Friday, July 1, 2011

Concealing vs. Choosing: Applying Mormon's Standard to the Mormon Church

Some people accuse the Church of concealing or even hiding certain aspects of its history. Sometimes they point to our scriptures as an example of how even embarrassing and controversial things should be included in any records of religious history. I just don't buy it.

For example, how in the world can we assert that Nephi, Mormon and Moroni included all potentially embarrassing or problematic historical facts in the Book of Mormon? No matter how we view it, Mormon probably viewed the headless Laban as a good thing, but it was Nephi who included the story - and, in many ways, he was the most introspective and open of all the prophets. I don't see much "critical introspection" on the personal level from the other prophets; usually, they were too busy pointing out the sins and failures (and successes) of the people. They were chronicling the broad effects of societal trends and communal faithfulness, so rarely do we get a glimpse of the individual weaknesses of the prophets. In fact, from Jacob to Mosiah we get almost no look at the entire civilization - essentially just, "I'm not a prophet like Nephi was," "I know of no other prophecies," and "We fought a lot and killed Lamanites." I'm 100% positive that the Book of Mormon could have looked much more like the D&C and our church histories than it does if Mormon had felt like compiling a "nuanced abridgment" instead of an inspirational tool to bring souls to Christ. To use him as an example of "not concealing" just isn't defensible, imo.

After all, he continually stated that not one-hundredth part of what was available was included in his final record. If that is the case, he simply had to have chosen what to include - meaning he chose what to "conceal" (or not disclose). It is exactly this dilemma that faces the Church every time it publishes a manual of any kind.

One of the biggest problems with many members' perception of the modern church's warts is that they don't have an ancient record that details many of the ancient warts - except the Old Testament, and it gets ignored far too much. Ironically, and directly opposed to the view of institutional concealment, the D&C is packed full of chastisements and recorded failures and weaknesses and humanity at its most basic and natural. It is our modern Old Testament - chronicling a time full of warts and wars and grandiose pronouncements and hellfire and damnation and all the stuff that makes the Old Testament such a blast to read.

We don't accuse modern Christians of "concealing" the Old Testament simply because many of them don't read or teach it - or, in some cases, even bother including it with the New Testment in the versions of the Bible that they use regularly; we understand they simply prioritize the New Testament (and generally the Pauline Epistles) to the exclusion of the Old Testament - that they just don't see it as important enough to spend time studying. As a lover of history, I disagree with that approach; however, I don't assign nefarious motivations to those who ignore the messy stuff to focus on the simple and inspirational when they really believe the simple and inspirational - especially in an organization that is being accused of concealment specifically because it has done such a good job of publishing and preserving the messy stuff.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Good post. I think the issue is largely a reflection of the fact that current LDS culture and theology does not emphasize the sinfulness and weaknesses of human nature. We don't allow ourselves to admit we are sinners. We expect our youth to measure up to a perfect standard of obedience and, once they fail, which they will, they cannot allow themselves to be accepting of their imperfections. They end up leaving the church over such small things when placed in the context of Eternity.

If we are to accept the warts in the scriptures, we need to accept the sinfulness of our current selves. We need bear our testimonies of our sinful natures and testify to the power of the Atonement in overcoming that sinfulness. However, that will never happen as our culture stresses outward appearances over inward discipleship.