Bonus: 2 Mormon Mavericks — William D. Russell and Richard D. Poll

John Dehlin Church History, Faith Promoting Stories, Mormon 5 Comments

I wanted to share with you the testimonies of 2 heroes of mine….one new, and one old.

William D. Russell: For over 40 years, William D. Russell has been a progressive voice among the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (now the Community of Christ). This is his story — from a 1993 Sunstone Symposium presentation called, “Pillars of my faith”.

Richard D. Poll: In early 1994 the distinguished career of Richard D. Poll, historian, professor, writer, husband and friend, came full circle. His Liahona/Iron-rod dichotomy, borrowed from the Book of Mormon, had entered the lexicon of Mormon thought almost 30 years earlier in his landmark essay “What the Church Means to People Like Me” (Dialogue 2:4, Winter 1967). His “Pillars of My Faith” sermon in Sunstone called for committed LDS worshipers and writers to join a mighty Christian chorus “in which almost all the singers hear the dissonant sounds of the alternate voices as polyphonic enrichment of the message of the gospel music.” For people like him, “neither dogmatic fundamentalism nor dogmatic humanism provides convincing answers to life’s most basic questions.” He defined history as “human strivings to discover divine realities.” Like Paul, Richard Poll lived his life as part of the leaven that “leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9), offering his Liahona questioning in the spirit of “charity, humility, persistence.” In a time when men and women are being called sinners for a word (or many words); when the terms “alternate” and “dissident” are being redefined as sinister; when some seek apostasy, while others have apostasy thrust upon them, Richard Poll’s calm, reasoned, compassionate voice rings with a clarity that will live on in our hearts and minds.

Comments 5

  1. I enjoyed Russell’s presentation – especially the part where he told the RLDS President to stop having revelations. I think it is the nature of revelation that causes all the insight and problems in the church.

    Recently, I was trying to understand the nature of Mormon belief and concluded that it is probably a complex formula of tradition, doctrine and religious experience unique to the individual and geographical region their faith developed within. I wrote:

    “Our history is our Pentateuch – so sacred that it cannot be touched. God has told us through both ancient and modern prophets that we must remember. We are taught that when the people in the Book of Mormon began to forget the hand of the Lord in their lives, they turned their backs on Him. Similarly, our history stands as evidence of the Lord’s hand in the latter days. The very testimony of millions of Latter-day Saints hinges on this venerable history.

    “Understanding Church history from a believer’s point of view only adds one element to the complex behaviour that is devotion. History provides the precedent whereas doctrine fuels the belief into true commitment. Doctrine is king; whether official, suggested, hearsay, or even rumoured, doctrine is king! …

    “Given the essential element of doctrine to religious adherence in the Mormon faith, it might be impossible to truly understand Mormonism. The doctrines are complex, entangled and sometimes contradictory…The challenge with doctrine, whether it is official, suggested, hearsay, or rumoured, is that, in truth, the line between them is blurred with little distinction. The only guide Latter-day Saints have been given to ascertain the truth is turning to the Lord for confirmation. We do not have to believe anything but can pray and ask God if said doctrine is true, which can seem a little fruitless when only one answer can really be given.

    “This is the strength and grip of Mormonism – a personal revelation of the truth. If you get on your knees and pray whether or not the Book of Mormon is true and believe that God has answered you in the affirmative then the dominoes fall: if the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God; if Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God, then the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true Church; if the Church is true, then the Prophets and Apostles are spokesmen for God; if they are spokesmen for God, they speak God’s will and doctrine. And, if you have received your witness, there is never a reason or cause to question the validity of the Church again – it is all true and anything to the contrary is the voice of Satan. To seek a new answer or reaffirmation is in fact mocking the voice of the Lord: “Did I not speak peace into your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:23)…

    “A devotee’s testimony is an entangled mesh of doctrine and history, impossibly separated as they are dependant upon one another. History in Mormonism has been elevated to canon; particularly the life and works of Joseph Smith have become a fundamental myth…

    So it seems that if we could stop receiving revelations as binding edicts and rely more upon inspirations as a gentle prodding guiding us towards light and knowledge than we could be more flexible as change is needed… but if God says different, I must be wrong.

  2. Richard Bushman, speaking Washington D.C. at the Library of Congress in his “Joseph Smith’s Many Histories” ta;l observed how “To a large extent, Joseph Smith assumes the character of the history selected for him. The broader the historical context, the greater the appreciation of the man. If Joseph Smith is described as the product of strictly local circumstances–the culure of the Burnt Over District, for example– he will be considered a lesser figure.” (BYU Studies vol 44 n 2, 2005) page 4.

    Else where I have read Nibley’s comparison’s of Nephi to the culture of his Middle Eastern Students, Welch’s considations of legal precidents in 600 BCE Jerusalem, Eugene England’s consideration of Abrahamic tests, and Rene Girard’s theories of Mimetic violence, a study in JBMS 6 comparing Nephi’s encounter with Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, Ben McGuire’s use of Robert Alter’s Art of Biblical Narrative and Eliade’s understanding of archetypes and repetition.

    And Russell comes along with Jeff Lundgren. What else needs to be said?

    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

  3. Pingback: Mormon Heretic » Bill Russell: Nephi is Dangerous

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