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One Person's Story
Blessings of Boundary Changes
A Church of Mighty Prayer
Books of Interest to Latter-day Saints
Letter to the Editor | It Hurts When It Gets Inside
A Higher Standard | Responses to "187" Article
|Issue 9 / February 1995||Hatrack River Publications|
One Person's Story
I can remember reading, years ago, about the excitement of the early Latter-day Saint testimony meetings. I was captivated by the accounts of those great spiritual gatherings, which often lasted for hours and hours, well into the evening, fueled by the inspiring faith of such courageous people, some of whom were my own ancestors. I recall that the writer was commenting on the fact that, by comparison, today's testimony meetings seem at first glance to be much more subdued. Perhaps it is true that in this modern, cautious age we are less likely to outwardly display and comment on our own intense religious experiences, but I submit that they nevertheless continue to take place. I submit that the glorious gift of testimony, promised by the Savior over and over again in the scriptures, is given without reservation today just as in the past. Of that I can bear personal witness.
I was born into a Latter-day Saint family, and my early childhood was filled with happy memories of church attendance and activity. As I progressed into my teenage years, though, the pressures and temptations of the world gradually took their toll on me, and by the time I was an adult, I had become almost completely inactive. Even though I was outwardly less observant to the gospel, though, two things never changed: First, I never stopped studying the Church. I was always fascinated by the history, doctrine, and practices of our religion; and even though they were less significant to me on a spiritual level, I never lost interest in their inherent beauty and strength. Secondly, and most important by far, I never stopped praying. No matter what I was doing, I was lucky enough to remember to ". . . not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ . . ." (2 Nephi 32:8-9). No matter what I did, or what happened, I prayed -- and was able to maintain a sense of contact with my Creator.
But still, deep in my heart, I knew something was missing. I often listened to the stirring words of faith that were spoken by my active-member friends and relatives, and I wondered about the idea of a testimony, that burning knowledge of the truthfulness of the gospel that they professed to have, but that I couldn't understand. How did one obtain a testimony? Did it come from study and intellectual pursuit, from living a particular lifestyle, or from something else? I began to search for the answers.
In 1985, I married the most wonderful woman in the world (and we've since had two children). While we were still dating, we had realized that we had similar backgrounds in the Church (we had both been involved in our youth, but now were more or less ambivalent about the gospel). While we didn't consciously acknowledge it then, we were both relieved that our respective positions on religion weren't too different . . . and could evolve in similar directions over time. Without admitting it, we were leaving the door open for future reactivation in the Church.
As the years passed, our thoughts and discussions turned ever more frequently to spiritual matters. We used to go down to temple square on Easter Sunday to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (in those days, that was the closest we came to actually going to church)! The music we heard there had a deep impact on us, reminding us fondly of early memories of primary songs and youthful promptings of the spirit, and we experienced those feelings again every time we heard the choir singing. On other occasions, we would gaze at the magnificent Salt Lake Temple, and remember how we had learned, long ago, how a marriage there could last forever.
Although we weren't aware of it at the time, I've since realized an amazing fact: In everything involved with the Church, from the sight of a temple on a distant knoll, to the song of a choir, to cherished memories of childhood, the Holy Spirit is there, crying out to be heard, desperately attempting to reach us through the layers of worldly skepticism and darkness that build up around us, if we let them. I can now see with startling clarity what I didn't understand for years: that even though all methods of studying the gospel are very important, if we don't let the Holy Ghost into our lives, none of our other efforts will matter.
After learning everything I could about the Church, I finally began to realize that all the knowledge in the world can only take someone so far in terms of religious faith, and that the truth of the gospel can't be obtained by study alone. I thought about this: If the Lord wanted it to be possible to obtain a testimony by intellectual pursuit alone, if there was a way to read or study enough to reach a conclusion that the Church was true, then why wouldn't he just reveal all the secrets of the universe to us, and be done with it? If physical evidence was all that we needed, why wouldn't the angel Moroni have shown the golden plates to anyone that wished to see them? The answer, of course, was obvious, although it evaded me for many, many years. We are here to learn to walk by faith.
Even after I began to understand this great truth, however, I continued to maintain (as I do now) that research and study is not only appropriate, it's absolutely necessary. I took to heart the words of a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who knew that ". . . it requires striving -- intellectual and spiritual -- to comprehend the things of God, even the revealed things of God." With that, however, I discovered that a real testimony, a certain knowledge of the truthfulness of the gospel, can only be obtained by revelation, through the power of the Holy Ghost. As countless church leaders have repeatedly said, the power of personal revelation can only be obtained through faith, study, and by keeping the commandments. But if we are willing to pay that price, the rewards of knowledge and understanding are exponentially increased, magnified to an infinitely greater degree than study and intellect alone could ever produce.
Today, whenever I am asked to describe my conversion process (usually by people who are interested in the Church themselves), I respond by saying that the answer boils down to two things. First, I have studied and learned enough to provide anyone who asks with intellectual proof, in a hundred different ways, that the Church is true. But the second thing is, none of that will do them any good! Those things can only serve to reinforce the gift of testimony, which comes from the Holy Spirit.
As we began to seriously consider getting active in the Church, we had two immensely moving experiences that we recognized as the very kind of spiritual confirmation that we had been searching for. The first was very simple, yet awesome in its importance in our lives.
My wife has always had problems with her ears, and at the first of the year was scheduled to undergo some fairly major surgery to correct the problem. Needless to say, she was quite nervous. In keeping with our increasing discussions on the gospel, I suggested that we allow my brother, who happens to be a counselor in the bishopric in his ward, to give her a priesthood blessing.
When those men laid their hands on her head, she remembers feeling such an overwhelming sense of peace and the spirit, that she knew with certainty that there wouldn't be any problems with the surgery. Of course, there weren't. The Holy Spirit always tells the truth.
This was an extraordinarily powerful event in our lives. But the next one really got the process rolling. On April 6 of last year, the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple (and a day of enormous significance for the Church in many respects), my interest in the Church's history in general, and the temple in particular, was piqued. I was fortunate to work in downtown Salt Lake City, just a few blocks from Temple Square, so I decided to stroll over to that beautiful site on my lunch hour to observe the day. Again, at that point we were still just toying with the idea of becoming active, but I had always been interested in the temple, and with my consideration of the Church, this seemed like a great idea. I hadn't planned on going with anyone else, but as it worked out, a good friend of mine from work, who happens to be an active member of the Church, was available and I asked him to join me.
We had a quick lunch, and then strolled onto the grounds of the square. As it turned out, I could see no visible observance of the centennial. (I later learned that the main observances were taking place elsewhere, to preserve the sacred character of the temple itself.) My friend and I got to talking, however, and the conversation turned into a serious discussion of the purpose for temples. Soon the lunch hour was over, but I had become so engrossed in this conversation that I asked my friend to come into my office. We shut the door and proceeded to enter into a spiritual dialogue lasting almost two hours, in the middle of the work day.
My friend didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, but is was delightfully refreshing to hear his perspective, that of a lifelong, faithful member of the church who wasn't complacent, who wasn't afraid to acknowledge the miracles it has brought into his life, and who had no reason to share his testimony with me other than to help.
At that point, something wonderful took place. As the discussion went on, and my friend was expounding on a particular point, I began to feel a peculiar sensation of being elevated out of my chair. Suddenly, I was no longer hearing the words he was saying; rather, I was floating above myself, lost in my own private universe. The sensation was totally unlike any other that I had ever experienced, with an intensity that I can't describe. It was as if my whole consciousness was being drawn upward, while at the same time I continued to sit there in the chair.
After several moments of this, I suddenly seemed to rapidly "fall" back into myself, and instantly became alert again to what my friend was saying. Incredibly, the first sentence I noticed was something like: ". . . and a lot of amazing things happened while I was on my mission. Sometimes, while we were teaching people, we'd get the feeling that we were rising right out of our chair."
I looked at my friend with astonishment. He had just described the event that had just happened to me, only a few seconds after it had occurred. Once I shared that with him, he became aware that something very unusual was taking place. He became teary-eyed, and described many more of his own spiritual experiences before he had to go back to work.
I spent the rest of the day in a daze. Obviously, something remarkable had happened, and I couldn't wait to tell my wife about it. But when I got home and related the story to her that evening, the color fell from her face. Then, after gathering together her emotions, she slowly proceeded to tell me how she had felt that very same sensation, while my brother had been blessing her prior to her surgery.
We didn't articulate it then (we agreed only to think about it further), but at that moment in our kitchen, I think we both knew that we were destined to become active in the Church. I have since thought of one way to describe my feelings: In the past, my knowledge of the gospel had always been like an empty iron mold: detailed, but lacking in substance. I knew the facts, but the real fire was missing. But then, with the renewal of faith, the rebirth of testimony that we experienced, it was as if hot wax was being poured into that mold, filling every niche with fiery heat and exuberance. What a magnificent experience!
The days and weeks that followed were some of the most remarkable in my memory, truly, as in the words of Oliver Cowdery, "days never to be forgotten." Long religious discussions with my wife, passionate readings of church books and scriptures, and involvement in ward activities convinced us more and more each day that the new dimension we were adding to our lives was the right one. "Line upon line, and precept upon precept," we embraced the Savior's gift of testimony together, and committed ourselves to lives of service to him. Within a short time, our family was sealed together in the temple. It was truly the most memorable day of our lives.
When I think now of our experiences in coming back to the gospel, and compare my feelings then to those that others might be having today, I would encourage them to remember the words of Jesus Christ: "But he that believeth these things which I have spoken, him I will visit with the manifestations of my Spirit, and he shall know and bear record. For because of my Spirit he shall know that these things are true . . ." (Ether 4:11) Our story is proof that these words are correct. The way to gain a testimony was there all the time, in the memories of our childhood, in careful study of the gospel, in the understanding and encouragement of friends, relatives, and associates, in learning to keep the commandments, and most of all in our prayers for guidance. The Savior's gift is there for all who will ask, a treasure beyond price, within reach of every man, woman and child. We reached, and received the gift for ourselves. Now, we are home again.
-- A Reader in Utah
In the seventh issue of Vigor, a reader announced some branch boundary changes in his city, and asked for opinions from our readership. I favor the changes, and wish all the members in his area success as they implement their new "teenage" branch, and the changes in the other two. I believe the changes will increase their missionary and reactivation efforts, since needs of potential converts and less active members will be met more fully in their new, demographically organized branches.
Sometimes, boundary changes are traumatic for long time church members, whether they live outside Utah in the "mission field" or in the "heart" of Zion. They have to adjust to meeting attendance with people they don't know, and to new callings. In the last three years, my Utah stake has experienced a series of "mighty" changes, which caused difficult adjustments for some of our members.
First, we built a new chapel, to relieve the overcrowding in our other two chapels; but -- there was a problem. It was built on a high hill that some of our elderly and disabled members couldn't reach easily, who didn't have cars. Rides eased that problem for some, although others continued to walk the challenging distance. There was no other lot where the chapel could go. It had to go on that hill, or nowhere.
The realigned ward boundaries were more confusing. My ward, which was assigned to the new chapel, was farther away from it than we were from the stake center, or our original building. Yet, how blessed we were to have a new chapel at all. Hill or no hill, it's closer than fifty mile distances to church in much of the mission field outside Utah. Wards and branches out there can cover three or more counties in some states, and wider territory in nations outside North America. We had to remember our abundant blessings in Utah.
Our second boundary challenge occurred when we created a new ward last year. We needed it. Its creation divided my ward by a third, and another. Our stake center boundary meeting was packed to the back of the chapel. The stake president presided, and talked about the coming emotional adjustments. Many of those assigned to the new ward had lived in the other two for many years.
The Stake President also spoke about his little son, who had his own worries. Could he play with his friend anymore who had to go to the new ward, although he lived across the street? His father assured him that he could.
After the meeting concluded, one elderly sister walked up to me, shaking her head miserably. She said, "I've been in this ward for forty years!" In other words, she doubted she could cope with the change. She was in the new ward. I wasn't.
I pointed out gently, "You won't have to climb the hill anymore to get to our new chapel. You're going back to our old one. There's no hill, and it's closer."
Suddenly, she brightened, saying, "Yes! That's right!"
This sister made the adjustment with lightning speed. I wished her well in her new ward.
Recently, its members celebrated their first ward anniversary party. Six weeks after they were organized, they welcomed their first adult convert, who was taught by the full-time missionaries. They were off to a good start, and they're still going strong.
My ward adjusted to our new calling shake ups after losing a third of our people, and we've welcomed four adult converts in the last year. Our stake has baptized 26 altogether, throughout our nine wards. Indeed, our boundary and chapel changes were authorized by the Lord. They've helped our missionary efforts. Whenever changes occur, we need to remember that they're always for our good.
Prayer is a basic element of Mormon faith and practice. We open and close all our meetings with prayer. We are encouraged to have daily family and private prayers. Indeed, we are well aware that our personal prayers offered at any time and under any circumstances are a legitimate plea to our Father in Heaven and we are entitled to an answer. Because of our own selfishness, our prayers are often answered "no," if only by a lack of a feeling of acceptance. Sometimes we receive answers to prayers that are miraculous in fulfillment and thus strengthen our testimonies.
We have no doubt that church presidents and apostles have uttered mighty prayers which have been honored by the Lord. The remarkable growth of the church verifies that our leaders are truly in touch with deity and act as directed. We may have experiences in our families of remarkable healings, guidance, or protection that have helped to shape our lives.
But all this has nothing to do with the kind of "mighty" prayer that I wish to comment on. It is not uncommon for members of the church to fall into habits of using "pet" phrases in our prayers. Some years ago we often asked for a portion of the Lord's spirit to be with us in a meeting. The general authorities finally convinced us that we either receive the spirit or we don't, but that the spirit of the Lord is not something to be sliced up and portioned out any more than God could be segmented by man.
It has now become a common practice in our prayers to pray that the Lord "might" do this or that. The word "might" suggests probability or possibility, indicating that "chance" may have something to do with the possibility that the prayer will be answered. If we really want our prayers to be answered, shouldn't we pray that what we desire "will" transpire? Chance should have no part in it.
On several occasions I have suggested that we shouldn't ask the Lord that he "might" answer our prayers but that we should ask that he "will" do so. The response that I have heard from some that agree with me is to change "might" to "may." "Might" and "may" mean about the same thing and still imply the desire that chance be invited into our communications with God. The dictionary indicates that "might" is a weaker word than "may." We should probably strive to make our prayers more direct and not invite chance into this vital communication link.
Another habit that some have gotten into that actually weakens their prayers is to re-address their prayer to "Father in Heaven" several times during the prayer. It is vain repetition to repeat the name of deity many times during a prayer. If we call on our Father in Heaven at the beginning of the prayer, it is unlikely that he will have forgotten whom we are addressing the prayer to by the time we get to the second or even the fifth sentence.
For those of us who cannot seem to stop these practices, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God has a very forgiving nature and is likely to accept our prayers regardless of our thoughtless repetitions.
-- A Reader in Utah
Theresa Funiciello Tyranny of Kindness: Dismantling the Welfare System to End Poverty in America (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993, trade paper, 340pp, $12)
We Latter-day Saints are quite aware that much is wrong with the public welfare system in the United States. But most of us -- including me! -- have been speaking out of profound ignorance about how the system actually works, who is on welfare, and what they actually receive.
Theresa Funiciello, the author of Tyranny of Kindness, is a longtime welfare activist -- a term that conjures up images of people who live on a dole demanding greedily to be given even bigger handouts. The analogy with little Oliver Twist saying, "Please, sir, may I have some more?" is perfect -- for the charge of ingratitude begins to weaken when we realize that no one can actually live on what we give to the poor. I started reading as a skeptic, ready to disbelieve anything that Funiciello might say; it took only a few stories of how welfare families are treated before I began to wish to become an activist myself.
Be warned: Funiciello begins the book with the story of an insane woman who threw her children from a balcony, and implicitly blames the welfare system for the children's death. This extremist rhetoric was very off-putting; read past it, please, for when Funiciello simply tells the tales of the women on welfare the stories carry their own truth and power.
The first and most important point, for Latter-day Saints, is this: The overwhelming majority of families on welfare are headed by women. Only a tiny number of these are teenage unwed mothers. Many of them are women plunged into poverty because they were abandoned by men. And only a tiny percentage of welfare recipients remain continuously on welfare for more than two years; nor do as many children of welfare families grow up to be welfare recipients as the myths would tell us. After reading about how little the families receive -- so that buying shoes for the baby means making everyone else go without food for a couple of days, at least -- and how badly they are treated by the "helping" professionals, the miracle is that anyone goes on welfare. They must be truly desperate.
My question to fellow Saints is: Do we really believe what we say about wanting women to remain in the home to raise their children? Do we really believe in the scriptures that tell us we will be judged by how we treat the widow and the orphan? The first welfare reform should be to treat these people with dignity: Give them enough to live on, and stop treating them like criminals for the crime of merely asking for the help which we have publicly offered to them.
Some telling observations: Those who purport to be experts on welfare are mostly those who derive their salary from the perpetuation of the welfare support structure. They gain no benefit when the actual cash payments to welfare recipients are increased. So, unsurprisingly, they always seem to recommend an increase in services -- mostly meaningless job placement and job training programs; more bureaucrats; more people trying to control welfare recipients' lives instead of treating them with decent respect.
Imagine the humiliation of the woman who is on welfare only because her husband left her (a situation far more common than the famous unwed teenage mother). Once rather well-off, she has to submit to a system that insists on teaching her how to run a household while giving her so little money that when her kids need new clothes (even the children of the poor grow out of their old clothes) she has to let the rent slide. She is treated like a child or a cheat at every step of the process. She only submits to the degradation because, pathetic as the payment is, it's the only money she has. She can't get a job -- she was home taking care of her family and has few marketable skills. Besides, her children are very young and she has no family with whom she can leave them while she works.
Until the kids are all in school, most of these women can't reasonably be expected to get a job that pays well enough to feed, clothe, and house the family while also covering the cost of day care. But isn't that what the Church teaches? Don't we believe that the principle of mothers caring for young children is just as important for non-Mormons as for Mormons? For poor people as for rich? When we talk about making these "welfare drones" get off the dole and back to work, let's remember that most of the people we're talking about are either mothers of preschool children or disabled.
And while we're at it, let's keep in mind that most welfare cheats are people employed in the system, not recipients. (And besides, the level of welfare cheating is far lower than the level of cheating on income tax by people who make plenty of money.) In short, the problems are not always -- not even often -- the ones that politicians and lobbyists have been telling us about. When I hear office-seekers make points with their middle-class constituents by promising to "crack down on welfare" it makes me ashamed.
I talked about this book with Jay Wentworth, a good friend of mine who teaches at Appalachian State University. He nodded at some of the tales I told, and then told me one. Some friends of his went along to observe as a woman of their acquaintance went to apply for welfare. Afterward, they spent hours telling horrifying stories about how badly treated welfare recipients are. Funiciello did not make these stories up -- they happen everywhere. This is a nation where we presume that people arrested for crimes are innocent until proven guilty -- but we treat all those who declare themselves to be poor and in need of help as if they were liars and cheaters, incompetent parents and lazy, muddle-headed fools.
We Mormons know how to run a welfare system. But one of the first principles of our welfare system is that there is enough and to spare. We expect those who receive welfare to do all they can to support themselves; but we also treat them with dignity and compassion, and we give them enough. Let's not forget that when we take part in the political dialogue about public welfare reform. Let the first principle be enough to live on; let the second principle be respect and compassion for all people; only when we have met those requirements should we start worrying about finding and cracking down on cheaters and drones.
We may discover that the biggest savings in the welfare system would come if we simply fired most of the bureaucrats making fine salaries from ostensibly helping the poor. We might save money if we simply gave welfare to anyone who asked for it, and cut out the high-priced middlemen.
-- Orson Scott Card
At first this book seemed to be serious and respectable history, and I had high hopes for it. True, Quinn was excommunicated a while back amid a flurry of accusations in the press which the hierarchy of the Church were unable to answer without breaching ecclesiastical confidentiality. But he had always been a historian of talent and integrity, whose work was marred in recent years only by a tendency to go farther than mere weighing of evidence or even reasonable interpretation would allow, until, in a most unhistorianlike way, he ended up lecturing the Church leadership on how they ought to govern the Church. Still, in his previous work it has been possible to read with a grain of salt, and extract much of value from his genuine historical research.
So it seemed it would be in The Mormon Hierarchy. The first two chapters, on the development of authority and of the first five presiding quorums, were fascinating, and Quinn seemed to be bending over backward not to offend Latter-day Saints. He spoke of all visions and revelations as facts, without questioning their reality, probably not because he believed them, but because he wished not to allow a discussion of their truth-value to distract from the subject at hand. Or perhaps his purpose was to appeal to the LDS reader as an insider, appearing as even-handed as possible.
He raises many valid issues in those first two chapters, and if I were to write a review of the book based only on those, I would recommend it highly, for in those chapters a real historian is at work. The only annoyance is that Quinn can't stop harping on Joseph Smith's habit of revising earlier revelations. To me, it seems perfectly logical that instead of leaving older revelations intact and publishing new ones that contradicted them, Joseph Smith, upon receiving further light and knowledge, simply revised the previous revelation to coincide with his later understanding. He was dealing with converts from the Protestant tradition, for whom scripture was the immutable word of God instead of incremental guidance; publishing revised rather than contradictory revelations would cause far less confusion.
For Quinn, however, revising historical documents seems to be the cardinal sin -- he can't seem to stop belaboring the point. Just as reporters regard "cover-ups" as the worst sin by politicians (as if reporters don't themselves cover up constantly, when they think the ends justify the means!), so also historians are innately hostile to anyone who tries to alter the historical record. But the Church hierarchy has always used history exactly as the Book of Mormon uses it: As a device for creating community and teaching true principles. (Historians invariably do the same thing, only with greater subtlety or self-deception, for the community they bend the truth to serve is the community of historians rather than the community whose history they write -- but that's another essay.)
With the third chapter of this shorter-than-it-seems book (the text runs only to page 263; the remaining 423 pages are pictures, notes, appendices, and so on), Quinn reveals his true colors. Working with the same evidence that other respectable historians have found ambiguous at best, Quinn reaches the definite conclusion that Joseph Smith originated and sanctioned the worst of the Danite violence in Missouri and that because of Danite violence Mormons pretty much deserved the persecution they got; the conclusion, never stated in so many words, is that Joseph Smith was the ultimate cause of the suffering of the Saints. Quinn reaches these conclusions by his consistent practice of discounting all testimony by loyal members of the Church hierarchy, including Joseph Smith himself, while giving great weight to the testimony of all dissident insiders, no matter how self-serving or self-justifying their testimony might be. What very quickly emerges is the spectacle of a historian writing a history of a group (the Church's governing hierarchy) in which he prefers the testimony of those who rejected or were rejected by that group to the testimony of those who remained loyal to it.
In the next chapters, "The Kingdom of God in Nauvoo, Illinois," and "The 1844 Succession Crisis and the Twelve," Quinn moves from embarrassing partiality to open malice. In his view Joseph Smith was in fact guilty of treason, and Quinn treats as fact the idea that after the Prophet's martyrdom, Church leaders ordered and rewarded the murder and mutilation of dissidents. Never mind that respectable historians inside and outside the Church have been aware of all such claims and did not take them seriously (if there really had been such a mutilated corpse as one of Quinn's sources described, it would certainly have been used to inflame the mob and bring down armies upon Nauvoo; only its non-existence explains the Church's enemies' failure to so use it). Quinn's readers will hear his voice making such accusations without a shred of doubt; the historian who weighs the evidence before our eyes, so visible in the first two chapters, is gone now, and in his place is a propagandist.
A propagandist, but for what cause? It's not hard to see. It seems clear to me that Quinn is trying to paint himself and his fellow "dissident" excommunicants as Mormon Salman Rushdies. Of course he has to believe (or at least claim) that the Mormon hierarchy kills its enemies, that he really did something very brave by standing against the Church leaders and daring to speak the truth. Never mind that throughout his entire confrontation with the Church the whole truth was the one thing he did not include in his public utterances, which he could do with impunity because the Church leaders were bound to maintain silence about anything they knew of him through their ecclesiastical offices. In fact, in my opinion Quinn's own behavior is such a perfect example of the self-serving deceptiveness of dissidents that he himself becomes the best evidence that we should give little credence to the testimonies of dissidents in Joseph Smith's time. Quinn accused Elder Packer, for instance, of actions which Quinn had not seen, treating his own suspicions and guesses as if they were known facts. And Quinn knows exactly how much information about his own behavior he has withheld from public discussion in order to enhance his credibility among the Saints. If he were truly an impartial historian, he would have realized that the dissidents of that era were equally as forthright.
It is very important for Quinn, perhaps personally but certainly as a public figure who hopes to have influence over the Church or the way the world views the Church, to maintain the pose of the impartial historian above the fray. If Quinn were in fact that impartial historian, he would never have run afoul of the Church; instead, in his apparent resentment of the Brethren's failure to comply with his vision of what the Church should be, Quinn has long since sacrificed his history and replaced it with polemic. The Mormon Hierarchy proves this to be a deliberate rather than an unconscious choice, for rhetorically Quinn works very hard to conceal his private agenda and maintain the illusion that there is still a historian rather than a polemicist involved in the writing of his book.
Well, he has had his say, and his book will do its harm. I look forward with anticipatory weariness to the endless uses anti-Mormons will make of it. For Quinn has written as the Tanners would write if only they were clever, and anti-Mormons will seize upon his accusations as if they were proven fact instead of self-serving propaganda. All suspicions become proofs in Quinn's view, and all rumors, reality. Thus even as Quinn claims to be a martyr for the truth, he releases his last grasp upon it and slides away into Cloud Cuckoo Land. And his publisher, Signature Books, retains its new-won title as the leading anti-Mormon press.
Yet those first two chapters remain to remind us of what Quinn, and this book, might have been.
-- Orson Scott Card
On the heels of the astonishingly bad science in the racist tome The Bell Curve we get the antidote, this wise and frank book that deals with genuine differences in various ethnic and racial groups throughout the world.
Sowell's first achievement is to rise out of the morass of confusion within the United States and take a global view. Too many of the differences between groups in the U.S. are blamed on American policies or cultural practices; Sowell points out that many of these American problems (and achievements!) actually show up in the same ethnic groups wherever they are in the world.
Sowell's second achievement is candor. An African-American himself, he refuses to deny differences in achievements by different racial and ethnic groups; at the same time, he doesn't deny the negative force of racism in American society. Instead, he finds patterns that cross racial boundaries (making hash of the vicious racism in The Bell Curve).
The simple (or not-so-simple) truth is that some cultures defeat themselves in some arenas. For instance, there's a reason why Iberian cultures (Spanish- and Portuguese-based cultures around the world) generally don't create strong, productive economies; a reason why the only Latin-American countries that have developed a strong commercial community are those with large numbers of Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants. In part, it's because Iberian culture disdains trade, so that those Spanish or Portuguese families that do establish a strong commercial enterprise invariably educate their children to be doctors and lawyers -- and the family business dies. Individuals often transcend their cultures, but they do it by setting aside or adapting some values, beliefs, or practices of their community.
This is a liberating book. If believed, it allows members of "nonperforming" minorities to recognize the cultural factors that inhibit their "success." Then they can either cling to those cultural factors and be content with the lack of "success," or adapt to the prevailing culture by changing their behavior.
Sowell has an unfortunate (in my opinion) habit of equating success with wealth-production, which may be his political orientation or may simply be that wealth-production is measurable and many other forms of success are not. What can't be reasonably quarreled with is his grasp of worldwide intercultural relations; the persistence of some minority cultures despite years of immersion in a very different (and often hostile) majority; the adaptability of some majority cultures when shown superior techniques, devices, and practices of other cultures. Sowell points out that the reason books have replaced scrolls and tablets everywhere in the world is because they are better, period. There are other cultural traits which are simply better, too -- enabling members of that culture to rise to political or economic power, or to maintain cultural integrity in the face of adversity.
As a Latter-day Saint reading this book, I couldn't help but realize that we, as a people, have done something quite astonishing. We have created not only a religious community but also an ethnic group. What Sowell points out about the nature of ethnic groups is almost invariably true of us, even though we are cobbled together from many different cultures throughout the world. It's not a new thought, but Race and Culture brings it home: We really are a kingdom, a nation, and even though we are scattered throughout the world, those who are converted to our faith are almost invariably brought into our culture as well.
We are also doing something unique: We have broken all racial and language barriers, or are committed to doing so. Though for many years we bowed to the racial prejudices of the nation where most of us then dwelt, we are now finally in a position to bind together people from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people into a single culture founded on faith in Christ, obedience to living prophets, love for God, and service to our fellow beings. We can draw from every culture that which is good, because all cultures are our "nursing fathers and mothers"; we can also reject every counter-productive practice because we are not truly members of any of the surrounding cultures.
So not only does Race and Culture offer a perspective that can help clear up all kinds of nonsense both from the right and the left in American politics, it also offers Latter-day Saints a perspective from which to view ourselves and understand exactly what we are doing as we take our place among the nations of the world.
-- Orson Scott Card
Your reviews of books of particular interest to LDS readers are welcome.
I just read your piece on consensus scholarship in Vigor #7. I was worried for a while that it could leave the impression that Biblical scholars have nothing worthwhile to offer the Saints, since their conclusions are, after all, merely educated guesses. But I think that someone reading through to the end would not be left with that impression.
I thought you might be interested in the idea of consensus in medicine in the 90s. "Consensus statements" are all the rage in the last few years. Typically, one of the many professional sub-groups appoints a "blue-ribbon" panel to read all the research on some particular area of clinical concern where there is disagreement, and publish a consensus statement on their conclusions about the best way to manage a disease, for example.
Now these sorts of things can be very useful to a practicing physician trying to figure out what to do for a patient with a problem he doesn't see often. On the rare occasion when I have to treat a person with tuberculosis, my first step is to reach for my copy of the "cookbook" instructions carefully drawn up by a joint committee of the Centers of Disease Control and the American Lung Association (two groups that had dare well better know what they're doing in that area). And without doubt, the patient gets better care being managed that way than if I just called a colleague and asked how he does things. (Which, unfortunately, is how a lot of uncertainty is managed. The blind -- or perhaps only myopic -- leading the blind.)
On the other hand, there are some problems that I deal with every day, and by necessity I have become well versed in not only the basics of management, but the subtleties -- when to break the rules, if you will; when to apply the findings of the study that doesn't quite fit with the results of others; or, conversely, when the results of the big, famous study aren't pertinent because their study patients were demographically different than the one in front of me; and when (may the gods of science forgive me) my own purely anecdotal experience with other similar patients may count for more than published clinical trials.
In those cases, consensus statements have the potential danger of being held up as an absolute standard, violation of which is prime facie evidence of inappropriate care. (This has actually happened to me, but I won't bore you with the details.) What is really scary is that such statements are, with increasing frequency, being given the force of varying degrees of compulsion. Hospitals adopt what they call "clinical pathways," protocols for dealing with particular problems. While these improve care for the most part (because there are, sadly, more doctors hopelessly out of date than there are ones on the cutting edge), they can impose a uniformity that can occasionally disallow the best individualized care. Health insurance companies are doing the same thing; they call their cookbooks "guidelines." Of course, if you do something outside those guidelines, they will deny payment. Worse, the state of Minnesota in 1992 passed a law that a physician is immune from malpractice claims if he can show that his care fell within state-approved treatment "protocols." Deviation is not evidence of malpractice, but who wants to be left hung out to dry, taking chances with a jury? We can all imagine having treated a patient with the care appropriate to the findings of new research in respected journals, only to later hear the personal injury lawyer ask, "So, doctor, you're telling me that you abandoned these well-established clinical protocols because of a few 'magazine articles?'"
Strangely, I have only seen one essay in a medical journal questioning the wisdom of consensus statements. It pointed out, as you did, that such statements necessarily iron over differences in research findings, make subjective judgments about which studies should be given more credence, and, most dangerously, give the illusion of unanimity where reasonable differences still exist. But it seems to be only a few of us who are leery of this trend.
We hear from all sides that the LDS church oppresses women. In a public debate in October, Senator Orrin Hatch was accused by a reporter of hating minorities simply because he is a Mormon and Mormons don't let women have the priesthood. That shouldn't be a problem for us. Who cares what the world thinks? But it is a problem because the belief of subordinance and spiritual inferiority of women is deep in church culture. It is a disturbing struggle that all women must face at some time. Some resign themselves to believing it and lose their sense of self-worth, and some battle it militantly and are excluded from the inner, safe circle of fellowship.
Sometimes it gets inside me, too. As I've had to respond to friends concerned about my belief in doctrine that includes women being oppressed, I've concluded that it isn't doctrine at all. It's folklore stemming from an attempt to explain the counsel we get.
I don't feel subordinate or inferior and I'm sure God doesn't feel that I am either. He loves me and does not like it when anyone thinks that about any of his daughters. But it is a real concern since lots of people haven't learned this yet, and treat women as if they were substandard. That includes people -- men and women -- in the LDS church.
Some have told me the message is clear that women are inferior because the counsel from church leaders is that women stay home to be full-time mothers and homemakers. The prophets counsel specifically against a mother working outside the home and leaving the care of the children to others. They say that it is the right thing to do because that is the role God intended for women. Men should be the providers for the family and women should nurture at home.
I know what the counsel is, but inferiority isn't the message that is clear to me. The problem is that God's job description of a mother/ homemaker isn't what the world thinks it is.
The message from society is this: women in the work force who earn as much as men have proven that they are as competent as men. Women who wash men's clothes and keep house for men just couldn't land a better job. Since anyone can do menial labor like that, someone who does must not be capable of anything else. I've been asked many times after saying that I want to be a mom: "So what are you going to do with your life? Just treat some man like a god and be his slave?" You've heard this stuff, I'm sure.
Then there are all the homes we see where women are indeed slaves to clean up after a family of slobs, have nothing else in their life, and are not thanked for it. I would conclude that anyone who says that this is really the role meant for a woman clearly thinks women are inferior and is probably a slob.
And finally, a homemaker's job doesn't bring immediate gratification. There are no rewards of bi-weekly paychecks, completed projects, happy bosses, professional recognition, promotions, willing subordinates (whom you always see with their hair done and never in their pajamas), and smooth plans and routines that employees have. You may, just may, get recognition from your kids when they grow up. You seldom feel triumphant about completing a project because even if you actually complete something without having to stop in the middle, it will just be dirty again in a half hour or grown out of or most likely not even noticed. People find it hard to believe, but one of the hardest things is not having a boss to give assignments and deadlines. You schedule and supervise yourself and it takes (or develops) a lot of self-control. Even a boring, mindless job seems nicer than all the decisions at home sometimes. Anyway, you can see how it's easy to complain and think you're failing.
So when you're feeling like a hopeless failure and people are saying you could do more important stuff, something worthy of you, it's pretty frustrating to have someone say that this is what God wants. But that isn't what God wants. That's where the confusion starts.
Our job description according to him is to do the important work of nurturing and teaching his children, developing loving relationships and improving ourselves at the same time. Think about what God does. He teaches his sometimes rebellious children, tells them to stop quarrelling, cleans up their messes, comforts them, feeds them, and begs them to call him. Sounds like a mother to me. It can't be such a worthless occupation. In fact, lots of professional occupations certainly won't be around in heaven so I wonder if, say, lawyers or Wall Streeters will feel so big and important after they die. But I know that if I do my best at being a mother I will feel good when I meet God. I will have learned from experience something of godhood.
So what is the difference between the bad situations I've described and the ideal way? That's the toughest part to explain. If you really think it is the most important occupation and what God wants for you, the perspective makes everything different. I wash dishes and change diapers, but that is by no means all. The trick is to be creative and . . . well . . . an aggressive parent and wife instead of just handling crises of the moment and providing for physical needs. I pray and plan and develop patience and sing and teach and read and learn and lots of active things instead of just passive caring. The most common idea now about child raising seems to be that you just feed them and hope they don't do anything bad while you wait for them togrow up. If they need more, there's always the child psychologist at school. (With a little effort here, I'll stop myself from doing a whole paper on parenting.)
If it makes any difference, I have a degree in computer science, lots of experience and could make much more money than my husband does now if I chose to work (or rather, be employed). He says he would be willing to change places with me any time. A friend of mind once cared for his five nephews and a niece for a week and says homemaking is not that hard. I laugh at this one. If he thinks that's all there is, he understands less than I thought.
An elder I knew on my mission admired and liked a sister missionary and told her he thinks she is far too qualified to just be a housewife. (Actually what he said was "So what are you going to do with your life. Just treat some man like a god and be his slave? You're too smart to be happy with that.") She was not complimented. I learned later that he was the second of ten sons in his family. He bragged that he never had washed a dish or made his bed. His mother did all the housework including making his bed every morning! He was from a high-profile, model Mormon family, and, as he often explained, a relative of Joseph Smith.
I believe his mother was as much to blame as anyone for teaching him that God has important work for men to do and women do the rest. He didn't want to marry someone like this sister missionary that he liked. She wouldn't be content cleaning up after him.
It would help lots of women's self-esteem if people would treat women at home as if they had more value so they wouldn't have to prove themselves outside. Brethren, do your share of the dirty work so they will not get the message that it is beneath you, and to give them more time for other things. Especially, don't consider that the menial stuff is women's work and then feel so proud that you're helping them when you do it. Just do it because it's there. That will help her self-worth much more than telling her on Mother's Day that you couldn't get along without her to do all that. And, sisters, don't treat yourselves that way either -- have your sons make their own beds. Oops, I think I've strayed from the subject again.
The point is that God gave women important things to do and society, or maybe Satan, has made it seem demeaning. Mormon doctrine doesn't say that women have to do demeaning things because they're inferior. It just seems so if that's the way they're always treated. I think it is Mormon men's responsibility as well as women's to show the world what the perspective of LDS doctrine really is. And a change in that direction would help immeasurably the well-being of Mormon women and women everywhere.
-- Carol Bickmore
A Readers' Theatre Play for Young Men and Young Women
This script was written for a specific event in our stake YM/YW calendar: a winter cookout and bonfire activity. Because of the lack of physical action, the play works best when performed in exactly this setting: The Young Men and Young Women are gathered in the dark of night, surrounding a fire. From the fringes of the group, five voices speak out, representing Brigham Young, Eliza R. Snow, Mary, Elijah, and an antagonist named Dr. Philastus Korihor. The audience watches the flames and the illuminated faces of other Young Men and Young Women on the other side of the fire. The actors are either memorized or reading their scripts on clipboards with battery-powered reading lights attached.
(Permission to perform this script is freely granted to all LDS groups; permission to duplicate the script is also granted as an exception to the normal rule -- it may be retyped in a larger font and without the rest of this issue of Vigor. However, all copies of the script must bear the following notice: "Published in Vigor; copyright © 1995 by Hatrack River Publications." No author should be listed.)
My name is Brigham Young, and I'm looking for a generation with the kind of strength it takes to go into a desert land, irrigate it, plant it, tend it, and turn it into a garden.
My name is Eliza R. Snow, and I'm looking for a generation of young people who are so close to the Spirit that their testimonies burn like fire inside them, so they always remember the Lord in everything they do.
My name is Mary. I once held the Savior of the world in my arms, and watched him grow. I'm looking for a generation of young people who will keep themselves pure, unstained by the evil of the world around them.
My name is Elijah. I'm looking for a generation with the courage to speak the truth even to those who have the power to hurt you.
Well, I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place.
Who are you?
My name is Doctor Philastus Korihor. And I know all about this generation of young people. You'll never turn them into what you want.
We aren't here to turn them into anything. We're here to see what road they've set their own feet on!
Testimony: Eliza R. Snow
I'll tell you! They're disaffected, alienated slackers! Disillusioned! Cynical! Angry! They're too smart to believe in anything the older generation tells them.
I think they are smart. Smart enough to know that you're part of the older generation, too. And you're the one they won't believe.
I have evidence on my side. Science! I can show them the tiniest particle, the origin of the cosmos, the inner workings of the mind!
Science describes a small part of reality, sir. Science has not seen the tiniest particle -- it has only seen the tiniest particle that it can see. Science has not seen the origin of the cosmos -- only guesswork, full of mysteries. And as for the inner workings of the mind, science hasn't even figured out how the cells of the brain are able to hold a single memory. Science has done wonders, but it still hasn't scratched the surface of the infinite works of God.
This generation doesn't need to invent a God in order to explain how things work.
Every generation needs God in order to explain why things matter. We learn all that science can discover, but science still leaves us with that one most terrible question: So what?
Exactly my point! This generation says so what! Who cares!
No, that's what your generation says. It's what people like you have always said. But these young people know that all of life has a great purpose, and the choices they make matter not just to them, not just to those who love them, but to uncountable generations in the future, and throughout eternity.
And how do they know something like this, which can't be scientifically known?
Science is only one way of knowing, sir, and not the best. When the Spirit of God speaks in your heart, you know what knowing really is.
You mean that the Spirit of God has spoken to all these young people?
Not all. Not yet. But even those who have not yet felt the Spirit's touch inside their hearts know that the people who do have that testimony are good and wise, and they trust them until they have a testimony of their own.
I'll believe that when I see it!
Unfortunately, sir, you'll never see it until you do believe.
Even if they do believe, what does that matter? They don't have the courage to do anything about it. This is a generation of sheep, desperate to do whatever it takes to win the approval of their friends, terrified that somebody will call them a nerd or a geek or a dweeb. What does it matter what they believe, when they're doing their best to disappear in the crowd?
You don't know these young people, then, Dr. Korihor.
You, Elijah! Yes, it was easy for you to be brave. You knew that God would send down lightning to strike your enemies! You knew that God would keep you safe!
You're wrong, Dr. Korihor. What I knew was that I had to speak the truth, even though all the power in the world seemed to be in the hands of those who hated righteousness and loved evil. God kept me alive because he had work for me to do. But I didn't care whether my life was saved or not. If I had known I was going to die like Abinadi, I still would have spoken, as Abinadi spoke!
That's right, life and death -- you and Abinadi, you got to play out the big scene, be the star of the show. But this generation -- it's not life and death for them, it's what shoes they wear, and how they cut their hair, the music they listen to, the language they speak. Look at them! They're dressed just like the rest of their generation. Go turn on their radios -- they have them tuned to the same stations as the rest of their generation.
And I also wore the costume of my day, and danced my people's dances, and sang their songs. That is not the test of courage. The test of courage is when they see a person being mistreated, and they refuse to keep silence. The test of courage is when they see a friend heading toward disastrous sin, and they refuse to keep silence! That is how you know the courage of this generation, because they are not silent! They speak up for righteousness, regardless of the cost! Point to any of these young people, and I dare say there's not a one of them who hasn't spoken up in spite of fear. This is courage: To speak truth to power.
What does it matter how brave they are, or how much they believe? They're still human beings, and they still sin. When they preach righteousness, it's all a bunch of hypocrisy!
It's only hypocrisy if they pretend that they are perfect when they know that they are not. These young people do not pretend to be perfect. But they try to become perfect, by turning away from sin.
Yes, you try to terrify them into repressing their natural desires.
Deeper than their momentary desire is their eternal longing. I knew the only man who ever lived in utter perfection all his life. He was my son, born from my body, raised in my home. And I tell you that in every young person here, I see that same eternal spark that dwelt in the heart of my firstborn son. They want to be clean.
This is so silly. You can't stop young people from trying out new experiences, like smoking and drinking, like drugs, like shoplifting, like driving fast and dangerously, living on the edge! Above all, you can't stop young people from having sex.
But they can stop themselves. What people like you don't seem to understand is that young people are not machines, mindlessly acting out every desire that comes to them. They are spirits first, who once dwelt in the presence of God. God gave them houses of flesh and bone in which to live -- but they are masters in their own house, and if you teach them how to care for that body, then most of them will remain clean, most of the time.
Oh really? Then why is there so much drug and alcohol abuse, so much smoking, so much teen pregnancy?
Because so many of the younger generation believe you. You're the one who keeps telling them that they're all going to sin anyway so they might as well stop trying. You teach failure, then point to those failures as proof that success is not possible. But these young people know that you can be pure, and that when you do sometimes sin, you can be cleansed and made pure again through sincere repentance.
You're deluding yourself.
I look at these young people and I see noble spirits, striving to become as perfect as God. You look at them and see gibbering animals, acting out all their bestial impulses. The truth is that they will never be any better than what they expect and demand of themselves. If they believe you, they'll expect nothing of themselves, and they'll become nothing. But they don't believe you, they believe me. And so they will expect themselves to be perfect, and in the effort to be pure they will rise far higher than you would ever imagine.
Train a monkey to dance, he's still a monkey.
That's the problem. You think they're monkeys.
Endurance: Brigham Young
What does it matter? Maybe they will try to stay clean for a while. Maybe they'll have testimonies -- for a while. Maybe they'll be brave -- once or twice. But they'll never stick to it. Kids have no staying power!
You're right. Children can't remain at a task for long. But these aren't children.
We're all children, my friend. We pretend to be grown-ups. We pretend to be civilized. But in a moment of passion, or anger, or fear -- the mask comes off, and underneath -- the child who wants his own way.
These young people want something more than that.
They want more than what they want? Greedy, aren't they?
It fell to me to lead the Saints across the plains. The land was dry. We needed ditches to bring water to our fields. So we dug them.
Is there a point to this reminiscence?
They kept digging. Even after their own farms were watered, they kept digging until everyone's farm had water. Then we hauled huge stones out of the mountains. And what do you think we had when we were done?
The stones were a temple. And the ditches -- they become crops. And something more.
Just say it, Brigham!
The people -- they became the kingdom of God.
What does that have to do with these people? This generation?
They aren't digging ditches anymore. But they're still making lives. Still making saints. Still building the kingdom of God.
Do you actually expect me to believe that these children are like those sturdy old pioneers?
I don't expect you to believe anything. But they know. The lives they make are the lives of the saints. The homes they will create are the homes of the saints. Everything they do is part of the kingdom of God. It's the same work the pioneers did.
That's too heavy a burden to place on these children. They don't have the strength to carry it. They'll give up. It's too hard.
That's what they thought, those men who killed Joseph Smith. Without the prophet, the people would give up. But we didn't give up. We never give up. Generation after generation. Look at them.
They're not made of the same stuff.
The same, Dr. Korihor. Maybe even ... a little better. Maybe each generation is a little stronger. Sadly enough, you'll never know.
And why won't I?
Because you won't be here.
In case you didn't get it, Dr. Korihor, he's giving you the boot!
This generation's had enough of you!
You really aren't welcome here.
Maybe these are yours. But I have just about the rest of the world. I don't think it's an even match.
No, I fear you're right. Your side really doesn't have much chance.
The four of them laugh, gently.
Well, I see I'm wasting my time here. I'll go talk with people who know how to carry on a serious, intelligent discussion.
Come now. Let's all get warm by the fire.
-- Orson Scott Card
From North Carolina: My study of the scriptures is less broad than yours and my understanding is even more imperfect, but I must respond to your article in the December issue of Vigor.
I think you have made a grave logical mistake in linking persecution of the poor, which is a very legitimate Mormon concern, to the important issues of California proposition 187. I have no argument that the poor, and specifically those people in America of Mexican descent, are subject to terrible persecution in California, and I would not even argue that racism, classism and general unkindness had something to do with why 187 was passed. In fact, I would support anything you can do to alter these horrible and harmful ways of thinking.
Yet, though these thoughts and their creators support the tenants of 187, the actual law of 187 (which, I would contend, is yet another law that says it is illegal to break the law) is not unkind. The law of 187 does not require the people of California to "not give unto them of their food or any of their substance." It is the hardheartedness of Californians, as you have pointed out, which does that.
I am concerned about your tirade about California in the fifties and sixties. Not only has it nothing to do with the gospel, it has nothing to do with what you propose Vigor to be all about. For this reason I will not address this topic, though I found much of what you wrote quite arguable. As a matter of fact, the reason I support 187 entirely has to do with what I consider to be the most compassionate way to treat people and has little to do with particular scriptural passages, though I could toss some in to gain some Mormon credibility, and thus our study of the scriptures has little to do with this topic.
To be concise, I think you have misused your forum and your scriptorian's credibility. Nonetheless, my respect for 1) what you are trying to do with Vigor and Hatrack River Publication (DO NOT allow my minor complaint cause you to think that respect has been weakened, but keep in mind that it will be if you allow your efforts to spiral into a political effort supported by scripture), 2) your clear concern for overcoming the obstacles to compassion and true charity, as well as your concern about the practice of "selective values" (all of which are issues you eventually address in your article) and, 3) the aesthetic ideals you expressed in A Storyteller in Zion, remains.
In a more friendly manner, let me share a story with you which did not occur in California, where I grew up, but right here in Raleigh-Durham, where currently live. My husband and I were browsing in a Christian bookstore and got to talking to the owner of the store who was set up with a book at a big table at the front of the store. I really liked the idea of enjoying books at one's leisure in one's own bookstore and got to talking to this man. I noticed that over his shoulder there was a wall of Spanish language books and I commented on it and mentioned that I had not expected to find so many Hispanic people in North Carolina. He responded, "They're a bit like cockroaches -- one or two appear and it you don't do anything about it all of a sudden there are hundreds." I wasn't quick enough or clever enough to do anything but pick my jaw up off the carpet and drag my husband out of the store.
Not in any particular way connected with the original purpose I had in writing this letter, let me tell you that I am very concerned about "selective values." It bothers me that Mormons are rallying against the "correct" things such as legal gambling and feeling so righteous about these efforts to improve "the world" when there remain such dramatic failures in fighting issues, such as racism, that are within the body of the church itself. I hope that your efforts will make more members of the church willing to speak up when they see these things in their own wards. Value shifts occur among individuals much more effectively than by national campaigns, or in any case even national campaigns must end by influencing individuals.
From Minnesota: I found the essay on Proposition 187 to be interesting, but I'm not quite sure what to think about it. Regarding Proposition 187, I have problems with it philosophically, but I understand the concerns which prompt the development of such agendas. I am pleased to not have had to vote in California this last season.
That said, I find faults both in analogy and in application of gospel principle in the discussion, some of which deserve mention. I have to agree with the late Susan B. Anthony who observed that all too frequently, when someone claims to know the will of God, all too frequently it corresponds with what they want.
I found very interesting the concept of treatment of the poor being related to the spiritual health of a nation. It is a powerful argument. Unfortunately, I believe definitions have been assigned rather haphazardly in subsequent paragraphs such as to stereotype those favoring Proposition 187 as being anti-immigration, anti-Hispanic, and anti-Lamanite, all the while reducing the measure of society's compassion to its level of taxation and number of government programs. This is an oversimplification at best.
In Vigor #8 we read, "Proposition 187 is justified solely on the basis that poor illegal aliens have brought their misery upon themselves, and therefore the people of California have voted to stay their hand . . ." If one might ask, by whom is it justified on this basis? Certainly no credible source of which I'm personally aware. This statement is placed in contrast with the teaching of King Benjamin in Mosiah 4:16-18. It is correct to point out our responsibility to the needy -- but to be fully understood it needs to be viewed in the context of D&C 56:16-19.
Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls, and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation. The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved!
Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men's goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!
But blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance, for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs.
For behold, the Lord shall come, and his recompense shall be with him, and he shall reward every man, and the poor shall rejoice;
And their generations shall inherit the earth from generation to generation, forever and ever. And now I make an end of speaking unto you. Even so. Amen.
The Lord's teaching is clear when we recognize that the virtue is not poverty, but rather, the possession of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The rich (and middle class) is accountable for their charity and will be found lacking if they are not charitable. However, the poor who refuse to recognize their own responsibility for their support are equally under condemnation.
As expressed recently by Elder William R. Bradford, the Latter-day Saints are a well governed people. We believe . . . in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law. It is fully understandable to seek to improve one's status in life, but we also understand through our modern prophets that Zion is wherever stakes of the Church are operating. Until and unless we receive counsel to the contrary, we are subject to obey the laws of the land.
The discussion of Proposition 13 is, at best, out of place and anachronistic. First and foremost, the amount of taxes leveled against a people is never a measure of their charity, nor does taxation relieve them of their responsibility to the poor. If anything, it provides a false sense of security, luring us into believing matters of homelessness, poverty, starvation, inadequate education, etc., are problems of the government rather than our own. Despite taxation, we are still encouraged to pay a generous fast offering (though how many of us actually do!). We are encouraged to donate our time, talents, and our resources to worthy charities, both nationally and within our local communities.
At a more tangible level, it isn't your money. It's easy to assign "rights," but ultimately someone has to pay the bill, and when we're speaking of government services, that person is us. As much as we'd like to be all things for all people, as King Benjamin acknowledges, we have a primary responsibility to care for our own families. As the ratio of taxpayers to recipients in California erodes, the economic reality affects the ability of people to take care of their families, just as you can't run a soup kitchen out of your home without your grocery bill rising.
It is an interesting notion that one group of people has more of a "right" to inhabit a given piece of land based upon race or heritage, but ultimately, we are all pilgrims and travelers. 1 Nephi 13 explains how this is a land of promise to all who accept the Lord in righteousness -- including the Gentile nations (many of whom also likely possess the blood of Israel). It does disservice to the real issue when discussion of immigration law is reduced to accusations of bigotry. How ironic that some are prone to accuse Californians of bigotry while ignoring Mexico's considerably stiffer immigration laws -- are Guatemalans, Hondurans, and El Salvadorans any less descendants of Lehi?
I am relieved that "not everyone who voted for 187 is condemned," but I expect that nobody is condemned for a single vote on a political ballot. More likely is that people may be condemned for their motivation and attitudes which led them to their vote -- for or against -- Proposition 187.
Let's not rewrite history with false analogies. Let's not confuse governmental policy with Church doctrine. And let's not confuse the ways of God with the institutions and policies of men.
From Utah: Thank you for the many helpful and insightful ideas I have found in Vigor. I have also enjoyed your essays and articles found elsewhere. I would, however, like to express my differences with your essay on Proposition 187 in the latest issue of Vigor. First, I would like to write about a fundamental principle of the gospel that I believed your evaluation of 187 overlooked and then comment on what I believe are some serious flaws in your arguments in support of your position.
I recently read where people are being fined for feeding dolphins. The reason is that it is extremely injurious to the dolphins to "make them dependent." If you visit Yellowstone National Park you will find that this has been found to be true for bears as well. My experience in the gospel and in the Church has taught me that this truth also applies to people.
My first instruction to avoid government welfare came in my family. I grew up on a small family farm and my parents struggled to provide for a large family. Our income was usually below the "poverty level" and we qualified for free school lunches. My father took the time to teach me gospel principles when I asked why he would not accept this "help." When our ward had welfare assignments he usually went with me to participate. At home and in church, I was taught that Latter-day Saints did not accept governmental welfare. I heard the teachings of great men including J. Reuben Clark, Heber J. Grant, Spencer W. Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson who spoke of the evils of the dole and the privilege it is to care for the needy; two concepts that are not mutually exclusive.
My dad practiced what he preached. One example I remember is when a "homeless" man came to our milking parlor asking for food and money. Dad gave him a shovel and showed him where he wanted a hole dug and on its completion, fed the man and paid him generously.
Years later in veterinary school when I was struggling to provide for my young family by moonlighting as a dishwasher, my wife and I refused offers of free government cheese, food stamps and welfare assistance to young mothers and newborn infants. Most of the couples we knew and associated with in student housing were incredulous that we did not accept this "help." This included a few members of our student ward. I had been taught and I firmly believed that such programs were immoral. I still so believe. Even though, at times, our financial situations were nearly desperate, I firmly believe that we were blessed because of followed counsel.
I also rejoice in helping the needy. I do not feel it would be appropriate to detail how our family does so; I only mention it to illustrate that every one of the scriptures you quoted about Christlike charity for the poor and needy are highlighted in my Book of Mormon too, and in my heart. That help and care should be provided in harmony with the 1936 declaration of the First Presidency which states that assistance should be set up in such a way that, "the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of the dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self-respect be once more established amongst our people" and the aim of such assistance is to, "Help the people to help themselves." I do not believe that these principles are only for the Church, they are eternal principles that apply to all.
I refer you to the writings of two economists, Thomas Sewell and Walter Williams (both minorities themselves), which describe how "New Deal" thinking and practice have created a permanent underclass of minority poverty in our country. They advocate the elimination of welfare as we know. Certainly, one of the groups who would benefit the most from such action would be the Latin American population in California.
I strongly disagree with your statement that, "Proposition 187 is justified solely on the basis that poor illegal aliens have brought their own miseries upon themselves." Proposition 187 is justified by eternal gospel principles and common sense and if I lived in California, I would not only have voted for 187, I would have actively advocated it. I participate in politics where I live and support action to curtail government welfare, not just to those who are illegally in our country but to all. My moral convictions so compel me as does my understanding of the United States Constitution which gives no room or quarter for governmental dole. I do not simply accept what others say "about" this divinely inspired document but refer to and read my copy often.
I am offended by your belief that the sovereign borders of the United Stars are immoral. I believe in honoring, upholding and sustaining the laws of this land and one of the powers, in fact duties, specified by the constitution is to establish and protect the borders of the United States. I find absurd your declaration that Mexican citizens are immune to these laws because they may have some portion of the blood of Lehi. However, you surpassed this absurdity with your implication that while the white or U.S. colonization of California was immoral the Spanish colonization of this same territory was not. And what did you say whitewashes all the atrocities, unrighteous dominion and slavery of the Spanish conquerors? That they "at least married those they oppressed." Really. Give me a break!
The above mentioned flaws in your argument deserve essays in themselves but what I find the most unsettling in your essay is your assertion that anyone who disagrees with you could not possibly call themselves a good Mormon (page 15, paragraph 5). Despite all my differences with your essay, I would never so characterize your church standing or your integrity.
I believe we should look favorably on any Latin American who chooses to immigrate to our country if they do so as my forefathers did, in honoring and sustaining the laws of our land and in looking for opportunity, not a handout.
From Dave Wolverton: In your latest issue of Vigor, I read with interest the article opposing Proposition 187. I think your points are mostly valid. I, too, have noticed that the cycle of persecution of the poor marks the point where God's judgements fall upon a nation, and one can listen to just about any conservative talk show host nowadays and hear them preaching that all of the poor are undeserving and that they are poor because they made dumb choices. There is often much truth in these sentiments, but I believe that all too often this truth is spoken by those who are trying to excuse themselves for being hard-hearted.
We must consider these issues and decide whether our own hearts and hands are clean.
Like you, Scott, I am a consecrationalist.
However, I believe that your fear that acceptance of Proposition 187 will lead to heavenly condemnation is unfounded. Yes, I think Proposition 187 has some very undesirable effects. I'm particularly concerned about those of Latin-American descent who are suffering persecution because of this law. (A roommate of mine at BYU was a nice guy, a third-generation American of Latin American descent. His skin was so dark, that on one occasion when I suggested that we go out on a double date, he was unable to find an anglo woman who would go out with him, even after a hundred and twenty phone calls. Obviously, we Latter-day Saints have a great deal of room for improvement when it comes to accepting Latin Americans as equals.)
Who are the Strangers the Lord Says We Must Feed?
In your article, you cited scriptures that state that we should not suffer that the "beggar putteth up his petition in vain." Using this scripture, you then make a jump in logic. You assume that most illegal aliens are the poor and needy discussed here.
Some of them obviously are needy. But there is a vast difference between the worthy poor who seek out their bishop in a time of need, and those who would loot the temples.
It is often the same difference between those who come to the United States of American seeking freedom legally, and those who try to steal that privilege by jumping the border.
And lest you think that my analogy pertains only to earthly things, it is also, by the way, precisely the same difference between those who in the premortal existence sought to become worthy to earn the privilege of godhood, and those who sought to steal that blessing.
The Lord does not require us to satisfy the lusts of the unworthy poor, even if they are hungry (D&C 56:17, 2 Thess 3:10). And so in determining whether to offer refuge to those who wish to live within our borders, I believe we are right in trying to make a determination as to why they are here. I believe that we must keep the borders controlled.
We often imagine that people come here illegally because they have nowhere else to go. I, too, would like to believe they are all kindly peasant families, coming to us in their hour of crisis. But the fact is that all through my childhood and teen years I worked picking crops shoulder-to-shoulder with illegal immigrants. I knew many of them in our small town in Oregon, where our grocery store served as a hot-spot for migrant workers who would come in for lunch. I knew them because their families lived next door and across the street, and we played together and ate at one another's tables. I knew them when I was a prison guard. I've known them as roommates and friends. I once dated and considered marrying an illegal immigrant.
And having intimately known hundreds of illegal aliens, I must say this: Almost without exception, the illegal aliens I've known shared one very disturbing trait: They held the law in contempt.
And too often it is not just immigration laws they hold in contempt, but many laws given by man and God.
Think about it. Would a person who respects the law come here to take up residence in violation of the law?
When I worked in the Utah State Prison, 40% of our inmates were either illegal aliens or were first-generation descendants of illegal aliens, and at that time the Department of Immigration estimated that perhaps as many as 20% of the migrant farm workers here in the US had fled Latin America to avoid prosecution on felony criminal charges.
In short, a disproportionate number of the illegal aliens that I've known tend to be the kind of people who weren't fit for society even in their own country.
For this reason alone I advocate policing our borders. Now I don't believe that the vast majority of illegal aliens pose any threat to us at all.
In fact, I believe just the opposite. In my experience, most illegal immigrants are decent hard-working people, young men and women in the prime of their lives who hope to make a better living for themselves. They are precisely the kind of people who would succeed in just about any country in the world. And, in fact, many of them work here illegally not because they need the money to survive, but because after working in America for a few years, they hope to return home and live better in their own country.
I do not begrudge them this, but once again, I suspect that these people aren't really the "needy" that the Lord had in mind when he told us to be generous to the stranger.
I agree with you that our country could benefit by opening our borders more widely to those who come here seeking employment. And yes, I too am dismayed at the lack of protection afforded to aliens, particularly in border states where the wealthy insist upon abusing migrant laborers. It seems that last year the state of California could not find a potential Senate candidate who hadn't hired an illegal nanny. Such people grow fat by taking the meat out of the cooking pots of the poor. Obviously, these greedy dogs are precisely the class of people whom the Lord must condemn.
Illegal Aliens Don't Pay for Themselves
Now, I agree that there are many decent people who should be given the opportunity to enjoy what we have. I'd like to give them that opportunity, but the fact is that opening our borders costs money.
In your article, you seem to indicate that illegal immigrants deserve equal social services because they are taxpayers, and they "earn" that right.
But you know that the laws are slanted so that low-income families don't pay taxes -- or, if they do pay taxes, they don't pay enough to make up for the services that they receive. In fact, if a husband and wife, both working at menial labor were to make minimum wage, they would make about $20,000 per year. If they had two children, that family wouldn't pay any taxes at all. Instead, they would get an Earned Income Credit of up to $1,500. At the same time, they would be eligible for food stamps, WIC, Head Start, public housing, subsidized child care, and a variety of other welfare services. And their children would be eligible for public school, at a cost of $3,500 per child.
My point is this: Even with a hard-working nuclear family of four poor working immigrants, under our current system, costs us a minimum of $10,000 per year to subsidize, and since much of that expense falls upon the state, it's no wonder that Californians are balking.
You said yourself that the schools in California are among the worst in the nation. They're over-crowded, crumbling, and dangerous. In Los Angeles it is not uncommon for a dozen school-aged children to get shot every day. Los Angeles supplies 40,000 free needles to drug addicts every day, and they estimate that they are fulfilling only 20% of the "need." The city is a nightmare, and Oakland is no better.
Of course the residents of California are out to protect themselves!
We in the US Do Care for the Poor
You advocate opening our borders to help the poor. But completely open doors is like throwing wide the doors of the temple to those who would loot it.
In the Church, we have programs and guidelines to help the needy, and we don't circulate these programs. In our nation, we have similar programs designed to help the needy around the world.
We won't end world poverty by having the earth's poor move to America, but we are currently doing more to enrich the world than any country has ever done in earth's history:
- We are working to destroy corrupt governments around the world, governments built up by those who want to rob and oppress their own people.
- For decades we've been trying to promote a global economic climate that allows stability and growth -- not just for our people, but for all people.
- We are trying to feed the world, not just by producing large amounts of food at affordable prices, but by developing hardier strains of plants and by teaching the world's farmers how to meet their own needs.
- We are working to provide the benefits of an industrialized society to the world by providing high-tech equipment and training to other countries.
- Our laws make it mandatory that breakthrough discoveries in medicine become, in a relatively short time, the property of all mankind.
- We send missionaries and Peace Corps volunteers to nations around the world to help provide food, shelter, medical, spiritual, educational, and monetary assistance. No other country gives even half as much in charitable contributions as the US does.
What more can we do to end world poverty than what we are doing? To tell you the truth, as far as the scope of our policies and programs go, practically nothing. But we can do more to support such programs.
Yes, the programs are in place, but we do need to infuse them with greater vitality, and we can do more as individuals. We in the industrialized world should recognize that the end of poverty worldwide is an attainable and desirable goal. It is not something that can be done in a day or a week or even in a decade, but in case folks haven't noticed it, it is being done.
It is hard for people to see this when our media places so much emphasis on what is wrong in the world, but the fact is that on a per-capita basis, the world is more prosperous now than it has been in its history. There is less war, less hunger, less suffering than ever before. The average person in the industrial world lives better and longer than any monarch of a century past. And the trend can and should continue.
But I have watched communes and socialist governments fail in their promise to enrich the average man too often to believe that donations -- even charitable donations given with pure intent -- can ever do much lasting good. We can only stamp out poverty by fostering a world economy that lets impoverished nations create and maintain their own wealth.
But Proposition 187 Isn't Even About Welfare
Proposition 187 isn't about welfare, it's about reforming the immigration laws of the United States.
Let's face it, our immigration system is broken. I don't agree with the Supreme Court's argument which says that we must provide illegal aliens equal access to the educational and social services that other Americans enjoy. It's like saying that we as citizens must provide any burglars that we catch in our homes with a private room. If that is the way that they interpret the constitution, then either our supreme court justices or the wording of the constitution needs to be changed.
The people of California passed 187 in order to force the federal government to deal with the issues of how to pay for illegal immigrants, because it's such a big problem that our legislators just won't do it. They'd have to raise our taxes.
In the 1980s, Latin Americans were hopping the borders in such prodigious numbers that President Reagan decided that it would be cheaper to make them citizens than to throw them out.
But Reagan was wrong. After the deed was done, we began finding out how many illegal aliens were criminals and how many demanded social services, and the government quietly began deporting the undesirables. Opening immigration was a reckless policy back then, and it's a stupid thing to be doing now. The Democrats who were recently in power were making conciliatory noises toward the illegal aliens in the US, suggesting that by opening the borders once again we might solve the problem, but by passing 187, California sent a wake-up call to the federal government
The US Isn't the Promised Land
You make the point that the Latin Americans have a special right to entrance into the US because they are the descendants of Lehi.
However, if I understand correctly, I think you're interpreting those scriptures wrong. Yes, there are certain promises made to those who live in this land in righteousness, but the prophets have told us that these promises extend to all of North and South America, not just the United States. Indeed, we have been told that the Lord will consecrate any land to the benefit of those who strive to live on it in righteousness.
Our goal of keeping this land righteous, free, and prosperous must not be confined within our borders.
For all of the reasons stated above, I disagree with your arguments against Proposition 187. Yes, we have immigration problems that must be resolved. I'd like to see our borders more open. I'd like to see migrant workers treated with greater dignity. (Heck, I'd like to see all people treated with greater dignity.) I'd like to see an end to discrimination. But 187 does take a necessary step in addressing our immigration problems. I don't believe that we will come under condemnation from God for supporting this piece of legislation, though I do agree that if we support it for the wrong reasons, we could come under condemnation.
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