Q&A with Fiona and Terryl GivensBy: Mormon Heretic
What a week! I had the pleasure of attending sessions with both Ron Paul and Terryl Givens. Now I have to choose whether to write about Ron Paul, or Terryl Givens. Tough choice. Given that political discussions often devolve into ideological (and often irrational) arguments, I’m just not in the mood for Ron Paul this week. So sorry Jon and Cowboy, I know I promised, but I’m going to save it for next week. This post is about The God Who Weeps.
This is the name of Terryl and Fiona Givens latest book. I was lucky enough to receive an invitation from Deseret Book to participate in a Q&A with the authors. When I got there, I was surprised at how small and intimate the setting would be. I would estimate that there were about 20 bloggers gathered around a conference room table at the Deseret Book headquarters office. (I actually went to the bookstore first; they were kind enough to point me to the building next door.) I was at a bit of a disadvantage during the Q&A: I hadn’t received the book yet, so I didn’t know anything other than the title, so it was pretty much impossible for me to ask any sort of intelligent question, so I simply decided to play the role of reporter and take as many notes as I could, as fast as I could, trying to get the essence of what Terryl and Fiona were trying to say. I want to give some overall themes that impressed me. These aren’t exact quotes of what they said, but are paraphrases very close to what they said. (A Rational Faith recorded the audio, so you can hear their exact words.)
God is Infinitely Vulnerable
Terryl Givens said that there is a lot of rhetoric in the Mormon cultural universe about exaltation, that we will be gods in our own realm. In Moses 7, Joseph Smith describes exactly what the process of becoming like God is. God is Weeping. How can the God of Heaven weep? Enoch becomes privy to the perspective that God has. Suddenly his heart turns and God weeps. It is clearly what meant what is needed to participate in divine nature. You don’t have to study history. Open the Pearl of Great Price, and and you can know that the Mormon teaching of deification to become god is infinitely vulnerable, not powerful.
Fiona continued that line of thought. She said that the scriptures lay out clearly that to be God is to be vulnerable. God wins power by his weakness. This turns everything on its head. In the book, we used two examples: Ruth and Mary> Ruth makes herself vulnerable with Boaz. She does it to become vulnerable. When Boaz recognizes what she did, he is stunned that she is so vulnerable.
Mary, the mother of Christ, is an even more powerful example. If you read the story with a more careful textual reading, the angel Gabriel creates fear. It will be harrowing. Mary could have said that she is a virgin and not married. Is there a way to explain? I may be stoned to death. No good thing can come of this. How does she respond? She makes herself vulnerable. Gives birth to a son who makes his entire life vulnerable.
A blogger from A Rational Faith asked why the church seems to be retreating from the teaching of becoming like God. Fiona responded that President Hinckley was walking away from the idea of Kolob and women being endlessly pregnant to create eternal offspring. She said she doesn’t want to be a god giving birth forever. Terryl said that Hinckley was not being evasive, but cautious in his response to Larry King. He noted that the King Follett sermon has been canonized, rescinded, canonized, rescinded. We are free to embrace the doctrines of that sermon, or to reject them.
The book is written to both the faithful and the doubters.
Terryl said that he wanted to write a book in which there was space both to believe and to doubt. He said that there is nothing completely convincing about Mormonism, but there is something compelling. We should consider the book to be a prose hymn of beauty and reasonableness. People should be free to believe or to doubt God.
There is a difference between Mormon Culture and Doctrine, but many conflate the two.
Terryl said that we need to sift culture from theology. Joseph Smith is a universalist. D&C 76 is universalist. People rejected it at the time it was given. Hyrum Smith interpreted the vision as universal, that we can progress through the kingdoms, as did Talmage and BH Roberts. It was not until the 1970s, that it became not universal. We should be trying to recoup the original vision.
He went on to say that doctrines get obscured by Mormon culture, giving the example of Testimony bearing. Little children shouldn’t bear testimony except in primary because they act like mannequins. We shouldn’t blame continued testimony bearing on the Brethren or the institution. We are short changing Mormon theology by intruding on it with cultural malpractice.
Fiona said that she wants to bifurcate culture from theology. We should be empowered to change theology. We need to agitate for change. We should change. Cultures can change. Cultures are malleable. We should feel empowered to change it.
They get bored in Sunday School too. We don’t have to be quiet in church.
There were several questions about speaking up unorthodox interpretations of scripture in church. Fiona said that we should be more bold. Even prophets can make serious mistakes on theology. Brigham Young was absolutely wrong about the Adam-God Theory. Prophets can make serious mistakes. She noted the idea that Catholics say the Pope in infallible but don’t believe it. Mormons say the Prophet is fallible but don’t believe it. This is cultural problem.
Mary Ellen Robertson of Sunstone said that she is one little voice in her ward. It is frustrating. How do we create cultural shifts without becoming targets? Most members don’t care about hearing the same lesson every 4 years.
Terryl echoed what Fiona said earlier with another example. B.H. Roberts had a faith crisis that is fairly well known. His whole life he had assumed that the scene of the Book of Mormon actions were in the western hemisphere. If you have assumption, you can’t begin to approach the problems in the Book of Mormon. Even prophets make bad assumptions. John Sorenson read the book on his own and gave a new interpretation that is much more accepted now. The Book of Mormon is in a limited geograpy and many of the problems disappear. We need to be more vigilant about reasonable interpretations.
He also related what Elder Oaks said in a Young Adult conference. A oung man liked Oaks’ talk, but said it doesn’t apply to his life. Oaks response is an apostle’s job is to give general counsel. Your job to see if it applies. If God wants us in lockstep, he would have created us with no mind.
Fiona said that she teaches Gospel Doctrine in her ward, and doesn’t use the manuals at all. When teaching the Old Testament, she was able to talk about the feminine divine for 9 months before she was asked to ease up on that. She lives in rural backwater community in Virginia, so may be able to get away with it more. She is tired of us lagging. She is everywhere in academic world. Ward members love it. She can be a little subversive, but is still teaching from the scriptures and can quote authoritatively. We need to take more control of scriptures. We need to be more self-empowered.
She noted that most of us take a book to church meetings. People are not demanding because we are a lay ministry, but this is a form of worship. Teachers may not be thought provoking. They may read the manual, but part of our worship is to accept all gifts. Responsibility rests with ourselves. Yes, your questions may discombobulate people. Some like darkness and shadow. We have a big umbrella. We should ask them if testimonies go off the rails. At same time, all of us in here are deeply searching.
The Mormon concept of Apostasy is wrong.
Fiona said that the Mormon view of the Great Apostasy is a cultural misperception that she hope this book corrects. Terryl noted that Handel’s messiah is an apostate work, yet embraced by many Mormons. A common practice of Mormon scholars is to look for parallels. The book full of parallels but it was not our intention not to corroborate Mormon beliefs. The intention was to add to Mormon beliefs.
Fiona said that God has inspired any number of philosophers. God is an economist. We will not produce Beethoven because we already have one. Fiona is a convert from Catholicism, yet had a Pentecostal experience. In contemplating joining the LDS church, she knew that if she took this step, she would never communicate with her family again, so she backed off. She felt like she was in a wilderness. She couldn’t return to the Catholics for fear of what she would lose. Shakespeare helped her, hit with power to give courage to take the step to join. She is a huge fan on extracanonical works. God can speak to us through many means in and outside our church.
It appears that Deseret Book is trying to appeal to a broader crowd.
It was nice to so so many blogs there: Doves and Serpents, Wheat and Tares, Times and Seasons, A Rational Faith, Mormon Stories Sunday School, Sunstone (to name just a few) were in attendance at this event. A blogger asked if there is pent up demand for a book like this, or was there risk taking to see if others interested in an exploration of theology. This isn’t the typical book that Deseret Book has sold in the past.
Terryl responded that he didn’t know. We will have to look at sales. Initial interest looks good, reviews are good. Deseret Book stands behind the book, and Terryl sees an absolute genuine good faith effort to promote the book, which is a wonderful sign. We hope people respond so Deseret Book goes in same direction for books like this.