Wednesday, April 7, 2010

History Is Messy and Rarely Fits Extremes

A friend of mine said once:

"I think we would be able to talk much more effectively with those outside of our faith if we embraced, and learned, our history in its entire complexity."

I agree with this fully, but I see too many members who gravitate to either extreme in their conclusions. For example, to focus on two controversial topics, it tends to be either:

1) Polygamy and the priesthood ban (and every other historical practice) are ordained directly of God and practiced exactly as He commanded; or

2) Each of them was not God's will and we need to apologize for them.

Personally, I think that the more we "embrace and learn our history" the more we realize it usually isn't either extreme - that it is a combination of divine instruction and human application that gets messy just like our own lives - that it is consistent with the overall view we have of God's interactions with His children throughout history. It's never been clean and pristine; it's always been messy - specifically because it involved us, and we're a mess.

I can't "apologize" for what others did. I can, however, explain honestly and openly my reasoning if I think they were wrong - and why.

For example, in the case of "plural marriage", I have no general problems with the practice as a whole in that time, as I see it as a temporary exception as allowed in Jacob 2 and as an attempt to figure out and "mortalize" our possible relationships in the here-after - and I can think of very good reasons for the way the early saints (including the leaders) struggled to find "the one true way" to practive plural marriage. (Sorry, no more here, since this post isn't intended as a treatise on polygamy.) However, there are aspects of the final form found in "polygamy" once the Church moved to Utah that I don't understand and accept fully - espeically when it comes to some of the reasoning put forth as explanations for it. For the priesthood ban, I have no justification, as I think it was based on the racism of the time and was allowed only because God honors agency even as He weeps over its exercise. Both of these examples, however, are only my own attempts to understand - and are constructed through years of searching, pondering, prayer and conversation with others.

In the end, history really is messy - and rarely easy to characterize properly. I try to see people as charitably as possible, even as I am honest in explaining how I personally view their actions.


Anonymous said...

Useful comment,Ray.over Easter my less active daughter raised these issues.I was able to be non defensive and inclusive in our conversation,I hope it helped her thinking.but for sure it would not have helped if i had been in a place where i thought I had to know the answers.I've only ever heard the stories of those who suffered through those times,and never come across a success story that was not defensive.I'd love to hear a family history from those who's memories of polygamy were fond.Fond memories of the priesthood ban?Those I don't want to hear.

Jami said...

I agree wholeheartedly. And I think it's funny that your friend's quote is in a gray font mainly because I gravitate towards black and white thinking myself and have found gray to be an exceptionally difficult color to accept.