Saturday, August 28, 2021

Holland and the Whole Same-Sex Topic

Jeffrey R. Holland has made some waves recently with a lovely little speech given at BYU.  His apostolic jowls are all aquiver with righteous indignation over the issue of...well, he has some difficulty saying exactly what the issue is, but it's safe to say that he's uncomfortable with the fact that there are a lot of people out there who don't share his narrow view of sexuality and gender identity.  And he's going to shit on those people whilst vainly attempting to convince his audience that he loves and values those people.

And, yes, I meant both definitions of "vainly."

For reference, Holland's full speech is available on the Church Newsroom's site.  Diving in with his opening anecdote about being flabbergasted at the sight of Y Mountain:

I don’t know how to explain that moment, but it was a true epiphany for a 7-year-old. If I had seen that “Y” on the drive up or any other time, I couldn’t remember it. But I saw it that day, and I believe it was a revelation from God. I somehow knew that bold letter meant something special and that it would one day play a significant role in my life. When I asked my mother what it meant, she said it was the emblem of a university. I thought about that for a moment then said quietly, “Well, it must be the greatest university in the world.”

This actually makes me kind of sad for Holland.  It sounds to me like he ascribed inordinate significance to a childhood impression and then never allowed himself to mature beyond it.  He spent his entire life working for this university and for the organization that runs it, all because of a naive, wide-eyed sense of awe that came from seeing the university's emblem on a mountainside as a first grader.  It almost casts the trajectory of Holland's life into a tragic light.

But, hey, if he's happy doing what he's been doing, then who am I to say his life turned out wrong?

This story illustrates, I think, how unreliable childhood impressions are and how we shouldn't give them full weight when drawing upon our experiences to make judgments and decisions in our lives.  The Y on the mountain is pretty cool, but it has nothing to do with the greatness of the university it represents.  There is no correlation between spectacle and virtue.  But it's much easier to conflate the two when we're younger, more impressionable, and more easily dazzled.  The fact that Holland thought the painted character above Provo indicated BYU was the greatest university in the world—and that he allowed that concept to drive his behavior as an adult—should give us all pause about how we teach our children about other spectacular things.  The stories of Jesus and Noah and Ammon and Nephi and Coriantumr may all have the allure of drama and spectacle, but that doesn't mean those stories should shape the way our children see the world.  We need to make sure our children understand the substance—if any—behind the spectacle or we're just setting them up to be repeatedly hoodwinked by every bit of meretricious pageantry. 

If anyone in this audience has been coming to this campus longer than that, please come forward and give this talk. Otherwise, sit still and be patient. As Elizabeth Taylor said to her eight husbands, “I won’t be keeping you long.”

Who asked?

Also, why is a representative of the Mormon god taking cheap shots at people who get married multiple times?

My point, dear friends, is simply this: I have loved BYU for nearly three-fourths of a century. Only my service in and testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including my marriage and the beautiful children it has given us, have affected me as profoundly as has my decision to attend Brigham Young University.

Read that back.  Focus on the word "including."

Yes, he's saying that his actions as a husband and father are merely extensions of his service in and his testimony of the church.  This is not a difficult line to write.  Saying that your accomplishments in life are second only to your family is an easy platitude to deliver, whether it's sincere or not.  It happens all the time inside and outside of Mormonism.  But he's actually saying that his family accomplishments are a subset of his church service, which is gross.  And weird.

Holland threw himself a softball, but instead of hitting it with a bat like a normal person, he decided to swat home plate with a badminton racket a few times and then pour his Gatorade on the umpire.

After his mission, our faculty friend returned to Provo where he fell under the soul-expanding spell of John Tanner, “the platonic ideal of a BYU professor — superbly qualified in every secular sense, totally committed to the kingdom, and absolutely effervescing with love for the Savior, His students, and His subject. He moved seamlessly from careful teacher analysis to powerful personal testimony. He knew scores of passages from Milton and other poets by heart, [yet] verses of scripture flowed, if anything, even more freely from the abundance of his consecrated heart: I was unfailingly edified by the passion of his teaching and the eloquence of his example.”

I'm not saying Holland is making this up, but this does sound suspiciously like Holland's own writing style.  It's indulgently purple and it includes an em dash, several examples of alliteration in a single paragraph, lengthy sentences with odd structures, and a few words that most people wouldn't dare use unironically (the professor was effervescing, seriously?).  Or perhaps these are just the words of a writer who was really hoping to impress Holland by speaking his own language.

I will say, though, that if this quote isn't actually from Holland's personal correspondence like he claims, pretending there was a need to add the bracketed word "yet" to modify the quote for ease of understanding could have been an ingenious forger's masterstroke.

“Please don’t think I’m opposed to people thinking differently about policies and ideas,” the writer continues. “I’m not. But I would hope that BYU professors would be bridging those gaps between faith and intellect and would be sending out students that are ready to do the same in loving, intelligent and articulate ways. Yet, I fear that some faculty are not supportive of the Church's doctrines and policies and choose to criticize them publicly.”

"I'm not opposed to people thinking differently about policies and ideas, I just want any professors who think differently about policies and ideas not to say so." That's not really much better, is it?

Why is Holland even including the line about bridging gaps between faith and intellect?  Why are there such notable gaps between those two things?  Isn't he basically implying that faith in Mormonism defies the intellect?  Isn't he admitting that Mormonism is illogical and unreasonable?

“After having served a full-time mission and marrying her husband in the temple, a friend of mine recently left the church. In her graduation statement on a social media post, she credited [such and such a BYU program and its faculty] with the radicalizing of her attitudes and the destruction of her faith.”

Okay, I really don't like the use of the word "radicalizing" here.  If the graduate chose to use the term in her Facebook post, that's one thing, but for an apostle of the Lord to repeat that word in reference to apostates in a public address is wrong and irresponsible and divisive.  

In what contexts do we usually hear that word in the country that's home to both Jeffrey R. Holland and BYU and most of Holland's live audience?  Terrorists.  White supremacists.  Nationalist militias.  By using this word, Holland is—intentionally or unintentionally—causing people to draw comparisons between ex-Mormons and racist murderers.  He's taking the boogeymen of Mormonism and trying to align them with the boogeymen of modern America.  Perhaps this was not done maliciously, but at best it's extremely careless for a man of his position—a representative of a supposedly loving god—to choose such a negatively emotive term, especially when he's reading someone else's words that he's already modified for his audience by omitting the specific university department that the graduate blamed for her disaffection.  If you can excise one part of the quote to substitute your own less incisive wording, why can't you do the same to a second and possibly even more defamatory part of the quote?

It's also interesting to me that it was important to mention that this disaffection happened specifically after the graduate served a mission and married in the temple.  Why would these things be necessary to include?  Maybe because those are two big moments designed to lock people into lifelong subservience to the church.  Or maybe because it's common to assume that people who leave Mormonism were never truly committed to it in the first place and the writer knows he has to overcome that preconception to convince his audience that this particular woman was supposed to be too good to lose her faith. 

In 2014, seven years ago, then-Elder Russell M. Nelson came to campus in this same setting. His remarks were relatively brief, but tellingly he said:

“With the Church growing more rapidly in the less prosperous countries, we . . . must conserve sacred funds more carefully than ever before.”

Right, they're worried that the worse Mormonism does in wealthy countries and the better Mormonism does in less wealthy countries, the more likely it is that the flood of tithes will peter out into a slow trickle.  So that's why they're conserving funds.

There should be no effort to conserve sacred funds.  There should be a consistent and concerted effort to expend sacred funds judiciously for the betterment of society.  Conserving church funds is not Christlike.  Spending those funds to help the poor and the sick and the underprivileged and the outcasts is Christlike.  Christ would never have talked about conserving tithes.

Nelson is using baptisms in developing nations as an excuse to hoard money, and he's pretending like it's a sacred responsibility not to spend it.  If he has any sacred responsibility in a financial sense, it's the exact opposite of what he claims.  So what if the church runs out of money because it's been overzealous in its charitable efforts?  Is his faith in his followers so feeble that he thinks they wouldn't donate even more when they see the good that would be accomplished by church expenditures of that magnitude?

“In a way[,] [Latter-day Saint] scholars at BYU and elsewhere are a little bit like the builders of the temple in Nauvoo, who worked with a trowel in one hand and a musket in the other. Today scholars building the temple of learning must also pause on occasion to defend the kingdom. I personally think,” Elder Maxwell went on to say, “this is one of the reasons the Lord established and maintains this university. The dual role of builder and defender is unique and ongoing. I am grateful we have scholars today who can handle, as it were, both trowels and muskets.”

This is Neal A. Maxwell's extrapolation of the Nauvoo era persecution complex into the modern era.  The persecution complex made sense in the days of Joseph Smith because the persecution was real.  You can't graft armed-militias-are-burning-our-homes-and-driving-us-across-state-lines persecution of bygone days onto today's people-vote-against-things-we-don't-want-and-also-apostates-are-pointing-out-our-abuses persecution and pretend they're analogous.  You can't graft a tree onto a branch.  It doesn't work that way.

Sure, Maxwell is being metaphorical, but that doesn't mean the damage done by his metaphor isn't real.  Using weapons of war as a focal point of a paradigm like this breeds a warlike culture among the faithful.  It may not involve physical violence, but it nurtures a divisive, combative, Manichaean spirit—exactly the kind of spirit Holland is about to denounce.

Pluralism and disagreement do not need to be framed as a mortal battle.  Throw down your weapons of war and throw down your metaphors of war while you're at it.

Then Elder Oaks said challengingly, “I would like to hear a little more musket fire from this temple of learning.”

I realize that Oaks is also being figurative, but it's still disturbing.  The word "temple" in Mormon parlance refers to the holiest place on Earth that one can possibly inhabit.  Imagine thinking it's cool to talk about shooting guns from the holiest place on Earth.  Imagine thinking that an implement whose sole purpose is to inflict physical damage on living things has any place whatsoever inside a loving Heavenly Father's holy of holies.

Even though it's clearly not meant literally, the implication is there, and this only bolsters the poisonous idea that holiness and militancy are one and the same. 

He said this in a way that could have applied to a host of topics in various departments, but the one he specifically mentioned was the doctrine of the family and defending marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Little did he know that while many would hear his appeal, especially the School of Family Life who moved quickly and visibly to assist, some others fired their muskets all right, but unfortunately didn’t always aim at those hostile to the Church. A couple of stray rounds even went north of the point of the mountain!

The longer this fucking metaphor is stretched, the less and less metaphorical it feels.  Why, even in a figurative sense, is anyone aiming a musket at a hostile?  Why does anyone think it's constructive to describe people who may disagree on certain points of doctrine as hostile to the church?  Why don't we realize that the idiocy of this kind of mindset matches the idiocy of physical violence because stray rounds wounded the wrong targets?

It's all right there in your own speech, Jeff.  You're showing how asinine this paradigm is the more you talk about it, but you're somehow completely oblivious to it.

We hope it isn’t a surprise to you that your Trustees are not deaf or blind to the feelings that swirl around marriage and the whole same-sex topic on campus. I and many of my Brethren have spent more time and shed more tears on this subject than we could ever adequately convey to you this morning, or any morning. We have spent hours discussing what the doctrine of the Church can and cannot provide the individuals and families struggling over this difficult issue. So, it is with scar tissue of our own that we are trying to avoid — and hope all will try to avoid — language, symbols, and situations that are more divisive than unifying at the very time we want to show love for all of God’s children.

Oh, poor Jeffrey.  He's been hurt by the debate over LGBTQ+ treatment in the church too!

Not only is he too squeamish to use the normal terms that normal people use or even the normal acronyms, but he can't even get out the full church-approved euphemism of "same-sex attraction."  What, exactly does "the whole same-sex topic" mean?  "Same-sex" by itself is a completely benign term.   It's not a term that even Mormonism finds controversial until you add "attraction" or "marriage" or something else at the end of it.  So what's the whole same-sex topic?  Is it the fact that BYU roommates attend classes with people of the same sex?  They attend church with people of the same sex?  They live in the dorms with people of the same sex?  It's weird that he can't bring himself to say what he really means, even though he'd be saying it in a nice safe Mormon-speak dialect.

If we transpose it into a different context, what if he were talking about the whole woman topic?  That doesn't mean anything.  There's nothing controversial about the existence of women.  It's only when we start talking about putting women in leadership positions or giving them the priesthood or letting them be the primary breadwinners for a family that it becomes a whole topic.

If Holland and the Brethren have really spent more time and shed more tears on this subject than we could possibly understand, why has their treatment of anyone who is not heterosexual and cisgendered been so utterly piss-poor?  I gotta tell you, I could come up with much better church policies for the treatment of LGBTQ+ members in hardly any time at all without even crying about it.  But, of course, Holland wants us to think that these policies are motivated by empathy and love and piety rather than by visceral bigotry and fossilized inhumanity.

If they were really trying to avoid things that are more divisive than unifying, the November 2015 policy wouldn't have been slipped into the handbook.  BYU wouldn't have removed its ban on homosexual behavior from the Honor Code last year only to later clarify that it wasn't actually a portent of acceptance after all.  Holland wouldn't have given this speech.  And Dallin H. Oaks wouldn't be employed by the church in any way.

Saying you want to show love for all of God's children isn't the same thing as actually showing love for all of God's children.  There should be no tears shed.  No hours discussing.  No struggling.  No scar tissue.  This is not difficult.  The Brethren are only making it difficult because they don't like people who aren't like them.

If a student commandeers a graduation podium intended to represent everyone getting diplomas in order to announce his personal sexual orientation, what might another speaker feel free to announce the next year until eventually anything goes? What might commencement come to mean — or not mean — if we push individual license over institutional dignity for very long? Do we simply end up with more divisiveness in our culture than we already have — and we already have too much everywhere.

Holland is absolutely right.  But the only solution is to not let anyone speak about anything at graduation.  What if one of the graduates brings up his or her own academic achievements, which are not representative of everyone getting diplomas?  What might another speaker feel free to announce next year until eventually anything goes?

I assume Holland is making an oblique reference to Matt Easton's speech in 2019.  If he is, then it's a gross mischaracterization to say that the person giving a valedictory speech "commandeered" the podium—especially since he ran his speech by the dean's office first.  Holland is also completely discounting the experience of students who exist in a stiflingly heteronormative culture and the value of Easton's speech and the value of the response to it.  Can you imagine being a closeted gay person at BYU, seeing that applause, and realizing that maybe the people around you aren't as unreceptive to who you are as you thought?  If Holland really was concerned about showing love for all of God's children, he would be celebrating these kinds of events as evidence that we really do love our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters instead of characterizing them as selfish stunts that pitch the university down a slippery slope toward indignity and anarchy.

Even if Matt Easton's coming out wasn't strictly germane to the ceremony, it pushed the needle more toward acceptance and further from divisiveness.  If Holland thinks that it's divisive to proudly proclaim your oft-assailed identity so that others like you can be reassured of their own value and that it's not divisive to smear, denigrate, and dismiss that kind of bravery, then he's not nearly so well-acquainted with the dictionary as he seems.

In that spirit, let me go no farther before declaring unequivocally my love and that of my Brethren for those who live with this same-sex challenge and so much complexity that goes with it. Too often the world has been unkind, in many instances crushingly cruel, to these our brothers and sisters. Like many of you, we have spent hours with them, and wept and prayed and wept again in an effort to offer love and hope while keeping the gospel strong and the obedience to commandments evident in every individual life.

Oh there it is.  "Now that I've said my piece in an attempt to continue to repress these particular types of people, I'll say some stuff that sounds nice so people will think I actually like them."

He still can't come at the thing head-on.  It's "those who live with this same-sex challenge" rather than "gay people" or "non-binary people" or even a phrase that hints toward compromise like "people who identify as transgender."  And I think what Holland either fails or refuses to understand is that "same-sex," as he terms it, is only really a challenge because of people like him.  Too many people in the world approach the whole same-sex topic as a flaw, a disease, or an error to be corrected.  It's a challenge for so many because so many others have decided to make it a challenge.  You don't get points for professing sympathy for an atrocity that you're pretending you're not complicit in.

Too often the [church] has been unkind, in many instances crushingly cruel, to these our brothers and sisters.  Shifting the blame from the church to "the world" doesn't work.  The church is a part of that world, and it's not on the right side of the issue.  While Holland's statement is true, his phrasing doesn't make the church's culpability in this behavior any less inescapable.

I think there's a critical failure in someone's humanity when they have to make an exerted effort to offer love and hope to someone who's done nothing to them other than be.  If your worst crime against me is that you're gay, then you've committed no crime against me.  Why would I need to dig down deep and weep and pray to come up with a way to love you as my fellow human being?

Also Holland, like Oaks and others before him, is trying to paint his attempt to partially overcome his homophobia as a heroic effort through which he's had to balance conflicting concepts.  But none of that is real.  He offers hope and love while keeping the gospel strong, but offering hope and love to a lesbian person or an intersex person has zero affect on how strong the gospel is.  This is not a balancing act.  He offers hope and love while keeping obedience to commandments evident in every individual life, but offering hope and love to an asexual person or a transgender person doesn't diminish how evident obedience to commandments is in anyone's life.  This is not a balancing act.  

But he wants it to be a balancing act so that he can pretend to be valiantly endeavoring to reconcile diametrically opposed ideals in a magnanimous effort to extend the hand of brotherhood.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more "keeping...the obedience to commandments evident in every individual life" is a dummy phrase.  It's filler.  It's meaningless, but it has enough good-sounding words in a complex enough arrangement to seem meaningful as it drifts by in context.  But Holland was worried that "keeping the gospel strong" didn't make his case sound solid enough, so he needed to add another reason why it's such an earnest struggle to be compassionate to people who don't conform to his sexual norms.  He solved his problem by coming up with this side dish of word salad to make the heaping bowl of salty cardboard he's trying to force-feed us seem a bit more palatable and a bit more nutritious.

For example, we have to be careful that love and empathy do not get interpreted as condoning and advocacy, or that orthodoxy and loyalty to principle not be interpreted as unkindness or disloyalty to people.

Love and empathy are not the same things as condoning and advocacy, so I don't know what the fuck he's worried about.

Let's say Jeffrey R. Holland has a friend.  Let's say that friend is bald.  This is nothing his friend has any control over and it's not a status he chose to adopt, but Holland thinks that bald heads are gross.  Would Holland be concerned that showing love and empathy for his friend might be mistaken for condoning his disgusting dome or mistaken for advocating for better treatment of bald people?  Well, maybe Holland would, but a regular person wouldn't because it's absolutely ridiculous.  And, of course, despite the stigma attached to baldness, it certainly doesn't rise to the level of discrimination and vitriol and violence heaped upon LGBTQ+ members of society.

God forbid Holland's friend decides to lean into his identity as a bald person and begins to routinely venture outside wearing a hat so that other people are forced to see him for who he is even though they'd rather not think about it.  I mean, that would just be going too far.  

It's amusing, in a brutally depressing kind of way, that Holland immediately tries to lay out the counterpoints to love and empathy as though he's treading the moderate, reasonable path.  Because there's two sides to this, of course, and we don't want to get carried away with our orthodoxy and our loyalty to principle to the point that people think we're gigantic fucking dicks.

Orthodoxy is a toxic concept to begin with (obviously Holland and his pals would disagree), so the fact that he's including it as a beneficial trait that could have negative consequences when taken to extreme means he's already lost credibility.  You're not being the coolest head in the room and being the rational, moderate, thoughtful one when you're accepting orthodoxy as a virtue.  And which principles are we talking about when we're expressing concern that they could be interpreted as unkindness or disloyalty?  The principles of hope, charity, and love?  How about virtue, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, or humility?  There are many, many principles of Mormonism that should impel members of the church to have genuine care and empathy for all human beings regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.  Holland has simply decided that all of those principles are secondary to the principle that he doesn't like men who like other men.

Also, why the fuck does he use the word "interpreted" here?  It should be "misinterpreted."  If he'd said he doesn't want orthodoxy to principle to be misinterpreted as unkindness, that would make sense—it means orthodoxy isn't intended to be unkindness but it could be incorrectly construed as unkindness.  But the way he's chosen to phrase it, orthodoxy to principle is intended as unkindness, but he just doesn't want anyone to call it out for what it really is.  He wants to be a dick without getting penalized for being a dick.

It's really pathetic that he can't even get simple terms right without betraying his truer, uglier feelings.  He could very easily have given a completely disingenuous talk full of reassuring and easily told lies, but he can't even manage that.

As near as I can tell, Christ never once withheld His love from anyone, but He also never once said to anyone, “Because I love you, you are exempt from keeping my commandments.” We are tasked with trying to strike that same sensitive, demanding balance in our lives.

Uh, sure, Jesus didn't say that, but did an apostle of the Lord completely forget about "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her"?

Jesus kind of famously hung out with sinners and outcasts.  One might say he was leading by example, showing that the people society rejects deserve companionship, kindness, and even the love of God just as much as everybody else.  But I'm sure Holland wouldn't understand that, since he doesn't, like, claim to speak for a Christian god or anything.

What I'd like to know is where Jesus taught that we should shun, denigrate, and shame people who we believe are sinners.  Where did he teach that our behavior toward people should be based on our judgments of their sins?  Doesn't he teach that we should judge not that we be not judged, that we should forgive trespasses until seventy times seven, and that of us it is required to forgive all men?  Who cares if someone is sinful in our eyes?  Clearly we should not let that affect the way we treat them—unless our goal is to become more like the Pharisees that a certain notable Nazarene routinely criticized for their shameful behavior.

There is no balance to strike here.  Holland's insistence that there's any balance to be maintained between supporting an LGBTQ+ person and staying true to the gospel is precisely the kind of divisive rhetoric that we don't need—precisely the kind of divisive rhetoric that this bloviating hypocrite is railing against.  

Stop talking about how difficult it is to love people and just love people.

Musket fire? Yes, we will always need defenders of the faith, but “friendly fire” is a tragedy — and from time to time the Church, its leaders and some of our colleagues within the university community have taken such fire on this campus. And sometimes it isn’t friendly — wounding students and the parents of students who are confused about what so much recent flag-waving and parade-holding on this issue means. Beloved friends, this kind of confusion and conflict ought not to be. 

Confusion and conflict are two entirely different things, despite Holland's attempt to slyly conflate them. 

In the context of musket fire, friendly fire is a tragedy, but firing on enemies isn't?  Listen, if you fire a gun and the bullet hits someone, that's bad regardless of whether you consider that person a friend or an enemy.  While it may be more devastating to you personally to wound an ally than to wound an enemy, the fact remains that your worldview is built on a presupposition that someone has to get wounded and that's really unhealthy.  

Holland also seems to keep coming back to the idea that this whole same-sex issue—and its associated LGBTQ+ concepts that he can't be bothered to even make direct reference to—leads to confusion.  It's confusing to him.  It's confusing to him because he doesn't want to understand it.  I don't think most of the people doing the flag-waving and the parade-holding are confused.  They've taken the time to come to grips with the realities of how certain cross-sections of our population are unjustly marginalized, and they've decided to publicly demonstrate their opposition to that marginalization.  Anyone who's confused about what that means isn't really giving the subject the time and attention it deserves.

If the conflict ought not to be, then Holland needs to stop inciting conflict.

There are better ways to move toward crucially important goals in these very difficult matters — ways that show empathy and understanding for everyone while maintaining loyalty to prophetic leadership and devotion to revealed doctrine.

He's right about that.  There are better ways to move toward important societal goals and there are ways to show empathy and understanding for everyone.  But those better ways do not involve putting our loyalty to prejudiced paranoiac prophets above our loyalty to our species.  

My Brethren have made the case for the metaphor of musket fire, which I have endorsed yet again today. There will continue to be those who oppose our teachings and with that will continue the need to define, document, and defend the faith. But we do all look forward to the day when we can “beat our swords into plowshares, and [our] spears into pruning hooks,” and at least on this subject, “learn war [no] more.”

Great, thanks for explicitly endorsing the combat metaphor.  That certainly won't embolden anybody into detestable acts of hatred because they think they're firing their proverbial muskets at gay people in the church's defense.

Holland looks forward with a perfect brightness of hope to the day when he won't have to go to war over the subject of sexual identity.  That would be a lot more inspiring if he had any reason to be at war in the first place.  You don't have to hope for that day, bud.  You can make today that day.

And while I have focused on this same-sex topic this morning more than I would have liked, I pray you will see it as emblematic of a lot of issues our students and community face in this complex, contemporary world of ours.

Same-sex what?!

Pretty sure the reason this was more than he'd have liked to focus on the topic is because he's made so uncomfortable by the topic that he can't even speak to it specifically.  

If there a lot of issues that BYU faces in this complex world and if Elder Holland really holds compassion and love for his LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, why would he choose to spend so much time talking about their issues as being emblematic of the rest?  If there are so many salient items in a similar vein, couldn't Holland have used one of those as the emblem of the wider body of troublesome ideas and thereby spared the people he claims to have wept and prayed for the discomfort of being publicly singled out?

But I digress! Back to the blessings of a school in Zion!

And I'm assuming diversity and inclusiveness are not among those blessings, right?

We could mimic every other university in the world until we got a bloody nose in the effort and the world would still say, “BYU who?” No, we must have the will to stand alone, if necessary, being a university second to none in its role primarily as an undergraduate teaching institution that is unequivocally true to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the process.

What an idiotic thing to say.  A university second to none in its primary role as a teaching institution that is unequivocally true to the gospel of Jesus Christ, according to the Mormon definition of that gospel?  What other university would have that particular mission in mind? What other organization would have the desire and the resources to raise up a rival institution?  Better watch out, Holland, I've heard a bunch of Jesuits have started a university and they're teaching the Mormon gospel even better than you are, so I guess you have some competition for that coveted number one spot.

If at a future time that mission means foregoing some professional affiliations and certifications, then so be it. There may come a day when the price we are asked to pay for such association is simply too high, too inconsistent with who we are. No one wants it to come to that, but, if it does, we will pursue our own destiny, a “destiny [that] is not a matter of chance; [but largely] a matter of choice; . . . not a thing to be waited for, [but] a thing to be [envisioned and] achieved.”

Hey, weird, isn't that kind of exactly what your organization reviles LGBTQ+ people for doing?  Pursuing their own destiny according to their own definition of who they are, regardless of what traditional institutional authorities may say?

Oh, but it's okay when you do it, right? 

Fuck off.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Hill Cumorah Visitors Center

I recently had a chance to visit a few of the church historical sites in Palmyra with a never-Mormon friend.  I have a few observations:

  • The video that the missionary showed us in the visitors center began by mentioning that there were several accounts of the First Vision, but went on to essentially use only the canonized Joseph Smith History version.  I'd give them points for a shift toward transparency if I didn't think they were doing it to avoid people's sense of betrayal when learning about the various accounts rather than to present an honest narrative.
  • The missionary who led the tour through the Smith farm frequently spoke using first person plural pronouns to refer to the group, even when discussing specifics of Mormon doctrine or Mormon culture.  We're blessed to know this, we're grateful for that, etc.  The way he spoke made me think that either he'd looked at the group and incorrectly determined that every one of us was a member of the church or he had no expectation that anybody other than a member of the church would ever be interested in taking this tour.
  • The Hill Cumorah visitors center still has a copy of that famous painting on display—you know, the one with Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon with the plates sitting out in the open while he runs his finger over the line he's working on.  Even though that's not how the translation process worked—even according to the carefully worded Gospel Topics essay on the subject—the church still likes to pretend that it's being completely truthful about its history.

  • Despite my best efforts, I was unable to locate the secret cavern hidden inside the Hill Cumorah.  Maybe next time. 
  • It was weird that the television in the Palmyra hotel room would default to BYUTV every time it was turned on.
  • My friend described the Christus statue room as "the Jesus terrarium" and I can't stop thinking about that.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Notes on the Sunday Sessions

Continuing with our coverage after that last commercial break:


I assure you that as we put our trust in Jesus Christ and his supernal atoning sacrifice, enduring in our faith to the end, we will enjoy the promises of our beloved Heavenly Father, who does everything within his power to help us return to his presence one day.

—Ulisses Soares, Sunday morning session

Okay, so we don't believe in an omnipotent God anymore, then?

If God does everything within his power to help us return to his presence one day, then we would all return to his presence one day.  Or God isn't all-powerful.  Or maybe Soares is just wrong and God really isn't bringing the full breadth of his abilities to bear on our behalf. 

The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimonies of our prophets concerning Jesus Christ—that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day.  All other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to this truth. 

—S. Mark Palmer, Sunday morning session

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.  That's not a famous quote written by Joseph Smith or anything, so I can understand why it may have slipped Palmer's mind.

Notice that fourth article of faith doesn't say anything about prophets or testimonies.  And if a fundamental principle of the gospel is going to be something people said instead of some kind of doctrinal concept, why wouldn't it be the things Jesus said during his ministry or the things God said in the Doctrine and Covenants?  Why is Palmer trying to shift the fundamental principles of the religion away from its theological underpinnings and toward its organizational leadership?

Many years, later, Dad told me that if not for Ann's tragic death, he would not have been humble enough to accept the restored gospel.  Yet the Spirit of the Lord instilled hope that what the missionaries taught was true.  This led to my parents' faith growing until they each burned with the fire of testimony that quietly and humbly guided their every decision in life.

—S. Mark Palmer, Sunday morning session

He's talking about his sister's death when she was a toddler.  He's talking about how his sister's death when she was a toddler made his grief-stricken parents susceptible to the doctrinal promises made by Mormon missionaries.  He's talking about how his sister's death when she was a toddler made his grief-stricken parents susceptible to the doctrinal promises made by Mormon missionaries and convinced them to dedicate their lives to those promises.

He's saying there's a big silver lining to his parents' loss of a young child.  He's saying it's totally fine for missionaries to capitalize on investigators' personal tragedies because those personal tragedies allow God to prepare them for the gospel.  This would be worse if it were someone else's story he's telling, so I'm glad that this is about his own family, at least.  But all this nonsense about how bad physical stuff happens so that God can allow good spiritual stuff to happen is disrespectful to people's tragedies—and it does kind of highlight the church's disconnect between its lofty spiritual promises and its utter inability to provide solutions to physical, temporal, immediate problems.

I promise if you desire to believe, then act in faith and follow the whisperings of the Spirit, you will find joy in this life and in the world to come.

—S. Mark Palmer, Sunday morning session

Ah, the classic Catch-22 of faith.  All you have to do is want faith, then use faith you don't have, and you'll receive faith.  You need five years of experience in the field to qualify for this job, but you can't get the experience without getting the job first.

The literal doctrinal teaching here is to fake it 'til you make it.  Which is a completely healthy way to go through life.

Elder Holland, through his kind, natural actions, helped me to overcome my self-centeredness and my feelings of inadequacy.

—Edward Dube, Sunday morning session

How was Dube being self-centered, you might wonder?  By walking into his first leadership meeting at church headquarters and feeling nervous and intimidated around all the Mormon bigwigs.  And that, of course, means that he's self-centered.  Because we shouldn't feel our emotions, we should admonish ourselves for having them. 

Whatever you must leave behind to follow the path to your heavenly home will one day seem like no sacrifice at all.

—José A. Teixiera, Sunday morning session

This is not a good thing to teach people.

In most other contexts, most people would urge caution.  For example, if we weren't talking about a person whose dream is a heavenly home and we were instead talking about a person whose dream is to become a successful actor, almost no one in their right mind would give this advice.  

Drop out of school, hitchhike to Los Angeles, burn bridges with family members who advised more prudent choices.  Whatever you must leave behind to follow the path to your Hollywood career will one day seem like no sacrifice at all, right?

He doesn't even qualify it.  He doesn't say we should preserve familial relationships or anything like that.  He just wants us to know that anything and everything is on the table when it comes to sacrificing in pursuit of this eternal goal.  Anything and everything, full stop.

She says that this is the new norm for their family and that it strengthens their relationship as a family when they have real face time.  They now enjoy quality Come, Follow Me discussions together as a family.

—Taniela B. Wakolo, Sunday morning session

Real face time!  Without screens or phones or devices!  So that they can have quality time together as a family church-produced manuals?  I thought maybe this would be about going miniature golfing as a family or about the parents taking a personal interest in the children's hobbies or a free exchange of thoughts, not a discussion prescribed by and structured by official printed church materials.  While of course religious conversations can be one way of spending quality time with your family, it doesn't feel quite as qualitative if it's not really your conversation.

And he could have at least given some indication that activities other than gospel activities also constitute quality time with your family.


But like a pillar of light shining through dark clouds of fear, loneliness, and despair came the words of the prophet.  It included the call for worldwide fasting and prayer and counsel to move forward despite the pandemic.

—Taniela B. Wakolo, Sunday morning session

That's a bold reframing of what Nelson said.  Let's refresh Wakolo's memory:

I invite all, including those not of our faith, to fast and pray on Good Friday, April 10, that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized.

Yes, that's absolutely a call for fasting and prayer that embraced the concept of moving forward despite the pandemic.  It absolutely wasn't an attempt to fast and pray the pandemic away so that there would be no need for doing anything despite the pandemic.

"President Wakolo," he groaned, "your sister passed away and was buried ten days ago."  I had self-pity and even felt a little upset that my family did not even bother to let me know.  The next day, while my wife was teaching missionaries, this thought penetrated my soul:  "Taniela, all these experiences are for your own good and development.  You have been teaching and sharing your testimony about the  atonement of Jesus Christ; now live accordingly."  I was reminded that happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore we should despise not the chastening.

—Taniela B. Wakolo, Sunday morning session

Once again, we should not feel our feelings—unless we're feeling bad that we allowed ourselves to feel our feelings.

His sister died and nobody even told him until after she was buried.  Self-pity is a totally understandable reaction to that.  Grief, anger, or resentment also seem like they might have been reasonable companions to self-pity.  While we should try to manage our emotions so that we don't lash out in times of distress, that doesn't mean we should try to stifle our emotions and stop ourselves from authentic internal reactions.  What happened to Wakolo was awful.  Tragic news compounded by what must have felt like personal betrayal from his family isn't something he should have been expected to merely brush off.  

If he was able to make peace with these emotions because of his religious beliefs, that's fantastic for him, but that should not be taught as a template for everyone's emotional responses.  How we feel in our hearts about distressing events in our lives is not something that God should correct.  Mitigate, sure.  Overcome, why not.  But you don't correct something that isn't wrong and it's not wrong to feel hurt when people hurt you.  Teaching people that God is going to correct their emotions is extremely unhealthy.  

Just going to church once a week is not enough to build upon the rock.   Our entire lives should be filled with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The gospel is not part of our life, but our life is actually part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Think about it.  Is that not true?

—Chi Hong (Sam) Wong, Sunday morning session

Your existence has now been consumed by the gospel.  You are not yourself, you are merely a cell in a larger organism.


He knows not only the details of our lives.  God knows the details of the details of the details of our lives.

—Chi Hong (Sam) Wong, Sunday morning session

Ah, so he knows all about my ongoing struggle with that pesky recurring ingrown toenail, then, great.

Mostly I just wanted to make fun of the phrasing here.  I suppose it all comes down to style, but the way I'm reading it, using "details" three times in a row isn't working as emphasis.  It sounds like he really couldn't think of a more poignant way to phrase it.  It's only one step up from saying "God knows all about stuff and things and junk" over the pulpit.


The most memorable question he asked was, "What think ye of Christ?"

—Michael John U. Teh, Sunday morning session

Really?  This twentieth-century reporter used archaic Biblical syntax to ask a question for the article he was writing?  Considering this conversation took place in Davao City, Philippines, there's a decent chance it may not have even been in English.  So is Teh reformatting and translating this reporter's words in such a way that he can tie it to Matthew 22:42?  Does the story lose any of its significance if the reporter hadn't mimicked the Biblical syntax?  

What is the point in pretending the reporter quoted Jesus?  What did we accomplish here other than making the central moment of this story sound incredibly awkward?


First, we need to recognize that knowing the Savior is the most important pursuit of our lives.  It should take priority over anything else.

—Michael John U. Teh, Sunday morning session

No, it shouldn't.

Relationships with family and friends should take priority over our religious aspirations.  Concern for our fellow human beings should too.  This type of absolutism is very concerning.  There are plenty of good, wholesome, honorable pursuits a person can prioritize in their lives.  Automatically promoting religion to the top of the list can bump some other opportunities for personal improvement too far down.  Your religion can inform your priorities, but locking it in as the the undisputed titleholder is not going to help you become a balanced person.  It's not going to help you become your best.

I hope there's a person out there in the world right now who will eventually cure cancer, and I sure as hell hope that person is prioritizing their scientific pursuits over their knowing-the-Savior pursuits.


If you have responded to your trials with a stronger discipleship, this past year will not have been in vain.

—Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session

By "this past year" he means "the millions of deaths during this pandemic."  If you have responded to your trials with a stronger discipleship, the millions of deaths during this pandemic will not have been in vain.

Through no choice of their own, millions of people have sacrificed themselves for the greater good, and that greater good is making people more devoted to Jesus.

That's fucked up, Rusty.

No other message can eliminate contention in our society.

—Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session

Do we have any evidence that the message of the gospel has ever eliminated contention?  Oh, sure, unverifiable scripture stories like the City of Enoch and the Book of Mormon society after Jesus's visit.  Great.

Of course, that was a book that was produced by a man whose adult life was pretty much nothing but contention.  And whose legacy was a religion that has remained a source of contention throughout its history.  So, please, tell us more about how the gospel is the only thing that can eliminate contention in our society.


Your mountains will vary, and yet the answer to each of your challenges is to increase your faith. That takes work. Lazy learners and lax disciples will always struggle to muster even a particle of faith.

—Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session

Translation:  If you haven't worked miracles to move mountains in your personal life, it's because you're lazy.

Only your unbelief will keep God from blessing you with miracles to move the mountains in your life.

—Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session

Translation:  see above.

Now, let's say that one of the mountains in your life is a horrible, painful, terminal illness.  Only your unbelief will keep God from blessing you with a miraculous healing to move the mountain of disease in your life.  Right?

Let's do a quick little time travel trick here and fast forward a couple hours to Rasband's talk from the afternoon session.  Rasband will say:  

"He that hath faith in me to be healed," he said to the Saints in 1831 (and the promise continues today), "and is not appointed unto death shall be healed."

Okay, so which is it?  Is your unbelief the only thing that will keep God from blessing us with the gift of healing, or is a predetermined outcome a second thing (besides the only thing) that can keep God from blessing us with the gift of healing?

As empty as Rasband's carefully qualified promise is, Nelson's version of it is actually worse because it removes the possibility that a person can fail to receive the miracle for a reason other than insufficient faith.  Rasband is at least saying God might have some other reason to let faithful people die—Nelson is implying that when people die it's because they didn't have enough faith for God to bother saving them.


If you have doubts about God the Father and his beloved son or the validity of the restoration or the veracity of Joseph Smith's divine calling as a prophet, choose to believe and stay faithful.  Take your questions to the Lord and to other faithful sources.  Study with the desire to believe rather than with the hope that you can find a flaw in the fabric of a prophet's life or a discrepancy in the scriptures.  Stop increasing your doubts by rehearsing them with doubters.  Allow the Lord to lead you on your journey of spiritual discovery.

—Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session

"Study with the desire to believe" is such a terrible methodology for seeking truth.  Why should we study Mormon materials with a desire to believe when we obviously shouldn't be studying anti-vaccine materials, white supremacist materials, flat Earth materials, Holocaust denial materials, or (presumably) anti-Mormon materials with a desire to believe the information those things have to offer? If you haven't acquired the information yet, you don't yet have any basis to determine whether it deserves to be believed.  Without having analyzed the data, you haven't formulated any legitimate reason to trust any particular interpretation of the data.  Studying something with a desire to believe one way or another is putting your cart before the horse and your conclusions before your observations.  It's a fantastic way to get yourself bamboozled—but the best way to prevent that from happening is to study the information with as neutral and and unbiased a mindset as you can manage.

That does mean that we shouldn't be studying with the express hope that we can find a flaw in a prophet or a discrepancy in the scriptures, I suppose.  But a healthy part of processing new information is determining whether it has any internal logic.  Poking and prodding at information to see if it sprouts leaks is wise.  Nelson has no right to imply that looking for discontinuity in new information represents a bad faith effort (pun not intended but I'm leaving it in).  If a flaw is there, then it's there.  Its presence absolutely should factor into how we allow new information to change our beliefs and behaviors.

Also, why is it bad to increase our doubts by rehearsing them with doubters but good to increase our beliefs by rehearsing them with believers?  Kind of a double-standard, wouldn't you say?

Then receive more faith by doing something that requires more faith.

—Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session

I really, really, really, really hate the details of the details of the details of this concept.  

It costs five units of faith to complete this task, but you only have one unit of faith.  So you have to pretend to have the extra four units of faith already, which somehow allows you to complete the task, and then you're rewarded with four more units of faith?  There's a Civilization game developer somewhere whose eye is twitching uncontrollably right now.

The way to build faith is to repeatedly prepare high-quality forgeries of faith—does that sound crazy to anyone else?


Ordinances unlock the power of God for your life.

—Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session

Do they, though?  Let's look at what he said juuuuust a few minutes ago:

It is our faith that unlocks the power of God in our lives.

Okay, so it's faith that unlocks the power of God.  But it's the ordinances that unlock the power of God.  So that means we can have access to the power of God with faith but no ordinances and we can also have access to the power of God with ordinances but no faith, right?  That doesn't really sound like Mormonism to me.

Unless the power of God is a door with two locks, in which case it seems kind of dishonest to put these two statements so far apart in the talk, because when they're isolated from each other, they very strongly imply that each is its own key fully capable of perform its unlocking function without the assistance of any other keys.

Maybe this is why Nelson doesn't want us looking for flaws or discrepancies.  Because Nelson, whom Elder Callister praised as "an experienced and skilled writer," apparently once bragged about having "over 40 rewrites of a recent general conference talk," but he's still capable of this kind of blatant, amateurish, direct contradiction.

Would Joseph and Hyrum Smith have suffered martyr's deaths defending the restoration of the Lord's church unless they had a sure witness that it was true?  Would nearly two thousand Saints have died along the pioneer trail if they had not had faith that the gospel of Jesus Christ had been restored?

—Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session

Would hundreds of people have participated in mass suicide at Jonestown if they had not had faith that they were doing the right thing?  The magnitude of one's beliefs has no relationship with the accuracy of one's beliefs. 

This line of reasoning is, simply, stupid.  Not only that, but it's insulting to his audience because it's so stupid.  He knows he doesn't have to come up with good arguments for his arguments to be effective.  So from his position of supreme authority, he chooses to place his emphasis on lazy, brittle arguments heavy with emotional content and he pretends not merely as though it's satisfactory reasoning but even as though it's some kind of stirring, elevated oratory.

Your growing faith in him will move mountains.  Not the mountains of rock that beautify the earth, but the mountains of misery in your lives.

—Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session

He feels the need to clarify here that nobody's literally going to move a mountain, which is kind of pathetic.  Because the idea of moving mountains by faith isn't some apocryphal teaching or some kind artifact of Mormon folklore, it's actually what Jesus said (Matthew 21:21):

Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.

And in case there's any doubt whatsoever that Jesus was being literal, let's return to a moth-eaten old tome that Nelson may not have dusted off in a while—the Book of Mormon (Ether 12:30):

For the brother of Jared said unto the mountain Zerin, Remove—and it was removed. And if he had not had faith it would not have moved; wherefore thou workest after men have faith.

The brother of Jared literally moved a mountain with his faith.  But we can't do that.  Not us.  Not us poor regular slobs.  That's just a thing that happens in ancient scripture.  We won't be using our faith to move the mountains of rock that beautify the earth, just our...lives.

The extent to which the gospel of Jesus Christ has been watered down in the two hundred years or so since its triumphal Restoration-with-a-capital-R is truly disheartening.


In this troubled time, I have felt to speak about the inspired Constitution of the United States.  This constitution is of special importance of our members in the United States, but it is also a common heritage of constitutions around the world.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

I immediately did not like where I sensed this talk heading.  This is especially distasteful coming from an organization that has a long history of imperializing its own distinctly American identity.

I suppose this is a discussion better left for historical scholars, but I don't think it's entirely accurate to pretend like every constitution around the world traces its lineage to the American one.  If he means that the American constitution shares a common heritage with constitutions around the world in the same way that humans share a common heritage with gorillas, then I'm fine with that.  Constitutional governments began to emerge around the world starting around the time of the American Revolution, sure, but as a result of democratic and social trends in many countries—not as a result of America doing it awesome and everybody wanting to be as awesome as we are.

Because we weren't even the first in the modern era.  These ideas were percolating in lots of places, we were just among the first to codify them.  We didn't just come up with all this stuff ex nihilo.

But Oaks is an extremely deliberate writer, so I don't think he does mean that constitutions around the world share a heritage with ours like humans share a heritage with gorillas.  Because he uses the preposition "of" instead of "with."  He's not saying the American constitution and the Argentinian constitution share a common ancestor.  He's saying that the American constitution is the direct ancestor of the Argentinian one.  And he's saying that as a blanket statement for every constitutional government on the planet.

America did some serious America-ing way back when and you all owe us for our American-ness.  You're welcome, world.

I'm not a fan of that attitude, because for one thing I think it's historically/politically/socially inaccurate, but also because in this context it really drives home how the gross America-centrism of Mormonism continues to be one of its blind spots, even on a day when it has intentionally paraded out speakers from countries around the world to show off its globalism.

In these remarks, I do not speak for any political party or other group.  I speak for the United States Constitution, which I have studied for more than 60 years.  I speak from my experience as a law clerk to the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  I speak from my 15 years as a professor of law and my three and a half years as a justice on the Utah Supreme Court.  Most importantly, I speak from 37 years as an apostle of Jesus Christ, responsible to study the meaning of the divinely inspired United States Constitution to the work of his restored church.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

It's great that you feel the need to rehearse your legal credentials, Dallin, because even though you had a relatively prestigious career in law, that doesn't make you an expert in comparative government, world history, public policy, or political theory.  Because, as you reminded us in 2018:

We should not consider secular prominence or authority as qualified sources of truth. ... Expertise in one field should not be taken as expertise on truth in other subjects.

So we're just going to trust that this guy—who basically admits he's been out of the legal game for almost four decades—has some pseudo-ecclesiastical historical analysis of the Constitution's applications to his narrow religious agenda and that it's all completely on point?

Seems risky, but okay.

The United States Constitution is unique because God revealed that he established it for the rights and protection of all flesh.  That is why this constitution is of special concern for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

Another reason why God needs to be fired.  It should be patently obvious to anyone in this country with a sixth grade education that the United States Constitution explicitly did not establish rights and protection for all flesh.  Oaks clearly knows this, and he'll try to address it a bit later, but it's still a glaringly absurd statement to make without an immediate attempt to qualify or rationalize it.

For starters, why wasn't God willing or able to soften the hearts of the members of the Constitutional Convention and the state legislatures so that the ratified Constitution would outlaw slavery and provide full citizenship with no regard to skin color?  Not only did he fail to do that, but he even allowed that three-fifths compromise into the document to officially condone slavery.  The Constitution wasn't silent on the issue of slavery—it provided it with legal legitimacy by explicitly including enslaved persons in the calculations for Congressional representation.  Sure, that bit was excised almost a century later, but that should never have needed to happen if the original document had actually been produced by divine inspiration with the intent to provide rights and protection to all people.

Or we could talk about voting rights.  If God inspired the Constitution so that everyone would have these super-important rights, why did so much of the country begin by requiring voters to own property in order to be eligible?  Why did it take so long for women and black men to be given voting rights?  Why did some states go for so long without even letting their citizens vote for the electors that would cast presidential ballots in the Electoral College?  Why isn't Puerto Rico able to cast any votes in Congress or the Electoral College?

If God gets to take credit for protecting the rights and protection of all flesh because of his involvement in the US Constitution, then I should be allowed to pat myself on the back for doing my laundry when I'm too lazy to take it out of the dryer and finish the job.


In the first decade of the restored church, its members on the western frontier were suffering private and public persecution.  Partly, this was because of their opposition to the human slavery then existing in the United States.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

Partly, sure.  Nothing being weirdly omitted here, no siree.  Other parts were absolutely not rumors of polygamy or their tendency to vote as a bloc and upset Missouri's political landscape. Let's focus on slavery so we can pretend early Mormons were super-enlightened.

Joseph Smith left a very muddled legacy about slavery.  It's bad, it's God's will, it should be abolished, it should be left alone, or it should be abolished slowly while we pay the slaveowners for their loss of property...who can keep all that straight?  He certainly didn't leave a homogeneous body of statements on the issue that can be fairly summarized as simply as "opposition."


Our belief that the United States Constitution was divinely inspired does not mean that divine revelation dictated every word and phrase, such as the provisions allocating the number of representatives from each state or the minimum age of each.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

Did it feel weird to anyone else that he seemed opposed to saying the words "three-fifths compromise"?  Unless by "the provisions allocating the number of representatives from each state" he really means that we can disagree with the mathematical breakdown without challenging the will of God.

Actually, I'm pretty sure that this was supposed to be an oblique reference to the three-fifths compromise so that he can pretend he talked about it without having to explicitly say "the document inspired of God counted slaves for congressional representation and thereby made their enslavement a constitutionally-supported institution."  I think he also tacked something innocuous like the age requirements for representatives onto the end of that sentence to draw focus away from his oblique reference to the three-fifths compromise.  If you let that comment go by at regular speed rather than lingering on it for a moment, it just sounds like he's giving a couple of random examples rather than touching on something that critically threatens his argument.

"The Constitution was not a fully-grown document," said President J. Reuben Clark.  "On the contrary," he explained, "we believe it must grow and develop to meet the changing needs of an advancing world."  For example, inspired amendments abolished slavery and gave women the right to vote.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

Abolishing slavery and giving women the right to vote were absolutely not meeting "the changing needs of an advancing world" and it's either careless wording or deliberate asshattery to imply such.  We didn't need female voters until the 20th century?  Black people didn't need freedom until the world advanced to a point at which it became necessary to grant it to them?  

Gross, dude.  You're awful.

What J. Reuben Clark said is more akin to the Constitution being amended to include provisions that help prevent cyberterrorism.  Obviously, cyberterrorism wasn't something the founding fathers could have predicted, so perhaps it would make sense to allow the Constitution to grow and develop to meet the changing needs of advancing technologies.  But the "inspired amendments" that Oaks cites weren't amendments that came about because the advancing world needed them.  They were amendments that came about because the country was advancing to address long pre-existing needs.  That's not the same thing at all.  If anything, this highlights the glaring omissions in the original document more than its oft-praised capacity for course correction.

However, we do not see inspiration in every Supreme Court decision interpreting the Constitution.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

I wonder if there's maybe a specific Supreme Court decision Oaks has in mind when he's claiming not all of them are inspired.  We'll just have to guess, I suppose.

In a time when sovereign power was universally assumed to come from the divine right of kings or from military power, attributing sovereign power to the people was revolutionary.  Philosophers had advocated this but the United States Constitution was the first to apply it.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

Yep.  We totally invented democracy.  It's not like the word itself is derived from a language that was spoken by an ancient culture that is famous for what's now called "classical democracy."  It's not like they wrote their laws down or anything, either.  That was all America.  America did that.  We're the best.  Shut up, you commies.

While I don't disagree that the United States Constitution represents an important point in world history, the fact that Oaks isn't even attempting to pull his head out of his own ass (or to take his hand off his patriotically engorged little factory) should make everyone take what he's saying with a few mouthfuls of salt.


Without a Bill of Rights, America could not have served as the host nation for the restoration of the gospel, which began just three decades later.  There was divine inspiration in the original provision that there should be no religious test for public office, but the addition of the religious freedom and anti-establishment guarantees in the First Amendment was vital.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session


If God is such a perfect being, surely he could have figured out more than one possible set of conditions to enable him to restore his gospel.  The only way that America could have hosted the restoration of the gospel was by codifying the rights enumerated in the first ten amendments to the Constitution?  There's no other way that a god of miracles could have made that happen?  That doesn't sound right.  It's also apparently absurd to suggest that another country could have hosted the restoration?  I don't know why it's absurd, but that seems to be the implication.

As I'm sure Oaks knows, the Bill of Rights was not part of the US Constitution from day one, hence the term amendment.  These were an additional ten articles that were added to the Constitution at the end of 1791, about three years after the original Constitution had been ratified by enough states to have been made the official founding document of our fledgling country.  Which means that God found it more important to slap on a fix to the Constitution pretty quickly to make sure he could establish his pet religion in this country.  Meanwhile, slaves would have to wait another 74 years before the Constitution would officially declare them free.

If the Constitution was such a wonderful, divinely-inspired document, why did God have to add stuff onto it right away, and why did he decide to make sure that he was fixing this egregious lack of Constitutional protection against quartering soldiers in citizens' homes while completely ignoring absent protections for civil rights and voting rights?

We are to be governed by law and not by individuals and our loyalty is to the Constitution and its principles and processes, not to any office-holder.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

Okay, yes.

I'm a little bit worried that Oaks and I might mean slightly different things by this and I think his loyalty to the Constitution may be a bit irrationally founded in his delusion that the Constitution is nearly perfect, but I like the idea of putting our loyalty in the mechanisms that control governments rather than in the people temporarily chosen to run them.  I'm hoping this is a veiled denunciation of rabid Trumpism, but I wouldn't put it past him to have also intended this as a veiled swipe at, like, AOC or something.


These principles block the autocratic ambitions that have corrupted democracy in some countries.  They also mean that none of the three branches of government should be dominant over the others or prevent the others from performing their proper constitutional functions to check one another.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

"Some countries."

Bro.  Democracy has been corrupted in your country.  America ignores about as much of its Constitution as Mormonism ignores of its scripture.  The Bill of Rights is basically America's Word of Wisdom.  Quit acting like we're better than everyone else.  We did some pretty great things, but we've also been pretty awful a lot of the time.  We can be proud of who we are and we can have an appropriate, non-jingoistic amount of national pride without pretending that we're some ridiculous comic-book paragon of democratic purity.

Look who we elected five years ago.  Look at all that autocratic ambition he managed to realize.  Look at the autocratic backlash to try and autocratically correct the autocratic shit he autocratically did.  That's not to say that democracy hadn't already been hopelessly pretzeled into a demented parody of itself in this country long before the era of our illustrious forty-fifth president, of course.  More recent examples come to mind more readily, but there are plentiful examples from less recent history too.  PACs.  HUAC.  COINTELPRO.  I'll stop.

Maybe this comment about the three branches of government is a veiled swipe at Trump's stubborn repudiation of the supposed limits on his power.  Or maybe it's a veiled swipe at Congress for having the audacity to begin formal proceedings to assert their authority over a loose cannon in the executive branch.  Or, knowing the speaker, it's more likely a veiled swipe at the Supreme Court for interpreting law in a way that Oaks disagrees with way back in 2015.  Gay people can marry each other in all fifty states, now, man, get over it.

Another commonality I've just noticed between America and Mormonism—its relentless propaganda about its own greatness is slowly killing it.


Important subjects of lawmaking, such as some laws governing family relationships, have been taken from the states by the federal government.  

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

It's really not cool to portray your own interpretation of a government document as apostolic fact.  Here, little old manbaby Dallin is bawling and fussing because some mean old federal government forcibly wrested his state's right to define marriage (in a way that coincidentally would deny basic civil rights to people who aren't heterosexual or aren't cisgender or otherwise aren't conforming to the approved Mormon conception of "normal" sexuality).  But surely a constitution scholar of the caliber of the venerable Justice Oaks would be familiar with a little thing called the Supremacy Clause that's been in the Constitution since day one.  If the federal government's law and a state's law are in contradiction, the federal government's law takes precedence.  

And if Oaks were to look through the enumerated powers granted to Congress in the Constitution, he'd probably see that if those powers were to be followed to the letter, Congress really wouldn't have had much standing to pass, say, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but you don't hear him whining about how the federal government took the important subject of racial segregation away from the states.

So basically, the US Constitution is a wonderful, divinely inspired document that makes us absolutely the best country ever.  When the government based on that Constitution behaves in a way that Oaks likes, it's because the Constitution was established by God.  When the government based on that Constitution behaves in a way that Oaks doesn't like, it's because it's not fair and the government is stupid and your face is stupid and I hate you and you're ruining my life and I'm gonna go run to my room and slam the door.

How dignified, as befitting a man of his esteemed position.

There are other threats that undermine the inspired principles of the United States Constitution.  The stature of the Constitution is diminished by efforts to substitute current societal trends as the reason for its founding instead of liberty and self-government.  

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

Yeah, man.  We totally have a tendency to ascribe trendy presentist motivations to Constitutional history.  Alexander Hamilton gave this whole speech at the Constitutional Convention about our inalienable rights to wear skinny jeans and have obsessively groomed facial hair.  And Thomas Jefferson was famously obsessed with juice cleanses and goat yoga. 

I'm actually not sure what Oaks really means, though.  What springs to mind for me is the people who argue that the United States is a Christian nation founded on Christian morality.  I don't think Oaks would have a problem with people believing that misconception, though.

The authority of the Constitution is trivialized when candidates or officials ignore its principles.  The dignity and force of the Constitution is reduced by those who refer to it like a loyalty test or a political slogan instead of its lofty status as a source of authorization for and limits on government authority.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

Is that better or worse than using the Constitution as a religious prop?

I do kind of agree with him, here, though.  I feel like political discourse these days involves the invocation of the Constitution as a thought-stopping cliché or as semaphoric symbol more than it involves citations of the specific provisions and purposes of its text.  I still think he's artificially puffing the Constitution up a bit because of his patriotic tunnel vision, but I think this is a point in his address where his feet land on solid ground for a moment.

Being subject to presidents or rulers of course poses no obstacle to our opposing individual laws or policies.  It does require that we exercise our influence civilly and peacefully within the framework of our constitutions and applicable laws.  On contested issues, we should seek to moderate and unify.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

Moderate and unify.

This motherfucker of all people is telling us that we should moderate and unify when it comes to contested issues.  So basically we should just do the exact opposite of what he does every time he opens his mouth about homosexuality?  Or do the exact opposite of what he did when he got his Title of Liberty undies in a bunch over those uppity women who wanted the priesthood?

His credibility has actually dropped below zero.  It's not that we shouldn't believe anything he says at this point, it's that we should now start actively assuming that the polar opposite of what he says is right. 

As reasonable as his advice to peacefully exist within the framework of our laws may sound, it only really works in situations where laws are just.  If he'd said the same exact words 180 years ago, he would have been telling slaves to remain slaves because slavery was legal and trying to escape to freedom was not.  If he'd said the same exact words 250 years ago and everyone had listened to him, we'd still be a part of the British Empire and his precious Constitution wouldn't exist.  Sometimes laws are wrong.  Sometimes laws make people suffer.  Sometimes laws are disgusting and immoral and destructive.  And while it would be ideal to have the luxury of peacefully fighting unjust laws through the existing mechanisms of government power, sometimes they're too unjust and too urgent to fairly expect people to politely wait for their personal suffering to be given time on the Senate floor for discussion.  There's genocide going on in Myanmar, what do you think his advice is for people who are literally fighting for their lives?  Be subject to the rulers who are trying to wipe them off the face of the earth?  Peacefully work within the system to stop the military from murdering and raping with impunity?

That's ridiculous.  Even in Oaks's home country, do you honestly expect people to work peacefully within the framework of applicable laws when the applicable laws seem to protect police who have committed on-the-job murder?  Especially when these things happen over and over without any peaceful mobilization seeming to change the outcome?  It sure is easy to tell people to sit down and quit whining when you personally don't have anything critical to whine about, isn't it, Dallin?

Also, we shouldn't let the being-subject-to-rulers comment slide without reminding everybody about stuff like when Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, when he fled a jurisdiction to avoid arrest, and when he probably tried to get his buddy to assassinate the governor of Missouri.

There are many political issues and no party, platform, or individual candidate can satisfy all personal preferences.  Each citizen must therefore decide which issues are most important to him or her at any particular time.  

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

Wow.  That is absurdly obvious.

There are many film genres and no studio, director, or actor can satisfy all personal preferences.  Each viewer must therefore decide which movie is most interesting to him or her at any particular time.

Brilliant.  Someone get this man a Pulitzer.

Also, he clearly doesn't subscribe to the Jeffrey R. Holland Alliteration-Is-Power school of speechwriting.  It really doesn't take much imagination to change this to "There are many political problems and no party, platform, or person can please all personal preferences," but I'm glad he resisted the temptation.

Then members should seek inspiration on how to exercise their influence according to their individual priorities.  This process will not be easy.  It may require changing party support or candidate choices, even from election to election. Such independent actions will sometimes require voters to support candidates or political parties or platforms whose other positions they cannot approve.  That is one reason we encourage our members to refrain from judging one another in political matters.  We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate.  We teach correct principles and leave our members to choose how to prioritize and apply those principles on the issues presented from time to time.  We also insist and we ask our local leaders to insist that political choices and affiliations not be the subject of teachings or advocacy in any of our church meetings.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

There's a lot going on here.

First of all, how weird is it to seek inspiration from God based on your individual priorities?  Do we think that God is going to give us guidance for how to best support a candidate whose policies line up with our own priorities even if those priorities contradict God's?  There are faithful Mormons who support gay rights—would God (who is pretty homophobic if Oaks is one of his primary representatives) inspire those church members to help elect a candidate who supports gay rights?  That might line up with those individual members' priorities, but wouldn't God be working against himself if he were to inspire people to help normalize homosexuality and to provide support to the gay community?  I think maybe this is Oaks trying to claim that we don't tell people how to vote while he's still trying to tell people how to vote.  He won't tell us to vote for a party or a candidate, but he will advise us to make sure that our political behavior is closely tied to our religious practices and filtered through the lens of the God he represents.

I do like his reminder that political choices often involve tradeoffs on many issues and that we shouldn't judge people for their politics—within reason, at least.  I can see how someone with particular beliefs about government can get behind a candidate like Trump even if they may not agree with many of his policies or behaviors, although the daylight between Trumpism and undeniable toxicity has admittedly gotten narrower and narrower for me as time goes on.  But if you're talking to a member of your ward and they're talking about how they're going to volunteer on David Duke's next campaign for public office, that's probably not something you should give them the benefit of the doubt for.  

But like a lot of things Oaks is saying here, the "refrain from judging" bit cuts both ways.  I prefer to see this as him telling Mormons not to judge each other for voting Democrat (which seems like a less unsurprising stance for the church to take in the Trump era than, say, the Reagan era).  But it could also work in the other direction, telling Mormons not to judge each other for staying Republican in a time when Republicanism seems to have been hijacked by its worst impulses.  Which, in theory, is probably a good general concept for him to teach.  But it is kind of a bummer that he's giving apostolic shelter to those who might be voting based on some very un-Christlike criteria.

He's also giving lip service to this silly concept of the church's political neutrality.  The church campaigned for Proposition 8 in California years ago.  I remember when a letter about the evils of gambling was read from the pulpit when my state was attempting to legalize it a few years before that.  The church took a very public position on the issue of legalizing marijuana in Utah.  And, of course, Oaks is pushing his own interpretation of the Constitution, including what the Supreme Court has the right to rule on and including what powers the federal government shouldn't wrest from the states.  But the church definitely shouldn't weigh in on, advocate for, or teach any kind of political policies, right, guys?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will, of course, exercise its right to endorse or oppose specific legislative proposals that we believe will impact the free exercise of religion or the essential interests of church organizations.

—Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session

Okay, how is that not a direct contradiction to what he just said?  We insist that political choices not be the subject of teachings or advocacy in our church meetings, but we will exercise our right to endorse or oppose specific legislative proposals in our church meetings.

I'd also like to know how gay marriage in California, casinos in Pennsylvania, or marijuana in Utah constitute an impact on the free exercise of religion or an impact on the essential interests of the church.  

Either your organization is apolitical or it's not, Dallin.  Your church's apolitical stance has some troubling similarities with its monogamous stance.

"Heavenly Father," I prayed, "I have rarely asked for a miracle, but I am asking for one now.  This meeting must happen for all our young adults around the world.  We need the power to go on if it be thy will."  Seven minutes after six, as quickly as the power had gone out, it came back on.  ...We had experienced a miracle.

—Ronald A. Rasband, Sunday afternoon session

You experienced a miracle.  The miracle was that you'd have electricity so that you could perform in your little church broadcast.  That's not a particularly great reason for a miracle.  There are plenty of people who are in some more urgent types of situations who pray in faith for a miracle and don't get one.  Why is this extremely first-world problem deserving of  a miracle?

Also, the phrase "as quickly as the power had gone out, it came back on" just makes you sound like you don't understand how electricity works.


"He that hath faith in me to be healed," he said to the Saints in 1831 (and the promise continues today), "and is not appointed unto death shall be healed."

—Ronald A. Rasband, Sunday afternoon session

This is a pointless promise, and extending it to the present day doesn't change that.

"Ask me for a ride to the airport," I told my friend in 2009 (and the promise continues today), "and unless I decide not to do it, I'll give you that ride."

If the promise contains an escape clause, it's not really a promise.  It's a commitment to your own objectives masquerading as a commitment to someone else's.

There are times we hope for a miracle to heal a loved one, to reverse an unjust act, or soften the heart of a bitter or disillusioned soul.  Looking at things through mortal eyes, we want the Lord to intervene to fix what is broken. 

 —Ronald A. Rasband, Sunday afternoon session

Yeah, how foolish it is for us to look at things through mortal eyes when a quick look with our eternal eyes would tell us to shut up and continue suffering.

And this is coming from the guy who did get his miracle for a situation involving much, much lower stakes.  "My comparatively trivial problem was miraculously resolved," he's telling us, "but when you have problems and you want a miraculous remedy, just remember that you're probably looking at your life with mortal eyes and you just don't get it."


Through faith, the miracle will come, though not necessarily on our timetable or with the resolution we desire.  Does that mean we are less than faithful or do not merit this intervention?  No.  We are beloved of the Lord.  He gave his life for us and his atonement continues to release us from burdens and sin as we repent and draw close to him. 

 —Ronald A. Rasband, Sunday afternoon session

"The" is a definite article, which means that when he says "the miracle," he is referring to the specific miracle we requested.  So when he says that "the miracle will come, though not necessarily...with the resolution we desire," he's talking in utter gibberish.  If it doesn't come with the resolution you desire, then it's not the miracle.  Arguably it's a miracle, but it's not the miracle if it's not the miracle you asked for.  It's awful of him to imply in this very underhanded way that the miracle you're praying for will always come and that, even if it's not what you asked for, it's still the very same thing you were promised.

And even if Jesus really did die for our sins, that doesn't actually do anything to release us from most of the burdens we experience.  The fact that he died for us may help lessen our religious burdens, but it doesn't provide miracles that remedy our physical experiences.  The benefits of the atonement are intangible and metaphysical.   Knowing about these benefits may help us cope with adversity, but they don't actively remove adversity or generate miracles.

The Lord has reminded us, "Neither are your ways my ways."  He offers, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."  Rest from worry, disappointment, fear, disobedience, concern for loved ones, for lost or broken dreams.  Peace amidst confusion or sorrow is a miracle.  Remember the Lord's words:  "Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter?"  What greater witness can you have than from God?  The miracle is that Jesus Christ, the great Jehovah, the son of the highest, is responding with peace.

—Ronald A. Rasband, Sunday afternoon session

Okay, so in your miracle, there's a physical manifestation of what you believe is divine intervention because all the lights and the electronics suddenly turned back on.  But our miracles have no physical aspect to them because the miracles are just that God is sending us peace of mind.  There were other people present at Rasband's miracle who witnessed the event and may have also interpreted their own experiences as miraculous.  But our miracles will be private and will provide no experiences that anyone else might attest to, which means nobody but us will even know something happened.  

After his disclaimer that miracles will come even if it wasn't our desired outcome, this is essentially Rasband telling us not to expect to move mountains, raise the dead, heal the sick, or experience any miracles with witnesses.  He's telling us that an unverifiable, uncorroborated, unknown personal feeling constitutes our miracles.

This is the ecclesiastical equivalent of the Scott's Tots episode of The Office—you start off with these extravagant promises of having the entirety of your college tuition paid, but realistically you were never really going to get anything more than a laptop battery.  Rasband is dressing up the metaphorical laptop battery as one of the greatest things God can give you.  Even Michael Scott is more aware of his own failings than our all-knowing, all-loving Father in Heaven is.

I once read an article by a poorly informed newspaper reporter who explained that the way we performed baptisms for the dead is to immerse rolls of microfilm in water.  Then all those whose names appear on the microfilm are considered baptized.  That approach would be efficient, but it ignores the infinite worth of each soul and the critical importance of a personal covenant with God.

—D. Todd Christofferson, Sunday afternoon session

It's actually not that different from what we really do, though.

What we really do is perform an ordinance on someone's behalf, using a living stand-in for a dead person.  The dead person can then, at some later point in the Spirit World, choose to accept the ordinance that they had no personal connection to.  The dead person wasn't there in the water and the only link between the dead person and the temple ordinance is that the dead person's name was involved.  Which is exactly the same distance between a dead person and a theoretical ceremonial dunking of a roll of microfilm containing their name.

Christofferson's delivery of these words made it clear that if he were delivering his address to a full conference center audience, he would have paused for laughter.  He pretends that this concept is silly, but it's not really any sillier than what actually happens.  Perhaps the way it's actually done has more ceremonial dignity to it, but the microfilm idea is more efficient.  That could be a way to hasten the work and we're always talking about the hastening of the work, right?

How would the microfilm baptisms ignore the infinite worth of each soul?  Doesn't someone still have to take the time to do the genealogical work to dig up this person's individual information and take that information to the temple?   Does anything that's done for more than one person at a time ignore that person's worth?  Should we start having separate sealing ceremonies for each individual member of a family who's being sealed because sealing the whole family at once ignores the infinite worth of each member?

How would the microfilm baptisms ignore the critical importance of a personal covenant with God?  There's really nothing that the person being baptized has to do to signify a covenant.  You don't have to say "I do" or anything before you get dunked.  You don't have to accept the terms and conditions.  The whole point of it is that you're doing it on someone else's behalf so that the person can choose to accept the ordinance later.  The personal covenant happens when the other person accepts the ordinance.  It's their covenant, so the covenant only happens when they take action on it.  Which means that submerging a roll of microfilm containing their name would still require them to initiate a personal covenant with God at the time when they accept the ordinance.

So Christofferson is brushing aside this silly microfilm idea as though the reporter doesn't understand the first thing about how proxy ordinances work, but his reasons for dismissing the idea indicate that Christofferson himself doesn't really understand how proxy ordinances work.

Do all you can to bring Covid numbers down in your area so that your temple opportunities can increase.

—Russell M. Nelson, Sunday afternoon session

Read that back.  Yes, that's what he said.

Do everything you can to bring Covid numbers down in your area.  Not for public health and safety.  Not for the greater good.  Not for your friends, family, and the people of your communities.  So that you can go back to the temple.

That does actually feel like it encapsulates the theme of this conference in a way that any good closing talk should.  It seemed like a lot of speakers were acknowledging the pandemic but pivoting to business as usual.  A lot of speakers were finding ways to make this global catastrophe about their own religion.  So it shouldn't have been surprising to hear the prophet of God tell us that our purpose it helping end the pandemic is specifically to reopen the temples...but it still kind of was surprising to me.  That statement was so brazenly transparent—even in context—and it speaks volumes to the church leadership's priorities.  They don't care about us, they don't care about the world at large, they care about furthering their organization's purposes completely independently of the wellbeing of that organization's human capital.

So, yes, let's all band together and get those temples reopened.  If fewer people die, the economy recovers, and society returns to normal because of our efforts, those are some nice secondary benefits, but we really need to get back in those temples.

How inspiring.