Sunday, March 18, 2012

Defending Mormonism by Attacking Mormonism. (Is that even possible?)

Margaret Blair Young teaches writing at BYU. Yesterday, she wrote a blog post that attacks Mormonism by strongly criticizing certain teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the center of her attack is an LDS.org "Study by Topic" article, "Priesthood Ordination before 1978," which outlines the current position of the Church on that topic. Margaret's blog post takes issue with the following section of the Church's article:

“Ever since biblical times, the Lord has designated through His prophets who could receive the priesthood and other blessings of the gospel. Among the tribes of Israel, for example, only men of the tribe of Levi were given the priesthood and allowed to officiate in certain ordinances.”

(LDS.org > Menu > Study by Topic > P > Priesthood Ordination before 1978)

Prior to being published at LDS.org, this article was approved by the LDS Church at several levels, including the First Presidency.

The Newsroom statements

Two and a half weeks ago, on Feb. 29th, the LDS Newsroom issued two statements about racism (see here and here). The Newsroom speaks for the Church. Both statements contain these words "it is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began." These words are seen by some, including Margaret Young, as a repudiation of the Church's teachings in "Priesthood Ordination before 1978."

But is that true? Has the Church repudiated its own article?

Both of the Feb. 29th Newsroom statements condemn racism past or present "by individuals," but neither of them condemns "the Church" on anything, past or present. Specifically, the LDS Newsroom has NOT condemned the Church's article on "Priesthood Ordination before 1978."

Usurping apostolic authority

Margaret Young argues openly that the "Study by Topic" article uses...

"...one of the three myths we must abandon: the false analogy of the Levitical priestly assignment with the exclusion of all of African descent. Not equivalent."

As far as I know, the Lord has called the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, not Margaret Young, to tell the Latter-day Saints what "we must abandon."

Margaret's current post may be a lot of things, some good and some bad; but it is definitely NOT defending Mormonism. Her post attacks Mormonism regarding its position on "Priesthood Ordination before 1978."

Yesterday, she wrote in a comment that Hugh Nibley "was a well-regarded intellectual in his time, but he had no authority to speak for anyone but himself." Does Margaret Young think she does?


Anonymous dgl said...

"Prior to being published at LDS.org, this article was approved by the LDS Church at several levels, including the First Presidency."


3/18/2012 03:24:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

March 12, 2012
To: Gary Shapiro
RE: Priesthood Ordination before 1978

All Church materials are approved at many levels before anything is ever published, beginning at the department management level, to the auxiliary presidencies, the Correlation Department, and the General Authorities, including the First Presidency of the Church.

Nothing the Church publishes is done so without going through all these levels of approval. This certainly includes all avenues of publication the Church uses now and will use in the future.

This will always be the case.

Curriculum Department

3/18/2012 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

March 12, 2012
To: Curriculum Department
RE: Priesthood Ordination before 1978

This information you have provided is consistent with what has been taught over and over for many years by members of the First Presidency and Twelve (this general conference talk, for example). Apparently, my friends are under the erroneous belief that something changed.

Thank you!

3/18/2012 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

March 12, 2012
To: Gary Shapiro
RE: Priesthood Ordination before 1978

You are most welcome and we encourage you to share this information. The Church spends an enormous amount of time and resources to ensure that the doctrine is kept pure and undiluted. Your friends can rest assured that this will always be the case.

Curriculum Department

3/18/2012 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

dgl: I'm confident that you can confirm the accuracy of the above information by contacting the Church yourself. Use the email address found in the front of the current George Albert Smith manual.

3/18/2012 03:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Left Field said...

Private correspondence from "Curriculum Department" is sufficient to establish church teaching?

Can we also rely on private correspondence from David O. McKay to establish church teaching on evolution?

Just checking.

3/18/2012 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Left Field: The private correspondence included above does not establish any Church teaching. It was not quoted for that purpose. It merely confirms that there have been no recent changes in the procedure by which Church published teachings are approved.

Anyone who doubts that process may think he or she can attack with impunity the LDS.org article on "Priesthood Ordination before 1978" and I would wish him or her the best.

Contrary to McKay's 1957 private letter, formal First Presidency statements on evolution had been published in 1909 and 1925.

3/18/2012 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

R. Gary,

I know you've seen this before, but I want to get your input on how it applies here.

Elder Holland on the folklore surrounding the priesthood ban:

"One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. ... I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. ... They, I'm sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. ... "

The full context of his statement is here: http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/holland.html

So is Elder Holland wrong? Or does his "almost all of them" leave an opening for this explanation? Why hasn't this explanation been officially taught (from, you know, the actual prophets, in, like, conference) since the ban was ended?

President Hinckley spoke at some length on the ban in one of his talks in 1988 or so, but he didn't touch on this explanation at all. Why was that?

If the church website removed this explanation at some time in the future, would you continue to insist on using it? What about Elder Holland's directive that "At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed"? Why doesn't that apply to your post here? Aren't you perpetuating an effort to explain why that doctrine existed?

3/18/2012 06:14:00 PM  
Blogger Jared* said...

[With tongue in cheek:] Everybody has been so quick to accept the Newsroom statements as the official church position, but should they? They are anonymous and were released through the public relations arm of the Church. In contrast, two previous letters signed by the First Presidency either affirmed, or spoke favorably, of ideas disowned by the Newsroom statements. One of those First Presidency statements was sent as a letter to priesthood leaders throughout the Church.

If the Church desires to better inform its members on this issue, and to repudiate positions taken by former First Presidencies, it will do so through the normal priesthood channels and through its magazines and manuals. Not through statements released to the media.

More seriously, Gary, you are certainly entitled to your opinion about what is on the Church's website, and to say so, as is Margaret. But if, as you hold, the Brethren don't need people like Margaret to speak for it, doesn't this post contradict your own reasoning? Do the Brethren need you to decide who is attacking the Church?

3/18/2012 06:23:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Tim: The Church's article on "Priesthood Ordination before 1978" appeared long after Elder Holland's “earlier colleagues” were gone. In his PBS interview, Elder Holland spoke scathingly about earlier speculations regarding why the restriction existed. "We just don't know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced," he said. "That's my principal [concern], is that we don't perpetuate explanations about things we don't know." (brackets in the original)

You ask, "Why hasn't this explanation been officially taught?" The first answer is that there is no "explanation" in the article.

The Church's article on "Priesthood Ordination before 1978" doesn't contain anything that Elder Holland has objected to. The LDS.org article gives two Biblical examples of God designating through His prophets who could receive the priesthood. These are NOT "explanations" of the priesthood ban. There is nothing in the article about "why" God made either of those two Biblical designations. More importantly, there is nothing in that article about "why" a restriction existed in the Latter-day Church.

It is preposterous to suggest that Elder Holland disapproves of the LDS.org article "Priesthood Ordination before 1978" for that implies he is powerless to have it removed and I think we both know that Jeffrey R. Holland is anything but powerless.

Your suggestion that President Hinckley didn't approve of the Church's article on "Priesthood Ordination before 1978" seems to be based solely on the fact that he didn't quote it in general conference. That suggestion is absurd on its face.

LDS.org is the official Web site of the Church. The article on "Priesthood Ordination before 1978" has been and is being "officially taught" — at LDS.org.

3/18/2012 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jared*: The current process used by the First Presidency and Twelve for approving what the Church publishes has my unqualified support.

3/18/2012 07:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

I never believed in the priesthood ban, I'm glad it's gone, I enjoy my fellow members who are of African descent and I prefer to look forward rather than backward. "Let us oft speak kind words..."

3/19/2012 06:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I’m the anonymous person who wrote the first comment you posted to your March 5, 2012, “Minding God’s Business” blog. I’m now very sorry I used the words “poorly written” because you’ve provided ample evidence in your March 18, 2012, “Defending Mormonism …” blog and comments that the First Presidency reviewed the public relations department statement. I had incorrectly viewed the public relations department, much like I view BYU, as just another delegated responsibility of the FP.

I’d really struggle with offering an apology if someone were to provide evidence that the First Presidency (who has delegated responsibility to Margaret Blair Young to be a BYU professor), reviewed her blog (that you reference in this blog) and gave it a stamp of approval. I think her blog is more damaging to the church, because of its subtle dishonesty, than anything BYU professor, Randy Bott, allegedly said.

3/19/2012 12:47:00 PM  

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