Category Archives: LDS History

Parsing Nephi: First Nephi, title and introduction (1830 edition)

Here’s the introduction to this series; briefly put, it is looking at the original ‘chapter’ divisions in the Book of Mormon manuscripts (original and printer’s, resulting in the 1830 first edition). As noted in the introduction, it appears from original manuscript evidence that these chapter divisions were somehow indicated on the plates themselves and thus would represent editorial decisions by the author, in this case, Nephi1 (whom I’ll just refer to as “Nephi” hereafter). All my chapter-and-verse citations will use the modern edition, and I’ll link to the LDS Church’s on-line edition; however, when I quote text directly, I will quote from The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (Royal Skousen, editor, Yale University Press, 2009), following Skousen’s layout.

For reference, here is a chart comparing the 1830 chapters to the modern edition chapters.

First Nephi (modern edition: 1 Nephi)

First, a bit of context. Nephi started working on what we now refer to as “the small plates of Nephi” (First and Second Nephi; the plates would eventually contain Jacob, Enos, and Omni as well) thirty or more years after leaving Jerusalem and finished his historical portion sometime within a ten-year period (2 Nephi 5:28-34). By the time he started the plates, he and his followers had fled from Laman and Lemuel, leaving the original Lehite settlement and relocating to what would become known as “the land of Nephi”. When he left, Nephi took with him the brass plates, the director ( “liahona”, though that name is only used once in the Book of Mormon itself and then only several centuries after the time of Nephi), and the sword of Laban (2 Nephi 5:12-14). I suspect it was the theft of these key items — the only tangible links back to Jerusalem as well as objects with substantial religious/totemic value — that infuriated Laman and Lemuel enough to lead them to track down and attack Nephi and his people, though they may also have seen Nephi as a lingering threat to their own legitimacy as rulers over their own people. (Centuries later, we still see Lamanites bitterly complaining about how Nephi robbed Laman and Lemuel not just of physical items but also of “their right to the government“.)

The flight into the wilderness and the initial wars with Laman and his people all happen (2 Nephi 5:1-27) before Nephi creates and starts writing the small plates, the ones that contain “the things of my soul“. Up until now, he has been adding to his father’s record (the lost “Book of Lehi“), but under divine direction he creates a record entirely of his own. He gives it the title, “The Book of Nephi, His Reign and Ministry” (hereafter “First Nephi”), which indicates what he thinks he will be writing about, at least eventually; as it turns out, he writes very little about his ‘reign’, and all that will be saved for the second “Book of Nephi”. And unless you include his (truly remarkable) visions and prophecies, this book doesn’t have much in the way of ‘ministry’ either — mostly just lectures to and arguments with his brothers.

Nephi also lays out what he intends to cover in this book; in essence, an outline or table of contents, but one clearly devised ahead of time, not just because of its location on the plates (at the start of First Nephi), but because of all that it leaves out. While this introduction does clearly sketch out the historical sequence covered by First Nephi and in that order, it completely leaves out those remarkable visions and prophecies alluded to earlier, and the structure of what Nephi actually wrote doesn’t mesh exactly with his planned contents. Here is Nephi’s introduction (after Skousen) as aligned with the actual chapters in First Nephi:

An account of Lehi and his wife Sariah and his four sons,
being called, beginning at the eldest,
Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi.

[Chapter I]

The Lord warns Lehi to depart out of the land of Jerusalem
because he prophesieth unto the people concerning their iniquity
and they seek to destroy his life.

He taketh three days’ journey into the wilderness with his family.

Nephi taketh his brethren and returneth to the land of Jerusalem
after the record of the Jews.

The account of their sufferings.

[Chapter II]

They take the daughters of Ishmael to wife.

[Chapter III]

[Chapter IV]

[Chapter V]

They take their families and depart into the wilderness.

Their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness.

The course of their travels.

They come to the large waters.

Nephi’s brethren rebel against him.

He confoundeth them, and buildeth a ship.

They call the name of the place Bountiful.

They cross the large waters into the promised land etc.

[Chapter VI]

[Chapter VII]

This is according to the account of Nephi,
or in other words, I, Nephi, wrote this record.

In short, it is clear I think that Nephi started out with an(other) historical record in mind — his “reign and ministry”, with the events that led him to that point. As is often the case for writers, however, what he started out to write is not what he wrote at the end. Likewise, a record that starts on a rather triumphal note (again, “reign and ministry”) diverts into harsh self-recrimination (2 Nephi 4:17-35) just before a very short recounting of his actual reign and ministry (2 Nephi 5:1-28) and an abrupt end to his historical record (the rest of Second Nephi is prophecy and scripture).

Next post: First Nephi I (1 Nephi 1-5). ..bruce..

Parsing Nephi: the earliest Book of Mormon text

Most of you are probably aware that the earliest editions of the Book of Mormon (starting with the 1830 first edition) had different chapter divisions than the current LDS editions. The chapter-and-verse divisions that we are used to were devised by Orson Pratt in 1879 for what was the ninth published edition (chronologically speaking); in so doing, he chopped up the original chapters, which were for the most part longer than the ones we have now. For example, First Nephi chapter I in the 1830 edition maps to 1 Nephi chapters 1-5 in the current LDS edition.

What you may be less aware of is that Royal Skousen, as part of his critical text analysis of the Book of Mormon, believes that the (original) chapter divisions existed on the plates themselves:

It appears that Joseph Smith himself specified the placement of the original chapter breaks. In the translation process, Joseph seems to have seen some visual indication at the end of a section that the section was ending; perhaps the last words of the section were followed by blankness. Recognizing that the section was ending, Joseph then told the scrip to write the word chapter, with the understanding that the appropriate number would be added later. Scribal evidence from the original and printer’s manuscripts supports this interpretation. Oliver Cowdery’s Chapter is always written rapidly and with the same ink flow as the surrounding text. But his chapter numbers are almost always written with heavier ink flow and more carefully. In many cases, Oliver took time to add serifs to his roman numerals. And in one case, the chapter number was written in blue ink while all the surrounding words (including the word Chapter) were written using the normal black ink.

The use of the word chapter and he corresponding numbers is not part of the original text and can therefore be considered noncanonical. But the breaks that Joseph Smith apparently saw can be considered a part of the original text and should be indicated in the [critical] text, perhaps by placing white spaces between sections. (Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part One: 1 Nephi 1 – 2 Nephi 20, Royal Skousen, FARMS, 2004, p. 44).

Note that, by contrast, the paragraph breaks in the 1830 edition are not extant in the original and printer’s manuscripts and instead were added by the typesetter; ibid., p. 45.

If we assume that Skousen is correct and that the 1830 chapter breaks represented compositional divisions on the Book of Mormon plates themselves, then it is fair to consider that Nephi may have had conscious reasons for how each division (‘chapter’) was structured. Nephi wrote all of 1 Nephi, as well as 2 Nephi 1-5 (Second Nephi I-IV in the 1830 edition) between 30 and 40 years after leaving Jerusalem (cf. 2 Nephi 5:28-34). Nephi had already been keeping his “other history” on the “other plates” (cf. 1 Nephi 6, 2 Nephi 5:29-30), so this represented a new writing venture for him, and one that took many years to complete. As has been pointed out by many, many commentators over the decades, Nephi almost certainly wrote his “small plates” record, among other reasons, to defend himself against Laman and Lemuel’s claims (which became a lasting Lamanite tradition) that he was a liar and a thief, not to mention a usurper of Laman’s leadership rights under primogeniture. Finally, given the apparent difficulty of engraving upon the metal plates, it is likely that Nephi did some degree of composing, outlining, or otherwise structuring what he was going to engrave in each division before starting it.

Putting all that together, it is fair I think to hypothesize that Nephi may have had a deliberate structure to each of the chapters in First Nephi, as well as Second Nephi I-IV (2 Nephi 1-5), which together make up the totality of Nephi’s historical record on the small plates; the rest of Second Nephi comprises Jacob’s sermon, excerpts from Isaiah, and Nephi’s own prophecies, preaching and testimony, all without any other historical information or setting (contemporary to Nephi, that is).

This is a long lead-in to what will be a series of posts looking at First Nephi I-VII and Second Nephi I-IV (using Skousen’s The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, Yale University Press, 2009) to see what themes or structures can be derived from the presentation and contents of each chapter.

The next post covers First Nephi’s title and introduction. ..bruce..

Five Nephite restorations

As Latter-day Saints, we tend to be locked into the narrative of our own history, namely: Christ’s mortal ministry in Palestine; the eventual apostasy of the Christian churches; and the restoration of the Church in the early 19th century, some 1500 years later. On top of that, our overall view of human history tends to be dispensationalist: Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and so forth. Finally, we tend to think of restorations as “all at once” (again, looking at the model of our own restoration). For those three reasons, I think it is easy for us to overlook shorter, more subtle cycles of apostasy and restoration.

While we commonly talk about the up-and-down cycle of the Nephites, we usually assume that there was nevertheless an unbroken line of prophetic leadership, priesthood authority and church organization from Nephi through Moroni. From a careful reading of the Book of Mormon, I am not sure that was the case at all. I think there are at least five (5) places where a restoration occurs in the Book of Mormon. Each restoration involves a divine intervention to restore doctrine, authority, ordinances and/or church organization. In each case, some remnant of the previous ‘church’ and its doctrine still existed, but that shouldn’t surprise us: our own Restoration took place in a world filled with Christian churches following the Bible, practicing ordinances and preaching doctrines that the Restored Church practices and preaches as well.

More after the jump.

Continue reading Five Nephite restorations

Interesting commentary on the US District Court ruling on DOMA

The Defense of Marriage Act, passed by the US Congress in 1996, defines marriage as being solely between “a man and a woman”. Judge Joseph Tauro of the US District Court of Massachusetts just issued a ruling striking down the DOMA as unconstitutional. In so doing, he apparently stated that

DOMA marks the first time that the federal government has ever attempted to legislatively mandate a uniform federal definition of marriage – or any other core concept of domestic relations, for that matter.

Charles Lane, over at the Post Partisan blog of the Washington Post, responds by saying, in effect, “Uh, no.”

During the 1856 presidential campaign, the Republican Party platform had accused the Democrats of countenancing “those twin relics of barbarism–polygamy and slavery” and declared it the “duty of Congress to prohibit” both evils in the territories. Buchanan’s expedition was intended to prove the Republicans wrong. It succeeded only in provoking a few inconsequential clashes between armed Mormons and U.S. soldiers.

Congress subsequently adopted three increasingly harsh criminal bans on bigamy and polygamy in the territories: in 1862, 1882 and 1887. The Supreme Court upheld these laws repeatedly against Mormon challenges alleging, among other things, that they violated religious liberty. The 1887 law, the Edmunds-Tucker Act, abrogated the Mormon Church’s corporate charter and confiscated its property, on the grounds that its leaders encouraged polygamy.

The Supreme Court said that was okay, too. Echoing the majority opinion of the day, the court recoiled in frank horror at a practice the Mormons believed was ordained by God — but which the justices considered a “crime against the laws and abhorrent to the sentiments and feelings of the civilized world.” They compared it to human sacrifice. . . .

So it is a bit misleading to say, as Tauro does, “every [historical] effort to establish a national definition of marriage met failure.” Washington’s triumph over Mormon polygamy, made permanent in a national statute, would seem to qualify as a federal definition of marriage, at least in the sense of what marriage is not.

To be sure, Tauro emphasizes that the states have always had exclusive authority over marriage. Utah was a territory at the time of Washington’s effort to stamp out polygamy, and the constitution gave the federal government paramount authority over territories, including their domestic legislation. (That is why, technically, the anti-polygamy laws aimed at Utah also applied to Arizona, Oklahoma, Alaska and the District of Columbia.) Congress functioned, in effect, as the super-legislature for each territory.

Yet what is noteworthy about the Utah case is that Congress leveraged its power over Utah the territory into power over Utah the state. As a condition of admission to the Union, Utah’s people gave Congress a permanent veto over their marriage laws – a veto that remains on the books to this day. The fact that today’s Mormons are proponents of heterosexual monogamy and opponents of same-sex monogamy, is deeply ironic, but legally irrelevant.

What’s more, Utah is not the only state in which this situation obtains. The language of the Utah Enabling Act was repeated, word-for-word, in the laws that admitted New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma as states in the early 20th Century. In short, the federal government has shared authority over the marriage laws of four U.S. states.

Now, I have long been amused by those who state that efforts to allow gay marriage would have no impact on efforts to allow plural marriage. It has always struck me that any successful legal argument allowing gay marriage would have to, of necessity, allow plural marriage — I have yet to see a convincing argument to the contrary, particularly since plural marriage has a much deeper and broader history worldwide (including current active practice, particularly in Islamic and African cultures) than gay marriage does.

If Judge Tauro’s ruling is upheld, it would be interesting to see whether legal challenges to the Federally-mandated Arizona laws might arise from one of the polygamous religious groups therein (Arizona being, in my opinion, the most likely candidate for such an effort). Since Judge Tauro’s ruling does indicate that states can define marriage on their own, such an effort could be quickly ended by a de novo state law banning plural marriage (and for all I know, such a law already exists). But we continue to live in interesting times.  ..bruce..

The Second Quorum of the Twelve

The Nephite Apostles

[Note: this is a follow-up to the discussion in the comments to this post some months back (from the date of the original post in 2009). Also, I’ve made minor edits over time as I have re-read this post.]

We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church . . . .
— 6th Article of Faith

Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem. And I write also unto the remnant of this people, who shall also be judged by the twelve whom Jesus chose in this land; and they shall be judged by the other twelve whom Jesus chose in the land of Jerusalem.
— Mormon 3:18-19

“[The Book of Mormon] tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection; that He planted the Gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers, and Evangelists, the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessings, as were enjoyed on the eastern continent . . . ”
— Joseph Smith (from the Wentworth Letter, 1842; cf. History of the Church 4:538).

Back during the ‘Primitive Church’ era, it appears that there were 24 apostles on the earth, organized into two separate quorums: the Twelve in the Old World (led by Peter) and the Twelve in the New World (led by Nephi3). While it is true that the New World Twelve were never specifically called apostles within the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith referred to them as such (as noted above), and Joseph Fielding Smith cautiously agreed.

Mormon’s comments, cited above, indicate that the New World Twelve were subordinate to the Old World Twelve. In modern-day LDS parlance, we could refer to the Old World Apostles as the First Quorum of the Twelve, and to the New World Apostles as the Second Quorum of the Twelve.

Nowadays, however, we only have the (one) Quorum of the Twelve. Given the 6th Article of Faith, the question comes up: what are the chances of the Church setting up a Second Quorum of the Twelve, as existed in the Primitive Church? And if the Church did so, how would it work, particularly given the tradition of succession in the modern Church?

First, let’s see why the Church might organize the Second Quorum of the Twelve.

When I joined the Church in 1967, Church membership was around 2.6 million, with about 450 stakes and 4,200 wards and branches. The large majority of that membership was in the Western United States, Western Canada, and northeastern Mexico. Apostles and even First Presidency members would visit stake conferences on a regular basis; I got to shake hands with Pres. Hugh B. Brown and Elder LeGrand Richards as a teenager that way. Back then, each bishop was set apart by an Apostle.

Today, Church membership is approaching 14 million, with 2,800 stakes and nearly 25,000 wards and branches (roughly a 5x growth in all three categories). Over half of the Church membership lives outside of the United States. And we still have just twelve Apostles.

The gap has been filled by the Presidents and Quorums of the Seventy (not to mention stake presidents). They really are the eyes and ears and legs and hands of the Apostles throughout the world. But the collective Seventy still have to feed into just twelve Apostles. I suspect that the members of the Quorum of the Twelve carry tremendous administrative, spiritual, and ministering burdens — and yet in all that, it is the core of their calling to be special witnesses of Christ.

Imagine, then, how that burden would be lifted if there were a Second Quorum of the Twelve, another set of 12 Apostles among whom to share the load at that level of Church administration.

How might this work?

Let’s follow the model in the meridian of time and assume that the Second Quorum of the Twelve is subordinate to the First Quorum of the Twelve. Seniority in the Second Quorum would work just like, but be independent of, the seniority in the First Quorum. There would be no automatic succession from the Second Quorum to the First; instead Apostles in the Second Quorum would be put on emeritus status when they reached 70 years of age. However, the Second Quorum would provide a fertile ground for candidates to fill vacancies in the First Quorum upon the death of an Apostle.

In other words, it would work pretty much just like the Presidency of the Seventy works right now. In fact, I could argue that the Presidency of the Seventy fills the function of the Second Quorum of the Twelve, except that there’s only seven of them and they don’t have Apostolic authority (i.e., being sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators).

Now, what if that were to change? What if the Church dissolved the Presidency of the Seventy, organized the Second Quorum of the Twelve, and then organized the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Quorums of the Seventy, with an Apostle over each Quorum? Church government and organization is flexible as the times require; I was once a Seventy myself, and was even a President of Seventy (it was a stake position some 25 years ago — there were seven Presidents of Seventy in each stake). So it wouldn’t bother me in the least if the Church were to do this kind of reorganization. (I will admit being startled for a second when the Church organized the Eighth Quorum of the Seventy, though I believe a careful reading of D&C 107:95-96 allows that interpretation.)

As an alternative approach, what if the Church left the Presidency and Quorums of the Seventy just as they are now, but called an entirely new Second Quorum of the Twelve? This second Quorum could truly act as a “traveling presiding high council” throughout the Church, going as a quorum, in pairs or individually, to various parts of the world to help strengthen the church. In fact much as Elders Oaks and Holland did for a year in the Philippines and South America, respectively, members of the Second Quorum could live outside of the United States on a permanent or near-permanent basis, providing resident Apostolic authority throughout the world, while traveling back to Salt Lake on a regular basis to meet with the First Presidency and the First Quorum of the Twelve (though I suspect the Church would use two-way, satellite-based videoconferencing to reduce actual travel).

Given this second approach, I suspect that the Second Quorum would largely comprise Apostles whose native language is something other than English and/or whose native country is outside of the United States and Canada.

This approach would allow Church members throughout the world to hear in person from Apostles speaking their native tongues on a regular basis. At the same time, these worldwide Apostles could work more actively and directly with the governments of the countries over which they preside to help see to the Church’s interests in those countries.

This approach would, I believe, tremendously strengthen the Church worldwide, especially in those areas (Latin America, Africa, the Philippines) where Church growth frequently outstrips the leadership pool. And for those keeping an eye on the Last Days, it would also ensure Apostolic authority distributed throughout the world in the event of major war and/or natural catastrophes.

Any thoughts?  ..bruce..

Early thoughts on “The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text”

FedEx showed up about a few hours ago with my pre-ordered copy of Royal Skousen’s magnum opus, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (Yale University Press, 2009, 848 pages). This volume represents over 20 years of work on Skousen’s part to produce a critical text edition of the Book of Mormon.  I’ve been buried in the volume — starting at the front and working my way through — since it appeared. Having made it as far as 1 Nephi 10 (First Book of Nephi, chapter III, in the 1830 edition), I thought I’d come up for air long enough to log a few comments.

First, the physical production of the volume is outstanding (as one would expect from Yale University Press). High quality paper and binding, outstanding layout and typography. The book is large and heavy (as per Amazon, 9.3 x 7.6 x 2.3 inches and 3.6 lbs) but manages to stay open even near the front and back. The heft of the book makes it a bit hard (though not impossible) to read while stretched out on the couch.

Grant Hardy’s introduction lays out the case for accepting the Book of Mormon as a serious work worthy of study in the context of world religions — all the more so because we have so much definite historical and even forensic information regarding its creation and transmission (cf. Terryl Givens’ By the Hand of Mormon).

Skousen’s editorial preface in turn provides a brief overview of his methodology in producing the critical text, laying out his overall approach as well as some of his criteria in making critical text decisions. However, he rightly points readers to his multi-volume series on the Book of Mormon Critical Text project for detailed explanations as to item-by-item decisions regarding recovery or conjecture of the critical text.

Skousen also explains his presentation of the critical text: sense lines, (mostly) modern spelling, de novo punctuation, blank lines to indicate paragraph breaks, and a typographic insertion to mark Joseph Smith’s original chapter indications. Modern (LDS 1981 edition) chapter and verse indications are given in the left margin.

Note that the punctuation, sense line breaks, and paragraph breaks are Skousen’s; the original manuscript had none, and the printer’s manuscript didn’t have much more. Skousen describes his process thus:

As I prepared each section of The Earliest Text, I started with one long string of unpunctuated words. I first broke the text into sense-lines (described below); I then added the accidentals (punctuation and capitalization) as needed in order to make the syntax clear. (p. xlii)

Skousen then spends several paragraphs outlining his approach to sense-lines and paragraphs. While most paragraphs comprise some number of modern verses, Skousen is willing to break across modern verse or even chapter divisions, though he only does so occasionally. I suspect that what criticism Skousen receives on this volume will come here, since he is in effect inserting himself to the text. On the other hand, I frankly think he’s done a better job than Orson Pratt did back in 1879, and as I got into the text itself, I found myself wishing for an edition that left out the modern chapter and verse numbers (though I could simply use a bookmark to cover up the left margin). And since even the printer’s manuscript was (in the words of the 1830 typesetter, John Gilbert) “one solid paragraph, without a punctuation mark, from beginning to end” (cited on p. xlii), I much prefer Skousen’s approach to wading through a single mass of undifferentiated and unpunctuated text.

And the text is wonderful. Layout and typography make it very easy to read, and the presentation brings a fresh look to a very familiar text. I’ve worked my way through most of the five “Textual Variants” volumes published by Skousen to date, so I’m not reading this to pick up on those modifications per se (though Skousen lists in an appendix what he considers to be significant textual changes). Instead, I am imagining myself in a small room as Joseph dictates and someone transcribes. It is a powerful experience, one which I’m about to go back to.

Highly recommended.  ..bruce..

Mormons, the Mossad, and 9/11

Courtesy of Article VI Blog comes a link to this, ah, fascinating article that not only repeats the tired and ridiculous trope that Israel was behind the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001, but that the Mormons were involved as well. A few excerpts (all errors and typos are in the original article):

The establishment of a branch of Brigham Young University in Israel created a legitimate front for covert activities of the secret/CIA element of the church. It is from there that Mormon world political interests are promoted and pursued lobbying the Israeli government to pursue its unenlightened, inhuman activities under Mosaic Law of an eye for an eye philosophy against Arab states and the deprived Palestinian people. . . .

The first public awareness of the nexus between Mossad and Mormon secret agents was published by Norman Mailer in A Harlot High and Low in the 60’s when a reconditioned WWII Liberty ship was “hijacked” on the Thames River in London by Mossad. The ship had a cargo of uranium ore that had been originally mined in southern Utah. The details of that intrigue were published in an earlier article on OpedNews http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_doug_wal_071212_romneys_selective_ig.ht

It involved the Utah Corporation which mines the surface of Australia as well as Chile.I mentioned that Secret elements of the church conspired with the CIA to overthrow democratically elected president Allende of Chile so that the business interests of the church could continue uninterrupted by the then recent action of Allende in nationalizing the mines in Chile.

The most recent exposure of that nexus came within the framework of the 9-11 event.Being pre-informed if not directly involved in the plans for destroying the Twin Towers as well as Building 7 on September 11, 2001 is demonstrated by official advice given toMormons working in the World Trade Center to not show up for work that day. . . .

The nexus between the church and the Bush Administration has been documented by the pressure placed on the church from a personal visit by Bush to church headquarters in Salt Lake City prior to the forced retirement of BYU physics professor Steven Jones in late 2006.  Jones was/is in the forefront of scientifically establishing a conspiracy to destroy the World trade Center by pre planted explosives. He is just doing what church founder Smith predicted elders of the church would do in saving the Constitution.

If this weren’t so amusing, I’d be offended. I was living and working in Washington DC on 9/11/2001; in fact, the house that Sandra and I had just moved into was about 4 miles due north of the Pentagon. While I didn’t personally know anyone who was killed on that day, there were plenty of people in our ward who did. And I can assure Wallace that none of us were warned about anything. (Note to Wallace: we had been living in DC proper for nearly two years at that point; the house we had just moved into was 2 miles closer to the Mall and the Pentagon.)

What makes this article even more amusing is that there are anti-Mormon evangelicals who claim that the LDS Church is supporting Arab terrorism. (The Church sent hygiene kits and blankets to the Gaza strip, just as they have sent relief to North Korea. All God’s chilluns need warmth and first aid.) And in all this, I wonder what Douglas Wallace, who authored this article, thinks of the terrorists who keep claiming credit for the 9/11 attacks.

For what it’s worth, Wallace (as he alludes to in his credits at the end of the article) is the LDS lawyer who was excommunicated in 1976 for ordaining a black to the priesthood. The incoherence, paranoia, and anti-Semitism of this article renders him a less understandable and sympathetic character than he might otherwise be.  ..bruce..

Future(s) of the LDS Church

The last two posts have dealt with the future (in America) of Evangelism in particular and Christianity in general. Ardis Parshall’s comments on the former post raise the question of the extent to which these same factors impact the LDS Church. I’d like to poke at that a bit, mostly to explore ways in which the future of the LDS Church might be different from what faithful members typically envision.

Let me start by addressing the standard bifurcation between those who believe the LDS Church is what it claims to be  — the Church of Jesus Christ, restored by God Himself, the “only true and living church” — and those who do not. Those in the latter camp can and do envision all sorts of futures for the LDS Church, and they do so quite reasonably, since their premise is that it is simply a man-made organization (or, in some Evangelical circles, the Church of Satan) and so can suffer all the varied fates of any such organization.

For believing or faithful Latter-day Saints, however, the LDS Church is God’s kingdom restored to the earth, never to be taken from the earth again between now and the Second Coming of Christ. It is, in the words of Daniel’s vision as echoed in the D&C, “the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (though that passage actually refers to the Gospel, not the Church, as that stone). As such, our vision of the Church’s future tends to be largely more of the same — more wards, more stakes, more missionaries, more missions, more members, and maybe even a few more scriptures — with a brief period of last-days catastrophes, during which we live off our food storage (you do have your food storage, don’t you?), have a much shorter meeting block, and generally encourage and help each other while the rest of the world goes to pieces. Somehow in all this, our homes and our chapels (especially our stake centers) will be places of refuge for ourselves and our nice non-LDS neighbors.

But what if that standard picture is wrong or misleading? What if the course of the Church between now and the coming of the Savior turns out be quite different from what we usually presume? We often cite the books of Helaman through 4th Nephi in the Book of Mormon as providing a type and shadow of events surrounding the Second Coming and the Millennium, but in so doing, we ignore the fact that the Church of God goes from being dominant in both Nephite and Lamanite regions to almost (but not quite) vanishing completely just prior to the great destruction that accompanies the Savior’s death. In fact, one of the first things the Savior does when He appears to the Lehites at Bountiful is to re-establish the Church, reordain its leaders, and re-institute baptism, including for those existing leaders.

Orson Scott Card played with some of these themes in his Folk of the Fringe stories (all written in the 1980s), in which a limited nuclear exchange disrupts American (and American LDS) civilization. The stories are worth reading to see what Card does with this setting, particularly with what is in effect a rejection by God of the LDS Church in America.

Another favorite in this vein is a little short story called “Entry” by Stephen Scott, found in the book LDSF: Science Fiction by and for Mormons (Scott and Vickie Smith, eds., Millennial Productions, 1982). The story is only 3 pages long, and if I could contact either the author or the editors and get permission, I’d post the whole thing here. In brief, the story simply looks over the shoulder of the President of the Church at some future date as he is bringing his journal up to date for the week gone by. But in so doing, we learn about all the things that have changed in the Church (and in the world), such as:

  • the calling of full-time bishops
  • a reference to “Apostle Kantor’s ‘mixed’ marriage” (no further explanation is given)
  • the “new rulings on euthanasia”
  • the radical interpretation of the Word of Wisdom as part of the drive against world hunger
  • the death of the Prophet’s wives [yes, plural] in the California earthquake a few years ealier
  • taping his eulogy for Apostle Yoshimoto
  • site selections for new temples near Buenos Aires
  • his son serving a mission in Zimbabwe
  • his daughter attending BYU-Rome
  • the First Presidency meeting with the “Council of Twenty”
  • reference to six missions “behind the so-called Iron Curtain”
  • the new Church Headquarters, apparently located in Mexico (“across from the Hotel Baja”)
  • the reinstitution of the United Order in some areas
  • in giving a talk broadcast Church-wide, having to use translators “for those who did not speak Spanish”
  • opening of missions in Tibet, Madagascar, and Ceylon
  • a new hymn book
  • a four-hour private meeting with the Pope
  • a reference to “Apostle Hussein”

Again, this was published in 1982, before there were missions in Russia, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar (we’re still waiting on Tibet and Ceylon), before there were temples in Buenos Aires (or even in Mexico, for that matter, though there was one in Sao Paolo, Brazil), or even a new hymn book. 🙂 What I like about the story is the constant yet understated (and largely unexplained) introduction of things that we might not expect in a future Church, yet things that could well happen.

For example, if the Church continues to grow significantly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Council of Twelve expand into the Council of Twenty; I suspect the Twelve are pretty much overwhelmed as it is now. Likewise, given the relative growth of the Church in Latin America vs. the US and Canada, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Church leadership and organization move south in another 30-50 years, possibly sooner in the event of some catastrophic upheaval (social, economic, political, or even physical) in the United States.

So what are your thoughts for possible futures of the Church?  ..bruce..

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..

New approaches to modern music: “Stairway to where?

First off, major props to Ardis “Ace” Parshall, Mormon Detective and blogger at the always-excellent Keepapitchinin, for her fast and (as usual) outstanding research work. Those of you who are familiar with her work on the Great Mormon Marijuana Myth know just what historical investigation skills she can bring to bear. That said…

Back in 1967, the LDS Primary (children’s) organization sent out to LDS wards and branches everywhere the program and materials for that year’s annual Primary Sacrament meeting (thank you, Ace, for tracking this down). The theme was “Stairway to Lasting Joy”, and the materials included the sheet music for a children’s hymn by that same name, with lyrics by Mabel Gabbott and music by Robert Cundick (who was organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the time). The hymn is interesting in that it’s written in a minor key and has a lyrical feeling to it; when the hymn was added to “Sing With Me”, the LDS Church’s hymnbook for the Primary organization, it included the notation “Moderately slow, smoothly (in the style of a folk song)”.

It really is beautiful; here’s a clip of a recent rendition by Brett Raymond, from his album “Primarily for Adults”:

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Last Sunday, my sweet wife Sandra and I arrived early for ward choir practice, and she sat down at the piano to practice some songs (she was substituting for Primary pianist later that day). She pulled out her copy of “Sing With Me”, and I asked her to play “Stairway to Lasting Joy”, since it’s one of my all-time favorite hymns. She did, and as she did, I thought to myself, “You know, there’s something kind of familiar about that song that reminds me of something else.”

So when I got home that evening (don’t ask — it was one of Those Church Days), I pulled up iTunes and played the following song:

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OK,  so “Stairway to Heaven” (written in 1970, released in 1971) is in 4/4 time (vs. 6/8 for “Stairway to Lasting Joy”), and it’s played slower, but still. In fact, you could sing “Stairway to Heaven” in 6/8 (or 3/4) time; try beating out the lyrics. In addition to the nearly-identical titles, both songs start with exactly the same words (“There’s a”). For that matter, “Stairway to Lasting Joy” contains a total of 69 unique words; of those words, 24 show up in the exact same form in “Stairway to Heaven”, while another 6 show up in variant word forms. That’s 30 out of 69 words; in other words, nearly half of the entire wordlist of “Stairway to Lasting Joy” shows up in “Stairway to Heaven”! And, of course, “Stairway to Heaven” came out just a few years after “Stairway to Lasting Joy”. That’s just too much to ask of coincidence.

My initial research has not yet established a connection between Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (the song’s composers) and the LDS Church (or, for that matter, Mabel Gabbott and Robert Cundick).  There may well have been an LDS branch in Gwynedd, Wales back in 1970, while Page and Plant were staying at Bron-Yr-Aur (and where “Stairway to Heaven” was allegedly composed).  Still, “Stairway to Lasting Joy” was included in the 1969 edition of “Sing With Me”, so that volume could well have been the source, especially given Led Zeppelin’s US tours during that time. Of course, there is the controvery as to whether “Stairway to Heaven” owes its melody to “Taurus”, but since “Taurus” was released in 1968 — after “Stairway to Lasting Joy” was sent to LDS congregations in the US and Canada — that fails to eliminate what could have been the original inspiration.

And, hey, if people are still peddling the Sidney Rigdon/Solomon Spaulding theory of the Book of Mormon’s origins, I figure this has just as much credibility, if not more.  ..bruce..