Prophets gone astray

7. Jonah was a prophet, tried to run away,
But he later learned to listen and obey.
When we really try, the Lord won’t let us fail:
That’s what Jonah learned deep down inside the whale.

Certainly my least favorite song in the Children’s Song Book (to the point that I refused to play it at all during my last stint in primary), but the story of Jonah has been going through my mind a lot for the last week or so.

I recently listened to a great podcast episode discussing the Assyrians and Nineveh which put it fresh in my memory.  When you look at the book of Jonah, the first chapter contains almost everything we all remember about Jonah: He was called to preach to Nineveh, runs away, gets thrown overboard, then eaten by a whale, where he stays for 3 days/nights.

However, if you continue on, Chapter 2 is his prayer of thanksgiving for having survived. Things start getting interesting in Ch. 3 (for our purposes at least).  After he’s on dry land, the Lord commands him to go cry repentance to Nineveh (and boy did they need it – see the Hardcore History episode above if you want details), and threaten them with destruction.  When the people hear his dire prophecy, they actually repent, and God stays His hand and doesn’t destroy the city.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Instead of expressing joy like your typical missionary, Jonah then gets MAD! He’s upset that God didn’t punish those darn evil people like He said He would.  The rest of Chapters 3 and 4 go on to show God teaching Jonah how he loves EVERYONE. (more…)


Protecting the Children (from Cognitive Dissonance)

My response to the recent policy change as well as the subsequent “clarification” has been one of surprise, sadness, and disappointment.

For someone already in the midst of a faith crisis, one of the hardest parts in all of this has been the Church’s response to all this.

  • The fact that it quietly inserted such a drastic policy change into the handbook without any discussion…
  • The fact that they claim their letter was just a clarification and contained nothing new (“there has been no doctrinal change with regard to LGBT issues”). Rather, we’d all just misunderstood the clear wording of the original, or taken it without context (i.e. “has ever lived”).
  • The fact that the earlier video response from Elder Christofferson did nothing to “clarify” the policy, but rather just defended it.  If it was only intended to apply to a tiny subset of those affected by the original wording, why didn’t he “clarify” then?
  • Finally, the fact that this has been represented as simply an effort to protect the children in these households. This is the most outrageous of all.  (see #1 below)

Personally, I feel like the entire policy contains nothing but harmful and hurtful language, and sadly I feel like that was intentional.  In the last week, I have come to an understanding that does make sense as to why the church would move to change the definition of apostasy to include entering a SSM.  The parallel to polygamy initially felt to forced, but now I can see that there is one strong link: Both of these to forms of marriage represent a rather explicit repudiation of the authority of the Brethren over issues of marriage.  That may be due to seeing them as fallen prophets or as stodgy, out-of-touch old men, but the result is the same.  Both acts do represent a deliberate defiance against the leaders in a way that most other sins (fornication, murder, abuse) don’t.  These other sins of passion are seen as “serious transgressions” and may warrant discipline, but these two forms of marriage are somewhat unique. (I’d be curious if anyone ever made the same arguments about inter-racial marriage in the past, when such marriages also flew in the face of counsel from the brethren – see #3,4) (more…)

The Opportunity Costs of Temple Work

I want to start off talking a bit about opportunity costs, which can be defined simply as whatever it is we give up when we decide to use resources on one thing rather than on another: i.e. if we decide to invest in real estate, we can’t simultaneously invest that money in the stock market. If we spend our time investing in our health by exercising, we can’t spend that same time volunteering at a soup kitchen.

Now I’d like to quote John Dehlin, while explaining his views on ordinances:

And while I acknowledge the beauty and goodness that is experienced by LDS temple workers and participants, I grieve at what I perceive to be the significant expenditure of time, money, and resources involved in performing proxy ordinance work for dead people, while such considerable pain, suffering, disease, and illiteracy persists in the world today.  

What John is describing here, is that he’s uncomfortable with the opportunity costs associated with our focus, energy, time, and money being devoted to proxy work for the dead.

It reminds me a lot of a discussion of global aid priorities by Bjorn Lomberg  in his amazing TED talk. In it, he points out that with our best understanding of the problems of climate change and world hunger/malnutrition/infectious diseases, we would be much better off throwing money on the latter problems. Addressing climate change would produce benefits, but they’d be small, and won’t happen for 100 years, and will benefit a world that is much, much richer than we are today. He says that one day, some Bangladeshi man (who is as rich then as an average American is now) is going to look back and say, “Wow.  Isn’t it strange that they would have cared so much about helping me just a little, when they could have helped my grandfather SO MUCH, when he needed it so much more than I do now.

Now, not to divert into politics, lets return to proxy work. Consider the whole population ever to live on the earth, and the relatively minuscule percent of the population that had access to temple ordinances, which the Church teaches are essential for exaltation.  Now, imagine the small number of active Mormons who are able to perform those ordinances… it becomes quickly apparent that we will in no way be able to get it all done before the second coming.  (I mean, we’re falling farther behind every day).

So essentially, any proxy work we get done is really a small drop in a gigantic bucket.  The vast majority of the work will of necesity get pushed back to the millennium.

Now, consider the cost, in money, time, energy, etc., that goes into building and maintaining temples, performing recommend interviews, and actually performing all those ordinances (2-3hrs/person).  Then think of all the good that the same amount of time, energy, and money could do if applied toward a more urgent, achievable goal.. (Think Liahona Children’s Foundation)

I can see the same scenario playing out.  Some dead Brazilian guy, who died in 1735, getting his temple work done by his great-great-grandson.  Meanwhile, he’s watched their children suffering from malnutrition and dying from vaccine preventable illnesses.  I think he might look back and say, “Wow.  Isn’t it strange that the Church would care so much about helping me just a little (by performing my ordinances now rather than waiting till the millennium), when they could have helped my great-great-great-grand-daughter so much more.”

Opportunity costs are what we give up when we choose to do one thing, when we could have done something else. There are positive benefits in the lives of current members when they perform proxy work.  There are benefits (though small as I see it) to those who are deceased receiving their ordinances a little bit sooner.  I’m just not sure how temple work is ever going to come out positive in the balance of things, until poverty, hunger, and lots of other suffering is eliminated from the world.

What do you think? Is it worth the costs, both direct & in lost opportunities?


Keys, Divine Decrees, and Shopping Sprees

I heard a lot of members who were happy about Elder Oaks talk addressing the concerns raised by the Ordain Women movement. However, I was rather disappointed  Here is a paragraph from his talk, (emphasis mine)

The divine nature of the limitations put upon the exercise of priesthood keys explains an essential contrast between decisions on matters of Church administration and decisions affecting the priesthood. The First Presidency and the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, who preside over the Church, are empowered to make many decisions affecting Church policies and procedures—matters such as the location of Church buildings and the ages for missionary service. But even though these presiding authorities hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.


Problem #1

First, I want to say that he misses the point entirely in his response.  As he is a former Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, I’m reluctant to think this was unintentional. He most certainly is at least remotely aware of their petition, that the Presiding Authorities take the question to the Lord for an answer as to whether women might be ordained.  Yet, instead of answering that relevant question, he issues a “ruling” on a totally separate matter.  He instead chooses to answer the question, “Oh, come on… Can’t you just ordain me right now!?” This reminds me of times when the Supreme Court decides to pass on really ruling on merits of a case, and rather rejects a case due to some minor technicality without addressing the more useful point of law. (more…)