Saturday, July 11, 2009

Going toe-to-toe with an Apostle

SteveP wants to "create a space in the church where those who look deeply enough at evolution and are concerned that there is no place for them because of the anti-evolution rhetoric that so fills our discourse" (click here).

SteveP, we both know where LDS anti-evolution rhetoric currently originates, starting with Packer and Nelson of the Twelve. So here's some friendly advice born out of personal experience.

Beginning in the late 1970s, Deseret Book told me over and over to forget about them ever removing R-rated fiction from their stores. Management said they had the support of their board of directors whose chairman and one other member were apostles. So buzz off, Gary. And so it went for well over a decade.

"Racy Novels Spark Fiction Friction at Deseret Book." was written by Christopher Smith and published by The Salt Lake Tribune in 1995. In his article, Smith called me "perhaps the most outspoken proponent of ditching fiction at Deseret Book." But he didn't take my word for anything. He purchased five fiction novels at Deseret Book, only to find that four of them "contained passages deemed inapropriate by this newspaper to be reprinted verbatim."

Bottom line? Deseret Book no longer sells R-rated fiction.

So here's my advice, SteveP: You really can go toe to toe with one or more living apostles. I know. I've done it. But first you need at least one living apostle on your side. And second, you must never criticize any apostle in any public way. If you follow these two suggestions, I think you'll be fine and possibly even successful in your quest.

Good luck on your project, SteveP. I'm a very interested observer.


Anonymous SteveP said...

Gary this may be the best advice I've ever been given.

7/11/2009 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger Jacob J said...

Very interesting post R. Gary. Nice work.

7/12/2009 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Kent Larsen said...

This is indeed fascinating. I'm very interested in the story itself, more than arguing with an Apostle. Can you tell me how this idea applied to LDS books at the time?

As I understand it, before the 1970s, LDS books were only produced by Deseret Book, by Bookcraft (and occasional privately published items) and by occasional nationally published items. Did Deseret Book carry all of these in its stores? What about items that some Church mmebers and leaders objected to? (No Man Knows My History or Brooks' Mountain Meadows Massacre? Or what about books whose portrayals were unconventional (i.e., The Giant Joshua)?

As I understand it, today Deseret Book has a fairly formal procedure for checking the LDS books that it carries. How has this changed over the years?

7/12/2009 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Kent Larsen, I was not then (nor am I now) interested in the history of Deseret Book. I don't know why or how long they sold R-rated books prior to the late 1970s. And I don't know anything about the specific items you mention.

But I knew then and know now that Christian bookstores don't sell R-rated material. A bookstore can sell R-rated material or it can be a Christian bookstore, but it can't do both! To me (and to my Church) those novels are deplorable in any bookstore, so why were they ever sold in LDS Church-owned bookstores?

I don't know.

7/12/2009 12:27:00 PM  
Anonymous I love chicken said...

So how did you go "toe-to-toe" with an apostle? You don't think this just was a business decision? Did you actually speak with the apostle who was on the board of Deseret book? Or were you just a crank writing letters?

7/12/2009 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Chicken: You and Deseret Book would probably agree that I was "just a crank writing letters." In fact, during those years, there were literally dozens of letters that went back and forth between me and Deseret Book.

Oh, but there were also letters from my bishop, stake president, and regional representative, and cover letters from my bishop and stake president that went with my own letters to one or the other of the apostles. Also, many of the letters coming back from Deseret Book indicate the apostles were CC'd on my correspondence.

Now I'm not going to tell you all the ways I found to rub those two apostles wrong, but I'll give you one example: I once asked one of them whether he had found a way to take off his apostolic calling like a coat during Deseret Book board meetings. Would that be less forgivable in person than in writing?

7/12/2009 06:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Left Field said...

I once wrote a letter to Boyd K. Packer telling him I disagreed with what he said in conference about evolution. I got a very nice response, basically saying that he was expressing his own views, and that we could agree to disagree. He closed offering the Lord's blessing on my teaching in biology. I may be the only person in the church who has received an apostolic blessing for teaching evolution.

7/13/2009 07:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Left Field, I wish responses like the one you got from Elder Packer could be printed in the Ensign, preferably as a disclaimer (something like "The following addresses are personal opinions of Church leaders. Feel free to disagree, with our blessings.")

7/13/2009 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Left Field and Anonymous: General conference talks are not automatically canonized, hence they are not binding.

D&C 137 and 138 were not part of the standard works until April 3, 1976. Section 137 is a vision given to the Prophet Joseph Smith 140 years before it was canonized. Section 138 is a vision given to President Joseph F. Smith 58 years before it was canonized. And what was the status of these two visions prior to being canonized?

Both visions were scripture from the outset, but they were not binding on the Saints until they were approved by the Church as follows: "It is proposed that we ... adopt these revelations as part of the standard works of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The voting was unanimous in the affirmative and D&C 137 and 138 were born.

It works the same for general conference talks. They are scripture. But they are not binding on the Saints unless so approved by the Church.

7/13/2009 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger Grimshizzle said...

Even if you made your case to Deseret Book on doctrinal grounds (as you perceived them), I have a hard time believing those are the grounds on which they made their decision. Rather, I am inclined to think that they viewed your complaint more in the form of customer feedback.

This seems to me categorically different from SteveP's efforts to educated people (including members and leaders in Church) about biology.

7/13/2009 11:57:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Grimshizzle: Deseret Book has always tried to avoid the legally obscene. What nobody at Deseret Book seemed to notice was this: In 1957, the U. S. Supreme Court formulated a new legal definition of obscenity independent of the Christian standard of decency that had defined obscenity for centuries. The 1957 Supreme Court decision removed the religious doctrines of modesty and chastity from U. S. obscenity law. This created a new category of obscenity, material that is obscene by traditional Christian standards, but not obscene under the new legal definition.

Ironically, the Court ruled against pornography. But, as BYU Law Professor Robert E. Riggs points out, the effect of the 1957 Supreme Court decision "was to open the legal floodgates to a great wave of sexually oriented expression....  Its impact was not to suppress but to stimulate the production and distribution of sexually oriented material."  (BYU Law Review, 1981, no.2, p.261, emphasis added.)

Quoting a technical report prepared in August 1970 for the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, the BYU Law Professor continues: "The 1960s witness[ed] 'a shift of such major proportions that the degree of explicitness at the frontier in 1960 is now [1970] found in mass media widely distributed to the general buying public. During this period, the most explicit materials available on the market became more and more graphic. By August 1970, the most explicit materials available 'above the counter' were approximately equivalent to the most explicit materials ever produced [prior to 1960]." (Ibid., emphasis added.)

From sometime before the late 1970s until sometime in the 1990s, Deseret Book innocently followed (at a distance) the moral slide in our society that had been made possible by changes in the law. I do not believe Deseret Book removed the pornographic paperbacks because of customer feedback. Rather I believe Deseret Book finally noticed that our society had forgotten its six-thousand year old tradition of Judeo-Christian decency. It was a long overdue course correction.

Assuming SteveP is in posession of absolute truth, his efforts to educate people about biology are NOT so very different from my previous efforts to educate people about modesty and chastity.

7/14/2009 07:30:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff G said...


This is by far the most interesting post of yours that I have read. It really casts a different light on all the rather black/white debates in which you engage around the 'nacle. Great stuff.

7/15/2009 01:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I overheard a conversation while I was walking out of the BYU bookstore many many years ago, (late 70s) when a young man told the young lady he was with that BYU 'censored' the material they sold because they didn't sell any Playboys or similar materials. I found this simplistic logic astonishing.

As for evolution, for me it is not a religious sentiment which drives me to my skepticism. I was fine with the theory as I understood it until the rhetoric began to heat up and found that the doctrine of common descent was an established 'fact'. That's when I got really interested. I would say that science has shot itself in the philosophical foot by maintaining that only naturalism is allowed in scientific enquiry. This was not always the case. If God exists, could science find the evidence? If God obeys natural laws, can we see His signature in His Creation? Thomas Jefferson said “It is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion.’’ Many other scientists had similar thoughts and feelings. They did not arbitrarily divide science and religion. Many of today's scientists think there is such a divide. I think those scientists are not in the tradition of Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, Faraday, Planck, Galileo, and Mendel.

At any rate I am impressed at your interaction with Deseret Book. I didn't know they sold such books, and if they had, I don't know that it would have occurred to me to take such actions.

I've always found less expensive books elsewhere.

7/16/2009 06:15:00 AM  
Blogger Jared* said...

What an interesting story, Gary. Thanks for sharing!

8/06/2009 08:46:00 PM  

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