Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dinner with a Mormon lesbian

Tonight Hugo and I drove to another city to have dinner with a colleague and her partner. The partner comes from a Mormon background—three or four generations in the Church, prominent in their region, etc. It seems, from what I gathered of her chronology from the conversation, that she's been out of the closet for close to a decade. Yet it was also evident that even after so much time has passed, she still feels deeply betrayed and angry and outraged at an elemental level—and is hungry to talk about it.

There's nothing unusual about this response. It's a common response—and entirely understandable from psychological and sociological perspectives—for people who break with the kinds of demanding, charismatic movements that the public often dub "cults" and that scholars more politely call "new religious movements" (NRMs). It is strange to me, though, that the LDS Church, which has mainstreamed itself in so many significant ways, is still so much like an NRM in other ways that disaffection becomes such an emotionally raw experience for people. It's a sign of something unhealthy about the institution.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Iran again

I would that you should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations. (1 Ne. 22:10)
All right then. Here's how I'm going to pray:

Make bare your arm, Lord.
Make bare your arm to bless the people of Iran.

May your Spirit give courage but also wisdom
to protesters on the streets,
to opposition leaders,
to bloggers and others who are trying to communicate what is happening to the world.

May your Spirit give comfort
to those who are in prison,
to those who are mourning the deaths of loved ones.

May your Spirit strike the conscience
of the hardliner authorities,
of the populace who support them,
of the police and the Revolutionary Guards.
May they repent if repentance is to be found.

May your Spirit give wisdom and a zeal for justice
to international leaders,
especially those with economic leverage in Iran,
and to more moderate leaders in the Islamic world.

Come down with justice.
In Christ's name, amen.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


As far as the market is concerned, Christmas is over—the post-Christmas sales are in full force—but liturgically, Christmas is in its third day, with nine more to go. On Christmas Eve, we attended an early evening church service at the Advocate, then came home to eat tamales, which we'd ordered from someone here in the apartment complex who makes them as her home business.

The next morning we opened the couple of Christmas presents we'd received (we're sparing about giving presents, so we don't receive many). Talked with my parents by phone. In the afternoon, I attended a small Christmas Day service at the Advocate's little home-office, which is also where I lead monthly Taize services. Then went home to have dinner with Hugo and a neighbor—the young man who organized the protests against management here in our apartment complex two summers ago.

Last night (Dec. 26), Hugo and I attended a Boxing Day party at the home of a British friend. Everyone was supposed to bring some kind of short performance piece (poem, etc.). Hugo and I did a reading of David Ives's short play "Sure Thing," which we last performed a few years ago at a similar kind of party in Salt Lake.

I don't know where I'm going with all this, except to say that I've enjoyed the low-key celebration.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent 4

Spent the weekend at a cabin owned by friends alongside a reservoir near the Virginia border. It snowed five or six inches while we were there—more snow than I've seen since we moved from Utah. I'm taking it as a Christmas gift from nature, although digging and pushing our car out when it was time to go home was exhausting. I was especially happy for the dog: I've always suspected she would enjoy romping in deep snow, and I'm glad she got the chance to do it. Assuming the dog's a North Carolina native, this was more snow than she's ever seen in her life.


Earlier in the week, I played the guitar at a Posadas celebration that was organized in our apartment complex by a little local human rights organization formed by an activist-minded UNC sociology professor who wanted to build productively on the energy generated by the protests against the management in our complex a couple of years ago. The Posadas celebration was planned by some of the professor's students working with residents of the complex, as an event to bring residents together. It was a nice turnout—I'm not good at estimating crowds, but 100 seems safe—mostly Latino but also white and African American. Great tamales afterwards. There are Burmese refugees in the complex too, and there's talk of working with them to organize a celebration of the Burmese New Year in April.


The health care bill is so depressing, I can't dwell on it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe

What's this about?

María, Madre de las Américas—

En tu día doy gracias por el camino de vuelto a la República Dominicana que se abrió por mí hace doce años.
Doy gracias por la hospitalidad de la congregación hispana de San Marcos, que guardó y nutrió mi fe durante un tiempo en que yo no sabía a dónde iba.
Doy gracias que en el ministerio hispano mi pareja ahora tenga cómo utilizar sus dones en servicio de los demás.

Rezo por los dominicanos que conocí durante mis dos misiones, quienes permitieron que yo entrara en sus vidas.
Rezo por los mexicanos y otros latinoamericanos trasladados a este pais a quienes he conocido, especialmente los a quienes conocí en San Marcos, en el PCMC, y ahora aquí en North Carolina.

Pido por la justicia social y el desarrollo económico en los países latinoamericanos.
Pido por una reforma imigratoria en los EEUU.

Por tu Hijo Jesús, amén.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Some thanksgivings

I learned yesterday about the LDS Church's plan to add "caring for the poor and the needy" to what was formerly the threefold mission of the church. This strikes me as an important, positive, inspired step on the part of church leaders.

I should also take this moment to commend the Church for its support of Utah's new gay antidiscrimination bill. Again, an important, positive step. Little by little, the Church is opening up to the further light and knowledge that Father promised to send Adam and Eve's posterity. It's hard for me not to be catty about this, since I think they're opening up to the light belatedly and much too slowly. But thanks be to God.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill

"Uganda's Draconian Anti-Gay Bill: Inspired by the U.S." (Time)
"Harper Lobbies Uganda on Anti-Gay Bill" (The Globe and Mail)
"Christians Against Antigay Ugandan Bill" (Advocate)

This is horrifying. I'm reminded of words from D&C 123:

...the most damning hand of murder, tyranny, and oppression,
supported and urged on and upheld by the influence of that spirit
which hath so strongly riveted the creeds of the fathers, who have inherited lies,
upon the hearts of the children, and filled the world with confusion...
I'm sitting here, staring at the computer screen, resisting mightily the urge to launch into a fiery, apocalyptic prayer to the God of judgment.

A healthier prayer would be simply, "Dear God, don't let this bill become law." Praying those words doesn't have the slightest effect on the outcome. There's nothing God can do to prevent the bill from becoming law if that's what Uganda's lawmakers want to do: that's the whole point of agency. But I feel utterly helpless to do anything in response to this impending horror except pray those words.

All right, how about this?

Spirit of truth—
Be with the international politicians, religious leaders, and human rights activists who are in a position to make their voices heard to the Ugandan government.
Give power to their words.
Bear witness of the truth of their appeals to the hearts of Uganda's lawmakers.
In Christ's name, amen.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Copenhagen climate summit

Tomorrow (December 7) is the beginning of the climate summit in Copenhagen. This is a subject where I confess I don't understand the issues well, but I know that drastic change—which is to say, drastic repentance—on the part of the nations is necessary to reduce the destruction we are inflicting on the earth and the living beings it sustains. Industrialized nations, including my own, bear the greatest burden of guilt.

I'm planning to fast tomorrow to mark the opening of the summit. I'll be praying for a spirit of wisdom to guide the summit. I want to pray, also, for a spirit of repentance to be poured out on the peoples of the earth, and especially the people of my nation. But then I think: if you want the Spirit to move people to repentance, then you need to be out there bearing testimony.


In the spirit of learning "of things both in heaven and in the earth, . . . things which must shortly come to pass . . . ; the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land" (D&C 88:79), and in the spirit of being anxiously engaged in good causes with like-minded people, here are some resources on climate change:
It pleases God to have given all these things to human beings, for to this end were they made—to be used with judgment, not to excess nor by extortion. (D&C 58:20)

Advent 2

Appeal unto my Spirit. (D&C 11:18)
Holy Spirit—

You give light to everyone who comes into the world, and you lead to God all who listen to your voice.
You are the promised Comforter, sent to teach us all things and to show us everything we should do.
You are the Presence that abides with us forever, even when we do not recognize that you are there.

You have taught me to see in Jesus Christ the image of God.
Line upon line, you have enlightened my mind and made me taste joy.
Blowing where you will, you have led me places I did not expect to go.
When I am careful to listen, you lead me to do good—to do justly, to walk humbly, and to judge charitably.
You prod me to be a better steward of my time and my substance, and you reprove me for my selfishness.

I pray that you will be with me—or rather, since you are always with me, because you are everywhere, I consicously open myself to be more aware of you.
Make me more sensitive to the needs of those with whom I interact.
Teach me to act in ways that communicate charity, the love of Christ.
Inspire me as I use my intellectual gifts, so that I may be an instrument of good.
Lead me to where I can do the most good—or show me how to do the most good where I am.
If it is possible, open my eyes to see how to achieve the desire of my heart.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent 1

I spent Thanksgiving with my parents. At dinner time, we did our "five kernels of corn" tradition to express thanks for our blessings, and my father said he was thankful that all of his sons have been able to start families of their own, with companions who support them.

We spent Friday setting up my parents' Christmas tree and my mother's many nativity scenes.

On Friday night, the last night of my visit, I lay alone in the darkened living room beneath the Christmas tree, looking up through the branches at the lights, like I used to love to do as a child. While I lay there, I prayed for my mother, who's sick. There's more to say about that experience sometime, but not now, at least not in this forum.

This evening I was cantor at an Advent service. During communion, I was leading the congregation in a Taize song (a contemplative, repetitive style of liturgical music). The text was "Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. / Wait for the Lord; keep watch, take heart," and several repetitions in, the singing triggered something limbic in me, and I broke into sobs and couldn't come back in until communion was finishing and the song was winding down.


Jesus Christ—

you are the light that shines in darkness
you are the love that warms cold hearts
you are the peace that reconciles

you are the truth that shines through falsehood
you are the holiness that shines through sanctimony
you are the passion that shines through schmalz
you are the devotion that shines through orthodoxy

you are the promise beyond disaster
you are the kingdom beyond the present regime
you are the home beyond exile
you are the embrace beyond loneliness

you are rest beyond exhaustion
you are relief beyond pain
you are life beyond death

come, Lord Jesus

Sunday, November 22, 2009

D&C R145-R153

(About this reflection)

Well, just in time for Advent, which starts next Sunday, I finished my plan for an ecumenical D&C study this week by reading sections R145-R153, which form the distinctive canon of the Remnant Church, a 10-year-old organization formed by disaffected conservatives from the Community of Christ. They pick up the numbering of the D&C after 144, the last revelation of Israel A. Smith, since they consider W. Wallace Smith to be the leader who set the church down the road to apostasy. Their revelations have all been produced since 2002 by Fred Larsen, who is president of the Remnant Church by virtue of his being a lineal descendent of Joseph Smith, Jr. (I met Larsen briefly at Restoration Studies in Independence this last year.)

The revelations have an eschatological/millennial bent: these are the last days, the foretold calamities are coming, Zion as the central gathering place must be built up. I don't want to exaggerate that aspect of the revelations, though. This isn't the kind of wild-eyed apocalypticism you encounter in the rural West, i.e., let's head out to a cabin in the wilderness with our guns so we'll escape the nuclear fallout or the long arm of the United Nations. These people, rather, are living in the middle of Independence, Missouri, evidently trying to build some kind of planned community in accordance with the law of consecration, if I'm understanding the revelations correctly. I was struck, though, by a certain tendency to invoke the opposition between Zion and Babylon, reminiscent of 19th-century LDS rhetoric.

As long as I'm talking about rhetoric and imagery, I also noticed that these documents seem partial to the metaphor of Christ as Bridegroom and the Church as Bride. The sexism of that metaphor stands out inescapably in light of the fact that this is a community that rejects ordination of women.

On a more positive note, though, I was struck by the emphasis these revelations placed on the idea that Zion must be built so that Christ can return. "I, the Lord, await the coming forth of my Zion . . ." (R150:8b). "There is a marriage supper waiting. The bridegroom is ready, but the bride is not prepared" (R151:4a). "The time to prepare for my Zion is now, and I desire to come quickly" (R152:7b). In this same strain, the revelations emphasize the need for the Saints to respond so that God's purposes can be accomplished: "The Kingdom of God awaits your response" (R145:7b). "My endowing power awaits your response" (R148:5c). That emphasis accords with (or at least runs parallel to) my personal understanding of Mormon millenarianism, which I read in postmillennial rather than premillennial terms—i.e., it's incumbent on us to bring about the millennial world; Jesus isn't going to come swooping down at the end of time as a literal deus ex machina to do it for us.

A couple other elements of these revelations which resonated with my spirit: First, we get the image of Zion "unfolding" (R147:6b; R148:4b) like "a blossoming flower" (R150:8b). Of course, this is just a reiteration of JS Jr.'s language (in turn borrowed from Isaiah) about "blossoming like a rose." But something about the way the image was used in these documents was particularly vivid to me and gave me a novel image for the coming forth of Zion. Perhaps because I'm accustomed to hearing the "blossom as a rose" language used in connection with Lamanites rather than with Zion. Anyway, I was also struck by what a surprisingly gentle, "feminine" image it was—by contrast, for instance, with the image of the rolling stone from Daniel 2, which shows up here as well (R146:6b).

Second, I was impressed that in his introductions to the revelations, Larsen refers on a couple of occasions to his process including the seeking of confirmation for the revelations. In the intro to R147, for example, he writes that he received the revelation "in response to what I perceived as divine guidance in the early morning hours of September 1, 2003"—kudos for acknowledging the subjective nature of revelation—"and additionally confirmed in direct petition to our heavenly Father on September 19, 2003." A reference to seeking confirmation for a revelation appears as well in the intro to R151. Obviously I think there's more material in these documents that reflects the false traditions of the fathers than Larsen would recognize as such; but I commend the recognition of the possibility of error implicit in the process of seeking confirmation, as well as in the use of expressions like "what I perceived as divine guidance." That seems to me a healthy approach to seeking revelation.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

D&C 163

No post last week because I was in Montreal, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. While I was there, I crossed paths with a friend I know from Mormon history conferences. He's in the Community of Christ, and on Sunday I accompanied him to the worship service of a Community of Christ congregation of Creole-speaking Haitian immigrants. The service was very evangelical in tone, by which I mean there was loud praise music, with guitars and drums and people raising their hands, for about an hour, followed by a very long, very emphatic sermon. A small congregation—maybe 50 people, a lot of whom were children—though apparently that's pretty vigorous for a Community of Christ congregation. We ate lunch afterward with the pastor, whose day job (or "night job," more precisely) is working security at the airport.

I'm not sure what to say about the experience. From an academic point of view, I found it a fascinating "field visit." At a more spiritual level, I'm grateful for the congregation's hospitality in allowing me to visit them. It made me want to go back to Haiti that much more. I'm not sure it helped me decide whether or not to make the trek back to Jackson County, if you know what I mean, which was part of my reason for going.


As I've been promising for a few weeks now, here's my reflection on D&C 163, the most recent addition to the Community of Christ's canon. I don't feel moved to add commentary of my own, just reproduce some of the passages where I can testify that I hear the Spirit speaking.
The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness. (163:3a)

Prepare new generations of disciplines to bring fresh vision to bear on the perplexing problems of poverty, disease, war, and environmental deterioration. (163:4c)

Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the midst of time and culture . . .

It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings . . .

God's nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied. (163:7a-c)

That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. (163:3c)

The Temple calls the entire church to become a sanctuary of Christ's peace, where people from all nations, ethnicities, and life circumstances can be gathered into a spiritual home without dividing walls. (163:8c)

God is calling for a prophetic community to emerge, drawn from the nations of the world, that is characterized by uncommon devotion to the compassion and peace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. (163:11a)

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ's vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace. (163:3b).

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Day

Later this afternoon I'll be offering the Old Testament reading during an All Saints service at the Episcopal church where Hugo and I worship. The assigned passage is Isaiah 25:6-9, and when I looked it up, I got a little misty when I realized that the first verse in that passage is echoed in one of my favorite passages from Restoration scripture:
For this cause I have sent you—
that you might lay the foundation of the Zion of God;
that a feast of fat things might be prepared for the poor—
a feast of fat things, of wine on the lees well refined—

that the earth may know that the mouths of the prophets will not fail;
a supper of the house of the Lord, well prepared,
to which all nations will be invited—
first the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble.
And after that comes the day of my power;
then shall the poor, the lame, the blind, and the deaf,
come in to the marriage of the Lamb
and partake of the supper of the Lord,
prepared for the great day to come.
Behold, I, the Lord, have spoken it.
(D&C 58:6-12)
On that theme, I was offered the chance this week to go back to Haiti with a group during the coming spring. I don't know yet if the schedule will be feasible. God, I hope so. I'm already thinking about what I could do this time around to better connect with people.


It's been an insanely busy month for me, finishing up conference papers and writing applications for jobs and fellowships. It's stressful, worrying about whether I'll have a full-time academic position of some kind next year, or whether I'll be scrounging for work. On Friday night, after I'd emailed off one last document, I finally had some breathing room, so Hugo and I drove up with the dog to spend a couple nights at a little lakeside cabin owned by some very generous friends.

On Saturday afternoon, we drove to a city across the Virginia border where there's a thrift store we like to visit to find old books. I found this incredibly funky "street-hip" paraphrase of the Bible that for three dollars I had to own, and then there were a few other books I was tempted by, but they didn't have prices clearly marked. So I was hovering by the counter waiting to inquire with the cashier, a thirty- or forty-something man I'd not seen there before. He was talking with two other men, apparently about either the Iraq or Afghanistan war, and complaining about how in the liberal media all you ever hear about is how many of their little kids got killed, and frankly he doesn't give a damn because this is war, and we ought to just drop the bomb on them, and the three of them agreed that there are no true conservatives anymore...

This rage came over me, and I turned and reshelved the books I'd been going to inquire about. I wanted to just walk out altogether—except I really wanted that funky Bible, so I walked up to the counter and paid for it. The cashier was polite, and I was polite, even though I was thinking I ought to say something, but I didn't, I just grabbed Hugo and got the hell out of there. In the car, I fumed to Hugo about what had happened. "You should write them a letter," Hugo suggested. And I thought: Sure, I guess, but isn't that the coward's way out, since I didn't have the guts to say something in person?

I feel like I used to back on my mission, when I'd feel this impulse to talk to someone, but then I wouldn't, and then I'd keep thinking back on it guiltily, with "Open your mouth, and it shall be filled" running through my head.


Speaking of opening your mouth and having it filled: On Friday morning, sometime between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m., I was jolted awake by men shouting on the floor below and banging on someone's door. I looked at the window, but didn't see cop cars (no flashing lights), so I listened from behind our front door to figure out if the disturbance was still going on, and whether we ought to call the cops. And then somehow—I was sleepy, so my memory of all this is fuzzy—it dawned on me that there were cop cars outside: three of them, plus a white van, but all unmarked. What was going on downstairs was a raid, with men in bulletproof vests and big rifles and a dog barking in one of the cars.

Hugo and I knew immediately who they must be coming for: the young guy living with the Mexican family downstairs who smokes pot in the stairway practically every morning. Always very polite; asked Hugo for help jumpstarting his car one morning. We'd often see him out behind the apartment building, watching the kids of the family he lives with—his sobrinos or primos, I assume. He was clearly unemployed, and we guessed he might be a dealer.

Still, the raid came as a shock, and as much as I appreciate the law's interest in helping clean up crime in our neighborhood, I also feel kind of... I dunno... creeped out by it. How long has our building been under observation—which in a way means, how long have I been under observation—without my knowing it? It feels very Foucault, very "panopticon power of the state"-ish. And I feel badly that men with guns were shouting and breaking down the doors of an apartment where children live. At one point, as I was listening from behind our door, I heard one of the cops say something about how the hallways are clear, they're all in the front room, and I immediately had this image of the poor mother and her sobbing children huddled in the living room while the cops tromp around.

I have this impulse to go down and make some kind of effort to reach out to the family (that's the connection to "Open your mouth, and it shall be filled"), but I have no idea what to say or do.


I read D&C 163 this week, the latest addition to the Community of Christ canon. Lots of highlighting, lots to talk about, potentially, but I don't really feel that words are being given to me yet, so I'll wait until next week.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

D&C 162

(About this reflection)

Another Grant McMurray revelation—the last in the canon.

I see an unresolved tension at work in this revelation. That statement might not surprise McMurray, who says in the introduction that "even as I present [these words] to the church, I do so sensing that there is more to be said." He invites the church "to join in the task of discerning God's will for us. I am not yet sure what form that will take . . ." So in that spirit, let me offer my own sense of what more there is to say by way of advancing the project to which this revelation calls the "people of the Restoration" (162:1a).

The basic tension I see in this text is that it calls the Saints to pay closer attention to their past, but the text itself doesn't actually engage closely with that past and therefore isn't very helpful as a model for what it seems to be calling the Saints to undertake. The text as it's presented to the church is still overly preoccupied with breaking away from the old forms and the old language—even as it urges the Saints to be cautious of that very impulse.

Ick. That sounds so academic. But I'm trying to articulate something that I think is vitally and practically important for how Latter Day Saints live out the tradition God has given us.

Here's where the text urges the Saints to listen more closely to tradition, or to the past:

Listen carefully to your own journey as a people, for it is a sacred journey and it has taught you many things you must know for the journey to come. Listen to its teachings and discover anew its principles. (162:2a-b)

You have already been told to look to the sacraments to enrich the spiritual life of the body. . . . Be respectful of tradition and sensitive to one another . . . . (162:2d)

You are a good and faithful people, but sometimes you fail to see the power that is resident in your own story and fellowship. Listen carefully, listen attentively, and sense the Spirit among you. (162:8a)
In between that, though—and here's where you see the tension—the text keeps pulliing in the opposite direction, insisting on the value of novelty:
Do not yearn for times that are past . . . [D]iscern the divine will for your own time and the places where you serve. You live in a world with new challenges, and that world will require new forms of ministry. (162:2b-c)

You have already been told to look to the sacraments to enrich the spiritual life of the body. It is not the form of the sacrament that dispenses grace but it is the divine presence that gives life. Be respectful of tradition and sensitive to one another, but do not be unduly bound by interpretations and procedures that no longer fit the needs of a worldwide church. (162:2d)

The spirit of the Restoration is not locked into one moment of time, but is instead the call to every generation to witness to essential truths in its own language and form. Let the Spirit breathe. (162:2e)

The richness of cultures, the poetry of language, and the breadth of human experience permit the gospel to be seen with new eyes and grasped with freshness of spirit. (162:4a)
To which I say, Amen—with reservations. Do new times require new forms of ministry? Of course. Should the Saints not be unduly invested in the precise forms of their sacraments? I agree. Should we allow the gospel to be seen with new eyes? Emphatically! "Let the Spirit breathe"? Fantastically put!

But . . . I think this text makes an assertion that ends up giving too much force to the impulse for novelty. Look again at verse 2e: "The spirit of the Restoration is not locked in one moment of time . . ." Sure, yes. Important to say. ". . . [B]ut is instead the call to every generation to witness to essential truths in its own language and form." Well . . . no. The Restoration is more concrete than that. The Restoration is not a call to express essential truths in whatever language you find available in your time and place. First of all, the whole notion that truths exist independent of language and can be expressed in multiple languages is really problematic. It's a common metaphor for thinking about how language and truth work—I have a hunch I've probably used that metaphor at various times in this blog—but it's misleading. Anyway, even if we agree to run with that metaphor, the Restoration isn't just a call to invest truth in many languages. The Restoration is itself a particular language. It has a particular vocabulary, a particular grammar. The language can certainly change over time, as languages do: certain terms or symbols can become archaic or obsolete; new ones can be invented or imported from other languages; the "grammatical rules" can change to make formerly unorthodox expressions permissible. But there can come a point at which a language has changed so much that what you've really done is created a new language.

It looks to me like that's the direction D&C 162 is moving in, despite its concern that the Saints engage more closely with tradition. The text doesn't use much of the traditional language of the Latter Day Saints. There are references to "the peaceable kingdom," to "Zion," a reference to "the great and marvelous work." "The Spirit of truth." Jesus Christ is named a couple of times, though he's also referred to in more abstract terms as "the One"—"the One whose name you claim" (162:1b), "the One you follow" (162:6c). The primary symbol for God in this revelation, other than "the Spirit," is a Voice, "the Voice that speaks from beyond the farthest hills, from the infinite heavens above, and the vast seas below," "the Voice that echoes across the eons of time and yet speaks anew in this moment" (162:1a-b). There's discussion of the principles of "stewardship" and of "the inestimable worth of all person," which I assume is meant to be recognized as a paraphrase of "the worth of souls is great in the sight of God."

My point is: yes, you can find in this text certain traditional Latter Day Saint terms and concepts. But the dominant impression I get from the document is that of novelty—a new language for God, a distinctively modern idiom. There's nothing wrong with any of that per se. I'm not some conservative railing against liberal innovation. I certainly don't think McMurray should be trying to imitate King James English. And I think the images we're given of "the Voice" are very cool. Even so, I feel . . . impoverished. I love D&C 162; I feel the Spirit speaking to me through this text; there's highlighting all over my copy. But I find it odd and disappointing that a document which gently chastises the Saints for "fail[ing] to see the power that is resident in your own story" and urges them to "listen carefully to your own journey" doesn't attempt to speak more extensively in the traditional language of the Saints, the language of the canon. How can we listen to the tradition if its language isn't being spoken? Couldn't turns of phrase from elsewhere in the canon been more richly woven into this document, thus multiplying the visible connections between this revelation's teaching and the teachings of revelations past?

Milking my language metaphor for all its worth: D&C 162 reads to me less like it was written in the language of the Latter Day Saints than like it was written in a Latter Day Saint/liberal Protestant creole. Not that there's anything wrong with creoles, I hasten to add. But is that really where God wants us to go? The impression I'm getting from D&C 162 is that the Spirit wants to urge the Saints not to take that route, but the man through whom that revelation comes is not well-versed in the language of the tradition himself, because he's received his professional training at institutions where other languages are spoken. He himself isn't listening to the Latter Day Saint tradition and its distinctive scriptures as much as he's listening to the theological conversations of other communities and learning to speak their languages.

That's judgmental of me to say, of course. I'm going to let it stand because I'm prepared to be judged by the same standard. There are those in the LDS community who would fault me for exactly the same thing for which I'm faulting Grant McMurray and other Community of Christ liberals: too much love of novelty, too little respect for tradition. As McMurray says, it's a matter of trying to discern where God wants us to go.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

D&C 161

(About this reflection)

This is one of two revelations produced by Grant McMurray, the first president of the Reorganization who was not a descendent of Joseph Smith. I appreciate the modesty with which the document was presented to the Saints: it was written and presented to the church in 1996, but McMurray waits four years before initiating the process that led to the document's canonization because, he said, "I felt it was important that the church live with the words and not feel compelled to make any urgent decisions about them." That principle rings true—that the canon should be composed of texts which have proved their value to the faith community over time.

I was going to excerpt passages that spoke especially powerfully to me; but when I sat down to start doing that, I realized that I'd end up copying down probably most of the text, so I think it makes more sense to just provide a summary of what, for me, are the highlights.


The document opens with a call to fix our eyes "on the place beyond the horizon to which you are sent." We are assured that "the great and marvelous work is for this time and for all time." We are exhorted to "be faithful to the spirit of the Restoration," which is said to be "a spirit of adventure, openness, and searching."

We are called to "become a people of the Temple--those who see violence but proclaim peace, who feel conflict yet extend the hand of reconciliation, who encounter broken spirits and find pathways for healing." The Temple should "stand as a towering symbol of a people who knew injustice and strife on the frontier and who now seek the peace of Jesus Christ throughout the world."

A major focus of the revelation is the "arduous" and "even painful" task of "creating sacred community." We are asked to "open your hearts and feel the yearnings of your brothers and sisters who are lonely, despised, fearful, neglected, unloved." We should "invite all to share in the blessings of community created in the name of the One who suffered on behalf of all." We are cautioned not to "be fearful of one another" but to "respect each life journey, even in its brokenness and uncertainty. . . . Be ready to listen and slow to criticize." Later, in the same vein: "Be tender and caring." "The gifts of all are necessary in order that divine purposes may be accomplished."

I know those instructions are true. Oh hell, let's use the word I usually avoid because I hate its authoritarian connotations: I know those commandments are true. And there's nothing self-congratulatory about my saying that, because they are commandments that chastise me.

We are told to "be respectful of tradition" because "the story of scripture and of faith empowers and illuminates." At the same time, we should not be "captive to time-bound formulas and procedures."

The revelation calls the Saints to "create diverse communities of disciples and seekers." Our call is to "become a global family, united in the name of the Christ, committed in love to one another, seeking the kingdom for which you yearn and to which you have been summoned. That kingdom is a peaceable one and it shall be known as Zion."


My impulse at the moment is to feel angry and depressed: Why can't LDS leadership hear the Voice that speaks in this language? But I'm going to check that impulse. For one thing, it's not entirely fair: I could find these principles in LDS discourse, though they may not be expressed so powerfully and are buried beneath a lot of authoritarian, dogmatic, diversity-fearing sediment. The other reason to check this impulse is that what LDS leadership, or the LDS community more generally, does or does not do is beside the point as far as my obligations are concerned. D&C 161 articulates the gospel call in a way that commands my assent, and my task now is to live up to its principles in the context in which I find myself.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

D&C 153-160

(About this reflection)

I read this week the revelations of Wallace B. Smith, great-grandson of Joseph Smith, Jr., and the last Smith descendent to lead the Reorganization. For my post this week, I simply want to excerpt passages where I felt the Spirit speaking to me.


Be of good cheer, O my people.
Neither be discouraged by uncertainties
nor disheartened by the seeming lack of understanding on the part of some
regarding the kingdom-building task.
If you will move out in faith and confidence
to proclaim my gospel,
my Spirit will empower you,
and there will be many who respond,
even in places and ways which do not now seem clear.
Support one another in love,
confident that my Spirit will be with you
even as I have gone before you and shown you the way.
(D&C 154:7)

Trust in my promises,
for they have been given for your assurance
and will bear you up in times of doubt. . . .
I am aware of your uncertainties,
but if you will call upon my name,
my Spirit will go before you into whatsoever place you are sent,
and I will continue to bless you as you have need.
(D&C 156:7-8)

The temple shall be dedicated to the pursuit of peace.
It shall be for reconciliation and for healing of the spirit. . . .
It shall be a place in which the essential meaning of the Restoration
as healing and redeeming agent
is given new life and understanding,
inspired by the life and witness of the Redeemer of the world . . . ,
an ensign to the world
of the breadth and depth of the devotion of the Saints.
(D&C 156:5-6)

As you go forth to witness of my love
and my concern for all persons,
you will know the joy which comes
from devoting yourselves completely
to the work of the kingdom.
(D&C 156:11)

I have heard your prayers when you have cried out to me,
and I have been with you in the places where you occupy.
I am aware of your desires to serve me,
and my assurance is that as you go forth,
your offerings of faith and service are acceptable to me.
In all your efforts, therefore,
continue to trust in my grace
and respond in love to the leadings of my Spirit.
(D&C 157:16-17)

Do nothing in haste,
but continue to trust in the enduring promises
of the One in whose name you have been given life.
Then, as you gain ever more confidence
in sensing the leadings of my Spirit,
you will begin to see with new eyes,
embrace the truths that are waiting for your understanding,
and move joyfully toward the fulfillment of the tasks
that are yours to accomplish.
(D&C 159:7-8)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

RIP Mercedes Sosa

Mercedes Sosa has died. She was an Argentine folk singer who was exiled during the last military dictatorship. With her music, she bore witness against oppression and encouraged those who thirst for justice.

As a tribute, I'm posting the lyrics to the song I primarily associate with Mercedes Sosa. It's actually not her composition—it's the work of another artist, León Gieco—but I associate the song with her because I know it through a concert recording she did.

The English translation is my own, and rather free for the sake of intelligibility. Periodically I try my hand at working up a singable English translation, but no luck yet; I've heard one, but it's mediocre.

As a Christian, I have a problem with the second verse, though I can say yes to the sentiment that we should not simply acquiesce to injustice.

For the time being, there's a recording available at Youtube (not my creation).


Sólo le pido a Dios
que el dolor no me sea indiferente,
que la reseca muerte no me encuentre
vacío y solo sin haber hecho lo suficiente.
All that I ask of God
is that I will not be indifferent to suffering,
that I will not come to the moment of my death
having failed to do what I could.
Sólo le pido a Dios
que lo injusto no me sea indiferente,
que no me abofeteen la otra mejilla
después que una garra me arañó esta suerte.
All that I ask of God
is that I will not be indifferent to injustice,
that I will not merely turn the other cheek
after the first has been clawed.
Sólo le pido a Dios
que la guerra no me sea indiferente;
es un monstruo grande y pisa fuerte
toda la pobre inocencia de la gente.
All that I ask of God
is that I will not be indifferent to war;
it is a terrible monster that tramples
the people’s innocence.
Sólo le pido a Dios
que el engaño no me sea indiferente;
si un traidor puede más que unos cuantos,
que esos cuantos no lo olviden fácilmente.
All that I ask of God
is that I will not be indifferent to deceit;
if a traitor cannot be stopped from having his way,
at least let it not be soon forgotten.
Sólo le pido a Dios
que el futuro no me sea indiferente;
desahuciado está el que tiene que marchar
a vivir una cultura diferente.
All that I ask of God
is that I will not be indifferent about the future,
not despairing like those who abandon their home
to make a new life in a foreign culture.

D&C 145-152

(About this reflection)

My reading for this week was the W. Wallace Smith revelations. WWS was the third of JS Jr.'s grandsons to serve as RLDS president. He's also the president under whom the RLDS Church began the institutional shift that has brought it into greater affinity with liberal Protestantism. (The LDS Church, by contrast, has undergone shifts that have brought it into greater affinity with conservative Protestantism. That's another story, though.) In retrospect, the schisms the RLDS experience in the 1980s under the Wallace B. Smith presidency begin with the W. Wallace Smith presidency.

Incidentally, the section headings are getting longer now. They include, even more frequently than earlier, descriptions from the president regarding how the revelation was received, and summaries of major points from the revelation. I'm wondering if this reflects a certain defensiveness: "Look, these really are revelations; he describes the process," and "Here are the important things we have to take from these documents."

Section 149 is particularly important. It announces that "the time has come for a start to be made toward building my temple in the Center Place" (149:6a). The building of the temple is a powerful expression of the Reorganization's continued commitment to the Zion-building project of the early Saints. At the same time, section 149 offers a soft, indirect rebuke to "some of you [who] have sought security in the words and phrases by which the faithful of earlier days have expressed their knowledge of me." The Lord instructs his servants to "bring to their searching for truth and their service to my people all the treasures of understanding I have opened for them elsewhere. . . . My servants of the leading quorums are commended for their diligence in seeking more light and truth from all available sources" (149:4-5). This is a reference to church leaders having resorted to a Protestant seminary (Methodist, if I remember correctly) for theological education, a major factor in the liberalization of church leadership beginning in this period.

Section 150, given in 1972, appears to speak against the Vietnam War and exploitation of the environment:

These are portentous times. The lives of many are being sacrificed unnecessarily to the gods of war, greed, and avarice. The land is being desecrated by the thoughtless waste of vital resources.
The Saints are called to become leaders in advocating for peace and environmental stewardship:
You must obey my commandments and be in the forefront of those who would mediate this needless destruction while there is yet day. (150:7)
In a similar vein, Section 151 tells the Saints:
You who are my disciples must be found continuing in the forefront of those organizations and movements which are recognizing the worth of persons and are committed to bringing the ministry of my Son to bear on their lives. (151:9)
The Saints are told, in fact, that a shared commitment to these causes will heal division in the church:
Working together to this end will promote unity, resolve conflicts, relieve tensions between individuals, and heal the wounds which have been sapping the strength of the church, spiritually and materially. This you must do in the spirit of love and compassion as revelead in my Son during his journey in your midst. (151:10)
Calls to unity are a recurring theme in the revelations of W. Wallace Smith. Like Frederick Smith's calls for unity, W. Wallace Smith's have a somewhat sinister sound to my ears, given that I know there's another schism coming. With that knowledge, I start to hear calls for unity as a rebuke to the opposition—an insistence that dissenters fall into line. That sends a shiver up my liberal spine, even as my liberal heart warms to the call to seek light and truth from all available sources; to find new ways of expressing the gospel; to march with movements for peace, stewardship, and the worth of persons.

Because of time constraints, I need to set this aside for now. The bottom line is: I'm really ambivalent. In one sense, W. Wallace Smith's revelations are so exciting. There is so much about them that rings true for me, that prompts me to say, "Amen, this is the voice of God!" But I know that this vision for the church prevailed at the cost of alienating something like a fourth of the membership. As a liberal in the LDS Church, I have no power, so it's easy for me to rail against abuses of power by conservatives. In the Reorganization, the balance of power shifted in the liberals' favor, and I feel obliged to judge their use of that power as demandingly as I judge how the conservative LDS establishment has used its power. I'll have to revisit this.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

RLDS D&C 132-144 and the problem of unity

(About this reflection)

My reading for this week was the revelations written by Frederick M. Smith (sections 132-138) and Israel A. Smith (139-144). Both were sons of Joseph Smith III. Section 144 is, as I understand it, the last revelation that the Community of Christ, the Restoration branches, and the Remnant Church have as a shared canon, since the latter two do not accept the revelations subsequently received by W. Wallace Smith and his successors.

I don't know too much about it, but FMS's presidency saw a power struggle regarding Supreme Directional Control, which was basically an effort to increase the policy-making power of the church president over that of the Twelve and the Presiding Bishopric. The issue resulted in thousands of RLDS leaving, many for the Church of Christ (Temple Lot).

A recurring theme in the FMS revelations is injunctions against contention and statements about how important it is that the church be united. Read in light of the Supreme Directional Control controversy, those injunctions take on a sinister air for me, since I suspect that what they mean in practice is: Stop questioning and do what I say. Deja vu. In section 134, FMS says that "the voice of inspiration to me" is that four apostles be released and new ones called to take their place: while, again, I don't know much about the story behind that yet, it smells like an effort to "pack" the Quorum of the Twelve with folks more to FMS's liking. The intro to that section says that a move was made at General Conference to postpone that action until certain unnamed issues were worked out between the president, the Twelve, and the Bishopric: "Debate on this procedural matter broadened into a review of the entire administration of President Smith. The document was approved by a divided vote"—which is a politely muted way to say that there was a lot of controversy, and things may even have gotten nasty.

Israel A. Smith evidently opposed Supreme Directional Control, and his revelations have a more modest feel to them. In presenting his first revelation to the General Conference, he says that "if the quorums and the body shall have this message confirmed unto them, I shall rejoice, and I have faith that the church thereby will be blessed" (139:2c). In 140:5b, the Lord says that "of necessity [church leaders'] counsel when given is not intended to dictate or to deny any man his agency." Later revelations commend church leaders for their "unity and spirit of tolerance" (141:7a) and their "spirit of moderation" (142:3).

The struggle to forge and maintain unity is a theme that stands out to me in the revelations of JSIII, FMS, and IAS. This makes sense, given the importance that the Reorganization placed on the Zion-building project, and given the prominence that injunctions to unity had in Joseph Smith Jr's revelations on Zion-building (e.g., Be one, and if ye are not one, ye are not mine; the Lord called his people Zion because they were one in heart and mind). Of the three RLDS presidents I've considered so far, FMS seems to take the most authoritarian approach to cultivating unity: Stop contending, and fall into line behind the president-prophet. This was JS Jr's preferred approach to authority as well.

JSIII favors a more collaborative, dialogic approach. In 122:13, the First Presidency, the Twelve, and the Presiding Bishopric are instructed to remain behind after General Conference, "counsel[ing] together in the spirit of moderation and mutual forbearance and concession," so that "a unity of sentiment and purpose will be reached by them." Some years later, section 129 says that "the Lord is well pleased with the advancement which has been made in approaching unity during the conference year; and though there may have been differences of opinion, these differences have been held in unity of purpose and desire for the good of my people, and will result in helping to bring to pass a unity of understanding" (129:9a-b). IAS's attitude seems to me more in line with JSIII's.

The process endorsed in section 129 is longer and harder than executive fiat, which I understand to have been the gist of Supreme Directional Control. A military model where a leader commands and underlings have a duty to follow is more efficient in terms of getting things done. It's also a model in which underlings are expected to forfeit the exercise of their agency: you do what you're told whether you agree or not, whether it makes sense or not. It's a model that looks more like Satan's plan, as I was taught the story of the war in heaven, than like the championing of a risky freedom, the power to make our own decisions and learn from our mistakes.

I've taken part in organizations that worked by consensus, and I know how incredibly frustrating that can be; I can certainly understand why executive fiat is so tempting. But I also have faith that the longer, harder, more frustrating process of "counsel[ing] together in the spirt of moderation and mutual forbearance and concession" (122:13c) and learning to hold differences of opinion "in unity of purpose and desire for the good of [God's] people" (129:9b), although less effective at making policy decisions or maintaining clear boundaries, is more effective at what ultimately matters most: training us in the disciplines of spiritual discernment and Christlike love.

That's not to say that I haven't given in many, many times to the temptation to side with executive fiat when that worked to bring about what I wanted.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book of Mormon anniversary

(Follow up to "Plans for Book of Mormon anniversary")

Well, I didn't stay up til midnight; I was so tired by day's end, I suspected I wasn't going to make it, so I went out around 10:30 p.m. There was still too much activity, and too much light, to create the ambience I'd been hoping for. Next year, I'd like to actually drive a little ways out of town to do this.

Anyway, I got started by singing verses 1, 2, and 4 of "An Angel from on High." (I selected those verses because of their focus on themes of renewed revelation, the coming of Christ's reign, and light dispelling darkness, as contrasted to the gathering of Israel, which doesn't speak to me so much. In retrospect, though, I should have included verse 5 with its vision of Zion filling the earth with divine truth.) Then I read aloud to myself D&C 128:19-23. That was followed by several minutes of me alternately sitting silently and talking to God about the Book of Mormon, the Restoration, my relationship to the Latter Day Saint tradition. Then I finished up by singing "I Saw a Mighty Angel Fly," which I'd planned to end with, except I was having a good time so I went on to sing "What Glorious Scenes Mine Eyes Behold" ("This is the time, the chosen time") and "Awake, Ye Saints of God, Awake" ("Yea, like the Father and the Son, / Let all the Saints in union join") before I finally called it a night. Good stuff. When I came back into the apartment, I saw I'd been outside for a little over half an hour.

It wasn't a "superspiritual" experience, but well worth doing.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Plans for Book of Mormon anniversary

Tomorrow is September 21, the anniversary of Joseph Smith's visions of the angel Moroni and of the night he went to Cumorah to retrieve the plates. In an earlier post, I tried to imagine what form an annual celebration of this anniversary might take among the Saints. Tomorrow night I'm going to try my own personal way of marking the occasion. My plan is to get up at midnight—which by some accounts is the hour when Joseph and Emma drove out to Cumorah—sit atop the little hill next to my apartment building, and hold a little vigil for a few minutes. I'm not quite sure what I'll do yet—probably read a relevant passage of scripture, maybe sing "An Angel from on High" sotto voce, certainly talk to God about the significance of the Book of Mormon in my life.

I like the idea of the hilltop vigil on an autumn night, trying to replicate something of the feeling of what it may have been for Emma waiting for Joseph to come down from the hill, or Lucy sitting up at home waiting for the couple to return. The change in season, the chill, the darkness—I'll be interested to see exactly what associations or impressions they produce for me in the moment. (Some symbolism already presents itself, e.g., sitting in the darkness waiting for daybreak.)

I'll return and report, of course.

Joseph Smith III, prophecy, and democracy

(About this reflection)

In a June 1994 Sunstone article, Dean May (a truly saintly Mormon liberal who has since entered into the joy of the Lord) wrote the following about religious authority in the Reorganization:
Several founders of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and especially Joseph Smith III, who accepted leadership of the church in 1860, had deeply resented the authority claimed and exercised by Brigham Young and the apostles between 1844 and 1846. The searing experience of the loss of the Prophet, the promulgation of plural marriage, contention over settlement of the Smith family estate and Church properties, and a period of "wandering" from claimant to claimant of the Prophet's mantle, all left them distrustful of any assertion of strong ecclesiastical authority.
We can see this distrust in the very first canonized revelation of Joseph Smith III, which instructs the Twelve and the Bishop to start gathering tithes, but with the caveat that they must "see to it, that the temporal means so obtained is truly used for the purposes of the church, and not as a weapon of power in the hands of one man for the oppression of others, or for the purposes of self-aggrandizement by anyone, be he whomsoever he may be" (114:1b). A later revelation explains that this instruction was given because Joseph Smith III "had not yet approved himself unto the scattered flock," and the Lord wanted to be sure "that the scattered ones and those who had been made to suffer might have assurance that I would not suffer that he whom I had called should betray the confidence of the faithful" (122:5b). Another revelation acknowledges the possibility that "the liberties of the people of the church [c]ould be in jeopardy" or that "there [c]ould be a flagrant disregard of the rights of the people" because of things done by church leaders (126:10c-d).

The excerpt from Joseph Smith Jr.'s Liberty Jail letter which became D&C 121 (but not until 1876, which means it wasn't part of the canon of Joseph Smith Jr. revelations shared by the LDS and the Reorganization, and therefore has never appeared in an RLDS D&C) contains its own famous warning against the possibility of unrighteous dominion by church leaders. D&C 121 doesn't indicate a solution to the danger other than exhorting leaders to exercise authority by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned—a kind of self-regulation. The Reorganization's solution was to use the principle of common consent as a kind of check-and-balance. The church can't be governed by straightforward prophetic fiat: the quorums and/or the General Conference have to vote when the president claims to have received a revelation.

I need to be careful not to romantically exaggerate the difference: I've heard Bill Russell (the Sunstone Symposium's longtime RLDS/CofC attendee) complain about what he sees as an undue deference to presidential claims to revelation, such that no revelation has ever not been accepted, usually with virtual unanimity, as I understand it (with exceptions such as D&C 156, on women's ordination, over which a substantial minority left the church). Still, by comparison to LDS slogans that make me gnash my teeth, like "When the prophet speaks, the thinking is done," or "The Lord will never allow us to lead the church astray," or "Don't criticize church leaders even if the criticism is true," I find the Reorganized approach much healthier. By comparison to the slogans I just referenced, there's a relatively more humble, modest air about Joseph Smith III's revelations because he knows they have to be approved by the membership and, in theory at least, might not be.

This modesty is especially evident in Joseph Smith III's later revelations. In section 124 (written in 1897), the Lord tells the Twelve that if they choose William H. Kelley to fill a certain position, "it will be pleasing unto me; nevertheless, if directed by the spirit of revelation and wisdom they may choose another" (124:3). This is quite literally a divine suggestion, rather than a commandment, based on the explicit understanding that the Twelve, not just JS III, are entitled to "the spirit of revelation and wisdom"—and the implicit understanding that their spirit of revelation can trump JS III's. In the preface to D&C 128 (written in 1909), JS III introduces a revelation by saying, "Whether that which has come to me will bring relief to the situation, I know not; but such as it is, I hereby present it." A few years before that (section 126, written in 1902), JS III reported on a vision he'd had that he understood as revelation about who should fill certain callings; he noted that this revelation seemed to deviate from established procedures and left it in the hands of the church to decide whether to implement it: "the whole matter is hereby submitted for the approval or disapproval of the church" (126:13). (Imagine OD 1 or OD 2 being presented to the membership on those terms.)

One of Joseph Smith III's revelations shows that the church didn't always accede to prophetic instruction. In 1901, JS III presented a revelation to the General Conference without first presenting it to the quorums, which had been the custom. He explained that he had been "bidden" to deviate from the established practice. The Conference, however, voted to refer the revelation back to the quorums, as per the standard practice. The revelation itself refers to another instance where the church overrode prophetic instruction: 125:7a alludes to JS III having been "directed" and "led" by the Spirit of the Lord to present certain policies to the church, "but the conferences of my people saw proper to change these articles and rules," a reality to which the Spirit is apparently willing to adapt, because JS III now offers new direction from the Spirit to the effect that the revised policies should be left in their revised state (125:7b).

Again, I need to be careful not to exaggerate or romanticize the extent to which Joseph Smith III's revelations sanction democratic dissent. The same section I've just been looking at contains a warning from the Spirit which basically says: You're free to reject my guidance, but you'll forfeit blessings by doing so. (The actual wording is: "If my people will respect the officers whom I have called and set in the church, I will respect these officers; and if they do not, they cannot expect the riches of gifts and the blessings of direction" [125:14c]). An earlier revelation had instructed the Saints that if church leaders "be found transgressors, or idle servants, ye shall not uphold them" (118:4a)—which immediately struck me because of the contrast to Dallin H. Oaks's insistence that members aren't entitled to pass that kind of critical judgment. But the very next sentence goes on to caution the Saints to "be not hasty in withdrawing your support from them, peradventure ye shall injure my work" (118:4b). The last couple of revelations JS III wrote (in 1913 and 1914) express concern that a "spirit of recrimination and accusation" among elders and Conference delegates "evinces a serious lack of . . . charity" and is undermining the Saints' confidence in the leadership (130:8; 131:4). I feel I have to submit to a just divine rebuke in those words. At the same time, I would rather be part of a community that had to be chastened for disunity and not adequately sustaining its leaders than a community that elevates sustaining its leaders to the point of idolatry and disregard for the conscience of dissenters.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hospital visit and health blessing

Hugo and I just got back from visiting J, who received his heart transplant a couple days ago. We brought dinner for his partner A, who had just gotten off work; the three of us ate in the cafeteria while the nurses changed shifts, and then we went up to visit J. When we entered the room, J's father was there, and the nurse was attending to J, who was clearly in pain. So there was this, to me, very strange moment when J was lying in bed, in worsening pain, while the four of us—me, Hugo, A, and J's father—stood around a few feet away chatting among ourselves as if J's pain wasn't happening. As I say, it struck me as a very strange thing for us to be doing. I surmise the logic of it was that we were all waiting for the nurse to take care of things.

After a while the nurse had administered what medications she could—which weren't making an immediate difference in relieving J's pain—and left. J's father said goodbye and left; by that point, A and J's father were talking with J about his pain, which he was trying to put a brave face on as he lay there stiff and shaking. And then I sat in a chair near the foot of the bed, and Hugo stood nearby, and A stood next to J and held his hand and stroked his forehead, and I sat there feeling like I was watching reality—like, pain is the ultimate reality from which all facade is stripped away. And I felt very helpless. Which, it occurred to me, is what God must feel all the time—the "weeping God of Mormonism," I mean, to use Eugene England's expression; the God we see in Enoch's vision, who looks down from heaven and weeps because of the suffering he is powerless to stop. I thought how miserable that must be for God, given the way I was feeling right now.

The feeling made me want to give J a health blessing. (J isn't Mormon, in case that wasn't clear; we know J and A from the Episcopal church Hugo and I attend.)

Instead, I just kept sitting there as J did relaxing exercises and tried to get his pain under control. We turned down the lights for him; A put a cold washcloth on his head. Hugo got me to join him in singing silly Spanish songs, which A translated for J, and that led to conversations about this and that and the other, trying to create amusing distractions, basically. After a while I felt bolder and took the initiative to start rubbing J's feet.

When it came time to go, Hugo said to J: Well, we can offer you a couple of things. We can offer you a Mormon blessing, or we can offer you an Episcopal blessing. I was glad Hugo said that, given that I'd been feeling that earlier; I'm chalking our being on the same wavelength to inspiration. J said he'd like the Mormon blessing—something about how that would be different. So we anointed him using the oil I still carry on my keyring. Hugo anointed, I sealed. Somewhere along the way I became aware that A's hands were in the pile, too, which I hadn't thought to invite him to do; perhaps Hugo thought of it (I don't remember), or maybe A was just moved to join in. Anyway, I said what I felt moved to say, and then I invited Hugo and A to say something if they'd like, which they did. Afterward, J was visibly doing better, and we joked about how the Mormon God seems to be particularly effective, especially if the patient takes Percocet in advance.

This next thing I'm about to say is beside the point—the point being J's comfort—but as an added blessing, I felt really good afterward, on the way home, in a drained, emptied-out kind of way. I'm feeling that now as I sit here typing this. The Spirit, of course, with an intensity I haven't felt in I don't know how long. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A heart transplant and yellow squash

A very young gay couple we know received good news today. One of them has been waiting a long time for a heart transplant. A couple days ago, his condition took a frightening turn; but this morning his partner called us to announce that a heart had become available and was being brought in from a neighboring state. He's been prepped for surgery, though evidently it's not certain yet that they're going to be able to use this heart. If it happens, he'll have a new heart tomorrow morning.

At church today, during the Prayers of the People, when individuals are prompted to voice their own prayers, I prayed for the patient and his partner at the prompt to remember those who are sick or otherwise afflicted. Then, at the prompt to remember those who have died, I prayed for the donor.
Have you any that are sick among you,
or that are afflicted in any manner?
Bring them here and I will heal them;
for my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.
(3 Nephi 17:6-7)

Hugo helps out some weekends at a food distribution program. Today he ended up with six boxes of surplus yellow squash in the trunk of our car which we've been trying to foist onto people. Hugo took one to a meeting; we left a box at church, and then another at a departmental potluck; we left a few bags with neighbors; and Hugo was finally reduced to driving around our apartment complex asking total strangers if they'd like squash, a strategy which very quickly relieved us of our last three boxes.

Why am I recording this? Because it's the closest I've come in a long time to direct, charitable service—which is pathetic. I need to reconsecrate some time for regular volunteer service. That's been weighing on me for a while.
You yourselves will succor those who stand in need of succor;
you will administer of your substance to those who stand in need.
(Mosiah 4:16)

Joseph Smith III and the revelatory process

(About this reflection)

This week I finished reading Joseph Smith III's revelations, CofC D&C 114-131. The revelations span a period from 1861-1914, which is 15 years longer than Joseph Smith Jr.'s entire lifetime. For comparison, it's also 20 years longer than Brigham Young led the LDS Church (a period which was about 5 years shorter than Joseph Smith Jr's lifetime). I'm not quite sure what to make of those statistics, but they struck me, and I put them out there as food for thought.

A couple major themes stood out to me in this reading, which I think I'll handle in two parts. This week's theme is the revelatory process as it's described in CofC D&C 114-131. Next week, I want to reflect on what these texts suggest about the place of democratic governance in the community of Saints.


Some of JS III's revelations, like his father's, are written as if in the voice of deity—that is, when the revelation says "I," it's clearly not JS who we're supposed to understand is speaking. Others are written in an imperative voice that doesn't have an explicit "I." "Let such-and-such be done," "it is expedient to do this," etc. In these revelations, it's not so clear whether we're supposed to understand God to be speaking directly, or whether the text is JS III speaking for himself in response to promptings he's received.

Unlike his father, JS III tends to ascribe his revelations to "the Spirit" rather than to "the Lord." D&C 127, for example, begins "Thus saith the Spirit unto the Church." Or D&C 129: "The voice of the Spirit to me is..." I shouldn't make too much of that distinction, because it's evident that JS III understands the Spirit and the Lord to be, at least for all practical intents and purposes, the same person. [I'm being cautious in that wording because I don't know exactly what JS III's theology was vis-a-vis the Trinity.] Hence 124:1 opens with "Thus saith the Spirit of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ..."

Still, JS III's preference for attributing his revelations to the Spirit struck me as significant. It creates a different mental picture of how these revelations are being produced. When JS Jr. writes a revelation that begins, "Behold and hearken unto the voice of him who has all power, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end" (61:1), the mental image this creates, at least for me, is that of the heavens opening and Jesus Christ appearing in his glory to speak while Joseph Smith furiously takes dictation. When JS III writes, "Thus saith the Spirit," I get a different mental picture. There's no person giving dictation in my mind's eye. There's just a . . . kind of intangible force or presence or impulsion that comes over JS III and inspires him to write. It's an experience, in other words, that I can relate to because it's happened to me, whereas I'm not accustomed to seeing visions.

During the last couple decades in particular, JS III develops the habit of prefacing his revelations with a narrative about how they came to be. (Before that, the norm for him is more like that followed by his father: the revelation just starts out "Thus saith whoever," and, boom, here you go.) Here, then, is how JS III describes his own revelatory process:

122: "I was [on April 15, 1894] in fasting and prayer before the Lord, and being commanded of the Spirit I arose from my praying and wrote..."

125: "I spent a sleepless night. After retiring to my rest, weary as you must know, I engaged in a season of prayer, quietly, as I had been doing all day; and I suddenly found myself very wide awake; and from that on I was in the Spirit, the spirit of inspiration burning in my breast; and by it I was bidden to come to the house of assembly and tell what was given to me of light and instruction."

126: "On the night of April 16 [1902] I made the condition of the church a subject of prayer, intensely desirous of receiving light and information in relation thereto and my duty. I awoke at the hour of three and had in presentation the following vision." (What follows is a dream-like vision in which he sees certain individuals standing in positions of church leadership.)

129: "After constant meditation and prayer, both before and after coming to conference and during the sessions, . . . I was in the Spirit during the nights of the 15th and 16th of the month [April 1909] and the day passing between at such times during the calm that occasionally ensued and the quiet of the night when the burdens of my care forbade sleep."

131: "In agreement with the notice for the general fast of the church . . . [I] spent that day in meditation and prayer upon the work of God and our present duty in the affairs intrusted to our care. Before the hour of breaking the fast came, I was blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit resting upon me in quiet assurance and power. In the still small voice which giveth light and understanding to the intelligence . . . , exalting the soul and sanctifying the spirit, there came unto me the directing voice of Him whose work we are engaged in. Thus saith the Spirit unto the church . . ."
And I have to record this. When I read it, I thought, "Amen," because they're words I can relate to from my own experience. This is a final comment that JS III appended to the text of section 124.
Brethren of the ministry and members of the church; my soul has been cheered, my spirit and body have been strengthened and my heart made exceeding glad by the blessed and holy influence of the Spirit which was with me, and still is with me as I write, causing me to give praise, honor and glory to God and the Lamb, to whom honor and glory belong, and dominion forever. Amen.
I thought I was going to say more about these passages by way of commentary, but in the moment I feel content that they speak for themselves.

Well, I do feel moved to say this by way of testimony: This is the spirit of revelation. Joseph Smith Jr. tells us so little about the process by which he received his revelations—or when he does, the process is so different from anything I've experienced (e.g., visions)—that I'm not really in a position to make the same affirmation about his revelatory process, though I can and do try to discern the Spirit's voice in the texts he produced that communities of Saints have received as canonical. But with Joseph Smith III, I feel like I'm in a better position to testify: These texts are being produced by a spirit of revelation. How the church should respond to those texts is a separate matter, and I'll take that up next week.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

CofC D&C 111-121

(About this reflection)

This week I read the first few revelations of Joseph Smith III (114-121), plus the original statement on marriage (111) that in the 1876 LDS D&C was replaced by 132. Some miscellaneous thoughts about each:

111. Lays out the pattern for how a marriage should be "solemnized" in the church. The couple are asked if they "both mutually agree to be each other's companion, . . . keeping yourselves wholly for each other, and from all others, during your lives." Apart from the fact that there's language in there about husband and wife, I thought: that could work for a same-sex marriage. I really liked the expression about agreeing to be each other's "companion." That's centrally what marraige should be about: companionship.

112. Statement on governments. The same as LDS D&C 134.

113. John Taylor's eulogy to Joseph Smith. The same as LDS D&C 135. The RLDS debated as early as the 1890s whether to drop this from the D&C, since it isn't a revelation. In 1970, the World Conference moved it to an appendix (along with several Nauvoo-era revelations and teachings which it was felt hadn't originally been authorized for canonization by vote of the church). In 1990, the whole appendix was removed. The result is that there's just a gap where this section used to be, which I find annoying. You know something's been censored, but you have to dig around a little to find out what. I would have been in favor of leaving the materials in the appendix—or even just in the sequence of sections, for that matter, with a visual marker and explanation as to why this community no longer treats these sections as canonical. (Still, I suppose acknowledging that you've dropped something is less Orwellian than simply replacing one section with a different text that contradicts it.)

114. First revelation produced by Joseph Smith III, 1861. The Twelve and the Bishop are to get the tithing collection system in order. They are instructed to make sure that the money is "truly used for the purposes of the church, and not as a weapon of power in the hands of one man for the oppression of others, or for the purpose of self-aggrandizement by anyone."

115. 1863 revelation calling William Marks to become Joseph's counselor in the First Presidency. The people of the church are called the Lord's "little flock" and are promised that "as I have spoken to you in times past, so will I speak again to you as my friends."

116. 1865 revelation on ordaining blacks. The Lord says "it is expedient me that you ordain priests unto me, of every race," though the revelation also tells them not to be "hasty in ordaining men of the Negro race to offices in my church." Those whom it is decided to ordain are evidently intended "to be ministers to their own race." So the community's leadership is prepared to let blacks administer to blacks, but not for blacks to administer to whites. Still, this position represents considerably greater progress on this issue than the LDS had made by this time.

117. 1873 revelation calling for the First Presidency to be filled and for some vacancies to be filled among the Twelve, along with some other appointments. I need to get a history of the Reorganization to figure out why they were so slow about filling the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve. My attenae are twitching because of the suspicion that by not filling these quorums, Smith's own power was maximized. But I should suspend judgment until I know more about the history.

The Lord tells his "servants and handmaidens" in the various ministries that they "shall be blessed, even as they bless others of the household of faith." They are told to let contentions cease and to "sustain each other in peace." If they do, they will be "blessed with my Spirit, in comforting and strengthening you for my work."

118. 1882 revelation on miscellaneous administrative issues, including instructions to hold off trying to launch foreign missions until the church is more firmly established in the U.S. Verses 4a-b say that if members of the traveling ministry [the Twelve? Seventy?] "be found transgressors, or idle servants, ye shall not uphold them. But be not hasty in withdrawing your support for them, peradventure ye shall injure my work."

119. 1887 revelation addressing a number of controversies. The Lord still doesn't think it's time to fill the Quorum of the Twelve, evidently. Elders are instructed to be "kind of heart" so that "their wisdom may be the wisdom of the Lord and their strength the strength of the Spirit." They should stop being "overcareful" about trying to screen out heresy among separated Latter Day Saints who now want to gather to the Reorganization: "There are some who are chosen vessels to do good, who have been estranged . . . and who will in due time return unto the Lord if they be not hindered by the men of the church. The Spirit says 'Come'; let not the ministers for Christ prevent their coming." Another controversy, or set of controversies, addressed has to do with how the Lord's supper should be administered: the revelation says a lot of the issues up for debate (should it be done once a week or once a month; should the bread be broken before or after the blessing is said) simply don't matter and people should stop contending.

120. 1887 revelation regarding how to administer the ministry of the Twelve and the Seventy to the branches of the church. Reference is made to priesthood officers "having the watchcare of the membership and nurturing and sustaining them." A couple of references are made to the need to make decisions by "the spirit of wisdom and revelation."

121. 1885 revelation on miscellaneous administrative issues. One line that stood out to me was the injunction: "Be merciful, for to him that is merciful shall mercy be shown."

I feel moved to leave things here for now. Next week, I want to offer some thoughts about major trends I see in Joseph III's revelations overall. In what ways do I discern the work and fruits of the Spirit in Joseph III's approach to seeking and proclaiming revelation?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ecumenical D&C

Here's what I've been thinking about this week:

During the late 1820s, a group of people come together who are seeking new revelation from God and an outpouring of divine power. They desire to be instruments in bringing about the consummation of God's purposes, which they understand in terms of proclaiming the gospel in its purity, building up the kingdom, redeeming Israel, establishing Zion. They ask, and as God has promised, they receive; they seek, and they find. Through gifts of the Spirit, God speaks to them according to their weakness and their desires, in language they can understand, while at the same time constantly seeking to draw them into greater understanding and more perfect love. The movement attracts new adherents, and thus the Latter Day Saint tradition is born.

From the beginning, however, the Saints have been prone to conflict and division. There are various reasons for this: sincere differences of belief and interpretation, blinding prejudices, psychological insecurities, pride, abuse of power, love of authority, lack of teachability, jealousy, selfishness, parochialism, dogmatism, intolerance, fear of the other. The result is that the Latter Day Saints—the "people of the Restoration," to use a phrase from the Community of Christ D&C that struck me—have been divided and scattered into multiple communities, multiple denominations, living out different understandings of the Restoration.

If we accept the principle that all who ask will receive, and if we have the charity to assume that adherents of all the different Latter Day Saint movements are sincerely seeking to discern God's will, then it follows that the Spirit is at work among all these movements, in one way or another, to one degree or another. They all have spiritual gifts; they all have spiritual failings. I wouldn't say they're all on equal footing: I definitely believe some expressions of the Restoration come closer to God's ideals than others. But I'm prepared to adopt an ecumenical outlook that understands the various Latter Day Saint communities as belonging to a single "people of the Restoration," whom God calls to learn from one another that all may be edified.

So from that perspective, here's how I'd like to study the Doctrine and Covenants the next time around. Here's a plan for an "ecumenical" D&C study. Rather than approach the D&C as a single volume, of which different groups have "their version," I've been trying to reconceive the D&C as an evolutionary tree, showing not only where Latter Day Saints have parted ways with one another, but also to what extent different groups have held certain revelations as a common scriptural heritage. Something like this:My plan, then, for an ecumenical D&C study would be to work my way up the tree, from roots to branches. I'd start with the 1835 D&C, though in my fantasy I have a well-designed critical reader's edition that makes it easy to see where the 1835 revelations have been revised from the Book of Commandments—those revisions being the reason that Hedrickite groups like the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) reject the D&C. The 1835 D&C was organized topically, not chronologically, and I'd want to read the revelations in that topical order, asking myself what it would mean for the Saints to encounter the latter-day canon in that particular way. I would also want to study the Lectures on Faith, since they formed part of the canon at that stage of the tradition.

Next, I'd study the revelations that were added to the 1844-1846 editions of the D&C following Joseph Smith's death. What does this layer add to the Latter Day Saint tradition's understanding of God, God's purposes, and our role in bringing them about?

Then I'd follow the LDS branch of the movement, reading the various revelations added to the 1876 D&C. I haven't been able to figure out what edition of the D&C the FLDS and other Mormon fundamentalists use, but I presume that the 1876 edition constitutes a shared heritage between those groups and the LDS. If I could get reliable texts, I'd also like to read the 1882 and 1883 revelations to John Taylor that were published in some foreign language editions of the D&C—a kind of LDS Septuagint, as it were. Last of all on this branch of the tree, I'd study the revelations added to the LDS D&C since the Manifesto (O.D. 1-2, D&C 137-138).

Then I'd back up to follow the Reorganized branch. The first "layer" of my reading here (I'm mixing archaeological and genealogical imagery) would be sections 114-144, the revelations of Joseph Smith III, Frederick M. Smith, and Israel A. Smith. After that point, different groups on the Reorganized branch part ways regarding what they accept as canonical. So my next "layer" would be sections 145-163 of the Community of Christ D&C. And then perhaps I'd read the sections that the Remnant Church has added to its D&C; I confess I'm not really thrilled about that, but it would test my commitment to the principle of listening to all (D&C 88:122).

Between now and the end of the year (more precisely, between now and the beginning of Advent), I plan to reflect on my readings in the Community of Christ D&C. If there turns out to be time, perhaps I'll back up and read the Lectures on Faith. I might even reread earlier sections of the D&C in the 1835 order. But if there isn't time for all that this year, I'll save this plan for another year.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Something new

No post last Sunday because I was back in Salt Lake for the Sunstone Symposium. While I was there, I bought a new triple combination from the Church distribution center in the basement of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. I'd decided that I wanted to be able to take a "fresh" look at the D&C. Up to now, I've been using the same copy I carried on my mission which, apart from being old and cracking out of its spine, has the passages from the missionary discussions marked, which often speak more to the interests of exclusivist, authoritarian Mormonism than to my current understanding. I wanted to clear away that baggage and start marking the text afresh.

So while I was in Salt Lake—on the bus, or taking a break from research for lunch, or waiting to meet someone—I started highlighting passages in my "virginal" copy where I sense the Spirit trying to speak to me. It's been good. It's felt more open to the text and less resistant. I've felt that my relationship with the text has been more affirmative, more affectionate, more loving. More like the period after 1997 when I first began to really engage with the scriptures again after leaving activity in the LDS Church, when I was discovering the Spirit's voice in these texts anew and couldn't get enough.

This week, though, back in North Carolina, I've set that aside and taken up something new I've been contemplating for a while. I've felt increasingly restricted this year by the Sunday School D&C/church history curriculum. Unlike with the Book of Mormon, where we pretty much read through the text chronologically in big chunks, leaving me free to engage with it on my terms independent of where the Correlation Committee wanted to go, the D&C readings have tended to be fragments selected to point to correlated themes, which I feel has made it harder for me to engage positively (rather than reactively) with the text—not to mention, has kept me from reading the whole D&C, since we're just reading whatever pieces serve the interests of the curriculum. So—no more. Finit. When I first started rereading the scriptures on the Sunday School schedule a few years back, it was important to me as a way of walking with, or at least nearer, the LDS community. But it's not producing the spiritual nourishment I need anymore—I spend too much energy fighting the gravitational pull of correlation.

So for the rest of the year I'm leaving the Sunday School schedule and trying out a more "ecumenical" D&C study. I've reached the end of the LDS D&C, basically. So now I'm reading from the RLDS/Community of Christ D&C. For a couple years now, I've been wondering what it would mean to identify not just with the LDS branch of the Latter Day Saint movement but with the movement more broadly conceived. And I'm feeling prompted now—"prodded" is more like what it feels, actually—to move in that direction. I'll work on articulating my vision of what I'm doing more richly as I feel my way down this path. For now, let me say that the basic concept is: I've learned to hear the Spirit's voice in the canonical texts of one branch of the Latter Day Saint movement; now let's listen in on the canonical texts of a different group of Saints trying to discern God's will for them, and let's see what the Spirit may have to say to me through those texts.

So that's what I've been doing for my spiritual reflection time this week. And unfortunately, that's all I have time to say for now, so I'll post my first reflections on the CofC D&C next week.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Health care debate: Deeper into the madness

Observing the lunatic paranoia on display in town hall meetings on health care reform, I am reminded of the Book of Mormon's warning about the judgment and disaster that await a nation "if the time comes that the voice of the people chooses iniquity" (Mosiah 29:27). As we see repeatedly in the Book of Mormon, I'm living in a time when wicked rulers and preachers are taking advantage of people's ignorance to stir them up to anger against what is good.

Listening to the demagoguery that has been unleashed against health care reform by politicians and conservative pundits, I have a fuming wish to "seal them up to the day when the wrath of God will be poured out on the wicked . . . when the Lord will come to . . . measure to every man according to the measure which he has measured to his fellow man" (D&C 1:9-10).
What mean you? You beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor.
(2 Ne. 13:15)

He saw great inequality among the people, some . . . turning their backs on the needy . . . and those who were sick and afflicted. Now this was a great cause for lamentations . . .
(Alma 4:12-13)
Call me radical. Call me naive. Call me uninformed. But the health care reform debate is that simple. God save us.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A message for Joseph Smith

The assigned D&C reading I did this week was section 135, John Taylor’s hyperbolic eulogy for you. As I was deciding what to post to my blog this week, I thought: “I should write a letter to Joseph Smith, like they had us do while I was in the MTC, saying what I appreciate about his ministry.” I thought that would be a good thing, because I’ve felt like my posts have been getting more angry and negative lately, and I wanted to be more positive.

But as I started drawing up a mental list of things you taught and founded that are important to me, I still just felt vaguely angry. And my thoughts weren’t flowing in the way they do when I’m feeling moved by the Spirit.

Then about the middle of the week, during my time for daily reflection, I felt moved to open up a Community of Christ edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. And as I was browsing through it, I came to section 111, which is the statement on marriage that the general assembly voted to include in the D&C in 1835. In case you don’t already know, the LDS dropped it from their D&C after you died, and canonized your revelation on eternal/plural marriage instead. The editorial heading for that section in the Community of Christ edition had this tart comment about how “the church knows no other law of marriage than that which is set forth here”; and when I read that, I thought—Hmm, they’re alluding to the fact that the statement condemns polygamy.

And then all of a sudden I realized something. I’ve always been bemused that the Reorganization has, to this day, been unable to accept the fact that you practiced polygamy. That had always struck me as somewhat pathetically dogged wishful thinking. But reading that comment in the D&C, I suddenly realized—I felt—what a betrayal it is to those members of your movement that you did practice polygamy, behind their backs no less. What little I know of the Reorganization shows that these were people who took seriously the idea that the church is governed by common consent through the deliberations of the General Conference and the various quorums. The general assembly of the church had voted to accept as binding a statement which condemned polygamy, and the Saints had put that statement into a book they accepted as scripture. And then you go and start administering secret teachings that contradict that statement to an elite inner circle, and introducing secret ceremonies, and creating secret quorums and councils that operate outside the established quorums and other governing bodies of the church.

My God—it’s like something out of Nixon’s playbook, or Cheney’s. You weren’t just keeping polygamy secret from outsiders. You were keeping it secret from large numbers of your own followers, because you knew perfectly well they wouldn’t support you. You operated without the sustaining vote of the church. In your megalomania, you were convinced that you were above the laws of the church just as much as you were above the laws of the land. You deceived your own followers. You betrayed their trust. What kind of shepherding is that?

I looked back this week over the journaling I did when I studied the D&C four years ago. My readings were more charitable then. This year, I think my reading has made me more embittered toward you. I’m not sure why that anger is rising at this particular time in my life. Maybe it’s the excommunication. Maybe it’s Prop 8. I presume that with the passage of time, and grace, I’ll regain a more charitable perspective on your ministry. But right now, at the moment I write this, I can’t bring myself to feel badly about your death. I mean, I feel badly for your family’s sake, and for the disastrous, world-wrenching tragedy this was for your people—not that you deserved their loyalty. But your death in Carthage Jail is something you brought on yourself. (The one potentially redeeming factor I can see here is that at least you turned back to face the disaster you’d created instead of running away west across the Mississippi River.) And the schism that followed your death—that’s largely your fault, too. You divided your people when you started forming secret inner circles.

This is not a “F*** you, we’re through” letter, although it may feel that way. I have no home but Mormonism—I’ve learned that already. Until and unless God calls me somewhere else (and that hasn’t happened yet, even when I dearly wished that call would come), I have to work out some kind of place for myself in the movement you founded. That means you’re stuck with me, and I’m stuck with you.

Someday you and I will each stand before the judgment bar of Christ. You’ll be called to task for the ways you failed to live up to gospel principles; I’ll be called to task for the ways I failed. You’ll give account of your stewardships; I’ll give account of mine. Judgment will be passed on the legacy you left to the Saints; judgment will be passed on what I did with my share of that legacy. We’ll each receive grace and a way forward—a place in the kingdom, a sphere in which to serve, and magnify our talents, and continue to progress. I presume that somewhere in that process, you and I will be reconciled. But right now . . . I feel very angry toward you.


Into your hands, O merciful Savior,
we commend your servant Joseph.
Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you,
a sheep of your own fold,
a lamb of your own flock,
a sinner of your own redeeming.
Receive him into the arms of your mercy,
into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
and into the glorious company of the saints in light.

(Book of Common Prayer, USA)