A Moral Blight

February 14, 2005

Justin B. has excerpted some interesting information from a 1971 article on slavery in the Utah territory during the 1850s (i.e. before the Civil War and the 1862 federal abolition of slavery). The article is Dennis L. Lythgoe, “Negro Slavery in Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly vol. 39.1 (Winter 1971), p. 43.

I tried to leave a comment over there but there is a problem with Justin’s comment feature. I am always very interested in Justin’s posts and his excerpts of research re Mormon history. At the same time, I am always slightly nervous since I don’t know what Justin’s agenda is. On the one hand, he seems merely interested as a historian in the Church; on the other hand, the subject matter of his posts is quite often very controversial and topics that cannot avoid portraying the Church in a bad light.

As to slavery in the Utah territory I would just say that the very thought of slavery makes me sick. I’m glad that this people largely rejected slavery and that only a very few (mostly converts from the deep South) brought it here. The fact, however, that no law was passed expressely prohibiting it should not be an indictment of the Church or this entire people or our religion. The Church of those days existed in the cultural setting of those days. In many aspects the doctrines led the Church’s adherents to be more enlightened than other nineteenth-century Americans. In other respects, the members were just as blind; apparently, slavery was one of those areas to some members of the day.

Powerful Doctrine

February 13, 2005

At stake conference today I saw Orsee Bonsu across the crowd and reflected on his powerful testimony that he bore to us in the Colonial Hills II ward last week on Fast Sunday.

He is from Ghana and stood to testify of his conviction that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s true Church on the earth. He related what brought him to this knowledge, and it was the power of the doctrines of the Restored Gospel (and doctrines that are really only clear in this dispensation of God’s dealings with his children). The particular powerful doctrine of the Restored Gospel that he focused on as having the power to lead him to the Church was the doctrine of baptism for the dead.

Dr. Bonsu was concerned about the welfare of his father. His father had been a very good man, according to Bonsu, but had died with no knowledge whatsoever of Jesus Christ. Bonsu figured that if God were truly just, he would never condemn someone for having died without baptism if that person had never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and accept or reject Jesus Christ. With all of the doctrinal rangling between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints, with the former accusing the latter of not being Christians, this aspect of Evangelical belief remains infirm and disconcerting to the truly thoughtful followers of Christ. It greatly bothered Dr. Bonsu as well.

He investigated many churches and met with the missionaries as well. He was mildly interested during the initial discussions with the missionaries and many of his appointments with them fell through. But then Dr. Bonsu asked them about the welfare of his deceased father. The power of the doctrine of baptism for the dead struck him to the very core and he knew that this was God’s true church. He got baptized soon thereafter and was called immediately to serve in his stake’s family history center. Now, he has been called to head up family history for the whole continent of Africa. He is driven by the principles behind the doctrine of baptism for the dead. His testimony reminded me of the basic principles of the Restored Gospel that function as proof of its truthfulness and also that enrich our membership in this Church. I realized I had been taking this earth-shatteringly important principle of the Restored Gospel absolutely for granted.

Priesthood Blessings: A Matter of Form or Substance?

February 10, 2005

Recently we had some illness in our family. There is not much in this world that I have faced which is worse than having sick children. Particularly when the afflicted one is a baby who can’t talk yet, such times are difficult to endure. There is a constant nagging worry about what to do- go to the doctor? Put the child to bed? WHAT?!? Anyway, when our baby was sick last week, as well as my wife and my other children, it seemed as though a dark feeling had settled upon the Fowles house. We felt unsettled and anxious.

We were so thankful to be able to call our neighbor from around the corner to come and help administer in healing blessings. The feelings of darkness and anxiety were replaced with light and calm reassurance as we blessed my children to heal them in the name of Jesus Christ. Truly, Jesus Christ is the light of the world and the Prince of Peace, as was confirmed to our hearts once again as we performed that temporally saving priesthood ordinance. And priesthood as restored to Joseph Smith is His power.

Yet after the adminstrations, I had to pause and wonder: what if the Brother from around the corner had not been able to come help me annoint? I’m sure it would have been fine- necessity would have dictated that I do both the annointing and the sealing myself. But that got me wondering about why we even need to bother with 2 brethren then. Furthermore, when the good Brother came to my aid, he took the time to put on a white shirt and a tie before coming, even though it was evening. I did the same, out of habit. What if neither of us had bothered to put on nicer clothes? Would the blessings have been any less efficacious?

This all got me wondering about why we even need to annoint in the first place? I know there is scriptural basis for it, and that this is simply how priesthood blessings are given- but why? Would the Lord withhold special blessings from an infant because the formality of annointing was not completed? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing a merciful God would do. It seems like the Spirit could dictate just as surely the healing words with or without oil beforehand, though. And it seems to me as though the substance of the priesthood ought to overcome the form of the ritual performed. So are we concerned with form or substance in priesthood blessings?

Brother Knight also poses a similar question– he discusses how many people in his ward tack on a perfunctory “if it be the will of the Lord” to their blessings and attach great importance to those words. But do those words really do any work?

Throughout the Old Testament, form seems all pervasive and seems like it might trump substance. Complex rituals are laid out for nearly every ordinance and sacrifice. In the New Testament, however, the new gospel wine seems to be rich with substance and generally unweighted by form. But in today’s church, a great deal of emphasis is placed on form. Our most sacred rituals are laden with form.

So here’s a chance for you gospel scholars to weigh in. Are priesthood rituals a matter of form or substance? Which is more important? If they are both of equal importance, then what should we do if we aren’t able to follow the form? Can we give priesthood blessings for healing unpreceded by the annointing ritual?

I am very interested in your thoughts, and especially interested in your thoughts backed up by scripture/modern statements of General Authorities on this matter (although I would also be happy to just hear your own thoughts, without any scripture). If this has already been done at T&S, I apologize- send me the link and this will be a short discussion!

(Now back to my study of form versus substance in the land of contracts, where substance definitely rules the day these days- except of course for that pesky statute of frauds…)

On Millstones and the Condescension of God

February 10, 2005

Lest anyone think that I am insensitive to the plight of abused children because of my response to Martha Nibley Beck’s accusations against her father Hugh Nibley that he sexually abused her as a child while wearing Egyptian ceremonial dress, I wish to express that nothing is further from the truth. I have a particularly soft spot in my heart for innocent children who have been mistreated or abused, whether physically, sexually, or emotionally. Stories of child abuse in the media make me physically ill and my heart breaks for the children. If anything causes enmity towards God to enter my heart, it is reports of the suffering of the little ones.

Last week, we had stories in the media of the Dollars, a couple who tortured their children, locking them in a closet, pulling out their toenails and banging their feet with hammers, and starving them over extended periods of time such that by the time of their rescue, they looked like Auschwitz survivors.

This week, we have a Tuscon couple who locked their daughter in her room for over a year and sexually abused her:

Investigators determined that the girl — described as 5 feet 6, weighing only 97 pounds and “significantly malnourished” — was kept in a bedroom with its single window covered by a blanket, its door fastened by an outside lock.

This 14 year old girl also had likely not been to school since the fourth grade.

Punishment should be swift and severe for the perpetrators of such acts. If anything in this entire world makes me question God and his love for us earthlings, it is such occurences of child abuse. As bad as this latest story is, it pales in comparison to the pure evil that is being perpetrated against children in places like Thailand’s sex industry and as a result of pornography and the sexual licentiousness that abounds in our society.

Although I was always bothered very deeply by stories of cruelty to children (I used to have nightmares about kidnapping and such as a little kid), the first time that an awareness of this cruelty shook my entire being was when I first heard of the plight of Kaspar Hauser, a child severely abused and neglected for sixteen years and found in Nuremberg in 1828. The Count Anselm von Feuerbach, a judge on the Bavarian Court of Appeals, took interest in the case and resolved to come to the bottom of it. It remains, however, to this day, a mystery just who Kaspar Hauser was. The preface to the 1833 English translation of Feuerbach’s account of Hauser’s story briefly summarizes Hauser’s experience:

Hauser was at that time [that he was found in Nuremberg] about sixteen or seventeen years old, had never learned to speak, and soon showed that he had been shut out during his whole life from all communication with the world. A narrow, dark dungeon, in which he was always obliged to remain in a sitting posture, so that even his bones had assumed a peculiar shape, had been all the space allowed to the unhappy being in this wide world; water and coarse bread, all the food he had ever tasted; a shirt, all his clothing; and now and then stripes, inflicted by the unseen hand of his fiendish keeper, when he happened to make a noise — all he knew of any being besides himself. He was but just allowed to vegetate — and what a wretched vegetation in his forlorn condition.

Only a few years later Hauser was stabbed to death in a pub. A life of misery, horrible in its details, and, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. These accounts turn up regularly; other stories are even worse which combine such isolation and neglect with routine rape and sexual exploitation in the child-sex industry. I have no insight or answers as to how this can be allowed to happen. It bothers me greatly and tempts me to question God’s love for us. In the end, though, I must confess, like Nephi upon being questioned concerning the “condescension of God,” that I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

New Anti-Mormon Trump Card?

February 5, 2005

I have been undecided for several weeks about how to express my reaction to Marth Nibley Beck’s new diatribe Leaving the Saints (see review here and here) ever since I heard about it and read the first chapter last month. (Yes, this has already been scooped in the Bloggernacle here, here, and here, and in the comments on this BCC thread.) I have, however, counted to ten, metaphorically speaking, and resisted the urge to lay into her personally too severely on my blog (e.g. her anorexia, depression, homosexuality, and anti-Mormonness).

What I want to ask is if sexual abuse is going to become the ultimate new anti-Mormon trump card? As far as I know, as anti-Mormon as Fawn Brodie was, she never alleged that David O. McKay sexually abused her while wearing an Egyptian ceremonial mask.

But this is exactly what Beck alleges against her father, Hugh Nibley, as he wastes away on his death bed in Provo, Utah, surrounded by family, including all of his other children and his wife, all of whom have sworn affidavits in court that nothing of the sort ever happened in Hugh Nibley’s home. Why would she do this to her father? Oprah might say that it is obvious: she really was sexually abused, otherwise she would never do this to her father, noone would. But Oprah doesn’t understand the length to which anti-Mormons will go to malign the Church. In a way, Beck has resorted to the most effective anti-Mormon tool ever.

Claiming sexual abuse at the hands of a respected and successful Latter-day Saint scholar and priesthood holder is extremely effective because it allows Beck to side-step the sticky substance of the debate surrounding Latter-day Saint truth claims. If her first chapter is representative of her entire book, she does not footnote any of her antiquated, tired anti-Mormon barbs. She merely makes the anti-Mormon claims, particularly against the historicity of the Book of Mormon in the same paragraph as supposed recovered memories of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, a person largely responsible for battling against such anti-Mormon claims with sound scholarship from his knowledge of ancient languages, culture, and civilization. By taking this approach, Beck can act like these nineteenth-century criticisms of the Book of Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which have for the most part been squarely refuted by competent scholarship in the intervening century, are still valid. She can ignore all of the subsequent scholarly debate about these issues, which a credible treatment would both acknowledge in footnotes and provide thoughtful counterarguments against.

Thus, Beck has sunk to a new low in anti-Mormon diatribes, not even attempting to deal with the credible apologetics that defends the historicity of the Book of Mormon, much of which started with her own father. Her simultaneous hatred of the Church and apparent inability to surmount the difficult task of combatting the solid scholarship in defense of the Book of Mormon have led her to slander and now libel her father with claims of sexual abuse instead. That is the answer to Oprah: an anti-Mormon agenda knows no bounds, even the ingrained filial piety that would naturally dissuade even the most disaffected of daughters from bearing false witness against their own fathers for such a heinous deed. She has found the new anti-Mormon trump card; now we will see how many anti-Mormon copy-cats will follow in her footsteps.

As a side note, I wonder if it would be possible and/or feasible for the Nibley family to seek a Temporary Restraining Order to prevent the release of the book on March 1 pending a suit for slander and libel. If I were Nibley, I would pursue that option. I know the family is “considering” legal action for libel, but a TRO would prevent the book to accomplish its anti-Mormon goal of indoctrinating the readers of discredited and illegitimate nineteenth-century anti-Mormon criticisms through the vehicle of sexual abuse claims rather than solid scholarship addressing the sound subsequent scholarly debate on these issues. Whatever the case, she can erase a lifetime of work in defense of the Book of Mormon–scholarly work that is well-respected–by merely saying “sexual abuse.”

“A New Power is Arising . . .

February 1, 2005

. . . its victory is at hand.”

Congratulations to those who have established the new blog The Millennial Star! It looks like a fantastic platform and promises to be interesting and informative with their star-studded cast. I was particularly pleased to see Ben Spackman and Jon Wilson on their list of contributors.

Interesting that Ryan and Davis Bell are there too.

(P.S.: name the quote)