The Problematic Legitimation of Ideas in the ChurchBy: Hedgehog
Several recent experiences have caused me to ponder this topic. It’s not new of course. The most obvious example would be the temple/priesthood ban for people of black African descent, which arose early in the life of the church, was perpetuated until 1978, and which was not properly disavowed until last year. And even then, that disavowal did not come in the form of a formal statement or apology, but as a quiet addition to the lds.org website. It is not the only example however, and I have personally bumped up against several over the last few weeks.
1. Joseph Fielding Smith’s narrative regarding the creation and the fall.
These ideas attained their legitimacy in the past. Where I live the particular views of JFS are almost invariably accepted as doctrine, and taught as such in lessons. Members here are for the most part unaware that there was ever any controversy over JFS’ published views. His narrative is seen by most as the legitimate view. As someone who values scientific learning and endeavour, I try to offer an alternative viewpoint, but I may as well be speaking a foreign language. Last weeks Sunday School lesson was especially trying.
A concept initially applied specifically to the passing of the sacrament (see my post here). It would appear that this may first have suggested in a in this Dialogue article (2001, which I stumbled across a couple of weeks ago) as a reason behind the wider music policies in sacrament and other church meetings, and later given specifically as a reason in this T&S post by the post author’s stake president (2006). This is an idea which has so infected my ward and stake, presented as the de facto reason why music policies are the way they are, and is accepted by my local leadership without question. I’m wondering if the author (who is British, a musician and a now retired CES employee; CES men are highly regarded as a source of authoritative information in this country) might not feel as though he’s shot himself in the foot. I’d have wanted to question the legitimacy of his suggested reason as a means to restrict musical expression in church, but he doesn’t seem to have done so in the article.
3. Heavenly Mother
This week my daughter told me Heavenly Mother was mentioned for the first time ever in a lesson, and in her Sunday School class. I asked what was said. One student asked why we never talk about Her, and another replied that it was to protect Her. That was the sum total of discussion. That old chestnut has certainly wriggled it’s way in everywhere, and seems to be difficult to shift, the work of Paulsen and Pullido notwithstanding.
4. Valerie Hudson Cassler’s hypotheses about the role & position of women.
I have crossed swords several times recently with Nathaniel Givens over on T&S. Givens is of the opinion that the approach Cassler is taking in constructing her ideas is the correct approach, and as a consequence he likes her ideas. It would appear to me that Cassler’s views are in the process of gaining legitimacy. They have been presented and published by FAIR, and more recently in the church’s Ensign magazine. Cassler herself is a Professor at BYU. Her views mostly sit very nicely within the 1950s attitudes towards men and women, in which men and women are seen as having distinctly separate roles. We have heard these ideas from leaders in recent decades and still hear them from the pulpit from many of our leaders today. They can be seen as way for women who are questioning their roles in the church in today’s world to realign themselves perhaps more powerfully with that particular paradigm. Her views do not appear to call that paradigm into question. As a member who certainly does question that paradigm, who believes it is nothing more than a social construct, I speak out where I can, but as an observer of this legitimation process I am also alarmed. Because it looks a lot to me like the kind of theorising that went on to prop up temple/priesthood ban, and I’d really hope that Cassler’s views don’t gain the same traction those folk doctrines enjoyed.
I read the following in a comment on this post, a view on the topic of women and the priesthood. Whilst ‘An average active LDS women says’ and I would appear in part to be on opposite sides of the issue so far as our personal opinions on the topic go, I did find refreshing the part where she says of the post ‘..it is just speculation’ and ‘..I don’t care what any of you have to say as much as I care to know what God has to say on the subject. And I don’t care what you all think God thinks. I want to know for myself what He thinks.’ and ‘I suggest we stop speculating about what God would say, and start asking for His direction.’
I have strong objections when it comes to being subject to another’s opinion. Sometimes however, the back and forth, the debate, becomes wearisome. At some point a ‘thus saith the Lord‘ would be a relief, yet even then as members we are obliged to seek our own confirmation.
- Why do you think ideas take hold like this?
- What ideas find you on the ‘wrong’ side of them? And how do you deal with it?
- How careful are you about the things you teach?
- Does the wider variety of voices, and readier access to dissenting views on the internet mean that new ideas are less likely to be accepted?