“The Whole Church is Under Condemnation”: The Talk that Changed the Church

April 2, 2008
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April 1986: President Benson presides over his first General Conference. Did anyone listening to his humble little talk, called “Cleaning the Inner Vessel,” realize that it would send ripples through the Church and start a massive change in Church policy and doctrine?

President Benson said:

Unless we read the Book of Mormon and give heed to its teachings, the Lord has stated in section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants that the whole Church is under condemnation: “And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.” (D&C 84:56.) The Lord continues: “And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written.” (D&C 84:57.)

Now we not only need to say more about the Book of Mormon, but we need to do more with it. Why? The Lord answers: “That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.” (D&C 84:58.) We have felt that scourge and judgment!

The Prophet Joseph said that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book.” (Book of Mormon, Introduction.) The Book of Mormon has not been, nor is it yet, the center of our personal study, family teaching, preaching, and missionary work. Of this we must repent.

Only a teenager at the time, this is one of the few general conferences of which I remember well. Our family concentrated our family scripture reading on The Book of Mormon shortly thereafter.

President Benson has actually delivered a similar message in his talks as President of the Quorum of the Twelve. In 1975 he had given a similar message but with tamer rhetoric. (link) In a 1985 talk he broached the subject again, with somewhat stronger rhetoric. (link) But it was the 1986 talk, after he was President of the Church, that we felt the real impact from this message. Soon President Benson became known as “The Book of Mormon President” due to his reoccurring emphasis of the Book of Mormon.

How did a re-emphasis and re-discovery of the Book of Mormon change the Church? It was after 1986 that the Church made marked changes. We emphasized:

  1. The scriptures as the basis for our teachings. (2 Nephi 4:15-16; 1 Nephi 19:23; Alma 13:20; Alma 17:2)
  2. The basic doctrines of salvation over folk-doctrines.
  3. Teachings on Jesus Christ as our Eternal God. (Mosiah 15:1-5; Title Page; 2 Nephi 26:12)
  4. Salvation through the Grace of Christ and not by the merit of our works. (Alma 22:14; 2 Ne. 2:8; Alma 34:12; 2 Ne. 9:7; Alma 34:8-16)
  5. The role of faith in salvation. (Alma 34:8-16; Ether 12:6; Moroni 7:38)
  6. The role of having a covenant relationship with Christ. (Mosiah 5:5-8; Mosiah 6:1-2; 1 Nephi 13:23; Mosiah 18:10, 13; Alma 7:15; 3 Nephi 21:22)

The Book of Mormon’s teachings on the above subjects are strong and certain. Looking back years later, Dalin H. Oaks reviewed how President Benson’s ministry had changed the face of the Church. (This talk is worth reading in its own right.) “The subject I believe we have neglected [that put the Church under condemnation as per President Benson's Book of Mormon emphasis] is the Book of Mormon’s witness of the divinity and mission of Jesus Christ and our covenant relationship to him. …”

Oaks went on to say:

I believe that for a time and until recently our public talks and our literature were deficient in the frequency and depth with which they explained and rejoiced in those doctrinal subjects most closely related to the atonement of the Savior. A prominent gospel scholar saw this deficiency in our Church periodicals published in a 23-year period ending in 1983. I saw this same deficiency when I reviewed the subjects of general conference addresses during the decade ending in the mid-1980s.

It is interesting that mid-1980′s is also the time that many people see as when the Church tried to “fit in” better by attempting to “[depict] themselves as yet another Christian denomination alongside various other Protestant denominations…” (link)

But pretend for a moment that you are watching two different Churches go through two very different changes. Church A is re-discovering the teachings of the Book of Mormon and finding they should emphasize certain doctrines more that they coincidentally have in common with other Christian religions. Church B is “trying to fit it” by redefining itself to be more Protestant? Would these two very different changes look different to an observer? Is it possible that how one perceives the change tells us more about the observer than of the observed?

And yet, there should be some important and observable differences between Church A and Church B: Does anyone accuse the LDS Church of trying to “fit in” by emphasizing the sovereignty of God to predestinate salvation? (Alma 13:3; 2 Ne. 2: 27-29; 2 Ne. 10: 23; Hel 14:30-31) Does anyone accuse the Church of downplaying the importance of obedience in the salvation process? (2 Nephi 31:19-20, Moroni 6:4; Mosiah 5:5, 8) Does anyone accuse the Church of believing in “the priesthood of the believer” and downplaying their own authority claims? (Alma 6:1, 8; Alma 13; 2 Nephi 6:2; 3 Nephi 11:21) Does anyone accuse Mormons of believing that all you have to do is accept Christ, even right at the end of life, and you are “saved?” (Alma 34:32-37) Does anyone accuse Mormons of downplaying the importance of Baptism as modern Protestants do? (2 Nephi 31:5, 17; 3 Nephi 11:33-34)

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  • http://Mormonmatters GBSmith

    I do remember when Pres. Benson emphasized the Book of Mormon and the distribution center ran out of copies. It was about that time that our family began reading through the BoM every night and hearing it aloud was a turning point for me in my belief in the book. As for the changes that the emphasis has made one thing stands out for me and that’s that the Brethren especially the Twelve rarely quote from the bible in their talks. The scriptures are important to our salvation but it does not seem the new or old testaments are included. I would take issue with the statement that there’s been more emphasis on grace and less on works since this time. It seems to me that performance and obedience are still the watchwords and that grace, whatever that is to us, is seldom if ever mentioned, either in print or in conference addresses. And I think that faith as the basis of our salvation still takes a back seat to what we do. We’re still expected to be perfect to the end or at least perfect enough that one tiny drop of grace will tip the scales in our favor and we can return to God justified. Emphasizing the Book of Mormon sets the LDS Church apart from others which is odd given how much we want to be accepted.

  • http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ Stephen Marsh

    Is it possible that how one perceives the change tells us more about the observer than of the observed?

    Very true.

  • Neal

    In response to your second-to-last paragraph, in a sense that is what we are seeing with the LDS church and the Community of Christ. We’re insiders, so it makes observation a bit difficult; however, it will be interesting to see where it all plays out.

  • Neal

    Of course, we were starting from slightly different points when the particular changes you speak of began, so it may not be as relevant as all that.

  • Bruce Nielson

    GBSmith says: “As for the changes that the emphasis has made one thing stands out for me and that’s that the Brethren especially the Twelve rarely quote from the bible in their talks”

    Phillip Barlow did a study on this and he draws a different conclusion. He found the Bible was still the top quoted scripture in conference. This book was written back in 1991, so well after the Benson talk, but still a long time since so I won’t draw any conclusions for today.

    >>> I would take issue with the statement that there’s been more emphasis on grace and less on works since this time

    I didn’t say we put less emphasis on obedience (what I assume you mean by “works”). In fact I believe I said: “Does anyone accuse the Church of downplaying the importance of obedience in the salvation process? (2 Nephi 31:19-20, Moroni 6:4; Mosiah 5:5, 8)” I believe you just proved my point.

    >>> We’re still expected to be perfect to the end or at least perfect enough that one tiny drop of grace will tip the scales in our favor and we can return to God justified

    I know for certain that there is at least one Mormon, me, that does not interpret Mormon doctrine that way and feels that’s a parody of what I believe. I suspect I could easily find several thousand other Mormons that would feel the same way. So let’s be careful about how we define other people’s beliefs for them.

    I will gladly accept that this is your own personal interpretation of Mormon doctrine, if you tell me it is. And if it is, I don’t blame you for rejecting it. (If you are rejecting it, that is.)

    But that is not how I understand Mormon doctrine and I don’t believe most believing Mormons interpret their doctrines that way.

  • http://mormonmatters.org/2008/01/13/10-things-every-mormon-needs-to-know/ Andrew Ainsworth

    Bruce, great post.

    The criticism that the Church is just trying to “fit in” with other Christian denominations is one that I’ve never understood. That criticism would hold true if we were adopting doctrines or practices that are not contained in our scriptures, but as you’ve pointed out well, that’s just not the case. We’re just getting to know ourselves better.

    And frankly, that’s a welcome relief for me. Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light. That may seem “dumbed down” to some, but anyone who thinks he’s learned all there is to learn about even the most basic principles: faith, repentance, etc., needs to examine them more closely, rather than brushing them aside and looking for “meatier” doctrines.

    The basics are the milk. And the basics are the meat. Milk versus meat is a function of a person’s depth of understanding of the very same doctrines.

  • Rigel Hawthorne

    “Salvation through the Grace of Christ and not by the merit of our works. (Alma 22:14; 2 Ne. 2:8; Alma 34:12; 2 Ne. 9:7; Alma 34:8-16)”

    A very good Presbyterian friend of mine told me his view it is by Grace we are saved and that good works come from our love of Christ, not because of working toward our salvation. In a sense, this is hair splitting because our baptismal covenant involves taking on the name of Christ and with that comes an obligation to serve others. I personally try to look at the service I do and the commandments I keep as a reflection of my love of Christ, just like my Presbyterian friend. There is a folk doctrine you hear at LDS meetings that salvation is like doing as much as you can do, and that when you can do no more that Christ makes up the difference. I feel uncomfortable when I hear this because there would be no progress out of spiritual death whatsoever if it had not been for the plan involving the Savior, Jesus Christ. Thanks for the post and for the great references you cited.

  • Cicero

    I remember this talk, and I agree. It called the Church to repentance, and has greatly blessed us.

  • Bruce Nielson

    >>> There is a folk doctrine you hear at LDS meetings that salvation is like doing as much as you can do, and that when you can do no more that Christ makes up the difference. I feel uncomfortable when I hear this because there would be no progress out of spiritual death whatsoever if it had not been for the plan involving the Savior, Jesus Christ.

    I agree with you Rigel. But I don’t necessarily reject the characterization that we “do all we can and Christ makes up the difference.” My conern with that phrase is that it is “religiously loaded.” That is to say, I think it means very different things to different people and thus isn’t very helpful without an explanation.

    If I understand “all we can do” to mean “never do less than what you could have done” then obviously this is really just the same as saying “no one receives salvation” and is thus a false doctrine.

    But if one undrestands “all we can do” to mean “be obedient when possible and repent when you know you didn’t and let Christ worry about the rest (including the sins we didn’t even know we had)” then I feel that this is a legitimate explanation of Grace and the Lordship of Christ.

    And incidently, I would be hard pressed to find a non-Mormon Christian that rejects this explanation for themselves as they are not likely to say “no you don’t have to repent when you know you were knowingly disobedient.” So this really is just a hair split on their part in most cases. (And ours as well perhaps?)

    Most Christians accept the idea of “Lordship” of Jesus, as Mormons do. So I see no difference here. I think there are other important differences in the Mormon concept of salvation and other Christians, but not on this front.

  • Ricercar

    I think there is more ‘protestant mainstreaming’ to President Benson than just a return to the 1830 – 1835 Mormon theology. The fact that ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ is in the hymnbook at his adamant insistence (with the cross of Jesus, et cetera) shows he was comfortable with protestant language – language that would likely cause the majority of members from Brigham Young to Bruce R. McConkie to denounce it a tool of the anti-Christ.

    I agree that all the final points regarding Church A and Church B are true; however, I would suggest that issues of pre-destination have come more into focus since 1984. If ‘Free Agency’ is considered false doctrine and is no longer taught (as it was regularly in 1984) although I don’t see these changes as being related to the emphasis on the Book of Mormon.

  • Bruce Nielson

    >>> I would suggest that issues of pre-destination have come more into focus since 1984. If ‘Free Agency’ is considered false doctrine and is no longer taught (as it was regularly in 1984)

    Ricercar, you’ll have to be more specific. I was not aware that free agency was now considered a false doctrine. Indeed, the 1984 concept of “free agency” and the modern way of saying it, i.e. “moral agency”, are the very same doctrine to me. The change is in wording alone.

    “Moral agency” is the prefered term because “free agency” became a loaded term and was sometimes misleading. Also, it never appeared in scripture.

    Let’s avoid a word game here. I don’t understand this “change” to be anything but a change in wording, not actual teachings. If you are suggesting otherwise, you need to back it up with more specific points so that I understand what you are getting at better.

    Example of free agency and moral agency being the same. This was in 1975.

    Here is an example of a talk that avoided the use of free agency for being unscriptural. That was 1992.

    Here is an inbetween in 1988 using the terms interchangeably.

    Here is a 2004 talk using them interchangeably.

  • http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/ Clean Cut

    Great post. Very observant. I love the Book of Mormon, and I probably love it more as a result of President Benson’s emphasis. I also love it when we focus on Christ in our meetings and in our lives, and still become too impatient when this is not the case. I hadn’t made the connection between that “emphasis” and the “Cleansing the Inner Vessel” talk, but I definitely see the connection. Also, I love the books that Elder Oaks recommended in his talk, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”. (“Brilliant and inspired books that have made important additions to our literature on the Savior and his atonement (see, for example, Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992; Robert L. Millet, Life in Christ, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990; Bruce C. Hafen, The Broken Heart, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989). I hope such books are read and pondered, not just purchased and possessed.”) Thanks for the links and also for your insightful post.

  • http://Mormonmatters GBSmith

    “I will gladly accept that this is your own personal interpretation of Mormon doctrine, if you tell me it is. And if it is, I don’t blame you for rejecting it. (If you are rejecting it, that is.)”

    I do reject it.

  • Bruce Nielson

    >>> “I will gladly accept that this is your own personal interpretation of Mormon doctrine, if you tell me it is. And if it is, I don’t blame you for rejecting it. (If you are rejecting it, that is.)” I do reject it.

    GBsmith, since you reject this belief yourself, you were not describing your own beliefs in your post (despite the use of “we’re”). You were describing other people’s beliefs. Please becareful not to do this in a way that misrepresents their beliefs or makes a caricature of it. I know we all do it sometimes, so no hard feelings. I’ve been guilty of it many a time.

  • Mark N.

    Unless I’m mistaken, we don’t have any records of either Joseph Smith or Brigham Young speaking about something doctrinal where the Book of Mormon is quoted as a part of their talks.

    If it was good enough for JS and BY to ignore the BofM, it’s good enough for me. ;-)

  • DavidH

    “He found the Bible was still the top quoted scripture in conference. This book was written back in 1991, so well after the Benson talk, but still a long time since so I won’t draw any conclusions for today.”

    It is possible to do a “study” by year and speaker at http://scriptures.byu.edu/. It looks like if you combine the New Testament and Old Testament, the Bible is quoted more frequently than the Book of Mormon, but just barely. The Book of Mormon is quoted or cited more than the New Testament or the Old Testament.

    I have a recollection that some one on the Bloggernacle did a graph by member of the FP and 12, which showed that the more senior members (including Pres. Hinckley and Monson) tended to cite the New Testament more frequently than the Book of Mormon, and the more junior members cited the Book of Mormon much more frequently.

    I did a quick check from 1986 to present, and it shows that President Monson cited the New Testament about as many times as he cited the rest of the Standard Works combined, and Elder Bednar cited the Book of Mormon more than he cited the rest of the Standard Works combined.

  • Rigel Hawthorne

    Bruce, do you think that his conference talk on pride had the same degree of ripples and policy changes as did this talk? Using the BofM more is something that can be quantitatively measured, but how would one measure the response to the warning on being prideful? Some people would remember him personally for being the “Pride President” as much as the “Book of Mormon President.”

  • http://bookofmormononline.net KC Kern

    Great post, Bruce. I find it very interesting to contrast what we actually find in the Book of Mormon vs. how traditional/cultural conceptions define Mormon beliefs.

  • Bruce Nielson

    Rigel,

    I have no idea how to answer your question about pride because it’s difficult or impossible to measure, as you pointed out. I hadn’t really thought about it before either. You are right that President Benson is known for both.

  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray

    GB Smith, to echo Bruce’s request, please be careful when characterizing Mormon doctrine and what Mormons and the Church teach and believe. I tried to find a more gentle way to say this, but I don’t think there is a single statement in #1 after the first two sentences with which I agree – and which I have taught or heard taught in the last twenty years of my membership.

    “We’re still expected to be perfect to the end or at least perfect enough that one tiny drop of grace will tip the scales in our favor and we can return to God justified.”

    That one, especially, is so far from what I have read, heard and taught in the Church that I have a hard time fathoming where it came from. If that was a personal interpretation – or something an individual parent or leader taught – I can understand; otherwise, I just don’t get it. It sounds way too much like a caricature – a very twisted take on the role of our actions – for me to be comfortable with it.

  • http://rusch.wordpress.com Chris

    On of the things that I have observed is that the Church has become much more “scripture conscious” as time has gone by.

    A friend of mine observed that when he was a young man in the 1960′s, there was little emphasis on things like find out for yourself and studying the scriptures. The watchwords truly were obedience and performance. He then went on to say that as time went by, obedience has been emphasized, performance has been diminished, and the role of the scriptures in local and general discourses.

    Though it does not receive enough attention, Elder Eyring, Bednar, and others have made significant statements about grace, and contemporary authors such as Robert Millet and Stephen E. Robinson have written popular books devoted to the topic of Grace.

    I believe that if this trend continues, the face of what we believe as a Church will be much different in twenty to thirty years. That seems about how long it takes for ideas to die out in the Church.

  • Bruce Nielson

    chris,

    Read the link to the Dalin H. Oaks article above. It talks about grace quite a bit. He is also the one that did this talk on salvation.

  • http://adventures-in-mormonism.com bfwebster

    I’ll be honest: I was (initially) at least rather disappointed with this talk. Not with the talk per se; it’s just that Pres. Kimball had introduced so many sweeping changes (new scripture, the 1978 revelation, ‘When the whole world will be converted’, etc.), and had then been incapacitated during the last few years of his life. So when Pres. Kimball died and Pres. Benson became president, I was expecting him to pick up where Pres. Kimball had left on. Instead, he said, “Read the Book of Mormon.” Well, I had read the Book of Mormon — probably 20 times or so by that point — and so I sighed and figured I’d just bide my time.

    But then a funny thing happened. We had moved to Santa Cruz in early 1988, and I was called to co-teach Gospel Doctrine — and the course of study for that year was the Book of Mormon. Within a month, I had profoundly repented and realized how critical and how timely the Book of Mormon was — and I cited Pres. Benson’s remarks repeatedly in teaching that class. I also cited — and have cited many times since — Hugh Nibley’s quote (originally a discussion question) from the 1957 MP study guide, An Approach to the Book of Mormon): “Woe unto the generation that understands the Book of Mormon.”

    By the way, I had no problem or issue with Pres. Benson himself, nor with his talks. In fact, one of my most vivid GenConf memories is listening to his famous talk on pride. It was electrifying, and I felt as though I were listening to Alma or Samuel. Interestingly enough, I have gone back and read that talk — and reading it just doesn’t have the same impact as did listening to a living prophet calling the Church to repentance.

    As for Chris’s observations (#21) — I agree, and I also don’t see much difference between that and what you see reading the Book of Mormon. It’s pretty easy to trace different approaches and religious emphases even among the ‘true’ Church in the Book of Mormon or for that matter in the Bible (cf. here and here).

    On the other hand, I remember as a teenager (nearly 40 years ago) hearing — I believe from Truman Madsen — a story of his traveling with one of the Twelve or the First Presidency. They were talking about the doctrine of spiritual rebirth, and Bro. Madsen asked, “Why don’t we hear more about being ‘born again’ in our Sacrament meetings and Sunday School classes?” The apostle sighed and said, “People don’t talk about what they haven’t experienced.” While (IMHO) the Gospel and (re Eugene England) the Church are both true, that does not mean that the membership of the Church hasn’t drifted or ebbed, needing to be called to repentance on a regular basis (again, like the BofM). ..bruce..

  • John Nilsson

    Bruce,

    It would be interesting to see how President Benson’s talk changed the Church. What are some objective markers we could examine, in addition to General Conference addresses, to indicate an increased emphasis on the Book of Mormon in the LDS Church today?

    For some historical background, I am reading Lowell Bennion’s Religion of the Latter-day Saints, first published in 1940, for use as the standard Institute text into the 1950s and 60s, and I am surprised at how often he quotes from the Book of Mormon. I think the differences we see are the Christocentric parts of the Book of Mormon are quoted more now than previously.

    I think there would be other observable differences between churches A and B above. For all Robert Millet and Stephen Robinson dialogue with evangelicals, I don’t see their work being accepted by the more traditional General Authorities, and don’t think the Book of Mormon emphasis by President Benson was designed specifically to align the LDS Church with Protestantism doctrinally. Taking his son Reed’s courses on the Book of Mormon I got the impression that the reason for President Benson’s emphasis on the Book of Mormon was to combat “false ideas” like evolution, socialism, communism, atheism, etc. Hence much more attention is paid to the Korihor story and the Ammon’s conversion dialogue with Lamoni than on Alma 32 and King Benjamin.

  • Hawkgrrrl

    I always took this admonishment to be about knowing our religion. I was floored that there were missionaries in my mission (1989) who had never read the Book of Mormon. D&C 11: 21: “Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.”

    But this is a thoughtful post about the other benefits to the church.

  • Bruce Nielson

    >>> For all Robert Millet and Stephen Robinson dialogue with evangelicals, I don’t see their work being accepted by the more traditional General Authorities

    Read the Dalin H. Oaks talk above. Read very carefully. :) (Hint #12 noticed what I’m hinting at.)

    This talk will also partially address your question of objective measures, though he doesn’t give us access to any data to review for ourselves. But apparently the Church has done their own studies on the subject. You’ll be interested in the objective markers they used.

  • Bruce Nielson

    >>> I think there would be other observable differences between churches A and B above. [I] don’t think the Book of Mormon emphasis by President Benson was designed specifically to align the LDS Church with Protestantism doctrinally.

    What other observable differences would you expect, John? By all means, please discuss them.

    The Book of Mormon emphasis by President Benson was certainly not meant to align the LDS Church with Protestantism. And I am arguing that it didn’t. Any alignment is just coincidental.

  • Ricercar

    Bruce,

    Sorry this thread has flowed on so much without a response. I would interpret the meaning of Elder Packer’s talk much more strictly. The underlying message – to someone like me – is a fundamental shift expanding the scope of required obedience. I think read in the context, this obedience alludes to social and political obedience.

    I also think that taking the talk in context of references to either ‘agency’ or ‘free agency’ as a term of reference has disappeared. Looking at the frequency of use for those terms from 1970 to date, there is a precipitous drop in reference. I think there are under 12 references to both those terms since 2000. The incidence prior to 1992 average at least a dozen references a year to at least one of those terms. The references to ‘obey’ or ‘obedience’ have gone from about a dozen reference s a year in the 1970s to more than 80 references a year post 2000. That is a huge shift away from something – but it isn’t to pre-destination, but I think that is about as close to a repudiation: a term re-defined to the point of no meaning.

    Given that I am a lawyer I take exception that this is just a ‘word’ game. Words have meaning and I make an assumption that the only way to control the direction or to ‘change’ the doctrine of the church requires the meanings of words to change.

    Take the term “new and everlasting covenant of marriage” originally the meaning of that phrase was only plural marriage, it has since been redefined to be any marriage performed in the temple. Defining the words spoken in the past mean you control both the past and the future.

    Focusing on the traditional message and language in the Book of Mormon changes the way members will interpret other talks that may have contained a very different message 30 years ago.

  • http://adventures-in-mormonism.com bfwebster

    Bruce (#24): I think there’s a tendency to underestimate how much the Book of Mormon has been used and studied by the Church in the 20th and even in the 19th Centuries. It was one of the annual courses of study in Seminary when I was a teenager (late 60s), it was a required religion class for all BYU undergrads (LDS or not) long before I got to BYU, and there were BofM commentaries and study guides dating all the way back to the 1920s or so. It was the course of study for the Melchizedek Priesthood in 1957 (the Nibley tome I cited above). Even FARMS had already started up by 1979.

    Still, Pres. Benson emphasized (IIRC) three major things: (a) daily personal study of the Book of Mormon; (b) daily family study of the Book of Mormon; and (c) flooding the world with the Book of Mormon. His statement was: “The Book of Mormon has not been, nor is it yet, the center of our personal study, family teaching, preaching, and missionary work. Of this we must repent.” That went directly to us as a Church and as a people having not focused on the Book of Mormon as we should. Distribution of the Book of Mormon increased dramatically [warning: PDF], then dropped back a bit, but stayed high. While I believe that the adult Gospel Doctrine course of study had already shifted to a four-year study of the scriptures (including one full year on the Book of Mormon), the corresponding shift for teenagers (Courses 12-17) came sometime (though not necessarily directly) after Pres. Benson’s talk, I think.

    I’m not sure how to observe the impact of his message (except for the BofM distribution chart I mentioned) beyond having conducted an annual survey of Church members before and after his talk, and it’s a bit late for that. :-) ..bruce..

  • Bruce Nielson

    Ricercar,

    I’m not sure I understand where you are going with this. It seems to me you are saying “any time there is a change in wording thus I’m assuming it was an intentional change in doctrine at the top.” Why would you assume something like that?

    I would agree with you that words have meaning. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a word game. Different people will speak of underlying concepts using different words. Different times will as well. Different cultural as well. While this might mean that there has been a change in how a doctrine is perceived but it might also be new words to express a same or similar idea as the internal and external culture change – or as the perception of the word changes. (I.e. “When Grandpa comes we’re gay” to “When Grandpa comes – hurray!” as the children’s song goes.)

    Since you didn’t make a clear point as to what you think has changed or why (i.e. “That is a huge shift away from something – but it isn’t to pre-destination, but I think that is about as close to a repudiation: a term re-defined to the point of no meaning.”) I don’t know how to respond specifically to you. I agree with you that the Church has not moved towards pre-destination in the slightest. I am not sure how that even entered the conversation.

    Your original point was that “free agency” was “considered false doctrine and is no longer taught.” I believe the reference I gave disprove this. Furthermore, spending any time with almost any Mormon and asking them “do you believe that God gave human’s agency?” will quickly disprove this theory.

    Don’t get me wrong. I very much believe what words we use matter. However, that doesn’t mean that a shift from “free agency” to “moral agency” means there has been some fundamental shift in doctrinal understanding, as with your marriage example. That’s doesn’t logically follow. Even a drop in frequency doesn’t mean there is some conspiracy to change doctrinal understanding. It seems likely that terms come and go and come again over time to express underlying thoughts. We are not culturally the same as Mormons 50 years ago and it would be very odd for us to not have a shift in language.

    And you apparently have WAY more faith in the Church’s organizational abilities than I do if you think they are capable of organizing all language shifts like this intentionally.

    However, I might somewhat agree with you in the case of “moral agency” vs. “free agency.” Clearly the main reason for the change in wording was to conform to scripture. But it seems likely to me that the Church wanted to downplay the more libertarian impulses some Mormons had picked up based on Mormon teachings of the importance of agency. (Oaks did a talk on this very subject.) “Moral agency” plays up that agency’s role is to allow moral choices, not Ayn-Rand-style-choice-as-an-end-in-and-of-itself. As an anti-libertarian, I’m quite biased on that last point, so I’m perhaps reading in. But this does show that I am open to the possiblity that the change in wording was in part an intentional shift on how we think of the concept of “agency.” But I disagree that this was a shift to downplaying of agency itself. I’m still scratching my head over that conclusion. I don’t see how you derived it.

    As for an increase in “obedience,” I admit I hadn’t noticed. That’s interesting because I have long thought the Church needs to actively stop using “works” and instead using “obedience” because that word has less religious-political baggage with it. I’m very glad to see “obedience” used more often as that more properly explains the underlying Mormon doctrinal thought.

    I have no idea what you mean by “a term re-defined to the point of no meaning.” I’m not even sure what term you meant here: agency or obedience. In either case, I have no idea why you think either of these terms have been re-defined to the point of no meaning.

    You said: “Focusing on the traditional message and language in the Book of Mormon changes the way members will interpret other talks that may have contained a very different message 30 years ago.”

    I don’t disagree with this. I would certainly not argue that Mormons of every generation understand their doctrines somewhat differently. But that could be said of absolutely any group of people, religion or otherwise. Again, I’m not sure what your point is here. It seems you are assuming that a change should either never happen (impossible) or if it does it was always intentional.

  • http://mormonmatters.org GB Smith

    I appreciate and accept the criticisms from Bruce and Ray and will be careful in characterizing beliefs and doctrine. But tell me then what does it mean that ” it is by grace we are saved after all we can do”. Grace is something I’ve heard about in classes and from the pulpit but is there an LDS theology. There was an edge to my comments because of how I’ve perceived it but obviously others view it differently. If it would not be out of place I would appreciate your opinions.

  • Bruce Nielson

    What does it mean “it is by grace we are saved after all we can do”?

    Let me ask you a question first, GB Smith. What religious affliation are you? You said “we’re” so I’m assuming you current or former LDS, but what are you now? This will help me know how to respond to you in a way that will make sense. (i.e. I’ll change my vocabulary to avoid common misunderstandings based on words that are religiously loaded to certain sects/groups)

    Also, I think you should ask Ray this because the guy has written like 2000 blog posts on the subject or something. Mine is upcoming.

    Also, I could give you my understanding, but bear in mind that different people say things in different ways. I’ve found that once I learned to navigate vocabulary pitfalls and to ask probing questions that my understanding of grace is pretty similar to all Mormon Christian and non-Mormon Christians I’ve talked to. This has led me to believe that there is a vocabulary difference in many cases that doesn’t reflect an actual doctrinal difference.

    That’s not to say I think there is no difference between Mormons and non-Mormons on the subject of grace or salvation. I actually think there are a lot of important differences. I’m just no longer convinced that it’s what I used to think it was.

  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray

    GB Smith, I wrote something on my own blog back in November about that verse and how we believe fully in grace – although it took me half-way through the post to get to that verse. If you are interested, read it at:

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2007/11/embracing-grace.html

    A further reflection that ties in to grace but only deals with it explicitly in a couple of lines is:

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2007/11/carrying-his-load.html

    I don’t know how old you are, but I am old enough to look back and see from my own experiences how the usage has changed over the course of the decades. As I said in the first post, we still don’t use the word “grace” nearly enough, imo, but we use it much more now than we used to do – and we teach it quite explicitly, even though we don’t use the word enough. It’s embedded so deeply into our foundational theology that it almost is assumed – and we shouldn’t do that.

  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray

    Admins, I have a comment in moderation due to two links for GB Smith. Will you expedite the release and then delete this comment?

  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray

    Bruce (#31) – Not 2000; just a series of them that I reference constantly, giving the impression that I’ve written 2000. *grin*

    (The irony of your comment following one that is held up right now in moderation due to posting links to my writing about this topic doesn’t escape me, btw. That truly is funny.)

    GB Smith, I am in the process of a long series of posts focused on my New Year’s Resolution that came about specifically because of my pondering on grace and the pursuit of perfection. Frankly, how we view grace is influenced greatly by how we view perfection, and I think too many of us simply butcher the original, New Testament definition of perfection – which distorts our view of grace. So, to add even more irony to Bruce’s last comment (*huge grin*), here is one more link:

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2007/12/problem-with-popular-perceptions-of.html

  • Bruce Nielson

    Ray, I released your comment. I like this quote: “It’s embedded so deeply into our foundational theology that it almost is assumed – and we shouldn’t do that.” I’m going to pretend it’s mine and claim you stole it from me. :P

  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray

    Go for it. No attribution required. :)

  • John Nilsson

    Bruce,

    Elder Oaks’s talk was very interesting. I don’t consider him one of the “more traditional” General Authorities. He has always been willing to entertain new ideas. It makes him seem much younger than his years.

    More traditional General Authorities would be folks like Elders Russell Nelson, Russell Ballard, and Boyd Packer. They emphasize topics like performance, God’s especial favor to the obedient, and legalistic models of the Atonement.

    As far as objective measures, I continue to attend testimony meetings and sacrament meetings where the only time the name Jesus Christ is used is preceding the word, “Amen.” People might intersperse their talks and testimonies with other references to Deity, but I suppose I am too young to notice a significant increase in Christ-centeredness resulting from emphasis on the Book of Mormon.

    I agree with you that President Benson was not trying to align us with Protestantism at least. I just see less of an impact perhaps. Maybe we need a renewed focus on Christ. Perhaps President Monson can guide us in that direction.

  • http://mormonmatters.org GB Smith

    Ray,I appreciate the links to the posts on grace and see your point in changing the emphasis in the passage about “all we can do”. I’d read some of the things Lowell Bennion had written years ago about grace but have never had a clear feeling for what it means. Friends that are Episcopalian had introduced the concept of grace to me and with it a belief in Christ’s atoning sacrifice and unconditional love for me. There was still the expectation in their faith of living the commandments and doing good but not as a way to earn salvation or prevent damnation. Bruce, I am LDS and in my 60′s and have been a member all my life and though being active have still seemed to hear the message of God’s conditional love rather than what I read in Ray’s posts. Thanks for the help.

  • Ricercar

    Bruce,

    I think that you are right – Agency is still doctrine. I also think that the doctrine of Free Agency taught as late as the 70s was much more expansive than it is now, more along the line of not being commanded in all things. I draw your attention to this to illustrate a larger point about the use of the Book of Mormon.

    There has been a disconnect between the language in the Book of Mormon and the doctrines in Nauvoo and early Utah. A return to an emphasis on the message in the Book of Mormon, although it does not disavow those later teachings, it does qualify them and redefines them. I am not talking about an equivocation between different terms about God, but redefining the concept of God. The emphasis on a personal relationship with deity is a result of this focus, I think this is a given.

    Yes, I do marvel that the wonderous organization of correlation, maybe that is difference between you and me. You could also term this as a conspiracy theory, but I prefer to characterize it as the influence exercised by those in authority.

    Granted, one could argue that these changes are ‘more in conformity to scripture’ however, scriptural meaning and the talks of General Authorities over the last 150 years means the being ‘in conformity with scripture’ is, to me, a humpty dumpty affair.

  • Bruce Nielson

    John, GB smith, Ricercar,

    I’m sorry, but I can’t respond to your well thought out comments right now. I will respond this weekend.

    GB Smith,

    I don’t think it’s uncommon to misunderstand what God’s graciousness (that’s what Grace means) really is. It does seem that people continually fall into one of two heresies: trying to earn salvation or “cheap grace” so-called (which is really antinomianism: pretending sin doesn’t matter because God will forgive you.)

    It would be tempting to say that Mormons err on the side of trying to earn salvation and other Christians err on the side of antinomianism, but after many years of interacting with people from both sides I no longer believe this. Mormons sometimes believe in cheap grace and other Christians sometimes act like they have to earn salvation. I think this is a somewhat profound concept and it’s impossible for us to really understand it without experience with it. In other words, it’s not an intellectual concept, it’s a skill.

    GB smith, I was planning a post on this subject. Would you be interested in me contacting you and running it past you first and getting feedback from your experience as a Mormon from another generation?

  • http://www.mormonsite.org/ Allen

    “What does it mean “it is by grace we are saved after all we can do”?”

    Here is what it means to me. From D&C 19:16

    16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

    We obey God as much as we can, and we repent, as much as we can, from our sins. Then, Christ’s Atonement satisfies Justice and we are cleansed and can return to God. That is, obedience and repentance are the doorway for the Atonement to enter our lives. Forgiveness and cleansing come through the Atonement not through our obedience and repentance.

  • Just for Quix

    I’d like to believe there are commonalities between LDS Christianity and mainstream Christianity. Ray does well at parsing words to help bridge these gaps. One of them is “grace” that gets the dialogue all mucked up among Latter-day Saints, and also during interfaith dialogue. I believe we are here talking about religion because we like to do more than take up time or win arguments. There is something refining, and occasionally enlightening, about exchanges here at MM. I’ve enjoyed this topic. I haven’t tended to view Benson’s watershed speech in this light.

    Anyhow, one thing that motivates me is learning how to articulate theology so people come unto Christ and are changed. Do we want to get hung up on making sure those coming unto Christ aren’t finding “easy excuses to sin”? When a sinner, from those greatly separated from Christ, to those who just feel distanced from Him, allow the hope that Grace brings into their hearts miracles happen. Hearts change, and people do begin to do “all they can do”. And not because they are trying to merit salvation but because the love of God is manifest in them. I was reading last night from John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart” and it was speaking about (paraphrased) that once someone is transformed in Christ, every day’s battle does not always become one to stay away from great sin. Sometimes it is just the battle to keep one’s eye single to Him, to keep one’s pride and aversion to trusting and relying in Him in check. Yet whatever every day’s battle is for each Christian, it is a battle. Christ’s love and hope, His Grace, is a rallying standard that calls men and women to transformation and service in Him.

    So, my perspective is when Mormons emphasize the “…after all we can do” part to such a degree that it separates us from Hope, then it has ceased to be productive at getting results, even if that is not the intent. It’s one thing to say that “obedience and repentance are the doorway” to a Cornelius-like believer (Acts 10), who has already come unto God through their acts of goodness, even if they’ve stopped short of accepting and being transformed by Grace. They are already prepared to see that Christ is already at their door. It’s another thing for the person depressed and separated from God who thinks they just haven’t done well enough for long enough for Christ to even consider knocking on their door. Must we let our human mistrust of God’s ability to change hearts be so strict, to emphasize obedience to such a degree that it clouds out hope and grace?

    This is why, in my opinion, some LDS preaching emphasis needs to move away from an aversion to terms like “free agency” and “unconditional love of God”–and “grace”. In the intent to clarify fine matters of doctrinal interpretation such often camouflages the hope-filled, accessible life in Christ that each person can have, that needs not be mediated by a church to be obtained. I spoke boldly in an LDS Sacrament Meeting back in 2003 about the unconditional love of God. I was seeking to counter instruction like Elder Nelson’s who in the intent to be precise, omitted the “weightier matters” of the gospel. I did not take his Feb 03 Ensign talk “Divine Love” to task by outright criticizing him, but I did argue that Hope for every sinner (and aren’t we all?) in Christ must never be clouded by nit-picking fine matters of scripture. Nelson may have had a point that divine love is often like trust, and God trusts more to those who are His. But is there any benefit, really, to preaching how God’s love is _conditional_? It just furthers the divide between pulpit Mormonism and practiced Mormonism, where most LDS believers act and believe with a commitment to Christ and an acceptance of His Grace that should bring them fellowship with any Christian.

  • http://mormonmatters.org GB Smith

    Bruce, I’d be glad to take a look at anything you have on the subject. Thanks for all you do.

  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray

    JfQ: That sentiment is EXACTLY why I have written so much about grace and redefining perfection (and repentance) lately. I find that many people (regardless of denomination or religion) feel guilty – truly, debilitatingly guilty – over things that needn’t cause such pain and guilt.

    Here’s one more link to something about perfection and repentance. I haven’t developed it further since I wrote it (in any official form), but I have been working on a way to make it into a sacrament meeting talk that won’t cause misunderstanding. It’s a tricky concept to teach correctly. If anyone has any input, I would appreciate it on my own blog.

  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray
  • Researcher

    Hi. I don’t usually read this blog but followed a link from the Deseret News. I started to read the comments but got really stuck on comment #10 by Ricercar and haven’t made it substantially past this comment except to skim through and see if his point was addressed. In that comment, he said:

    “I think there is more ‘protestant mainstreaming’ to President Benson than just a return to the 1830 – 1835 Mormon theology. The fact that ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ is in the hymnbook at his adamant insistence (with the cross of Jesus, et cetera) shows he was comfortable with protestant language – language that would likely cause the majority of members from Brigham Young to Bruce R. McConkie to denounce it a tool of the anti-Christ.”

    Since I don’t usually participate in discussions with Ricercar, I can’t say how fluid your “facts” normally are, but actually, Onward Christian Soldiers has been in the LDS hymnbook at least since 1950, “cross of Jesus” and all. I don’t have access to information on the other versions of the hymnbook (1889, 1909, 1927, 1948) that were published after “Onward, Christian, Soldiers” was written by Sabine Baring-Gould in 1864 but they may have been in any of those, too.

    Happy Conference, everyone!

  • Bruce Nielson

    I find it interesting the different perceptions we have just right here on this little blog.

    Take a look at what John Nilsson is say in #24 and #38 and compare it to Ricercar’s comments at #40 and #30. John is struggling to see much of a change at all in the LDS Church. Ricercar sees a huge change controled by a single authoritarian governmental organization. Can they both be right?

    John,

    It’s interesting that my introduction to Mormon Matters/Mormon Stories was a call to John Dehlin where he, with a raised voice (but not yelling), told me that all he sees coming out of the LDS Church nowadays are books that talk about “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” and that he fears the LDS Church is moving away from it’s unique roots that the pioneers crossed the plains for and they were just becoming another Protestant denomination. (On the other hand, see http://mormonstories.org/?p=57#comment-652)

    John, you may not agree with John Dehlin, but John Dehlin is not alone in his assessment. In fact, I found it interesting that Owens and MOsser, two Evangelical scholars that are quite hostile (though very tolerant) to the LDS Church admitted that they saw a trend in Mormonism towards what they viewed as the “correct” view of salvation through the grace of Christ. (“We are encouraged by what we read if Robinson’s views are in fact representative of the direction in which Latter-day Saint theology is headed” – see footnote at http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=review&id=318#Anchor-26888: “It does look as though Robinson’s views may well reflect the direction of Latter-day Saint thought. Some Evangelicals have doubted that the views expressed in his essay are reflective of a larger trend within the church, but a reading of the current literature shows that Robinson is not alone”) So even to outsiders, there are some very obvious changes in the Church that date right to the time frame of President Benson’s talk and the Church re-emphasis of the Book of Mormon.

  • Bruce Nielson

    Ricercar,

    I have to be honest: since I’m very closely related to the person in charge of all media for the church, I’m afraid I’m rather unsympathetic to your view that the Church is — over the course of decades — carefully controling use of words using “correlation” for the sake of intentionally and knowingly changing our understanding of doctrines.

    Such shifts happen on their own and your added conspiracy is strange to me because it makes it so less believable. And, as I said, I’m afraid I have first hand info on this one that your conspiracy doesn’t exist.

    I think this is a mistake I see people make a lot: mistaking a phenonmenon as being “intentional” when in fact it’s “unintentional.” This is how Dr. Stephen Jones at BYU (a former professor of mine) got in trouble. Once he saw a conspiracy, he couldn’t let it go no matter how bad his evidence was. That’s the problem with conspiracy theories — they can be used to explain absolutely anything. We should start with the null hypothesis that they don’t exist as that’s almost always the simpler and better explanation.

    And all conspiracy theories overlook how utterly competent and wide ranging these conspirators would have to be. I’m a project manager by trade, but I can’t even comprehend the expense and difficulty involved with a decades long intentional use of correlation to change an understanding of a doctrine. It’s WAY beyond the LDS Church’s capabilities and competency level.

    Take a look at my previous post to John Nilsson at #48. I used the example of John Dehlin telling me that the Church is just publishing about “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” as a proof that the LDS Church was Protestantizing. And yet, John, on the link I left, say the exact opposite: “if Jesus did the things that we say He did in the garden, then even the most important prophet of all time, on his 1000th anniversary, shouldn’t get more than 10% of the mentions relative to Christ Himself.”

    Now let’s muddy the waters a bit further. We also have John Dehlin’s testimony right here that he doesn’t actually believe Jesus is the literal Son of God, at least not in the orthodox sense. So why is he so worried about whether or not we emphasis Joseph Smith too much?

    So I have three facts that seem to contradict:
    1. John Dehlin thinks we emphasis Jesus too much and are becoming too Protestant
    2. John Dehlin thinks we emphasis Jesus too little compared to Joseph Smith because Jesus is the Son of God and Joseph is the messenger.
    3. John Dehlin thinks Jesus is just a child of God just like anyone else.

    Now if I were a dissaffect “anti-John Dehlin”, I would (because I’m looking for the worst possible interpretation of the facts) quickly invent “intention” here. I’d say John is saying whatever he needs to to make a point and that he is lying and deceiving and not being candid about his beliefs, etc.

    Inconsistencies like this are really just typical of being human. People can only think of a few things at a time and everything else is forgotten for that moment. We *all* do this. (We just don’t all have a large group of anti-Mormons/DAMUs/.NOMs scrubbing everything we’ve ever said for the sake of pointing these inconsistencies out and turning them into intentional conspiracies for the sake of making us look bad. Thank goodness. With apologies to John Dehlin for using his words as an example here. To make it up to him, I will now defend his words vigorously!)

    And the truth is, I understood *exactly* the underlying intent John had in each of these cases. If I dig down to what John *means* rather than focusing on his *words*, I quickly find that he isn’t contradictory at all:

    1. His “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” statement was just an off the cuff example of the LDS Church experiencing change that did in fact make us somewhat closer to Protestant Churches in that we were emphasising Jesus more. (The very point Oaks make in my link to his article in my post, so it would seem John is correct about this.)
    2. John’s belief that Mormons mention Joseph too much was just an example of how he felt that sometimes the LDS Church is inconsistent with its own beliefs.
    3. His actual belief that Jesus isn’t literally the Son of God in the orthodox sense is not a contradiction because he was comparing orthodox LDS belief to orthodox LDS belief, not his beliefs.

    Using inconsistent examples to make a valid point is, well, it’s just normal. It’s usually not “intentional” at all and coming up with an explanation that involves John Dehlin having pre-thought out how to deceive people with his words will ultimately turn out to be the single least likely explantion.

    We really have to avoid reading in “intentions” to natural phenonmenon like this. People do their best to express themselves and it’s a sloppy process. Let’s give each other a break on this and practice some forgiveness.

    In other words, I believe you are getting stuck on the words to the exclusion of the underlying message in the examples you are using.

    Yes, the LDS church has stopped downplaying “free agency” as the prefered term to describe “agency.” There is no secret about this, as per Packer’s talk. This directly coincides with the LDS Church’s push towards getting into the scriptures more that started with the President Benson “Cleasing the Inner Vessel” talk. “Moral agency” is how God terms it. That’s what we call it now.

    Apparently, if your facts are correct, the LDS Church is now emphasizing the word “obedience” more rather than words like “performance.” Again, that strikes me as a change based on a move to more scriptural language, to be honest, rather than a correlated attempt to change doctrine. And the change may not even be intentional or done conciously.

    Will the change in wording result in a new and different understanding of the same basic doctrine? Of course it will. If there is one thing I’m certain about, it’s that the teachings of the LDS Church change over time, as do the teachings of all religions.

    But that doesn’t mean there is an intentional “defining the words spoken in the past [to] control both the past and the future.”

  • Bruce Nielson

    LOL,

    I just realized we have another good example of “non-intention” right here at post #24. John says “I got the impression that the reason for President Benson’s emphasis on the Book of Mormon was to combat “false ideas” like evolution, socialism, communism, atheism, etc.”

    To John, the point of the “Cleansing the Inner Vessel” talk was that President Benson was trying to advance his (somewhat famous) pet doctrines of anti-communism, anti-Evolution, etc.

    What if John’s right? He may well be! It seems really unlikely that President Benson knew before hand what affect a re-emphasis of the Book of Mormon would have on the Church decades later. (Don’t get me wrong, I believe God knew.)

    So here we are decades later and the Church is probably less anti-Communist than it was in President Benson’s day (due in no small part to communism collapsing world wide so no one is worried about it any more), more pro-evolution (or at least less anti-evolution), etc.

    And yet, that talk still had a profound change on the Church, if an unexpected one to everyone at the time President Benson started it. You just can’t plan stuff like this! :)

  • http://indybooks.blogspot.com Bookslinger

    The 1980′s also saw a marked increase in the efforts of the church to translate the Book of Mormon into world languages.

    Of the 105 languages in which it is currently translated, over half are spoken by immigrants in major US cities.

    The opportunity to flood-the-earth with the Book of Mormon, and to fulfill the scriptural prophecy of delivering the words of the brass plates and of the Nephite prophets (1 Ne. 13:40; 2 Ne. 30:7) to all “nations, kindreds, tongues and people” is here (even in the US, to and through many immigrants) and now.

  • Ricercar

    Bruce,

    I don’t find your characterization of ‘conspriacy’ disconcerting. I see a number of factors that would show the majority of the church’s activities are closely controlled:

    1. The church is a centralized hierarchy;

    2. The hierarchy commands detailed adherance to the words of the current leader;

    3. There are strong social motivators to follow the leadership;

    4. The church employs many persons and agencies to plan and deliver this message.

    Are there inefficiencies? Absolutely. Is there direction and extensive planning on what direction the church takes? Absolutely. Are all members uniform in their approach to doctrinal teaching and church policy? Absolutely not, but to claim that the president of the church would not be calculating with respect to establishing the kind of teaching he believes is spectacularly deficient.

    I believe that what you are saying is because there are divergent views of the leadership at various times and places we must rely on some other factor vis a vis the intention and the impact. That being said, could one look at Nauvoo and question whether the church really had plans to practice polygamy: The leadership was divided in their beliefs, the scriptures in the Doctrine and Covenants specifically denounced it, and the Book of Mormon seems also to denounce it. However, the influence (due to personality, organization or position) of Joseph Smith ensured that polygamy was set out as doctrine – according to scripture (just different scriptures than mentioned in the D&C). There is no conspriacy. Likewise the popularity of anti-evolutionary belief in the church is a result of a few leaders exerting their honest beliefs.

    People will advance their beliefs with careful thought. Words become important. When a person is transformed from a prisoner of war to an ‘enemy combattant’ the change is deliberate, but sometimes it is just a result from a person wanting to emphasize what they want to hear. If a person was comfortable with a concept of God that resonates with a traditional view of the Godhead, they will be more likely to emphasize texts that do just that – like the Book of Mormon. They will not be likely to emphasis other historically diverse beliefs in the nature and character of God (whether it is found in the early visions, the lectures on faith or the sermons of Brigham Young).

    When making my claim that the emphasis on the Book of Mormon was meant to change the way people would think, talk and believe in God, I don’t think we are that far off; however, understanding intention is the only means to understand a person’s message. If intention didn’t matter, there would be no need for close centralization of the leadership.

    I originally had John’s ideas in mind when I made my first post. The John Birch influence on Ezra Taft Benson’s thought was Christian v. Conspiracy (read: protestant v. communism) and is totally in line with a traditional vision of Christianity.

    In my reference to the use of the terms “Free Agency” and “Obedience,” I should note that the use of the terms “Free Agency” and the term “Agency” were both looked at, both as declined to the point of non-use. That being said, I think that example was more of a distraction from what I was trying to say. I probably shouldn’t post during the week as I am too distracted by work.

  • Bruce Nielson

    Ricercar,

    Who are you refering to when you say “were both looked at.” I mean who looked at it and why? I’m curious.

    Just to make my point clear, I’m not saying there isn’t intention, as per my point in #30. But it’s one thing to decide you are going to focus in on something and move towards it as per President Benson and his talk and quite another to “[Define] the words spoken in the past mean you control both the past and the future.”

    These are very different types of intention. Focusing on a doctrine you feel was always there (i.e. let’s emphasize the Book of Mormon) is not the same as deciding to slowly over decades decide to intentionally control the past via use of words.

    In your post #51 you are now talking about intentions that are well within the realm of believability, i.e. “Likewise the popularity of anti-evolutionary belief in the church is a result of a few leaders exerting their honest beliefs.” I would have to agree with you on that. There is no conspiracy here and no intent to do away with an uncomfortable doctrine in favor of a new one (as I thought you were implying previously.) It’s just an emphasis on something a few leader honestly believed and in fact had (what they felt) was good reasons to believe.

  • http://abev.wordpress.com john f.

    re # 52 on “free agency”, Elder Condie provided an explanation for the shift from the term “free agency” to “moral agency” in his 1995 Ensign article:

    I am indebted to President Boyd K. Packer, who made us aware of the fact that the term free agency appears nowhere in holy writ. Instead, the scriptures generally speak of agency or free will, but when agency is modified, it is referred to as “moral agency” (D&C 101:78; emphasis added). Because the term free agency has been used by various modern prophets, I use the terms free agency and moral agency interchangeably, aware that the latter term is more correct.

    In short, “free agency” is used less these days by Church leaders because it is not in the scriptures. Although it is indeed descriptive of the concept of agency and free will that are found in the scriptures, Church leaders have chosen to use the term “moral agency”, which is scriptural, to refer to the concept.

    It’s not much of a scandal, really, and certainly not a retreat from key aspects of LDS belief.

  • kenneth little

    The Book of Mormon and the Holy Bible together stand as a witness of Jesus The Christ in all that he is. One book does not stand in higher esteem over the other.The message in the Book of Mormom is clear to me. We would not have the Book of Mormon as it is today if it were not for the Bible. If it were not for the Bible,then Joseph Smith probably would not have prayed as he did and the Restoration as we know it would have taken place in a different manner. I feel Latter Day Saints need to obtain a firm understanding that we need to send to the world a message that Together, both books are required in order to understand and teach the total esence of Who the Savior was and what He taught. In our minds we can no longer view one book over the other in importance. I will not hold up my bible to my non member friends and preach out of it and I will not do the same with my Book of Mormon. What I will do is to hold up my “Quad” and preach that this volume which contains all the scriptures as we now accept in addition to the words of modern day prophets,is Gods words to his children on earth. It is said that two or more witnesses will establish the word. Thats not an elective. We cant afford to pick one witness over the other. Both are required.

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  • robbiefl58

    The phrase “folk doctrine” is interesting: it seems to imply that the central concepts of Classical Mormon Theology (that salvation and exalation come from one’s own efforts; that salvation is NOT by grace in the way understood by tradiitonal Christianity; that the Gods–note the plural form of the word–are limited beings; that human nature is inherently divine–that human nature IS out most profound connection with the Gods) were not REALLY orthodox Mormon doctrines at all but merely quaint ideas from Utah’s Mormon pioneer peirod.

    Having joined the LDS Church in the mid-70′s, having left it in 1982 and then having returened in 1994, I was STUNNED at the transformation of LDS Theology! Scholars call the new LDS doctrine (based on “The Book of Mormon” and New Testament. while largely ignorning the doctrinal innovation of the D&C, Pearl of Great Price and Joseph Smith’s King Follet Discourse)–they call it, “Mormon Neo-Orthodoxy.” Indeed, currernt LDS theology has more in common with Calvinism (the theological foundation of modern American Evangelical Christianity) than it does with the Mormonism of the Nauvoo Period and the Pioneer Utah period. In this sense, LDS-ism no longer seems particularly Mormon.

    I see the 1980′s re-emphasis on “The Book of Mormon” theology as a major step backwards. The LDS Church-and LDS doctrine–has essentially collapsed back into the Evangelical Calvinism from which Jospeh Smith during the 1830′s and 1840′s sought to distance himself.

    In 2003 I left the LDS Church and in 2004 joined the Reform Mromonism movement. Reform Mormonism is to LDSism what Reform Judaism is to Orthodox Judaism. Reform Mormon theology is built upon what we call “The Mormon Paradigm”–the new religion that Mormonism, by the 1840′s, had evolved into.
    If anyone here is interested in the Reform Mormon approach to faith, visit http://www.reformmormonism.org–and click on to the other Reform Mormon websites featured at the site’s homepage.

  • http://video.yahoo.com/watch/6471055 erik

    I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.