Saturday, April 30, 2016

More on Excommunication

It has not been my initial intention to flood the month of April with posts about excommunication. As Simone de Beauvoir stated in her book The Second Sex (although her subject there was feminism) the subject is boring and repeatedly talked about. This is not to say that those who are being excommunicated are not important people and that we should not listen to what they have to say; certainly we should. But I am just pointing out to my readers that I much prefer to talk about matters relating to philosophy, science, and other areas.

However, after learning something yesterday, I was compelled to write upon the subject again. While I will not reveal names, a friend mentioned to me through Facebook messenger that a mutual friend of ours had two drastic things occur in his life recently: 1. His son had been sent home from his mission (reason was undisclosed) and 2. He has received a summons to a disciplinary council. While the reason was nut fully disclosed to me, given what I know of this friends interactions with his stake president, it is likely do to his vocal support for former LDS member Denver Snuffer. For those who do not know, Denver Snuffer is a lawyer and author who has written books such as The Second Comforter and Passing the Heavenly Gift. He was excommunicated from the LDS Church in September of 2013 for the latter book, which talks about how the Church has evolved from the time of Joseph Smith. Unlike Jeremy Runnells however, Denver Snuffer remains a believer in the Restoration, the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

The purpose of this post is to show how both the people involved in courts and those associated with those involved should act and react to a summoning. First, remember that while a disciplinary council may be called, there may not be disciplinary action taken. A council means that a hearing will happen before a decision is made; that is all. I do acknowledge that at times a decision was already made before a council occurred, but I do not believe one is entitled to infer that this happens in every case.

Second, on the part of those being summoned. This is a time to analyze what you believe and what you do not believe. Do you believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, do you believe that priesthood is active in the church, do you believe that at times priesthood leaders can receive inspiration, etc. If you believe in some or most of the central tenets of the church, then it may be worthwhile to go and state your case to a council. If you are more in line with people like Jeremy Runnells and John Dehlin, it would be more courteous and useful to merely resign and not go to a council. Why waste their time and your time?

Thirdly and finally, those associated with those being disciplined. Remember that their are two sides to every story and we are only going to hear one side. There may be things that a person does not mention to make themselves look more innocent than they in fact are, or they may be telling the whole truth. Regardless, our reaction to the councils and outcomes will need to rely on the amount of faith we have in priesthood leaders and their judgement. It is important to note that Jesus of Nazareth, not a priesthood leader will be the final judge (2 Nephi 9:41). If a mistake has been made, he will remedy it in the end. I am grateful that he, not a priesthood council, will be the final judge because he is far more merciful than they will be.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Why people like Jeremy Runnells and John Dehlin are a force for good

Last week in this space, I talked about how all excommunications were not alike and how we should not commit the fallacy of false equivalency by making it seem that all those who have criticized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are all the same. Since that time Jeremy Runnells, author of Letter to A CES Director, has had his disciplinary council and resigned from the Church rather than being excommunicated (he must have read last weeks post). He, or someone who was there, managed to record the whole thing and it can be listened to and partly seen here.

It is not my purpose this week to critique the CES Letter; others have done it and perhaps I will in the future as well. Rather, my purpose this week is to show that we actually owe people like Jeremy Runnells and John Dehlin (host of Mormon Stories Podcast) a thank you (by we I mean active, believing, academic, Mormons).

Recently, I was watching British philosopher and theologian Richard Swinburne being interviewed by Steve Porter, who asked Professor Swinburne about the so called "New Atheists." Swinburne responded that while the New Atheists were not advancing anything new in way of argument, they were getting well-known oppositions to theism out in the open and making theists take seriously the reasons why they chose to believe in God, which Swinburne said was a good thing.

This week, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy gave the commencement address at Brigham Young University and said "The faithless often promote themselves as the wise who can rescue the rest of us from our naiveté. One does not need to listen to assertive apostates for long to see the parallels between them and the Corihors and Nehors and Sharoms of The Book of Mormon. We should disconnect immediately and completely from listening to the proselytizing efforts of those who have lost their faith, and instead reconnect promptly with the holy spirit. The adversary sees spiritual apathy and half-hearted obedience as opportunities to encircle us with his chains and bind us, and he hopes to destroy us. We escape his chains as we voluntarily chose to bind ourselves instead to God."

On the surface, Elder Clayton has a point. We don't need to presume that just because someone is a popular objector to restored gospel that anything they are saying is true, or that they really care about those that they disagree with. Certainly this is true in the sense of the three antichrists that he mentioned.

However, like the New Atheists, people like Jeremy Runnells and John Dehlin are a force for good because they are making well known objections to Mormon theology and history more well known among the general public. Frankly, this in some ways is a breath of fresh air because Mormons generally don't know their theology and history very well, and these criticisms coming us have to check ourselves, our history, and our testimonies, which is never a bad thing.

Were it not for Runnells and Dehlin, the essays about polygamy, the priesthood, and the female relationship to the priesthood may have never come out. While those essays have many problems, they are a start towards greater transparency, and in this generation the Church will need to be completely transparent and honest, which it should have done all along. For their help in making the Church more transparent, Runnells and Dehlin are owed thanks. That is not an endorsement of these two men, but it is an endorsement that there are real questions that deserve answers rather that dodging. Since it seems that they forced the Church's hand in some ways, I am grateful.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Not all excommunications are alike....

With the announcement on Facebook that Letter to a CES Director (often simply called the CES Letter) author Jeremy Runnells will be summoned (for the third time) for a disciplinary council, the LDS Community is reminded of the councils of the September Six in the early 1990's, Margaret Toscano in 2000, Denver Snuffer in 2013, Kate Kelly in 2014, and John Dehlin in 2015 (perhaps the church wants to excommunicate one big name per year, I kid). While it is common as Hume pointed out in his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding to associate ideas without carefully analyzing the difference, I will not make that mistake that it seems many are making.

Very few people want people driven from the church. Apart from being just a place of shared belief, the church is also a heritage for many. Most of those mentioned (with the notable exception of Snuffer) were raised in the LDS community and would prefer that their links to it not be severed. This is understandable. There are few relationships that last for long, and the LDS Church hopes that certain relationships can transcend this life. Some, if not most or all, of those mentioned had hoped that their viewpoint could transcend the line between disagreement and open rebellion. Fortunately, it did not.

There is a difference between fighting against something and disagreeing with something. I disagree with the church's policy on blacks until 1978; but I am not fighting against the church about it. Why? First, the Church has reversed the policy, so I and my ancestors can receive the blessings of the gospel. Second, I know that while the restriction was a racist one, it does not mean that those in the Church now are racists (or that everyone during the time of the ban was). Third, I realize that progress is like biological evolution; it takes a very long time and is a painful process. So while I understand there is a long way to go on this and other issues, I am confident we can get there (even if it is frustrating to watch). Fourth, most importantly I believe in the central doctrines of the Church, so the things that I criticize about the church are more synthetic than fundamental.

This is not the case for Mr. Runnells. Not only is he fighting against the church with no original arguments (see Brian Hales cite countering the letter here), he is also making a publicity stunt out of it. Also Runnells, like Kelly and Dehlin, is not a believer in any sense, which he acknowledges in his book. To put it simply, if Runnells is excommunicated, his life won't change at all; except he will be a little less famous.

To compare Runnells, Dehlin, and Kelly with the Septemeber Six and others is to commit the logical fallacy of false equivalence. Some of the September Six have come back to the Church and are active members (Avraham Gileadi and Maxine Hanks). Most of them were scholars who made original arguments and helped the Church in the long run (Gileadi, Toscano, Quinn). And all of them at the time of excommunication were believers. Runnells is none of these things.

No organization, especially a church, has a reason to keep someone around when it abundantly clear that they don't want to be. Certainly they should not keep people around who only want to use their image as a Church member to gain credibility they really do not have. If Runnells were a sincere person, he would resign and save himself and his leaders the hours dedicated to a formal hearing. However, since he is a prima donna, he will milk this for all he its worth.

A final note about something that has circulated for far too long, namely the council itself. Disciplinary councils are not the the Gulag or the Khemer Rouge; they are meetings to decipher sin and sincerity. No one is tortured, no is forced to go. Questions are asked, decisions are made, perhaps incorrect ones at times. But so far, everyone that I am aware of has come out with their life and safety intact; I cannot say that of the other two organisations.

There is my two cents. Feel free to comment.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

GOP and Immigration Reform

Perhaps it is because it is all that GOP front-runner Donald Trump talks about (besides himself), but it seems that immigration is becoming a trending topic in the 2016 presidential election. Sadly, because of Trump and a few other factors (namely that the Democratic Party generally gets most minority votes), it has been made to look as though those on the right are racist and nativist. While this may be true of Mr. Trump (which will be discussed later), it is a mistake to assume that because someone is a conservative that they are against any type of immigration reform.

This post will concern itself with three concerns :1) What conservatives have historically done on immigration reform 2. Why the stereotype of immigrants doing jobs Americans won't do is false 3. What to do going forward

As a people we seem to have very short memories. In 1986 President Ronald Reagan, who modern conservatives worship, signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. This bill required employers to verify the immigration status of employees and forbade recruiting those who were known to be illegal immigrants to work. However, this act also under certain conditions allowed those who were in the country illegally to be granted amnesty. At the time Reagan signed the bill into law, there were 3.2 million illegal immigrants. If the right hated illegals, they had a way of not letting it show.

In more recent memory, Senator John McCain of Arizona teamed up with Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts to pass the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act. While the bill sadly never came up for a senate vote, it would have granted amnesty to many illegals if there was a promise of more border control. President Bush offered similar ideas, but they also were rejected.

It seems based on the evidence that while some people like Donald Trump are radical about immigration reform, that conservatives by and large are amenable to allowing people to stay if there is something done on the border. At the end of the day, conservatives believe in the rule of law, but they can have compassion as well. It is clearly false to think that conservatives are all like Trump or even mostly like Trump. It seems that over the last 50 or so years that this has been an issue, we have been willing to meet our liberal counterparts in the middle. But we are the ones who never get our side of the deal answered.That is not to say that I as a conservative endorse Mr. Trump's idea of deporting all illegals; such a thing is impossible and inhumane. But, if we are going to have laws they need to be enforced.

A common counterargument that is often used is that immigrants do jobs that Americans won't do. I have no idea what these people are talking about. I currently am a janitor, and have done other jobs that are low paying and require lots of physical labor. Americans have often picked fruit, cleaned lawns, washed cars, been handymen. What job is it that Americans won't do?

What I think the proponent of this argument is really saying is that American's will not do jobs without a fair wage and safe working conditions. While an American can legally ask for such things, an immigrant cannot but is willing to work for some pay. People are firmly aware of this and take advantage of it.But this is not an indication that if there were no immigrants many jobs would be left undone. Sure, some people will refuse such work, thinking it is beneath them. But many people will overcome their pride and do what needs to be done to earn a living, and thus will do those jobs.

The real question is always "What should we do?" I agree with what President Reagan did 20 years ago, and would be willing to do what he did again, on conditions that a wall is built and immigration laws afterwards are stringently enforced. Meaning, I would be willing to give amnesty and citizenship to all illegal immigrants, but things must change at the border and those who come after would have to be deported.

I am sure some liberals are saying "Why build a wall? People will still come illegally." It is surprising to hear them use this argument in regards to immigration, but when gun fanatics remind them that stricter gun laws will not eliminate all gun crime this doesn't change their minds. I am aware that some will come over illegally no matter what we do and we cannot catch or stop them all. But just like common sense gun laws, it is not an excuse to do nothing because you cannot do everything.