  It was the Angel Moroni in Joseph Smith's bedroom.  It was  John the Baptist dipping Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Susquehanna River.  It was the prophet Elijah appearing in the Kirtland Temple.  This is basically consolidating two Sunday School classes and rearranging some administrative meetings.  Don't credit it to the miraculous arm of the Lord if it's something any non-prophetic public school principal could do before he finishes his morning coffee.

Since [pioneer days] , the Lord has used a variety of ways to help his saints care for each other.  Now he has blessed us with strengthened and unified quorums at the ward and stake levels.
Ronald A. Rasband
I have basically the same objection to this as to the Christofferson quote, but to a lesser degree.  Rasband is doing the same thing, trying to lend gravitas to this restructuring by likening it to revered events from church history.  And sure, maybe it will make quorums stronger and more unified.  But through each batch of blandishments and each parade of platitudes during this session, I couldn't help but wonder...is this really what God cares about?  All the problems in the world, all the moral complexities and urgent concerns of daily life that his children face, and he's really going to have his chosen mouthpieces spend almost an entire session of General Conference lecturing us on what amounts to a corporate mini-reorganization?  High Priests are being downsized.  We get it.  Let's talk about solutions to pressing moral, social, humanitarian, financial, and geopolitical crises.

Then, one day he received an urgent text from her.  She desperately needed help. She didn't know who the bishop was, but she did know her home teachers.
Henry B. Eyring
Here, Eyring has just told a story about an inactive single mother with several jobs who has rebuffed attempts for her home teachers to visit her.  The dutiful home teacher sent her text messages and letters on a monthly basis instead, which she invariably ignored.  But Eyring praises the home teacher because when the woman had an emergency requiring her to leave the country temporarily but she couldn't afford to take both her children with her, she knew who she could call for help.

That much I guess I'm okay with.  The home teacher's persistent contact isn't great, but Eyring is presenting it as though the woman didn't have time for the church, not that she specifically requested that she be left alone.

What I'm really not okay with is that the woman asked her home teacher if there was a Mormon family that she could leave her youngest son with for about a month until she could return.  The home teacher contacted his bishop, and they worked something out so that the boy could stay with several different Mormon families during that time frame.  These families welcomed the child into their homes, included him in their activities and Family Home Evenings, took him to church with them, and made sure he was looked after.  He continued attending church even after his mother returned to the country and he'll grow up a strong faithful member.  Happy ending!  Right?

Maybe not so much.  The issue was a plane ticket.  The mother simply couldn't afford an extra ticket to take her son to Europe with her and bring him back to the States when she was done.  If the home teacher and the bishop cared about this family the way they should, they would have opted for a solution involving buying a plane ticket.  Take up a collection, see if a wealthy member will donate or lend money, maybe find someone who's really great at finding deals and coupons, whatever.  It was terrific of these people to take care of this little boy, but wouldn't the ideal solution be keeping the family unit together for the whole month?  Instead, the mother came home to a religiously converted son who'd had to use Mormonism as an improvised social and emotional crutch because he was literally the only member of his family in the entire goddamn country for weeks.

This isn't a victory like Eyring wants us to believe.  The victory is that people stepped up to help.  The defeat is that they helped with ulterior motives, they perhaps unknowingly manipulated a child, and the outcome was less honest and less ideal than it could have been.

I thought the LDS church was all about families.  Why couldn't the church find a way to put the kid on a goddamn plane with his mother?

It is not appropriate to refer to "the Priesthood" and "the women."  We should always refer to "the holders of the Priesthood" and "the women."
Dallin H. Oaks
Taking a page out of Nelson's book and instructing us on semantics, I see.  Although I'm a little bothered by the fact that "the women" don't get a fancy title.  Why not "the men" and "the women" or "the holders of the Priesthood" and "the members of the Relief Society?"

But I nitpick.

Fathers should also cultivate loving family relationships so that family members will want to ask their fathers for blessings.
Dallin H. Oaks
What.  No.  That is not why you should do that.

I can't imagine how this guy must have treated his own children if he regards "cultivating loving family relationships" as part of his divine responsibility to exercise his Priesthood authority more fully in the home.  Can children wanting to ask for a father's blessing be a good byproduct of healthy parenting?  Sure.  But presenting this as an actual reason for why fathers should have good relationships with their kids is...shocking?  Appalling?  Depressing?  Laughable?  Idiotic?  I don't know, take your pick.

Too many of our brothers and sisters do not fully understand the concept of Priesthood power and authority.
Russell M. Nelson 
Maybe that's because it's such a nebulous and convoluted concept that it takes almost two hours for you to explain a minor administrative change to it.