Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Church on Defense

Radio Free Mormon's most recent podcast features some interesting clips from a Salt Lake Tribune interview with Elder Steven Snow, the Executive Director of the Church History Department.  In it, Snow acknowledges that some members were confused about the legitimacy of the Gospel Topics essays and expresses regret that there was no way to specify that these essays were in fact approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve (approximately 9:40):
It's interesting...I guess...I wouldn't have expected that people would have thought that a rogue history department would go do something like this, certainly in the church—that would be impossible.  And every step of the way, they [the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve] were reviewing it and reviewed it and approved it—what was published ultimately.  So it was unfortunate that we couldn't in some way indicate that....
Radio Free Mormon, of course, immediately points out the obvious:  you can add a notation in the byline or at the bottom of the page to alert readers that their leaders have signed off on these essays.  If the church really wanted to indicate that the material was approved by the prophet, it very easily could have.

But I think that Elder Snow's interview is indicative of a pervasive and ultimately flawed strategy of church leadership:  they're playing a lot of defense.  Many decisions and many speeches demonstrate a focus on retaining the loyal membership base instead of reaching out to those who are on the fence, those who are critics, and those who could be welcomed in from outside.  Big Tent Mormonism is not a thing, at least not anymore.  Today, it's Exactly This One Size Tent Only Mormonism.

The reason the unsigned essays feel like defense to me is because an obviously simple solution that could help members who are more aware of or more interested in troubling issues was avoided—because doing so makes it easier for members who aren't as aware or aren't as interested in troubling issues to ignore them.  If an apostle didn't say it or didn't even seem to approve it, why should we feel the need to absorb this information?  This focuses on preserving the faith of the core membership to the detriment of the faith-related inquiries of those who are no longer part of that core.

A similar issue arises later in the Elder Snow interview—Peggy Fletcher Stack makes the point that the essay on the priesthood ban stops short of calling Brigham Young a racist or even of an explicit acknowledgement that the policy was wrong.  This way, if you aren't having doubts about the church and you stumble across the article, you're not forced to grapple with questions of how a prophet's policy that was upheld by several subsequent prophets could have been wrong and how that might shed light on the possible failings of today's prophet.  But those glaring omissions certainly are not going to smooth things over with doubters or progressives who believe that an important step to healing racial issues in the church is an acknowledgement of and an apology for past wrongdoings.  It's still playing defense—protect who's in, but make no effort to reach out to who's not in or to who's not in enough.

The church's strategy here strikes me as defeatist and limiting.  It's like a soccer team that only puts defenders in the field.  They'll never score, but it's unlikely they'll allow any goals.  Notably, if all of your players stay in your backfield, that means the best possible outcome for you is a draw—zero to zero.  If you put some attackers on the other half of the field you may weaken your defense, but you'll actually open up the possibility of winning by giving yourself the opportunity to score.  An argument can be made that the church has chosen this strategy because it knows it can't score—it knows that its doctrine and its history and its scripture are uniformly incapable of converting the skeptics and the doubters.  So the church focuses exclusively on defending its core of brainwashed, all-in, dyed-in-the-wool, wholly committed members.  They've packed their lineup with ten fullbacks and they're all milling around inside the penalty box.  And honestly, that's just as likely to allow a goal by obstructing the goalkeeper's sight lines as it is to prevent a goal, but I think I've taken this metaphor far enough already.

Plenty of other examples of this defense-centric approach crop up in the recent past.  In Ballard's "Stay in the Boat" General Conference address, though he mentions that questions are fine and that the church will help rescue those who have fallen out of the boat, he doesn't provide any specific questions.  He certainly doesn't provide any specific answers, either, and instead opts to spend the majority of his time telling us to wear our life jackets and not to get distracted.  He pays lip service to those who are no longer in the boat but imparts no reasons or methods to return.  It's all about retaining the people who are already there, safely aboard the Good Ship Zion.

Ballard revisits this strategy a few years later, asking those who are struggling with their faith, "Where will you go?"  Though he acknowledges that some have left the church, he doesn't discuss where they have gone.  Nevertheless, he is quick to imply to those who are still invested in the church that there really is nowhere else to go.  This, again, discourages the attrition of faithful members while providing nothing that assuages the concerns of doubters, progressive Mormons, fringe members, or the people who are, theoretically, drowning in the sea of nothingness beyond the hull of the boat.

And perhaps no recent example of this attitude is quite so callous as the announcement that the policy of exclusion for LGBT children had been reversed.  Notice how this information is framed by the First Presidency, as reported by the faceless Newsroom:
  • Nelson talks about how exciting it is that this is a real-life revelation, but offers no explanation and no apology for the original policy and provides no sympathy for anyone hurt by it.
  • Oaks focuses on Christ's love and says that the "very positive policies...should help affected families," but also offers no explanation or apology for the original policy.  He mentions that families have been "affected," but does not describe what those effects may have been.  "Affected" is a neutral term.  You can be affected positively or negatively.  Saying someone was affected is not an acknowledgement of the marginalization and bigotry that was inflicted upon them.
  • Eyring explains that revelation has helped the church adapt to changing circumstances, implying the policy didn't change because the church did—it changed because the circumstances did.  And he also does not offer an explanation or an apology and also does not express sympathy for those who were "affected" by the three-year exclusion.
All of this is geared toward those who weren't particularly bothered by the policy.  In fact, reading the news release doesn't alert anyone who was not already aware that this was enacted less than 3 years prior.  To a casual observer, this sounds a little like the way the lifting of the priesthood ban is framed—it used to be one way, but now it's another way, and now look at how wonderful it is for us to be moving forward!  

This is still playing defense.  Rather than acknowledge some uncomfortable things that will win them integrity points with critics and doubters and attempting to explain the reasons for those uncomfortable things (which would risk generating doubts among the membership base), the church leaders gloss over and obfuscate the more emetic information and turn their focus to comforting, positive talking points that the general membership is likely to digest.  There's nothing proactive here.  There are no strikers on this field.  This is just a way to prevent shots on their own goal, and they accomplish this by refusing to take shots at the opposing goal.

But beyond the sports metaphor, this behavior shows a hypocrisy in Jesus's shepherd metaphor.  Because by safeguarding the testimonies of the faithful while sacrificing the testimonies of those most at risk to faithlessness, the church is essentially sacrificing one group's salvation in favor of safeguarding another group's salvation. It is leaving the one and expending all its energies on the ninety and nine.  We should expect more from a church that claims to uphold the restoration of the same gospel taught by Jesus himself.  But many of us have learned to expect disappointment.  We've learned that, when the church is at a crossroads between the Christlike decision and the businesslike decision, it will rarely choose the right.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Chiasmus in Twilight

Chiasmus has long been cited as one of the evidences that the Book of Mormon is of ancient Hebrew origins.  I first learned about this during a special fireside given by a member of my stake who'd recently visited Central America.  I was about 14 at the time, but he was what I would refer to today as an amateur apologist.

It's pretty impressive to think of what complexity Joseph Smith was able to work into the Book of Mormon using Hebrew poetic devices that he would not have been academically aware of.  But what didn't occur to me in the midst of that tour de force of turn-of-the-millennium apologetics was that, in a lot of cases, you can find chiasmus if you squint really hard and look at the text just right.  Although the concept has been covered by church magazines, BYU researchers, and apologists, I was recently reminded of the more implausible branches of issue by stumbling across one particular site that claims the entire book of First Nephi was written as one giant chiasmic narrative.

So I took the methodology I felt had been employed in this particular case (starting with the conclusion and working backwards to find the supporting data) and applied it to some famous pieces of the written word to see if I really could force something to be chiasmus just by wanting it badly enough.  It was a surprisingly amusing exercise as I opted to revisit Lewis Carroll's masterpiece of silliness, The Jabberwocky:

please excuse my amateurish formatting
Sure, some of those things are a stretch, but that's what makes it fun.  And I do see a lot of Book of Mormon analysis citing things that are thematically chiasmic, even if they aren't syntactically chiasmic.  So even if similar words aren't used, as long as we can find some connection between the two ideas, we can decide that they match up.  And in this particular case, I think we can learn that something doesn't have to claim Hebrew origins or contain any kind of solemnity in it to have the framework of a chiasmus.

But since Lewis Carroll is a minor literary monument (I mean, he's not on par with Shakespeare or Jane Austen, but he's celebrated as a classic writer), maybe he had the wherewithal to consciously structure his poetry this way—assuming it wasn't just the opium talking. So I decided to try a larger piece of writing, in much the same way that the aforementioned website tackled the full breadth of First Nephi.  I went to someone who, though popular, is not a celebrated as a wordsmith.  I went to someone who I perhaps take too much pleasure in ridiculing.  I went to Twilight.

I can make an argument that the sparkly-vampire-high-school-melodrama-adventure that took the world by storm a little over a decade ago is laid out in that sort of nested, mirrored, symmetrical structure that we've been examining.  Some of it takes a little work to dig up, but I think that this is every bit as rickety and every bit as defensible as the claim that Nephi recorded his own story as a giant Hebraic Easter egg.

Observe, chapter by chapter:

1. Bella attends gym class, where she stresses about her clumsiness
2. Bella says she moved to Forks so her mom could travel with Phil, who plays minor league baseball
3. Edward saves Bella’s life by stopping an out-of-control van
4. Bella is surrounded with people and attention after surviving a life-threatening situation
5. Bella leaves school early
6. Against advice, Jacob tells Bella about werewolves
7. Bella makes plans to travel from Forks to Port Angeles
8. Bella is targeted by a group of dangerous men
9. Bella learns the supernatural aspects of vampires in conversation with Edward
10. Bella’s instinct is to lie by denying she’s scared of Edward
11. Edward drives Bella to her house
12. Bella pretends she’s not going to the dance to deceive Mike
13. Vampires sparkle in the sunlight
14. Bella pretends she’s asleep to deceive her father
15. Edward drives Bella to his house
16. Bella’s instinct is to lie by keeping her father from knowing she’s involved with Edward
17. Bella sees the supernatural aspects of vampires at the Cullen’s baseball game
18. Bella is targeted by a group of dangerous vampires
19. Bella prepares to travel from Forks to Arizona
20. Against advice, Alice tells Bella how someone becomes a vampire
21. Bella plans to leave Alice and Jasper
22. Bella isolates herself and James corners her in a life-threatening situation
23. Edward saves Bella’s life by sucking venom out of her wound
24. Bella’s mother reveals that her husband Phil was signed with a Phoenix minor league baseball team.
Epilogue: Bella attends the prom in the gym, where she stresses about her lack of dancing ability

It's not airtight, obviously.  But I think it's roughly on par with the analysis of First Nephi.  And more importantly, I think it demonstrates that the chiasmic construct can be a construct in more than one sense of the word.  It can be a post hoc fabrication that does not necessarily reflect the reality of the composition or the intent of its author.

I mean, unless Stephanie Meyer had some kind of seer stone we don't know about.

Monday, August 19, 2019

When is Protection Not Protection?

The big news in Mormonism last weekend was that the church has created its own training material to prevent abuse and identify signs of abuse among children and youth.  At least, that's the ostensible purpose behind the rollout of the webinar.  I'm sure just about everybody can agree that stopping sexual abuse and reporting abusers is extremely important, but there are a few things about this particular development that leave a sour taste in my mouth.

Firstly—and perhaps I'm-wearing-a-tinfoil-hatly—it's the URL.  As shared in the Salt Lake Tribune article, the simple web address the church chose to share is ProtectingChildren.ChurchofJesusChrist.orgprotecting children.  There is no way that during the preparation of this new training course, no one said, "Hey, that's kind of like the name of the organization whose founder we excommunicated last year for raising this issue in the first place."  Sure, it's a different form of the verb "protect" and it doesn't have the name "LDS" in it (because using that as an identifier for a member of the church is a victory for Satan) but it's strikingly similar.  It could have been called "preventing abuse" or "child safety" or even "stewardship safeguards" for a more citrusy Mormon flavor.  They could have called it "please God don't let us get sucked into an international scandal the way the Great and Abominable Church has" if they thought it would have been a memorable enough URL.  But no, they went with "protecting children."

And it's troubling that it's similar because (and maybe this is even more tinfoil-hat-esque) this is only being done as an answer to Sam Young and his Protect LDS Children wave-making.  I think the name was an intentional choice so that the church can point to this and say, "Look, we're taking this seriously and we've made appropriate changes."  Well, no, I actually don't expect them to say that, but I think they're hoping that any faithful Mormons who were bothered by the issues Sam Young raised will make that connection on their own and be satisfied that the problem has been solved.

Moving on to more substantive arguments, this demonstrates yet again that the church refuses to admit when it's wrong.  After making an incremental change that nodded in Sam Young's direction, they excommunicated him for his efforts and they are now making flourishing, meretricious dance steps across his spiritual grave.  This does seem to continue a pattern of the organization's brutal authoritarianism when it's confronted with its most blatant flaws.  After the CES Letter went viral, the church started releasing Gospel Topics essays on its website.  Then they went after its author in a disciplinary court and continued pumping out Gospel Topics essays that confirm many of the accusations leveled within the pages of that damnable, curs├ęd CES Letter.  Shortly after Kate Kelly formed Ordain Women, the first woman gave a prayer in General Conference, but Kate Kelly was excommunicated a year later (and now we sometimes even have women's events in which men don't do any of the talking).  This behavior is paranoid, childish, manipulative, and heartless—and yet, somehow, it's exactly what people have come to expect from our loving Father in Heaven's only officially recognized religion.  

And, of course, this new training thingamajig doesn't actually address the crux of Sam Young's crusade anyway—the one-on-one interviews with bishops that can cover sexual topics.  It's carefully calculated lip service.  The standing policy of the church is still—with the small concession made last year—that the child being interviewed may ask that another adult be in the room.  Church policy does not require another adult to be present and it does explicitly take explicit sexual questions off the table.

Even more troubling is the disparity in how suspected abuse should be reported by people in different callings—as pointed out by a Redditor who took the training course:
Bishops and Stake Presidents should call their hotline, which goes to Kirton McConkie.  Everybody else should call the police.  This is one hundred percent not okay.  If someone is molesting a child, call whoever you think should be alerted, yes, but the police should be at the very top of that list—exactly the way it works in the "Other Leaders and Teachers" section of the image above.  If you find a dead body, you call the police.  If you see a drug deal going down, you call the police.  But if a child tells you they're being sexually abused, you call your church's law firm?  Your religious organization's desire to insulate itself from lawsuits and bad press does not supersede your responsibilities to the abused child and to the public.

I also want to say that this business of having an online training course that certifies your completion and has to be renewed after a set period of time really helps drive home just how corporate the church has become.  This is perhaps not a fair criticism, because I have to admit that if you want to make this training available to as many of your people (with the appropriate login credentials) as possible and you need a good way to keep track of who has and has not completed it, this option seems very efficient.  But it's still strongly reminiscent of the standardized training I've taken at every large company I've ever worked for.  And it fits very neatly into a corporate hierarchy with a patriarchic oligarchy at its head pushing out pilot programs and surveys and mission statements and ad campaigns and branding initiatives to help them smoothly navigate through every shift in policy and every projected market downturn.  I have no ideas for how else they could have accomplished what they're doing.  But I suppose a divinely inspired religion could fairly be expected to have some more out-of-the-box solutions than what your typical 200-year-old multibillion-dollar company would come up with.

Just sayin'.

Anyway, in conclusion, this was a weak attempt overall, guys.  Try it again, only be more sincere this time.  There could literally be lives at stake.

Friday, August 16, 2019

I Love to Work the Temple

My parents are both temple workers.

My mom sends out emails on a daily basis to talk about whatever is happening in her life.  It's a nice habit that makes it easy for us to keep ourselves updated on the family.  But lately, a lot of her emails contain large chunks of text that are all about her temple shift that day.

It's kind of disturbing how much of the terminology she uses is exactly the kind of terminology people use at...well...jobs.  Places of employment.  Locations that provide you with money in exchange for your time and your labor and your expertise.

It's even weirder how so much of what she says about her temple work is reminiscent of my time in the fast food industry.  She'll talk about snacks in the break room, sore feet from standing for long hours, the confusion of working in a different position than the one she normally fills, colleagues who don't pull their own weight, and unreliable people who arrive late to their shifts.  There are entire paragraphs that make perfect sense as fast food stories if you substitute "sandwich station" for "initiatory" and "ground beef" for "family name cards."  

One of my nephews is getting baptized soon.  While I visited my parents recently, I had the pleasure of sitting through an entire discussion about which other temple workers they could switch shifts with so that they'd be able to attend the event.  It felt eerily similar to conversations my old burger joint employees would have as they texted their colleagues to try and find a replacement on short notice.

So, essentially, my retirement-age parents have a part-time job.  It's a part-time job that they spend more than an hour driving to.  It's a part-time job that they don't receive monetary compensation for.  It's a part-time job that they actually pay ten percent of their retirement income to just for the privilege of maintaining it.

If my parents were a little older and possessed less mental acuity, I think this would be a pretty straightforward example of elder abuse.  They are spending their time and money during their retirement by doing busywork for a wealthy multinational organization.  Their hours in the temple make no discernible positive impact on the world outside the walls, but the church has them convinced that they are performing a vital service for countless souls.  What they're not doing is enjoying their retirement and relaxing a little after long years of raising a family and working real jobs.  Meanwhile, my mom sends out emails about how stressful it is at the temple when it gets busy.  

It would be really terrific if the church could just go ahead and implode so that my parents can be freed from all of this.  It can't happen soon enough.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Presentism Fallacy Fallacy

Lately, I've been noticing that a number of rebuttals to criticisms of the church seem to revolve around presentism—the idea that it's neither fair nor honest to examine yesterday's events through the lens of modern biases. FAIR seems to like to point this out, and it was an LDS blog post about why people leave the church that made me start to think a little bit more about it.  And it's important to mention, before I dive too far into this, that presentism is also used as an excuse in official church settings, such as Elder Cook's devotional last year, in which church historian Matt Grow said
It is really easy to play gotcha with the past.  To pull an incident or a quotation out of its context and make it look alarming.  As a historian, I try to follow the advice of a British novelist—and I love this—he said, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."  And to me, that means that when we visit the past, we don't want to be an ugly tourist.
Presentism, of course, is a real thing. Imposing our 21st-century values on the historical record can lead to a twisting or misinterpretation of the historical narrative. This is why we shouldn't hold it against MLK for calling people Negroes—it wasn't offensive then, but it can be very offensive today.

Presentism isn't a magic eraser of personal or cultural culpability, however. It doesn't mean that anything in the past is on untouchable moral ground. Andrew Jackson forced the Cherokee nation on the Trail of Tears during the same decade that saw the rise of Mormonism, but you don't see a public backlash against people who condemn his actions.  Sure, a lot of people in the 19th century "didn't know any better" when it came to the treatment of Native Americans. Sure, there were probably people who would have been even more brutal if they'd been in Jackson's position. But there were also people who knew better and who raised their voices in protest. The fact that it happened two centuries ago doesn't absolve its perpetrators of moral responsibility—what it does mean, however, is that we should be willing to admit from our modern perspective that, had we been part of that culture and that environment, we may not have made the right decisions either.

This is why I think that, in a discussion of presentism, a distinction needs to be made between custom and morality. Let's apply that couplet our church historians love to quote: "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." If you visit a foreign country and the people there find a gesture to be offensive even though it's innocuous in your culture, that's fine. If you visit a foreign country and they execute children for disobeying their parents, that's not fine.

Similarly, if we apply a presentist approach to the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor (as I have in the past), we may miss the fact that, during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Bill of Rights was generally applied to federal law only.  This meant that the legality of the Nauvoo City Council's actions was more dependent on Illinois state law than on the First Amendment.  Though today's Americans tend to see the Bill of Rights as something so sacrosanct that state governments are explicitly bound to uphold it, this wasn't legally codified until 20th-century Supreme Courts began ruling on what is now the widely accepted interpretation of the due process clause in the 14th Amendment.  All of this means that presentism can exaggerate the egregiousness of the Nauvoo Expositor incident by overplaying its illegality. In contrast, a presentist approach to the priesthood ban doesn't change whether it was wrong. It may merely confirm that racist prophets were in step with the bigoted zeitgeists of their time. Oh, wait, except the past is a foreign country and they do things differently there, so everything's cool, right?

What we should learn from being aware of our presentism is not that things were different then and therefore the church is still true—it's that because things were so different then, we shouldn't necessarily kid ourselves into thinking we would have stood against problematic policies if we'd been 19th-century Mormons. The wrong things that past church leaders did are still wrong.  But we probably shouldn't be so quick to get on our high horses and decide we would have done better.  

Society has evolved and some of our moral sensibilities have improved, so it's a lot easier for us to make better decisions on certain issues because we were born into a culture that already believes that black people aren't property and that women aren't property and that using divining rods to find hidden treasure is an absolute absurdity.  We should also hope that our grandchildren will grant us similar latitude when the things that our society handles poorly are examined through a lens of possible future biases.

And regardless of all that noise, there's a certain cross-section of Mormonism that should, theoretically, be insusceptible to presentist attacks: divinely revealed doctrine. It's one thing to say Joseph Smith did bad things but doesn't deserve judgment from modern standards, but it's a completely different thing to give God a free pass.  Why did God do or permit so many things that don't line up with modern standards—including standards that the church has raised in order to catch up with the broader culture? You can say a church leader's actions were reflective of the culture he inhabited, but  that doesn't explain why would God allow his chosen mouthpiece to preach what is clearly reprehensible. Prophets can, arguably, be vulnerable to presentist criticism, but God should be immune. The God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever should behave in a way that would be impervious to presentist accusations. You can't character assassinate someone who by definition has no character flaws, right?

But instead, we have a God who permits prophet after prophet to be products of their times. We have a God who allows their awful sayings to be canonized in official church materials and promulgated as official church doctrine. This should be, from both a historical and a presentist perspective, a grievous sin of omission. He could have made sure that the horrible things Brigham Young said about black people were only in his personal interactions, not spoken in general conference or parroted by future apostles or distributed in the church's publications. But he didn't—even though, as God, he should have known better.  We can write off Brigham Young's mistakes as human failings in a deeply racist historical culture. God doesn't get that excuse because he isn't human, he's not supposed to have failings, and he wasn't a product of that culture.

Is presentism a real problem for us when we analyze church history? Of course. Does it absolve the church from every ugly thing in its past?

Not even close.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Survey Says...Bad Idea

The LDS church has just made some more waves by sending out a questionnaire that appears to be testing the waters for shifting the starting age for periodic bishop interviews from 12 to 8.  This is a baffling step that I'd like to approach from a few different angles.

The Official Church Explanation is Problematic
Here's what the church had to say in response:
On an on-going basis, the Church sends surveys to leaders and members to seek their opinion and experience regarding activities, perceptions, and participation in Church programs. The Church also looks for ways to assist parents in the spiritual growth and development of their children. Periodic interviews with a parent or trusted adult present is one of many considerations to help children remember the baptismal covenants they have made and follow Jesus Christ. This survey is designed to simply gain information and is not an announcement of any change in practice.
Okay, first of all, LDS Spokesman Daniel Woodruff, "ongoing" is a real word, so you don't need to throw a hyphen in there.  But more importantly, this statement is a little misleading.

The way it stresses that the surveys seek opinions about church programs and later reiterates that this particular survey was designed merely to gain information seems like an attempt to imply that the church only wants to take the membership's temperature and does not use these kinds of methods to steer its policies.  This, of course, kind of flies in the face of what Quentin Cook said last year about the implementation of the Come, Follow Me curriculum:
In pilot test stakes across the world, there was a highly favorable response to the new Come, Follow Me home resource. Many reported that they progressed from reading scriptures to actually studying the scriptures. It was also commonly felt the experience was faith promoting and had a wonderful impact on the ward.
Why would you do pilot programs and mass surveys if they don't affect your decisions?  Why would you tout the responses to your testing if it wasn't a factor in the rollout of the new policy?  The church absolutely uses these methods as a way to gain information about changes they're planning to implement.  While Daniel Woodruff is obviously right that this is not an announcement of a change, I think the statement's wording is trying to downplay how seriously the church is considering this change.

It's also muddying the church's institutional role in the spiritual development of young members.  Let's review Nelson's announcement of the new "home-centered, church-supported" gospel curriculum last year:
This morning we will announce a new balance and connection between gospel instruction in the home and in the Church. We are each responsible for our individual spiritual growth. And scriptures make it clear that parents have the primary responsibility to teach the doctrine to their children. It is the responsibility of the Church to assist each member in the divinely defined goal of increasing his or her gospel knowledge.
It seems kind of disingenuous to talk about how the church looks to assist parents in their children's spiritual development when there's been a recent major policy that shifts responsibility for that development away from the church and toward the parents.  The church is trying to assist less and  trying to relinquish some of its responsibility when it comes to teaching the gospel.  But when it comes to bringing children in to meet with authority figures to discuss personal testimonies and personal worthiness, the church is apparently happy to step up and look for ways to "assist."

Also it's a little weird that the argument is that periodic bishop interviews will help the children remember their baptismal covenants.  We're taught in primary classes that we renew our baptismal covenants with the sacrament.  The prayers over the bread and water make reference to those covenants.  Why is an interview with the bishop every few months going to make children remember something that they're reminded of every Sunday?

From a Public Relations Approach, This is Problematic
I think Sam Young has demonstrated he's not interested in stopping in his pursuit of his cause to protect children from the relatively rare but individually devastating risks that a policy like this would increase.  It seems like the wisest route for the church in the interest of avoiding bad press is to leave Sam Young's arena alone for a while.  They clearly have no interest in complying with his demands, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to move in the opposite direction.  Tons of church critics are going to jump on it, Sam is going to organize more events, and the church is going to have more fun New York Times headlines that vault its more embarrassing controversies into the national press.

And even though Mormonism hasn't been hit as hard with abuse scandal as the Catholic church has, Catholicism has struggled with the issue so much that the international profile for ecclesiastical abuse has become huge.  For a religion so obsessed with its public image, you'd think it would make more sense for the church to err on the side of caution and institute preventative policies lest it produces the next big national scandal of clerical sexual misconduct.  Not only are they leaving children vulnerable and considering amplifying that vulnerability, but they're leaving their public image vulnerable and considering amplifying that vulnerability.

Implications Regarding Revelation are Problematic
Revelation implies divine communication.  And within the context of Mormonism, it's not an implication—it's the direct definition of the word.  It means that God is introducing information that is beyond human ability to learn or to generate.  The will of God doesn't require surveys or pilot programs—when God said to study it out in your mind, he didn't mean to ask for popular opinion.  I don't recall hearing any scriptural story or any church history anecdote in which a prophet or a member was required to acquire a large sample of opinions in order to receive revelation.  If you need to send out mass emails to collect responses and analyze them in bulk before determining your course of action, you're not receiving supernatural assistance for your policy decisions.

Furthermore, the clinical, corporate way this data collection was conducted doesn't seem indicative of an organization with a direct line to Heaven:
This survey is being conducted by the Correlation Research Division of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church is considering having Primary children ages 8 to 11 receive periodic individual interviews, similar to the current practice of interviewing young men and young women. 
Your honest feedback will provide valuable information on this proposed change. Your individual answers will be kept confidential. Your participation in this survey is important but voluntary. Your responses will be combined with those received from other participants, and they will be used only to identify broad statistical trends and not any individual information.
Revelation now runs on broad statistical trends culled by the Correlation Research Division from feedback provided on proposed changes.  That's not very inspired or inspiring.

From a Practical Standpoint, This is...You Guessed it...Problematic
What kind of organization doesn't take the risk of sexual abuse seriously—especially when it applies to children?  Sam Young has been persistent enough and confrontational enough and public enough that the church leadership cannot claim plausible deniability.  They have been made aware of the risk their policies present.  So why would a policy that can increase that risk even be proposed?

Disregarding any doctrine, any moral or legal questions, and stripping the issue down to just humans making a decision that affects other humans, this makes absolutely zero sense to me.  Different sections of society disregard the needs of others all the time.  Some people want bad things for certain genders, orientations, ethnic groups, nationalities, political parties, corporations, or socioeconomic groups.  But one thing that just about everyone agrees on is that we need to protect children from sexual abuse.  Children are, perhaps, the most universally protected class of people.  So why, when someone publicly provides evidence that ecclesiastical interviews are normalizing sexual discussions with non-relative authority figures and making children susceptible to grooming, is a policy that begins those same interviews even earlier in a child's life even under consideration?  And let's be honest—if they're sending out an official survey on it, it's under serious consideration.  It still may not happen, but it's gotten far enough through the vetting process for someone in the Church Office Building to request statistical data on it.

It should never have gotten this far.  It should have been brought up in one meeting by one moron and then been immediately shouted down by the wiser people in the room.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Polygamy Boondogglery

I recently rediscovered the church's essay about the end of polygamy  I don't remember what specific issue I was digging into, but Official Declaration 1 was involved in my curiosity, and that led me back to this shining example of apologetic logical chaos.  It was a lot more troublesome than I remembered. And, of course, I'm going to discuss why I thought so.  To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, I will begin at the beginning, go on until I come to the end, and then stop.
For much of the 19th century, a significant number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage—the marriage of one man to more than one woman.
Phrasing the issue as "the marriage of one man to more than one woman" makes it sound like we're not going to be talking about polyandry.  There's no mention of the marriage of one woman to more than one man.  I wonder why that is.

My guess?  Because that would point to some of the slimier aspects of an already slimy practice.  Modern Mormons are often able to make peace with polygamy since it was such a long time ago, but this is usually possible because the more unpalatable details are shrouded.  The church was relatively honest in the other polygamy essay by mentioning that Joseph wed Helen Mar Kimball "several months before her 15th birthday."  But if more members knew that some of these wives were young women living in the Smith household, or that Joseph married women who already had husbands, or that he married women after sending their husbands or fathers on missions, they may find it more difficult to leave polygamy on the shelf.

However, it's definitely not a good sign that this essay kicks things off with such a significant lie of omission in the very first sentence.  Continuing:
Like the beginning of plural marriage in the Church, the end of the practice was a process rather than a single event. Revelation came “line upon line, precept upon precept.”
Remember this comment for later.  This essay is going to do a pretty good job of showing that the decisions made by church leaders in regards to polygamy align pretty closely with what you'd expect from humans with no divine foreknowledge.  It wasn't line upon line.  It was concession upon concession.
For half a century, beginning in the early 1840s, Church members viewed plural marriage as a commandment from God, an imperative that helped “raise up” a righteous posterity unto the Lord.
That is some interesting wording.  Notice that it doesn't say the church taught that this was its stance on polygamy or that this was the doctrinal truth of polygamy during that time period—it's just how church members viewed it.  They're throwing the members under the bus and trying to keep the prophets above culpability.  Which is kind of shitty.  I mean, why do you think the church members viewed plural marriage this way?  Was it some kind of spontaneously generated mass delusion or was it because their leaders told them that's how plural marriage works?
Also, if polygamy was an imperative to raise up a righteous posterity, why would Joseph Smith need to marry women who already had righteous husbands?  Why is it so hard to determine if Joseph Smith had any children by his wives?  And what's so inferior about monogamous marriages that prevent them from adequately raising up a righteous posterity?  This explanation sounds fine when you don't think about it, but if you're willing to analyze some of the underlying details, it has serious logical flaws and serious unanswered questions.
Many Latter-day Saints embarked on a course of civil disobedience during the 1880s by continuing to live in plural marriage and to enter into new plural marriages. The federal government responded by enacting ever more punishing legislation.
Does civil disobedience qualify as "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law"?  I understand the argument that God's commandments take precedence over secular law, but if that's going to be the approach, we shouldn't get to whine about persecution and we shouldn't pretend like the twelfth article of faith is actually a meaningful aspect of our faith.  Believing in being subject to the law when you have no conflict with the law is fair-weather civic responsibility.  It's like saying you strongly support a woman's right to choose but only when she chooses not to have an abortion.  Imagine trying to fit in with the pro-choice crowd with that attitude.

I'm also not crazy about the nobility of the phrase "civil disobedience."  I hope we're not pretending early Mormon polygamists are as heroic as Ghandi or Dr. King.
This government opposition strengthened the Saints’ resolve to resist what they deemed to be unjust laws. Polygamous men went into hiding, sometimes for years at a time, moving from house to house and staying with friends and relatives.  Others assumed aliases and moved to out-of-the-way places in southern Utah, Arizona, Canada, and Mexico.
...This antipolygamy campaign created great disruption in Mormon communities. The departure of husbands left wives and children to tend farms and businesses, causing incomes to drop and economic recession to set in.
Why are we blaming economic recession on leaving the work to the women?  Apparently the women of Deseret during the late nineteenth century weren't made of the same stock as the women of America during World War II.

It's also kind of weird that the men left their families.  Sure, they were fleeing prosecution, but wouldn't it make more sense to move their entire family to these out-of-the-way places?  I'm sure that would be a huge undertaking, but wouldn't it beat an indefinite separation?  Or they could merely stop cohabiting with more than one wife, which is exactly what this essay will later say men did after the first manifesto:  "other husbands stopped cohabiting with all but one of their wives but continued to provide financial and emotional support to all dependents."  
The campaign also strained families. New plural wives had to live apart from their husbands, their confidential marriages known only to a few. Pregnant women often chose to go into hiding, at times in remote locales, rather than risk being subpoenaed to testify in court against their husbands. Children lived in fear that their families would be broken up or that they would be forced to testify against their parents. Some children went into hiding and lived under assumed names.
That sucks and all, but I don't like the way this is presented in the spirit of victimhood.  The parents did something that they knew was against the law.  Regardless of whether that law is justified, these polygamists knew the risks they were taking. They're not quite as passively victimized as they're made out to be.

None of this should diminish the legitimate struggles church members must have had, however.  Even if you thought the right course of action was to live polygamy and to abide by the law of the land, moving your huge family down to Mexico surely would not have been a simple or painless operation.  But considering how much the early saints are glorified for suffering in the name of their religion as they were driven from place to place (or for suffering incarceration, as in the quote immediately below), it's surprising that more people weren't willing to pack up and move to where they could legally practice their beliefs.
Incarceration for “conscience’ sake” proved edifying for many. George Q. Cannon, a counselor in the First Presidency, emerged from his five months in the Utah penitentiary rejuvenated. “My cell has seemed a heavenly place, and I feel that angels have been there,” he wrote.
A self-important sense of martyrdom doesn't make you right.  

Encountering strong resistance to your beliefs can often reinforce them in your mind.  This happens to Mormons, ex-Mormons, Democrats, Republicans, Anti-vaxxers, Flat Earthers, and people who think Greedo shot first. These early Mormon polygamists' willingness to endure punishment for the glory of their convictions may be indicative of the intensity of those convictions, but it is not indicative of truth—which means this paragraph doesn't really accomplish anything other than stoking Mormonism's seemingly endless appetite for virtuous martyrdom and noble persecution.
Church leaders prayerfully sought guidance from the Lord and struggled to understand what they should do. Both President John Taylor and President Wilford Woodruff felt the Lord directing them to stay the course and not renounce plural marriage. 
This inspiration came when paths for legal redress were still open.
If the inspiration to stay the course came while paths to legal redress were still open, what indicates to us that it was actually inspiration?  Still trying while there's hope and then giving up once hope is gone is what a human without the benefit of divine prophecy would do.  It would have been impressive if the leaders had received inspiration to stay the course and were later able to achieve legal redress, thus validating the intervening struggle.  But inspiration that mirrors mortal decision-making doesn't seem useful.  And it sure doesn't make it sound like God was being very helpful.

God inspired me to brush my teeth this morning.  That's what I was going to do anyway, sure, but I swear I received revelation on the subject.
"The Lord showed me by vision and revelation," he later said, "exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice," referring to plural marriage.  "All the temples [would] go out of our hands."  God "has told me exactly what to do, and what the result would be if we did not do it."
Did God tell you or did you just read the Tucker Edmonds Act and see which way the wind was blowing?  Again, this is a decision-making dynamic that is attributed to God but demonstrates no superhuman foresight or foreknowledge and sounds like exactly what a normal human-made decision would have been under the circumstances.
Despite countless difficulties, many Latter-day Saints were convinced that the antipolygamy campaign was useful in accomplishing God’s purposes. They testified that God was humbling and purifying His covenant people as He had done in ages past.
Ah, so that's the explanation for why the prophets were inspired to stay the course.  Because God was humbling his people through persecution.  I guess it's tough to refute that, other than to say that God truly works in mysterious ways because it seems like the only way to tell the difference between punishment and humblement is the membership status of the victims.
The essay lays things out pretty clearly and in pretty mundane, everyday, humany detail, so it sounds like God was phoning it in and merely confirming common sense.  It's also interesting that God commanded the prophet to abrogate a practice that Brigham Young previously indicated was essential for exaltation And when God finally did instruct his servants to cave, it was simply because a man-made government was attaching legal penalties to the policy in question--not for a doctrinal reason or for any kind of revelatory paradigm shift.
The Manifesto was carefully worded to address the immediate conflict with the U.S. government. “We are not teaching polygamy, or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice,” President Woodruff said. “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise."
The quote here from Woodruff is a bit misleading. These two thoughts are in separate paragraphs in the Manifesto with a lengthy sentence between them. But more importantly, even though the Manifesto does directly address US law, it does not mention any territory or government when it declares that polygamy is neither taught nor permitted.

The Manifesto may have been carefully worded, but not carefully enough to provide coverage for modern apologists.  Since this essay admits the church was approving marriages outside the United States (and in Utah as well) into the early years of the 20th century, that means that Woodruff was being dishonest and the church leadership was behaving contrary to the Manifesto's assertions.  
And yes, I know that the usual refutation for an accusation like this is that it's silly to believe that prophets are perfect, since it's widely taught that God must choose imperfect men to lead his church.  But there's a difference between imperfect and actively immoral.  And when a pattern emerges challenging the moral credibility of prophet after prophet, it begins to look like either God is a poor judge of character, God doesn't actually care who he puts in charge, or that maybe God has nothing to do with which asshole is in power.
The Manifesto was formally presented to the Church at the semiannual general conference held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in October 1890. On Monday, October 6, Orson F. Whitney, a Salt Lake City bishop, stood at the pulpit and read the Articles of Faith, which included the line that Latter-day Saints believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” These articles were sustained by uplifted hand. Whitney then read the Manifesto, and Lorenzo Snow, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, moved that the document be accepted as “authoritative and binding.”
The voting at General Conference sure has changed in the last 100 years, huh?  I don't remember voting on the Proclamation on the Family.  But Dallin H. Oaks has decided that it represents authoritative and binding doctrine:
In contrast, Latter-day Saints affirm that the family proclamation defines the kind of family relationships where the most important part of our eternal development can occur.
Converted Latter-day Saints believe that the family proclamation, issued nearly a quarter century ago and now translated into scores of languages, is the Lord’s reemphasis of the gospel truths we need to sustain us through current challenges to the family.
I testify that the proclamation on the family is a statement of eternal truth, the will of the Lord for His children who seek eternal life. It has been the basis of Church teaching and practice for the last 22 years and will continue so for the future. Consider it as such, teach it, live by it, and you will be blessed as you press forward toward eternal life.
But we've heard enough from Oaks.  Let's get back to the celebrated ghostwriters of this gospel topics essay: 
The Manifesto was formally presented to the Church at the semiannual general conference held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in October 1890. On Monday, October 6, Orson F. Whitney, a Salt Lake City bishop, stood at the pulpit and read the Articles of Faith, which included the line that Latter-day Saints believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” These articles were sustained by uplifted hand.
Okay, so this is kind of difficult to prove, but I can't help but wonder if this paragraph is designed to nurture a misconception that the Articles of Faith, including the belief in obeying the law, were not officially adopted by the church until the October 1890 general conference.  The Pearl of Great Price and the Articles of Faith therein were voted as the fourth standard work by the church in 1880.

Again, this is hardly my strongest criticism, but I don't see why the reading and sustaining of the Articles of Faith is a necessary detail to include here, since this paragraph is about the vote to adopt the Manifesto as binding.  Bringing up a different document—without mentioning that it had been binding for ten years by this point—and then talking about how the assembly raised their hands to affirm it is a weird way to go about narrating the Manifesto's introduction to the church membership.  I imagine that Whitney was essentially reminding the congregation of their belief in submitting to secular law before reading a Manifesto that could have been unpopular with a certain segment of the population.  But that's not how it's presented here.

Certainly, the above quote is not a lie.  And certainly, I can't demonstrate that it was written with the intent to deceive.  But I do think the construction is peculiar enough to support a theory that this was worded in such a way as to realistically generate members' honest misunderstandings of the conflict between the twelfth Article of Faith and plural marriage.
The assembly was then asked to vote on this motion. The Deseret News reported that the vote was “unanimous”; most voted in favor, though some abstained from voting.
"Unanimous" does not mean some people abstained.  The Latin roots that make up that word mean "one" and "mind."  If some people are not of a mind to visibly approve of a measure, I don't see how everyone is of one mind.  Some of them are merely condoning rather than affirming.  Perhaps that's splitting hairs, but at the very least I think that wording counts as abiding by the letter of the definition instead of the spirit of the definition.  It satisfies the denotation but not the connotation.  The essay uses the word "unanimous" to put the best possible not-technically-dishonest spin on the 19th century Saints' reception of the Manifesto.
Having lived, taught, and suffered for plural marriage for so long, it was difficult to imagine a world without it.
If you substitute the phrase "the church" in for "plural marriage" here, it nails why so many people stay in the church.  Interesting that the institution of the church can muster up empathy for members who struggled with the end of polygamy more easily than it can muster up empathy for members who have moved away from correlated orthodox Mormonism.
The Manifesto declared President Woodruff’s intention to submit to the laws of the United States. It said nothing about the laws of other nations.
This may be the shittiest, weaselliest line in this entire essay. Yes, it did declare the intent to obey the laws of the United States. Yes, it said nothing about the laws of other nations. Both these statements are true, but they are used in service of a lie. This paragraph goes on to discuss polygamous marriages in Canada and Mexico with the implication that these were performed without contradicting the Manifesto. That is plainly inaccurate. Let's revisit a crucial section of the Manifesto that, importantly, says nothing about the laws of any nation:
We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory.
Sure, it mentions the Utah Territory. But the part of the sentence that basically says polygamy is over does not provide any geographic restraints. It goes so far as to insist that the church was not permitting any person to enter into polygamy.  Regardless of what country or territory the church was allowing plural marriages in after 1890, it was in direct conflict with the Manifesto. Period. Full stop. End of discussion.
If they meant for people to know they planned to continue teaching and practicing polygamy in other locations besides the United States, this was the perfect place to say so—which makes it very significant that they declined to.
The ledger of “marriages and sealings performed outside the temple,” which is not comprehensive, lists 315 marriages performed between October 17, 1890, and September 8, 1903. Of the 315 marriages recorded in the ledger, research indicates that 25 (7.9%) were plural marriages and 290 were monogamous marriages (92.1%). Almost all the monogamous marriages recorded were performed in Arizona or Mexico. Of the 25 plural marriages, 18 took place in Mexico, 3 in Arizona, 2 in Utah, and 1 each in Colorado and on a boat on the Pacific Ocean. Overall, the record shows that plural marriage was a declining practice and that Church leaders were acting in good conscience to abide by the terms of the Manifesto as they understood them.
How? How does the record showing that the church leaders permitted polygamous marriages up to 13 years after they declared it was no longer practiced demonstrate that they were acting in good conscience?

Even based on this essay's insistence that the Manifesto only applied to US territories, this still shows that the church allowed 6 plural marriages in the US after they'd stated their intent not to do so. How is that acting in good conscience? The Manifesto did not say that the church would allow the practice to decline—the Manifesto was a statement that, as of 1890, the church was already not teaching polygamy and planned to submit to the United States' anti-polygamy laws. Clearly, that was not true.
Apostle Heber J. Grant, for example, reported that while visiting Mormon settlements in Mexico in 1900, he received 10 applications in a single day requesting plural marriages. He declined them all. “I confess,” he told a friend, “that it has always gone against my grain to have any violations of documents [i.e. the Manifesto] of this kind.”
Okay, so that means that Heber J. Grant thought that permitting polygamous marriages—even in Mexico—constituted a violation of the Manifesto. Again, based on an apostle's words, how was the church acting in good conscience to abide by the terms of the Manifesto as they understood them if Grant understood them the same way I do?
Church President Lorenzo Snow issued a statement clarifying that new plural marriages had ceased in the Church and that the Manifesto extended to all parts of the world, counsel he repeated in private.
Why did the second Manifesto need to clarify that polygamy was discontinued in all countries if the first one didn't specify any country in which it should still have been taught or allowed?
Even so, a small number of new plural marriages continued to be performed, probably without President Snow’s knowledge or approval. After Joseph F. Smith became Church President in 1901, a small number of new plural marriages were also performed during the early years of his administration.
Notice how there's no citation after the assertion that plural marriages were probably performed without Snow's knowledge.  It seems like they're saying, in effect, "we have no evidentiary basis for this either way, but we choose to assume the best, because that's how we roll when it comes to historical scholarship."  It's also notable that there's no disclaimer that the illicit marriages performed during Joseph F. Smith's tenure were probably done without his permission or knowledge.  Based on the utter lack of credibility and intellectual scruples demonstrated in this essay, I have to wonder if that isn't an under-the-radar admission that Joseph F. Smith knew about or authorized some polygamous unions. 
When questioned about new plural marriages performed since 1890, President Smith carefully distinguished between actions sanctioned by the Church and ratified in Church councils and conferences, and the actions undertaken by individual members of the Church. “There never has been a plural marriage by the consent or sanction or knowledge or approval of the church since the manifesto,” he testified.
The citation on this particular quote references the published transcript of the Reed Smoot hearings, available here (the above quote is on page 130).  This is the same hearing in which Joseph F. Smith testified that new apostles are chosen by the Quorum of the Twelve and not by revelation (page 92), and proclaimed "I have never pretended to nor do I profess to have received revelations" (page 99).  This is not a faith-promoting document.  It makes President Smith look evasive, uncooperative, and sometimes snarky (although I suppose it's tough to blame him, considering he was being dragged before the United States Senate to defend his religion while politicians debated whether his colleague was fit for public office).  I suppose it may serve to humanize the prophet, but it also shows that his understanding of his calling is drastically different from how the church regards Russell M. Nelson today.

Also, according to this very essay, the denial in the paragraph I quoted above is false. Remember how we were just discussing that there were at least 25 plural marriages performed after the manifesto (although FAIR Mormon estimates that it's "fewer than two hundred"). These marriages required apostolic approval, but they still happened. Is this essay saying that the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perjured himself before the United States Senate? 
Is this essay also trying to pretend like all of that is no big deal?  Yes. Except they're also pretending perjury isn't perjury. Observe:
In this legal setting, President Smith sought to protect the Church while stating the truth. His testimony conveyed a distinction Church leaders had long understood: the Manifesto removed the divine command for the Church collectively to sustain and defend plural marriage; it had not, up to this time, prohibited individuals from continuing to practice or perform plural marriage as a matter of religious conscience.
The prophet, apparently, was claiming there was some kind of don't-ask-don't-tell policy in regards to polygamy. Which is clearly refuted, yet again, by this essay, because plural marriages after the Manifesto required apostolic approval.  President Smith did not state the truth.  

But let's go back to his congressional testimony.  Shortly after sections of the 1890 Manifesto had been quoted on pages 105 and 106 of the transcript, we have this exchange:
Mr. Smith:  Let me hear your question.
Mr. Tayler:  That the suspension of the law commanding polygamy operated everywhere upon the Mormon people, whether within the United States or without?
Mr. Smith:  That is our understanding, that it did. 
Then, on page 108, when the prophet was being questioned about why polygamy was still canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants despite the Manifesto effectively repealing that law:
Mr. Tayler:  And it remains now without expurgation or note or anything to show that it is not now a valid law?
Mr. Smith:  In the book?
Mr. Tayler:  In the book; exactly.
Mr. Smith:  Yes, sir.
Mr. Tayler:  And in connection with the publication of the revelation itself.
Mr. Smith:  But the fact is publicly and universally known by the people.
It sounds to me like the prophet was saying that the withdrawal of polygamy as a divine commandment following the first Manifesto was so widely known and understood among the Mormon membership that there wasn't even a need to put an asterisk in the Doctrine and Covenants to alert readers that the practice had been suspended.

Earlier in his testimony, Joseph F. Smith had clarified the four doctrinal books of Mormonism—including the Pearl of Great Price (added to the standard works more than twenty years prior), which contained the Articles of Faith and thus the creed that "we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."

Everybody knew polygamy was no longer commanded.  Everybody knew the secular law was to be obeyed.  So...how, exactly, then, was Smith conveying a distinction between the church's removal of the divine command and individuals taking it upon themselves to continue the practice as a matter of religious conscience?  A Mormon's religious conscience after 1890 should have compelled them not to take additional wives.
In fact, to take it a step further, if we use the apologetic approach to the condemnation of polygamy in Jacob 2—which is that polygamy is only okay when God commands it—then why the hell would any Mormon's religious conscience compel them to marry an extra wife after a prophet's Manifesto putting an end to the commandment had been adopted as binding on God's church by the law of common consent?
Beginning in the 1890s, as Church leaders urged members to remain in their native lands and "build Zion" in those places rather than migrate to Utah as in previous years, it became more important for them to abide the laws mandating monogamy.
So doctrine is dictated by social convenience and local legality, okay.  And remember that the Articles of Faith were canonized in 1880, so I don't understand why abiding the laws weren't already a priority.

Let me conclude this grueling slog through the swamp of sophistry, the morass of mendacity, and the bog of bullshit with one final point:
"All that we can do," Cannon said, speaking of the First Presidency, "is to seek the mind and will of God, and when that comes to us, though it may come in contact with every feeling that we have previously entertained, we have no option but to take the step that God points out, and to trust to Him."
Okay, sure, yeah, let's talk about the wisdom God exhibited when he instituted polygamy.  It caused strife and multiple schisms in early church history, it brought the death of the founding prophet before any method of succession could be revealed, it delayed Mormon assimilation into society by giving fodder to anti-Mormons and delaying statehood for Utah, it was used as cause for the United States government to seize church assets, and in the modern era it often paints the beloved prophet in a lascivious and predatory light and continues to be mined for ammunition against the church's credibility, honesty, and truth claims.

Good call, God.