Trying to See the Positive in This Whole Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Lawrence O’Donnell Thing

John Dehlin Mormon 23 Comments

Holy moly. This guy ( Lawrence O’Donnell ) is a maniac! He’s not backing down in the slightest — guns are a’blazin!!!! I knew this was coming…the whole “litany of dark Mormon doctrines played out in the mainstream press” thing. Do we (as Mormons) owe Mitt Romney / Lawrence O’Donnell / Mike Huckabee a sneer, or a thank you? Time will tell.

Unfortunately, as a 5th generation, semi-informed, active Mormon — I have to admit that Mr. O’Donnell gets it pretty much totally right in his enumeration of a few of the “dark” Mormon doctrinal and historical secrets. For example….

All this said — I can also say that as of late, both the church and its apologists seem to be dramatically distancing themselves from all of these more controversial teachings. Perhaps sunshine really is the best antiseptic?

I must conclude with 3 final thoughts:

  • I comprehensively detest the way Mr. O’Donnell is choosing to air our own dirty laundry in public. In my opinion, this is something that we should be working through ourselves — not being forced to deal with it on the international media stage. Maybe if Sunstone and Dialogue had been embraced by the LDS Church in the 80s (instead of punished) we (as a people) would have already worked through much of this by now? Just a thought.
  • Perhaps all this will ultimately lead to some official clarifications for us — LDS Church members — as to what we should, and should not believe as official LDS Church doctrine going forward. If something like this were to happen as a result of Election 2008, I’d personally kiss Mitt Romney (though probably only on the cheek). 🙂
  • I must conclude by saying that I absolutely believe that God inspires this church, its leadership, and most importantly — its members (though I don’t claim that we — or any religion for that matter — has any particular “corner” on the inspiration market)

Can all of this get any more interesting? My gut says….you bet.

Comments 23

  1. Your 4th bullet states, ” recently we have been encouraged to discount teachings from past church prophets/leaders if they seem out of step …”
    This is not accurate according the link you provided. In the article it doesn’t mention past prophets it mentions “church leader”.
    In this artictle it states, “…Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church…” and I assuming that’s the statement you are referring too. In my opion this is not refering to “past prophets” of the church but other church leaders like: members of the Quorum of Seventy, the Presiding Bishopric, or local leaders. One needs to be careful when interpreting statements then posting their opinions about said statements.

  2. Perhaps this is an ultimately good thing, like all of the bad press about BYU and the race issue in the 1970’s.

    We might get those clarifications on ‘what’s official’ from an official source

  3. Good points. My experience with the first issue (race and sin) has been a little different. While I do know some who still believe that, most members I know do not. I suppose that had something to do with my upbringing, however, as my Dad told me early on he thought the Priesthood ban was racist (and he was a bishop at the time). And he always denounced the myth of the pre-mortal life sins having anything to do with skin color. Sometimes I even wonder if Adam and Eve had dark skin–due to the climate they were ostensibly living in. That would sure throw some people off. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking. : )

    Also, while it is hardly an official denunciation, Elder Holland said it (the race/sin part) wasn’t true and we should stop teaching it in an interview related to the PBS documentary.

  4. The problem isn’t that these issues have come to light. It is the ways they have come to light. Sunstone and to a lesser degree Dialogue (and I would say more helpful of the two) was a litany of barbs and accusations. And no, Mr. O’Donnell STILL doesn’t get it close to right.

    The history of all these issues are far more complicated than pointing fingers and harrasing those ignorant religious folk. A true history of the LDS positions (both official and layman) on these “dark sides” is closer to confused and contradictory.

    Not only that, but I think that it has been biased by modern liberal sensibilities that over-sensationalize exactly what was going on. For instance, the whole folk doctrines of the blacks as nuetral in heaven was not because of dislike for blacks. To the contrary, they were speculated because blacks not allowed the priesthood was recognized as unfair and racist so there “had to be” a reason. At the same time, yes there were apostles and prophets that were racist. There were also those that struggled against racism within and without.

    That is the problem with critics. They can be right and still be wrong because they make things too simple. Interesting that is also the argument made by those who are critical of the LDS Church’s own presentation of itself.

  5. El Bee,

    Have you ever read the Journal of Discourses?

    Check out Brigham Young’s statements on blacks, for example, and let me know if you think it’s ok for us to discount those comments.

    Or the comments about polygamy being a requirement for salvation.

    Oh…and Adam/God theory, which Bruce R. McConkie himself denounced.

    And Blood Atonement.

    Do you really believe all of these doctrines taught by past LDS prophets?

    I think they ESPECIALLY meant past LDS prophets w/ that statement — when the teachings were false, anyway.

  6. Jettboy,

    It’s very easy to invent criticisms of Sunstone/Dialogue — but most often I’ve found that such criticisms come from people who either haven’t read/listened to the magazine/symposia — or who have decided to very selectively pick and choose which articles or presentations upon which to base their criticisms. In my experience — the only significant difference between the Sunstone and Dialogue folks of the 60s-90s and the bloggernacle folks of today — is about 20-40 years. You can find extremely faithful people — or struggling saints — in BOTH places.

    My experience with both Dialogue and Sustone has been a huge body of respectful thoughts and conversations — with only occasional harsh or disrespectful criticisms.

    Please feel free to check it out, and determine for yourself. My guess is that you haven’t really given either a fair shake.

  7. “I can also say that as of late, both the church and its apologists seem to be dramatically distancing themselves from all of these more controversial teachings.”

    Sounds like hooey to me John. It’s ironic that you say this, and then quote Kevin Barney (who often says the sunshine phrase) who’s on FAIR’s board.

    I’ve been a semi-regular reader of Sunstone and Dialogue, and I own the back issues via the New Mormon Studies cd-rom which is now largely unavailable. I’d invert your statement.

    “My experience with both Dialogue and Sustone has been a huge body of harsh or disrespectful criticisms — with only occasional respectful thoughts and conversations.”

    I’m hardly a knee-jerk conservative Utah orthodox guy, but I find the chaff ( at least in the historical aggregate) to outweigh the wheat there.

    In any case, it’s irrelevant to the larger issue of what the eventual effect of his lunatic rant will be.

  8. Ben,

    I respect your opinion, though as an apologist yourself — I would expect that response.

    I’ve just had a very different experience, that’s all.

    And when Sunstone/Dialogue people have become frustrated — I’ve found that it has often been because their questions or concerns were ignored or denied — or because they were judged harshly just for asking the questions.

    If you look at folks like Fawn Brodie, Juanita Brooks, Leonard Arrington, T. Edgar Lyon, Lowell Bennion, Eugene England, Marty Bradley, etc…..all the way through many of the September 6 even — to me, the main difference has been only 20 or 30 years.

    In other words, Bushman is praised today for saying today much of what Brodie was criticized for saying 60 years ago (though I acknowledge that there are concrete tone and style differences between the two — but very little in the substance of their history. If anything, Bushman seems to rely quite heavily on Brodie).

    Still — had Bushman come out w/ Rough Stone Rolling in the 40s, I guarantee he would have never become a stake president, patriarch, or had his book sold in Deseret Book. He would have been denounced as a traitor to the faith. And I think you know this to be true.

    Same w/ Mountain Meadows. Juanita Brooks’ biggest sin was her timing. Today the Ensign is finally comfortable admitting what she wrote 40 or 50 years ago — the only difference being that she was threatened with excommunication for her approach.

    Yes…some of the participants of Sunstone and Dialogue have lost their tempers over the years (as have many GA’s I might add)…but I believe that the church shares in the responsibility of all this — and could have avoided much of the confrontation if they had only been more honest and up-front with their history. This year the chickens are coming home to roost, a bit, I believe. But I believe that it will be good for all in the end.

  9. When will Romney turn the other cheek like Christ did and not “attack” his opponents? He is suppose to set an example but looks like he is turning into another slick politician. I thought LDS conduct their affairs with higher standards. Love thy enemey, do go to those that hurt you……..

    I am sad to see him play this policital game.

  10. John Dehlin,

    Do you really think when watching Lawrence O’Donnell rant hatefully with his half-truths that there is anything the Church could have done in the last 30 years that would have affected O’Donnell’s opinion? He is basing most of his accusations on stuff that is well over 100 years old.

    Even if OD 2 had come out in 1958 instead of 1978 he’d harp on the racist thing because it is an easy target and the statements by BY are so outrageous by today’s standards.

    While I think that it is unfortunate that faithful saints were discouraged from listening to “alternate voices” (and we know that is a simplification as well as some of those voices had agendas) I don’t think that an endorsement of Sunstone and Dialogue in 1993 by say, Elder Oaks, would have shut Lawrence O’Donnell’s mouth last week.

  11. ARJ,

    What I was trying to say was…if the church took the time to straighten out what we did and did not believe in a public way (say on the “Lamanites are dark because of sin” question) — then people wouldn’t be able to use that as ammo (at least not with the same force).

    Don’t you think?

  12. John,

    I agree that it was previously “doctrinal,” because many leaders unfortunately taught it. However, I don’t see it as scriptural. You mentioned the verse in Alma–it seems (IMHO) that the curse is not the skin color, but rather a spiritual one.

    For example in Alma 23:18 the Lamanites’ skin color was not changed to white, yet the “curse of God did no more follow them.”

    And in 3 Nephi 2 it says their curse was taken from them AND their skin became white (rather than the curse of their skin was taken). Also, in the following verse (16) it says “their young men and their daughters became exceedingly fair…” I look at the word “became” in that verse–why would one’s offspring become fair? Possibly due to intermarriage?

    Despite all this, I do realize it all comes down to interpretation. At the very least, I think that skin color is unfortunately symbolic (just look up the words black or white in the dictionary).

  13. I listen to the ranting of Mr. O’Donnell on the McLaughlin Group and felt embarrassed, angered, and contrite all at the same time. From his perspective, everything he stated has some documented evidence to back it up and therefore is more than just hateful rhetoric.

    There are certainly better ways to inform people of your issues with a particular group’s beliefs. His tirade offended non-Mormons for its hatred and caused hate to well-up in the hearts of believing Mormons. In the end, no one will believe anything different than they did before the discussion except that perhaps Mr. O’Donnell needs some serious anger management counseling.

    I was given the new “Teaching of the Presidents of the Church” manual at church today and experienced some anger myself as I read the introduction and the first couple of lessons. Why does the church insist on perpetuating inaccurate history to its members? Are they afraid of the truth? I could give examples but that’s for another time. The point is, anger rears its ugly head when someone feels that the vast majority is drinking the Kool-Aid and are oblivious to the facts.

    To bad Mr. O’Donnell didn’t find a different tone to deliver his concerns about Mormonism and Mitt Romney. What might have been a thoughtful discussion focused on one or to valid points, turned into an uncontrolled shouting match on the McLaughlin Group…

  14. About the sin/race things, at least as it relates to the Book of Mormon:

    The mainstream Mormon apologetic consensus is that the Lehites came to a pre-inhabited land. The Nephites, clinging to their covenants, would have initially avoided intermarriage with the natives, whereas Laman and Lemuel would have no inhibitions of doing so. This provides an alternative hypothesis: their skin didn’t turn dark, but rather their abandonment of the covenant permitted them to mix with others outside the covenant (who’s skin happened to be darker).

    This doesn’t explain how some Lamanite converts had their skin turn light again, (3 Nephi 2:13) but it does cause one to think that the “curse” (leaving the covenant) and the dark skin might not be as consequential as previously imagined, but perhaps was merely a side effect rather than a punishment.

    Just some food for thought…

  15. I find it interesting that those who say they have negative thoughts and feelings about Sunstone and Dialogue are always accused of not reading or have read the magazines. Well, I have news for you. I have been reading both since the early 90s and still do (admittedly not as much over the last five years). Not always cover to cover, but I read some in full and the rest at least skim through to get an idea of the thoughts and arguments. The point is my views are with eyes wide open.

    Then again, I guess if I REALY read the material then it would be self evident how “good and pure” they would finally become to me. My experience is much like Ben, Sunstone has been a huge body of harsh or disrespectful criticisms — with only occasional respectful thoughts and conversations. My respect for Dialogue, on the other hand, is much better although still critical.

    And what you say about Bushman is completely false. Have you ever read A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by B.H. Roberts? Not everything that Brooks and Brodie talked about was mentioned, but a good portion was discussed. He was not threatened to be exed. Again, I just think critics have no idea how important tone and style are when it comes to religious topics. My belief is the exact opposite. If any of those on the list would have written like Bushman, there wouldn’t have been criticism aimed at them. Remember, Busham was writing about these kinds of topics at the same time those other were and he didn’t have any problems. Its not like apologists (if you will) were “branded” when they wrote about the same things.

  16. Mention of the Book of Mormon scriptures talking about skin color only hints at the reasons for connecting race to righteousness. For sake of argument, lets say that any responsible member today should know not to believe that blacks were barred from the priesthood because they were unfaithful in the pre-mortal life. Even without that, the vast majority of active members still believe that the restriction was a doctrine sanctioned by God all the way up until 1978.

    Perhaps we’ve made some progress, but its only in using bad excuses. Now, the church just leaves its members to explain that part of its history to black friends by just saying “God’s ways are not our ways”. Having a REAL answer to an issue like that is the kind of progress John is hoping might come out of the public airing of the issues.

    My prediction is that it will not have as much impact as you think, John. In my ward on the Sunday after the PBS documentary aired, many testimonies were born by people who watched it declaring that Satan is very cunning in constructing his lies and good people have to be careful about falling for the tricks. I believe that will be the defense taken by most folks when they hear the dirty laundry.

  17. You and I have been through this one before. If you must, you can discount everything I say as apologist but it just so happens that an alternate reading of these verses was taught to me in institute of all places.

    Think of this, why is dark skin a curse? It’s more melanin, it protects from the sun. It is only a cosmetic difference. It seems quite clear to me that the dark skin could not be a curse. It also seems quite clear to me that dark skin could not be removed from the people of Ammon or Lamanites without them realizing it. It seems to me we are suffering from an oversimplistic reading and perhaps some ancestral or Nephite racism thrown in.

    So, what is the curse, you may ask? Well my take on Alma 3

    …which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.
    7 And their brethren sought to destroy them, therefore they were cursed; AND the Lord God set a mark upon them, yea, upon Laman and Lemuel, and also the sons of Ishmael, and Ishmaelitish women.

    This seems to indicate to me that the curse, and the mark were separate things. Third Nephi 2 again comments of the removal of the curse with the same dichotomy
    14 And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites;
    15 And their curse was taken from them, AND their skin became white like unto the Nephites;

    Call it mental gymnastics, I call it trying to make sense of the scriptures. The mark, as mentioned above could mean intermarrying indigenous others. In 3 Nephi they all mixed together as one people anyway. They no longer had divisions. Skin color clearly could have been the divider indicator of being with or against God it once was.

    Christ describe what I think the real lifting of the curse is in 3 Nephi 9

    …And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

    Could it be that the curse is to be cut off from the spirit of the Lord? If you remove yourself from the people of the Lord and thus from the influence of the word and spirit of God.

    I am okay with this reading, to me it is more in harmony with the God I know and love. I cannot feel that intellectually dishonest.

    I am not sure the Nephites were okay with it. They did go to some great lengths to try to explain how the skin of the Lamanites shortly became whiter, they initially dropped the whole story of the Lamanites being more righteous entirely until castigated by the Savior. I have even heard of one reading of the Book of Mormon as an allegory of the ultimate fate of a racist society–yikes.

  18. I’ll second your comment on tone and style Jettboy. I tend to shy away from the “what facts are legit” road. Complaints about “why one perspective on a factoid is more correct than another seems pragmatically unfruitful. While those with a post modern bent obviously deny the validity of any one perspective, I think reality does put a big damper on such views. If a person at large senses a difference due to tone, then tone does make a difference – despite theoretical arguments otherwise.

    On a sort of related note, I do find the strategy of defining belief boundaries counter productive. While I can see the apparent usefulness, I tend to think some rather not so nice things would emerge from correlated institutional changes. While it is challenging to many, I personally, like not having things defined.

  19. John,

    President Hinckley made a pretty strong disavowal of our past racist teachings almost two years ago. While I would have liked something more strongly worded I appreciated it. Even so I haven’t sensed any mitigation of attacks on the Church because of that.

    Again, much of the stuff O’Donnell is talking about is based on comments made 150 years ago. Nothing that the Church could have done in the past 30 years would stop someone like him from taking what are admittedly shameful comments and using them to smear a candidate.

    I will admit that having a more diverse group of GAs or even apostles since 1978 would be helpful.

    Here’s the problem with the concerns over the Book of Mormon. The text is just too troubling for someone who reads it for the first time and possibly out of context. You’ll never see a Sunday political talk show take the time needed to really explain political issues in any depth. What are the odds of having people on that could discuss relationship between the Book of Mormon and the topic of race? What are the chances that they’d be given enough time to have a discussion that is helpful?

    So how can the Church distance itself from the text of the Book of Mormon or find a way to understand it differently?

    Personally I remember as a primary aged child thinking that the BoM ideas about skin color were a sort of mythic explanation of why people have different skin color in the same way that the story of Babel explains languages.

    Now I no longer know what to think but I have a variety ideas about how to deal with something that I find troubling. However I can’t see the Church getting behind any of the options that I can think of.

  20. Kaimi spoke to this issue very effectively on his Concurring Opinions legal blog. Here is a bit of his post.

    Brigham Young said some problematic and racist statements. Yep. Those statements were unfortunately pretty consistent with elite white thinking at the time; those statements are essentially unknown to most Mormons today, because they’re not doctrinal and the only place anyone could find them is in a musty old collection that nobody reads; those statements set out certain rules (such as prohibiting interracial marriage) that are neither discussed, followed or enforced in the church today. Brigham Young’s statement is unfortunate; unsurprising, given the era; unread; unknown; and unenforced.

    If you’re annoyed by the O’Donnell quotes you heard from the McLaughlin Group, you ought to read the interview with Hugh Hewitt he did that Kaimi links to at the top of his post. Your head might explode because of O’Donnell’s mind-bending inconsistency, so you might want to wrap it with duct tape first.

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