Sunday, April 5, 2020

Notes on the Special Session

This wasn't a priesthood session or a women's session, so I guess this one is called a Special Saturday Evening session.  Special might be overstating it, but it was unusual in a way that at least inches us closer to the unprecedented experience promised to us six months ago.

Some thoughts:

You may be interested to know the original of this Harry Anderson painting hangs in President Russell M. Nelson's office, right behind his desk.

—Gerrit W. Gong
Was it a great idea to share that information?  Wouldn't a lot of people think it's perhaps an extravagance for someone who's supposed to be a humble servant of God to have an original piece of artwork hanging in his personal office?  This isn't something his granddaughter painted for him.

[Laudy and Enzo]
Unsurprisingly, I didn't really like everything these two kids had to say, but I'm not interested in criticizing them.  I'm here to criticize the church's leaders.  I thought both Laudy and Enzo did a commendable job as far as the oratorical delivery is concerned.  Knowing you're giving a speech including personal stories to an audience of millions while the prophet of God is breathing down your neck is probably a pretty high-pressure situation.  But I think the word "aplomb" might be appropriate.

Satan incites comparison as a tool to create feelings of being superior or inferior, hiding the eternal truth that men's and women's innate differences are God-given and equally valued.  He has attempted to demean women's contributions both to the family and in civil society, thereby decreasing their uplifting influence for good.  His goal has been to foster a power struggle rather than to celebrate the unique contributions of men and women that complement one another and contribute to unity.

—Jean B. Bingham
So, basically, feminism is Satanic.  Gotta hand it to Bingham—it usually takes a lot to convince me that Oaks didn't give the shittiest talk of any session featuring his measured, dulcet tones.

I almost don't know where to start.  Gimme a second here....

Okay, so I'm willing to accept as truth that men and women have innate differences.  But it's not going to break down into a column A and column B kind of thing.  Men may tend to have certain characteristics and women may tend to have certain other characteristics, and generally speaking, these qualities may be complementary.  But if you really think it's cool to try and split seven billion people into two distinct categories that have no overlap and require specific separate responsibilities, then you're going to be trying to shove millions of square pegs into round holes and millions of round pegs into square holes.  You're going to be disappointed.  You're going to be wrong.  One size does not fit all.  Two sizes do not fit all.  You're going to need to expand your paradigm a bit.

And, of course, this makes no accommodation for or acknowledgement of intersex people, but bringing that up might blow her mind, so maybe we'll save that for later.  One thing at a time.

I'm interested in how Satan has demeaned women's contributions to the family.  I'm assuming it's with how many women are part of the workforce these days and maybe something about abortion and something about late marriage ages and low birth rates?  The accusation that Satan has devalued women in civil society is particularly surprising, though.  We don't have groups who fund-raise specifically for female political candidates?  Our corporations don't have women's leadership groups?  We don't have a National Women's Day?  We don't teach our school students about Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony and Sally Ride and Molly Pitcher and Jane Addams and Rosa Parks?

And the power struggle comment really gets under my skin.  If she's talking about civil society, maybe someone needs to remind her that only about a quarter of her country's elected legislature is female.  Someone needs to remind her that we still haven't had a female president or vice president.  And for a secular government that isn't led by God the way the church supposedly is, that's a huge power disparity.  It's absolutely better than it once was, but pretending like women should be ashamed of spoiling a sense of unity in their struggle for equal political power is just...I don't know what that is exactly, but it's icky.

If her power struggle comment refers to the church, maybe someone should remind her that if this were a normal General Conference and all the general authorities were seated in the room, Bingham and her fellow sisters would be outnumbered 13 to 1.  You'd think that Bingham, as a woman who has risen through the ranks of Mormonism, would have had uniquely informative experiences about how much weight female voices are given in the church.  She can never be a prophet, an apostle, a mission president, a stake president, a temple president, or a stake patriarch, but she can be married to one or give birth to one.  Meanwhile, the types of decision-making positions men are excluded from in the church tend to be the ones whose scope is limited to women and children and which don't require the ever-important Priesthood Keys (TM) anyway.

I mean, whose idea was it for Bingham to speak in Conference?  Did she decide she was doing it because she has that kind of autonomy and authority, or was she told by a prophet or an apostle that she was being assigned to speak?  I'm guessing the topic and tenor of her address were priesthood-prescribed as well.

It's not wrong to want a voice, especially when your voice is being stifled and someone else's voice is being used to dictate policies that affect your life.  I submit that it is wrong to tell people who have not been given voice that they should be content with their position.

Although women are not ordained to a priesthood office, as noted previously, women are blessed with priesthood power as they keep their covenants and they operate with priesthood authority when they are set apart to a calling.

—Jean B. Bingham
One of the more irritating aspects of this whole argument is how much of it is merely playing with the semantics.  You can have the priesthood, you just can't hold the priesthood.  You have access to the priesthood, but you can't be ordained to the priesthood.  You're blessed with priesthood power but you can't hold a priesthood office.  Let's try to find as many ways as possible to make it sound like women have the priesthood without actually letting them have it.  We're not going to change anything, but we'll change the way we talk about it, and that's basically the same thing, right?

A few colorful sayings are coming to mind here.  Something about lipstick on a pig or polishing a turd.

Our wives are just as important today as they were then, of course they are.

—Russell M. Nelson

In a little video clip from another church historical site, Nelson tells Bingham about how important women were in the restoration.  I particularly enjoyed his comment about Lucy Mack Smith.  Why did Joseph go to the Sacred Grove to pray?  Because that's where his mother always went!  Look how important she was!  So what we're saying is that it was the location Joseph Smith chose for his prayer that was important?  If he hadn't chosen that spot because of his mother's example, God never would have been able to restore the gospel?  Surprising, but okay.

This last comment before we returned to the live feed was extra weird.  See, Nelson couldn't come up with an example of female leadership, so I assume he wanted to indicate that there are plenty of women who are important to the church today.  How are they important?  By being married to the men.  I don't think he really meant for this to come off the way it did, but I think it speaks to a fundamental misapprehension about the nature of the problem when he utterly fails to even frame his answer outside of a male perspective.  It's not just that he refers to the women as wives—it's that they're our wives.  As though no women are inherently of importance, but that they are imbued with value in their roles as wives to us, the important men who do the things.

A swing and a miss, big guy.

The captain, in front, has control over when to brake and when to stand.  The stoker, in the back, needs to pay attention to what is going on and be ready to give extra power if they lag behind a little or ease up if they get too close to other cyclists.  They must support one another to make progress and achieve their goal.

—Jean B. Bingham
I'm sorry, but this is an idiotic metaphor.

This is a perfectly acceptable example of teamwork, but it's not a good example of gender roles.  Is she saying that if they were to switch places, the bike would fall over immediately and they'd probably die?  Does she really think John and Allison have such specialized skills that if they got on the tandem bike in the opposite arrangement from usual, they couldn't make it work?  Who knows, maybe with some practice, it would actually work better that way.

I'm all for supporting one another to make progress and achieve a goal.  But I think an important aspect to that support is not to pigeonhole people into inhabiting the kind of role we've presupposed they're good for.

Bingham seems like the kind of person who will drive to a different mechanic because she doesn't want a woman rotating her tires.  She probably goes to a different salon too because she doesn't want a man doing her highlights.  What an exhausting way to live.  Different people have different things to offer.  Grow up.

Are we ready?  Will we strive to overcome cultural bias and instead embrace divine patterns and practices based on foundational doctrine?

—Jean B. Bingham
I know, cultural bias is the worst.  Religious bias is pretty bad, too, any chance we might overcome that one while we're at it?

The First Presidency had set a goal of reducing the duplication of ordinances.  Their major concern was our being unable to know whether a person's ordinance had already been performed.  

—Henry B. Eyring
Seriously, tons of people have had their temple ordinances done multiple times.  The fact that the church had to design software to figure out the problem kind of points to how sloppy God's master plan is.  A lot of temple goers have unwittingly performed salvific busywork.  I guess, theoretically, God knows when a person's work has been done, so you'd think he could have intervened and maybe given people inspiration to take different names to the temple or something, but no.  He's gonna let the duplicates pile up while the humans struggle to implement a very human, very imperfect solution.

The principle that priesthood authority can be exercised only under the direction of one who holds the keys for that function is fundamental in the church, but this does not apply in the family. 

—Dallin H. Oaks
Just to be clear, he's not in any way saying that women have the priesthood.

He's saying that men preside autonomously over their families without the need for directives from anyone holding priesthood keys.  This means the father can counsel family members, call family meetings, and provide priesthood blessings.  In situations without a father, the mother can do the same things—oh, except for the blessings.  Naturally.  

Is it crazy to point out that calling family meetings and counselling children are not things that anyone would need the priesthood for?  Non-Mormon families do this kind of stuff, so the distinction being drawn here is misleading.  Dads can do dad things and also give priesthood blessings because they have the priesthood.  Moms can do mom things but not give priesthood blessings because they don't have the priesthood.  There's no real women can exercise the priesthood power in their families thing here because the only things Oaks is giving them permission to do don't require the priesthood.

Great legalistic obfuscation, Dallin, as usual.  You're on your game tonight!

They [fathers] should cultivate loving family relationships so that family members will want to ask them for blessings.

—Dallin H. Oaks
This is almost word-for-word what he said during the March 2018 priesthood session, so I'll follow his lead and plagiarize myself too:
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.
That was fun.  Moving on:

That is the best answer to many of the objections we hear against the church and its doctrines and policies and leadership.  Follow the test the Savior taught:  look to the fruits, the results.

—Dallin H. Oaks
I mean, if you have to brag about your fruits....

You know who brags about their fruits all the time?  Companies that want your business.  I've been getting weekly emails from my company's leadership telling us about all they're doing to donate toward efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, for example.  And it's on our public website, too.  And sure, those millions of dollars are helping, absolutely.  But the reason they're telling everybody about it is because they want the employees to feel good about working for a company that cares.  They want their customers to feel good about using the services of a company that cares.  It's about building loyalty.

As another example, there are plenty of people I'm nice to at work every day.  But it's not because I'm such a great guy.  It's because if I were to treat certain people like the insufferable daily irritants they are to me, the results would be more trouble than they're worth.

Good fruit can be cultivated with ulterior motives.  Good fruits are not produced solely by good trees.  It doesn't really work with the olive tree parable, but that's how it works in real life.  

With that growth, we have felt increases in the church's capacity to assist its members.  We assist in keeping the commandments, in fulfilling responsibilities to preach the restored gospel, in gathering Israel, and in building temples throughout the world.

—Dallin H. Oaks
I really, really thought Oaks was pivoting toward boasting about humanitarian aid and church welfare and the bishop's storehouses.  But no, when he's talking about how great it is that the church assists its members, he's talking about ecclesiastical matters.

Doesn't it kind of sound like most of those forms of assistance he cites actually assist the church organization, not necessarily the individual members?

The good this church accomplishes around the world to alleviate human suffering and provide uplift for humankind is widely known.  But its prime purpose is to help men, women, and children follow the Lord Jesus Christ, keep his commandments, and qualify for the greatest of all blessings, that of eternal life with God and their loved ones.

—Russell M. Nelson
And Nelson just proved my point!

This is the church's ulterior motive—we're not giving all this humanitarian aid to help alleviate human suffering, that's just a happy byproduct of our efforts to spread the gospel.  What a shitty thing to say out loud.  If you really had charity, you wouldn't be looking at providing disaster relief as an opportunity to push your religion further into the world.

To some people, this would look like good fruit.  But the tree is rotten.  So basically scratch out everything Oaks tried to say about this.

Now we still need help from Heaven.  So tonight, my dear brothers and sisters, in the spirit of the sons of Mosiah who gave themselves to much fasting and prayer, and as part of our April 2020 general conference, I am calling for another worldwide fast.  For all whose health may permit, let us fast, pray, and unite our faith once again.  Let us prayerfully plead for relief from this global pandemic. I invite all, including those not of our faith, to fast and pray on Good Friday, April 10th, that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized.
 I know that he will respond to the pleadings of his people.  
 —Russell M. Nelson
Last Sunday's worldwide fast didn't seem to change anything, so we're...trying again?  Okay then.

Nelson's unequivocal confidence on this is interesting.  My hunch was that he knows he's not a prophet.  His apparent obsession with being revered as a leader, father figure, divine conduit—or whatever—has made me think he knows he's full of shit.  Who can say?  I have nothing but supposition and subjective observation to base this on.  But he really seems convinced this new worldwide fast will fix things.

I wonder if he's banking on the curve that these viral outbreaks tend to follow.  I'm obviously by no means the most informed person on this, but my impression from what I've read is that China is cautiously reopening now that the worst of it is over, Italy and Spain are showing signs that the curve may have turned a corner, and certain parts of the US are expected to reach their peak in mid-April before some models predict a decline in their infection rates.  If that's what he's doing, I think he's jumping the gun by scheduling it quite this soon, but maybe he's hoping that if the eventual decline in cases that's going to happen anyway coincides closely enough with his worldwide fast, his followers will give him credit for turning the tide.

That's a block paragraph of unfounded speculation, of course, but I'm just trying to make sense of a prediction Nelson made that I absolutely do not believe he has any ability to control.  Obviously, what I'd prefer is if cases dropped sharply tomorrow and nobody needs to even bother with the worldwide fast, but since I don't expect that to happen either, I'm just trying to figure out what kind of game the old kook is playing here.

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