Kokaubeam voices

Friday, May 16, 2008

Church Handbook of Gotchas

This week, the Church has issued a copyright infringement claim against Wikinews, a news site supported by WikiMedia, referencing a link to a copy of the Church Handbook of Instructions. I'm sure you all heard this. In short order there was much discussion of whether the publication of the CHI was legal or moral or whether rank and file members should have access to the document. Before I move on the the meat, allow me to note in passing that the church seems to think that it has a right to claim copyright infringement by one organization because it references a publication of another independent organization. The fact that these organizations have similar names but are independent and that URLs are little more than a convenient form of bibliography does not seem to be pertinent to church lawyers. They are boldly moving ahead by threatening the wrong organization for a piece of HTML that doesn't copy any church material. They also seem to be unaware that they dropped a similar lawsuit against the Utah Lighthouse Ministry just a few years ago.

But, to get back on track.

What is it that is contained in the CHI that the church does not want published? Is there something in there that is sensational? Damning? Embarrassing? Probably. The defenders of the church would have you believe that it is simply an administrative manual that explains how paperwork should be filled out and handled. And that is true. But it is also a document that has the force of law in matters of personal salvation. Am I exaggerating? Not really.

There are two things that can raise a policy to the level of law. One would be if a person is required to follow this policy, directly or indirectly, in order to receive exhalation. The other would be if a person can be disciplined or excommunicated for running counter to a policy. Do such rule making clauses exist in the CHI? Of course they do. I'm sure you can guess the answer. Let's take a look at just two of these.

A member who has undergone an elective transsexual operation may not receive a temple recommend.

Artificial insemination of single sisters is not approved. Single sisters who deliberately refuse to follow the counsel of their Church leaders in this matter are subject to Church discipline. [emphasis added]
Admittedly, these are extreme cases. I use them here as illustrations. But one naturally wonders what other policies and requirement are hidden in the CHI. Here are a few, most of them direct quotations.

Women's pants are not permitted in the temple.

Civil marriage ceremonies should be simple, conservative, and in harmony with the sacredness
of the marriage covenants. There should be no extravagance in decorations or pomp in the
proceedings. Video recorders and cameras may not be used in the chapel.

A husband and wife who were married outside a temple may be sealed after one full year from the time of the civil marriage. However, this one-year waiting period does not apply to worthy couples in the following cases:
3. An unchaperoned couple's travel to a temple will require one or more overnight stops because of distance.

Worship services for members in prisons, hospitals, and other institutions may be simplified [...] Services usually follow the same format as sacrament meeting except that the sacrament is not administered to inmates in prisons.

The bishop may perform civil marriages where legally authorized by local government authority. He may not assign this to a counselor.

No priesthood officer is to counsel a person whom to marry. Nor should he counsel a person to divorce his or her spouse. [One wonders why it is necessary to put this rule in a church handbook]

The CHI also contains instructions on the requirements and form of blessings. In fact, "Priesthood leaders should not produce or use publications that give instructions for ordinances, blessings, or prayers."

If the member has received other ordinances after having received an invalid ordinance, they must be ratified by the First Presidency to be valid.

A married person is not baptized without the consent of his or her spouse.

Church members should not compare [Patriarchal] blessings and should not share them except with close family members.

If a person has participated in homosexual acts during or after the last three teenage years, he or she will not be considered for full-time missionary service unless the bishop and stake president see strong evidence of lasting repentance and reformation.

FormalChurch discipline may be necessary for members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, for arrange for abortions. However, Church discipline should not be considered for members who were involved in an abortion before they were baptized or because (1) the pregnancy resulted from forcible rape or incest, (2) the life or health of the mother was in jeopardy, or (3) the fetus was known to have severe defects that would not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.

The list could go on for pages. What some might consider shocking, others would find curious. But most curious is the fact that there is so much information about how a member is expected to live that is only available in this book. Why would the leaders of the church withhold information on how members should conduct their affairs? Why would they specifically proscribe publishing something as simple, useful and ubiquitous as the form of a blessing on a child or on the sick? Are these instructions contained in the Standard Works? In the Ensign?

Why is the church playing 'Gotcha' with essential prayers and ordinances?

Monday, October 29, 2007

The D's of Mormon Apologetics

A recent discussion on a post mormon discussion board touched on the question of the possibility, or likely impossibly of steel swords in the new world in Book of Mormon times. The question was brought up "Is this a 'gotcha' in the mormon debate?" I responded that it was not, because mormon apologists, or mopologists, have a small, but well used arsenal of responses. Many of my exmormon friends thought that the list was a fresh and concise perspective on the debate, so I have recorded the apologists arsenal below. (I've added a couple responses and expanded a bit.)

Apologists use any or all of their standard response classes.

  • Deny: "It doesn't say that. The brotheren have not taught that. It's not doctrinal."
  • Dispute "Steel swords aren't that hard to make. Anybody with a fire and iron ore can make them. Heck, my mother makes them on weekends."
  • Define: "Steel in this context means iron. Or bronze. Or obsidian, or a club"
  • Discount: "The Book of Mormon isn't about swords or horses or cureloms or cumoms or water-tight barges or endless wars. It is a second witness of Christ."
  • Discover: "We found some metal somewhere in Central America. That proves that steel was common in the new world amongst Nephites."
  • Deflect: "We've been over this question a thousand times. Please read my 100 page paper that is distantly related to the topic."
  • Deride: "I can't believe how stupid you anti-mormons are. Answering you would be casting pearls before swine"
and usually
  • Deplore: "It's so sad that you've lost your testimony and are going to hell. "
  • Defer: "God has not chosen to reveal this knowledge to us. It will all make sense later, when we join him in the Celestial Kingdom."
Now when you have read these things I would exhort you to keep them in your heart, so that the next time a mormon argues, you can play along and see how many of the 7 + 2 D's of apologetics they can use in one response. Personally, I have been greatly amused by comparing the list to the answers I have heard recently.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Changing World of Mormon Doctrine

The recent discussion of this press release is still on my mind today. In one of the other threads Equality was making an ironic jab at it, to support Mitt Romney's distancing himself from polygamy. I've blogged about this before, so it's obviously an aspect of Mormanity that bothers me, but let me try to approach it differently.

I see a couple of problems with the statement. First is this vaguely bologna-flavored standard. You may recall that this was where I left off on my last post.
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.
Except when that single statement was made by Joseph Smith and canonized by decree. It seems Joseph was a better prophet than the current crop. The current occupants of the 15 cushy seats at the Conference Center seem to need to discuss revelations, come to consensus, speak uniformly a few times, THEN have it canonized, and THEN it's doctrine. Which leads me to my second problem.

If everything that is canonized is doctrine, and everything that isn't is not, then I am left with a great deal of confusion about how I should construct my life. A handful of things that are in the scriptures are not practiced any more. Polygamy comes to mind. Our current practice of the Word of Wisdom as well. By the same logic, there are a great number of practices that have the weight of doctrine that are not found in the scriptures, or at best given a passing reference. Include in this list every single word of all of the temple ordinances.

So here is where the rubber meets the road. Even given the huge amount of wiggle room in the recent press release, it seems that there are still a few uniquely Mormon 'doctrines' that need to be either canonized, or dropped.

I think I'll stop wearing my garments now. I can't find a scripture that mentions them and I even used google. I think I will start wearing an earing again too.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What is Doctrine?

I hate to engage in absolutes (when a nice relative statement will do), but I think I can safely say that the aspect of Mormonism that most frustrates me is the inability to nail down any particular teaching or doctrine. In fact, even the things that are clearly and uniquely Mormon, say polygamy or the Word of Wisdom, change status and boundaries all the time. There are probably hundreds or perhaps dozens of examples, depending on your definitions. Let’s take an example.

Joseph started practicing polygamy in 1838 (or was it 1833? It’s so hard to tell.), revealed it as doctrine in 1843, Brigham spread the fun to about 20% of the boys in the club. John Taylor said it was so important that it would never be taken from the earth. Less than 10 years later, under new management, Wilford Woodruff changes his mind and does just that. For the next 70 years or so the church proudly teaches that it’s a principle that will come back someday. Then when ‘correlation’ became the fashion, they swept it under the rug, with the rest of the uncomfortable and confusing doctrine. Today, when the church produces lesson material about the life of Brigham Young, they not only fail to mention polygamy, they even go so far as to edit any reference to multiple wives out of his words.

Another quick example. Every president of the church up to Gordon B. Hinckley has said that worthy members can become Gods of their own worlds when they die. So isn’t it interesting that Hinckley now denies that this is doctrine, and you cannot find it in the lesson manuals.

Now to the dilemma. When you ask a devout Mormon about any particular lost doctrine, they will claim that it was never a doctrine of the church. They will say that it is nothing more than a rumor or a tradition. That it was never taught. That it was taught, but not by a prophet. Or if you really pin them down, as in the case of the ridiculous pronouncements of Brigham Young or Orson Pratt that appear in the Journal of Discourses, they will say “It was never canonized, so it doesn’t count”.

As I contemplate this more, I realize this could easily be 3 or 4 blog posts, so I will stop here and get this one posted. As a parting thought, consider the last excuse. “It’s only doctrine if it is canonized, and if the body of the church sustains it in General Conference”. I will grant you that I was never a church scholar, but I can think of only a single doctrine that was accepted in this manner. That being the Official Declaration 2. Did I miss something?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Church of Scientology vs. Mormons

I read an article recently on whether Tom Cruise could rehabilitate his image and career after so vocally espousing his silly religion. It got me to thinking about how silly it all is.

Consider the following:

Scientology excersizes control over initmate aspects of members lives. For example, demanding silence during birthing. Mormons tell members what kind of underwear to wear, and how to make love.

Scientologists believe that drugs are bad, regardless of medical evidence to the contrary. Mormons believe that green tea and wine are bad, regardless of medical evidence to the contrary.

Scientologists expect you to give increasing amounts of money to the Church, in order to learn more and grow. Mormons expect you to give 10% of all your income to the church, in order to get to heaven.

Scientologists have a book of scripture, that is repetitive and useless to anyone but members. Mormons have a book of scripture that is not only repetitive, but poorly written and useless to anyone but members.

Scientologists cover up all of their financial dealings. Mormons, same thing.
Scientologists have yachts that they claim are essential parts of the religion, yet most members have never been aboard. Mormons have temples.

Scientology was founded by a megalomaniac drug adict. Mormonism was founded by a megalomaniac sex addict. Scientology's second leader was vengeful despot who tried to silence critics by threatening and killing them. Mormonism's second leader was Brigham Young.

Scientologists are taking over downtown Clearwater Fl. Mormons are taking over downtown Salt Lake City.

Scientologists love to parade their celebrity members, and make concessions to the rules for them. Mormons... Same thing.

Scientologists expel member critics and sue non members. Mormons excommunicate members who question policy. They sue the Tanners for publishing their policy manual.

Suddenly I'm not sure which religion is which. I remember one of them was founded by a chain smoker who's grave no one can find, and one of them was founded by a serial pederast who's death no one can agree on...

Not to sound cliche, but how did I ever believe all that?

Monday, October 09, 2006

In Memorium, Jerald Tanner

Jerald Tanner

How could this man be such a threat to the church? He was a quiet man. Gentle. He wasn’t rich or powerful. In fact he was a bit goofy. What was it that made him such a threat to the LDS church? His relentless search for truth, and his integrity.

Like so many other exmormons, he had heard a slightly disturbing fact about the early days of the church and he went on a quest to find the truth. In his case, the quest was a literal trip to Missouri. He came back with documents and questions. Ultimately he discovered what we know now. That the church has hidden it’s warts from us. Asked us to ignore that philandering, money grubbing man behind the curtain and just pay, prey and obey.

I attended Jerald’s memorial service on Saturday. I have to tell you, I was impressed again by what a gracious woman is Sandra. Dignified, and genuine. She greeted friends and family warmly, in the isle of the church. When we got underway, the pastor sang a lovely song about Christ’s love. Then spoke about his loving relationship with Jerald. Next there was a heartwarming photo montage, and then Bill McKeever spoke at length about Jeralds mission. Jerald and Sandra’s son Dennis spoke about the simple man who raised three kids, and built a business in the heart of Salt Lake City. Finally the wonderful Chris Tomlin song ‘How great is our God’. That’s when I finally broke into tears. I don’t know if a mormon hymn has ever done that to me.

I never met Jerald. I had only met Sandra once. And yet, their conservative approach to systematically documenting the problems with Mormonism, and the modern church that it has become were responsible for me seeing the truth. (With a little push from Mark Hofmann).

Thank you, Jerald. Enjoy your eternal reward.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Welcome, Kolobians

I'll keep the introduction simple, so that we can get to the posting.

Some friends over on FLAK were complaining that they liked blogging, but didn't have time to keep up, and thus had rather sparse blogs. Others bemoaned the fact that so many good DAMU blogs had gone away.

My solution was to create a group blog where everyone could contribute as much as they were comfortable with and everyone could read every day. Let's hope this works.

- Nom de Cypher

If you want to be added to the team, drop me a line at nom.d.cypher@gmail.com