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Vigor - Advice & Commentary on Mormon Life - Issue 7 / September 1994

Advice & Commentary on Mormon Life
Inside This Issue:
Branch Boundaries
Observations From a 21-Year Convert
Questions from Readers
Missionary Parenting 101
A Ministry of His Own
The Consensus of Scholars

Issue 7 / September 1994 Hatrack River Publications

Branch Boundaries

We have recently had some changes in our church units here that I would like to share with Vigor readers. We live in the mission field in a town of about 30,000 people. There are two "ward size" branches in town with about 400 members each. (Why they are branches instead of wards is another story for another letter.)

The branches were fairly close in size but not in composition. The First Branch had the largest number of single adults and older couples, but a smaller primary and youth program. The Second Branch had most of the young families but only a few young adults.

Branch and district leaders had been concerned for some time that many of the members had needs that the existing organization was not meeting well. Last month the branch boundaries were realigned and a third branch was created. Here is where they story gets interesting.

Rather than organizing the branches geographically, the new branches were organized along demographic boundaries. If you are a single adult between the ages of 18 and 35 you are a member of the First Branch, if you have any children at home between the ages of 12 and 18 you are a member of the Second Branch, and if you don't fit into either of these two groups you are in the Third Branch.

District leaders explained their reasoning in proposing these changes. They felt that if saints with similar needs were concentrated in the same units, branch leaders could focus their efforts in meeting these needs. While single adult branches are not new, the idea of a "teen age" branch seems unusual. We were told that this idea had been tried informally in some stakes, but that this was the first time the First Presidency had officially approved this type of organization.

I have been called as branch president of the "teen age" branch. I would be interested to hear what Vigor readers think about this type of organization. What do you see as possible strengths in this type of organization? What would you expect as disadvantages and how would you try to overcome them? Do you think this type of organization could work elsewhere? Do you think there are other demographic groupings that could result in vital, fulfilling wards and branches?

I will try to keep Vigor readers posted about our experiences with this organization (if I can find time between youth interviews).

Observations From a 21-Year Convert

I wish to address two issues that I've noticed in the Church over the years. I'm a convert, baptized on May 5, 1973, in a southern state, at the age of 18. I found the Church and gained my testimony two years before that, but due to parental opposition, I couldn't receive baptism until I reached legal age. In 1974, I moved to Provo to attend Brigham Young University, and stayed there, rather than return to the area where my non-member family lives. That was best for my safety.

I visited my relatives periodically, throughout the South. In 1974, I found one young lady for the missionaries to teach after I prayed to find her. She was baptized on her 16th birthday with her parents' permission.

That success motivated me to try the "pray for contacts" approach in Provo (of all places), and my prayers were answered. I found a non-member family that had just moved to Provo. Their stake missionaries worked with them, and four of them were baptized. That was terrific, and I'm glad the Lord helped me find them, but their own ward should have noticed they were in the neighborhood and begun fellowshipping them immediately. It took me, a BYU student who didn't attend their residential ward, to notice this family and take action.

That was 19 years ago. Missionary awareness among Provo members has increased thanks to the vigorous presence of full-time elders serving in the city and at BYU. Reactivation efforts have also improved, but we have a long way to go. After we find the contacts and they accept baptism, or return to activity, we still have some problems.

Here's an example. Last October, a new convert in my ward wasn't aware that General Conference meant that he didn't have to come to Church. He could stay home and watch Conference on television. I realized he didn't know when I spoke with him just before that weekend. Otherwise, he would have gone to the chapel with his children and found it locked and empty.

The same thing almost happened to my newly baptized convert cousin who was attending BYU. When I spoke to him on the phone, he didn't know either, and he was living with five roommates who are all returned missionaries. Nor had his home teachers told him, or his best friend who baptized him.

Moral to the story: We Utah members need to become more aware of converts and reactivated members, and their needs, and do more to spread the gospel. We don't have to be doctrinal scriptorians. All we need to do is serve them, anticipate their needs, bear our testimonies, and help the missionaries fellowship them.

My second observation concerns reverence in church. What an important concept. Unfortunately, compared to other churches, we tend to fall a little short. One reason is the presence of our small children in sacrament meeting. Other faiths keep all children under seven in nursery. We don't. We shouldn't. The Lord wants our children with us in sacrament meeting. Indeed, we have to remember that during the Savior's mortal life, little children attended all the meetings he conducted. Eventually, little ones learn the correct way to behave in church, and most of the time they obey. It's the occasional slip ups, and infant cries, that can unnerve investigators coming to church for the first time.

In a Florida ward I attended for awhile, our children were the usual hoards of noisy, meeting disrupters, and irreverent runners in the halls. The son of an elderly lady convert came to the ward for his first meetings, unprepared for the chaos. He refused to come back. To him, the atmosphere was not reverent.

His mother was terribly hurt, but unfortunately, she also had some intolerance for small children, since she was baptized in her retirement years. She didn't like to hear little children bear their testimonies in fast and testimony meeting since their speech was unclear and prolonged. She was of the opinion that little children should be seen and not heard, and that they should only bear their testimonies in Primary.

She made her grievances know to the Bishop, who of course, did not forbid small children to bear their testimonies. He did institute changes in how we came to Sacrament Meeting. He assigned two Primary children to stand with their arms folded as we entered the chapel, reminding all of us to be silent. The noise didn't stop, but the decrease was significant. Hopefully, that helped the missionary efforts. I don't know.
Two Junipers

Two Junipers --
One --
tall and thick-trunked
the trunk leaning into the wind
the wind a constant force from the sea
the sea, really an ocean, vast and eternal
anointing the crown
the crown verdant -- whipped into shape
the shape of someone's long hair
hair blown by the wind
the wind -- weak in the face of the one
tall and thick-trunked

Two junipers --
the other --
swept away
five twisted branches
five fingers shaped like agony
reaching to catch the wind
that constant force
each finger topped in sprouts of green
though otherwise bare
otherwise bent
bent away
from the constant force from the sea
I stood between two junipers
and leaned into the wind.

-- J. Scott Bronson

Every family ward and branch in the Church has it. The ward where I was baptized had it twenty-one years ago. Things haven't changed much.

The first time I ever walked into the LDS chapel for sacrament meeting, I wasn't prepared for the chaos, either, but I loved it! I knew the noise level wasn't reverent, but there was something different about it, something that some investigators and new converts don't detect, but I did. There was an undercurrent of joy in the chaos! Joy about the gospel, joy to be in church -- noisy or not! I wasn't the only one feeling it. People were smiling -- adults, wild children, and teenagers my age. Sometimes, I think that in all our leaders' efforts to maintain some quiet reverence in our chapels -- which by all means they should keep trying to do -- that we forget why we're there, not just to worship the Lord with quiet reverence, but to rejoice that we can, that we have the opportunity to do it. The gospel embraces joy. Our smiling conversations indicate our joy, the gladness we feel that we're meeting together and love the Lord.

In other churches (and I visited a lot of them prior to my baptism), people are quiet (more than we ever are) but it's not the quiet reverence of joy. It's some kind of sad solemnity, from people who feel they have to be there, but who aren't sure why. They smile and talk after services, but it's not the gospel-centered joy I was introduced to in May 1972 during my first sacrament meeting.

I also had a testimony before I ever entered that chapel, acquired the year before, so perhaps I was more in tune with the true spirit under the chaos that day. I didn't mind the noise, although it made hearing the speakers difficult at times. I also remember approving of the Church's policy to allow small children to attend Sacrament Meeting. I felt it was right. "Besides," I also thought, "if they were in a nursery somewhere, whoever cares for them would have to miss sacrament meeting, and since this is the true Church, those babysitters need to be here." That ended the matter as far as I was concerned.

I could list other observations, but I'll save those for other stories. I do have a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know it's true, despite the faults so many of us have as we try to live it.

-- Sherry Lassiter

Questions from Readers:

In our last issue, we published the following question from one of our readers:

"I just moved from Washington State to Utah and would like to know if your writers have any suggestions on how to avoid becoming a 'Utah Mormon.'"

We received letters from Utah, Minnesota, South Dakota and Arizona. Here are their responses:

From Utah: As I was growing up in the wicked world of Colorado, I often thought of moving to Utah to finally be among the saints. When I married a Florida girl who felt the same way, we moved to the heart of Zion to go to school. I suppose it was silly of us to be so idealistic, but when I saw the recent letter seeking advice on how to avoid becoming a "Utah Mormon" I could really relate.

For being a Mormon founded state, Utah sure doesn't seem to have very many members. I guess you just can't recognize the members like you can out in the "mission field." It's not that all the locals live this type of lifestyle, but it often seems that way. Like my Washington-bred friend said, "Everyone at my job swears . . . even the non-members." I see two tribes to avoid that could be classified as "Utah Mormons." Obviously one group is those members who are drawn away from the gospel either through laziness in keeping the commandments or actual rebelliousness. Both are tied to pride and selfishness.

Just as dangerous as disobedience are the members led away to fanaticism. The spectacular aspects of the Church, like revelation or the temple, can be misunderstood when mingled with Mormon folklore. Seeking for the personal revelation of the mysteries can cause one to be misinformed. Charismatic personalities using the gospel as a cattle prod can misdirect others to being "over obedient." With doomsday prophecies, they camouflage their own agendas and cause confusion for the well-intentioned, but overly dramatic members.

One extreme or the other, hell doesn't care. My only advice is to remember the simple sweet truths of the gospel: avoid anything the brethren avoid. Only a few will find the narrow way. Even in Zion.

From Minnesota: The question from the April 1994 issue (how to avoid becoming a "Utah Mormon") is certainly an interesting one, and one which I've reflected on myself on occasion. I've had the opportunity to serve in wards in Utah and without, both in foreign countries and in states with relatively small LDS populations.

One recurring questions, to my mind, is why one would hesitate to be a Utah Mormon? While in no danger of being taken up into heaven, Utah does have Church headquarters, several temples (two of which together account for forty percent of endowment work), and hundreds of wards staffed with quantities of experienced brothers and sisters about which we fondly dream in the "mission field."

Although I have no plans to return to Utah at present, my years there were quite pleasant, and I enjoyed seeing some small samples of what the Church is capable of doing where active Latter-day Saints are a significant number of the population.

This is not to say that there are no problems in "Zion," but I have encountered problems everywhere. In all places, there are those who fail to live up to Church standards, those who attend their meetings for social dealings rather than spiritual enlightenment, those who lose their testimony or become bitter toward individual leaders, those who value their own interpretations rather than the teachings of the Lord's anointed. It strikes me as somewhat naive to attribute human failings to being a "Utah Mormon."

I would suggest a more appropriate question would be, "How do we reinforce our commitment to the Lord, nourish our faith in Him, and honor our covenants with Him to consecrate our all to the building up of His kingdom?"

Might I suggest that there are as many possible answers as there are members of the Church? We all have our own conversion story -- whether born in the faith, or converted much later, we must develop our own personal witness of Christ as our Savior, and of the latter-day restoration of the gospel fullness.

One thing that I find very helpful is daily study in the Book of Mormon. Why is it that we so frequently neglect the very "key to conversion" that touches the hearts of millions with its inspired promise? When possible, frequent temple attendance always gave me a spiritual lift. As someone who must travel many hours to attend the temple, I look back with fondness to the days when I had so many temples within so few miles.

A final suggestion is service. It is easy to be critical of other people. It is far more difficult to love them, and to help them overcome their failings. I have seen many people join the Church, and many others become faithful, active members of the Church, through the concern, example, and friendship of other faithful, active Latter-day Saints.

It is my hope that we can enjoy our fellowship in the Church, wherever we are, for as Moroni instructs us, "And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls" (Moroni 6:5). It is easy to be judgmental, but far better to love one another for our respective talents, and to strive to do our own part in perfecting the Saints as the Church moves forward.

From South Dakota: The question has been put to the readers of Vigor: How can I avoid becoming a "Utah Mormon." I'm not quite sure what is meant by the term used. My assumption is that it is intended to be derogatory and that a "Utah Mormon" is not as desirable as a "Regular Mormon."

I am not a Utahn and thus all my Church experience has been in the mission areas of the Church. Still, I have had a great deal of exposure to "Utah Mormons." My great aunt was the first to join the Church in the early 1900s after being taught the gospel by two "Utah Mormons." As a consequence of that conversion, most of my maternal relatives are members of the Church today. I was baptized in a small creek that meanders through a pasture by a "Utah Mormon." When in military service, I was led spiritually in a priesthood group by a "Utah Mormon." Many wayward LDS men were brought back into fellowship by the untiring efforts of this "Utah Mormon." The wives of two of my brothers are members of the Church today because some young "Utah Mormons" who were willing to spend two years away from home touched their spirits as none others had done. I attend a small branch in which 98% of the members are converts to the Church and 90% of those were introduced to the gospel by a "Utah Mormon." I could provide a hundred examples of the high quality of "Utah Mormons" I have known.

The conclusion I reach is that rather than avoiding becoming a "Utah Mormon" one should strive to become like them!

From Arizona: I am a convert of 30 years. I "knew Jesus" and had a personal relationship with him long before I met the "Mormons." His spirit led me to the LDS church. I am amazed continually as I meet members of "his" church who have none of his light or love in their lives and have never felt his guidance and experienced the Holy Ghost.

I have taught my children at home for the past 10 years and belong to a support group for LDS parents that choose to be "home schoolers."

It is evident that there is a wide range of view points among the Saints, but I somehow have the feeling that there is a much narrower limit to acceptability.

True, I live within the "Mormon Corridor" and perhaps that makes a lot of difference. Social acceptance becomes mixed up with all the people who are in positions of leadership, and it is hard to separate personal bias and prejudices from the roles enacted. Maybe that is what it is to become a "Utah Mormon." It becomes a social church rather than a gathering of the Saints. Labels are put on others that dress or think too differently and somehow we lose our sense of being Zion.

The way to avoid becoming one of those "Utah Mormons" in the negative sense of the term is just to be sure you are in tune with Jesus Christ. We are, after all, individuals before God and accountable only for our own selves. No need to worry that anyone else is or is not "living the Gospel." How am I doing? Is my life guided by the Holy Spirit? Does the Light of Christ shine in my eyes? Would I be ready to greet him if he came today?

Missionary Parenting 101: A Crash-Course in What to Expect

All right, so I figured that I pretty much knew what it would be like.

After all, I had gone on a mission. My wife had gone on a mission. Many of my friends, and the sons and daughters of my friends, had gone on missions, some to exotic and even dangerous place like Moscow, Russia, or Yugoslavia at the outbreak of the civil wars there.

True, I had never sent anyone on a mission, but really, how hard could that be?

With our eldest now only a little more than three weeks in the field, we have discovered that sending is as much an act of faith as going . . . if not more so.

Through superior hindsight -- and the passage of twenty-four years -- it seems as if I just suddenly became a missionary. I had forgotten the sometimes painful process of decision. With our son, it took the form of a series of complex messages that began just after he turned eighteen with, "Now don't nag me about going. I'm probably going to but only because I want to, not because of pressures by friends, bishops . . . or parents." So we kept quiet about a mission call and watched him prepare himself -- and felt proud of the choices he was making. Then suddenly, everything changed. He not only wanted to go, but he wanted to go right now! Who knows, maybe they'd make an exception and take him two months before he turned nineteen, or one month, or just let him turn nineteen in the MTC. Waiting became a torture.

Then his letter arrived. He was away from the house, so we paged him, adding the code he and his mother had arranged that would mean "The Call has arrived." I'm not sure the beeper had finished beeping before his car shot into the driveway, and I know the engine hadn't stopped knocking before he was sitting in the family room, opening the long white envelope.

"Dear Elder, you have been called to serve in the . . .," and that was as far as he got before he dissolved into tears -- of relief that the call had come, of joy, of released strain. I'm not sure he had a place picked out that he really hoped for, but when he started crying, I realized for the first time that sending a missionary into the field is not the same as going.

Finally, he recovered enough to read the name: "Paraguay-Asunción." And the reporting date: November 3, 1993. I glanced at my wife and knew what she was thinking: he was going to miss both Thanksgiving and Christmas, the two focal times for our family.

As it turned out, he only missed one of the two. We survived the near-frantic process of shopping for lists of clothing, filling out forms, getting shots, and applying for passport and visa (we discovered that Paraguay doesn't let just anyone in, so his preparation included getting a notarized birth certificate dated within the past four years and a statement of his good behavior from the local police, with the local notary in turn notarized by the California Secretary of State). And we survived a missionary farewell that he planned to be a spiritual experience and to last just the length of a regular Sacrament Meeting -- and it was and it did.

On October 25, we had a family dinner to substitute for Thanksgiving, complete with turkey and holiday china. Three days later, we said farewell at the airport to our son and his grandmother from Provo, and a week after that, he entered the MTC.
The Pearl

Once there was
a grain of sand
that swam with the currents
of the ocean,
and it found retreat.

Hidden from light --
secure in the dark --
its rugged surface
soon became smooth,
then it was found.

Harboured, now a token
of love,
blind of its cherished anchor
in the heart,
and its fatal birth.

-- J. Scott Bronson

The preparations were so exciting and rushed and time-restrained that we really didn't have a chance to think about him being a missionary; it was hard enough just getting him to become one. We figured on two months at the MTC for us to get used to the idea, to practice writing parent-to-missionary letters that would be wise and uplifting and inspiring, getting ready for the real thing.

In his second letter home, he told us that

his departure date had been set forward to December 7 -- which for us was less than two weeks from the day we received the letter.

And that was the last we heard from him at the MTC, except for a box of things he couldn't fit into his suitcases and a scribbled note dated December 6.

December 7 came . . . and went. We waited, sure that he had arrived safely, that he was all right, that someone would let us know if there was anything wrong, that . . . well, any parent can imagine what we were thinking.

On December 14, we received a packet of letters. One from his mission president commending him as a new Elder, telling us where he would be serving (a tiny place on the border of Paraguay and Brazil), and urging us to write often. One from our son, saying nothing much but bubbling with excitement that he was there and ready to start. And there was a picture of our son with his mission parents. "He's lost weight," we both thought, "but he looks happy."

So we wrote. And we wrote again. And again. When no further letters came, we understood for the first time that mail might take weeks to make its way from here to there, from there back here.

On Christmas Morning, 2 1/2 weeks after he arrived in Paraguay, our son called. He was excited and exhausted; he was recovering from food poisoning from bad chicken, but they had a family ready for baptism. His Spanish was almost useless, since everyone spoke a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, and a native dialect, but they were teaching every day. His white shirts were stained with the ubiquitous red dust, it was a thousand degrees with 120 percent humidity, and everything was deep-fat fried, but his companion was great and they were working hard -- sometimes nearly 18 hours a day.

I sat by the speaker phone (what a luxury, to have such a thing, when in Hernandarious, only the very wealthy even had a telephone) and listened and later that night, I tried to put some of what he had told us into a poem that would capture the many contradictory emotions that were coming through the telephone from him -- from simplicity to sophistication, from wordless joy at teaching to homesickness and frustration at being ill.

From Paraguay

On Christmas-Eve day we received a call

(By satellite, with delay and all)

From our missionary in Paraguay,

Who had called his family to say

"Merry Christmas" . . . and please send food

That's not deep-fried and might taste good;

And "I love you all," but I've been sick --

Dysentery, ptomaine . . . take your pick.

He talked about his once-white shirts

Now shades of pink with ground-in dirt,

(Except the blue ones -- not dyed, nope,

Just cleansed with the local home-made soap)

And handkerchiefs worn out with use

In jungle temps while trying to sluice

Off grime and sweat. We asked if he

Had ridden a cow (an odd decree

He made at his farewell). "Not yet,

And if I did, it'd be a sure bet

That I'd never recover since here the cows

Look mortally deceased -- and anyhow

The cows and chickens all live inside,

Just like the six-inch roaches (I'd

Almost rather eat cockroach than chick --

The roaches look far the healthier pick).

The town looks like a battleground,

With dirt and dust coating all around;

And we've hiked through jungles for hours on end

To share the gospel with our new friends;

We've ridden buses chocked so full

That most hang outside where at least it's cool;

We've ridden busses whose drivers vie

To race each other though passengers die;

We've taught in a town where the richest ones

Are the few who own a telephone;

We've slept with fleas, and on our knees

Reiterated our fervent pleas

That we can close what we began

And preach and teach the Gospel plan

Until we see the ones we teach

Baptized and with that first step reach

Closer to our Father's hand

That opens with promise throughout this land.

That's what he said, our missionary son

On Christmas-Eve morning. When he was done

He cried, we cried -- and we'd laugh and pray

That he would find joy all Christmas day.

So now we're enrolled in "Missionary Parenting 101," and we understand that while going on a mission is surely an honor and a privilege, sending on a mission can bring its own wealth of experience. We look forward to learning how to be Missionary-Parents, and sharing our strengths at home with him, learning to adjust to a perhaps month-long turn-around in communications, learning to let go of someone who has been a focus in our lives for nineteen years.

It has been an education thus far -- and we are eager to discover new things over the next twenty-two months.

A Ministry of His Own

When our handicapped son was baptized it was a wonderful experience in many ways. We didn't make a big announcement about it, but the word spread and we could not believe how many people showed up. The room was filled to capacity. We said, kind of jokingly, that our son had more friends than we did. But, in fact, it was the truth. We have many stories of people whose lives he has affected with his own good spirit. But this story is one of my favorites.

Attending the baptism was my dear visiting teacher and her husband. He was a faithful part of our ward, but had never been baptized. He was now confined to a wheelchair after a stroke. His ill health had finally made him give up the cigarettes that had kept him from being baptized for so long. Their faithful home teachers were now teaching him the discussions and he had a desire to be baptized -- but he was afraid he no longer had the strength to get himself into and out of the font. After watching my husband and my brother together lower our son into the baptismal font, this elderly brother realized he did not have to worry about his frail body anymore. He went home and told his wife that if our son could be baptized, he could be, too. Within a few weeks he was baptized with the help of his two home teachers.

It was not until after her husband's death a few months later that my visiting teacher shared this story with me. It had been the greatest wish of her heart that he be baptized before he died, and she felt that our son's influence in his life was a great gift to them both. Though his body is weak, I marvel quite often that our son's strong spirit is still able to carry out the work of the Lord.

The Consensus of Scholars

So I'm reading along in Norman F. Cantor's The Civilization of the Middle Ages, and, as I always do, I'm spinning off on tangential ideas. For instance, as he talks about the era when the imperial government of Rome and Constantinople merged with the Christian Church, I'm thinking: Hmmm, what about all those people who are always comparing the fall of Rome with the decline of America? The empire didn't fall during the flagrantly decadent reigns of Caligula or Nero. It wasn't until a corrupt and brutal government started enforcing piety and uniformity of doctrine that Rome collapsed.

Those were my thoughts when I came, inevitably, predictably, to the following sentence: "After centuries of argument and speculation about the life and teachings of Jesus, what is really known about him can be stated in a few simple paragraphs."

My skin crawled the way it always does when I see that a flat-out lie has been accepted as truth even by serious scholars with good intent. I thought of good friends of mine, historians and theologians, who have bought into this "Here's what we really know about Jesus" or "Here's what we really know about the prophets of Israel and Judah" or "Here's what we know about the origins of Torah" line.

You know what the line is, of course. All we know about Jesus is that he was a simple man from Galilee who "proclaimed that the kingdom of God was within and advised men and women to worry about their own souls instead of social revolution or national redemption. The only good thing in the world is love -- love of man for man and of man for God." This meek and gentle teaching was linked with the idea that the end of the world was at hand and "this was the last moment to save oneself -- to become humble and poor in spirit and to love God and condemn the world."

Forget all that mystical stuff about resurrection or redemption for sin -- and as for the supposed divinity of Christ, "if he thought of himself as a messiah at all, it was in the old sense of a preacher of righteousness or helper of men, rather than of a national saviour against the Romans or the Saviour-God of later Christianity. Jesus talked about those familiar elements of Judaism that emphasized love, justice, nonviolence, joy, and brotherhood" (pp. 33-34).

Where does Cantor, a serious scholar, get his information? From the very scholars who, in the guise of the "Jesus Project," recently came to the remarkable conclusion that only some small percentage of Jesus' supposed sayings in the gospels were actually his own words. Can Cantor be blamed for relying on the findings of the community of scholars whose life study is the gospels and other documents of the period? Of course not. This is what scholars do -- when researching outside their own area of expertise, they rely on the current consensus of the scholars who are expert in that area.

Science and Consensus

At first glance, this seems to be the time-tested methodology of science. There is more to the scientific method than what you learn in high school: observation, hypothesis, experiment. To notice a phenomenon, speculate about the cause of it, and then design experiments to test the validity of that hypothesis is only the beginning. Completely leaving aside issues of grantsmanship, tenure, vested interests, and other ephemera, when you have conducted even a perfect experiment that perfectly validates a hypothesis, you still have not done "science."

It only becomes science -- public knowledge -- when you publish not just your results but your methodology, and then other scientists attempt to duplicate your methods and to design experiments that either expose or buttress weak points that you did not detect in your own hypothesis or your own experiment design.

When others have tested your results every way they can think of, then a legitimate consensus emerges, and it can be said that "science now knows" something that it did not know before, meaning that the community of scientists, having tested the hypothesis and duplicated the experimental results many times, now agrees that the findings are valid ... for the time being.

For the time being ... those are, if anything, the most important words in the whole explanation of scientific process. Because real scientists know that no result is ever final, no fact is ever fully proved. All of science is in perpetual abeyance. And the consensus of scientists is expected to shift from time to time as new and better information is received. Science never hears the final word; scientists must refuse to believe that any word can be final.

The Illusion of Science

Scientists and other scholars are, however, human beings. They can get lazy. They can get protective. Every scientist knows of cases where a particular leading figure, having built his reputation on work he did years before, actively resists -- to the point of persecution -- younger scientists doing new work that casts doubt upon the older fellow's seminal labors.

Since the older scientist and his supporters (in this context, they may be called "cronies") are now the leaders in the field, they will inevitably be called upon to conduct the "peer review" that determines whether the new research gets published, and it too often happens that publication of new findings is delayed for a shamefully long time.

Such "old boys" have stopped being scientists -- they have stopped holding all knowledge in abeyance and instead defend the existing consensus as if it were the final truth.

If such things can happen within a field, what can people from outside that field possibly do? As science has become ludicrously overspecialized, outsiders are treated with less and less respect, until, out of professional courtesy if nothing else, scientists from outside a discipline invariably rely on the consensus of scientists within it, never daring to question anything. It's not their field!

The result is that errors persist and spread. As insiders in baboon studies, for instance, continued to write of male hierarchies even after much more reliable findings had shown a much stronger pattern of female hierarchies that outlasted the ever-shifting male ones, outsiders, generally unaware of the suppression of new information within the field, kept treating those old male-hierarchy studies as "knowledge."

In exactly the same way, a historian like Norman F. Cantor, out of professional courtesy if nothing else, is bound to rely on the findings of New Testament scholars in determining "what is really known" about Jesus.

Even if he realizes that these so-called scholars are in fact poseurs, that their findings aren't "findings" at all, he is in no position to challenge the consensus of a scholarly community to which he does not belong. After all, he has no credentials. He doesn't speak all the appropriate ancient languages. He hasn't read all the primary and secondary literature in the field. He hasn't published anything in the field or submitted his ideas for peer review. In short, he's an outsider and therefore has nothing to say.

Indeed, I daresay that any New Testament scholars who might be reading this essay are already setting up their sneering response to me and anything I might say in the rest of this essay. After all, what do I know? What school did I attend? What ancient documents have I examined?

My answer is: You don't have to work in an orchard to recognize when an apple is too rotten to slice it in the salad.

Bad Scholarship

The best sign that New Testament scholarship is ludicrously unscholarly came with the much-touted report of the Jesus Project back last December. If you recall, the scholars admitted into the inner circle of the Jesus Project were polled as to which purported sayings of Jesus in the four canonical gospels could be relied upon as authentic. The result of that vote distinguished among statements of probable, possible, and unlikely validity.

Think about this for a moment. They voted?

What does truth or science have to do with democracy? If ten thousand vote no, and one votes yes, until there is experimentation and hard evidence, the one is as likely to be right as the ten thousand -- that is science.

As you look even closer, the Jesus Project gets even sillier. For instance, who was allowed to join this select group? Well, one of the first requirements was that a participant be someone already committed to the idea that Jesus probably didn't say most of the things attributed to him. After all, if they believed that the gospels were written by the titular authors and that Jesus literally said all that the Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John said he did, they would never have been accepted as scholars in this field in the first place.

So what was published as a "finding" was in fact the fundamental premise of membership in the group! Yet it was reported by the gullible press as if it were a noteworthy discovery -- and will no doubt be repeated as if it were "knowledge" by thousands of people who like to pretend to be in the know.

Even this is only the surface of the mess. Let's get down to consideration of the fundamental working premises of all the recent scholars whose work is taken seriously in this field. Ever since German Protestantism spawned the higher critics in the 19th century, the fundamental premise of these scholars has been the misapplication of the scientific principle of naturalism.

Quite logically, scientists recognize that they have nothing to say about the supernatural. It cannot be studied using their methods, and therefore it is simply outside their realm of study.

Unfortunately, the scientific plea of incompetence about the supernatural quickly gave way to the assumption that anything science can't deal with must not be true. Of course this is silly when you apply it to history or journalism, fields in which science has no application whatsoever, since no experimentation is possible. But when applied to religion, many -- perhaps most -- scientists and people who pride themselves on "thinking scientifically" take it for granted that to call something "unscientific" is to say that it is nonsense at best, outright fraud at worst.

In other words, many people have come to believe that science is not merely an important source of useful information, but is instead the only source of truth. They even attempt "scientific" history, journalism, and theology, though very few aspects of these fields lend themselves to even a superficially scientific method. And marginal sciences like anthropology, archaeology, psychology, and sociology are often crippled by the insistence of many on rejecting any methodology or finding that can't be cast in pseudo-scientific terms. Thus we find that students in psychology and sociology are forced to study statistics, with the result that some of the most hilariously meaningless statistics have been published in deadly earnest, simply because if a paper doesn't have math in it, it can't possibly be science.

This phenomenon is often called "physics envy," and it results in sad distortion. Far better to admit the subjectiveness of most aspects of these marginal sciences and stop wasting time painting them over with a thin coat of math. Instead, it is taken as an article of faith that mathematics is objective, and objectivity is infinitely superior in all instances to subjectivity, Clifford Geertz to the contrary notwithstanding; therefore, only those "findings" presented with a mathematical component are worthy of being taken seriously.

It is a blessing that historians and students of ancient literatures realize that there is almost no value to statistics in their fields -- though the "findings" of the Jesus Project were presented with the smoke and mirrors of statistics in order to overawe the gullible journalists and the public which they could be induced to deceive.

Still, the principle of naturalism has been systematically applied -- misapplied, I think -- among "serious scholars" of the gospels and other ancient religious documents.

The premise is that since miracles and prophecies are "unscientific," they must be rejected even by students of theology. Think about that for a moment. All that a scientist can honestly say is that science has nothing to say about miracles and prophecy -- not that science can prove that they never happen, since you can't prove such a negative proposition.

But these "serious scholars" start from the indefensible proposition that it has been proven that there are no miracles or prophecies. That's how they first "knew" that there must have been two writers of Isaiah -- one who was concerned with the political situation of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and a much later one who already knew about Cyrus of Persia and wrote "prophecies" meant to lobby for his restoration of the exiled Jews to Palestine.

Now, mind you, I'm not saying that the name of Cyrus might not have been an interpolation by a later writer -- how would I or anyone know? Besides, we Mormons are notorious for believing that the Bible has been repeatedly "messed with" over the centuries. We know there's a lot of stuff in there whose authenticity is open to question, and we know that a lot of vital scripture is simply missing.

But that merely means that there are questions. The problem with the "serious scholars" in these fields is that they think that they have answers.

Oh, if you push them, they'll admit that their findings are tentative, and that if better evidence comes along they'll certainly change their minds (the scientific pose -- they all know how to strike it). What they're loath to admit is that in fact they know nothing at all and that all their findings are mere guesswork, and almost all of them result from applying the principle of naturalism to precisely the field where it is least applicable.

What Are the Sources?

When someone starts telling you "what is really known" about the historical Jesus, keep both hands on your intellectual wallet. Why? Because there is only one way that they could possibly "know" anything that is not in the gospels, or "know" that something in the gospels is not true -- and that is by having a manuscript source of equal antiquity. And even then they could not say that they knew the gospel was incorrect; they could merely report that there is a competing account which may or may not be more accurate.

Here's the key fact: There is no such competing account. There is no such document of equal antiquity. The only near-contemporary reference to Jesus outside the gospels comes from Josephus, and his brief reference, based as it is on hearsay, is useful only in affirming that in Josephus's culture, Jesus had been heard of.

The gospels themselves are the only source for any of Jesus' teachings. When "serious scholars" tell us what is "known" about Jesus and his teachings, their only source is the very gospels they are refuting. When they deny that Jesus ever asserted his divinity, their only source is the very books that record that Jesus did assert his divinity.

So how can scholars possibly have reached a consensus that Jesus taught this and not that, that and not this?

Wishful thinking, that's what. They have agreed on the gospel they wish he had taught.

Oh, I know, it's not quite as simple as that. But once they've tossed out the miracles as tall tales added on to affirm faith (yep, them early disciples was all liars; after all, they was from Galilee and they never been to college so they'd swallow any old tale), what's left?

Perhaps the most intellectually ludicrous methodology is the examination of the writings of contemporary rabbis in order to find out what ideas were "in the air" and therefore likely to be genuine. Since Gamaliel said a version of the "golden rule," then it's believable that Jesus also taught that idea; but since none of the rabbis and none of the other would-be messiahs taught that the Messiah was the Son of God, therefore the idea was "not contemporary" and must be a later interpolation.

What they forget (or deliberately ignore) is the fact that Jesus was not a typical rabbi. If he had been, we'd be reading his words in the Talmud, not the New Testament. His teachings were revolutionary (even if he did not preach violent revolution) and when his disciples finally caught on to what he was talking about, the gospel they taught was radically different from what was being taught by the Pharisees. The reason the gospels don't sound like other documents from Jewish culture in that period is because Jesus was teaching things that nobody else on planet Earth was teaching at that time.

Why do the "serious scholars" insist that these radical ideas could not have originated with Jesus, when such an origin is the simplest explanation for their existence? If we learn anything from history, it's that the original founding thinker is the one most, not least, likely to introduce radically new thought as he forms a new community.

Destroying the Authority of the Book

Why are the serious scholars so determined to get us to believe that they have proven what cannot be proved? Why do they insist that the gospels must have been written at least a generation after the end of Jesus' ministry? Why do they insist that most of the sayings of Jesus must have been made up by later writers? Why, for that matter, do they insist that most of the writings of the Hebrew prophets -- and part or all of Torah itself -- must have been written or rewritten by clerks from the period of Ezra and Nehemiah?

It's simple enough. Even as scholars profess their undying devotion to the writ they study, in fact it is an inevitable tendency of all communities of scholars to destroy anything that competes with their own authority.

Fundamentalist Christians, for instance, insist on the absolute sanctity of the Holy Bible only because they have already killed it. They deny the possibility of new revelation, and they have already established a consensus of interpretation based on Plato by way of Luther. They accuse Mormons of not being Christian because we deny the Christian consensus on the nature of the trinity -- even though that consensus was forced on the Christian world by violent repression from the Roman imperial government. They deny the possibility of new revelation precisely because new revelation is needed only if it was a mistake for them to close the book.

In the case of the "serious scholars" of the New Testament, it isn't new revelation they have to kill -- it's the old Christian consensus. Why? Because these scholars have no authority in that old consensus. But if they can get people to accept their ideas, then in the new consensus they will rule.

And they've already won. When a Norman Cantor wants to write about "what is really known about" Jesus in his history of Medieval civilization, he doesn't turn to conservative Baptists or Catholics. He turns to these "serious scholars" with their supposedly scientific approach.

What he gets is guesswork which is not in the slightest ameliorated by the fact that the guessers speak ancient languages and know how to read ancient texts. When it comes to what Jesus and Isaiah and -- dare I say it? -- Moses actually said, they have no more hard data than do I, who read no ancient languages.

And, in fact, they have even less authority if only because they are completely unwilling to admit the possibility that the ancient writers they are studying might not have been gullible (at best) or dishonest (at worst) ignoramuses. How stupid do they think these people were?

Pretty darn stupid, that's what they think. Those early followers of Jesus were, after all, mere uneducated fishermen and other such low-class people, not highly educated scholars (like the Pharisees) and people of great sophistication in the ways of the world (like the Sadducees).

In fact, the Pharisees are an excellent example of scholars who, in the guise of "improving" a religion (and their contributions

to Judaism are undeniable) subverted it by replacing the authority of the temple with the authority of the rabbis.

Scholars on the Make

That is what these scholars -- and, inevitably, all communities of scholars -- want, whether or not they admit it or are even consciously aware of it. They want control over the texts and the readings of the texts. If they can destroy all other competing authorities and therefore all other competing readings, then they can at last have what the scientists have: Consensus reality.

Never mind that true scientists should refuse to accept a lasting consensus, too. Science is perceived, by most insiders and almost all outsiders, as having "found the truth," and scholars want to achieve that kind of stability too.

And since scholars have been struggling to achieve consensus reality -- firm intellectual ground -- since long before there was a scientific method, it is fair to say that while modern scholars imitate the outward forms of science in order to borrow a part of science's enormous authority, science itself has shamefully adopted the worst flaws of communal scholarship as it abandons the principle of abeyance and treats too many scientific findings as if they were final truth.

Since by definition scholars are only collectors and interpreters of ancient writings, how can they make a lasting contribution to their field? By eliminating contradiction and coming up with hypotheses that reconcile all the texts; or, if that can't be done, by destroying the authority of competing texts until only the useful reading remains.

This is why, ultimately, the Lutherans had to destroy the authority of the Epistle of James. Now conservative Protestant theologians dismiss "faith without works is dead" with a wave of the hand -- that's already been taken care of. Consensus has been achieved. The text is dead; only the scholarship surrounding the text remains.

That's why even though the Neoplatonist version of Deity is nowhere to be found in the New Testament and is frequently and obviously contradicted, the mainline Christian churches treat us Mormons as if we were inventing perverse (instead of obvious) readings of the scripture. The scholars already achieved their consensus on the nature of God and Christ. In the old days, they relentlessly hounded all other ideas into oblivion; now, more polite, they merely marginalize those believers who try to return to the uninterpreted, unkilled, nonconsensual text.

Even with the Best Intent

Perhaps I'm making this sound as if scholars were all evil people seeking to hoodwink the uneducated. On the contrary -- scholars reflect the normal mix of society. Yes, there are scholars who are careerists and who will fake things up for some perceived advantage; yes, there are idealogues who will do anything to see their ideas prevail; yes, there are scholars who hate the true doctrines of Christianity, often because they want to justify their personal sins, and who use their scholarship to undermine belief in Christ; and yes, there are scholars who hate authority and oppose "official" beliefs solely in order to undermine the establishment.

But scholars like that really don't worry me much. I'm much more concerned about the pious true believers.

Among the "serious scholars" it is the very sincerity and sweetness and mildness of many of these scholars, the reluctance with which they came to their conclusions about the "true" authors of the gospels or the prophets or Torah, which is so persuasive to my friends who have lost their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ because they believed that these "scholars" had disproven the "naive" Mormon readings of scripture.

These friends of mine are reasonably intelligent; indeed, it was their very intelligence that made them prey to these scholars. For here is the technique they use for seducing the best and the brightest: "We know the secrets," they say. "We have the gnosis, the hidden truth. Those common people, those ordinary minds, let them struggle with their confusion; we have the answer. Among us, all is settled, all is known, or will soon be known. Join us and you, too, will be among the lofty ones at the high table."

It is hard for those who take pride in their intellect to reject that siren song and answer it with, "Where are your documents? What is your proof?" Especially when they are then treated with scorn and forever shut out of the inner circle.

The seducers lay out documents and demonstrate their proof, and those who are ripe to be seduced -- those who are most proud of being in the inner "knowing" circle -- shrug and say, Well, there it is, now I know.

If they were true scholars, though -- rather than eager members of a community of scholars -- they would rigorously examine those documents and demonstrations and proofs and say, accurately, "But there are fifteen other ways to interpret all these passages, and there is nothing in these documents that forces your reading." Commonly, the most accurate answer is, "This is proof of nothing. It is mere speculation and nothing more. Come back when you have some ancient manuscripts, and then we'll judge the relative merits. Till then, all you have as authority is your faith in your own doubts."

Alas, even as they criticize mainline Christians -- or mainline Mormons! -- for mindlessly following the dicta of their leaders, these poor would-be scholars are just as mindlessly following the dicta of their leaders, with the difference being that the "serious scholars" have abandoned all pursuit of genuine proof and create instead a tissue of pure speculation utterly lacking in authority. It is for this clothing that these proud spirits leave the Church. It dissolves in the first rain.

No One Is Immune

When I said that these tendencies are an inevitable aspect of all communities of scholars, I meant it. Scholars working alone are extremely valuable; scholars arguing with each other are even more valuable; but heaven preserve us from communities of scholars who have created a consensus among themselves. Such communities are always the enemies of truth.

That is because the labor of scholarship is to make things make sense. Even scholars who sincerely profess their devotion to living prophets will inevitably labor to kill the words of the prophets in order to make everything fit together -- even when the Lord has made it clear that things don't need to fit yet. That is why the most pious of our professional scholarly community pore over the Journal of Discourses, picking and choosing only those quotations from dead prophets that will fit the consensus reality that they are trying to create, ignoring or explaining away those that don't fit.

That is why, even though the living prophets determined and continue to determine that the Lord has not definitively revealed the manner of the creation of the Earth, only that Earth was created by God for his purposes, and that man was created in the image of God in order to achieve immortality and eternal life -- even though, in short, the living prophets continue to consider that neither evolutionists nor creationists can claim to have the authority of the Church either for or against their position -- the community of faithful LDS scholars still insist on teaching their students the scholarly consensus about creation: that it took six thousand years; that Adam was the first living creature on the physical earth; that there was literally no death among any living creatures until the fall of Adam.

This interpretation is certainly one valid reading of the scriptures, but it is not the only reading, and it does not have any special authority from the living prophets. What should alarm us is that they regularly and openly teach this in the venues that should be most obedient to the living prophets and most disposed to following their example. Apparently they value approval that comes from consensus with their admired colleagues more than they respect the guidance and example of the prophets. Like the apostate fundamentalists who reassure each other that the Brethren secretly approve of their practice of polygamy, so also these scholars assure each other that while the Brethren can't openly condemn evolution, they are secretly glad the scholars are doing it for them.

That this particular reading of creation has become the unquestioned consensus of the community of professional scholars of the LDS community is not only bad scholarship, it also contradicts decisions by the First Presidency of many decades' standing; it requires that the statements of some prophets and apostles be taken as binding doctrine while contradictory statements of others be ignored or glossed over; in short, it is "scholarship" driven, not by what the documents proved, but by the need of all scholarly communities to pin down "the truth" at all costs.

The matter of creation is one of hundreds of areas where prophet-guided scholars should be openly and cheerfully questioning each others' interpretations, but instead are building consensus based solely on selective acceptance of utterances of prophets; most shocking is the tendency to give equal or superior weight to the nonscriptural writings or speeches of General Authorities of a particular ideological bent, even when to do so means discarding, not just the nonscriptural utterances of other General Authorities, but also scripture itself. Not one of them would dare to do such a thing alone; buttressed by the consensus of their convivial colleagues, however, they are able to ignore the fact that they are doing it at all.

We Have Living Prophets

The Lord knows the whole truth; we don't. Since we know that there are many things yet to be revealed to us, then it is obvious that there are many things we don't know now; and if history is any guide, each new revelation will be a revolution, requiring us to discover that things we did believe were at best incomplete, at worst flat wrong.

The living prophets know this. That's why Elder Bruce R. McConkie didn't bat an eye when, challenged about statements he and others made prior to 1978 about blacks and the priesthood, he simply answered, "We were wrong." The living prophets know that on any matter that directly affects the salvation of the Saints, the Lord will speak clearly; and when the Lord does not speak clearly, it's because either we are unready or unworthy to receive the truth, or the Lord doesn't find it necessary to reveal the full truth at this time.

This is anathema to scholars. It makes them uneasy. It calls their whole life's work into question. What good does it do to pore over all the writings and speeches of all the prophets, only to emerge at the end with the same incompleteness you had at the beginning? What is the scholar's contribution to the Church if, in the end, he can say nothing more than, "Here's what has been said; here's what the prophets are saying now; go live the gospel as we know it."

And yet that is precisely what the conclusion of true gospel scholarship must always be. Hugh Nibley is as close to an ideal example of this as we've ever had in the Church. He pretends to no special revelatory knowledge. He studies all the learning of the world with a skeptical eye, joining no community, participating in no foolish artificial consensus. He searches the words of the prophets and quotes them, often speculating on what they might mean or how they might fit together -- but you will never find him pretending to have found the definitive reading. Nibley has lived by the principle of abeyance. The Lord will yet reveal many things.

Even around Hugh Nibley, though, there is a tendency for scholars to form communities. There are already scholars treating Nibley's writings as if his questions were answers, his guesses facts. That Nibley himself rejects all such disciples is to his credit; that his rejection of them does not stop them should show us how easily and perversely these consensus-building communities arise.

The living prophets are aware of the danger of false consensus among communities of scholars, of course. The days when General Authorities phone up someone in the BYU Religion Department to get the answer to a doctrinal (rather than a historical) question seem to be gone for good.

But far too often the community of scholars speaks in a clearer voice than the prophets, especially to young intellectuals who are most easily seduced by the promise of gnosis. These scholars aren't even aware that they are in competition with the prophets; they think they are in support. But as long as they look to each other as authorities on scripture rather than to their priesthood leaders; as long as they regard scholars as having more authority over the reading of the scripture than common Saints led by common inspiration in the ordinary Sunday school and priesthood and Relief Society classes, then they pose as grave a danger to the young intellectuals of the Church as do the serious scholars of the outside. You don't have to be pernicious to do harm.

Challenging Scholarship

There is a place for scholarship in a Church led by living prophets. Individual scholars who learn all they can from the world and from the prophets help us all by offering their discoveries, their insights, their speculations, their attempted reconciliations.

However, these scholars should always be at odds with each other, doubting each other, arguing with each other. If they ever find themselves forming a consensus on anything other than the basic principles of the gospel, then they should immediately start to question their own consensus and doubt their own conclusions, not because their conclusions must be wrong, but because their consensus, reached by scholarship and not by revelation, is dangerous to the Church.

A sterling example of what pious Mormon scholarship should be is John Sorenson's An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. Over and over in the book he reminds us that he is not purporting to present the true geography of the book, but rather is merely showing how the record might plausibly fit into at least one real-world landscape. Furthermore, other scholars, while accepting his basic pious premise (that the Book of Mormon is a real record of real people who lived in a real place and time), have challenged the specifics of his geography. Likewise, there have been challenges -- by scholars who respect Hugh Nibley highly -- to Hugh Nibley's work, offering alternative interpretations (I think at once of the suggestion that far from being a trader and traveler, Lehi was quite likely to have been a metalsmith). Do such challenges undo the work of Sorenson or Nibley? On the contrary, they validate it by treating it with scientific respect. Do Sorenson or Nibley seek to suppress these other ideas, or treat these challenging scholars as enemies? Not to my knowledge, anyway; they seem to regard their own work as a starting point, not an end. They seem glad when it is used to open conversation, not to lock their colleagues into consensus.

When the Brethren asked both Joseph Fielding Smith, then an Apostle, and B.H. Roberts, then one of the Presidents of the Seventy, to be silent about their speculations about creation, that silence was required because both those men, being General Authorities, could not speak without their words being taken for doctrine -- a lesson that the Brethren were historically slow to learn but which they are keenly aware of now.

But individual scholars may freely speculate in areas where the Brethren must maintain a discreet silence. And as long as the scholars put forth their speculations as speculations -- a private exploration rather than official and final truth -- and as long as other scholars are openly questioning and debating them, they do a good service, if only to remind the Saints of the confusion that prevails wherever the Lord has not spoken. We are human -- it is only natural for us to enjoy flights of fancy, as long as we don't forget that that's exactly what they are.

Such disagreements among scholars are not a violation of the Lord's charge that we must be one, or of the Brethren's example of seeking harmony in all their decisions. Since good scholars will refuse to admit that any of their answers are final, they are not sowing confusion or discord, they are affirming the difference between revelation and intellectual invention. Their many voices will be a reminder that we follow only the One Voice of the Lord. And their example of disagreeing with each other -- in detail, and often! -- while gladly serving yoked side by side in the gospel of Christ will teach all the Saints how to find harmony in diversity at every level of the Church.

Then the Church will be spared the embarrassment of having Mormon scholars utter such nonsense declarations as "What is really known about Jesus is ..." They will leave such statements to the only people called to make them -- the prophets, who make such statements sparingly and carefully, and in response to the urgent needs of the Saints, not the scholarly hunger for order.

Remember, it was uninspired communities of scholars who, in the first centuries of the great apostasy, insisted on absolute conformity of religious thought, unleashing the power of the state against the Arians, the Pelagians, the Monophysites. In the absence of revelation, they were frightened by disagreement. They could not bear to think that someone, somewhere, might read the same documents and come to a different conclusion.

More recently, in a much publicized group of excommunications from the latter-day Church, the scholarly excommunicants loudly pleaded that they were victims of the Church's intolerance of diversity. But this was obviously not the case, or they would have been excommunicated long before. In fact, the opposite was true: They were finally excommunicated only when their intolerance of the Church's deviance from the world's consensus finally reached the point of open and active war against the Church. Only then, and reluctantly, did the Church remove them from membership. The "spiritual abuse" project and the so-called Mormon Alliance resembled nothing so much as attempts to discredit and humiliate a Church that refused to accept the leadership of its worldly educated scholars. We had room for their ideas; they did not have room for ours.

In a way, though, we might have let these scholars down. Too few of our pious scholars were setting an example of mutual criticism and perpetual questioning. We must make sure in the future that our rigorously challenging scholarship and rejection of false consensus will prepare our brightest young Saints so they will not be seduced by the gnosis of the world. Instead let them be trained to be suspicious of all scholarly consensus, to insist on seeing evidence, to be expert at bringing up alternate interpretations to challenge the received opinion of all scholarly communities. Our scholars should be, as our prophets are, gad-flies in the world, stinging all those who think the world, without living prophets, has any hope of knowing anything at all.

That is the best intellectual preparation we could possibly offer. Instead, too often we teach our children to look for fatuous consensus and then go along with it. We have fattened them up; the world will make stew of them. Then these bright children will attack the living prophets, thinking they have learned to be "critical thinkers" when in fact they have learned to be ignorant sheep, spouting scholarly nonsense as if it were truth. They will say, "It is known" when they should be saying, "How can it be known?" They will nod when they should laugh.

Ultimately, you see, Latter-day Saints reject the scholarly method and embrace the scientific one. We observe; we study it out in our mind; and then we experiment, asking the Spirit to testify about the truth. We offer public testimony and our understanding is tested by others. And even when we agree on a shared understanding, we recognize that the Spirit may have witnessed to us about things which we as yet understand only imperfectly; that there will be future revelation that will make our present view seem childish.

That is scientific rigor, and we insist on it in the Church. Communal scholarship is a poor substitute at best; and at worst, it is the enemy. Where living revelation is lacking, scholarship may be the best way of preserving some tattered remnant of the words of the dead prophets. But in the bright light of living revelation, when scholars huddle together in false consensus, they only cast shadows and block the light.

-- Orson Scott Card

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