Sunday, February 5, 2012

Apostatizing Over the Irrelevant

Mormonism continues to receive heavy media attention, and not just in relation to Romney's presidential bid.

It seems that discussing Mormonism's losses may be a popular subject lately.  The Washington Post has its own spin on Marlin K. Jensen's recent comments about apostasy in the ranks.

Jensen's job is not one that I envy.  He's the church's historian, so he has to produce scholarly-sounding historical research that minimizes the church's checkered past.  But he can't ignore it completely, because too much of it is public record or too well-researched by non-Mormon historians.  So he has to somehow make the church's history look not-so-bad and reconcile the differences between the wild early church and the tame, civilized image the church projects now.

Square peg, round hole?

It appears that one of the ways Jensen tries to downplay the church's past is to claim that it's irrelevant to the church's current teachings.  From the Washington Post:
The church “has made no effort to hide or obscure its history,” Jensen said, but some aspects — such as polygamy — “haven’t been emphasized often because they were not necessarily germane to what is taught at present.”
I have two problems with this.  First, there is an implied disparity between what was taught in the past and "what is taught at present."  I suppose this just refers to the fact that polygamy is no longer preached or practiced by the official church.  But for a church that claims to worship a god who is the same yesterday and today, whose word never changes, that reeks of an inadvertent admission of "changing the word."  Maybe that's just semantics.

What isn't just semantics, however, is Jensen's dismissal of the church's history because it's "not necessarily germane."  If he's a historian, he should know better.  The history and how it unfolds shapes the present.  American society still feels the effects of the Vietnam War, World War II, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, and all the other events in between.  To say that an organization's history is irrelevant is ignorance.

And from a more religious angle, the church's history is anything but irrelevant.  The polygamy, the violence, the failures, the changes and "clarifications" of doctrines all contradict the church's claim of truth.  They all demonstrate a changing church that adapts to its times instead of remaining constant.  They illustrate a picture of the church's founder that, instead of depicting him as a Christlike prophet, show him as a simple treasure hunter and a power-thirsting demagogue.  But the truthfulness of the church and the reputation of its founder isn't necessarily germane, right?  It's all gravy.

None of that seems right to me.

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