Category Archives: Cautionary tale

In case anyone mentions “the Book of Mormon” and “Smithsonian” in the same breath…

…please sent them over to this post at Keepapitchinin by Ardis “Ace” Parshall, Mormon Detective:

News of the impending publication reached Salt Lake City early in November, 1936. Alarmed, Heber J. Grant “immediately sent [Kelly] a cablegram” – not a slow-boat letter, but a lightning-fast cablegram! – “not to print that letter as we have reason to believe that statements made therein are not authentic.”

“We hope that the cablegram arrived in time to prevent your publishing the article,” President Grant wrote in a follow-up letter.

At last! One wise head, at least, was not mesmerized by the sensation. “We have reason to believe that statements made therein are not authentic.” (You think?) I do not find an article after a cursory search of Der Stern, but without a more careful search I cannot yet be certain whether the cablegram arrived in time.

This particular chain was not the story’s sole transmission route, of course. When each link in this chain proved so willing – eager, even – to share the story, there can be no doubt that each person in the chain shared the story with multiple others, not just those traced here. Some of those others must have shared it with still more contacts, who shares it with yet more … The fabulous rumor escaped into the wild, where it has spread like a malignant virus from missionary to missionary, seminary teacher to seminary teacher, one credulous soul to another, discovered anew by each generation, to the embarrassment of the Church and the annoyance of the Smithsonian Institution.

This is not true! Do not teach it!

Go read the whole thing.  And remember: it is not true that the Smithsonian Institution ever used the Book of Mormon for archaeological purposes. Don’t teach it.  ..bruce w..

A twist on “The Box”/”Button, Button”

The reviews I’ve read of “The Box” (now in theaters) confirm my concern: it’s hard to make a 2-hour film from a 2,800-word short story (“Button, Button” by Richard Matheson) without throwing in a lot of stuff that doesn’t really fit (warning: plenty of spoilers at the link).

On the other hand, I ran into the short (7-minute) film above that takes the same basic concept and turns it into something a bit different.  Enjoy.  ..bruce..

Another LDS-related “affinity fraud” case

I’ve posted a few times before (here and here) about “affinity fraud” cases involving Latter-day Saints, that is, financial fraud cases that in part prey upon Mormons via their religion, much as Bernie Madoff’s frauds preyed heavily upon Jews and Jewish organizations.

Well, another example has cropped up:

Like those caught up in other get-rich scams — from Bernard Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme, which initially snared wealthy Jews, to an alleged $4.4 million fraud aimed at deaf people — Tri Energy’s investors had something in common. Many were Mormons and born-again Christians who shared dreams and prayers on nightly conference calls. They vowed to use the profits for charitable works and kept raising funds, at times taking out second mortgages, draining retirement accounts and recruiting relatives.

What’s interesting is that the people perpetrating the fraud aren’t LDS themselves — they’re just taking advantage of them:

Jones, Jennings and Simburg, none of whom is a Mormon, exploited this vulnerability for at least four years, offering a cocktail of spirituality, exclusivity and the promise of high returns.

“The guys who did this were geniuses in a way,” says Dana Carney, an assistant professor of management at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business in New York, who has written about investor psychology. “This has the flavor of a cult. They hit all these vulnerabilities. There was religion; we trust like people, especially religiously like people. With the nightly calls, there was an illusion of transparency. They took advantage of the sunk-costs phenomenon: The more people invest in something, the more connected they feel.”

Be sure to read the whole thing.  ..bruce..

Mixing politics and religion, the wrong way

Even though my disaffection with the Democratic Party began 30 years ago (under Jimmy Carter), I remained a registered Democrat until last fall, when I switched my affiliation to Republican. However, articles such as this give me pause to reconsider:

Utah County Republicans defeated a resolution opposing well-heeled groups that a delegate claims are pushing a satanic plan to encourage illegitimate births and illegal immigration.

Don Larsen, a Springville delegate, offered the resolution, titled “Resolution opposing the Hate America anti-Christian Open Borders cabal,” warning delegates that an “invisible government” comprised of left-wing foundations was pumping money into the Democratic Party to push for looser immigration laws and anti-family legislation.

Larsen said Democrats get most of the votes cast by illegal immigrants and people in dysfunctional families.

But it’s not the Democrats who are behind this strategy, Larsen said. It’s the devil.

“Satan’s ultimate goal is to destroy the family,” Larsen said, “and these people are playing a leading part in it.”

Larsen’s resolution contained quotes from the New Testament on the battle between good and evil. The copy of the resolution handed to delegates stated it “fulfills scriptural prophecies about our times.”

Larsen offered a similar resolution at the 2007 convention. That also was defeated by delegates.

And we’re all glad it was.   ..bruce..

Yet another cautionary tale from other churches

In the LDS Church, we sometimes chafe at the strict control that Church HQ imposes on what individual wards can do or buy. Among other things, this often leads to a slow adoption of technology; less than 10 years ago, the ward I was in was still using a computer that ran Windows 3.x and was hooked up to a dot matrix (not laser) printer. In fact, around the same time frame, the print edition of the Sugar Beet (think: LDS version of the Onion) ran an article to the effect of the Smithsonian recognizing LDS ward computers as being the oldest continuously operating personal computers in America. Of course, in the past 10 years, the Church went through a significant upgrade, moving to Windows XP, laser printers, and dial-in membership/tithing updates, but still, that was years overdue. (On the other hand, if the Church currently mandates that all new ward computers run Windows XP instead of Vista, that could actually be a good thing.)

On the other hand, this story from today’s Washington Post suggests just how much trouble individual LDS wards could get themselves into without those controls (emphasis mine):

The District government has filed a lawsuit alleging that five companies defrauded at least 30 Washington area congregations of hundreds of thousands of dollars through a computer equipment scam that has spread to at least 20 states.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, in a 16-page affidavit, alleges that agents for the companies offered the churches free computer kiosks to enhance their outreach. What the churches actually received was inexpensive computer equipment that often did not work. The kiosks, located in church foyers, were to serve as electronic bulletin boards for announcements and community activities and would pay for themselves through paid advertisements.

But the suit alleges that congregations unknowingly signed leases obligating them to pay tens of thousands of dollars for faulty equipment. After the kiosks were installed, Nickles said, church accounts were drained by unauthorized withdrawals and unlawful collection practices.

Read all the details, then reflect upon the LDS tendency to trust LDS entreprenuers and professionals, even when said trust isn’t warranted. I could easily see something like this happening. Something to keep in mind next time you’re inclined to grumble about Church policies and restrictions.  ..bruce..

And now a cautionary lesson from the Evangelicals

Early in February, I wrote a post titled, “LDS history and organization: a cautionary tale from the Catholics“. It deal with the controversy within the Catholic Church over the Legion of Christ and recent revelations regarding its founder, Father Marciel Maciel. I drew conclusions about the need for the LDS Church to continue to to be open and honest regarding its own history.

Today in the Christian Science Monitor is an article by Michael Spencer, a self-described “postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality”. The article is entitled “The coming evangelical collapse”, and while I think that Spencer may be overstating his thesis, his reasons for thinking that Evangelical Christianity will collapse are worth considering as Latter-day Saints:

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. . . .

2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we’ve spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. . . .

3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. . . .

4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to “do good” is rapidly approaching. . . .

6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.

7. The money will dry up.

For the most part, the Church has avoided or is seeking to avoid these very problems. The big exception is #1, particularly in light of Proposition 8 in California (the irony being that the Evangelical group Focus on the Family alone spent three times what the LDS Church did in supporting Prop 8, yet no one is burning Bibles in front of FotF HQ down in Colorado Springs [or as we say here in Colorado, “the Springs”]).

I do not have enough expertise in the Evangelical churches to judge the accuracy of Spencer’s observations and the likelihood of his predictions. My suspicious is that he is (consciously or not) overstating his case in order to conform with his own frustrations and expectations, something not unknown here in the Bloggernacle. But be sure to read the whole article. ..bruce..

[UPDATE: Here’s a post to discuss possible futures of the LDS Church, particularly in America.]

LDS history and organization: a cautionary tale from the Catholics

Within the LDS Church, we continue to debate publicly and agonize privately over issues in LDS history (hagiography, naturalism, etc.) as well as occasionally getting our knickers in a twist over perceived or real issues in LDS leadership, both local and general. However, I think we sometimes lose perspective at just how open our history is and how self-correcting our organization is.

I write this because while doing my usual scan of the blogosphere this morning, I stumbled across a series of posts having to do with a Catholic order — the Legion of Christ — and the parallel lay organization, the Regnum Christi Movement. I claim no particular knowledge of or familiarity with either group or their respective context within the Catholic Church. But what is clear from the posting I’ve read today is that the founder of the Legion of Christ, Father Marciel Maciel, who died about a year ago and who is very much venerated by the LC and RC membership, is now acknowledged to have fathered at least one child out of wedlock (on top of earlier accusations regarding sexual abuse of young men).  This appears to be quite devastating for those who have been defending Fr. Maciel’s name for some time (mostly in light of the earlier accusations). Here are some more links to discussions on this issue: here, here, here, here and here.

I write none of this to somehow attack the Catholic Church or its beliefs; to the contrary, the Catholic Church itself appears to be doing its best to deal honestly and appropriately with these issues, which really exist in organizations outside of itself. Instead, I think there are two important lessons here for us, one in terms of LDS history, the other in terms of LDS organization.

First, the sense I get from the various postings on this subject is that Fr. Maciel was revered by LC and RC members to a degree that even the most zealous Joseph Smith fan might flinch from. To quote from the New York Times article:

In Catholic religious orders, members are taught to identify with the spirituality and values of the founder. That was taken to an extreme in the Legionaries, said the Rev. Stephen Fichter, a priest in New Jersey who left the order after 14 years.

“Father Maciel was this mythical hero who was put on a pedestal and had all the answers,” Father Fichter said. “When you become a Legionarie, you have to read every letter Father Maciel ever wrote, like 15 or 16 volumes. To hear he’s been having this double life on the side, I just don’t see how they’re going to continue.”

Of course, we’re studying writings of Joseph Smith in Priesthood and Relief Society, and the LDS Church is now putting out 30 volumes of of the Joseph Smith papers. But the recent trends in “faithful” LDS historical scholarship have almost all been towards frankness (Rough Stone Rolling, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball) to an extent never seen before. There has been much debate in the Bloggernacle and elsewhere about “inoculation” and openness in LDS history; I think that the issues surround Fr. Maciel suggest the need to continue that openness.

Second, for all the grousing that goes on about the “Mormon hierarchy” or, on occasion, the lay nature of most LDS leadership, I think that the host of problems and the apparent divisiveness that appear to surround the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, particularly in light of the new information about Fr. Maciel, underscore the danger of such ancillary priesthood orders and lay organizations. While an undergrad at BYU (1970s), I remember having a discussion with one of my professors about some friends who were starting an independent scripture study group. The professor said — half-joking, half-serious — said, “You realize that’s how most apostate groups get started, don’t you?” Those friends didn’t apostatize, but I certainly ran into my share of such groups that had while I was at BYU, both as a student and as a teacher (cf. C. S. Lewis on “the lure of the Inner Ring“).

Try this thought-experiment: imagine organizing a group independent of the LDS Church explicitly (and strictly) led by Melchizedek priesthood holders, focused on the Restoration gospel, publishing its own books and materials, training its own personnel, and carrying out specific priesthood functions parallel to and independent of the Church. (Right now, depending upon your age, you may be thinking either of the Freeman Institute or one of the many Utah-based multi-level marketing corporations, but that’s not what I’m talking about.) Now imagine a lay (or, as we would say, “auxiliary”) organization specifically for families that reports to and is guided by this group, again all operating completely independent of the LDS Church itself.

Right about now, “train wreck” may be what is passing through your mind; it’s certainly what passes through mine.

We grouse at times about the quality of teaching and leadership within the LDS Church, about the arbitrary decisions often made by bishops and stake presidents, about the uniformity imposed by the Correlation Committee, and the simplicity of the “Sunday School answers”.

Yet, I think those are all either tremendous strengths or, at worst, acceptable issues that are much better than the alternatives.  While we all at times feel a wish to remake the Church in our own likeness and image, it is not at all clear that this would be a good thing for anyone but us, and possibly not even for ourselves.  In short, the next time you’re tempted to grouse about the Church, be careful what you wish for.  ..bruce..