I may choose to ignore anonymous comments. I consider this type of anonymity dishonest. Also, I don't post regularly. I post when I have something worth writing and something worth reading. I explain all this in: Don't Let Telling Tales Trip Up Your Truthfulness.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Scaled Model of the Salt Lake Temple

Of all the things I could have expected the Church to do in demystifying temples and what purposes they exist for, I never would have expected a scaled model of the Salt Lake Temple. Hopefully, it will be a media sensation, but at the moment only a Deseret News article, and KSL article (See video below) is available in addition to the Church's Newsroom posting.

It is breathtaking!

Video Courtesy of KSL.com

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Marci Hamilton, FindLaw and Her Inaccurate Assumptions

Marci Hamilton is "a FindLaw columnist", the "Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and author of relevant books on religion and child abuse.

She wrote a May 27, 2010 FindLaw article entitled, "A Reply to Von Keetch's Comments on Clergy Child Sex Abuse and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

I have no doubt Ms. Hamilton is an intelligent, capable professional and legal scholar. However, her article makes some implicit assumptions that need to be addressed. The Church's Chief Outside Legal Counsel responded to Ms. Hamilton's earlier article. Her most recent column is an answer to Von Keetch's response. She needs to consider his answers much more carefully. She has not fully grasped his answers to her. I will detail what she missed.

1. "Leadership" or "clergy" in the L.D.S. Church are simply regular Mormons who are serving temporarily as clergy for a limited time, usually about five years. They are not professional priests like in the Catholic Church. What this means is that in order to police its clergy, the Church has to police it's MEMBERSHIP. Any member may eventually be "clergy" at one time or another. Comparing Mormon clergy to Catholic clergy is comparing apples and oranges.

2. Since any Mormon can end up being clergy and any Mormon can end up being a child abuser, the Church has a system for tagging membership records. Since membership records are centrally controlled by Church headquarters in Salt Lake City this system works. Mr. Keech's comment about the LDS Church setting the "gold standard" undoubtedly refers to the fact that the LDS Church is the ONLY church that polices it's entire membership voluntarily.

3. Since Mormon "clergy" can be any member, extensive training and assistance needs to exist to help them deal with child abuse victims and abusers. Ms. Hamilton does not grasp the significance of the 24/7  "Hot Line" clergy has available to them to respond appropriately to the safety, emotional and legal responsibilities that exist when dealing with child abuse and child abusers. Subject experts are instantly available to all Mormon clergy to help them deal with the psychological issues as well as the legal requirements of the jurisdictions they live under.

4. The Church does not discourage reporting child abuse. Ms. Hamilton is not reading the Handbook correctly. She needs to focus on the phrase, "To avoid implicating the Church in legal matters to which it is not a party" Clergy responsibilities are different based on whether the abuse occurred on Church grounds, at a Church event, by a Church official or whether it occurred in a private home amongst family members.

5. The Church has fought efforts to assign it unreasonable liability in child abuse cases. So have other Churchs. No Church should have to accept liability for a situation just because the child abuse perpetrator or victim happens to be a member of it.

6. Churches have also fought efforts to force them to be policing arms of the state. If the LDS Church was trying to escape reporting or liability it would not voluntarily police its own members.

7. Her comment, "have to sink their resources into laws that protect children" I find incredulous. Doing what she suggests would imperil tax-exempt status and move religions into the political sphere in a way Americans would find unacceptable. She cannot be serious.

8. She needs to make a distinction between how things are now and what they were years ago. No organization was as savvy and equipped to deal with child abuse issues twenty years ago as it is now. If she finds little or no progress, then that would strengthen her case.

Instead of relying on anecdotal evidence supplied by self-selected email correspondents, Ms. Hamilton ought to investigate matters more fully herself. She obviously misunderstands quite a lot. She may find a prior post of mine helpful.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mormons to the Rescue With Sandwiches and Ham Biscuits

Occasionally, Mormon organization efforts address issues like Proposition 8 in California. More often, our vast organizational skills are directed at food events. It is usually ourselves we feed. However, a recent target was a vast population of dental service recipients and dental personnel in the Roanoke, Virginia area.

From the article:

"One problem that arose was feeding the large number of attendees. After requests were issued to a number of churches and other charitable organizations to sponsor lunches for the there very few positive responses. The Council of Community Services, one of the local sponsors for the event, was at a loss as to what to do.
When Linda Arrington, the council's office manager, heard of their plight, she contacted the Roanoke Virginia Stake and obtained approval for the local wards to take on the task of feeding the attendees. . . . " Mormon volunterrs quickly ". . . assembled more than 1,400 sandwich lunches and 200 ham biscuits and delivered them on time. . . .When lunches for the dentists, to be provided by another organization, did not arrive as expected, it was found that because the Mormon wards had dramatically exceeded their promised commitment of sandwiches, there were enough to feed the dentists and some volunteers as well."

I would trumpet efforts like this even if they were not performed by my former Stake and Ward.

Way to go guys.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mormons DO NOT Believe in "Blood Atonement." Why Won't Anyone Believe Us?

A recent article in The Salt Lake Tribune entitled, "Gardner's date with firing squad revives talk of blood atonement."

When I left Utah for my Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech I got accused by one of my fellow students of believing in "blood atonement." I had never heard of it and it certainly was not one of my beliefs. Naturally, I resented him telling me what my beliefs were.

Why this idiotic idea persists I can only speculate and the Salt Lake Tribune article does present some ideas. A thorough search of lds.org brings up only two references to it and they are instructive. They consist of two statements that we do not believe in "blood atonement" and a proffered reason as to why it appealed to the public psyche originally.

The first is an Ensign article written in 1990 by Hugh Nibley:
Thus, no “blood atonement” is required of us, since the sometimes necessary sacrifice of our lives has nothing to do with atonement of our sins. Only one infinite and eternal sacrifice could pay for sin, but God may still expect us to sacrifice our lives if the need should arise as we struggle to build up the kingdom of God on earth.
 The second is a New Era article from 1972 written by two English professors at BYU commenting on "Mormon Fiction."
Furthermore, what people heard about the Mormons as they gossiped over the back fence or sat in the barbershop was often twisted and shaped to appeal to the popular appetite for the lurid and sensational: secret rites, priestly orders, blood atonement, polygamy, and white slavery.
 The only other reference is in Institute materials by Robert Millet in The Religious Educator in 2003. See pages 18-19.

Let me illustrate with an experience I had just a few months ago. A Baptist minister was in my office one day. We were chatting about a number of things, including doctrine. He said to me, "Bob, you people believe in such strange things!" "Like what?" I asked. "Oh, for example," he said, "you believe in blood atonement. And that affects Utah's insistence on retaining death by a firing squad." I responded, "No, we don't." "Yes, you do," he came right back. "I know of several statements by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Jedediah Grant that teach such things." "I'm aware of those statements," I said. I then found myself saying something that I had never voiced before: "Yes, they were taught, but they do not represent the doctrine of our Church. We believe in the blood atonement of Jesus Christ, and that alone." My friend didn't skip a beat: "What do you mean they don't represent the doctrine of your Church? They were spoken by major Church leaders."
I explained that such statements were made, for the most part, during the time of the Mormon Reformation and that they were examples of a kind of "revival rhetoric" in which the leaders of the Church were striving to "raise the bar" in terms of obedience and faithfulness. I assured him that the Church, by its own canonical standards, does not have the right or the power to take a person's life because of disobedience or even apostasy (see D&C 134:10). I read to him a passage from the Book of Mormon in which the Nephite prophets had resorted to "exceeding harshness,. . . continually reminding [the people] of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, . . . and exceedingly great plainness of speech" in order to "keep them from going down speedily to destruction" (Enos 1:23). 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Church History and Limitations of Historical Research

Elder Marlin K. Jensen is our guest General Authority for the Olathe Stake Conference this weekend. Besides the usual Saturday and Sunday meetings, there was a special fireside on Church history tonight at the Olathe Stake Center. He is the Church Historian. I mention this only because he "inspired" my post tonight.

For my Ph.D. dissertation, I examined The Savings & Loan Disaster, specifically The Keating Five Hearings. As part of my research I read all the transcripts and exhibits compiled by the Senate Ethics Committee. There were about 20 volumes of several hundred pages each. I read them all. About half are what is known as the "cold historical record." This would include letters, memos, reports, minutes, writings, transcripts of meetings etc. The other half contain transcripts from the Hearings where witnesses were asked questions about the exhibits and other questions.

As I was finishing my dissertation and writing up my conclusions, I asked myself this question, "If I were researching all of this 100 years from now and all I had was the "cold historical record" what would my conclusions be? I was startled to realize that my conclusions would have been very different, and they would have been wrong.

For example, the Senators all testified that they had nothing to do with the Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.)  that Keating agreed to with the Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) in the late 1970s. However, a draft copy of the M.O.U. was found in each Senators' files. Looking at the cold historical record alone, I would have to have concluded that each Senator lied about his involvement or at least was involved in some way in negotiating the M.O.U.

When directly questioned, the Senators were at a loss as to how the draft copy might have gotten into their files. The staff had the answer. Keating reguarly sent numerous copies of everything he did to everyone he interacted with in Congress or anywhere else. Most sent their copies to the garbage can, some without opening them. Conscientious congressional staff simply filed it away in the Senators' files.

So, something that looked damning turned out to have a simple, innocuous, non-sinister explanation. This is one example of many.  This dramatic, personal experience convinced me that I should not let historical records, facts, inconsistencies etc. challenge my religious faith.

I know what can be discovered through historical research because I have done my own. I also have a deep appreciation for its limitations as well as its strengths.

Historical research is important. I am glad we do it in the Church. I am glad we keep records. But, it should never serve to undermine the truthfulness of the restored gospel. It has not undermined Elder Jensens, and he pointed out that he has access to literally everything. His faith has been strengthened, not weakened.  If his faith can survive then mine certainly can.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Twilight Series and Church Beliefs

A reader expressed concern over my Eclipse counter gadget on the sidebar in this blog. The reader feels that although series author Stephenie Meyer is Mormon the Twilight series is not representative of L.D.S. beliefs. In addition, the books are full of lust and not appropriate for adolescent Mormon readers. These are valid concerns that warrant a thoughtful response.

There are many different issues here.

1. I have an Eclipse counter gadget on my sidebar.
2. I am promoting Meyer's writings as representative of L.D.S. religion.
3. The Twilight series is not representative of Mormon beliefs.
4. The series is full of "lust."
5. The series is not appropriate for L.D.S. youth to read.

1. I have an Eclipse counter gadget on my sidebar.

Yes, there is an Eclipse counter gadget on my sidebar. I have cycled through quite a lot of gadgets on my sidebar as a matter of fact. I specifically put it under all the other gadgets for official L.D.S. sites because I wanted to emphasize I considered it subordinate in importance to them. I had a lot of gadgets on my sidebar but decided to limit them because they can make pages slow to load and I want people with slow connections to be able to access my pages without difficulty.  I am looking forward to Eclipse being released in June 2010. That was my intent in including it. The gadget links to the movie, not to the books.

2. I am promoting Meyer's writings as representative of L.D.S. religion.

I am a bit surprised that the gadget's inclusion was taken as "promoting" her works as L.D.S. The gadget is for the third movie which has not been released yet so I really do not know what, exactly, it is promoting.

I have also enabled Google AdSense on this site. Google analyzes the content and places relevant ads. As I have reviewed these ads from time to time there are ads that I would not choose to have on my site although I have specifically forbidden "adult" i.e. pornography ads from appearing. I did choose the Eclipse gadget. Since I control this aspect, I may remove it in the future. I am still thinking about this.

3. The Twilight series is not representative of L.D.S. beliefs.

I do not think it is either. But, I did not expect it to be. There is nothing L.D.S. about vampires, werewolves, shape shifters or whatever else you want to call them. Bella's character is basically non-religious. The Cullen's have morals but not religion per se. I did not find specific L.D.S. beliefs contained in the book, but others seem to think so.

There are some really admirable qualities presented in Twilight. For example, the Cullen's specialize in self-discipline. Their mastery of self is remarkable. Few adolescent romances are portrayed where the girl is willing but the guy takes the initiative and puts the skids on a physical relationship outside of marriage. Edward made chastity sexy.

I see a veiled attack on homosexual behavior. For example, The Cullen vampires deny their true nature of human blood drinking by exerting supreme self-control. They refuse to indulge because they believe it is wrong. Carlisle Cullen has never imbibed human blood. Other Cullens have had lapses. Jasper specifically relinquishes this lifestyle after an extensive history of killing both humans and vampires. I see a parallel with homosexuals who refuse act on their inclination and maintain L.D.S. moral standards and laws.

Edward Cullen is an old fashioned, conservative, monogamous, principled male character who insists Bella marry him before anything happens. She complies -- in the fourth book. Some commentators say Edward is a sterotypical Mormon man. One commentator pointed out that this so-called Mormon stereotype is fundamentally incompatible with the other so-called Mormon stereotype of lusty Mormon men intent on adding innocent, under-age girls to their polygamous harems. These stereotypes cannot both be accurate at the same time. See the Heidi Harris article entitled, "100 Years of Sexy Sexless Mormon Vampires"

4. The Twilight series is full of "lust."

I am inclined to agree, but I want to explain my position. Several years ago as part of my Ph.D. studies I read a book on Constitutional law entitled "Obscenity and Public Morality" by Harry Clor published in the early 1970's and still in print. Experts consider it one of the best books on obscenity and morality ever published. He makes a distinction between "emotion" and "physical acts."  He feels that pornography can be distinguished by "physical acts." Granted, Harry Clor does not speak for the Church.

The Twilight series is full of "emotion" not physical acts. If the emotion qualifies as lust then the Twilight series contains lust. Passions themselves are not supposed to be sinful, not bridling them is sinful. (See Alma 38:12) The primary vehicle for bridling them is waiting until marriage which Edward and Bella do. I do not think the Twilight series contains "behaviors" that are condemned in the L.D.S. belief system.

I was a bit uncomfortable by the lengthy emotional descriptions in the Twilight series. However, I do not think the views represented to me when I was an adolescent concerning sex were healthy. I was told to "never let a man touch my body." Well, I really took this advice to heart. I was uncomfortable shaking hands with any male. These and other views I picked up were not, and are not, healthy. I do not want to represent the emotion felt by Bella in the Twilight series as being unhealthy. In the proper setting, marriage, it is healthy. Experiencing emotion is not wrong. Engaging in certain physical acts is wrong.

5. The series is not appropriate for L.D.S. youth to read.

This is a parent's decision. I would not encourage youth to read books their parents do not approve of. I enjoyed the Twilight series and feel comfortable recommending it.

Last summer I took a Young Adult Literature class as part of my Master's degree in Library and Information Science. It was eye-opening. I decided that I could never be a librarian specializing in adolescent literature because I would never feel comfortable reading all that smut. Much of the smut is receiving prestigious awards like the Newberry Medal and the Michael L. Printz award.

For one of my modules, we had to read something edgy and out-there. The book I chose was relatively tame but others were eye-opening. I had no idea that this kind of material was available and being published for young people.

If Stephenie Meyer's books can draw young people away from the alternatives then I say all power to her.

My all time favorite young adult book is The Bronze Bow. It is a beautiful story and Newberry Medal winner. However, it is now being banned in schools largely because it contains religious faith. I think this is nonsense but I do not make the rules.

So, there you have it. Any other comments or concerns?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Adolescents' Behavior Linked to Watching R-Rated Movies

Often one study can get the public's and the media's attention but multiple studies must be done to establish something in a scientific way. The studies are in. R-rated movies are linked to aberrant behavior in young people. The following quotes are from the press release.

. . . the new findings supplement the work of previous studies that have linked exposure to R-rated movies and shows with adult content to early drinking, early smoking, sex at a young age and violent behavior.

"The research to date suggests that keeping kids from R-rated movies can help keep them from drinking, smoking and doing a lot of other things that parents don't want them to do," Sargent said.
Depictions of alcohol consumption appear in about 90 percent of R-rated movies, Sargent said, which may be one reason why children who see such movies are more likely to start drinking at a young age. But he noted that previous studies have suggested that children who watch R-rated movies become more prone to "sensation seeking" and "risk taking."
"We think seeing the adult content actually changes their personality," he added.
This study appears in the May issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The press release was issues April 26, 2010.

From an L.D.S. perspective, parents need to take note. There are secular studies backing up what our leaders have always counseled us to do.

We also need to see the wider principle behind the counsel.

As each year passes, motion picture ratings become more and more relaxed. Movies that would have received an X rating ten or fifteen years ago now receive R or PG-13 ratings. Movies that before would have received an R rating now receive PG-13 or even PG ratings.
And movies aren’t the only problem. Books, magazines, and song lyrics can be equally as offensive to decency. The opinion of a media critic may be helpful, but we must remember that most professionals do not apply biblical standards in their reviews.
These quotes are from an Ensign article in 1989 entitled "Leave the Obscene Unseen."

"Leave the Obscene Unseen" is a good motto for us.

The principle is that we should not consume media that is offensive to L.D.S. principles. You can never see an R-rated movie and still manage to fill your mind with a great deal of smut in movies or in other media regardless of the type of media -- theater, computer, television etc. This violates the spirit of the law though it seems to comply with the letter.

Do not be guilty of this fallacy.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Glenn Beck and Liberty University's Commencement Address

My dislike of Glenn Beck is obvious from prior blog entries on October 25, 2009 and March 15, 2010 . However, I see his invitation to speak at Liberty University's Commencement to be progress.

I lived in Roanoke, Virginia from 1990-1992. While there I served in a Single Adult Stake calling in the Church. While serving, I met a Liberty University student who was a Mormon convert. He was disabled with what appeared to be a degenerative, chronic illness. He was usually confined to a wheel chair but could walk for very short distances.

Most Mormon converts were energetic missionaries but this guy took it to a whole new level. In addition, he was enormously upbeat and positive about everything in his life.

He was suffering extreme persecution while at Liberty. He was set to graduate soon but he was informed that he might not be allowed to graduate because he was Mormon. Campus security personnel would monitor him while on campus to ensure that he did not try and share his testimony or the gospel. They would search his backpack and confiscate any copies of the Book of Mormon he had. He was finally informed that he would be allowed to graduate but that he would be banned from ever visiting campus as soon as graduation was over. They even held his diploma and delayed sending it to him. I do not know for sure if he ever received it.

So, to invite a known Mormon to campus to address the university as an honored commencement speaker suggests some real progress at Liberty.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ralph Rucci robes and Mormon Prophets? -- I don't think so . . .

In a May 5, 2010 Fashion & Style article entitled The Gimlet Eye: Welcome to the Club on The New York Times by Guy Trebay, he describes the attire of guests including the following passage.

Whoopi Goldberg and the Vogue eminence André Leon Talley made stately progress through the room in voluminous white Ralph Rucci robes reminiscent of vestments worn by Mormon prophets.

Since I do not want to violate copyright I will not copy the picture here. Access the article at the above link and scroll down to the picture of Whoopi Goldberg and AndrĂ© Leon Talley.

This statement is utterly ridiculous. Neither Mormons nor their leadership wear anything other than tacky modern dark suits unless at the temple where tacky modern white suits are substituted. Robes are never worn at all and never have been.

This writer is profoundly ignorant.

It would be funny if it were not so pathetic. . . 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mormons and Fraud -- Especially "Affinity Fraud"

Note: The Church recently added "Affinity Fraud" to its list of "Public Issues" in the Newsroom. (05/13/10)

A recent Salt Lake Tribune article details the prevalence of "affinity fraud" and how Utah Mormons are particularly suspect to it. Here are two passages:

Those characteristics make Mormons vulnerable to what regulators and government investigators label "affinity fraud" in which groups who through shared associations develop bonds of trust that can be easily exploited by con artists. Though other faiths are similarly vulnerable, that is particularly true in the insular Mormon culture of Utah.
"There's this notion that if you pay your tithing and do what you're supposed to do, the windows of heaven will be open to you and God will pour you out a blessing such that there's not room enough to receive it," said Keith Woodwell, a church member and director of the Division of Securities, the state's chief investigator of investment fraud. "So it's very easy for someone who has [fraud] as their motive to use that doctrine and say, 'Look, you're a member in good standing and you pay your tithing and you're entitled to be blessed.' "
In effect, people seem to think that they are entitled to decide how they are to be blessed and in what ways. People always seem to choose material "blessings" rather than something else. The view seems to be that those who God loves he gives money to.

What is even more disturbing is Returned Missionaries get sucked into these things.

Two fraud-related phenomenon particular to Utah and more so to Utah County are the recruitment of returned missionaries into what turn out to be illegal activities and the creation of investment programs based on multilevel marketing models.
Returned missionaries often come back with enhanced communications skills and thick skins but in recent years have been met with fewer employment options because of the recession, Baker said. Other young people also are caught up in scams when they are recruited to raise money for businesses, he said.
"You have this 18- to 25-year-old segment that frankly is being recruited as lieutenants and ultimately perpetrators or perpetuators of the fraud," he said.
He would like to see the church debrief missionaries about the dangers of being caught up in a fraudulent activities as they seek employment after their church service.
I am not going to comment on the Church ultimately declining to take an active role in the Fraud College being held to educate people about these problems and how to avoid them. I can think of many reasons why the Church could legitimately decline even though it supports the effort.

The points the article makes that should give us all pause are the following:

  • Mormons are particularly susceptible to affinity fraud
  • Fraud is a particular problem in Utah County and Utah County is largely composed of Mormons.
  • Returned missionaries are particularly susceptible to getting involved in fraudulent activities.
Perhaps "pause" is not the best choice of words. "Sobering" is a better choice.

Note: Affinity Fraud is now listed as a "Public Issue" in the L.D.S. Newsroom.