Sunday, May 06, 2012

Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed: A case study

LDS blogger BHodges concedes that the apostles and prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been nearly unanimous against evolution, but he attributes it to misconduct:

"This is largely the result of a very few General Authorities who ignored or acted counter to the direction of earlier prophets (who told GAs to leave the matter alone) whose publications drown out other authorities who found nothing objectionable about evolution per se but whom sought to abide the council so as not to cause further division." (BHodges, comment 49, here.)

His claims are false. The counsel "to leave the matter alone" is pure fiction. His comment is a twisted misrepresentation of events relating to a 1931 First Presidency memo addressed to general authorities. The memo was not about evolution, nor was it the result of any debate about evolution. And it certainly did not forbid anyone to speak or write against evolution.

The 1931 memo summarized the Church's evaluation of a priesthood manual submitted by B. H. Roberts.  The memo announced the Church's decision to reject the manual.

Roberts had marshaled the conclusions of geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology to support his theory reconciling fossils with scripture.  The decision of President Heber J. Grant was that neither the Roberts theory nor the conclusions of science belong in a priesthood manual:

"Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church."

This counsel applies specifically to Roberts' attempted use of science to interpret scripture. By extension, it applies to any attempt to force scripture to accommodate science. Its meaning is the opposite of what Hodges represents.

Boyd K. Packer and Russell M. Nelson have both written much that contradicts science, but they are in full compliance with the 1931 memo because they have not used science to interpret scripture. Bruce R. McConkie's writings also comply with the memo. He almost always preferred scripture over science.

After 1931 and before President Grant died, Joseph Fielding Smith published three books, in 1936, 1942, and 1944. Passages in each of these books contradict one or more scientific conclusions but none of them uses science to interpret scripture and none of them contains anything in violation of the 1931 memo.

Joseph Fielding Smith wrote books in 1947 and 1948 that were published by the Council of the Twelve Apostles. These books also contain passages that contradict scientific theories. The six most senior apostles at the time had served since before 1931. They were there. They knew firsthand what President Grant meant. It is absurd to suggest that they acted contrary to his instructions. The truth is, by publishing Smith's books, they were acting in accordance with President Grant's instructions.

Dallin H. Oaks says public criticism of other people is usually not a good idea, but public criticism of Church authorities is particularly objectionable. "Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself," he warns. Quoting George F. Richards, Oaks continues:

"When we say anything bad about the leaders of the Church, whether true or false, we tend to impair their influence and their usefulness and are thus working against the Lord and his cause." (Ensign, Feb. 1987.)

The allegations made by Hodges in the above quoted blog comment are false. Spreading falsehoods about senior Church leaders is no way to promote evolutionary science among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Anonymous BHodges said...

This is silly. It probably will come as no surprise when I say I disagree with your interpretation of the circumstances, that I disagree with you labeling me as a liar, and that I think your appeal to temple covenant language is an unfortunate example of hyper-Mormon bullying. In the immortal words of Pres. Uchtdorf, one might respond to your judgment with his two-word sermon: "Stop it."

Rather than fully engage further with you, I'm satisfied to say that if disagreeing with Joseph Fielding Smith, even publicly as Elders Talmage, Widtsoe, Roberts and Henry Eyring among others did, makes me guilty then I'm damned with some pretty cool company!

5/06/2012 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


BHodges: You mention Henry Eyring (1901–1981), father of our current President Eyring. Brother Eyring served on the Sunday School general board and, apparently, he disagreed with Joseph Fielding Smith on evolution and death before the fall. The two once met and talked about Smith's book, Man, His Origin and Destiny. Brother Eyring's later comment about that famous conversation has always impressed me. He said:

-------------- quote --------------
"I would say that I sustained Brother Smith as my Church leader one hundred percent. I think he was a great man. He had a different background and training on this issue. Maybe he was right. I think he was right on most things and if you followed him, he would get you into the Celestial Kingdom—maybe the hard way, but he would get you there." (as quoted by Edward W. Kimball in Dialogue 8 [Autumn-Winter 1973], pp.102-103.)
-------------- end quote --------------

You also mention Talmage and Widtsoe of the Twelve, and Roberts of the Seventy, who saw some things a little differently than Joseph Fielding Smith. But I'm confident that all three would agree with Brother Eyring's assessment.

So I'm curious, Hodges. How do you feel about Brother Eyring's assessment? Do you agree that Joseph Fielding Smith was a great man, right on most things and if you followed him, he would get you into the Celestial Kingdom? Or do you see him as a conniving, self-seeking man who ignored or acted counter to the direction of earlier prophets?

5/07/2012 03:40:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

And, by the way, it was Dallin H. Oaks of the Twelve who quoted temple covenant language in his Ensign article. Me? I quoted him.

5/07/2012 03:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Stanton S said...

Just my two cents: When I was living in Rexburg several years ago, I had the privilege of serving in a bishopric in a stake that was presided over by Henry J. Eyring. I asked him about his opinion of evolution, and how I can best teach my kids that it is true while helping them maintain strong testimonies of Christ as I have done.

Paraphrasing, he said that it was often difficult talking about evolution with members of the church, because so many were so quick to pull out old quotes to show you that you are wrong. He said that by simply standing up for and teaching your children about your beliefs, both scientific and religious, you will be able to instill in them a great love of scientific truth and a strong faith in the gospel. This is what his father and grandfather did, and what he is doing with his children.

That was one of the best conversations I had while in Rexburg.

The point of this? To show that although Henry B. Eyring doesn't stand at the pulpit during general conference declaring evolution to be true, doesn't mean that it isn't, nor that he does not feel strongly in favor of it.

A lack of speaking out in favor of a subject doesn't mean that you are against it.

5/07/2012 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Stanton S: The Church teaches that Adam and Eve were placed on a paradisiacal earth as immortal beings and married by God before the fall brought death. For example:

"Adam and Eve were married by God before there was any death in the world." (Gospel Principles, p.241.)

Here is another example from a First Presidency Message by President Henry B. Eyring:

"The first marriage was performed by God in the garden when Adam and Eve were not subject to death." (Ensign, Sep 2008, p.4; see also Ensign, May 1998, p.66.)

The Lord expects us to follow his prophets. And we follow what they say, not what they don't say.

5/07/2012 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger Casey said...

A few years back for an assignment in a History of Science class at BYU I got together a group of about 20-25 students (volunteers from another history class taught by the professor) and interviewed them as a group and individually (via written survey survey). They represented a hodgepodge of majors, mostly non-science, and most considered themselves doctrinally orthodox. Yet none - not one - told me they didn't believe in evolution. Many were unsure how it fit with church teachings, but they all believed that evolution and church teachings could be reconciled somehow (we didn't ask them to specify how).

Granting that my group may not have been representative because of its self-selected nature (although most of the participants were drawn by the promise of extra credit, which is fairly universal), their general attitude of faithful but pro-evolution (even if ambiguously) seemed pretty standard for most BYU students I dealt with.

Do you think church leaders are aware of the extent to which younger members accept the idea of evolution? If so, do you think they are opposing it clearly enough to get the message through? Or are they, and young members are simply not showing faith in their leaders?

I don't mean to be snarky by asking, but just to get a sense of how you'd deal with the experiences I mentioned, or if you'd deny their validity. If the message from the church is so unambiguous, then why do younger members (not just bloggernacle-types) seem to be missing it?

5/07/2012 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Casey: I honestly have no quarrel with people who think the apostles and prophets are just smart men giving good advice. It doesn't even bother me when people decide the prophets are wrong, based on this or that scientific theory. If someone doesn't like what the prophet says, that's fine by me.

Now, what does bother me is people who take it one step further and make untrue allegations to discredit the prophets in the eyes of other Mormons. At that point, I believe the warning in this verse of scripture applies:

"Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them." (D&C 121:16.)

5/07/2012 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Casey: The claim in your unpublished comment is bogus regarding the intent of my blog and there are other claims in your comment that are equally bogus and off topic.

wage slave: Your comment is unpublished because it mocks the apostles and prophets.

Both of you: This discussion is about falsehoods related to Grant's 1931 memo.

These falsehoods have been circulating since the early 70s. Since they're older than Hodges, I'm sure he didn't make them up himself. He only repeated them.

This post is not about Hodges. He obviously believed his source was reliable. Unfortunately it wasn't. In my opinion, Hodges merely shared information from a source he trusted.

But he was given bad information and publishing false information about the Lord's authorized servants is a problem, even if it is done innocently.

So, here are the rules for comments on this blog:

1. Discuss various sides of the issue "without looking for flaws in the Church or its leaders."

2. Politely disagree without being disagreeable.

3. Acknowledge the sincerity of those whose positions we cannot accept.

4. Speak of principles and issues rather than personalities.

These comment policies have been linked on my sidebar for the past seven years. There have been occasions when I've published comments that didn't entirely adhere to these rules, and (surprise) there have been times when I myself didn't entirely adhere to these rules. But guess what? It's my blog. Those are the rules and I get to decide when to allow exceptions.

5/07/2012 11:54:00 PM  
Anonymous BHodges said...

This post is not about Hodges.

False. And it seems your comments make it even more about me when you begin interrogating me as to my beliefs so as to measure them against your personal orthodoxy.

But he was given bad information


and publishing false information


about the Lord's authorized servants is a problem,

I tend to think publishing false information about anyone is a problem, even if it is done innocently.

In a spirit of fairness, I invite curious readers to refer to the following link for better contextual information to the quote in question, as it does directly pertain to then-Elder Joseph Fielding Smith and the question of death on this earth of any sort prior to the fall. There people can judge for themselves whether I misrepresented anyone.


5/08/2012 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

BHodges: The alleged counsel "to leave the matter alone" is pure fiction. Your source doesn't begin to convince me otherwise.

The 1931 memo summarized the Church's evaluation of a priesthood manual submitted by B. H. Roberts. Your source quotes the memo but doesn't even mention the manual.

Your source mentions that Joseph Fielding Smith spoke on behalf of the twelve during discussions with Roberts before the twelve. But your source fails to mention that Joseph Fielding Smith was only one of five apostles assigned at the request of the First Presidency in October 1928 to review the Roberts manual. George Albert Smith was committee chair, and David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Stephen L. Richards, and Melvin J. Ballard were committee members.

After a thorough review, the five apostles reported unanimously regarding two chapters in particular:

-------------- quote --------------
"We feel that the arguments as given contradict the accounts given in all our scriptures, and more especially in the temple ceremonies. As we understand it the term ' first flesh also,' does not have reference to Adam as being the first living creature of the creation on the earth, but that he, through the ' fall ' became the first ' flesh,' or mortal soul. The term ' flesh ' in reference to mortal existence is of common usage. We find it so used in the scriptures. Adam having partaken of the fruit became mortal and subject to death, which was not the condition until that time. We are taught in the Temple as well as in the scriptures that man was the last creation placed upon the earth, before death was introduced. Adam was the first to partake of the change and to become subject to the flesh....

"This entire chapter deals with the question of ' pre-Adamites.' This doctrine is not taught by the Church; it is not sustained in the scriptures. It can only be treated as an hypothesis, and the result will be uncertain, confusing, for after all is said it is speculation leading to endless controversy.... It appears to us that all which has been revealed is contrary to this teaching, especially that given in the Temple." (Review Committee to President Grant, in The Truth, The Way, The Life, 2nd edition [Provo: BYU Studies, 1996], pp. 292-293, 297.)
-------------- end quote --------------

The committee advised President Heber J. Grant that the manual should be rejected. And what is so often overlooked in these discussions is that President Grant upheld the recommendation of this committee and did in fact reject the manual.

As you, BHodges, (and in the same spirit of fairness) I want to invite readers to read further about "No Death Before the Fall" as it is taught in the LDS Church today:


5/08/2012 08:00:00 PM  
Anonymous BHodges said...

To assume that the FP's instructions were limited to whether or not there were pre-Adamites is to completely misunderstand the entire discussion they were having. You're simply trying to make distinctions which sustain your own proclivities regarding "death before the fall," which isn't surprising given the title of your blog itself. (By the way, did Elder Smith leave the subject of Pre-Adamites alone after this instruction from the FP? No. He didn't.)

So, how long until you remove your post calling me, by name, an apostate?

5/09/2012 05:24:00 AM  

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