[Update/Disclaimer (8/1/08 8:10pm MDT): Because of the different use of the term “liberal” that President Lee uses in this talk, in contrast to the common modern political usage, care should be taken when reading it. President Lee’s use of “liberal” was strictly used in the sense of a standard of living the gospel, and is therefore applicable to all members regardless of political affiliations. I personally found much good counsel for myself in the prophet’s words.]
A couple days ago, Tim Malone from the excellent blog Latter-day Commentary pointed me in the direction of a talk in 1971 by President Harold B. Lee on the subject of religious liberalism. Last night, by random coincidence, as I made a passing remark to my father about some members in the Church who claim it improper to use the terms “the only true Church,” he immediately referred to a quote in the same talk. Something is telling me to pay close attention to the words of President Lee. My hope is that all the Saints would too. This man was a living prophet of the living God:
I sincerely pray for the spirit of this great conference during the few moments that I shall stand here.
Sometime ago there appeared in the Wall Street Journal a thought-provoking article, written by an eminent theologian at the Columbia University, under the subject heading “An Antidote for Aimlessness,” which you recognize as a condition that is prevalent in the world today. I quote from this article by Rabbi Arthur Herlzterg:
“What people come to religion for, is an ultimate metaphysical hunger, and when that hunger is not satisfied, religion declines … the moment that clerics become more worldly, the world goes to hades the faster.
“… Religion represents the accumulation of man’s insight over thousands of years into such questions as the nature of man, the meaning of life, the individual’s place in the universe. That is, precisely, the question at the root of man’s restlessness.
“Man seeks something to end his state of confusion and emptiness … in the latest parlance, an antidote for aimlessness. We do not know if the truths of religious tradition can be interpreted to satisfy this need, but we are sure that here, not in political activism, is religion’s path to relevance.”
As an answer to those who may be wandering aimlessly, searching for something to satisfy their need and to end their state of confusion and emptiness, I would like to introduce a few thoughts by relating a remarkable vision which came to an ancient prophet by the name of Lehi—600 years before Christ. To the faithful members of the Church this will be an oft-related incident recorded in the Book of Mormon. To those not of our faith this may, if they will ponder seriously, be very significant in the light of many trends in our modern society.
In this dream, or better called a vision, the prophet Lehi was led by a heavenly messenger through a dark and dreary waste to a tree laden with delicious fruit which proved to be very satisfying to his soul. He beheld a river of water nearby along which was a straight and narrow path leading to the tree laden with delicious fruit. Between the river bank and the path was a rod of iron, presumably to safeguard the travelers from falling off the narrow path into the river.
As he looked, he saw large groups of people crowding forward to gain access to the spacious field where the tree with fruit was located. As they pressed forward along the path, a great mist of darkness arose, so dense that many who started lost their way and wandered off and were drowned in the murky water or were lost from view as they wandered into strange paths. There were others, however, likewise in danger of being lost because of the blinding mist, who caught hold of the iron rod and, by so doing, held their course so that they too could partake of the delicacies which had beckoned them to come, despite the hazardous journey. Across, on the opposite side of the river, were multitudes of people pointing fingers of scorn at those who made the journey safely.
As with many other ancient prophets in biblical history, dreams or visions of this nature were effective means by which the Lord communicated with his people through prophet-leaders. Just so, this dream had great significance, as the Lord revealed to the prophet Lehi. The tree laden with fruit was a representation of the love of God which he sheds forth among all the children of men. The Master himself, later in his earthly ministry, explained to Nicodemus how that great love was manifested. Said he: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”; and then the Master added: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16–17.)
The rod of iron as seen in the vision interpreted was the word of God, or the gospel of Jesus Christ, which led to the tree of life that the Master explained to the woman at the well in Samaria was as “a well of [living] water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14.)
Those, as seen in the vision, who were across the river pointing fingers of scorn represented the multitudes of the earth which are gathered together to fight against the apostles of the Lamb of God. The scorners, so the Lord revealed, represented the so-called wisdom of the world, and the building itself in which they were gathered was the “pride of the world.” (See 1 Ne. 11–12.)
If there is any one thing most needed in this time of tumult and frustration, when men and women and youth and young adults are desperately seeking for answers to the problems which afflict mankind, it is an “iron rod” as a safe guide along the straight path on the way to eternal life, amidst the strange and devious roadways that would eventually lead to destruction and to the ruin of all that is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report.”
These conditions as they would be found in the earth when these scriptures, now called the Book of Mormon, were to be brought forth were foreseen by the prophets. As I read some of these predictions, I would have you think of conditions with which we are surrounded today:
“And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts; unto … envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities … because of the pride of your hearts.
“… behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.” (Morm. 8:36–37.)
The apostle Paul also spoke of a time of peril when “men [would] be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
“Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those things that are good,
“Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. …” (2 Tim. 3:2–5.)
There are many who profess to be religious and speak of themselves as Christians, and, according to one such, “as accepting the scriptures only as sources of inspiration and moral truth,” and then ask in their smugness: “Do the revelations of God give us a handrail to the kingdom of God, as the Lord’s messenger told Lehi, or merely a compass?”
Unfortunately, some are among us who claim to be Church members but are somewhat like the scoffers in Lehi’s vision—standing aloof and seemingly inclined to hold in derision the faithful who choose to accept Church authorities as God’s special witnesses of the gospel and his agents in directing the affairs of the Church.
There are those in the Church who speak of themselves as liberals who, as one of our former presidents has said, “read by the lamp of their own conceit.” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine [Deseret Book Co., 1939], p. 373.) One time I asked one of our Church educational leaders how he would define a liberal in the Church. He answered in one sentence: “A liberal in the Church is merely one who does not have a testimony.”
Dr. John A. Widtsoe, former member of the Quorum of the Twelve and an eminent educator, made a statement relative to this word liberal as it applied to those in the Church. This is what he said:
“The self-called liberal [in the Church] [Bryce: note this is the same as the latest self-proclaimed and reclassified “new order” Mormon] is usually one who has broken with the fundamental principles or guiding philosophy of the group to which he belongs. … He claims membership in an organization but does not believe in its basic concepts; and sets out to reform it by changing its foundations. …
“It is folly to speak of a liberal religion, if that religion claims that it rests upon unchanging truth.”
And then Dr. Widtsoe concludes his statement with this: “It is well to beware of people who go about proclaiming that they are or their churches are liberal. The probabilities are that the structure of their faith is built on sand and will not withstand the storms of truth.” (“Evidences and Reconciliations,” Improvement Era, vol. 44 , p. 609.)
Here again, to use the figure of speech in Lehi’s vision, they are those who are blinded by the mists of darkness and as yet have not a firm grasp on the “iron rod.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when there are questions which are unanswered because the Lord hasn’t seen fit to reveal the answers as yet, all such could say, as Abraham Lincoln is alleged to have said, “I accept all I read in the Bible that I can understand, and accept the rest on faith.”
How comforting it would be to those who are the restless in the intellectual world, when such questions arise as to how the earth was formed and how man came to be, if they could answer as did an eminent scientist and devoted Church member. A sister had asked: “Why didn’t the Lord tell us plainly about these things?” The scientist answered: “It is likely we would not understand if he did. It might be like trying to explain the theory of atomic energy to an eight-year-old child.”
Wouldn’t it be a great thing if all who are well schooled in secular learning could hold fast to the “iron rod,” or the word of God, which could lead them, through faith, to an understanding, rather than to have them stray away into strange paths of man-made theories and be plunged into the murky waters of disbelief and apostasy?
I heard one of our own eminent scientists say something to the effect that he believed more professors have taken themselves out of the Church by their trying to philosophize or intellectualize the fall of Adam and the subsequent atonement of the Savior. This was because they would rather accept the philosophies of men than what the Lord has revealed until they, and we, are able to understand the “mysteries of godliness” as explained to the prophets of the Lord and more fully revealed in sacred places.
There were evidently similar questions and controversies in the Master’s time. In one terse answer, he gave the essential ingredients to safety amidst the maze of uncertainty:
To settle an apparent controversy among his disciples as to who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God, he said: “… except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of [God].” (Matt. 18:3.)
To become converted, according to the scriptures, meant having a change of heart and the moral character of a person turned from the controlled power of sin into a righteous life. It meant to “wait patiently on the Lord” until one’s prayers can be answered and until his heart, as Cyprian, a defender of the faith in the Apostolic Period, testified, and I quote, “Into my heart, purified of all sin, there entered a light which came from on high, and then suddenly and in a marvelous manner, I saw certainty succeed doubt.”
Conversion must mean more than just being a “card carrying” member of the Church with a tithing receipt, a membership card, a temple recommend, etc. It means to overcome the tendencies to criticize and to strive continually to improve inward weaknesses and not merely the outward appearances.
The Lord issued a warning to those who would seek to destroy the faith of an individual or lead him away from the word of God or cause him to lose his grasp on the “iron rod,” wherein was safety by faith in a Divine Redeemer and his purposes concerning this earth and its peoples.
The Master warned: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better … that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:6.)
The Master was impressing the fact that rather than ruin the soul of a true believer, it were better for a person to suffer an earthly death than to incur the penalty of jeopardizing his own eternal destiny.
The apostle Paul impressed also the danger of false teachings by bad example. Said he: “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. …
“And through thy knowledge shall the weak … perish, for whom Christ died?
“But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” (1 Cor. 8:9, 11–12.)
Speaking to the learned and highly sophisticated generation in his time, the prophet Jacob said something which seems to be so often needed to be repeated today: “… When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. …
“But to be learned is good if they hearken to the counsels of God.” (2 Ne. 9:28–29.)
We fervently thank the Lord for the faithfulness and devotion of many in and out of the Church who are in high places in business, in governmental circles, in the legal profession, doctors, trained social workers, nurses, and those in the fields of the sciences and the arts. Particularly are we grateful for those who accept positions of leadership in the Church, who serve as home teachers or class leaders in the priesthood or in the auxiliaries, who make themselves available for volunteer service in helping to care for the unfortunate in all lands and among minorities within and without the Church, and in giving particular attention to the needs of the widows and the orphans.
I say to all such, as did Jesus to Zacchaeus: “This day is salvation come to [their] house.” (Luke 19:9.) These are they who are holding fast to the “iron rod” which can lead us all, in safety, to the tree of life.
I read recently from a column in the Washington Post, by George Moore, who styled himself as the “hermit of Mount Vernon.” (Mount Vernon, of course, was the ancestral home of George Washington.) In this article he said, “I have spent the last twenty years of my life at Mount Vernon reducing my ignorance.” He claimed that a person never learns anything until he realizes how little he knows. In this article he makes this most illuminating observation about George Washington:
“Washington never went to school. That’s why he was an educated man, he never quit learning.”
What George Moore said of himself I suppose could be said of many of you and of myself: “I have spent more than three score years of my life reducing my ignorance.”
Therein, it is my conviction, is the challenge to all who achieve distinction in any field. Some quit learning when they graduate from a school; some quit learning about the gospel when they have completed a mission for the Church; some quit learning when they become an executive or have a prominent position in or out of the Church.
Remember, as George Moore said of Washington, “We can become educated persons, regardless of our stations in life, if we never quit learning.”
The late President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote this: “Any man who does his work well, who is justifiably self-confident and not unduly disturbed by the jeers of the cynics and the shirkers, any man who stays true to decent motives and is considerate of others is, in essence, a leader. Whether or not he is ever singled out for prominence, he is bound to achieve great inner satisfaction in turning out superior work.
“And that, by the way, is what the good Lord put us on this earth for.” (“What Is Leadership?” Reader’s Digest, June 1965, p. 54.)
With the restoration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Church in the dispensation of the fulness of times, we were given instructions by revelation, the magnitude of which, as the late President Brigham H. Roberts explained, was “not merely as to whether baptism should be by immersion or for the forgiveness of sins, but the rubbish of accumulated ages was swept aside, the rocks made bare, and the foundations of the Kingdom of God were relaid.”
It may seem preposterous to many to declare that within the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be found a bulwark to safeguard against the pitfalls, the frustrations, and the wickedness in the world. The plan of salvation formed in the heavens points clearly to the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life, even though there are many who refuse to follow that way.
In a great revelation, the Lord gave instruction by commandment to the leaders of the Church of that early day that they should be seekers after truth in many fields.
First, of course, he commanded that they should “teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom … in all things that pertain [to] the kingdom of God. …” (D&C 88:77–78.)
Then he counsels as to the wide sweep of learning about which we should seek. His church was not to be an ignorant ministry in various fields of secular learning.
And then the Lord addressed his revelation to all others who may not have faith: “… seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118.)
One might well ask: How does one get “learning by faith”? One prophet explains the process: First, one must arouse his faculties and experiment on the words of the Lord and desire to believe. Let this desire work in you until ye believe in a manner that you can give place even to a portion of the word of the Lord; then, like a planted seed, it must be cultivated and not resist the Spirit of the Lord, which is that which lighteneth everyone born into the world; you can then begin to feel within yourselves that it must be good, for it enlarges your soul and enlightens your understanding and, like the fruit of the tree in Lehi’s vision, it becomes delicious to the taste. (See Alma 32.)
It was an English novelist who was quoted as saying: “He who seeks God has already found him.”
Let no one think that “learning by faith” contemplates an easy or lazy way to gain knowledge and ripen it into wisdom.
From heavenly instructions and added to which are the experiences of almost anyone who has sought diligently for heavenly guidance, one may readily understand that learning by faith requires the bending of the whole soul through worthy living to become attuned to the Holy Spirit of the Lord, the calling up from the depths of one’s own mental searching, and the linking of our own efforts to receive the true witness of the Spirit.
The mission of this church is to bear witness of the truths of the gospel and put to flight the false teachings on every side that are causing the restlessness and the aimlessness that threaten all who have not found the straight path and that which could be an anchor to their souls.
My fervent prayer is that I may hold up that true Light of Christ to all the world. I would that all may know with assurance, as I, from study, prayer, and faith, know for a certainty, as the Master declared to Martha, who was mourning the death of Lazarus, that the Lord and Master is indeed “the resurrection, and the life; [and] he that believeth in [him], though he were dead, yet shall he live:
“And whosoever liveth and believeth in [him] shall never die. …” (John 11:25–26.)
I thank the Lord that I can answer, as did Martha and as did Peter of old: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16.)
“Yea, Lord: I believe … thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” (John 11:27.)
To this I do bear my solemn witness, in the sacred name of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, even so. Amen. (Harold B. Lee, The Iron Rod, General Conference, April 4, 1971.)
Who died and made you the ultimate arbiter of truth and doctrine in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Were you elevated to the position of prophet and president without my being aware of it in the last general conference? What right do you have to imply that anyone else is not holding on to the Iron Rod? Does holding onto the Iron Rod differ in any way from what you do or from what you think you should do? I’m going to end this with a quote from Anne Lamott, who isn’t Mormon, but who I like to think of as a Saint:
“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
I think that I am going to make just one last comment on this blog: I recommend that you read Nibley closer. As a self-proclaimed mentee of Nibley, I think that you should take a second look at something like “Leaders and Managers” for his critique of the anti-intellectualism that your recent posts have turned to.
John & TT,
I posted the words of a prophet of God. I’m truly sorry if you find his words so disturbing. Such has been the lot of the prophets since the beginning.
President Hinckley also warned about the pitfalls of inappropriate intellectualism:
Jaroldeen Edwards also spoke a word on this type of intellectualism:
Elder Glenn L. Pace also warned, quoting Nibley:
I might also reply to your quote, John, with my own.
“Man was created in the image of God, and as such we should seek to be like Him.”
You are playing a child’s game here, and I think you are smart enough to know it. It is stupid to trade GA quotes back and forth trying to prove a point, so I won’t join in your game. You really ought to go back to reviewing cartoons and telling us how they are causing us to have abortions, because as ridiculous as that is, it makes more sense than what you are doing here.
“The self-called liberal [in the Church] [Bryce: note this is the same as the latest self-proclaimed and reclassified “new order” Mormon]
I’ll repeat John C.’s question: Who appointed you to edit and interpret statements from the church’s leaders? Believe it or not, you are on pretty thin ice there. I’m fine with prophets and apostles making whatever statements they are inspired to make. I am not willing to accept your interpretation of what they say. Get over yourself, please.
It is clear that you know nothing about NOMs. It is also clear you know very little about other Mormons. And it is clear you know very little about the religion you claim to support. When you broadcast your own ignorance and then call it orthodox Mormonism, you are doing the church a disservice.
I have really enjoyed the concept of your blog. I think the stuff you present is fascinating. This talk does have some very good points. Here is what I see in some of your quotes-
“Conversion must mean more than just being a “card carrying” member of the Church with a tithing receipt, a membership card, a temple recommend, etc. It means to overcome the tendencies to criticize and to strive continually to improve inward weaknesses and not merely the outward appearances.”
– To me, this seems to apply more to the so-called “conservative” side of the church, rather than the liberal you highlight one sidedly. No one is in more danger of becoming as the pharisees than those who have the truth and puff themselves up because of it. I think it bears remembering.
“And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts; unto … envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities … because of the pride of your hearts.
– I don’t see how the tone of this post is avoiding any of these things. That quote of John’s has a point, you are seeing how this talk applies to others without really looking to see if it might apply to you as well. Pride is at the root of both ends of the ideological spectrum. Your blanket painting of Liberalism as the religion of Satan ignores the fundamentalism and dogmatism that is often more of a threat to those who lash out wildly against the liberal.
Abraham Lincoln is alleged to have said, “I accept all I read in the Bible that I can understand, and accept the rest on faith.”
– I just want to note that by any modern categorization of faith, Lincoln definitely fell into the liberal camp, yet he did develop faith of a sort to sustain him through the greatest of crises. He also was still a great man.
Furthermore, I would point you to some of the wonderful reports we are getting from the Bushman Seminar talking about building faith in those that are lacking rather than attacking their views and decrying their sins. There is much wisdom there. This is part of what I felt you were doing very effectively in many of your posts and I applaud you for it. I don’t see this lashing against liberalism building the faith of anyone. Using prophetic voice as an excuse to offend is something I personally find offensive. Remember D&C 121, and don’t forget you now need an increase of love, which is hard to do when you’ve just thrown the sharp words across the net already.
You aren’t answering the question. I don’t find those words disturbing. I believe myself an “Iron-Rodder” to the same degree as anyone else. My question is to ask “what makes you certain that you are an Iron Rod person and some other heretofore unnamed person is not?” I get that you think that you can quote the prophets because you believe they agree with you; my question is how do you know that?
Finally, I don’t mind people being like God so long as they leave the right to publicly judge with him. Otherwise, it seems to be that they are usurping his position.
Again, all I posted the prophet’s words. The whole thing is a quote of President Lee’s talk. I would be very concerned if you don’t agree with him.
Doc, don’t worry. I think you would agree that the majority of what I write is not in the critical vein. But every now and again, “reproving betimes with sharpness” is necessary to wake people up.
John, I believe the prophets agree with me because I agree with them. Every word.
New Order Mormons, as defined by themselves:
President Gordon B. Hinckley:
Bryce: thank you for posting this talk by Harold B. Lee. I very much needed to read and think about the basic points again.
As for the other reader’s comments above, I have detected no arrogance or anti-intellectualism here. President Lee in the talk above says to: “Experiment on the words of the Lord.” How is that anti-intellectual? We are NOT asked to merely believe; we are asked to put the claims to the test!!
It is a mistake to allow “intellectual” ideas and concerns impede one’s progress in the Church, such as going to and learning from the temple. Yet, it is easy to get to that point. The real arrogance is becoming “unteachable.” Too many intellectuals act as though they have arrived at “truth” and then conclude the Church no longer has anything to offer.
It is a conclusive truth that we need to heed the words of the prophets and ultimately of Jesus. President Lee was saying little more than that.
Keep posting. I have been reading for months now, and I have never seen anything that hinted that you thought you were the “ultimate arbiter of truth.”
“I have been reading for months now, and I have never seen anything that hinted that you thought you were the ‘ultimate arbiter of truth.'”
S.Faux, I still don’t. Never have, and never will. I think Nibley taught us well that we are all quite inferior to the knowledge of God, and that we should always be striving to learn more. Always. We will never come to a full knowledge of the truth in our entire lifetimes. But I do listen to the prophets’ voice.
No offense taken!
Do you know the context behind President Lee’s talk? What was/had happened that prompted his remarks? What were those crazies behind the Jello Curtain up to back then?
As I said previously, I don’t think the world is any better today than in the 50s and 60s. Quite to the contrary.
I was baptized at the tender age of 19, some years after pres. Lee’s talk. It could basically be given in the next Conference with maybe modest editing (if nothing else add a comment about the ‘net).
I have decided for myself that I am both Conservative and Liberal. I try to be Conservative in what I allow myself to do and say; I try to be Liberal in what I allow for others. That way I hope my Judge will be looking at my shortcomings with a bit of leniency.
President Hinckley warned of the currents of evil which run in our own day:
You agree in what sense with the words of all the prophets? You certainly aren’t making a claim to keeping all the commandments I assume. Have you ever had a moment when you had to conform your will to God’s as revealed through his prophets? Or is the nothing that you might be wrong regarding something in interpretation or understanding wholly foreign?
Dr. Nibley taught, amongst other things, that a refusal to allow one’s own thought to be scrutinized is a sure sign that one doesn’t have a good argument. You can throw up all the GA quotes you want, Bryce, but that is a smokescreen. I have my own ideas regarding what Presidents Lee and Hinckley meant. For an example, I believe that President Lee’s words are condemnatory of both who ignore and who embroider the Gospel to suit their needs. That said, I don’t believe that President Lee intended to alienate sincere believers who are struggling in believe or who simply approach God differently than he does (even within the LDS church).
It is silly to argue that you agree with all the prophets because the prophets haven’t always agreed on everything (see, for instance, the debate between Brigham Young and Orson Pratt regarding the nature of God). Beyond that, there are times when even reasonable, well-meaning, church-going and believing members feel compelled to pit one command against another to do the right thing. Bishops have to decide how much time to spend with family vs. how much time to spend helping the ward. Parents have to decide how much agency to allow their children. These things are not clear cut.
I suppose that we may be in a symantic argument here. You seem to be arguing against New Order Mormons, in the sense of those who go to church but don’t believe its faith claims. However, it isn’t your right or your job to tell someone they are a New Order Mormon just because they disagree with you regarding the meaning of “one true church.” Throwing this talk up isn’t helpful because all it indicates is that you have read it. It doesn’t say why you believe you are in agreement nor does it give your opponents the opportunity to engage your argument. I am not a New Order Mormon; regarding the faith claims of the Church, I am very, very conservative. That doesn’t mean that I need to run around telling people that their faith is insufficient or unwelcome in the church. But it isn’t very much of a stretch to see that message in your posting of this talk. You seem to argue that those who disagree with you disagree with this talk (or the other quotes you quote). But what if it isn’t the talk that they disagree with? What if it is just your interpretation thereof?
What I tell my students is that quotes never speak for themselves. You have to provide commentary for me to understand what they are saying to you. Otherwise, I am only grading their ability to transcribe, not to think.
I don’t presume to speak for the prophets. They can think and speak for themselves quite perfectly. And I think President Lee (and all the others) did and still do just that. You can interpret their words however you want to. But when they repeat the same things over and over again, it becomes a much more difficult issue to disagree with.
I don’t presume to speak for the prophets.
“The self-called liberal [in the Church] [Bryce: note this is the same as the latest self-proclaimed and reclassified “new order” Mormon]
How can your first statement possible be true, given that you have edited and embellished a prophet’s words? Since the term NOM didn’t even exist when that statement was made, we can only conclude that you are adding your own spin to it. Obviously, you don’t think the words of church leaders can stand on their own.
I will point out, again, that you are very likely damaging the church you claim to love. I ask that you stop it, and save all of us, but especially yourself, the drama. I’m pretty sure that a time will come sometime in your life when you will regret this course of action. You can thank me then.
It’s pretty incredible, isn’t it? If I leave no commentary, I am blasted. If I leave any commentary, however tiny, I am blasted. Hmmm…. I guess that leaves me no choice, does it. Should we just throw away the words of the prophets, and start out fresh?
Mark, if you don’t like my blog, then don’t read it.
I would dare say that any commentary that I give that doesn’t agree with your own interpretation is going to be blasted. Is that a true statement? Yet if I leave no commentary then how in world do we know what the prophets mean? You can’t do that Bryce!
I have been reading your site for a little while, but remained silent until now. I really like the amazing research you have done into the Temple. I also like the very fine line you have created so to keep the sacred matters of the Temple sacred. That is not an easy thing to do and I have been impressed by how well you have accomplished that. I have looked forward to each article on the Temple you make.
However, both this post and the one you made against the movie Wall-e seemed to me to be over the top and had passed the line of civility in communicating with people you disagree with. Whether you meant to or not, you have come across as arrogant and self-righteous. What I am seeing from those two posts is your lack of understanding of what it means to be a normal, middle-of-the-road liberal. And you also seem to have a very strong and surprisingly antagonistic attitude against liberalism in general.
Not knowing you and only using your posts on this site as a guide, I can only determine that your seeming antagonism stems in part from the current political and cultural climate. There is an unfortunate amount of vitriol and hatred in today’s culture and a strong “us vs. them” attitude that has taken hold of our lives in the US today. I would ask that you please take a step back from that cultural cliff-face and take an unprejudiced view of your attitudes towards those of us who have different opinions from yourself. If you can truthfully and objectively see any hint of anger or any ill will directed to liberals then you may want to read some of our leader’s talks on forgiveness and loving others. I would specifically direct you towards this talk by Elder Wood: http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-602-30,00.html
Being a liberal does not automatically make me an extremist. Just because I am not conservative does not mean that I am obviously a tree-hugging baby killer. It is not black and white. There are degrees of belief in all things. It is entirely possible for a mainstream, middle-of-the-road liberal to be a member in good standing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A radical liberal as a member? Probably not so much. Just as a radical conservative will also not be a good member of our Church. Anytime you go to an extreme in any endeavor you will start to exhibit actions that are not in keeping with what the Church and our Lord teaches us.
And so I’d hypothesize that your grasping of President Lee’s use of “intellectual liberal” is an unfair equation of a normal person with reasonable liberal ideas, with an extreme or self-important intelligent liberal who views his own hubris and ideas as more important than God’s commandments. It is >this< type of person President Lee was warning us about, not liberalism in general. It’s a matter of degree. Do not equate someone like myself with such an extremist. We are decidedly and unequivocally NOT the same. And it is insulting to be dismissed in such a way.
I hope you and your readers can take this in the manner in which I hope I have presented myself. This is not a damnation of anyone on this site. I don’t want to come across as heaping blame on anyone. It is (I hope) simply a clarification of this situation that I see from my perspective.
James, can I make one request? If you must use ad hominem, please don’t use it against me. Do you realize that you used the word “you” 25 times? On the other hand, you mentioned “President Lee” twice. This entire post was a talk by President Lee, not me. It wasn’t about politics either.
I understand, and I’m sorry if I offended. That was not my intention. It was to attempt to point out that you might be coming across much more strongly, and appearing much more antagonistic than you anticipated. It was a “look at it this way” post that I hope I communicated clearly. If I have not, then it is clearly my fault alone.
Also, I only mentioned politics once and that was related to culture. Yes, the Liberal/Democrat vs. Conservative/Republican wars are heavily influencing culture. But the current concept of “us vs. them” is not just about politics. It is regrettably now a part of our culture as well, which is what I was attempting to point out. And unfortunately it is also a part of LDS culture (not the LDS Church; the LDS culture – there’s a difference), especially in certain Utah cities. And it is decidedly online. I’ve read hundred of LDS sites that lambasted “libruls” far worse that I’ve seen on your site. And for that you should be commended for not engaging in more extreme anti-liberal posts.
As for using “you” 25 times; that is because I was not arguing about what President Lee was stating. I actually very much agree with him. He’s right in that intelligence for it’s own sake takes us away from our faith in God. I instead was commenting not on the content of your post today, but on the reasoning behind the need to post it. I saw it as a veiled but decidedly directed assault against liberal thinking.
Also, I see a misunderstanding of the word liberal in President Lee’s message. At the time of his speech, the word “liberal” meant something slightly different than it does now. Now you can’t mention the word without the heavy baggage of politics, hare-brained tree-hugging, and anger-filled attacks that the culture has imbued it with. Especially in the eyes of many conservatives today. My understanding of President Lee’s use of liberal, given the times when he lived, is that it is a more academic word, not a political one. I believe he meant liberal in your thoughts about religion, not liberal in your cultural stance in society.
Hopefully all that made sense. And again, please accept my apologies if I’ve offended.
Thanks James. Your comments are well-taken. No offense taken. Please accept my own apologies if there was misunderstanding.
Just keep in mind that we can be conservative or liberal in many more things than just politics, and it is different in each. I don’t think politics necessarily spreads its ideals or pitfalls into everything we come in contact with. Conservatism versus liberalism in the Church or gospel is a different beast entirely. It is in the context of the Church that this talk was published, not politics or culture or society, as you’ve wisely discerned – thus the title, “religious” liberals. While I do consider myself conservative in politics, I’m not a politician, and this post was not directed at any liberalism there. Nibley wisely taught, “be in the party but not of the party.” I like that line of reasoning. If any of my posts seem to engage liberalism in politics, then it may be because there are particulars there that are not in line with the gospel as I understand it. But my focus is on the gospel.
Man o’ man! What started this firestorm?
I just don’t see where the problem is. Can’t we take a concept being presented and learn the lessons with becoming personally offended?
Talk about stifling learning. If we are going to choke on such soft issues, how can we ever chew up the meat of the gospel?
Yes, I emphatically agree that we can be conservative or liberal in many other things besides politics. I, for example, am liberal in some things and decidedly conservative in others. I’d drive both political extremes crazy. 🙂
But I’d have to disagree that politics has not spread into our society with the “us vs. them” concept. I would agree, however, that it is not usually the case that politics would have such a huge impact on society. It just happens that at the moment the US culture is, by and large, heavily politicized.
It appears that I may have tied too strongly your earlier post about Wall-e with the reasoning behind the need to post this subject today. You’ll have to agree that your “Wall-e” post was directed against the left-leaning political directives of the more radical liberal voices. It also parroted almost exactly some of the religious right talking points that had been used to viciously attack the progressive movement. Having shown, or at least given the impression, that you have a strong anti-liberal stance with your “Wall-e” post, I assumed the same stance was the reason for your “religious liberals” post today. I would possibly appear that this was not the case. And if so, then I apologize for my misunderstanding.
I try my best to focus on the gospel as well. And that is why, when the spirit moves me, I attempt to defend myself when a fellow Mormon is writing a blog post that appears to attack progressives or liberals. And I try my best to do the same when I see liberal bashing the right.
Maybe I should start my own blog… 🙂
Let it go.
I think the thing Iron Rod and Liahona Mormons need to learn is that the Iron Rod and the Liahona are different aspects of exactly the same thing. They are the word of God to us. The Iron Rod might be though of representing those things everyone must submit to in order to cleansed, in order to commune individually with God and be filled with His love, in order to be exalted. Along that road lies faith, repentence, baptism by someone with authority, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the oath and covenant of the Priesthood, the Temple ordinances, etc. They are all absolutely neccesary, and fully contained only in His church. The Liahona is more the direction of God to individuals as they work out thier own salvation, and cope with the vagaries of life – many of which are almost entirely individual and opaque to anyone looking casually on. I know from the reactions of fixed Iron Rodders to me in my rather wicked past that often there was often an assumption that I needed only Iron Rod answers when I had Liahona problems.
Therefore, be gentle.
Although I agree with you in almost every way,- and I totally get your frustrations with some of what is said on the ‘naccle,- I think these last few posts and the ensuing discussions have been unfortunate. I wonder if the same points could be made without throwing down the gauntlet like this.
sister blah 2
Hi Bryce, for what it’s worth, I think some of the criticism in the comments has been unduly harsh. And I echo James’ sentiments about your blog generally: “I really like the amazing research you have done into the Temple. I also like the very fine line you have created so to keep the sacred matters of the Temple sacred. That is not an easy thing to do and I have been impressed by how well you have accomplished that.”
Perhaps the unfortunate firestorm that has sprouted up in the comments could have been prevented with a little note in your introduction to the talk reminding readers that the word “liberal” in the talk does not mean what we typically think of today, and that the message of the talk is useful for ALL members regardless of whatever labels we are given or assume. That would have deflected any notion that you were posting this as an attack on other people and not also something for yourself to think about as well (though to be fair, it could perhaps be inferred from your intro that you were thinking about it for yourself as well). To some extent, readers need to take responsibility for not taking offense, nevertheless, a disclaimer seems wise to me. There is a great message in this talk and it is well worth dusting it off and calling attention to it. Unfortunately though, I think the true message of the talk can be lost due to the extremely divisive nature of the word “liberal” in today’s culture (a tendency that wasn’t nearly so pronounced at the time the talk was given, so Pres. Lee can be forgiven for that of course). Even if we assume that divisiveness isn’t necessarily something to be avoided in all cases, I think the problem here is that the word in today’s environment is divisive in a way that is not relevant to what Pres. Lee was saying.
I hope everybody on all sides can put this and the other recent firestorm behind us, completely forgotten, and start fresh. It would be a shame for this fight to continue any longer.
Bryce posted a talk from a president of the church, and you all want him to moderate it, or edit it so no one is offended?
Is this what we have come to? Should we have Bryce post his semi-annual corrections to General Conference?
It is no wonder liberalism has become a by-word.
…and here comes the attacks…
Not one person asked Bryce to moderate, edit or alter the talk from President Lee. How did you come to that conclusion? Again I will state that the content of the talk itself has no relevance to my reaction. I agree with the talk’s purpose and message, as I had mentioned before.
And liberalism has become a by-word for two basic reasons:
1) idiotic liberal extremists, and
2) conservative extremist’s knee-jerk reactions
However, including me into the category of idiotic liberal extremists is insulting and degrading. Thus my defensive reaction. If you don’t attack me, I won’t be offended. Sounds like a deal?
This is Bryce’s blog and he can post what he wants.
That having been said, we can go to the church’s website and find the GAs words for ourselves. We don’t need to be told what they said when we can study it at our leisure without ill-informed commentary on how rotten we are for daring to express a contrary opinion.
There is a fairly long history in the bloggernacle of this kind of (so-called) liberal vs. conservative squabbling. Usually what happens is:
1- Conservatives post GA quotes that might appear to be pointed towards some person(s)
2- Liberals take offense and rally to the defense of the ultimate ‘nacle law– Don’t judge
3- Fighting ensues with bitter accusations hurled all around
Just for once, I would love to see the actual quote engaged. I don’t think that the concept of judging others- righteously or not– should be a forbidden topic. Is it even possible to intelligently have that conversation ?? For example in this case, it seems pretty clear that Pres. Lee *is* being judgmental towards certain people. Who are they? Why is he saying what he is saying?
I’m thankful for the posting. Everything you have done on your blog has always been in a wonderful spirit; this is no exception. I don’t think you have an ugly bone in you. Please keep presenting us with what we really need to hear, because when people get upset at a General Conference or General Authority talk, it’s usually because of pride.
I believe the hypersensitivity expressed by some is a complete misinterpretation and overreaction.
On a more humorous note, I’ve been pondering creating a blog entitled: “In Defense of Traditional Patriarchy: Reclaiming the Male Right of Presidency in a Confused, Post-Modern World”. How do you think that would go over among some members of the true Church?
I just got back from doing splits with the missionaries where we went to a family’s house and watched the new (to me) Joseph Smith video; it’s about 1 1/4 hour long, I think…Anyway, what was discussed during and after the video was the portrayal of the nature of the Prophet as uplifting, optimisitic, and long-suffering during all of his trials. I personally (Gospel according to Louis) think the Gospel is much more encompassing, the Plan of Salvation is much more inclusive than I think anyone can imagine. What do you feel when you feel the Spirit? I feel love for my fellow man, I can freely forgive, I feel comfortable with myself. These things are completely foreign to me, those feelings; I’m a creature of spite and deep insecurities. The Spirit lifts me above those crude and ill feelings and behaviours.
What came to my mind as I read the post was that this was a message of fear; the Gospel has no room for fear; if fear is darkness, then the Spirit is the ‘bright light’ which dispels that darkness. What is religious liberalism? I don’t think it is ‘liberalism’ in the political sense. Is it a liberalism in the attitude of reverance? I’m unclear what Bryce meant by posting this talk. It meant something or it wouldn’t have been posted.
Thanks all for your comments, even the negative ones. Thanks especially to Sister Blah 2 for recommending a “disclaimer.” I think that was an excellent observation, and I have added it to the beginning of the post.
I think it is important for us to review the words of past prophets (we do that every Sunday don’t we?) and try to come to an understanding of what they were saying and how it is applicable for our day. Liken the scriptures, etc… I think we are coming closer to understanding President Lee, and for that I am grateful.
As for your blog idea, Michael, I’m not even going to go there. 🙂
No, Louis, the prophets don’t send messages of fear (the entire post was from President Lee). They may seem harsh or stern on occasion, but sometimes that is necessary in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ himself fit in that category betimes.
As fascinating and timely as the posted talk was, it is much funnier and enlightening to read the posts here. I do not see where the post author claimed “Iron Rod = Issue X “, unless it was Iron Rod = listening to the Brethren – I hope that is not too controversial. The only thing I see is that he claimed that the Iron Rod is the correct place.
If we object to Pres. Lee’s talk, or read into it things that were not there… it speaks more of us, that the text itself.
the prophets don’t send messages of fear
You might want to read through Brigham Young and Jedediah Grant’s sermons from 1856-58 before stating so categorically that “prophets don’t send messages of fear.”
It might also be worth reading Richard Poll’s talk, “What the Church Means to People Like Me” that set the stage for President Lee’s talk. Most people generally read Lee’s talk as a direct response. Also helpful to contextualize the whole discussion is another essay by Poll (this one written 20 years later), “Liahona and Iron Rod Revisited.”
A longer post I submitted apparently is lost in cyberspace. When I read the post and the talk, I wrongly assumed it was given while President Lee was President of the Church. He did not become president of the Church until 1972. The talk was given while he was first counselor in the First Presidency. Of course, we sustain all the FP and 12 (and before the office was eliminated, Patriarch to the Church) as prophets, seers and revelators. But to the extent something is entitled to any more weight if given by the person who is then president of the Church, this historical note may be relevant.
sister blah 2
Aw, thanks for the shout-out Bryce. Differing taste in animated films notwithstanding ;-), I think you’re a classy guy.
Oh, shoot…he was only a heartbeat away from the Presidency when he gave this sermon. Please deduct relevance by 67.8%.
I basically agree with C Jones here. I’ve said this in another post on M*, and I’ll say it again: if you consider yourself a liberal, and you don’t respect Bryce’s opinion, then who cares what he says? Bryce has simply quoted from a GA and tried to apply it to modern-day situations. Personally, I think President Lee’s talk is still relevant today. Having read it pretty carefully, it seems he is warning against people who try to take a “liberal” stance toward what the Church teaches. If you don’t think you are taking a liberal stance toward what the Church teaches, then his comments don’t apply to you. Or maybe they do, but that is really between you and your conscience.
John C and Mark IV, you really ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Who died and appointed you arbiters of what Bryce can and cannot write in his blog? I simply don’t understand why it bothers you so much if somebody dares to be “judgmental” of others. Again, and I will say this so hopefully it will penetrate some pretty apparently thick skulls: if you don’t respect his opinions, then stop reading his blog. If you do respect his opinions, but disagree on this particular issue, then can you please disagree politely or simply ignore posts that get your knickers in a twist?
Just once I would love to see a post like this where the people who are so offended because somebody dares to be “judgmental” actually engage the prophets’ quotes involved instead of attacking the person who dares to quote from a prophet.
Let me follow up here with another thought that may help me to get my point across:
I have seen literally dozens of posts, comments, etc in which a “liberal” Church member has said in one way or another that to be a good follower of Christ you must favor government-backed redistribution of wealth because Christ and the Book of Mormon clearly point out that we have an obligation to help the poor. As a conservative, I could easily take offense to this: “how dare this liberal judge my righteousness: I’m against welfare, and this person is saying I’m not a good follower of Christ!” But the point is that I don’t ever say this because the writer who says this has absolutely no clue about my personal righteousness. I am totally unconcerned about what this personal thinks of my personal righteousness because it is irrelevant to my standing with God.
So, Bryce thinks that “liberal” Church members need to repent? Who cares? If you are a liberal and you think your personal righteousness is OK, then who cares what Bryce thinks? He’s not your bishop or stake president, so his opinion is just one of billions out there that don’t affect you in any way. If, on the other hand, he might have a point, then perhaps you should consider it and ponder it. But definitely the wrong thing to do is to claim, as several people have done on this thread, “how dare you question the righteousness of liberals!!!” Sorry, folks, that comes across as censorship.
Floyd the Wonderdog
At the time this seemed to me to be a response (in part) to an article in Sunstone.
There was also a group at the time (as there is still) who felt that their judgement was equal if not preferable to the direction of the Prophet.
For those who read Richard D. Poll’s address “What the Church Means to People Like Me,” that seemingly prompted President Lee’s talk, I offer one question. Who will listen to a prophet’s voice?
I don’t honestly think that you and I are on opposing sides on this. As long as I have been on the bloggernacle, my experience has been that the longer two people are in dialogue, the more they understand one another. I am a little frustrated by long quotes without commentary, mostly because I encounter it amongst my students a lot as a way to gain space in papers. Also, long quotes can sometimes be perceived as bullying in blogging, as they take a long time to read and people do like to skim.
I like that you found stuff for you in this talk. After a reread, I realized that this was the sentiment you were expressing in your introduction. I don’t think that my reading was impossible from the overall context of late, but I do believe it was essentially a misreading. I am sorry for giving you the worst possible reading.
I don’t mind our being judgmental if we direct it at ourselves. That’s the only distinction I care to make on the matter.
Thanks Geoff. I do feel sometimes that I am somehow forcing people to read these things, and that I dare to believe that they might apply today. I think that is strange, indeed.
John C., I like long quotes. I’m not an authority on these things, but I do like to bring authoritative voices to the surface. I’m not just trying to fill the page, but I do think things prophets have said in the past still apply today and I like to review them. Yes, it may take longer to read, but it would take even longer if I added commentary. I try to help that out by bolding the parts that I personally found most important. Hopefully this helps in skimming.
But I am still confused at how I should add commentary since some seem to think that if I say a single word I’m not letting the prophet “speak for themselves” or not letting them “stand on their own.” I’m “editing and embellishing” a prophet’s words if I do, adding my “own spin to it.” Is this viewed as a sin? Heavens, Nibley couldn’t quote two words without adding his opinion, could he?
About judging, weren’t we commanded to “judge righteous judgment”? Does this only apply to ourselves?
Bryce said “The rod of iron as seen in the vision interpreted was the word of God, or the gospel of Jesus Christ” [edit: President Lee said this!]
This is another general state that needs to be be explored. Yes, the iron rod is the word of God but what is the word of God? If you look in the index for the triple combination, you will find that the first reference is to the dream of Lehi found in 1 Nephi 2:3. When Lehi received the dream, it states that ‘he was obedient unto the word of the Lord.’ It is easy to draw the conclusion that the word of the Lord was given to Lehi in the dream. As you follow the scriptures through 1 Nephi, it is interesting to see how the word ‘word’ is used. Later, in verse 13, Nephi makes reference to the ‘words of the prophets’ clearly in reference to the inspired writings of his day.
The word of God does not equate to the gospel. The gospel is clearly defined in the scriptures. The best definition of the ‘word of God’ I can give is the it represents the contents of dreams, visions, and revelation given to us directly from God. The gospel, as defined in D&C 33:11-12 is ‘repentence and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.’
It is through revelation, aided by the baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost, that we receive the word of God. In other words, the gospel is the instruction book on how to receive the word of God.
Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.