Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mormon Fundamentalist Theology, And Why I Cannot Abide By It

Previously I have explained some of my experiences looking for a home for myself in Mormon Fundamentalism (link), and where I now stand on the general topic of religious fundamentalism (link).

Today I have chosen to go beyond the generalities of what I have previously written, into specifics on the most prominent beliefs unique to Mormon Fundamentalism, and why I can no longer hold to them.

Alternative Succession Theories

In the early 90's I first learned of Lorin Woolley's claims about what is now commonly referred to as "The Eight Hour Meeting". At that time I thought I had discovered something as significant as what had originally attracted me to Mormonism in the first place, The First Vision of Joseph Smith.

The flowchart on the website run by Brian C. Hales, MD, (link) uses the title, "Alleged 1886 ordinations", to refer to The Eight Hour Meeting. The chart demonstrates quite effectively how central the meeting is to the authority claims of the vast majority of those involved in this movement.

Hales is a biased source, a mainstream Mormon with the intent of picking apart Mormon Fundamentalism, in much the same way outside critics attempt to undermine his (and my) church. Tactics which Mormons usually denounce with the valid question, "Is there so little to extol in your own beliefs that you have to resort to attacking ours?"

Dubious methods notwithstanding, I believe his material to be reliable, though a few more groups could have been listed in the chart. I would add United Order Publications/School of the Prophets (Robert Crossfield, pseudonym "Prophet Onias"), Winston Blackmore and those who left the Canadian branch of the FLDS with him, and the various groups John W. Bryant, Davied Israel, and Hava Pratt have started. Mike Rigby (Modern Automated Publishers) the book he promotes, "Sacred Scriptures", and the study groups he has led, might also have been worthy of mention.

Before I relocated to Utah, at a Sunstone Symposium West, I met author Samuel W. Taylor, (link), son of the apostle excommunicated in 1911 over the polygamy issue, and grandson of the LDS Church president who authored the 1886 revelation, and (allegedly) conducted the meeting. I highly recommend Sam Taylor's works, "Family Kingdom", "The Kingdom or Nothing", "Nightfall at Nauvoo", and "Rocky Mountain Empire". He believed that the Eight Hour Meeting actually took place, but mentioned "The Polygamy Story, Fiction and Fact" by J. Max Anderson, when I discussed the matter with him.

Anderson is associated with Brian C. Hales, and much of the content on Hales' website, and in books the two later co-authored, appear to be an extent ion of this earlier work. I obtained a copy of The Polygamy Story and found it made a convincing case against Lorin Woolley's claims. Were it not for this, I very well could have joined the Apostolic United Brethren. I certainly would have given this possibility much more serious consideration once I had moved.

With this house of cards collapsed and removed from the table, only a few theories remain as to the true successor of Joseph Smith, Jr.

The claims of the Lebaron Family, with their hereditary propensity for mental illness, do not impress me. Though I did take some amusement during the years when I worked a few blocks from the intersection where Ben had gone out in the middle of traffic, and did push-ups to prove he was the One Mighty and Strong. Personally, if I thought I was the OM&S, I think I'd try walking on the water in the fountain outside the Church Office Building (kidding, kidding).

Jim Harmston declared a revelation that time to proselytize had ended. With his source of converts cut off, and the high number of defections, the collapse of his church in eminent.

Chris Nemelka? Don't make me laugh.

Outside of Brighamite Mormonism, we have 167 years advantage over those in the succession crisis to see just how the other contenders had performed.

My conclusion: Thomas S. Monson, through Brigham Young, is Brother Joseph's legitimate successor. Not really by the strength of his own position, he has never translated an ancient language by the gift and power of God, declared any previously unrevealed doctrines to the church, or added the verbatim text of any, "Thus saith the Lord", revelations to the Doctrine and Covenants, but rather by the weakness of all other possibilities.

The One Mighty and Strong and The Setting In Order


And it shall come to pass that I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong, holding the scepter of power in his hand, clothed with light for a covering, whose mouth shall utter words, eternal words; while his bowels shall be a fountain of truth, to set in order the house of God, and to arrange by lot the inheritances of the saints whose names are found, and the names of their fathers, and of their children, enrolled in the book of the law of God.
-Doctrine and Covenants 85:7

This person will go through the land, assigning parcels of property...and he will set the entire world right. Huh? Does it make any textual sense to you to have to have these two events, of very different importance, put together into one passage?

One of the more significant faults I see in the reasoning of many Christians (Evangelicals in particular) is their eagerness to take a single excerpt from the Bible, and build an entire theology around it. Fanciful interpretations of the above cited quote outdo any of the Evangelicals imaginative fabrications, such as cars suddenly careening down the freeway unoccupied, by a long stretch.

Book of Isaiah scholar Avraham Gileadi has said nothing in public about his 1993 excommunication from the mainstream LDS Church. He has since been reinstated. That leaves me to speculate that this believing member of the church received such a harsh sanction not because of any deliberate disloyalty on his part, but rather because his writings found an eager audience in the fringes of the faith. In Isaiah, Gileadi finds prophesy of a figure in the latter days destined to a great work. He calls this man The Davidic King aka. Davidic Servant. Believers in the One Mighty and Strong have latched onto this as validation. The problem is that Gileadi believes that the prophesies can and do have multiple meanings, that they foretell several different things happening, at several different points in history. He takes prooftexts pertaining to Christ, and reads into them a second individual, who will prepare the way for the Second Coming. I don't think so.

The only half-way convincing argument I have found that another great prophet is foretold in prophesy is that Joseph Smith did not accomplish the deeds that the "Choice Seer" of II Nephi 3 was supposed to, therefore this must apply to a later prophet, who will bring forth the Sealed Portion. Believe me, I'm one of those Mormons who long to see another Joseph Smith, liberally proclaiming new truths to the elect who will receive them with joy...and I fear that the current leadership want to exclusively advance pragmatists and businessmen, no dreamers or visionaries, within their ranks. Can he come from outside the church? Doctrine and Covenants 42:11, a favorite for Elder Packer to cite at General Conference (link), would argue not.

Does the LDS Church even need to be set in order?

The very reason that Mormon Fundamentalists are considered fundamentalists (link) is that they believe they are holding to old truths, divinely revealed, that everyone else has forsaken. They (like all alternative succession theory proponents in the Restoration) believe that this work started out perfect, under God's continual guidance to keep out any error, but the mainstream somehow lost their way at some point in time.

My study of history leads me to regard this as a faulty premise. Mormonism, from it's very beginning, has been a collection of ideas, some of them reasonable and profound, some not. Mormon leaders have gotten enough wrong that I cannot accept the notion that the church has ever been under constant heavenly direction. They've gotten enough right that I plan to keep my book collection, church membership, and belief in a God that has, from time to time, communicated with us. Line upon line, precept on precept.

Joseph Smith is the Holy Ghost

"The Holy Ghost is now in a state of probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has."
-The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 245; Sabbath address, Nauvoo, 27 August 1843. Reported by Franklin D. Richards.

"You don't know me; you never knew my heart. No man knows my history. I cannot tell it: I shall never undertake it. I don't blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself."
-From The King Follet Discourse

"Would to God, brethren, I could tell you who I am! Would to God I could tell you what I know! But you would call it blasphemy, and there are men upon this stand who would want to take my life"
-cited in Life of Heber C. Kimball, by Orson F. Whitney, pg. 322.

The prevalent view among Mormon Fundamentalists that the time had come for the Holy Ghost to take a physical body, to live out a mortal life as we all must do as an essential step in our eternal progression, and that Joseph Smith was this incarnation, using the above cited (highly cryptic and ambiguous) quotes from Joseph Smith as the basis, is one more example of taking an original source, and building upon it with assumptions.

Continuing Revelation

This is the one thing both mainstream Mormons and Mormon Fundamentalists agree upon, that Joseph Smith's successor, and his, and his, from here on out, would be prophets.

It's a common perception that Mormon Fundamentalists are doing the best job, of all sects in the restoration, of carrying on original Mormonism. Dead wrong! They may be carrying on certain aspects of it, but if you are looking for an organization that lives Mormonism, just like the Mormons in 1844 lived it, (and I have looked!), you will not find it.

The fact of the matter is that all restoration churches have taken the teachings of Joseph Smith and added to them, regarding themselves as being led by a prophet, with the full authority to pick up where he left off. Though it should be noted that Brigham Young made statements that indicate that he did not immediately consider himself as such right after assuming the presidency.

One glaring example is the bizarre hairstyles, clothing, and ideas of the FLDS, like red is prohibited (it's Jesus' color and only he can wear it), or that non-FLDS entering an FLDS house defiles the building (Joseph Smith ran a boarding house). These are very recent introductions of Warren Jeffs. If you look at the pictures of the 1953 raid, you won't find any of it.

Adam-God

To the critic, Adam-God is a simple matter: Brigham Young taught palpable nonsense.

I give him more credit than that. No simple minded fool could have accomplished the things he did.

Adam-God is incomprehensible to me. I do not see how Adam and God could possibly be one and the same, how he could have returned to the garden to confront himself about partaking of the forbidden fruit. For that matter, I don't even believe that Adam and Eve literally existed. Most of what purports to be literal history in the Bible is literal history, though the books of Genesis, Job, and Jonah are most certainly mythology. And yes, I'm well aware of the difficulties this presents in reconciling this view within a religious tradition which puts a greater emphasis on the role of Adam than perhaps any other. That's a blog entry all it's own, or possibly even a series of them.

What I do know is that Adam being our Father and our God, the only God with whom we have to do, made sense to a highly intelligent man, a man more successful and inspired than I. I just lack the insights required to understand exactly why it made sense to him.

Multiple Mortal Probations and Veganism

Unlike the rest of the rest of the topics I am covering in this entry, these two are not universally accepted by all Mormon fundamentalists. They have, however, become popular with some, in recent years.

Joseph Smith's journal, 9 November 1835, (HC vol. II, pgs 304-307), records an encounter with a man calling himself "Joshua the Jewish Minister". Wikipedia lists him as "Robert_Matthews_(con_artist)" (link). Joseph regarded this man with suspicion, and concludes by dismissing him, remarking how he, for once, cast out the devil in bodily shape, and I believe a murderer. In their conversations, Joseph declared that this man's belief in this transmigration of soul or spirit from father to son was a doctrine of the devil.

A Sunstone presentation I attended a few years back, did argue that near the end of his life, Bro. Joseph contemplated the idea, and that this seemed to have led Eliza R. Snow to believe in it.

I have to ask, what would be the purpose? Reincarnation is absolutely inconsistent with my understanding of the plan of salvation. To come back, over and over, until you finally get it right? You will never get it right. The entire object of this mortal sojourn is to trust in Jesus as your Savior, and thereby obtain pardon, because fallen man is incapable of attaining heaven on his own good merits. Additional lives would only compound the problem with additional sins.

The Apostle Paul was concerned that contention over abstinence from meat would divide the church (Romans 14:1-3), though he did identify this as something those who have fallen away, in the latter times, would embrace (I Timothy 4:1-4). Peter was ordered by the Lord, in the Book of Acts, chapters 10 and 11, not to refuse the flesh of even those animals the old law forbade.

In proclaiming the unique sanctity of human life, The Christian Faith promotes the interests of humanity. No where in scripture does it say that any life, other than human life, is precious unto God.

Some contend that sensitivity for animal live fosters sensitivity for all life. When I look at the values system that today's vegans operate under, I see animals and the environment taking priority over the well being and standard of living of humans. When they do express care about people, it's in misguided ways. They are eager to buy into alarmist theories about human activity diminishing the habitability of the planet, and they place the "choice" of a mother over the life of the baby.

Plural Marriage

Yes, I've finally gotten to it. I have deliberately placed this last because that is where it fell in my priorities when I considered myself a believer in Mormon Fundamentalism, and a part of that movement.

The one thing I never wanted, nor ever felt called of God to do, was to father a large brood, far in excess of what one wife could carry. My stance is now that Joseph Smith's polygamy, which included polyandry anathema to the later official polygamous doctrine of the church, pushed good leaders out and into public opposition, caused the prophet to defensively impugn the reputations of several women who rejected his advances (Nancy Rigdon, Sarah Pratt, and Martha Brotherton), set in motion events that led to the martyrdom, and hinders evangelism to this day, never produced any offspring, or in any other way accomplished anything positive.

I forgive Brother Joseph. I cannot cast a stone, because in his position, I would be sorely tempted. Testosterone is the most destructive mind altering substance known to man, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I think better of the motives of those who have developed the doctrine and carried it on. I know them and can attest that they are devoutly religious and sincerely believe that this was established by divine revelation. If multiple sex partners is your real objective, there are much easier means.

It has been claimed that simple logistics compel the expulsion of young men, and intense competition for females just entering the age where they are able to bear children, in a polygamous society. If a group only accepts as members those born into the group, this has some merit. Those groups open to converts are another matter. Attend any church, especially a congregation created specifically for singles above the age of 30, and a fact is apparent, women are much more religiously inclined then men. Humanity's 51/49% female/male split is only reflected with children of the age where they are brought by the parents choice. No advocate of polygamist doctrine has ever said that it is for everyone, they see it as only for a small segment, the most religious of people.

Anti-polygamy activists will not tell you just what percentage claim government welfare or are involved in underaged marriage. I cannot counter them with any empirical statistics, what I do have to offer is my own eyewitness observations that the real numbers would dispel the prevalent notion that these are problems inherent to the system of polygamy.

I understand a second season of the TLC Channel series Sister Wives is due to air soon, and will focus on the criminal investigation prompted by some people who saw the first season, searched to discover the city they lived in, and called the police department. Good. America should be informed, and should be shocked to learn, that these activists are people who don't just want statutes kept on the books as a symbolic statement of the greater society's moral views, but who actually think that an adult having sexual relationships with multiple willing and knowing adults should be an enforceable offense in 2011, so that any and all polygamists can be brought before the courts. This is the tenuous basis of their shrieks, in the comments of youtube videos and newspaper stories, that "Polygamy is a crime".

So Just What Was It That Once Drew Me To This Religious Movement?

Whenever a dissatisfied Mormon looks into becoming a part of Mormon Fundamentalism, the motivation is always the same: we see things in early Mormonism that we desperately want to cling to, but can't find in the mainstream church today.

What I was longing for, though I was cautious about it then, and have completely dismissed it now as an unrealistic desire of youthful idealism, was something many in the generation half-way between mine and my parents dreamed of. Some actually worked for it, though these efforts had generally failed and been abandoned by the time I became old enough to join in.

I've never shared the radical left-wing politics of the 1960's (when do we radical right-wingers get our 1960's?), but I strongly relate to disillusionment with mainstream society, and the desire to build some better alternative. To separate from the establishment and join others working together for our mutual benefit, holding all material possessions in common. To be given a house, in exchange for getting together with all the men to build new houses when they are needed, rather than paying a mortgage for 30 years. To see my labor go to the direct benefit of all in my close-knit (in my preference-religious separatist) community, rather than watch the bulk of my gross pay go to taxes and loan interest.

The early Mormons shared this vision, though the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not offered anything like this for a very long time.

Jobs in in Salt Lake City, working with technology, make for a considerably easier life than trying to farm the rough desert terrain that guys like Talmadge Weis and his Immanuel Foundation and Fraternity of Preparation once settled on. Knowing about the novel legal theories they attempted to operate on, in pro se filings in relation to their property taxes, further contributed to my reasons not to seriously investigate the possibility of joining them.

I was not going to place myself into the position other idealists before me had, giving all my money and possessions to the commune, entitled to get nothing back were I to decide to leave, unless I was absolutely sure that I and mine would be safe, and that their doctrines were sound. A wide variety of people have been burned by a wide variety of communal efforts.

Some company out of Las Vegas, Ranger Enterprises, obtained title to the fraternity's land for $15k in back taxes. The fraternity responded by filing appeals (continuing the same ineffectual legal reasoning). While the appeals were in progress, they planned to keep at least one person on the property, to keep Ranger from taking control, demolishing their buildings, and putting the land to their own use.

This place was truly out in the middle of nowhere. The small town of Milford, Ut., 30 miles away, was the closest sign of civilization. It must have been a terrifying experience when those holding the fort, following Weis' no-gun policy, were attacked by thugs employed by Ranger Enterprises.

Tony Alexander Hamilton was an experienced military veteran, and he disregarded that policy. One night the Sheriff's Department arrived to remove him. When he attempted to speed away in his truck, they opened fire, using the possibility that he might have been going to get weapons as their justification. When Tony had stopped a dog handler released his animal. Tony's well placed shot ended the threat of this vicious beast tearing into his flesh...and created a much worse threat. "G- d- it Tony, you killed my dog, now I'm going to kill you". Bam! Another well place shot ripped into the leg of the angry man intent on murder. Tony had neutralized him without having to take his life. A clear cut case of self-defense, though in this corrupt society, a citizen who shoots a rogue cop cannot expect anything other than the rest of life in prison, under any circumstance. At least he is still alive.

Which brings me today, happy with Joseph Smith and the great heritage I was adopted into when I converted, seeing nothing better in either secular or religious life than the mainstream LDS Church, and proceeding in my spiritual and temporal affairs accordingly.

4 comments:

  1. Gary,

    Did you get my email?

    Alma

    ReplyDelete
  2. Alma,

    I appreciate the thoughtful response in your email.

    I think that it's a point well taken that I need to be more careful in looking for evidence of sexual relations, rather than making that assumption, based on the fact that a sealing was performed. Off the top of my head, the Fanny Alger incident comes to mind to support the position that Emma was not the only woman with whom Joseph was intimate, while Heber C. and Vilate Kimball being told that the proposition was only a test deserves serious consideration. (I've had to take a traveling job to dodge a layoff, so the time I have at home with the material I have collected over the years is somewhat limited for the time being). I'm aware that a book called "Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy" is currently receiving some attention, though I haven't had a chance to look over a copy. Would you consider this to be worth taking the time to read, or do you have something better to recommend?

    I would very much like to hear the discussion between Brigham Young and Bruce R. McConkie on the other side of the veil. Brigham and Orson Pratt never resolved their differences on the nature of God. The question of which man's view reflects the authoritative position of the church today has puzzled me. I really don't think that it can be answered, as the points on which they differed are a hot potato no church authority alive today is willing to pick up. McConkie was the only one I'm aware of in recent times who would, though it's widely recognized that his views, on their own, should not be taken as the Church's official stance. What I have seen indicates to me that he was significantly influenced by Pratt's reasoning.

    I feel that my position on the calling of a prophet carefully takes into account both what Joseph Smith did, and what he failed to do. God has to have spoken to him. He could not have come up with the Book of Mormon, and the theological innovations that followed it, on his own, or with the assistence of his friends. On the opposite side of the coin, God could have prevented a lot of suffering in Missouri by warning Joseph that Sampson Avard was not to be trusted, to stop Sidney from preaching the Salt Sermon and the Fourth of July Oration, not to visit the home of Justice of the Peace Adam Black with demands that this man sign a declaration of non-hostility, that the attack on Bogart's forces at Crooked River would ultimately have disastrous results for the Mormons (even though they forced the enemy into retreat), and to be more forceful in urging those who wanted to remain at Haun's Mill that they were in imminent peril. God could have...but he didn't.

    I do indeed believe that a prophet can commit egregious sins, that he will some day have to answer to God for, yet not be removed by God as a prophet. As someone with experience managing personnel entrusted with limited civil authority, you no doubt considered your employee's performance on the job first and foremost, giving a much lower priority to the way they conducted their personal lives after clocking out. The priesthood has been restored, the Book of Mormon is being distributed throughout the world, the church has grown to such a size as to ensure that it can never die out. Joseph successfully accomplished his task, whereas most religious movements originating during the Second Great Awakening have long since failed.

    If I am an accuser of the brethren, then so are the men who authored the Holy Bible. David was both a king and a prophet. Scripture records that he committed the sin of adultery, and worse. I recall a passage somewhere in the Doctrine and Covenants indicating that he will be called to account, yet he continued as both king and a prophet until his death. Scripture also contains an account where the prophet Elisha used the divine power he received from his predecessor Elijah to cause the gruesome deaths of children who mocked his baldness.

    continued-

    ReplyDelete
  3. -continued from last

    Polygamy came to serve a useful purpose in pioneer Utah, on that I agree, but if God did indeed reveal it, why did he do so at such a premature time? Do you feel I am missing something when I state that polygamy under Joseph caused only harm?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Just how crucial did Brigham Young consider the character of a prophet to be, in contrast to the importance of his message? I recently discovered this statement:

    "I recollect a conversation I had with a priest who was an old friend of ours, before I was personally acquainted with the Prophet Joseph. I clipped every argument he advanced, until at last he came out and began to rail against "Joe Smith," saying, "that he was a mean man, a liar, money-digger, gambler, and a whore-master;" and he charged him with everything bad, that he could find language to utter. I said, hold on, brother Gillmore, here is the doctrine, here is the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the revelations that have come through Joseph Smith the Prophet. I have never seen him, and do not know his private character. The doctrine he teaches is all I know about the matter, bring anything against that if you can. As to anything else I do not care. If he acts like a devil, he has brought forth a doctrine that will save us, if we will abide it. He may get drunk every day of his life, sleep with his neighbor's wife every night, run horses and gamble, I do not care anything about that, for I never embrace any man in my faith. But the doctrine he has produced will save you and me, and the whole world; and if you can find fault with that, find it. He said, ‘I have done.’"
    Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, p. 78:

    ReplyDelete