Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Socialism and Satan's Plan

The ramping up to November's US presidential election has made pretty much everybody in my country go even crazier than we already were.  Mormons aren't immune to it either.

Last month, the blog titled My Life By Gogo Goff put out an article all about how socialism is of the devil. This particular blog may be infamous in some ex-Mormon circles, but it does seem to enjoy a healthy fanbase in Mormon circles, clocking in an impressive number of Facebook followers just shy of the sixty thousand mark.  And since last month's article delves bravely into some of the worst fruits of the church—especially as they relate to a crucial election in the country where 40% of the church membership resides—I think it's important to deconstruct this kind of thinking.

Not to be that guy who says "not to be that guy" and then commits the offense he pretends to prefer avoiding, but...not to be that guy to point out logical fallacies, but it needs to be said that the title of this article is a No True Scotsman fallacy:

WHY PRESIDENT BENSON WAS RIGHT: “NO TRUE LATTER-DAY SAINT CAN BE A SOCIALIST”

The Kingdom of God is built on prophetic gatekeeping, I suppose.  That's certainly healthy.  

But on to the substance:
First I will address why members fall for socialism and secondly why it is wrong. This is a non-political post, I’ve written about politics before, and how God is neither a Republican nor Democrat (Click here for that article), today I am simply focusing on eternal truths and principles as taught by the Prophets and Apostles on the topic of Socialism and Communism.

I think what the author means when he says this is a non-political post is that this post does not endorse any specific party.  Obviously this is a political post.  It may discuss gospel principles, but it discusses gospel principles as they relate to theories of secular government.  It unequivocally repudiates the Socialist party and the Communist party, and I think we're kidding ourselves if we assume it's not taking gospel-sanctioned shots at the left wing of the Democratic party.  But it is a non-political post in the sense that it's not explicitly telling us to vote Republican or Libertarian.

Satan is a master at counterfeits because they are so similar to the truth he can deceive even the very elect. President Joseph F. Smith taught, “Satan is a skillful imitator, and as genuine gospel truth is given the world in ever-increasing abundance, so he spreads the counterfeit coin of false doctrine. Beware of his spurious currency, it will purchase for you nothing but disappointment, misery and spiritual death.” And President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “Whenever the God of heaven reveals His gospel to mankind, Satan, the archenemy to Christ, introduces a counterfeit….Communism introduced into the world a substitute for true religion. It is a counterfeit of the gospel plan.”

What is socialism a counterfeit of? It is a counterfeit of the United Order.

What a strange claim to make.  According to the church, the United Order was established in 1832, at which point Henri de Saint-Simone—one of the founders of socialist theory who's actually credited with coining the term "socialisme"—had already been dead for 7 years.  Satan is more cunning than I ever realized if he's actually capable of counterfeiting something before the original has even been produced.

As loath as I am to agree with someone like Ezra Taft Benson, I think I can almost get to a place where I sort of see where he's coming from with his comment about substitutes for true religion.  I disagree with the way he's focusing his distaste on one particular political philosophy and I also disagree about whether "true religion" adds any non-fungible value to humanity.  But if he's warning us about how people can make their political ideology their religion and thereby take things way too far, then I think he's got a point.  That probably isn't actually his point, of course.  I might be giving him too much credit.

In a Nutshell, anyone who wanted to join the United Order could, when joining they would covenant to live the law of consecration and give everything they owned to the Church. The Church would then deed to each member of the Order according to their needs and wants. Each year you would give your surplus that you did not need to the Church and they would use it to take care of the poor. Anyone was free to join or leave the United Order at any time.

The author is stressing the voluntary nature of the United Order because freedom of choice will become crucial to the argument in a moment.  But, in the meantime, we should recognize that this is essentially a form of socialism—the arrangement stressed collective economic cooperation, the community authority oversaw the redistribution of the means of production, and the importance of individual ownership was de-emphasized.

The author goes on to quote a 1979 Ensign article:

The United Order operates under the principle of private ownership and individual management. It is neither communal nor communistic. Each man owns his own property with an absolute title. The individual family is preserved. There is no common table… The United Order, according to Elder Harold B. Lee, is “more capitalistic … than either Socialism or Communism, in that private ownership and individual responsibility will be maintained.”

What this kind of underplays is that, yes, even though the United Order preserved private ownership, those private ownership rights were granted by the church—and those rights were only for what was deemed requisite for your needs.  So if you owned your farm after you joined the United Order, you only owned it because you'd given it to the church and the church permitted you to keep it.  Any other properties you may have owned that were not deemed necessary for you and your family could have, in theory, been deeded to a family without property.  You weren't going to become filthy stinking rich under the United Order because any excess wealth or property or resources you had should be going to someone with less so that everyone, as a group, could be productive.  And that way, in turn, no one in the group should be left destitute.

Call that what you will, but it's certainly not pure capitalism.  There's an individualism in it that jives with capitalism, but honestly it feels more like what you'd hear from Bernie Sanders than what you'd hear from Cornelius Vanderbilt...or from Ezra Taft Benson, for that matter.

Before I tee up the next quote, let's review some of God's instructions to Edward Partridge in Doctrine and Covenants 51 about how to administrate the United Order:

4 And let my servant Edward Partridge, when he shall appoint a man his portion, give unto him a writing that shall secure unto him his portion, that he shall hold it, even this right and this inheritance in the church, until he transgresses and is not accounted worthy by the voice of the church, according to the laws and covenants of the church, to belong to the church.

5 And if he shall transgress and is not accounted worthy to belong to the church, he shall not have power to claim that portion which he has consecrated unto the bishop for the poor and needy of my church; therefore, he shall not retain the gift, but shall only have claim on that portion that is deeded unto him.
So, Edward Partridge is in charge of deeding properties to people who have joined the United Order.  And if that person leaves the United Order or gets excommunicated, they only get to keep what Edward Partridge had previously decided they were entitled to. The member who enters the Order has no say in which properties he's comfortable handing over to a different member.  He's required to give everything he has and he's expected to happily accept whatever the bishop deigns to deed back to him.
Remember that when the concepts of agency and freedom enter the chat.  Continuing:
We are commanded repeatedly in every book of scripture and by every prophet to take care of the poor. We covenant to do so at Baptism, and we are told if we fail to do so, we will be rejected by Christ at the last day. Socialism, like the United Order, promises to take care of the poor. Satan tricks many members by showing them the scriptures regarding the poor needing to be succored and then mingles the philosophies of men that unless we enact social reform and the government steps in, the poor will not be taken care of.
Uh...the poor are not being taken care of!  We have more than half a million homeless people in the United States right now.  We have tens of millions of people who don't have health insurance.  More than ten percent of the country lives in poverty. So if the government shouldn't step in to solve these problems and the church clearly hasn't managed to end poverty on its own, what solution are we proposing here?
Socialism promises to take care of the poor.  The United Order promises to take care of the poor.  The United Order doesn't exist anymore, so that's not an option.  Socialism is a tool of the devil, so that's not an option.  So...we're just supposed to make our peace with the fact that there are tons of poor people and there's nothing we can do about it other than chip away at the problem with our fast offerings and our Scouting for Food drives?

I mean, that's fine for you if you're reasonably well-off.  But I can't imagine telling someone on the brink of eviction that I don't support a living minimum wage or unemployment insurance or federal student aid or social security or other socialist policies because that's just not God's way.  I can't imagine explaining that individuals and churches should help poor people and that the government should not because otherwise we'd be playing right into Satan's hands.

Maybe not supporting socialism is actually a way of breaking our baptismal covenants.  Maybe voting for someone who we know is going to slash benefits for the underprivileged is an abdication of our promise to bear one another's burdens that they may be light.

Because I don't see anywhere in Mosiah 18 where it says "except for financial burdens."
This mingling the doctrines of men with scriptures is called socialism. And it relies on a Satanic belief that the ends justify the means. This spiritually damning philosophy led to the War in Heaven. Think about the War in Heaven, both Satan’s and Heavenly Father’s plan had the same goal, the exaltation of all of God’s children. The difference between their plans was the means. For Satan’s Plan, the ends justified the means, therefore taking away agency, and forcing people to do ‘what was right’ was an acceptable cost.

But God, in His wisdom understood that the ends do not justify the means. But rather the means sanctify and qualify us for the ends. God’s plan was not simply to get from A to B at wherever cost, yes we needed a body, yes we needed to return to heaven, but we also needed experiences that only agency would allow. If Satan’s plan was implemented, it would’ve robbed us of those experiences and not even produced the results that he promised it would.

Counterpoint:  God also adopted a Machiavellian mentality, but since the victors write the history, he's able to spin it a little bit better than that.  Practically speaking, did we have agency after the War in Heaven?  When the dust cleared and Satan and a third of the host of Heaven had been cast out and we all knew the only option left was for us to follow Jesus's Plan of Salvation, did we have the choice to opt out of it?

We could have spoken up and said that we didn't like this plan either, but that would mean that we'd be left in a state of eternal stagnation at best.  At worst, we'd have been cast down just like Lucifer and his cohorts.   Is agency through coercion really agency?  Weren't we basically threatened and railroaded into following Jesus's plan?

This is kind of supported, in a strange way, by the very next line of the author's article:

President Russell M. Nelson has emphasized that the means matter and that we need to do things the Lord’s way, he taught, “I repeat the Lord’s prescription: ‘But it must needs be done in mine own way’! We begin where we are, now, and work according to his plan.”

It must needs be done in mine own way.  Exactly.  So if it always had to be done that way, what was the point of the whole exercise that led to the War in Heaven?  Kind of sounds like we were given a choice where none existed.  God allowed different people to put forth their plans even though there was only one viable option and he allowed the discussion to escalate into a conflict.  A third of his children sided with a plan that God knew from the very beginning could never work and he punished them for it.  This tells me that God is more interested in making us think we have choices than he is in providing us with real choices.

We have also been warned by Howard W. Hunter what will happen if we do not choose the Lord’s way, “If man will not recognize the inequalities around him and voluntarily, through the gospel plan, come to the aid of his brother, he will find that through “a democratic process” he will be forced to come to the aid of his brother. The government will take from the “haves” and give to the “have nots.” Both have lost their freedom. Those who “have,” lost their freedom to give voluntarily of their own free will and in the way they desire. Those who “have not,” lost their freedom because they did not earn what they received. They got “something for nothing,” and they will neither appreciate the gift nor the giver of the gift.”

Oh, wow, there's so much awful stuff in here.

Let's start with the "if man will not recognize the inequalities around him and voluntarily...come to the aid of his brother" part.  In addition to helping individuals and donating to causes that help people we're not able to reach ourselves, isn't voting another way to come to the aid of your brother?  Or running for public office?  I don't see how being active in socialist politics as a way to try to ensure that the poor and downtrodden are taken care of doesn't count as coming to the aid of our brother.  And it's still a way of gaining experiences and exercising our agency, so that should satisfy the "through the gospel plan" part.

Hunter appears to be irritated that paying our taxes to a government that will (theoretically) help provide a minimum standard of living for everyone will compromise our ability to choose to help.  That's completely ridiculous.  If he's just talking about money, there's a grain of truth to it but it's still silly.

I'm not a man of great means, but I do have enough money to meet my own needs and I don't have to pay ten percent of my income to a church that will stockpile it.  Even after paying my taxes, some of which will help fund programs that are considered socialist, I have money left over.  And sometimes I choose to donate money to non-governmental organizations to further their causes.  Hunter is either ignoring or forgetting the fact that the haves—and especially the super-rich haves—are in no way prevented from donating further even after the government has taken a chunk of their paychecks for nefarious socialist purposes.

But, of course, it's not all about money.  We can donate our time.  We can donate our labor.  We can donate our clothing.  We can start non-profits or organize protests or start letter-writing campaigns.  We can still choose to do all of these things with that precious free agency we've been given.

And there's a hilarious bit of hypocrisy in here, too.  Did you catch that part of Hunter's objection is that, after being forced to give support to the less fortunate, the taxpayer has no way to ensure the funds are used in the way that he desires?  That sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it?  Because, while tithing is not mandatory, it's about as mandatory as taxes.  If you don't pay your taxes, you face legal penalties, which is why most people do it.  If you don't pay your tithing, you pay spiritual penalties, which is why a lot of people do it.  And in case you haven't looked at a tithing slip lately:

You can put everything you donate into the missionary fund, but you can't actually make sure it gets deposited into the missionary fund.  And, of course, rather than making any kind of financial information public, the church will send its auditor up to the pulpit once a year during General Conference to vaguely assure us all that the donations are being used wisely and in accordance with established church policies.  To be fair, the highlighted disclaimer above did not appear on tithing slips back in Hunter's day, but it does sort of make Hunter's—and Benson's—philippics against socialism and communism also seem applicable to modern Mormonism.

The most contemptible part of the Hunter quote is the ending, though.  Claiming that someone loses their freedom when they receive assistance is an elitist non-sequitur.  Public assistance is some kind of addictive substance, I take it?  Once you get a taste of it you're enslaved to it forever?  You'll never be able to support yourself after that?  That's a really long way to say "I hate poor people."  Or it might be a slightly longer way of saying "I'm comforted by the fact that poor people exist and that I'm not one of them and I'd prefer not to solve the problem because then there won't be any poor people left to make me feel better."

The concept of earning that Hunter introduces is dehumanizing and un-Christlike as well.  I mean, as far as I'm concerned, everyone has earned a meal and a warm place to sleep at night just by being born.  You shouldn't have to earn the basic necessities of life.  Everyone deserves them.  And if someone should be required to earn the assistance they receive, we can throw the concept of Christlike charity out the window.  What did the traveler do to earn the charity of the Good Samaritan?  Nothing.  He was just minding his own business, bleeding to death on the side of the road.  But the Samaritan understood that the traveler was a person and that people shouldn't have to bleed to death on the side of the road.  Rather than bemoan the fact that the traveler hadn't earned the assistance he so desperately needed, the Samaritan decided to act like a human being with a shred of decency and he helped the poor guy out.

And then there's the claim that beneficiaries of socialist programs will not appreciate the gift nor the giver of the gift.  First of all, if you're giving the gift so that you'll be appreciated for it, then you're doing it wrong—and Jesus would back me up on this (Matthew 6:1-4).  Secondly, it's simply not true that beneficiaries will be incapable of appreciating what's been given to them.  Look what typing two words into Google uncovered:  people sharing how Obamacare positively affected them.  And finally, someone's ingratitude is not a good enough reason to abstain from helping them.  Refusing to drive your buddy to the airport because he didn't even offer to pay you for gas last time is one thing.  Opposing public programs that can literally save lives because you've decided that millions of strangers around the country will be incapable of properly appreciating the benefits they can receive is entirely different.  Ungrateful people deserve housing.  Ungrateful people deserve to be able to afford their medications.  Ungrateful people deserve to live.  Pretty shocking for a prophet of God to be so callous and so inhuman in his discussion of alleviating human suffering.

Not only do the means matter because the Lord has said so, they mater because they qualify us for exaltation. Marion G. Romney emphasized the importance of the means when in the Oct 1981 general conference he taught, “The Lord doesn’t really need us to take care of the poor. He could take care of them without our help if it were his purpose to do so… It would be a simple thing for the Lord to reveal to President [Nelson] where the deposits of oil and precious ores are. We could then hire someone to dig them out and we could float in wealth—and we would float in wealth right down to Hades. No, the Lord doesn’t really need us to take care of the poor, but we need this experience; for it is only through our learning how to take care of each other that we develop within us the Christlike love and disposition necessary to qualify us to return to his presence.”

Okay, since we have this weird the-ends-justify-the-means thread running through this article, let me ask this:  how is opposing public assistance programs because they're socialist and you won't get to heaven supporting socialism not an example of a positive end goal justifying some less-than-honorable means?  Is the road to the Celestial Kingdom paved with the poor people we step on to get there?

God is perfectly content letting people starve to death because he's letting the rest of us learn to love those people.

My experience learning to develop Christlike love is more important than whether another person sleeps on the street tonight.

And, of course, in addition to be a strikingly cold-hearted way of phrasing things, Romney's quote still doesn't tell me why using my free agency to donate to my local food bank and using my free agency to vote for a socialist candidate who I believe will introduce programs that will help those in poverty is such a horrible, damnable, Luciferian no-no.  I mean, a vote is more passive than personal action.  Direct support for a local food bank is more likely to have a directly positive outcome.  I get all that.  But both of these actions can be motivated by Christlike love and both of these actions can be earnest attempts to help our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

Why is any of that bad?

Maybe the author will explain.

Marion G. Romney also taught a year later, in Oct 1982 general conference, “Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.” From these two quotes, we learn that the ends do not justify the means, but rather the means qualify us for eternal life. We learn that even if Satan’s plan had been enforced either in heaven, or as Socialism on earth, we would not gain the promised results.

Yes, service can be more personally fulfilling than sending a Paypal donation or heading into a voting booth.  Service is important.  But nobody's explaining why service and socialism are antithetical.  

Also, I'm not sure we have a proper understanding of the phrase "the ends justify the means."  Because Marion G. Romney's first quote kind of makes it sound like God believes that the ends justify the means.  The ends?  Get people qualified for eternal life.  The means?  Don't intervene to prevent poverty and starvation because people need an endless supply of poor people so they can learn Christlike love.  There are hungry children whose malnutrition merely represents acceptable collateral damage from God's worldwide constructivist classroom. 

And we've now explicitly stated that socialism is the earthly equivalent of Satan's premortal plan.  And I've yet to see any reasoning that explains this assertion.  It seems to revolve around the concept that Satan doesn't want free agency and that socialism denies us our free agency.  The first half of that is pretty well established in scripture.  The second half makes no sense.

Unless...?  Is the concern that socialism will actually solve the problem of poverty and then deny us of our opportunities to serve because there will be no one left to need our help?  No.  That would be too crazy.  Right?

Returning to where we have started. We now see that in Heaven Satan tried to force people to do what he deemed right. We know that Socialism is the earthly manifestation of that plan that led a third of the host of heaven to eternal damnation.

You heard it here (there) first, folks—everyone in Outer Darkness is a socialist.

But we're restating the thing we still haven't proven.  Isn't it kind of weird that in this lengthy article, the author can't whip out a quote from a prophet or an apostle plainly stating that socialism is the earthly manifestation of Satan's plan?  The closest thing we have are President Benson saying that communism is a substitute for true religion and the quote we're about to circle back to:

It is with that understanding that with 100% clear confidence that I can again echo the words of Ezra Taft Benson, “No true Latter-day Saint can be a Communist or a Socialist because Communist principles run counter to the revealed word of God.”

Interesting that only communist principles run counter to the revealed word of God and that socialist principles appear to be sort of guilty by association. 

If you have supported socialism because you were ignorant, now you know the truth. If you have supported socialism because you were deceived, now you know the folly of your ways. Finally, if you have/do support socialism even after this knowledge, then I call on you to repent before it is too late!

Oh...oh, my.

There's some fun words we're throwing around.  Ignorant?  Deceived?  Folly?  Right, I mean, surely there's no room for differences of opinion in Mormonism.   Benson gave the No True Latter-Day Saint speech in 1961.  A lot has changed in the church in the last 59 years.  For example, black people can attend the temple now.  The title page to the Book of Mormon has been updated to be less anti-science.  We're now admitting that the golden plates were translated using a rock in a hat.  We also found some of the Book of Abraham papyri that we thought had been lost forever.  Maybe the concerns of the brethren have also changed as the political landscape has evolved.

I mean, this speech was given pre-Kennedy-assassination.  Pre-Watergate.  Pre-Reagonomics.  Pre-Iran-Contra.  Pre-fall-of-the-Berlin-Wall.  Pre-Monica-Lewinsky.  Pre-9/11.  Pre-Obama.  Pre-Trump.  Is socialism really the salvation-poisoning political malady that concerns the apostles today?  Perhaps the General Conference Corpus can help us if we search for a few key words that might have been mentioned from the pulpit:


I dunno, it sure looks to me like the Lord's mouthpieces haven't been particularly concerned with socialism since the 70s.  The lone mention of the word "socialist" in 2004 was Nelson using the full name of the USSR while telling a story about a personal visit.  It's also worth pointing out that Ezra Taft Benson, whose words form the crux of this evils-of-socialism argument, was merely an apostle when he gave the quoted speech.  He became the actual prophet in 1985.  There was not one General Conference mention of socialism or socialists during his eight and a half years presiding over the church.

Could socialism really be the earthly implementation of Satan's diabolical scheme if it hasn't merited an acknowledgement from the prophets in their addresses to the worldwide church in more than four decades?  Could calling people to repentance over an issue the living prophet isn't providing any warnings about be considered a modern-day steadying of the ark?

Probably not.  I mean, what do I know?  I don't actually believe in prophets.

As the American elections approach, even though I'm gloomy about my options, I think it's critical to put people in power who will, among other things, institute policies that will support the underprivileged, the underrepresented, the undervalued, and the marginalized.  I think it's important to recognize that some organizations—not just Mormonism—have managed to convince people who care about poverty that they should not want a government that tries to end poverty.  Mormonism hasn't fed all the hungry.  Other churches haven't housed all the homeless.  And you and I, with our well-meaning contributions here and there, haven't made much of a dent either.

The way I see it, the whole reason humans started forming communities and governments was to solve problems that are too big for the individuals.  Homelessness, starvation, and poverty are enormous problems and they're problems that demand a solution.  As flawed as our government is, it's undeniable that it has massive resources at its disposal.  And it's critical that we put people in power who will use those resources to accomplish some good.

There are plenty of other issues I can sermonize about similarly.  Obviously, this is not just limited to poverty.  But these arguments that using government as an implement of charity is somehow immoral strike me as being kind of Pharisaical.  Sometimes you need to pull the ox out of the mire on the Sabbath.  With millions of poeple drowning in the mire, would Jesus really want us to callously stand on our academic principles or would he want us to roll up our sleeves and use every tool at our disposal to leverage our brothers and sisters out of the mud?

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Face-to-Facemask with the Rasbands

In another attempt to connect with the youth of the church, the Rasbands have continued the trend of face-to-face broadcasts designed for young adults.  This particular event was a pretty heavy one with a lot that demands review.  Elder Rasband, I think, is better at not coming off as callous and clueless like Elder Cook, and he's more gifted at couching his superficially didactic approach in a charming persona than, say, Elder Soares.  Sister Rasband is also better at demonstrating a desirable spousal chemistry than Sister Renlund and she's a far more dynamic contributor to the discussion than Sister Bednar.

That being said, boy oh boy did these two get into the weeds and fail to find their way out of them.  So let's start with a snippet of Elder Rasband's introductory comments:

Now, last April at General Conference, President Nelson introduced the Restoration Proclamation.  And we've been having a wonderful season from last April 'til now enjoying the blessings and the benefit of that proclamation.

I'm dusting this image off for next month's General Conference anyway, but let me just make sure it's still working.

Citation for citation-needed-guy: https://xkcd.com/285/
Yep.  That one's evergreen.
   
What, exactly, are the blessings and benefits of the Restoration Proclamation?  I mean, it sounds like it's lifted from a System of a Down song, so that's pretty cool. [The rhymes are actually education/fornication, education/subjugation, indoctrination/of-a-nation, and subjugation/of-damnation, but you can see how restoration-proclamation would fit rhythmically, if not thematically.]

The proclamation in question is a review of information that every Mormon is already familiar with.  It's a primer of existing doctrine, not a revelation of any new doctrine.  And considering we're doing this face-to-face with a sparse, mask-wearing, socially-distanced live audience and we're about to field questions about how people are struggling in the face of 2020's extreme and unique challenges...why are we calling the last five months a wonderful season?  Nelson didn't cure COVID.  He had us fast twice and then he gave up when that didn't work.

So the season has objectively not been wonderful and there haven't been any blessings of the proclamation—not that there should be any blessings for publishing a summary of information that's already been in circulation for generations—so Rasband's comment is complete nonsense.

Moving on to the meat of tonight's episode:


Question 1:  What can you tell us about the process that brought the prophets, seers, and revelators to declare this marvelous proclamation?

Obviously, there's no definitive way for me to determine if this question is from a sincere source or if it was written by a staff member, but it does seem like there's some unnecessary ass-kissing in this wording.

Rasband's answer is fluff.  He basically says that all fifteen apostles worked on it and they were unified in their confidence that the proclamation contains exactly what God wants us to know.  Mind you, God's already told us this stuff many times over, but whatever.


Question 2:  What advice do you have for when we feel uncomfortable with certain church teachings or policies?  How can we continue to sustain our leaders when we may struggle with feelings of disagreement and confusion?

Record scratch, anyone?  

I suppose it's not really a record scratch moment since the Rasbands aren't really trying to pretend they didn't know the questions ahead of time, but this moment does represent a sharp shift in tone after the opener.  The first pitch was a little leaguer lobbing it right over the plate, but the second pitch is a ninety-mile-an-hour slider.  And when the Rasbands swing at the slider, they miss it, lose their grip on the bat, and send their off-brand Louisville Slugger hurtling into the stands past third base.  Okay, that's three strikes against that metaphor.  

Let's examine the response to this question.  And, please note, this is a response, not an answer.

Sister Rasband cites Amos 3:7 (surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secrets unto his servants, the prophets) and D&C 21:4-5 (give heed unto all his words and commandments).  This isn't useful at all.  If we disagree with church teachings we should keep the commandments as provided to us by the prophets?  Okay, but what do we do about our disagreement and confusion?

Patient: Doctor, I have a lump growing on my testicle!

Doctor: Well, the best way to stay healthy is to eat a balanced, nutritious diet and get plenty of exercise.

Patient: Okay, that's technically true, but....

Yes, Sister Rasband, we all know we're supposed to follow the prophet, but what are we supposed to do when we find it difficult or morally troubling to do so?  Her husband chimes in:

President Benson said this:  "Therefore, the most crucial reading and pondering which you should do is the latest inspired words from the Lord's mouthpiece."  Now, the prophet speaks to all of us frequently.  It used to be that you'd have to wait 'til General Conference or maybe an occasional article in one of the church magazines.  But now—and your generation knows this—the president of the church and all of the apostles, frankly, are using their social media accounts to give their latest inspired teachings to the members of the church.  So I invite all you young single adults throughout the world.  And I'm not trying to give a commercial here, but I am inviting you to follow the president of the church, certainly, and the other members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve as you can and you will have the latest and the most inspired teachings of God's prophet on the earth today.

Congratulations, bucko, you just took your wife's poor response and made it even worse.

I'm still waiting for someone to say something like, "Here's how you reconcile the personal disagreements you may have with church doctrine or church policy."  But, instead, the clumsy floundering continues with Sister Rasband:

You know, it reminds me of when we were just married, President Spencer W. Kimball had asked the saints not to delay having children for [rolls eyes] excuses, especially like "we don't have enough money."  ... That's when we established a very important, oh, what would I say, a motto or something for us to always follow the prophet.  I recommend that to you.  Always follow the prophet.

Doctor:  Just eat some goddamn vegetables and your suspected testicular cancer will be fine!

This isn't really relevant to the question that was asked, but imagine being the kind of person who goes out of her way to criticize people for wanting to be able to financially support a family before having one.

And then the officially anointed apostle brings it home:

Now, Harriet in Wyoming, I hope we've answered your question.  There are going to be times when you're going to have questions, and we've got another question coming up later that deals with that very specifically.  But as we begin our face-to-face broadcast, we wanted to firmly establish for all of you the importance of following God's living prophet on the earth.  That's the safest, most sure way to follow the Lord's mouthpiece on the earth.

That's a fun little tautology.  The safest, most sure way to follow the Lord's mouthpiece on the earth is to follow God's living prophet on the earth.  The best way to follow the prophet is to follow the prophet.  Elder Rasband must be inspired of God, because I know I could never drop wisdom that profound off the cuff.

But they're done with question number 2.  They're moving on.  The only advice they've provided for people who have serious reservations about church policy, church doctrine, or church leadership is to just do what they're told.  I feel for anyone in the audience who perked up at this question in the hopes that they'd receive a substantive answer to their own concerns.  The Rasbands' responses probably left those people disappointed.  

Also, who's to say the youth in this situation aren't already following the prophet?  The implication that when your conscience doesn't align with church leadership this indicates you need to change is insulting—possibly devastating to some.  It also flies in the face of the doctrine of free agency. We have the knowledge of good and evil so that we can choose good to return to our Father in Heaven, but if something we know to be good contradicts something we hear from the church, we should abandon our knowledge, abandon what would have been our own choices, and be obedient to something our conscience tells us is wrong.

Doctor:  Yep, diet and exercise, that's the ticket.  Maybe start taking a multivitamin.  Go ahead and make an appointment at the front desk and we'll see you for your annual checkup next year!

 

Question 3:  I have serious problems with the truth claims of the church and I'm considering removing my name from the records of the church.  Can you give me a reason why I should stay?

Elder Rasband jumps on this question with apparent eagerness:

I can't wait to talk to Harry about the reason why he should stay.  Harry, the first thing I want to say to you and to any others who might be on the edge with that kind of a concern right now is don't you do it.  Don't remove your name from the records of the church.  Maybe it would help to reframe your question this way:  not as why you should stay, but perhaps the more positive approach of why I and so many others choose to stay, including, I would suspect, hundreds of thousands of you who are watching this broadcast tonight.  Think of it as to "why do I choose to stay?"

Oh Jesus.   So many things Rasband did wrong here.  First, saying "don't you do it" doesn't answer the question.  It doesn't give Harry a reason why he should stay.  Second, don't fucking change the guy's question, you asshole.  And third, making the argument of "tons of other people don't leave, so why should I?" is one of the weakest, most pitiful, most unsympathetic approaches you can possibly take to this issue.

Rasband, being a pretty old person, should be intimately familiar at this point in his life with how we all have to navigate our existence based on our own experiences, our own perceptions, and our own choices.  He's callously discounting the personal nature of Harry's question and trying to convince him to give up his own sovereignty by pawning his moral decisions off on others.

Rasband also doesn't seem to be particularly creative when it comes to his teaching moments, so I'm pretty confident that at some point during his time as a father, he has said these words:  "If all your friends were going to jump off a bridge, would you?"  Just because a bunch of other people are cool with it doesn't mean you should be.

Mormonism, in theory, teaches us not to follow the crowd.  We're a peculiar people, we should be proud to stand out from the world, we can receive personal revelation of the truth instead of trusting and wondering, and we have free agency to make our own decisions, dammit.  But this broadcast is a good reminder that Mormonism, in practice, merely teaches us which specific crowd it wants us to follow.  Follow the prophet.  Don't leave because look at all the people who've found reasons to stay.  Follow them.

Also, where's the acknowledgement that Harry's decision may be extremely difficult and emotionally traumatic?  Rasband is far more concerned about driving home his point of you better fucking not than he is about Harry.

Oh, but it gets worse.

Sister Rasband then sets up a video clip about a man named Dominic, who has recently joined the church.  Through his interviews and voice-overs, Dominic explains that he was on the verge of suicide, but fasting, prayer, and baptism...basically cured him of his suicidal ideation.  I understand why a religious organization like this would want to present themselves as an ecclesiastical panacea, but this is extremely irresponsible.  

The first side of the coin is that there's no mention in Dominic's video of professional help. No counseling, no therapy, just the pure love of Christ and the fellowship of the virtuous Saints.  Dominic seems okay now, and that's obviously great news, but in no way should any religious organization ever imply like this that the organization and the organization alone can cure you of your suicidal tendencies.  This is a medical issue.  It's a psychological issue.  If it worked for Dominic, fantastic.  But that doesn't mean it's going to work for everyone and it's fucking reprehensible to pretend like this is a normal thing that people joining the church should expect will happen to them.

The other side of the coin is that, since the response to a question about why someone should stay in the church includes someone explaining how his non-Mormon existence was so miserable that he was planning on ending it, the inescapable implication here is that the Rasbands are telling Harry:  "If you leave the church, you might kill yourself."  Even if this is not their intended message, thematically tying apostasy to suicide is disrespectful to apostates, to people who struggle with thoughts of suicide, and to anyone who's ever lost a loved one to suicide.

The third side of the coin (and we can do three-sided coins now since this broadcast has ventured deep into the badlands of the bizarro realm) is that there are undoubtedly young Mormons watching this broadcast who already have the gospel in their lives and still have suicidal thoughts.  This video is a slap in the face to those people.  Look at this wonderful story about someone who found meaning and purpose in life by joining the church!  Look at how he was this close to killing himself but now the gospel has fixed him!  Oh...but you think about slitting your wrists sometimes?  Since we're not going to address that possibility here, you'll be left to draw your own conclusions, and we're not doing anything to prevent you from drawing the conclusion that you still think about suicide because your faith is inadequate.

Nobody thought through the ramifications of this video?  Or did someone think it through and not care enough?

Then the Rasbands have Dominic stand in the audience and respond to Harry himself.  Disclaimer:  Although I think it's important to address Dominic's answer, he's a regular person and not a public leader of the church.  My ire is focused on the leadership, not on the membership.  I hope anything negative I have to say about Dominic will be understood to be critical of the way the church is using him as a prop and not to be critical of his experience or his character.  Here's what Dominic had to say:

Harry, I just wanna say...we're here for you.  I wish I could shake your hand and give you a hug right now.  This church has given me everything, Harry.  I remember being in a spot where I had nothing and I have everything now.  I have happiness, I have joy, I just...I literally have everything.  I have Christ's name on my back.  Harry, if you're really having such a hard time, you're having these questions, I'd advise you go read James 1:5.  "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God."  He will give you every single reason and answer that you need, Harry, I promise you that.  And he's already given you one of the biggest reasons to stay—and that's Christ, his son.

Applause to him for him not killing himself, and applause to him for his courage in sharing an intensely personal story with a worldwide audience like this, but I don't think this is going to be particularly helpful for someone like Harry.  If Harry has spent like fifteen minutes in the church, he's probably already read James 1:5.  That's the scripture Joseph Smith credits with triggering the First Vision.  We all know it.

But, of course, Dominic's not an apostle.  It's not his job to give inspired advice to church members.  So I'm willing to cut him plenty of slack for an insufficient answer.  He tried to help.  I don't think it will work, but he tried to help. Unlike the Rasbands, he actually answered the question, too—he provided Harry with a reason.  His reason is Christ, which is a pretty lame reason, considering there are about a kajillion religions that claim to give members access to Christ, but at least he took on the original question directly.

Elder Rasband doesn't get that kind of slack.  This is literally his job.  And he still hasn't said "here's a reason to stay."  Of course, he's not done yet, so maybe we'll actually get something useful from the Lord's anointed before moving onto the next segment.  Sadly, [spoiler alert] this will not prove to be the case.  

Instead, Rasband will pivot to weirdly toothless fearmongering:

Nonetheless, the sealing power of God found in the house of the Lord binds families together.  So you also need to think about what your decision means and impacts future generations.

Ooooh, better watch out, Harry, your progeny won't be born into a religion you think you probably don't believe in!  Id Software called and they're suing you for copyright infringement because you're Quake-ing in your boots right now.

Sorry, I guess I'm in a weird forced-sitcom-punchline mood today.

Other than the fact that Rasband is trying to capitalize on Harry's probably non-applicable concern for the spiritual welfare of his descendants, this threat also makes no sense as far as the Plan of Salvation is concerned.  Is Rasband actually trying to say that our decisions can prevent our children from reaching the Celestial Kingdom?  Because that doesn't sound like "we believe that men are punished for their own sins."  Is Rasband forgetting that the whole proxy-temple-ordinance deal that he's going to refer to later on is designed to redeem those who didn't have the opportunity to jump through the required salvific hoops during their mortal lives?  Because Harry's grandchildren can totally get in on that even if they don't wind up being born in the covenant.

This dynamic duo isn't done with Harry yet.  Sister Rasband continues:

If I remember right, he [Elder Ballard] said:  "Now, look, if you're going to focus on anti-church literature floating out on the internet, then you're gonna stay stuck in rebellion, in confusion, and disharmony.  But if you listen and read the scriptures, if you listen to the words of the prophets, and if you pray, then the Holy Ghost has an opportunity to testify to you what is true and help give you peace and understanding."

This is obviously not a surprise, but it should still be a concern for everyone that we're not encouraging all perspectives.  Anti-Mormon literature on the evil internet will lead to rebellion, confusion, and disharmony, so only listen to the scriptures, the prophets, and the Holy Ghost.  Only use our method for finding truth.

I find it amusing that she seems to have assumed that Harry's doubts originate from anti-Mormon literature on the internet.  Because of course there's just no way Harry could have come up with doubts on his own.  It's not like the church's own scriptures and correlated materials are rife with evidence that the church is racist, misogynistic, homophobic, authoritarian, avaricious, and weirdly fixated on ancient prophets having huge biceps.  There's just no way it could have happened without the involvement of those rabid internet anti-Mormons.

Also, it's telling that she says the Holy Ghost has an opportunity to reveal truth to us.  Reread Moroni 10, ladies and gentlemen.  It doesn't have this watered-down language.  God will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.  But if we're changing scripture to leave some space for the Holy Ghost not to manifest truth unto us, is there somewhere I can lodge a complaint?  Because I've repeatedly given the Holy Ghost the opportunity to tell me the Book of Mormon is true and he's never taken advantage of those opportunities.  At this point, it's starting to feel like a personal affront.

Okay, last quote before we move on to question number four.  From the old dude on the dais: 

In one of his [Elder Andersen's] General Conference messages, he said this one simple sentence that has stuck with me ever since:  "Will we understand everything?  Of course not.  We will need to put some issues on the shelf to be understood at a later time."  So brothers and sisters, we're not trying to say that we're not gonna have these feelings, but they should never derail you off the covenant path.  Put those items that would derail you or take you off the covenant path...put 'em on the shelf and in due course, in due time, Heavenly Father and the promptings of the Holy Ghost will give you answers to your questions along with your loving friends, family members, and leaders.

Hilarious.  We're actually using the shelf metaphor like it's a normal, necessary thing.  The problem is that it's not really books that we're putting on the shelf.  It's red flags.  It's time bombs.  It's live grenades.

And the implication that the answers will be provided eventually is just plain dishonest.  For example, if there were an acceptable, satisfying answer to why the degrees of glory were racially segregated prior to 1978, surely that would have been made widely available.  I mean, so many people have such a big problem with that particular issue that if someone had learned why it was okay and why God isn't racist, that information would have circulated pretty rapidly.  But instead, the best explanation the church has is that "over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church."

Assuming people only started trying to figure out why the racial ban happened after it was lifted (which obviously isn't the case), we've had 42 years to learn the inspired truth.  How many people have died still not having a satisfactory answer?  How can Rasband possibly say, with a straight face, that answers to concerns with church doctrines and policies will come "in due time" when it's patently obvious that they do not?

If you learn something that indicates that the path you're on is the wrong path, you owe it to yourself to examine that new information.  You owe it to yourself to adjust your path based on that new information.  And you owe it to yourself to make your life decisions based on the information you actually have, not on the information someone promises you that you'll get after you've made numerous life decisions on the assumption that the missing information exists and is acceptable to you.

To paraphrase J. Reuben Clark, if we're on the covenant path, we cannot be derailed by investigation.  If we're not on the covenant path, we ought to be derailed.


Question 4:  How did you come to know that Joseph Smith truly is called of God to be the prophet of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ? / How did you receive your testimony of the Book of Mormon?

Elder Rasband cites the gifts of the spirit laid out in Doctrine and Covenants 46, reminding us that "to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" and that "to others it is given to believe on their words."  He explains:

Some of us have those burning testimonies and others of us are believing on the testimonies of others and that's okay.  You can believe on ours or you can believe on your friends', your parents', your leaders', your teachers'...it's okay to accept the testimony of others.  In fact, it's a gift to be able to do that also. So for those of you working on your testimonies, remember that this is a journey.  It's a process, and...grow for your own testimony and don't be discouraged if you find yourself having to believe on the testimony of others.  That, in and of itself, is a gift.

Uh...has this guy ever been Mormon?

How many times have we been told in Sunday School classes, seminary classes, institute classes, ward/stake/general conferences and Ensign articles that we can gain a testimony ourselves?  How many times have we been taught about the promise in Moroni 10?  How many times have we been encouraged to follow Alma 32's instructions about experimenting upon the word?  How many times have we been directed to D&C 9 to learn that our bosom shall burn within us when we pray about something right?  How many times have the missionaries taught that Mormonism is so wonderful specifically because we can learn for ourselves that it's true?

How is an apostle advising us that it's fine if we never receive our own testimonies of the gospel anything other than a tacit admission that the concepts of personal revelation and spiritual confirmation are complete bunk?

And, call me crazy, but deciding to frame your entire existence around someone else's convictions is an extremely risky move.  Shifting that kind of responsibility away from yourself is dangerous.  Because there are a lot of people out there with a lot of very strong beliefs, and they can't all be right.  You'll be able to find well-meaning, trustworthy, honorable people in tons of different belief systems.  You could be Mormon by believing in the testimony of your mom.  You could be an atheist by believing in the testimony of  Carl Sagan.  You could be Baháʼí by believing in the testimony of Rainn Wilson.

The way to get the closest you can to the truth is to take the responsibility yourself.  If you trust other people's opinions, great.  Take what knowledge they have and decide how you feel about it.  Take a little bit of your mom, a bit of Carl Sagan, and a bit of Rainn Wilson and figure out what makes the most sense to you.  And definitely don't trust people who tell you that something as important as the existential, ecclesiastical, and ontological questions of your life can all be so casually invested in an external source.


Question 5:  In the proclamation, it says, 'We, as the apostles, invite all to know as we do that the heavens are open.'  What does this invitation mean to you?  /  I want nothing more than to have direct communion with God, yet I find it extremely difficult, as most of my friends.  If God wishes to speak with us, why is it so hard to hear him?

Sister Rasband starts this one off:

Well, I think most of what's worth obtaining in this life doesn't come easy, and I think that by humbly seeking and praying to learn how we hear the Holy Ghost is a key to learning how to hear him.

Saw the first part of this answer coming a mile off.

It may be a reassuring prepackaged adage to say that anything worth having doesn't come easy, but the problem is that it's not true.  Let's use a relevant example.  One thing that's worth having for me is a relationship with my parents.  And it's incredibly easy.  All I have to do to maintain communication with my earthly parents is send a text message.  Sometimes they send me text messages.  And emails.  And Zoom meeting invites.  And the occasional phone call.  See, when a parent wants to communicate with their child, they're not going to make it difficult.  They're not going to throw up arbitrary impediments and then send proxies out to explain that the reason communication is so difficult is because most of what's worth obtaining in this life doesn't come easy.

That's an excuse.  And a shitty one, too.  From a parent who's too shitty to even provide us with the excuse personally.

Sister Rasband goes on to cite 3 Nephi 11:5, explaining that the Nephites should be an example to us because they actively searched for communication from God.  This is a laughable example.

You remember what was going on in 3 Nephi 11, right?  Jesus had just been crucified, so God decided to mark the occasion by trashing a civilization on the other side of the planet.  Entire cities were swallowed whole in the Americas and then the continent was plunged into days of darkness.  Then, as the darkness cleared, there was an obviously supernatural voice coming from the sky.  Does Sister Rasband actually think that if any of us had lived through such an experience, we wouldn't also open our ears to hear it and look steadfastly toward heaven from whence the sound came?  Does she really think that the person who asked why it's so hard to hear God isn't already trying to actively seek out his voice in their life?

The person who submitted that question is slapping their forehead right now and chortling, "That's why it's so hard to hear God's voice!  I was forgetting to listen!  Silly me!"

The Rasbands then invite one of the youth hosts, Aaron, to share his thoughts on the subject.  Aaron chooses to quote President Nelson:

When we reach up for the Lord's power in our lives with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air, power from Jesus Christ will be yours.

Oh, man, King "Unprofitable Servant" Benjamin would love this line.  I really enjoy the way the church teaches that we are pitiful, hopeless, and doomed without the deity who runs the heaven that we pay money to learn the passwords to enter.  We really need to be that desperate to have God's power in our lives?  We need to be almost literally drowning?

And this is our loving Father in Heaven?

Then Elder Rasband adds his own thoughts:

For me, my young friends, I've found the word of the Lord by reading the scriptures.  If I have issues that I'm troubled about or worried about in our family, in my work, in my assignment and calling, I'll topically try and find something that can apply and then something will jump out at me, and it's as if the Lord is giving me a very specific directive through his holy word in the scriptures.  So it can happen in a multitude of different ways.

Again, if you've been Mormon for more than fifteen minutes, this is not a new concept to you.  I've used the Topical Guide to search the scriptures for verses relevant to my circumstances many times.   Rasband's advice is the equivalent of telling someone who's stuck on a crossword puzzle clue to see if they can try filling in some of the letters by answering some perpendicular clues.  It's maybe a half-step better than telling someone playing a game of solitaire to see if there's a red six somewhere to put on that black seven.

Then Elder Rasband carefully articulates this gem:

He [God] will respond to you in ways that are familiar and correct for you.

How can God's methods of communication be considered familiar and correct if so many of us have so much trouble even recognizing them?


Question 6:  How does the sealing ordinance and the doctrine of eternal marriage influence your relationship as a couple and how can it influence our relationships with our families?

I almost skipped this question because I was more interested in the discussions about doubts and apostasy and the like, but I can't let the excerpt Rasband chose to read from the Proclamation on the Family slide by without comment:  

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

How can you be equal partners when one of you presides and the other does not?

 

Question 7:  What does the restoration teach about accessing priesthood power as a woman?  How can I implement it more strongly in my life?

Sister Rasband:  

Maybe we could be begin by remembering what President Nelson actually said.  Dear, I think we have it, would you mind reading it?

Elder Rasband:  

I will, thank you.  From October 2019, President Nelson said this.  I still remember sitting there and hearing him say this.  It was so powerful.  "How I yearn for you to understand that the restoration of the priesthood is just as relevant to women as it is to any man.  Because the Melchizedek priesthood has been restored, both covenant-keeping women and men have access to all the spiritual blessings of this church, or, we might say, to all the spiritual treasures the Lord has for his children.  Every woman and every man who makes covenants with God and keeps those covenants and who participates worthily in priesthood ordinances has direct access to the power of God."

What Nelson and Rasband cannot or will not get through their heads is that even though women have the same access to the blessings of the priesthood in theory, men are always required for those blessings to be granted and women are not.  Without men, there can be no priesthood power.  Without women, there will be just as much priesthood power as always.  

So even though apostles try to make the case that an all-male priesthood isn't sexist because women have full access to the blessings of the priesthood, it's as useful to me as arguing over whether a lending practice is unfair because of disparate treatment or disparate impact. Does it really matter?  Either way, it's messed up and it needs to be fixed.

But now that we've had a woman answer a question about possible sexism by passing it off to her husband so that he can read an answer written by another man, Sister Rasband will finally offer her own thoughts:

Sarah, I personally have never wanted to hold the priesthood, although I am fortunate to be able to hold my husband, who worthily bears the priesthood. [sort-of cute pseudo-romantic gesturing between the old married couple] God has given us distributions of divine errands and I, for one, love being a woman.  I am grateful for the blessing and the opportunity to be a wife, to be a mother, a grandmother, and now a great-grandmother!

Oh, good going, Sister Rasband.  You've just reinforced the concept that womanhood is defined by motherhood...and grandmotherhood and great-grandmotherhood.  That's so helpful.  Women who haven't married or who are unable to have children or who don't have the resources to adopt probably feel great right now.  

She continues:

As women, I believe that we can use all of our gifts and our talents to contribute, to serve, and to serve in callings, to teach and testify of the doctrine.  And we can always ask for priesthood blessings.

While it's true that a man would also need to ask for a priesthood blessing, it still means that those blessings are only available through men.  She can't ask a woman for a blessing.  Because women can't do that.

But, please, tell us more about how men and women are equal partners.  

She goes on:

You know, God requires faith of both men and women and we can study and seek and pray to be able to increase our faith.  I am so grateful for righteous brethren who honor the priesthood God-given to them and bear it with honor, I am so grateful for them.  When my husband was very ill at one time, I was scared, and yet I feel that my tearful, pleading prayer of faith was received as well as the priesthood blessing that had been given him.

What an interesting comment to make.  If a prayer of faith can heal someone, what's the point of having the concept of a priesthood blessing?  If a priesthood blessing is required to heal someone, what's the point of having people pray for assistance?  And if it really can be one or the other or both that heals a person, then what's the point of restricting the priesthood to men if a woman's prayer can have the same effect as a priesthood blessing?

Gosh, it's almost like the rules to this stuff are completely made up or something.

Then, because the female host of this event is a female, Ariana is permitted to share her insights as well: 

I've learned very young that you have to have a testimony of the priesthood yourself and you have to keep your covenants in order to call upon those powers from God.

Has anyone else ever wondered why men are never required to have a testimony of something only women are allowed to do?

Elder Rasband then wraps this segment by explaining his personal credo that his priesthood should always be used to help people.  He adds: 

I believe the Lord felt so strongly about this that he gave the revelation in the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants about what the Lord called "unrighteous dominion" by the priesthood holders.  I hope that none of us are guilty of that.

God does indeed condemn unrighteous dominion in Doctrine and Covenants 121.  It's a pretty epic passage that I firmly believe represents some of the finest prose Joseph Smith produced in his mostly sub-par writing career.  But if God condemns the unrighteous dominion of a priesthood holder, doesn't that imply there's such a thing as righteous dominion of a priesthood holder?  Who would a priesthood holder have righteous dominion over?  Would it be over someone who doesn't hold the priesthood?

Explain further how men and the women they can righteously hold dominion over are equal partners.

Oh, nope, wait, they're done, we're moving on, I guess I'll have to put that question on my shelf.



Question 8:  How can I better use this proclamation and the restoration to combat the fear and worry with faith and hope? / 2020 has been very difficult.  How can we keep firm in the faith in the face of these events?

These two aren't particularly incisive questions, but they're crucial.  They're relevant and speak to church members' expectation that the gospel is something they're supposed to be able to apply to their daily lives.  Boy, are these two people about to be disappointed.  Elder Rasband responds: 

I would say that people have been asking these questions for decades and decades of time.  Believe it or not, I had my kind of young adult years in the sixties, and that was a pretty trial-filled era also. ...And I think of my father who grew up with two world wars and how difficult it was for them, and we can go on and on and on through Book of Mormon times and other times that people of God have always seemed to face trials and have always seemed to face times in their life when they have to rise up from those.  

Is it supposed to be comforting to learn that the world has always been a giant suckhole of awfulness?  Good thing we have an apostle of the Lord to tell us that things aren't really that bad comparatively because they've always been bad.  

But I've interrupted him:

And so, we are grateful, actually, that we're going through these times together.  That's why we started out tonight, all maybe five hundred thousand of us throughout the world, expressing our unity and our love for one another.  We know these are difficult times.  We know there are those of you who are mourning perhaps the loss of loved ones.  We know fires are burning, we know hurricanes are occurring, we know winds are coming, and yet we can take comfort and confidence that the Lord Jesus Christ loves this church, loves this people, and as he has said in numerous times, if you're gonna stand on holy ground, you need not be troubled.  And that's where we are.

Hmmm...how aware of things are you, really?  Because, other than the pandemic that you mentioned earlier, the problems you just cited sound suspiciously like they might be specific to the news you see in the United States.  If you're going to zero in on your home country, you could at least also mention the ramped-up fear and outrage people of color have been experiencing these last few months as well.  I mean, if there's ever a time your organization could shed the reputation it has because of its racist history, you could do that now.  You could acknowledge the experience of your black members, you could call for an increased outpouring of love and support for them, you could encourage members of all backgrounds to join the struggle toward justice and equality.

[You could also explicitly apologize for the racist actions and teachings of past leaders and prophets—ah, who am I kidding, that's never gonna happen.]

Oh, sorry.  I forgot.  You prefer not to wade into political issues unless something even more dangerous happens, such as when two people with penises try to marry each other.  My mistake.

My criticisms of the details aside, the main thrust of this answer is empty.  The question, you'll recall, was how we can ward off fear and stay firm in the faith.  His answer boils down to "stand on holy ground and be not troubled."  That's a scripturey way of saying "don't worry about it."  Okay, but we're already worrying, so it's too late for that.  Could you answer the goddamn question, please?  Throw us a rope?

To be fair, he does also remind us that God loves this church and its people.  But that's never been a guarantee of physical safety.  Remember Abinadi?  Remember the people of Ammonihah being burned alive?  Remember the martyrdom of Christ's original apostles?  Remember how the early Saints were driven out of Missouri?  Remember Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith getting gunned down in jail?  I mean, even Jesus suffered a pretty gruesome death.  God loving his church has never given him any compunctions about killing his darlings.  So forgive me if I don't expect that advice to be particularly reassuring for anyone.

Sister Rasband offers similarly unhelpful advice by quoting from Doctrine and Covenants section 68:

Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come.

Does telling someone who's scared that they shouldn't be scared ever help?  You gotta give them a reason not to be scared.  And saying that the Lord will stand by them isn't a great reason because the Lord also was standing by the people I mentioned above who all suffered greatly.  Reading this verse in the scriptures doesn't mean your family members won't die of the Corona virus.  It doesn't mean your house won't burn down.  It doesn't mean you won't lose your job.  So what does it mean, then?  How does it even help?  

Perhaps Elder Rasband will enlighten us:

I love a quote that President Packer made about this subject that I think applies to every one of you.  Here's what he said:  "Sometimes you might be tempted to think, as I did from time to time in my youth, the way things are going, the world's going to be over with.  The end of the world is going to come before I get to go where I should be.  Not so," said President Packer.  "You can look forward to doing it right, getting married, having a family, seeing your children and grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren."  Back in the sixties, when I was seeing the commotion in the world and in our country of the United States, I didn't quite understand then that today, Sister Rasband and I would be seeing our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.  So can you.  The promises that are made to you in the temple, in baptism, at the sacrament table, will be fulfilled.  Be not troubled.

Okay, well, I guess we can expect the Second Coming won't happen for at least a few more generations.  That might actually reassure some people.  Although it's pretty strange that we're still putting off the end of days when Joseph Smith seemed confident the Second Coming would be around the year 1891


Question 9:  What is your favorite part of the restoration or the First Vision?  What truths do you hold most dearly that came as a result of that event?

Elder Rasband uses this as an opportunity to sermonize about asking questions:  

Your questions are important.  Everyone of you has questions, and they need to be asked and they need to be answered.  Choose people who are faithful who can answer your questions.  Your friends, your parents, leaders, teachers. 

Choose people who are faithful to answer your questions.  Because objectivity is absolutely not something you should want when you're seeking for valuable life advice.  Gathering information from varied sources is absolutely not something you should do when you're trying to determine the truth. Any high school history teacher will confirm this—when you're writing a research paper, pull all your facts from the same book.  That's how you get a full picture of the truth.  That's how you get it right.

Ask your questions.  They all deserve to be answered, even the many that we couldn't get to tonight. 

If they all deserve to be answered, why aren't they answered?  Why aren't these things addressed in detail in General Conference?  Why are people struggling with basic divine communication if it's so important to him for us to get our answers?  Since you mentioned the time limits of the broadcasts, why aren't we doing livestreamed Q&As with apostles on a weekly basis so we can answer as many questions as we possibly can?

Joseph Smith actually was a model for us in this regard.  He had a question that he'd been laboring with for a long time and he took his question to Heavenly Father expecting that he would get an answer and he did.  Now, not all of our questions are gonna be answered like Joseph's was, but, like Sister Rasband described how she received and heard the promptings of the Holy Ghost, mine's been more along the nature of reading the Lord's words in the scriptures, all of you, our young friends, all of you can have responses to your questions.

I think it's funny that he adds "in this regard" when he uses Joseph Smith as an example.  It's almost like he realizes Joseph Smith should not be a model for us in other regards.  He was not a model citizen, he was not a model husband, he was not a model non-sexual-predator, he was not a model businessman, he was not a model mayor, he was not a model writer, he was not a model human being, but he was a model for us in regard to seeking answers from God.  So at least there's that.

It's also interesting how he chooses to phrase the possibility of receiving responses to our questions.  It's not that we will have responses, it's that we can.  He's watering down the scriptures again so there's room for them not to fulfill their promises.

As a closing stunt, the Rasbands invite the teenagers and young adults of their family onstage with them.  Surrounded by grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, Elder Rasband proclaims:

This, to me, for all of you to see, is an example of how the leaders of the church are not foreign to what's going on in your life.  These young adults are what I call our young adult advisory council.  And most closely, my own grandchildren, of course.  But, all of them, we're a close family.  We love each other.  And the leaders of this church are not foreign to that which is going on in your lives because we have children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren that are helping us, telling us what's happening, and we love the young adults of this church.  We want you to know that.  In fact, I'd like to conclude with this:  on behalf of the First Presidency, President Nelson, and the Quorum of the Twelve, we want all of you to know tonight, wherever you are in the world, we love you.  We thank you.  And we need you.  We need you, everyone, as we go forward into what the world is going to offer to us in the future.  We need you to be involved in the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil.  We need you to be involved in getting yourself and your friends on the covenant path.  This is what the Lord would have us do.

Is "I'm not out of touch with the youngsters because I have youngsters in my family" the new "I'm not racist because I have black friends"?  

Okay, probably not.  But there are a few problems with this.  Firstly, why does an apostle with a direct pipeline to heaven need someone other than God to tell him what's going on?

Secondly, while being close with a member of a certain demographic can give you useful insight into that demographic's experience, that doesn't actually mean you get it.  And Elder Rasband's family is white, not in the lower economic strata, and essentially Mormon royalty.  I think it's unlikely that his grandchildren have a typical teenage experience, and extremely unlikely that they have a typical teenage experience within Mormonism.

Do you think Donald Trump would get an accurate snapshot into American youth by asking Barron what the kids are talking about these days?  Of course not.  He may get an honest answer from his son, but he will not get an answer that reflects the breadth of experience for teenagers across the country.

In some ways, this display is a microcosm of one of the biggest flaws of Mormonism—we expect our bubble to be the whole world.  Our beliefs need to become everyone's beliefs, our standards should be everyone's standards, and our experience should be everyone's experience.  We adopt a dogged one-size-fits-all approach to life and, honestly, to eternity.  Diversity and individuality are paid lip service as we toil our way toward an oppressively homogenized afterlife.

Also the masks everyone in the audience was wearing were unintentionally symbolic, but maybe that's a discussion for another time.