I’m in Spain, so I’m getting this one up before it appears in the states.  Please feel free to comment here about PBS’s “The Mormons: Episode 2” here.

Also, for those who missed, the video for episode 1 is now up, and I’m sure that the video for episode 2 will be up shortly.


  1. stephen May 1, 2007 at 8:12 pm

    i was surprised and happy to see jeff nielson appear in episode 2. he taught one of my favorite courses at byu. i was sad to learn he was fired for his comments concerning gay marriage. but kudos to him for his appearance and his adherence to his own philosophy.

  2. austin May 1, 2007 at 11:44 pm

    At the end of the first part yesterday, while previewing the second part, they showed a clip of Elder Oaks saying something along the lines of “It is wrong to criticize your priesthood leaders, even if those criticisms are correct.” I never saw that in the second part aired tonight. Did I just miss it or was it not there? Does anyone else remember that from last night? I’d like to hear what context exactly he said that in…

  3. Tom Grover May 2, 2007 at 12:01 am


    That clip was used in the opening moments of tonights segment.

    I thought the documentary did a fairly successful job of offering alternating paradigms of the believer, dissident and skeptic.

    I thought Tal Bachmans comment that he would have been a suicide bomber if asked by his mission president was a little bit over the top, but that’s just me. Most missionaries are like most members- selectively obedient. Maybe Tal wasn’t. Who knows, I wasn’t with him on his mission.

    The section on dissidents and intellectuals was embarassingly true. The story of the older gay gentleman who lived in Alpine before excommunication made me sad, especially when he spoke of his longingness for belonging to the Mormon community that exiled him.

    I also had to laugh when it seemed Elder Packer couldn’t remember his gay/lesbian/feminist/intellecctual comment. “Well if it’s print, I guess I said it”. Way to downplay it, Elder P.

    I know this sounds cheesy, but there were several times in the documentary where I truthfully felt the Spirit. I didn’t learn anything knew.

    All of us sometimes take our parents or siblings for granted. We look at them daily and sometimes get frustrated with their shortcomings. Then someone looks in from the outside at them with admiration in a broad perspective that our own intimacy precludes. They make a comment and suddenly we see that our Dad is actually a pretty admirable, hard working, honest guy.

    That’s how I feel about this documentary. I had lost a broad perspective of how wonderfully positive and spiritually empowering Mormonism is in the broad sense. Yes, there are warts. And sometimes they bug the hell out of me. But in the broad perspective I believe in the Church, I love the Church and it provides immense fullfillment for me.

    I am grateful for the documentary for reminding me of the big picture of things.

  4. m&m May 2, 2007 at 12:04 am

    He addressed the idea in a talk he gave, called “Criticism,” if that’s helpful. I don’t think the documentary would have been able to capture what he’s communicating and why.

  5. Tytus May 2, 2007 at 7:46 am

    I think being a part of the Mormon Stories community really prepared me to be able to appreciate this piece. For me, it was one familiar name after another that I knew either directly or indirectly from John Dehlin: Greg Prince, Darius Gray, Richard Bushman, Grant Palmer, and indirectly, Tal Bachman, the September 6 etc…

    I was thinking “Hey, I know their story!!” which made me appreciate their comments on a much deeper level.

    Thanks to MS for adding this level of richness to the viewing experience!

  6. John Dehlin May 2, 2007 at 7:50 am

    Thanks so much, Tytus. And to you all.

  7. Chris Rusch May 2, 2007 at 8:07 am

    Tytus, good point. I felt the same way this morning on the way to work. What really helped me gain a proper perspective on the whole thing was knowing who the people were and where they stood. Unfortunately there were some people that I did not know.

    I think that too much time was spent on dissidents and that more time should have been given for average active members, the kind that will enthusiastically tell you that they are Mormon. The time that was devoted to regular members made me wonder if these were cultural members or not. I was not sure.

    I think that people like Margaret Toscano and their story represents a small proportion that it skewed that section. It would have been more balanced to find someone, such as Avraham Gileadi, who had been excommunicated or disfellowshipped and came back.

    But then again, some people that I know will see this documentary as completely anti-Mormon and will overlook the good things that Helen Whitney put in the program.

    On the whole I thought it was good. Based on the past Frontline specials I have watched, it was good, and could have been much, much, worse.

  8. Chris Rusch May 2, 2007 at 8:14 am

    I thought that when all of it is taken into consideration, “The Mormons” was good.

    There are those members who will be dissapointed, or even offended by some of the people who expressed viewpoints that differ form the active Mormon norm but that is to be expected with a program like this.

    Tytus, great point!! I think that I understood the documentary on a deeper level then other members of my family because they do not know who Terryl Givens, Dan Peterson, and Darius Gray, are. Knowing them and their stories helped me watch it with a much more critical eye.

    The program was good, and based upon what I have seen on Frontline, it could have been much, much, worse.

  9. Tytus May 2, 2007 at 8:23 am

    That’s right! I short changed myself on the list people I mentioned; add to that Dan Peterson, Fawn Brodie, Leonard Arrington, and I’m sure I’m still missing others… all of which have come up in one form or another on MS. Not to mention of course BKP, DHO, and GHB, among the General Authority cameos.

  10. austin May 2, 2007 at 8:46 am

    Thanks, Tom and m&m, very helpful!

    Overall I thought the show was a pretty fair discussion of some controversial issues in Mormonism, though it seemed to be pretty slanted in places, such as the part on feminism giving what felt to me like significantly greater airtime to critics. I think that the best voices in support of the church were Marlin K. Jensen and Betty Stevenson, who were honest and open and real. In the end, can anyone think of a more fair and in-depth documentary or treatment of Mormonism in the media in the last decade? Or ever? I applaud Helen Whitney for the thorough job.

  11. Equality May 2, 2007 at 8:52 am

    “I don’t think the documentary would have been able to capture what he’s communicating and why.”

    I think the doc captured it very well, complete with a shot of his sanctimonious smirk. What he’s communicating is that it is wrong to criticize church leaders even if the criticism is valid. And the church enforces that standard by excommunicating people such as Lavina Fielding simply for reporting true and accurate accounts of abuse at the hands of priesthood leaders. The Church from day one has had little to no tolerance for dissent or criticism of leaders by members–even where such criticism is justified. When William Law criticized Joseph Smith because Joseph had propositioned William’s wife and, upon her refusing his unwanted advances, Joseph spread lies about her and William, well, the church responded by trying to silence Law through the destruction of the printing press. I find it interesting that Dallin Oaks wrote a book essentially defending, with convoluted legal reasoning, Joseph’s actions in destroying the press. Oaks has long been a champion of absolute obedience to church authority and he is not shy about expressing that view.

  12. Equality May 2, 2007 at 8:54 am

    “The program was good, and based upon what I have seen on Frontline, it could have been much, much, worse” I agree, Chris. Though I would word it slightly differently:

    “The program was good, and based on what I know about church history, doctrine, practice, and culture, it could have been much, much worse.”

  13. Chris Rusch May 2, 2007 at 8:59 am

    I agree Austin. I think that the extended interviews they gave to intellectual critics tilted things away from being balanced in places. I am not saying that Margaret Toscano should not have told her story, but the segement could have been balanced by talking to scholars like Bushman, Givens, and Peterson and how they have come to deal with tough issues or times when they disagreed with mainstream teachings.

  14. Trevor May 2, 2007 at 9:02 am

    I have not yet seen last night’s installment of the documentary, but I really look forward to it. The first half made me feel more sympathetic to my culture than I have in a very long time. It took a more gentle, outside perspective to break me out of the cycle of apology and attack that I see played out on the internet ad infinitum. Now, more than ever, I appreciate what John has been doing here on Mormon Stories.

    I have a couple of responses to the comments here. First, on Tal Bachman. When Tal first popped up among the ex-Mormon critics of the LDS Church, I thought he was witty, articulate, and that his criticisms were not without some merit.

    Now, I think he has really gone beyond the pale. It is one thing to see possible intimations of the dangers of religious extremism in Mormonism, and another to act as though it is being played out in front of our eyes right now. Tal’s comments about being a suicide bomber say far more about Tal than about anyone or anything else. I note how quickly he has gone to extremes in his rhetoric as an ex/anti-Mormon. Come back to reality, Tal!

    Next, I am actually quite pleased to hear that the documentary spent some time on intellectuals and dissidents. The September Six are significant in the relatively recent history of Mormonism, and it says something about the LDS Church that these events occurred and unfolded as they did. Personally, I find their story perfectly in line with the larger tension between Mormonism and the rest of American society.

    Dr. Gordon’s comments about the political implications of the activities of the Mormon community from very early on were extremely insightful. For some time I have thought that LDS Mormon identity and independence had a lot to do with the fact that we once openly built little kingdoms in North America. Brigham’s West was simply the most expansive and successful of those kingdom-building experiments.

    Although the wings of the kingdom have been clipped and we have accommodated more or less to our Americanism, I think the LDS Church still seeks to operate, at least with regards to its own members, by its own ‘kingdom’ standards and logic. The September Six were expecting the kingdom of God as envisioned by 19th century Mormons to act like any other modern, secular institution in democratic. That expectation, as noble as they thought it might have been, was doomed to failure in the short term.

    I think this struck me most when I read repeatedly about the expectation that dissidents had held that the LDS Church would follow its own rules in carrying out Church discipline. I don’t want to comment on the accuracy or fairness of their characterization of the process. What I will say is that it was only when I saw the great contradiction between their expectations and the actual events that I realized that I had completely misunderstood LDS Church government. I, like some of them, thought in terms of legal proceedings in the American judicial system. In this I think I was ignorant and unrealistic.

    I think that the conflict between these intellectuals and the LDS Church has everything to do with the conflict between LDS culture and its larger American context, and for this reason I look forward to seeing these folks in the documentary today.

  15. Trevor May 2, 2007 at 9:16 am


    I saw that remark on the tail end of the first installment. Frankly, I was surprised that Elder Oaks would openly express that view to the documentarians. To me this represents one of the most problematic aspects of contemporary Mormonism.

    The act of criticizing one’s community is, in my view, an expression of belonging and trust. I am not suggesting that criticism be a free-for-all, but the refusal to tolerate almost any form of criticism is harmful to the members’ sense that they have a stake in the community.

    There is a real contradiction between leaders’ professions to being fallible/human and their unwillingness to be open to criticism. Being open to criticism is an essential part of the recognition of one’s human limitations. Without it the profession to fallibility is merely a self-serving defense mechanism.

  16. Chris Rusch May 2, 2007 at 9:46 am

    It would have been nice if they would have pointed out that Elder Oaks had clerked for Earl Warren of the supreme court, had been a law professor at the University of Chicago, and had been considered as a possible candidate to fill a vacancy in the High Court by the Reagan administration. I think that it would have asked the deeper question, such as how can a man with so much education and intelligence hold such views on criticism when a major part of his career in the legal profession was to analyze and criticize decisions by what many consider the supreme authority in the land?

    Maybe there was more to his comments concerning criticism that was left out due to time constraints that would have given deeper insight into his thinking.

  17. Tom Grover May 2, 2007 at 9:46 am

    I suppose one of the real questions on the dissident section is will it increase tolerance and understanding between groups of differing perspectives?

    I spoke this morning with an old mission companion on the phone and the documentary came up. He dismissed them as “apostate wackos”. He’s an otherwise intelligent man, but this didn’t seem to effect him.

  18. Equality May 2, 2007 at 9:48 am


    You are right on the mark. I argue that the producers were right to focus so much on MMM and polygamy in the first installment because those events illustrate the degree to which Mormons have been willing to conform to the demands made on them by their priesthood leaders. They illustrate that, in the 19th century, there was an expectation that members would be obedient and loyal to their leaders even when doing so required them to do things far outside the norm.

    And the reason that Oaks’ statement is so dangerous is that it is reflective of this 19th-century mentality. The program focuses on all the mainstreaming efforts the church made in the 20th century: the missionary program with its obsessive focus on appearances; the accommodation with the government and with capitalism; the focus on the family; the marketing of the church as quintessentially Christian, etc. Juxtaposed with that are the comments of Oaks to the effect that leaders ought not be criticized, the comments of Packer that intellectuals, feminists, and gays are a threat to the church, the comments of Jensen that church leaders speak for God and to oppose them is to oppose God, and the stories that illustrate the church’s intolerance for even a modicum of dissent and diversity of thought.

    It is this tension between the image of the church as the embodiment of the American mainstream and the church’s continuing insistence that its leaders be followed without deviation that makes the church worthy of study and investigation. I think the underlying message of the documentary is that while the church appears to be a completely different animal than the institution that engendered so much fear and enmity in the nineteenth century, the fundamental teachings that facilitated the MMM and the establishment of polygamy are still essentially fully in place in the church today.

    And that fact alone justifies the general squeamishness many Americans feel when contemplating a Mitt Romney Presidency.

  19. Clay May 2, 2007 at 10:02 am

    In my opinion there is even a greater root problem with the anti-criticism sentiment. One of the absolute core attributes of a true Christian is humility. The ability to be teachable and accept criticism for the purpose of finding the ways in which we need to grow. The problem with discouraging any criticism is that it sets leaders up to be viewed as unteachable, inflexible, and not in need of improvement.

    This has a number of negative side effects. One is that it is a poor example of humility. Another is that when mistakes of a large enough magnitude are exposed it totally rocks the confidence and faith that people can have in other leaders. Lastly, it creates this illusion that there are all these human beings that are actually able to be so righteous that they cannot be criticized. This can lead to feelings of dissappointment and inadequacy on the part of the average member who is doing their best yet make mistakes which apparently the leaders do not do.

  20. Equality May 2, 2007 at 10:09 am

    I realized after re=reading it that my comment in #18 sounds a little more negative than I intended. I think that the Mormon notion of priesthood leaders being inspired by God and the accompanying idea that obedience and loyalty to them is required of the members also resulted in some great accomplishments: the establishment of a new religious community, a truly new religious tradition in America; the building of cities in Kirtland and Nauvoo; the construction of the temples; the trek west under unimaginably difficult circumstances; the establishment of a city in the middle of a desert; the establishment of colonies outside the Salt Lak Valley; the missionary efforts in the 19th century. None of these would have been possible without Mormonism’s doctrine of obedience to divinely inspired priesthood leaders, in my estimation. My point in making my previous post was simply to show that the documentarians were correct to show that there are darker consequences to this principle, and that the principle still sits at the heart of what makes Mormonism work, and what makes Mormonism offensive to many.

    It is the same principle that gave us the response to Katrina and the excommunication of Margaret Toscano.

  21. Paul May 2, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Dear Elder Oaks,
    Should we not follow the example of Jesus? The Pharisees were the religious leaders in the time of Jesus. Are we not told “Trust not in the hand of flesh”?

    Though convenient for you, “Just trust me” is a very dangerous ultimatum.

    I’m sure many members and antagonists will feel this wasn’t balanced because it did not cater to their position enough, but I felt like it was very honest and fair. You can’t fit everything in and you have to pick the more interesting issues to keep everyone’s interest. I can’t wait to hear what people say this Sunday. So far I have heard a complaint that there was too much misinformation, but that is because the member was unaware of the peep stone and extensive treasure seeking. I suggested that they go to the LDS bookstore and get “Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling” if he wanted a better grasp on Mormon history. I wonder how many will take this as a learning experience and how many will right it off as completely tainted.

  22. Clay May 2, 2007 at 11:42 am

    So far, reactions from traditional mormons have not been about historical accuracy, but rather the amount of time given to the expressing of speculative opinion without enough countering views from faithful LDS. Valid?

    I think the sentiments expressed from the LDS participants were good and insightful, but they do not represent very much the views and feelings of the average Mormon. I think the documentary is great in providing a big picture view of the religion, but I’m not sure that after viewing it someone would really get what it means to be a Mormon every day.

  23. Chris Rusch May 2, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Clay, great point. That is what my brother thought. He felt that overall it missed the point. But then again, the point I don’t was what it means to be Mormon everyday. I think that they were trying to contrast the past from the present. How have Mormon and Mormonism gone from being reviled to “the embodyment of the American dream”, as the narrator of the documentary said.

  24. Hellmut May 2, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Here is what gets me: much to his credit Elder Oaks is moved by the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Then he turns around and demands that LDS leaders are beyond criticism.

    If you eschew accountability of authority then you are designing an institution and a mindset that facilitates mass murder. Elder Oaks has not learned the lesson of Mountain Meadows.

    That means that Elder Oaks of all people needs criticism.

  25. DMP May 2, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    Part II was improved over Part I, which is the opposite of what I expected after watching the first episode Monday night. I found it better because it was more balanced, and we didn’t spend 15-20 minutes or more on MMM or FLDS or some similar “odd duck” (though they did show a little bit of a few “odd ducks” last night, still, didn’t they? My mostly teenage children stated that themselves, that the 2nd night was far more balanced than the first.

    Really, 4 total hours was not enough. But, the Frontline episode last night showed far more of the good side of the Church than I ever imagined it would.

    Has anyone heard what the estimated audience size was? I’d be curious to know.

    I have been looking, but haven’t found yet (today) what I anticipated would be a negative review for Whitney being too positive towards the Church in the 2nd episode. It will be interesting to see how this show affects (LDS) Church members, overall, and how it impacts the rest of the nation, and their view of the LDS Church.

    I was glad Whitney featured Terryl Givens as much as she did, and that he had so many good ways of helping the viewer put an item about the Church, an event, or practices, into a perspective that helped one understand.

    I’ll have to confess that though I wish they had interrupted Ken Verdoia’s very long segment, to keep things from getting into a rut, on the first night–Verdoia does help (people understand Mormons and Mormonism) more than he sometimes hurts.

  26. Equality May 2, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    I think it was very well balanced both nights and Whtiney should be commended for what was overall an excellent production. 4 hours to cover all of Mormon history? There is no way any 4-hour program on Mormonism could ever be produced that didn’t have serious deficiencies in terms of leaving important things out. Yes, the dancing thing should have been left on the cutting-room floor, and the impression left from the gospel-singing convert was a little odd (interesting, but not really representative, I think it is fair to say). But those were short segments. And even if replaced with something of importance, there would still be many things left unsaid.

    I think nearly all the interviewees were articulate and presented their views quite cogently. A wide vairety of viewpoints and opinions were expressed, with Givens, it seems, being granted the most time of anyone. The LDS scholars (Givens, Flake, and Bushman), I thought, acquitted themselves better than the LDS General Authorities. I think devout members ought to be glad that Oaks and Packer didn’t get more airtime.

  27. Jamie Trwth May 2, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    Did you noticed that no one was labeled as Anti or Ex, instead by their professions or past church status? I don’t think this is Anti at all. I just wish my they would have question the Priesthood Ban a little harder.

    Great Piece. And you are correct Tytus, Mormon Stories was my Primer for this Documentary.

    Many Thanks to John Dehlin

    Jamie Trwth

  28. Mother Nature's Son May 2, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    A couple of points:
    Two of you have suggested that Tal’s “suicide bomber” comment was over the top -which I agree. Let’s all remember though, that he was interviewed for two hours. Aired was the short splice about his mission being a jungle and that he would have done anything had he been asked.
    While hearing that comment, I couldn’t help but think of my experience in the temple where I promised to ‘give even my life if necessary’ to the cause. I think this is probably the point he was trying to make about commitment and obedience. The way it was edited, it definitely didn’t fit the overall tone of the documentary.

    I enjoyed the presentation. A full segment on the importance/meaning of the temple was tasteful and appropriate, but what was missing was the Masonic origins. But hey, you can’t balance everything in four hours. The ‘contrasting’ method used by Helen was perfect for a church and culture that exhibits so many contrasts.

    My hunch is that a few people will be baptized as a result of this documentary, but just as many will be deterred who might have joined otherwise.

  29. Scott Stevenson May 2, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    I believe it was John’s essay on disaffected Mormons that said the problem generally isn’t that former members cared too little, rather they cared to much about the church.

    I think this explains very well why to many moderate and “middle way” Mormons, Tal’s statements might seem extreme. But really, how could they be that extreme if you actually take church leaders at their word? Stories about exact obedience are continually lauded as the pinnacle of faith. These stories are taught as literal events. Abraham is commanded to ritualistically slaughter his own son. Moses is a war criminal if ever there was one. Even if you say these are just allegories to teach a principle and not meant to be taken seriously, they are still horrible examples of any kind of morality and there’s no internal reasoning within Mormonism to NOT take them seriously.

    By what internal logic can you really draw a line between extreme and moderate faith? How can you say “I believe such and such on faith but those other guys that take those disturbing scripture stories seriously are extreme.” How many times do the guys at the top have to say “there is no middle way” before you start to think they actually mean it. I understand we are/were all buffet (selectively obedient) members. However, can you really be chowing down on the cheese ball and think the guy eating a fat rib-eye is too extreme? It’s tough to rationalize criticism of other partakers in the buffet of not “eating” the same thing as you.

    Many of us actually took the leaders of the church at their word. How extreme is blowing yourself up compared to stabbing your son on an alter, taking young Midianite virgin girls as sex slaves, lopping the head off Laban, stoning homosexuals, and all the other holy writ stories you’re taught as examples of exact obedience.

  30. Trevor May 2, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    This is a great thread.

    First, I still think Tal has gotten carried away. Yes, there are some extreme, scary Mormons. It is for this reason that the MMM segment of the first episode was so important.

    I am reminded of the troubled young man who held a fake bomb to the head of the late Howard W. Hunter at a BYU devotional–Cody Judy. Certainly, we have in Cody Judy the kind of disturbed individual who, in his insanity, was capable of terrorizing others. I am not sure that Mormonism can be blamed for his behavior.

    I thought it was more troubling that a group of BYU young men jumped Judy, knowing full well that there was a possibility the bomb was real. These young men acted irresponsibly in their religious zeal and placed the lives of many in great danger. I have no doubt that their faith was a factor in their recklessness. How lucky that the bomb was a fake.

    Now, I would like to return to the question of criticizing leaders. It suddenly struck me that millenialism helps contextualize the attitude LDS leaders have about criticism in at least a couple of ways. First, it was the belief that the end of the world was nigh that helped make following leaders’ counsel seem so urgent and necessary. I think that, although this millenialism has been sublimated to a degree, the leaders still play on the sense of crisis it created.

    Secondly, when Jesus is brought up, I am moved to ask, “which Jesus?” Elaine Pagels has remarked about the Book of Mormon that its Christology is extremely high. Its Jesus is the Johannine Jesus who is fully God and whose mode is clearly apocalyptic. Jesus arrives as God to judge the people of America. This setting matches well the millenialism of Joseph Smith’s time that was so much a part of early Mormonism.

    You and I might expect a feel-good, sentimental, liberal Jesus, but, despite Mormon kitsch, I really don’t believe that this is Mormonism’s Jesus. Mormonism’s Jesus is, for the most part, God and king, who is returning to judge the world and take up his kingdom. Think of the words of the popular hymn “once all things he meekly bore, but he now will bear no more.”

    I don’t know about you, but to me there isn’t a very cuddly Jesus in that imagery. Instead I see the terrifyingly stark perfection and power of the Christus statue, which is, above all others, the iconic image of Mormonism’s Jesus.

    So, I am not sure that LDS leaders are not following the example of a particular face of the LDS Jesus.

  31. Trevor May 2, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    p.s. I am embarrassed to have consistently misspelled millennialism in the last post.

  32. Glenn May 2, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    I must say that I thought specifically of John’s kiddie bap letter to President Oaks when I saw the “don’t criticize even if they’re wrong” soundbite, and that made me a little uncomfortable, but still, I agree with many of the comments here that it was fair and balanced. From a “big picture” standpoint I went away feeling more impressed at Mormonism’s accomplishments than embarrassed about our warts.

    I also agree with those patting John on the back here for his great and relevant podcasts. I felt “big picture” appreciation for Mormon Stories because, like Tytus and others, I also recognized so many of the interviewees and had heard their stories – but I also felt that the second half of part two did a very nice job of telling specific Mormon stories in much the same spirit as John’s podcasts. I love hearing how Mormonism affects so many different people in so many different ways. The girl with 2-5 years left to live; the father of seven who lost his wife with number eight and clearly struggled to say that he would do it differently if given the chance – all of those felt so personal and did so much to show vernacular daily Mormonism – it was a nice way to end and was the most faith affirming part to me.

    I don’t completely agree that too much time was spent on dissidents – I was glad that they had the opportunity to get their message out – their’s is also a very important piece of the “big picture” Mormon story. I still feel a little uneasy about the “kindness” critique from Tuscano – mainly because I think she is dead on with her criticism – but at the same time, in giving those priesthood leaders the benefit of the doubt, I understand why they would try to emulate Christlike “kindness” even in the face of such a “violent” act. But that whole anti-intellectual thing is still really tricky. I don’t know that this will make a dent in the general perception of the danger of intellectuals as “apostate wackos” – I think there is too much behind all of that.

  33. mike chandler May 2, 2007 at 8:18 pm

    It was very interesting. The history I grew up with is not was I now understand it to be. I enjoyed seeing Grant Palmer and Bushman on the program. Where was Simon Southerton and Todd Crompton?

    Many people will be offended, but that is to be expected. I was surprised to hear Dalin Oaks talk about the MMM and the role of the church in it instead of casting ALL blame to the Indians.

    I think there needed to be more discussion on the BOA, Elijah Abel, James Strange, Kinderhook.

    Maybe another time.

  34. MAS May 2, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    I have a thought on Elder Oaks’ comment on criticizing leaders. I think what he is trying to convey is that there is danger in finding fault with our leaders. I’m not saying that the leaders are always right, or even that there are not times when criticism in the correct form is not appropriate. What I am saying is that if we truly have faith that this is the Church of Jesus Christ, then we should understand that even though our leaders are not perfect, the Church is still the only true church on the earth. If we continually criticize our leaders then there is the possibility that we will allow doubt and fear into our minds. I think Elder Oaks is saying that we need to be careful with criticism for our own protection, not the Church’s, because it will eventually turn us away from the true Gospel of Christ. He is not advocating blind obedience in any way.

  35. Kerry A. Shirts May 2, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    Hey MAS,
    Yes I suspect you are correct about Oaks comment, unfortunatey, all we ever seem to get of it is that one liner…….sigh


  36. Mayan Elephant May 2, 2007 at 11:20 pm


    Oaks didnt say that. He said it is wrong to criticise church leaders, even if the criticism is true.


    If he meant anything less, or more than that. He should clarify it. Hell, Otterson has time to post all over the bloggernacle, lds.org, at onfaith and to respond to susan jacoby’s comments. if he cared, or if he thought oaks was misquoted, he could clarify it.

    but, oaks said what he meant. his silence, along with the consistency with other talks he has given, proves it.

  37. MAS May 3, 2007 at 8:22 am

    Unfortunately it is impossible for anyone watching that 2 second video clip to understand the context of what he was saying, so we are left to infer what resonates most closely with our personal beliefs.

  38. austin May 3, 2007 at 9:25 am

    Concerning E. Oaks’ position on questioning church leaders, his talk on criticism (which I was referred to in post #4 and can be found at https://lds.org/portal/site/LDSOrg/menuitem.b12f9d18fae655bb69095bd3e44916a0/?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=883267700817b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1) is very interesting. I still don’t think it will be to the liking of everyone here, but it does seem to explain his thoughts in much more detail than the 3-second soundbite. The first thing there that I found important was that throughout the talk he is not talking about criticism defined as “the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything” (which he says can be positive and useful, especially when aimed at issues), but rather about the more negative definition of criticism given as “the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.” While he still maintains a hard line against criticizing church leaders, I think this understanding of exactly what he means is important. He also gives two active courses of action (and a few somewhat indirect ones too) on what a church member can do when they think a church leader is wrong about something. John’s letter to E. Oaks about 7-year-old baptisms is a perfect example of one of the options endorsed in this talk.

    The gist of the talk seems to be that public criticism is what E. Oaks never sees a need for. Instead, he believes that working within the church government to address wrongs in a spirit of love and charity is completely acceptable. Whether that stance is significantly more reasonable than the “never question anything that a priesthood leader says. Ever!” attitude is probably debatable, but I think it’s much better. I think that E. Oaks here gives members ample room to question and think about what they are told by leaders, making it perfectly OK for members to disregard any future MMM-like orders. He would, however, seem to say that it is wrong to then publicly criticize the church leader who gave the order.

    There is always going to be a tension in Mormonism between obedience and an individual doing what she thinks is best. Finding a balance, and the right balance, is a fundamental challenge in the faith, and one that I propose is good and necessary for personal growth. It seems that E. Oaks’ comment, as well as the Church’s position, were unfortunately distorted–probably innocently–in the context of the documentary.

  39. Mayan Elephant May 3, 2007 at 9:27 am

    This paradox that MAS is highlighting is classic. If we were a bunch of lawyers, we could give it a name, maybe, MAS vs DHO, Mormon Stories Supreme Pizza of Appeals, 2007.

    Basically it boils down to this – A prophet, in this case Dallin Oaks [who is loved by his family probably] says something really really really crazy.

    MAS reads and hears what Oaks said, and cannot accept it at face value. MAS infers many things from the comments by Oaks. MAS is patient to see if there is some contextual explanation for the comment. MAS ultimately comes up with a conclusion that is unrelated to what Oaks said – “He is not advocating blind obedience in any way.”

    MAS is absolutely right. Oaks ‘is not advocating blind obedience in any way.’ Additionally, Oaks is not advocating subsidized cable TV, he is not advocating a 4-day work week, and he is not advocating equal rights.

    MAS is content to have explored the topic, and returned to the comfort zone. Still free to choose.

    MAS, the plaintiff, is right again. MAS can think whatever she pleases about the comments. MAS can respond however she wants. MAS can even trample all over the comments by Oaks and slander him in the Salt Lake Tribune, if she wants.

    This is, after all, the American way. We question authority and we express ourselves and everyone is better for it.

    As for Oaks. Wow. He is probably watching this too. And his kids too. And his PR director too. And everyone rushes to tell him how great he looked. That his smilerk was wonderful. That what he said was perfect and true. And there will be many in the bloggernacle, chapels, temples, newspapers and magazines that will see it. All of them will rightly tell Oaks, the leader of the Church that he was perfect on the show, even if the praise is untrue.

    I like MAS position. Take something off the shelf. Inspect it. Keep it sometimes and put it back sometimes. But more importantly, whatever it is that was taken off the shelf can be used how SHE sees fit, regardless of the manufacturers suggestions or mattress label. Once its taken down and it belongs to MAS, she can do whatever the hell she wants.

    The same freedom exists in MAS vs. DOH, MAS and everyone esle can do whatever one wants with Oaks comments. And nobody but Oaks is responsible for clarifying the context or HIS meaning on his behalf.

  40. Clay May 3, 2007 at 9:35 am

    I’m not sure what effect context can really have to change the meaning of “criticizing *leaders* is wrong, even if the criticism is true”. It kind of means only one thing, unless he was quoting someone else who he disagrees with.

    The valuable truth hidden in the statement is that it is self-destructive to spend a lot of your energy criticizing anyone. The fact that he said “leaders” is what is problematic. That implies he wasn’t teaching a general principle of wisdom, but rather setting leaders out to be worthy of more respect and special treatment than another person. The kind of criticism of leadership they are referring to would probably not be as common and probably not as public if there was more open accountability for mistakes. Probably beginning with more open acknowledgement of historical mistakes.

  41. Equality May 3, 2007 at 9:54 am

    You want context, you got it. Unfortunately, PBS has not put up the text of the whole interview from which the sound bite was taken. However, Oaks has spoken on this topic before, and I think the one-liner that was used in the program accurately sums up his view on the subject, which is that it is wrong to criticize a church leader even if the criticism is true because it will hinder their ability to function in their office. He is making a value judgment: the smooth operation of the church with leaders not hindered by criticism from their followers is of greater value to Oaks than truth and the correction of church leaders who may be in error. Here is the entire text of an article from the Ensign:

    I am persuaded that many do not understand the Church’s teachings about personal criticism, especially the criticism of Church leaders by Church members.

    I do not refer to the kind of criticism the dictionary defines as “the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.” (Random House Dictionary, unabridged ed., s.v. “criticism.”) That kind of criticism is inherent in the exercise of agency and freedom. In the political world, critical evaluation inevitably accompanies any knowledgeable exercise of the cherished freedoms of speech and of the press. In the private world, we have a right to expect critical evaluation of anything that is put into the marketplace or the public domain. Sports writers, reviewers of books and music, scholars, investment analysts, and those who test products and services must be free to exercise their critical faculties and to inform the public accordingly. This kind of criticism is usually directed toward issues, and it is usually constructive.

    My cautions against criticism refer to another of its meanings, which the dictionary defines as “the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.” (Ibid., s.v. “criticism.”) Faultfinding is “the act of pointing out faults, especially faults of a petty nature.” (Ibid., s.v. “faultfinding.”) It is related to “backbiting,” which means “to attack the character or reputation of [a person who is not present].” (Ibid., s.v. “backbite.”) This kind of criticism is generally directed toward persons, and it is generally destructive.

    I have given the following counsel to Church members—those who have committed themselves by upraised hands to sustain their church leaders:

    “Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities, general or local. Jude condemns those who ‘speak evil of dignities.’ (Jude 1:8.) Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true. As Elder George F. Richards, President of the Council of the Twelve, said in a conference address in April 1947,

    “ ‘When we say anything bad about the leaders of the Church, whether true or false, we tend to impair their influence and their usefulness and are thus working against the Lord and his cause.’ (In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p. 24.)” (Address to Church Educational System teachers, Aug. 16, 1985.)

    There is nothing new about this counsel. Even though King Saul sought to kill him, David would not allow his companion to strike the king, saying, “for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless?” (1 Sam. 26:9.) The prophet Isaiah denounced those who “make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate” (Isa. 29:21; see also 2 Ne. 27:32.) (Those who reproved in the gate in Isaiah’s time were the religious leaders.) This modern revelation from the Doctrine and Covenants is to the same effect:

    “Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.” (D&C 121:16.)

    The counsel against speaking evil of Church leaders is not so much for the benefit of the leaders as it is for the spiritual well-being of members who are prone to murmur and find fault. The Church leaders I know are durable people. They made their way successfully in a world of unrestrained criticism before they received their current callings. They have no personal need for protection; they seek no personal immunities from criticism—constructive or destructive. They only seek to declare what they understand to be the word of the Lord to his people.

    President David O. McKay said this about what he called “murmurers” and “faultfinders”:

    “ ‘Speak not against the authorities.’ What does it mean? Be not a murmurer; that is what it means. It is one of the most poisonous things that can be introduced into the home of a Latter-day Saint—this murmuring against presidents of stakes, high councilors, Sunday School superintendents, etc. …

    “Better stop murmuring and build. Remember that one of the worst means of tearing down an individual is slander. It is one of the most poisonous weapons that the evil one uses. Backbiting and evil speaking throw us into the class of malefactors rather than the class of benefactors.” (Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 142-43.)

    President McKay’s teaching against speaking evil of others is a principle of Christian behavior that applies to all people. But his companion counsel against “murmuring” is a teaching that applies uniquely to Church members and Church leaders.

    Government or corporate officials, who are elected directly or indirectly or appointed by majority vote, must expect that their performance will be subject to critical and public evaluations by their constituents. That is part of the process of informing those who have the right and power of selection or removal. The same is true of popularly elected officers in professional, community, and other private organizations. I suppose that the same is true even of church leaders who are selected by popular vote of members or their representative bodies. Consistent with gospel standards, these evaluations—though critical and public—should be constructive.

    A different principle applies in our Church, where the selection of leaders is based on revelation, subject to the sustaining vote of the membership. In our system of Church government, evil speaking and criticism of leaders by members is always negative. Whether the criticism is true or not, as Elder George F. Richards explained, it tends to impair the leaders’ influence and usefulness, thus working against the Lord and his cause. (In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p. 24, quoted above.)

    The prophet Moses expressed another reason we should refrain from criticizing Church leaders. On one occasion, the whole congregation of the children of Israel became dissatisfied and “murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.” (Ex. 16:2.)

    “What are we, that ye murmur against us?” Moses asked them. “The Lord heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord.” (Ex. 16:7-8.) Similarly, when the children of Israel ignored the prophet Samuel’s inspired warnings and begged him to appoint a king to rule over them, the Lord directed him to do as they asked, explaining: “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me.” (1 Sam. 8:7.)

    In these two instances, the Bible teaches that rejection of or murmuring against the counsel of the Lord’s servants amounts to actions against the Lord himself. How could it be otherwise? The Lord acts through his servants. That is the pattern he has established to safeguard our agency in mortality. His servants are not perfect, which is another consequence of mortality. But if we murmur against the Lord’s servants, we are working against the Lord and his cause and will soon find ourselves without the companionship of his Spirit.

    So what do we do when we feel that our Relief Society president or our bishop or another authority is transgressing or pursuing a policy of which we disapprove? Is there no remedy? Are our critics correct when they charge that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are “sheep” without remedy against the whims of a heedless or even an evil shepherd?

    There are remedies, but they are not the same remedies or procedures that are used with leaders in other organizations.

    Our Father in Heaven has not compelled us to think the same way on every subject or procedure. As we seek to accomplish our life’s purposes, we will inevitably have differences with those around us—including some of those we sustain as our leaders. The question is not whether we have such differences, but how we manage them. What the Lord has said on another subject is also true of the management of differences with his leaders: “It must needs be done in mine own way.” (D&C 104:16.) We should conduct ourselves in such a way that our thoughts and actions do not cause us to lose the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord.

    The first principle in the gospel procedure for managing differences is to keep our personal differences private. In this we have worthy examples to follow. Every student of Church history knows that there have been differences of opinion among Church leaders since the Church was organized. Each of us has experienced such differences in our work in auxiliaries, quorums, wards, stakes, and missions of the Church. We know that such differences are discussed, but not in public. Counselors acquiesce in the decisions of their president. Teachers follow the direction of their presidency. Members are loyal to the counsel of their bishop. All of this is done quietly and loyally—even by members who would have done differently if they had been in the position of authority.

    Why aren’t these differences discussed in public? Public debate—the means of resolving differences in a democratic government—is not appropriate in our Church government. We are all subject to the authority of the called and sustained servants of the Lord. They and we are all governed by the direction of the Spirit of the Lord, and that Spirit only functions in an atmosphere of unity. That is why personal differences about Church doctrine or procedure need to be worked out privately. There is nothing inappropriate about private communications concerning such differences, provided they are carried on in a spirit of love.

    There are at least five different procedures a Church member can follow in addressing differences with Church leaders—general or local, male or female.

    The first—and most benign—of the procedures is to overlook the difference. President Brigham Young described his own application of this method in a circumstance in which he felt “a want of confidence” in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s financial management. After entertaining such thoughts for a short time, President Young saw that they could cause him to lose confidence in the Prophet and ultimately to question God as well. President Young concluded:

    “Though I admitted in my feelings and knew all the time that Joseph was a human being and subject to err, still it was none of my business to look after his faults. … He was called of God; God dictated him, and if He had a mind to leave him to himself and let him commit an error, that was no business of mine. … He was God’s servant, and not mine.” (Journal of Discourses, 4:297.)

    Elder Lorenzo Snow also observed some “imperfections” in Joseph Smith, but he also reached a positive conclusion about the Prophet:

    “I thanked God that He would put upon a man who had those imperfections the power and authority He placed upon him … for I knew that I myself had weakness, and I thought there was a chance for me.” (Quoted by Elder Neal A. Maxwell in Ensign, Nov. 1984, p. 10.)

    A second option is to reserve judgment and postpone any action on the difference. In many instances, the actions we are tempted to criticize may be based on confidences that preclude the leader from explaining his or her actions publicly. In such instances there is wisdom in a strategy of patience and trust.

    The third procedure, which should be familiar to every student of the Bible, is to take up our differences privately with the leader involved. The Savior taught: “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” (Matt. 18:15.)

    This course of action may be pursued in a private meeting, if possible, or it may be done through a letter or other indirect communication. How many differences could be resolved if we would only communicate privately about them! Some would disappear as they were identified as mere misunderstandings. Others would be postponed with an agreement to disagree for the present. But in many instances, private communications about differences would remove obstacles to individual growth and correction.

    A fourth option is to communicate with the Church officer who has the power to correct or release the person thought to be in error or transgression. The Bible calls this “tell[ing] it unto the church.” (Matt. 18:17.) Modern scripture, in the revelation we call “the law of the Church,” describes this procedure:

    “And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world.” (D&C 42:89.)

    Note the caution that this remedy is to be private—“not before the world.” This is not done in order to hide the facts, but rather to increase the chance that the correction will improve the life of a brother or sister.

    President John Taylor described these last two remedies when he taught how we should sustain a leader:

    “But supposing he should … be found lying or cheating, or defrauding somebody; or stealing or anything else, or even become impure in his habits, would you still sustain him? It would be my duty then to talk with him as I would with anybody else, and tell him that I had understood that things were thus and so, and that under these circumstances I could not sustain him; and if I found that I had been misinformed I would withdraw the charge; but if not it would then be my duty to see that justice was administered to him, that he was brought before the proper tribunal to answer for the things he had done; and in the absence of that I would have no business to talk about him.” (Journal of Discourses, 21:207-8.)

    There is a fifth remedy. We can pray for the resolution of the problem. We should pray for the leader whom we think to be in error, asking the Lord to correct the circumstance if it needs correction. At the same time, we should pray for ourselves, asking the Lord to correct us if we are in error.

    A person who approaches a difference with a Church leader by praying about it keeps himself or herself in tune with the Spirit of the Lord. That person also goes directly to the One who can resolve the problem. It may be resolved by inspiration to the leader or by communication of added understanding, strength, or patience to the person who prays.

    All five of these are appropriate options for Church members who differ with their leaders. The preferred course depends upon the circumstances and the inspiration that guides those who prayerfully seek.

    By following these procedures, Church members can work for correction of a leader or for change of a policy. Members who do so in the correct spirit will not grieve the Spirit of the Lord. They will not alienate themselves from their leaders or their brothers and sisters in the Church.

    Despite the commandments and counsel I have reviewed, we have some members who persistently and publicly criticize Church leaders. What about them?

    Throughout our history we have had members who have criticized the Church and its leaders. Church disciplinary action against such members has been rare or nonexistent. Persistent, public critics punish themselves. By deliberately separating themselves from those who have been called as their leaders, critics forfeit the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord. They drift from prayer, from the scriptures, from Church activity, and from keeping the commandments. They inevitably lose spirituality and blessings. As the prophet Nephi observed, those who succumb to pride and “works of darkness” are on the way to spiritual destruction, “for the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man.” (2 Ne. 26:10-11.)

    Another consequence of the divine warning against criticizing Church leaders is addressed to those leaders themselves. It stresses their special responsibility in the exercise of their authority. In contrast to government and corporate officers, who can often be high-handed and authoritarian in the use of their powers, Church leaders have strict limits on the way they can exercise their authority. The Lord has directed that the powers of heaven can be exercised only “upon the principles of righteousness” (D&C 121:36)—that is, “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41). And this command is enforced:

    “When we undertake to … gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.” (D&C 121:37.)

    Just as our Church leaders’ source of authority is different from that of government and corporate leaders, so are the procedures for correcting Church leaders different from those used to correct leaders chosen by popular election. But the differences are appropriate to the way in which our Church leaders are called and released. By following approved procedures, we can keep from alienating ourselves from the Spirit of the Lord.

    This counsel will be anathema to some. I invite those who are troubled by it to consider it in terms of the teachings of the scriptures rather than in terms of their personal preferences or the canons of any particular profession. Those who reject the authority of the scriptures or our latter-day prophets cannot be expected to agree with what I have said. Those who see freedom or truth as absolutely overriding principles in all human actions cannot be expected to be persuaded by the scriptures’ teaching that “knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” (1 Cor. 8:1.)

    Those who govern their thoughts and actions solely by the principles of liberalism or conservatism or intellectualism cannot be expected to agree with all of the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As for me, I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism—but I find no salvation in any of them.

    The role of a preacher or a practitioner of righteousness is not to be popular with the world or to be esteemed by any particular group, but to be right with God. Isaiah affirmed that fact when he condemned the rebellious “which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits.” (Isa. 30:10.) It is easy to preach freedom or truth. Praise for those subjects is usually safe and always popular. It is infinitely more difficult to preach how men and women should use freedom or truth. The preacher of that message may command respect, but he or she will not win popularity.

    I conclude with a message of hope. When Isaiah condemned the critics of his day, he concluded with a prophecy. He said that in time the children of God would sanctify his name and “fear the God of Israel.” Continuing, he declared, “They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.” (Isa. 29:23-24.) In that spirit I pray for the day when all of us will know God and keep his commandments. In that day, as Isaiah foretold, the “king shall reign in righteousness,” and “the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.” (Isa. 32:1, 17.)
    Dallin H. Oaks, “Criticism,” Ensign, Feb. 1987, 68

  42. Me May 3, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    One possible context I haven’t seen mentioned is that Elder Oaks was speaking of “publicly” criticizing: taking your views to the press or to the Sunday school class, being vocal about it instead of following the directive given by Christ himself:

    “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

    “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

    “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:15-17).

    Once an issue has been raised privately and then attempted with more witnesses in private a second time, then take it to the leadership of the Church, which would also be in private if done properly (that’s what I take Christ to mean by “the church”). If the problem is with a leader, go above him if he won’t hear you in private; but there has to be a stopping point at which we cease trying to impose our view or our hurt, a point at which we realize that redress may only come later and from God Himself.

    I don’t think Christ meant to take complaints and protests to the sidewalk in front of a temple or stake center or the chapel during Sacrament meeting or Sunday school and pursue them until someone caves or you feel justice has been fully served. I think the underlying idea is to avoid accusation and improper or ill-informed judgment and contention, not only in public but in one’s heart.

    I think this is good advice in any situation in which conflict may arise: deal privately, in love, meekly, and don’t allow a spirit of biterness, criticism or conflict to arise in your lives. I strive for that in all of my interactions and thoughts about others.

    Back to Elder Oaks, I have a feeling that a prolonged private conversation might reveal more nuance to his words. I’m fairly certain he has felt critical of leaders, either those under his stewardship now or those who were once above him, but that he probably kept and does keep it a private matter. He certainly thinks it’s okay to criticize some leaders publicly under certain situations (i.e., John D. Lee et al.).

  43. DP May 3, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    In my opinion, this was a high quality, balanced, and informative documentary. It’s been interested to read some blistering attacks from admitted active Mormons on the PBS discussion board. Some argue that it wasn’t critical enough. I find the best documentaries irritate the extremes of both sides.

    Two things, however, I wished they would have included to help better inform the discussion.

    First, addressing the question of whether or not Mormons are Christians. There’s a long discussion on the PBS website, but I don’t recall seeing this addressed at all in the documentary itself. Maybe it was during several intermittent dirty diaper episodes. :-)

    Second, when discussing the role of women in the church, it would have been very helpful to discuss the Relief Society as it plays no small part in defining (and reinforcing) the role of women. The ommission seems all the more glaring considering the sheer number of members.

    I think this documentary will be helpful to the church in that it addresses some its more embarrassing past in a calm, thoughtful (almost sympathetic) manner.

  44. Trevor May 3, 2007 at 8:27 pm

    I think that Oaks was clearly speaking of public criticism, but that ‘public’ isn’t just the public at large (i.e. non-Mormon world), but the public of your ward, the public of your fellow Mormons, and probably even the public of your family. After all, what really matters is how other Mormons react to you, and whether they decide to take it up with your local leaders, and then what your local leaders decide to do with it. The only thing that is truly safe is to keep the matter of your concern or disagreement to yourself.

    As for taking up such matters with people privately–sounds nice in theory, I suppose, but in the end the response on many matters is “it is for you to humble yourself, fall in line, and obey; we are prophets of God; you are not.” And that is usually given to you, these days, by your local leaders on behalf of the general leadership, because, and I do not say this in a ‘critical’ spirit, they really have no time for your personal concerns.

    So, of what value is it to limit sharing your concerns privately in accordance with scriptural mandates. In a society as large, complex, and paternalistic as the LDS Church, it just doesn’t help that much.

  45. MAS May 3, 2007 at 11:02 pm

    Equality: Thanks for the context. It supports my point, but once again, you and ME will read it differently than I did…

    ME: Christ often spoke things that when taken at face value were highly offensive and preposterous to many people. And I’m not a she…

  46. Mayan Elephant May 4, 2007 at 2:08 am

    MAS, sorry bout the She. I have been called a lesbian on these board so I understand that some people can use the wrong pronouns and labels, including me.

    This debate about whether he meant ‘public’ criticism is useless. If he meant public criticism, he would have said it. He is a lawyer and knows the meaning and value of words. He picked his words carefully, there is no need to insert more words for him.

    Again, if there needs to be an apology or explanation – HE CAN DO IT. Nobody is keeping him from issuing a clarification. I am sure he has seen the program by now. Let his silence confirm his pleasure with the message.

  47. adcama May 4, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    The lds.org web site has some additional comments I thought interesting:




    “The doctrinal tenets of any religion are best understood within a broad context (see here and here), and thoughtful analysis is required to understand them.”

    Hmmm….? I can only speculate as to what that means.

  48. Wyoming May 5, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    Very good thread. I was surprised by the comment regarding archeology and the Book of Mormon. I work extensively with Alaska Native groups and run across traditional stories or figures that parallel Christ’s visit to America. For example, one SE Alaska Native convert said that they have a tradition where hunters on the coastal island saw a bright star many years ago. An angelic being appeared to them indicating that a significant child had been born in a foreign land and this star was a sign of his birth.

    Also, a comment on Mary Toscano. I specialize in the study of victimhood. No one can play the victim as well as the intellectual. Her articulate description of the ‘violence’ brought upon them by church discipline was truly convincing.

  49. John Hamer May 6, 2007 at 7:51 am

    Wyoming —

    I hope you understand that the reason those native converts have obviously Christian-influenced traditions is that their culture has been in contact with Christianity (in the form of Europeans and European Americans) for centuries. These sorts of Christian folk memories do not pre-date contact; they are the result of contact.

  50. GDTeacher May 6, 2007 at 9:09 am

    Quoting Equality

    “The program was good, and based upon what I have seen on Frontline, it could have been much, much, worse” I agree, Chris. Though I would word it slightly differently:

    “The program was good, and based on what I know about church history, doctrine, practice, and culture, it could have been much, much worse.”

    That was my take. There were several places where I thought, they were treating the church with kid gloves and they could have said a lot more that would have given greater clarity and accuracy to the event(s) being discussed. In the segment on Missouri persecutions, they could have talked about the Blue River Battle or Sidney Rigdon’s July 4 address, later printed by Joseph Smith, in which he used the “extermination” language, in reference to the Missourians.

    I was very happy overall with the documentary. I was watching it with my BYU-Idaho attending teen daughter. I asked her what she thought about the balance. She said she thought it was largely pro-Mormon, but that the things that weren’t were just plain objective reporting.

  51. Mayan Elephant May 6, 2007 at 10:11 am

    from lds.org:

    “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. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted. ”

    holy crap. can anyone point me to anything that has ever been published by the church that resembles this message?

    and more, can anyone show me in the scriptures where it says we cannot pray to heavenly mother, that lesbians cannot marry, that homosexuals should not have all the rights of heterosexuals, that women must be 21 to go on a mission and men need to only be 19, that earrings are the devils jewelry, that tattoos are the devils art, that white shirts are cool, etc.

    and this killed me dead:

    “Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of Church doctrine. Moreover, the Church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together. ”

    Can someone check the hospital admittance records throughout Salt Lake City? I think Boyd Packer was in a coma when this was written, or, he has since been admitted with heart failure.


    I dont disagree with most of what is said in this press release. I simply find it shocking that it came this week in response to such a flood of media and web 2.0 commentary. I like the change. It would be nice if the same comments were made by the leaders, officially, and not just by otterson.

  52. Luke May 6, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    I don’t have the sources to show it, but nothing you quoted in that press release, Mayan Elephant, is new to me. I’ve heard leaders on the ward and stake level say pretty much the same thing, have heard it in seminary, and in the mission field.

    I’m sure that Boyd Packer is fine.

    As for your “can anyone show me” challenge, that prayer should be directed to God (the father) isn’t hard, that marriage is between a man and a woman isn’t either. Missionary age requirements aren’t doctrine – they’ve changed often. And tattoos and earings are pretty easy extensions of “body is a temple” doctrine.

    Certainly, some of the prohibitions you ask for aren’t so explicitly stated in the terms you ask for, but I think that expecting such from scripture is a bit of a stretch. Explicitly prohibiting every possible permutation of sin (or the like) would constitute potentially an infinite number of volumes.

    I don’t think there is so much to get worked up about.

  53. Mayan Elephant May 6, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    Note to self: when commenting about earings, poker, tattoos or the devil, remember to add :) or this :( or this ;)

    Obviously, all those things are not going away. But, maybe just maybe a few people in leadership and those less comfortable with all the harsher dogma will all be able to lighten up if it becomes more acceptable to not try and obey every little opinion/idea of those importantish guys. Long live the Jack Mormons. (Can we say that here? After all, it is just the Baby Boomer Generations term for ‘New Order Mormons with free time on Sunday.’)

  54. Clay May 7, 2007 at 12:22 am

    The Family Proclamation probably qualifies as “scripture” as defined in that press release. If there is nothing clear enough in the standard scriptures about the gay marriage issue then that would cover it on defining official LDS doctrine.

  55. Ricercar May 7, 2007 at 7:55 am

    Mayan Elephant’s post #51, I wonder if anyone else noticed the self-referential aspect of the ‘policy on doctrine’.

    According to the text of the policy, the policy on doctrine is not, in and of itself, doctrinal. Therefore, we now have a non-doctrinal definition of doctrine in the church. Orwell would be proud of this (I am sure it is unintentional) bit of double-speak.

    I wonder what has happened to the concept of common consent re: doctrine. I would not sustain the proclamation on the Family as doctrine because it is ultra vires the spiritual mandate of the church, IMO.

  56. john f. May 7, 2007 at 10:34 am

    It’s not really double-speak Ricercar. What I see in your comment (and Kaimi’s identical post at T&S) is a difficult catch-22 bind for the Church. Critics demand this sort of statement but when it happens, it is derided as not enough or laughed at as “not doctrine”, etc. I think that is unfortunate. My thought would have been that people would be extremely grateful for this clarification of posture. I was extraordinarily surprised by Kaimi’s T&S post and by your comment here.

  57. Mayan Elephant May 7, 2007 at 11:02 am

    john f.,


    could it be that you and i agree? no. no. no. say it isnt so, joe dimagio.

    Though, I can’t help but wonder what if we consider the same things as ‘unfortunate?’

    The clarification of doctrine, and the admission that comments from individuals, when not canonized, are to be considered opinions of that person and not something to which the entire church membership is held is amazingly uplifting to me.

    I have left this church and have no intention of returning without some significant changes. However, I cant help myself from feeling enormous relief and optimism as I read that press release.

    I hope this comment is not only embraced by millions, i also hope hope hope, sincerely, that it is endorsed in all the standard venues of the Church, including General Conference, the Ensign, Correlated Manuals and future press releases.

    John Dehlin has a right to rejoice in this press release. He has shown amazing perseverance and has done so privately and publicly. I am lucky to have met him a few times and seen, in person, that his love for this church, its history, its members and curiously, its leaders, is sincere.

  58. Trey May 8, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    The gay Mormon man from Alpine is a very close friend of ours, Trevor Southey. He’s a great and amazingly spiritual artist and the Church lost a lot the day he was excommunicated.

    and about the press release, I too wish to see that diseminated more fully. I think a lot of members would learn some things from it.

  59. Kerby May 9, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    What is so frustrating is that they portray the history of the Mormon church, convienetly they leave out everything that historically accurate. As far as polygamy or anything else that would cause a problem.

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