The fallout of Mormon fixations with what we eat, wear, and say

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liberal vs conservativeLast week saw a couple of passionate blog posts that faulted the LDS Church for its mealy-mouthed silence on torture.

I can understand where this is coming from. It’s a logical reaction against the predictably lopsided morality of the LDS Church. Sometimes I feel like I belong to a religion that would be less likely to rebuke a member who made millions designing torture techniques than it would to censure that same man if he dared to pass the Sunday sacrament in a blue Oxford shirt, or uttered the F word in public.

Many people have noted the old adage that liberal Christians care about social morality, while conservative ones focus on personal piety. There are some exceptions to this pattern, but overall, it’s a fair point.

Many of the arguments we see happening in the LDS Church these days are caused because liberals and conservatives prioritize such different things. Liberals would like to see equal opportunities for women, greater emphasis on helping the poor, and a concerted effort to get general authorities to quote NPR stories from the pulpit. Conservatives are generally satisfied with the way things are, and are more likely to emphasize personal righteousness, missionary work, and whether skinny jeans are a harbinger of the last days.

The problem is that when we call ourselves Christians, we’re supposed to care about all of it. The personal and the social. The little things and the big ones.

In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin’s famous speech might serve as a model for us in integrating the two halves. He expresses concern with personal morality (“nor that ye should murder, or plunder, or steal, or commit adultery”), but much of the speech is taken up with social morality—service as a form of worship (Mosiah 2:21-22), and the holy obligation to care for the needy.

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 4:18-19)

In fact, the passage goes so far as to say that our very salvation is revoked if we don’t feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick (Mosiah 3:26). Failure to attend to social morality, according to the Book of Mormon, means we can no longer claim a remission of our sins.

Yet this is not the kind of spiritual peril that Mormons usually emphasize (with the wonderful exception of Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk “Are We Not All Beggars?” in the October 2014 General Conference).

Instead we fixate upon minutiae that in the grand scheme of things are culturally-conditioned, insignificant trivialities. In the 1920s the personal morality issue du jour was card-playing. Heber J. Grant had a particular bug up his butt about it, saying in 1929 that Mormons “are expected to obey the Word of Wisdom, to be honest tithe-payers, to remember the covenants that they make in the temples of God, and not mutilate their garments: that we expect them to quit playing cards; and that we expect them to do their duty as saints, and to preach the Gospel by living it.

Playing gin rummy, apparently, was as bad as drinking gin.

Today our issues include a relentless policing of female dress, an obsession with homosexuality, and a deep fear of pornography. Of the 399 discussions of pornography in General Conference since the 1850s, 212 have occurred in just the last 14 years. The first mention of it did not even appear until 1959.

Don’t get me wrong; some amount of focus on personal morality is appropriate. We need counsel on issues of our day. Spiritual practices like temple recommend interviews and tithing settlements, for example, can help us stay accountable to changes we promised to enact in our lives.

But when our general leaders combine an intense focus on young women’s shoulders with near-silence on war, torture, racially-motivated violence on the part of police, and crimes against humanity, we should understand that as a problem. As the author of one of last week’s blog posts argues, “What good are prophetic voices that maintain total silence on the most pressing moral matters of our time?”

  • Excellent post. Perfectly said.

    Thank you.

  • GP

    What I found interesting in my recent studies of church history is that Joseph Smith drank wine (at least occasionally) and coffee. He even drank wine when he was in Carthage just before being killed. It was a surprise to me because I had somehow thought that Joseph Smith had abstained from these his whole life (at least after the WoW revelation). I suppose this misconception also came because we had heard so many stories in Primary about how he refused to take alcohol for his leg operation… and there weren’t any church lessons that talked about him drinking wine or coffee.

    Certainly strict adherence to the WoW is a key attribute of Utah Mormons today… other LDS movements (who do not recognize HJG) follow the WoW as revealed in the D&C… NOT as a commandment, but as a “word of wisdom”. It kind of makes you think… why is it so important for church members today to avoid wine 100% when both Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith did not follow this rule 100% themselves? Why is such strict adherence a criteria for getting a temple recommend? Joseph Smith would not have qualified by today’s standards – of course he wouldn’t have qualified for many other reasons too, but that’s another story.

  • Tammy

    Great observations, and I think I know why this is so and has been so for a very long time. The same thing can also be understood by watching the musical, The Music Man. Harold Hill could only convince the townspeople that they needed a boys band if he could convince them they had a problem the band could solve. Trouble with a capital T that rhymes with P and stands for Pool Table. By enticing the town into worry about the pool table, he opened their wallets and hearts to his ideas. In the end, they forgave him the trickery because they were all… “happier” as a result of the story.

    Same thing with Mormonism. Perhaps this is not as deliberate as is the case of Harold Hill Traveling Salesman, but the story is still the same. Dazzle, alarm and distract people by posing every day things like modesty, chastity, alcohol, coffee and homosexuality as threatening, and in doing so capture their commitment while not taking accountability for trying to solve any of the hard problems at all.

  • Amen Jana! Thanks for a fantastic article.

  • Porter

    I loved this Jana. Its a shame that in today’s American culture so many of these issues are reduced to a political dichotomy; republicans versus democrats, liberals versus conservatives. It seems to me that the question of whether God’s true church on earth should condemn torture (orchestrated by a former LDS bishop), war, racial violence, genocide and economic inequality doesn’t have any thing to do with political affiliation. Can’t we all agree that torture and genocide is per se immoral?

    But alas, the leadership of the LDS Church today seems far more concerned about taking public positions on Utah liquor laws than slavery and torture. Indeed, it seems to me that the church itself has (deliberately or not) chosen to stay out of the fray, to keep it head down. Are these issues just too controversial, or have they lowered their ambitions?

  • WindRiverHiker

    What an excellent blog. I couldn’t agree more.

    I also feel that some of the focus on very superficial things, like clothing, can actually work against one of the primary goals of the church–missionary work. Honestly, I have heard many, many comments from people who visit our church that ask, what significance do white shirts have in Mormon doctrine. And, what is the doctrinal background for woman not wearing pants in church? Why on earth would we want to make people feel unwelcome and uncomfortable because they do not clone our culture’s dress?

    I think when we distract our members and potential members with these superficial issues, we can lose the chance of impressing them with the many great things about our church. I think the miss-focus on dress, beards and mustaches (not allowed for some callings by some leaders), tattoos, earrings for men or more than one for women are a serious problem. They are sort of philosophies of men, mingled with scripture. Following cultural norms in these areas, which aren’t doctrinal and are mostly not even official policy, can create the appearance of godliness, but really pay no attention to the power of it. Does this sound like apostasy to anyone besides me?

    I love the church. I wish we focused more on loving our neighbors and showing our love to God by so doing, and focus less on checking off boxes to many rules and “commandments” or “policies” that really have absolutely nothing to do with personal righteousness. And if you think about it, it is very hard to envision our beloved Savior greeting us on the other side with, “Why have you shown up to meet me with a mustache and blue shirt?” “Why would you women ever want to wear pants? And why would you want to serve others using the Priesthood, or the power to act in my name in the service of your fellow man?” I am sorry, but I just can’t picture a Savior who would think these things are even close in importance to loving our families, neighbors and friends.

    I believe the leaders of the church want to do what is right and please Heavenly Father. I have faith that they will change the focus on these issues over time. And faith requires, patience, long suffering, humility and meekness. Or maybe that is charity? In any case, I am hanging in there with them and hoping to influence change from within in my very small way. The church needs more members who question these issues and sustain the leadership by asking the questions, not more drones and clones.

    My two cents–probably worth a little less than that:>)!

  • Nobody Important

    An alternate version of the final question would be

    “What good are prophetic voices if I think I know what moral matters are more pressing than they?”

  • me too

    One disconnect i often find in the left v. right battles is the notion that conservatives are anti social morality because they don’t want people to be forced into giving by government. I very much agree that there can be too much emphasis on the outward manifestations of personal piety in the church.
    However, such outward piety also includes being personally charitable. Out is very easy too confirm that social conservatives are much more generous to charities, for example. Just because one doesn’t support government coercion does not mean that there is positing to the thing being done at all.
    Can forced giving even be considered charity?

  • faithful lds

    Well said “nobody important”.

  • Nobody Important

    Absolutely agreed. To me, it is the height of hypocrisy to claim that you care about the poor and at the same time abdicate your responsibility to the government to care for them.

  • Rob Martinsen

    I was not at all convinced by the authors reasoning or tone. I can’t remember the last time anyone talked about girls shoulders at church, I also don’t remember a church leader, particularly a “general leader” talking about pants being worn by women or not. at best such remarks are hyperbole. I don’t know what church meetings the author is attending. When I attend church I hear people constantly talk about serving their fellow man. I hear them constantly talking about loving God and serving their neighbor. I rarely if ever hear about pants or any other specific dress from the pulpit. What I do hear are my leaders talking about the Savior our redeemer. Church leaders have condemned racism on many occasions, regularly proclaim peace and incessantly encourage us to serve the poor and take action as church leaders to relieve suffering on an individual and social level.

  • GP

    As an adult male, I also don’t recall much being taught too much about modesty in church… but for women, clearly wearing dresses instead of pants is part of the culture. Do an experiment – this Sunday count the number of women that you see in pants and the number in dresses and report back on the ratio. I’ll guarantee 100% are in dresses… or perhaps if there is a non-member visiting, then maybe 99%.

    Regarding shoulders, it seems that the YW are taught specifics:

    “Immodest clothing includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and other revealing attire. Young women should wear clothing that covers the shoulder and avoid clothing that is low-cut in the front or the back or revealing in any other manner.”

    Of course you’re probably also aware that garments (which we are told to always wear) prevent baring of shoulders.

  • John Standard

    Her point is that the “prophetic voices” that wield the most influence in the Church, that set the tone and substance of General Conference, are ignoring the the most pressing moral issues gripping our society to talk about pornography and how women dress. Whether you think poverty and torture and police brutality are problems that can be solved with private enterprise, personal activism, or government programs is a great debate to have, but first the Church has to show a dang interest.

    In other words, poverty and war deserve at least as much floor time at General Conference as porn. That is her point, and it is a really good one.

    That crap about liberals abdicating their responsibility to the poor really bothers me. I don’t refuse to give to charities, or refuse to volunteer for local programs that serve the poor on the grounds that I pay taxes. I am not the exception to the rule here either.

  • HarryStamper

    John….good comment and I agree completely….I have no memories either of this stuff….also I can’t remember any recent talk in church about homosexuality either….there’s no pre-occupation with this….but i have heard a lot of what Jana advocates…helping the poor, be more generous with fast offerings and your time etc…..especially in the male dominated priesthood meetings….

  • Fred M

    I’m not sure wanting the government to be involved in helping care for the poor is the same as abdicating one’s responsibility to care for them. Just as wanting abortion or same-sex marriage to be illegal isn’t abdicating one’s responsibility to discourage these things. It’s simply wanting the government to be involved in encouraging (or forcing!) people to do what’s right.

  • HarryStamper

    Hey GP…you claim Joseph Smith, today, wouldn’t qualify for a temple reccommend….of course he would, he wouldn’t even need one nor need to sign it, by default Joseph Smith would be the presiding High Priest with presidency over the Temple. Of course I know what you really meant…..

  • Terrol

    I’m mildly surprised that no one has identified what is probably the real reason that some of these “social issues” aren’t discussed–they are far more complicated than “police brutality is wrong” or “torture is bad.” Who was right and who was wrong in Ferguson? A lot of very good people have very different opinions on this. As for torture, I personally stridently oppose it on what I consider to be moral grounds. But I can see why so many people feel like some kind of “enhanced interrogation” is justified in some cases, when it involves evil terrorists who are trying to murder as many of my fellow countrymen as possible.

    How can Jana assume that prophets will align with her personal views? Certainly poverty is a major social problem. Not only did Elder Holland address it, but it has become a fourth “mission” of the church since Thomas S. Monson became the president of the church. As for other extremely complicated issues where “right and wrong” aren’t clear, I think wisdom and discretion dictate that they avoid judging when they don’t know all the details and outcomes.

    One might say, “Well, they could at least declaim police brutality, for example.” True enough. But let’s suppose they did that in the wake of Ferguson. What would their statement be construed as saying? That Ferguson was an example of police brutality. Do we know that to be true? We do not. So what have the church leaders accomplished in “taking sides” on an issue like that? Little good.

    I tire of false dichotomies. If we ask young women to dress modestly we are blaming them for sexual violence? If we talk about pornography we are ignoring poverty? These are silly inflammatory false oppositions designed to push buttons and drive up page hits.

  • Me Too 2

    “I give you a promise: if you will follow this pattern, you will receive specific guidance as to the who, what, when, and where of providing in the Lord’s way. The prophetic promises and blessings of Church welfare, of providing in the Lord’s way, are some of the most magnificent and sublime the Lord has pronounced upon His children” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Providing in the Lord’s Way,” Oct. 2011 general conference).

    “Relief Society, which has responsibility ‘to look after the spiritual welfare and salvation . . . of all the female members of the Church,’ was organized to provide ‘relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan, and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes.’ This includes ‘relief of poverty, relief of illness, relief of doubt, relief of ignorance—relief of all that hinders the joy and progress of woman’ ” (Julie B. Beck, Principles of Welfare and Self-Reliance, 4).

    As followers of the Savior, we have a personal responsibility to care for the poor and needy. Faithful Church members everywhere assist by fasting each month—abstaining from food and water for 24 hours—and then giving to the Church a financial fast offering equal to at least the value of the food they would have eaten. (Bishop Dean M. Davies, October 2014)

    We live in a day when many people are faced with calamities and are in need of help due to the devastating effects of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. The Church is reaching out to these people through humanitarian aid. Church members faithfully give generous fast offerings each month and perform service in a spirit of love. They literally offer helping hands in the Lord’s way. They follow the commandment of the Lord to “remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple” (D&C 52:40). (Koichi Aoyagi, “Helping Hands, Saving Hands”, April 2010).

    President Monson said the abundant life does not consist of a glut of luxury. It does not make itself content with commercially produced pleasure, mistaking it for joy and happiness. “To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves,” he said. “No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellowmen. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy” (“The Lord’s Way,” April 1990 general conference).

    My brothers and sisters, we are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness—be they family members, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us. (President Thomas S. Monson, “What Have I Done for Someone Today?”, October 2009)

    President Monson’s talk in its entirety – “My Brother’s Keeper” (October, 1994).

  • Ty

    I am a conservative, active Mormon and generally like articles from Jana. However, I think the ultimate conclusion of this article, that church leaders need to focus more on current social issues and not worry so much about the small stuff is dead wrong.

    Social issues come and go. I think the church is wise to stand back and not launch head on into battles that isn’t the central focus of the mission of the church, especially when we don’t have all the facts. Furthermore, what the most important issue of the day for mankind isn’t the most important issues of the day for God.

    For instance, why does the church put a lot of emphasis on things like drinking and pornography? Because they are so destructive. They should be the social issues that more people should worry about. Sexual immorality is single-handedly the biggest culprit in most social ills today because it destroys the family, the breadbasket of of human growth. And yet, the things that are ripping the family to shreds, pornography being one, are completely ignored, while other issues are debated ad nausea that are far less important in the eternal scheme. i.e. global warming is an important topic and I support green initiatives, but compared to skyrocketing divorce rates, broken homes and families, and the complete immorality of the general populous, global warming is small potatoes. If you want to fix the climate or a myriad of other social ills, fix the family first, and others things will straighten out.

    The fact that you could include pornography in the group of “small” things is shocking to me. It is a factor that is destroying the nation. Why do we talk so much about it today than we did in the past? Because it is so much more prevalent today.

    Furthermore, I’m glad the church sweats the small stuff. It is the small stuff that make us who we really are. I have seen it time and time again. Those who start to get causal about the small stuff, church attendance, scripture, study, prayer, how they dress, etc start to drift in much more important areas of their lives too. Before they know it they are far from where they originally wanted to go and were absolutely confused at how they got there.

    In regards to the torture issue. People cannot interpret the actions of a few Mormons who played a part in the nation approved torture tactics as the actions of the church or its members. Hind sight is 20/20. Maybe they could have/should have done more to stop what happened. It is a complex issue that has many sides to it. What if they were soft on torture and then another 9/11 happened. Then everybody would blame Mormons for that. I think the torture tactics were wrong, but don’t start pointing fingers and casting judgment when we don’t know all the facts.

    Thanks for the articles. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

  • WindRiverHiker

    Try wearing a blue or yellow shirt to a high priest meeting or grow a beard in Utah and see if you get treated differently. Notice that less than 10 % of the people there now wear these uniforms.

    This has been a total change from how the church was when I was younger. And it has been done through social pressure from the leadership structure of the church. If you want to deny this, go ahead. But it is true. And I think it is a weird thing to focus on. Sorry–the whole focus on outward appearance just doesn’t bring me closer to the Savior. But thank goodness, He “looketh upon the heart” and not on the color of the shirt or the nice dress pants on his daughters.

    It is my opinion. There is no official doctrine or policy saying I am wrong. Only cultural pressure. Please correct me if you can find the official policy or doctrine.

  • WindRiverHiker

    You didn’t hear the general conference talk about snakes in the ivy eating baby birds in the context of “the eternal nature of gender”, which I think is double speak for some meaning homosexuality. I may have that wrong. But that is what it usually sounds like to me. Even though it is a little odd since the homosexuals that I know all know exactly what gender they are. They just happen to be attracted to that same gender.

    And I am sorry, but I think you do hear as much or more about “obedience” in conference talks than just about any other topic. And often, they don’t even mention whom or what we should obey. Just plain old generic obedience has some kind of intrinsic value. It has never resonated with me. Too many bad voices out there who no one should ever obey–including Satan, Hitler and Stalin, to name just a few. Obedience to Christ and his gospel–yes. Policy–yes, but a little more cautiously. And finally, LDS culture and common practice–no obligation to “obey” whatsoever.

  • WindRiverHiker

    Well articulated comment. I agree with most of it.

    But I still think there is too much emphasis on superficial things at times.

    And I also think the church has a whole list of taboo subjects that really do need to be discussed. People read about these issues and they start to get doubts. They feel like the church is not being candid and straight with them.

    Strong evidence that the church leaders are starting to agree with this point is the posting of detailed essays on some very controversial issues like race, polygamy, P of GP sources, the First Vision, etc. It has been wonderful for me to hear directly from the church, for the first time in my entire life, open, honest and clear discussion of these difficult topics. What a relief to know my leaders are aware of these issues and still have testimonies.

  • HarryStamper

    Let me clarify…regular Sunday church…non general conference

  • Nobody Important

    I agree. My point was that of the above comment, referring specifically at liberals who claim to want to help the poor but avoid doing so outside of a government mandate. Liberals like to claim that they (more than conservatives) care about the poor, when study after study confirms that, on average, conservatives donate more of their own time and money to charitable causes than liberals (obviously, this doesn’t mean everyone in either camp). In other words, “greater emphasis on helping the poor”, if it has to exist on a political spectrum, doesn’t point to the left. I’d be happy to see it change, and even happier if all people placed greater emphasis on helping the poor.

  • Nobody Important

    I for one, have conducted your experiment multiple times over the past few years. I can guarantee your numbers are a little exaggerated (or you haven’t been to too many congregations).

    On the much-publicized “wear-pants-to-church” day, I counted a few women wearing pants… about the same number that wore pants the week before. Pretty much every week a small fraction didn’t wear skirts/dresses, and by golly, I never heard anyone mention anything about it. I’ve since observed congregations on both U.S. coasts, in Utah, and the Midwest, and they all had the same thing in common- most women wore skirts/dresses and some did not.

    Ironically, the people complaining about the alleged dress codes are the only people I ever hear claiming a dress code even exists.

  • Nobody Important

    Well said

  • John LeMond

    Has any attempt been made to modernize the language of the Book of Mormon?

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  • Very well said. I do want to clear up your misconception on King Benjamin though. He was still living under the Law of Moses and thus, the Nephites sacrificed animals for their sins. He was not saying that if we don’t feed the poor we won’t be forgiven of our sins, he doesn’t have the authority to say that. He is pointing out the the Lord helps us, and we should help others likewise. This is a simpler comparison for them as they give the best of their flocks to the Lord as sacrifice, and he is pointing out the giving your best goat to God is good, but it doesn’t feed the poor, that the Nephites should also sacrifice of their goods to those in need to serve others as they have been served by the Lord.

    This isn’t a threat, it is making a point. God’s grace is strong enough to save all of us from our sins. We have no right to hold one sin higher than another, as your article points out. Not helping the poor will not exclude us from God’s grace any more or less than any other sin and we ALL struggle with sin. But it is true that those that are saved realize their own nothingness and may show their grace by their works and what greater works can anyone do that to give their life – to give of themselves – to others.

  • Love

    You mean like gay marriage? That’s a huge social issue and they have poured millions of dollars and lots of time into that one.

  • David

    Many years ago I brought home a “Flunk Card” from my chemistry teacher. It alerted my parents that without substantial improvement, I was in danger of not passing the course. If I wanted to hire a tutor for a difficult class, I doubt that I would be willing to employ someone whose credential advertised “flunking” that very course. But it serves as a clever title, designed to attract readers (disciples?) so let’s not get anxious over something that may or may not reflect the actual content.

    As long as everyone seems enamored with King Benjamin, please don’t forget his conclusion in Mosiah 4:29. He cautioned the people that there was no way for him to enumerate the various ways they could sin. As soon as we list five critical sins, someone will commit one not on the list and claim an exemption. His final admonition in 4:30 sounds a lot like general conference – a general reminder that what we need to focus on is our own thoughts, words, and deeds.

    I am forced to discount the opinion of someone who so glibly says a prophet (Heber J. Grant) had “a bug up his butt.” Such cutesy irreverence may get a giggle from others who cheerfully proclaim they are also flunking, but opens the door to ridicule and rejection of the Lord’s servants past and present. Snide comments about bare shoulders, earrings, tattoos, and the like are the equivalent of supposing one “knows better” than the leaders who are called to teach. Ever hear of the watchman on the tower? Trying to set the agenda for prophets is beyond anyone’s responsibility (or wisdom?).

  • Rob

    Amen. It’s bad enough that we have to listen to non-members misrepresent what happens in our meetings. Now we have members doing the same thing. Moreover, there seems to be a misunderstanding of what the role of the Church is. While other Christian churches often become agents of political change, the Church generally has stayed away from political stances except where broad moral issues are involved (Proposition 8, gambling, marriage). Without fail, every time the Church has ventured into this area, it has been condemned for being too political. There is no way to win. Frankly, I’d rather focus on eternal principles that will help me be a better person and make better choices that hear a bishop or general authority opine on whether the Ferguson cops are thugs.

  • James Sneak

    When I hear “government coercion” i also hear the phrase “for his punishments are just”. Whether you admit it or not, there is an underlying theme in much of the LDS church that the government is wasting money on programs for the poor. I often hear right wing platitudes at church presented as if they were part of the true gospel. It’s so easy to condemn government programs but very difficult to find alternatives. On the other hand, if the “brethren” would direct members to find solutions to our social problems, e.g. homeless women and children, I believe we would see a massive effort and many workable solutions. The Church can be the most powerful organization on earth for good, if it chooses to be so.

  • Ty

    Wasn’t Joseph Smith a pedophile? I mean.. how was he NOT a pedophile?

  • Ty

    Well said. I completely agree.

  • Ty

    Come on buddy.. he TOTALLY had “a bug up his butt”. Don’t we all?

  • Ty


  • Fred M

    But I bet they won’t anymore! I would be very surprised to see that sort of effort again with regard to gay marriage.

    I would love to see them put that amount of time and money into fighting pornography, which is much more harmful to families than allowing gay people to marry. The problem is that big business (internet and cable providers, etc.) make too much money off of it. And no one wants to pick a fight with them.

  • Maddy

    Not so fast. I’m not sure “study after study” finds conservatives more charitable than liberals. Many conservatives refer to the work done by Arthur Brooks on charitable giving, ostensibly proving that conservatives are more charitable. However there are problems with his work, for one, Boston U faulted him for not taking into consideration cost-of-living– and another study mentioned here:

    “Forced charity” is often the label used by conservatives to denigrate govt assistance programs. But how it is framed is in the eye of the beholder. As a liberal, I would argue nowhere on earth is there a successful system for caring for the poor, children or the elderly based on purely voluntary charity. I believe it requires we all/most need to “chip in” to have a successful functioning society. One can choose to look at it as “forced” because one doesn’t like the consequences of non-compliance. I, however, prefer to feel good that I contribute to those in need through govt. programs as well as through “voluntary” donations of time and money.

  • SanAntonioRob


    Last line from your referenced article is “The bottom line, according to the MIT study, was that ‘liberals are no more or less generous than conservatives once we adjust for differences in church attendance and income.'”

    “…once we adjust…” (sigh)

    I always love the argument that rich conservatives give more because of the tax benefit (parroted in the referenced article). Because from a purely economic perspective it totally makes sense to give away money so you don’t have to pay 25-35% of that money in taxes. (double sigh)

  • “The problem is that when we call ourselves Christians, we’re supposed to care about all of it. The personal and the social. The little things and the big ones.”

    I agree. I was disappointed that the article minimized the importance of modesty and pornography rather than just focusing on the point that it is all important: the modesty, the caring for the poor, the Word of Wisdom, the treating people with kindness, etc.

    Oh, and in answer to the point in the last sentence of the article: modern prophets and apostles help us know what most pressing moral matters of our time are in the first place. The outspokenness of prophets on certain issues and the relative silence on others is simply the prophets telling us what is important to us in our time. Most of us realistically can’t do anything about torture by the CIA, but we have definite control of what we wear.

  • I agree with you David. That said, I think the Church focuses extensively on helping the poor. That’s kind of one of the major points behind Fast Sundays every month.

  • They put in a lot of effort in fighting pornography rhetorically. Anti-pornography legislation doesn’t seem to get on the ballot very often, so the political mobilization isn’t there, but my impression is that it is due more to a lack of opportunity than desire.

  • SanAntonioRob

    I think they are fighting it the best and only way they can – trying to convince members that it is wrong and to stay away from it. It is protected as free speech by the courts, so there isn’t much fighting that could be done through legal/political avenues. They do take up the cause through money and public campaigns when there is a chance that good can come. Unfortunately, pornography on the public stage is a lost battle – especially when the more liberal members consider it “small stuff”.

  • Thanks for your comment Ty

  • Don’t forget Fast Sunday every month, specifically designed to raise funds to help the poor. If Jana doesn’t think the Church focuses enough on helping the poor, she hasn’t been paying close enough attention.

  • Awesome comment Terrol.

  • Vicky

    Whatever my disagreements with Jana Riess, I freely admit she shows admirable honesty in the title of her blog.

  • Me too Rob Martinsen. I think people who spend too much time in the Bloggernacle and not enough time in the chapel or in their scriptures lose sight of what is actually being taught at Church.

  • The white shirt and beard thing is cultural and is encouraged by things like the BYU honor code and other things, but it is not nearly as big of a deal as people online make it out to be. I have gone to Church with facial hair and different color shirts (I even wore a pink one once!) and no one threw me out or treated me differently. I admit I felt a little bit awkward, but that was not from anything anyone said or did to me.

  • How much do you contribute to fast offerings and the humanitarian aid? How much do you serve your fellow man through volunteering and personal acts of kindness? How much do you try to become self-reliant and help others to become self-reliant? The “brethren” have directed us on how to find solutions to our social problems. It is up to us to obey their counsel or ignore it.

  • GP

    Although I agree with you that traditionally fast offerings go straight to the poor, it is no longer guaranteed. The latest tithing slips read at the bottom:

    “All donations become the church’s property and will be used at the church’s sole discretion to further the church’s overall mission.”

    Beyond that, the church’s financials are private, so there is really no way in telling how much the church is interested in helping the poor… versus, say real estate ventures or building malls. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure plenty of poor are helped… but without opening the books, nobody can speak authoritatively that it is a primary function.

  • Prophets focus on poverty all the time. We have one Sunday reserved every month for generating donations for the poor in the form of Fast Offerings. I haven’t done a content analysis, but my perception is that talks about volunteering, serving, helping the poor, contributing to humanitarian aid and fast offerings, etc. far outnumber talks about porn.

    That said, the reason we have prophets is largely so they can tell us what is important for us to focus on in our day. There is a reason members don’t get to choose what topics church leaders talk about at general conference. It’s because the church leaders are the ones who should set the agenda based on revelation/inspiration from God.

  • Thanks nobody important. An excellent and concise way to make an accurate point.

  • We believe in modern prophetic direction. Evidently it wasn’t important for Jesus or Joseph Smith to avoid wine, but it is important for us. Similarly, it’s not important that we obey the law of Moses or gather to Missouri or withhold the gospel from the Gentiles or restrict the priesthood to only Levites. These things were important at some points of Church history, but they aren’t important for us to do now and some would even be considered sins (withholding the gospel from the Gentiles, for example).

  • Roger

    First off, I cannot characterize what the messages are on Sunday, since I don’t attend. However, I do get to observe the LDS in a variety of habitats. I was both heartened and bewildered by an experience I had this summer. While visiting a Caribean nation I was impressed by the young LDS volunteers who were volunteering to help the locals in terms of health practices, community gardens and learning English. These twenty-somethings had paid their own way to perform this work without remuneration for periods of eight weeks. Yet their “adult” leaders chose to be very critical of any female volunteers who in coping with hot, humid, tropical weather elected to wear sleeveless tops. I guess the dress code outweighs the acts of Good Samaritans. Not how I vaguely remember the original story.

  • I’m ok trusting the council on the disposition of the tithes that the funds are being used how God wants them to be used.

  • GP

    Ah, yes. I know all about how God’s will can change as revealed by His prophets. Evidently it was permissible in the 1840’s for the prophet to secretly “marry” another man’s wife and teenagers, but now we know that it’s not allowed. Oh yeah, and now only one set of earrings are allowed too… don’t forget that one.

  • GP

    Oh, I have no doubt of that.

  • Did the leaders prohibit them from helping the poor? My guess is that the leaders wanted to encourage both modesty and caring for the poor, not one or the other. But I wasn’t there, I’ve heard of local leaders doing some pretty wacky things in the past.

  • dangermom

    People were worried about card-playing back then because card-playing was almost exclusively associated with gambling. Families didn’t sit around playing Go Fish and Speed–cards were for poker and that sort of thing. If you played cards, you were probably losing money that should be feeding your children, and there was a good chance you were drinking a good bit too.

  • James Sneak

    So am i to conclude from your post that the best way to follow the brethren is to continue the anti-government rhetoric? Please give me an example of how the general church leaders have directed the members to find solutions to specific social problems. I can’t recall any. I do recall a directive telling local leaders to exhaust the government sponsored programs FIRST before committing church welfare funds to a specific situation.

  • James Sneak

    What ever the motivation behind the directive to quit playing cards.The message that was carried to the members was that cards were evil. I remember as a child being told that “face cards are of the devil” and “if you have a deck of cards in your home, you are inviting Satan”

  • Poqui

    Quick history:
    The Word of Wisdom was accepted as a commandment in 1851 by a vote in general conference. But it’s interpretation was rather loose for many years. For example hard liquor (whiskey, rum, gin, etc) was seen as forbidden but beer and wine were tolerated as long as they were not abused. It wasn’t until 1918 when President Joseph F. Smith declared that observance to the Word of Wisdom was a requirement for priesthood ordination and temple recommends. In 1933 this was included in the Handbook of Instructions. President Joseph F Smith declared, “The reason undoubtedly why the Word of Wisdom was given—as not by ‘commandment or restraint’ was that at that time, at least, if it had been given as a commandment it would have brought every man, addicted to the use of these noxious things, under condemnation; so the Lord was merciful and gave them a chance to overcome, before He brought them under the law.”

    Hence the importance of following the living prophet and not dead ones.

  • Maddy

    Agreed. What we do know is that fast offerings in excess of local need gets sent back to SLC after a time. What happens after that? Eventually, the money will be have to be used for charitable puposes, but in the meantime, there is no reason why the Church couldn’t use the money as a short-term loan for one of its for profit ventures. And why should a Church have for-profit businesses? For what purpose should the profits be used?

    On another note,
    Regarding modesty, and other topics how many articles/talks on modesty can we find on the LDS Church website? The lesson for 3-4 yr olds mentions “modest” clothing in one of its lessons.

    Ten yrs ago, the shirts adult men wore to church included a variety of colors. Today, I can usually count on 2 fingers the number of men not wearing white, or having facial hair. I think if LDS women want to be taken seriously, they need to adapt to the suit and white shirt uniform.

    Jana makes some good points. Whether SLC leaders have/haven’t emphasized it or not, there has been a steady progression toward the superficial outward appearance in church culture. Many members in my ward are ignorant to the addition of “caring for the needy” to the Church’s mission.

  • Seth R.

    Dallin H. Oaks was once asked back in the 1990s why the LDS Church didn’t speak out on environmental issues (which were the massive fad back then if you recall).

    He responded that the overwhelming priority of the LDS Church is on things only it can do. Only the LDS Church has the priesthood keys for redeeming the dead. Therefore proxy temple work is a priority. Just for example.

    So the LDS Church is going to spend more time on genealogy than global warming. It’s really that simple.

    This is nothing more than economics 101. Economies (including moral economies) benefit when people focus on and specialize in what they are most good at. There are some things that the LDS Church is good at – temple work, promoting personal moral standards in its faithful members, teaching correct ethical principles, missionary work, organizing to provide welfare assistance to its members and communities.

    And then there are things that the LDS Church (and frankly most other churches in the United States) are lousy at. Such as politically agitating, getting anyone to care what they think on global warming, solving Syria, sorting out the spitting matches between Republicans and Democrats (or even picking a side), and getting Wal Mart to behave itself.

    And then you have examples of religious types who seem to have forgotten they were religious at all and have become entirely political.

    Just about everyone in the United States thinks that Rev. Jesse Jackson is a complete joke. He’s a great cautionary example of what happens when a religion strays off the reservation and becomes subverted to a political agenda.

    I don’t particularly want my church to speak out on political issues. Most churchmen who do speak out on it are terribly misinformed anyway and add little to the discussion.

  • Recently Confused

    “Evidently it wasn’t important for Jesus or Joseph Smith to avoid wine, but it is important for us.”

    Why would this be? Is there any logic behind this other than an obedience test?

    I don’t hear many reasons for the things we are asked to do coming from the prophets who are supposed to have some kind of access to the mind and will of God.

  • Seth R.

    And I agree with the commenter above – pornography isn’t a “small thing.”

    How much experience do you actually have of the pornography industry Jana?

    As for the shoulder-thing… the LDS Church should frankly be lauded as freaking heroes for so effectively standing against the Abercrombie and Fitches of the world. If you want to point the finger at female oppression, point it at Cosmopolitan, the fashion police, and the porn industry (oh heavens yes, the porn industry) rather than groups that are actually taking effective steps to combat them.

  • Recently Confused

    But why the difference in the first place? What is the material difference between Joseph Smith drinking “these noxious things” and current members of the church? Unless there is a *reason* for this discrepancy, it seems to come down to an obedience test to see if you will listen to the prophet. And I am not big on obedience tests just for the sake of obedience these days.

  • KingGeorge

    Jana: Keep up the articles. Some people are good at hoeing, and others are good at planting, and others are good at tending, and yet others are good at harvesting. No doubt the masses are happier when they are busy and focused at the task on hand. And no doubt God blesses the willing with inspiration to better do their task. But what a tragedy when we realize we are working in the wrong field planting the wrong damn plants! Someone needs to raise the questions. That is how change happens.

    JS believed he could recreate the city of Enoch and that the people could be reunited with God. But now, we have become obsessed with seemingly important details out of habit without understanding the end goal of creating a society with no poor among us and one where love dwells in the hearts of every person. I think if we believed the end goal was real and achievable, and we were tackling the big important problems, in general the people would better police themselves.

    Sometimes the vision really is communicated in the GC talks…. but I don’t feel the connection anymore, and I wonder if it even is real. I hope I outgrow my cynicism. But maybe I don’t need to. Maybe I can believe in a better world even without the hope of being “taken home.” And maybe, just the love and hope for a better world will be enough.

    As a still trying to hang on member of the church, I crave a visionary, and one who I believe is inspired and not just regurgitating the same talks every few years. Sure, I can always find “something” in them that helps, but I don’t have the vision. And with vision, the people perish.

  • KingGeorge

    *without a vision

  • LDS_Aussie

    The general tenet of the article – that there is too much focus on the seemingly less important issues, at the exclusion of the seemingly larger ones, I think, is broadly correct. What I do not see enough of are the first presidency actually giving us revelation. The first three talks in the Sunday morning session of general conference talked about how the prophet is in charge, receives revelation and how we should sustain him. Apart from Elder Oaks talk which reframed the way we view SSM, I didn’t hear a great deal of “revelation”. In the current climate of information about the church to do with polygamy, church history, the book of Abraham etc etc what is the church response..??? Quietly place essays on obscure parts of the website, issue press releases and have media spokespersons deliver the church position. It seems to me that the church struggles to deal with the big issues – credit though, for doing something about it. The church deals far “better” with the small stuff – and dress standards are a great example. A recent post I did spoke about this very issue and the subsequent comments regarding church culture highlight challenges across various parts of the world.
    In the end, I see that cultural aspects of the church like not wearing pants for females, modesty standards that are more restrictive than FTSOY and White shirts for the guys are easier for people to talk about because they can control that (good point Roger re the Carribian example). When do we reckon we get Section 139 in the D&C..??

  • Gilbert Gripe

    With enough self righteousness you can come to the conclusion that the immoral is moral – when WE DO IT.

  • BillRichardsonMesa

    So great that Jana feels she is in a position to counsel the Church authorities. She forgot to tell them to comment on nuclear proliferation, ISIS, the treatment of Indian women, and global warming. I am sure that there are other issues that need a Church proclamation as well. Silence on an issue (although I think that the view that the Church is silent on moral issues is farcical) does not connote either approbation nor disinterest.

    BTW, judging from the difficulties pornography is creating both inside and outside of the Church, maybe the discussion on this issue has been too meager.

  • Pingback: Signature Books » Mormon News, December 15–19()

  • Seth R.

    I actually think the pornography issue is more important to speak out on than torture.

  • Seth R.

    Neither Joseph Smith nor Jesus Christ had the option of getting into an SUV on Interstate 25 and drunkenly broadsiding a bus full of schoolchildren.


    Besides, the alcohol content back then was often significantly less than today, and fermentation was pretty much the only way you could preserve a drink for long periods without health risks.

  • Maddy

    Like SA Rob said- it’s pretty much proves my point when the counter-argument is “well, when you don’t count the charities that conservatives generally donate to, then liberals give more!”

  • Seth R.

    Didn’t we just have a discussion about this in another thread GP?

    So why are you here commenting like it never happened?

  • GP

    I’m responding to a comment with a relevant reply. Do I only get to bring up a topic once on this blog?

    I suspect that what bothers you is the uncomfortable information that I bring up… information that the church has gone to great lengths to avoid discussing by using threats of disciplinary action. And for which there are no [or weak] faith-promoting answers.

  • We all listen to General Conference every six months, some more than others. In my opinion the Brethren and Sisters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, both generally and locally do address the biggest issues of our time, including war and poverty and violence and sexual pervasiveness.

    I ask you to listen and pay attention and understand their messages better. They talk against pornography now in the 21st century more than 1945 because there is a thing called technology that is pervasive and potentially addictive and destructive. It is almost like torture and war.

  • GP

    Hmm… so it’s ok to drink as long as you don’t drive? I see no mention of that in D&C 89, nor have I heard any prophet use this as a justification for the WoW. Do you have a formal reference for your position or is it just a personal opinion?

    Drinking and driving is not a good idea and the world knows it – hence why there are laws against it. We don’t need scriptures or prophets to tell us that.

    Also, please provide your reference on knowing the alcohol content of alcoholic beverages in the the Middle East in the 0’s and in the United States in the 1840’s. I am legitimately interested in this if you have it. I hear the claim from church members often, but it’s usually mentioned casually without a reference.

  • Seth R.

    Obviously not GP. I don’t have to spell everything out for you. Use your imagination a little bit.

    Besides, my comment was simply meant to highlight that the situations are very different.

    Mission accomplished. I feel absolutely zero need to help you unpack this item any further.

  • Seth R.

    No actually – what bugs me is how ideologically one-sided you are. I rather dislike it when people throw out online slogans without any regard to the other side of the story.

    For instance – the evidence that he didn’t steal anything.

  • GP

    I can use my imagination. I’m ok with going into the theoretical domain – it makes for interesting philosophical conversation. But please qualify your assertions as such. Otherwise, I’m going to take them at face value and will ask for a reference. This goes both ways – feel free to demand the same of me.

  • Oh, and specifically about Heber J. Grant. He happens to be one of my all time favorite prophets (yes, I am biased as some love Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Paul, etcetera), but I think in the history of mankind he will be one of the those who stands out the most when it comes to prophetic foresight and, for lack of a better word, genius. The same people who accuse the LDS Church of being too wealthy or powerful are the same ones who say they these leaders are misguided. And THEN those same detractors accuse the Church and its leaders of bragging about the charitable use of their time and funds, and in this case the very messages that they espouse.
    To each their own, but I will stand by President Grant and currently President Monson as wise, gracious, smart, charitable leaders. And I am sure their wives had a large unpsoken impact on their ministries as well. Perphaps that is a bone you can pick with these gifted religious men…

  • GP

    Stealing? I must have missed something in the conversation. I didn’t bring up anything about stealing.

    I don’t think that I would classify myself as ideological any more than any other person (including you). You may not agree with my position, and that is fine. I am just pointing out facts. If you dispute the facts, then call them out.

    Joseph Smith literally would not be worthy of a temple recommend today. He drank wine and coffee upon occasion and he was only legally and lawfully married to Emma while he was carrying on sexual relations with other women – including teenage girls and other men’s wives. He was not honest with his fellow man (he practiced this in secret). Now, you can argue that God commanded him of it, and that’s fine (your opinion), but I’m just stating that his conduct wouldn’t pass today’s TR standards. In fact, he would be a registered sex offender by the standards of the law. My comments may be difficult to hear and blunt, but it’s true. Sorry… don’t shoot the messenger.

  • Seth R.

    And again – I don’t see any good evidence that he actually had sex with women still married to other men, or really young girls (FYI, I don’t consider 17 to be particularly young or objectionable back then).

  • WindRiverHiker

    You have some facts right, but I am not sure about others. Yes, the policy of treating the Word of Wisdom like a commandment has only existed since somewhere around 1918-1921 when President Grant actually made it a rule for temple recommends–I believe. In any case, this has been a “law” for the church for less than 100 year. I am not sure how it could be viewed as either doctrinal or something that is eternal in nature. It is a policy of our current church leaders that I have covenanted to follow and I do so. But also, certainly not a sin for anyone who has not made covenants like I have.

    And the whole thing about church leaders not drinking anything except beer and wine–I am pretty sure that is not true. There are references out there to Apostles drinking cocktails–which I believe generally means more than beer and wine. The best reference I have seen is in the transcripts of the Reed Smoot trials, which refer to two apostles going to someone’s office for cocktails and a discussion in 1904. But it is my understanding this was common practice. The whole prohibition laws in the US occurred at the time this became an official “no drinking allowed” policy for the church. But the church didn’t repeal prohibition when the United States did. Instead, they have turned this into one of the most widely known characteristics of Mormons as far as the outside world sees us. We are the Mormons who don’t drink. I think it is one of the most defining traits–this policy.

  • GP

    Well, if you’re serious about it, then pick up a copy of “In Sacred Loneliness” by Todd Compton. He just lays out the facts and is very well-researched. It’s a long book, but well worth the read. Here’s a short version of his book online and also a short website that covers the highlights:

    Both sites above are from members of the church and provide original source references. They do not tell you what to think.

    From a believer’s perspective on how to reconcile all of this, you can go to Brian Hales’ website. He’s the most well-researched devout believer out there. Hales takes criticism from historians for dismissing some evidence in favor of his conjecture (opinion). But even he provides the evidence of sexual relations to teenagers and at least some of other men’s wives.

    Trust me, last year I was in your shoes. What I found blew my mind away.

  • Seth R.

    GP, I’ve been referring to for years now.

    You don’t know what I have and haven’t read. OK? All clear? You don’t know.

    I’ve been dealing with all these accusations for years GP. I’m pretty well versed actually.

    And I’ve been around the block enough to know exactly what to think when someone plays the “you must not be properly educated if you don’t share my conclusions” card.

  • There is no conclusive proof that he (Joseph Smith) consummated relations with his plural wives. Some are known not to have had physical relationships with him. Also, as there were more 14 or 16 year-olds marrying back in the 1800s, pedophilia has now become much more structured according to our laws. Which is good. 18 should be the benchmark for consent, and beyond that spiritual and emotional preparedness for the holy state of matrimony. Active LDS police themselves and others to stay far from sexual sin, which has church discipline courts to deal with these cases, plus hotlines when it comes to criminal cases (violence or abuse of minors).
    I am not trying to condone any sexual misbehavior of any person. But the case of Joseph Smith is an enigmatic one; his lifestyle is in question now more than ever, but he said it would ever be so. David and Solomon had sexual excesses, and possibly Joseph can be lumped with them. But does that automatically deny them their place as leaders of Israel, or Judah? If you don’t believe in the Bible or later the Book of Mormon, that is understandable, but for those of us that do, these man were flawed but true. Having faith in their cause and the covenant people of God can stretch our understandings and reasoning, but I hope we can see them for what they were: prophets of God. Again, you can let the reports of their weaknesses or frailties stop you from that conclusion. I say: keep reading, praying. Do not dismiss holy writ and their authors too soon, despite their perceived errors.

  • Cicero

    “What good are prophetic voices that maintain total silence on the most pressing moral matters of our time?”

    Perhaps what you believe are the most pressing moral matters of our time, are in fact not what God considers the most pressing moral matters of our time?

    If I were asked the question: What is the most urgent moral crisis of our time? I would answer without hesitation: Pornography.

    And lo, what is the most common topic for General Conference speeches?

    I get it. You think sexual morality is neither an urgent nor important moral issue. I consider it to be the third most grievous moral sin of all time. And if you read the scriptures, it is clear that this has been the case in all previous dispensations.

    There are three sins that come up again, and again, and again. Rebellion against God, murder, and fornication.

    The idea that sexual sins are not important is nothing new.

    You say instead that providing for the poor is the important issue. And that the only right way to provide for the poor is through liberal social programs that tax the rich and then give the money to the poor.

    You claim that King Benjamin is speaking of social morality in his call for people to serve the poor and needy. I do not agree. Nor is that how most Mormons interpret his speech.

    Most of us see this as another case of personal morality. Voting for liberal social policy is not fulfilling the commandment. The commandment is that each of us, individually, and personally, have a duty to care for the poor.

    I dare say that most conservative Mormons view it the way I do. I never read anything where Jesus or any prophet told me to go force my brother to give his money to the poor. Instead I see them constantly telling me that I must give my money to the poor.

    Thus I give money to the poor. Both through the Church, and through other good institutions. Sometimes in person.

    I find it insulting the way liberals insist that because I won’t take money from other people to give to the poor, that I must not care about the poor.

    I think you have all missed the point of the commandment to give to the poor. I don’t think it’s very important to God that poor people have more stuff. I’m not even all that sure that God puts a high value on people having enough to eat. If he did, I think he would have ordered the world quite differently.

    I think that what is important to God is that we love each other. Which is why he has commanded us to give to the poor. It’s the giving part that he cares about. Giving encourages us to love those we give to, and for those that receive to love those that have given to them.

    I know of no quicker way to make two people hate each other then to forcibly take something from one, and then hand it to the other. I find that makes people love things more then people.

    Those who are taken from are angry, and feel robbed. Those that received feel no gratitude, only defensiveness and fear that their new possessions will be taken from them.

    Which is why I consider liberal social policy to be antithetical to the commandment to love one another. It just make the rich and poor hate each other.

    On the other hand I read in many places in the scriptures were God has commanded the government to enforce sexual morality. That women and children may be protected, and men not tempted above their strength.

    Pray consider, that you may be the one wrong in the ordering of moral priorities.

  • ChssAddct

    What good are prophetic voices when they don’t even fit properly in the Procrustean prophet’s bed??!!

  • Adam

    Assuming they get any inspiration, and that’s a big assumption. One that I find very, very little evidence for.

  • Kelly McPherson

    Hi Ed, I don’t want to point out all of the flaws with what you’ve claimed here since the following article has done a great job debunking the church’s recent essay on polygamy. Give it a read, and click on the notes to see why what you’re claiming is for the most part incorrect.

  • GP

    Seth – I’m sorry to have offended you. That was truly not my intent – you asked for my sources and I gave them to you. You are right, I don’t know your background or your interpretation of the evidence.

    Maybe this is just a difference of definition for “good evidence”. I personally see plenty of good evidence that points to this conclusion. This view is shared by Compton and even Hales for at least a subset. I’m sure you already know, but in the recent Kirtland/Nauvoo polygamy essay from the church it was also admitted that Joseph Smith had sexual relations with his wives, but the essay did not attribute it to any of the specific women. Yet, the historical record does have evidence for this (regardless of how we define “good”). That said, I’m ok with other interpretations.

    To be fair, I also dismiss evidence that goes against Joseph Smith when it is vague and is not credible enough. It is the same criteria I apply to any evidence… I have no goal other than to understand the actual history. For example, I’m not sure that I buy into Brian Hales’ assertion that Joseph Smith “married” or even had sex with Mary Snyder who was married. This claim is based on one very small piece of evidence. So I dismiss it (pending any further evidence) and Hales accepts it as it stands now.

    Hope this helps explain my intent… and again, I sincerely apologize if I came across wrong.

  • GP

    “There is no conclusive proof that he (Joseph Smith) consummated relations with his plural wives”

    The number of consummations can be debated, but do you not at least accept a sworn affidavit from several of Joseph Smith’s “wives” indicating sexual relations as acceptable evidence? Even the church’s recent essay admitted that he consummated some of his marriages.

  • Seth R.

    Compton’s views have actually shifted somewhat since he wrote Sacred Loneliness. Whatever you think of Hales biases, his work really does represent the most recent research on the subject.

  • GP

    Yes, I fully agree. Brian Hales has done a great job in gathering information and as of recently putting the original sources online.

    I do disagree with him mixing his opinion in place of facts in a few places where it’s quite a stretch (he even admits this himself). But overall, just looking at the raw evidence, he has done a great job.

  • Nobody Important

    The comment above was from me, directed at Maddy

  • James Sneak

    That’s somewhat alarming that you see nothing wrong with marrying a 17 (14?) year old and keeping it secret. Just because Joseph Smith did it doesn’t make it right. LDS people need to jettison the erroneous belief that the Prophet and apostles are infallible. It’s quite interesting to follow the growth of the church and see leadership following the same path that the Popes trod centuries earlier. Please consider the following: infallibility of the pope = follow the prophet, he will not lead you astray; council of Nicaea = correlation; Celibacy required of certain individuals = Celibacy required of certain individuals; the inquisition = strengthening the church committee. I’m sure there are others. Please add to the list.

  • GP

    Very well articulated James.

  • Seth R.

    I said 17 not 14 James. And I did that on purpose. By age 17, sexual development and ability to safely have a pregnancy is pretty much established in most women. As far as emotionally, most 17 year olds in 1840 were more grown up than most 23 year old women today. No, I don’t have a particular problem with this concept.

    As for secrecy, Joseph repeatedly tried to get Emma in on it, she went back and forth on her opinion and eventually became intractable on it. So while I think it was botched up on Joseph’s part, I don’t see him as having done anything shockingly immoral such that he wouldn’t get a temple recommend today.

    I do not believe there is good evidence that Joseph did sleep with Helen Mar Kimball. The evidence clearly indicates that he did not as far as I’ve seen.

  • Marker

    Oh Jana! Thank you so much. You are so – wait – make that soooo fun and clever especially the part about how a depression-era church leader had a bug up his butt for advising against what he saw in his time and circumstances as a waste of time and money. That part was really – wait – make that reallllly – funny. I wish I could research quotes from 85 years ago – a time when church leaders of all stripes were worried about just keeping their flock fed and gainfully occupied and juxtapose those against the sweeping. beautiful majesty Benjamin’s address. One thing is for sure, that Benjamin certainly had a bug up his butt about poverty and all of that supposed ‘coming to know the goodness of God’ malarkey. He most certainly had a bug up his butt when it came to his harsh exactness in telling his subjects ‘to retain the name [of Christ] written in your hearts’ and all that would entail. You didn’t have to go that far back though to look for bugs that prophets have up their butts. Just this last October that crazy weirdo Christofferson was inviting people to ‘go to work [repenting and taking responsibility] so that there is something God to help (them) with.’ and later talking about God and Jesus Christ and that ‘their desire to help us is undoubted, and their capacity to do so is infinite.’ Man that guy has a bug up his butt about Christ and his ability to heal!
    Your statistical rendering of porn mentions in General Conference was spot on! I think I will mention that to the good brethren that I associate with each week in the Pornography Addition Support Group (held in all places…gasp…a church meetinghouse). I’m thinking that they and those afflicted by their addiction wonder why porn wasn’t even mentioned in General Conference until 1959! Those old geezers sure were asleep at the switch. I’m sure though that the flood of filth that has ruined their lives and has caused so much heartache and self pity has nothing to do with its instantaneous access and secrecy now available via internet (which also was not mentioned in General Conference from 1850 until 1996).
    I’m now wondering why the Savior was not more proactive in his day. Palestine certainly was not bereft of political corruption, torture, starvation, poverty, disease, drought, murder, theft and crime. Couldn’t he have not just spoken out a little more against the evil Roman Empire and its tyrannical practices instead of talking about peace and forgiveness? No wonder so many turned away! The guy said he was God incarnate and did nothing to help them out. Think of the starving children that surely existed among them that could have benefited from miracles more sweeping than providing the good stuff at a wedding party.
    The beautiful thing though Jana (and the blogger from fmh), is there is absolutely nothing stopping YOU from selling ALL you have and giving it to the aid and comfort of those suffering. There is not a single old, out of touch apostle that would not encourage you to do so. Knock yourself out! You don’t need the permission of any priesthood to give your all to Christ and the poor that we will always have among us. You can follow King Benjamin’s advice to a “T” (which we wouldn’t have btw if wasn’t for that philandering Joseph Smith dude). I’m sure ISIS and gangs and mafia really care about what a group of old, white, leaders of a small religion have to say. What they have to say is not grandstanding – they invite everyone to repent and learn of Christ and to take upon themselves his name. I’m glad the church doesn’t weigh-in on every rotten thing that happens in a fallen world. Neither did Christ. It seems to be doing its level best to teach of Christ and administer ordinances that help people live better lives (try attending a PSAG meeting if you want to see spiritual triage in action!) So, go ahead and take your sanctimonious potshots. Despite the hand wringing blogosphere, the evils of “correlation” the “Mall” and the hideous bureaucracy that does exist – despite the holier than thou morons – yes morons (they may never get it and it’s too bad they are blinded by their own superiority) the church is a MAJOR counter to the evil in the world. It will teach of Christ and invite men and women everywhere to learn eternal truths that will change them to their very core.

  • WindRiverHiker

    I think there can be no doubt that some of these relationships were consummated. But, we will never know how many were consummated or how often they were. Who keeps a logbook of such events?

    But one fact that indicates it probably wasn’t too much is the absence of any known offspring. As far as I have been able to find out, none of Joseph’s wives except Emma bore his children–although one is rumored to have miscarried. Fackc And given the birth control methods of the time, if there was a lot of activity, there would be children.

  • Kevin Rex

    Jana, I enjoy reading and thinking about your writings. I still come to the same conclusion, that you don’t listen to the same general conferences that I do. The general authorities have spoken ON THE MOST PRESSING moral issues of our time, and they are homosexuality and same-sex marriage, modesty of women, pornography, and following them, our leaders. That’s why I left the LDS Church!

  • GP

    While I agree that there is no “smoking gun” that Joseph Smith consummated his marriage with HMK (14 y/o), for the evidence that does exist, it more strongly supports a consummated marriage than not. There is little evidence to support the “eternity only” theory – not just with HMK, but with the vast majority (if not arguably all) of the marriages.

    The only evidence that I’ve seen directly related to dismissing a consummated marriage to HMK is a very selective quote from a poem she wrote. And that quote was taken out of context.

  • GP

    There is also the claim of Josephine Lyon being Joseph’s daughter (which remains conclusively unproven one way or the other using DNA). In any case, by avoiding ovulation, children can be prevented to a great degree.

  • Seth R.

    I suppose the fact that she never even lived with Joseph Smith and went home to live with her dad doesn’t count. Nor does it count that just about all the married women who were sealed to Joseph were done so with the permission of their existing husbands. I suppose that doesn’t count either, because….


  • Nobody Important

    It’s rather telling that every single DNA test regarding alleged children of Joseph Smith (not born of Emma), when testing has been available, has come up negative. Conversely, Emma was pregnant by Joseph nine times.

    I’m not saying that this proved that none of Joseph’s other marriages were consummated, but statistically speaking, this is solid evidence that sex with polygamous marriages would have been rare.

  • Jessie

    I’m curious if you are going to write a post on Jewish or Muslim fixations on what they eat, wear and say? Any comments on the lactovegetarian diet followed by many Hindus? Or the vegan diet of Jainism? The modest dress of the Amish, Hutterites, or Mennonites?

    I’m confident that devout followers of these religions are able to accomplish much good in the world even though they believe in personal practices of devotion.

  • Michael O’Connor

    Not officially.

  • The LDS Church has kept most of the authentic English language of Joseph Smith intact, but there have been some corrections and updates. It has been changed and “modernized” in Spanish a few times.
    Plus, there are versions for younger audiences that definitely use modern language in recounting the stories. I loved reading an animated comic version as a kid, as well as versions of the Old and New Testaments. My family had a five tome animated version while my wife’s family have a 15 part version.
    Then you can read the Orson Scott Card adaptation…Mostly in jest, but in case that floats your boat…From Yemen to Chile…

  • Michael O’Connor

    Not to be rue but your study of Church history seems to have been rather perfunctory in the past to have missed the use of wine by the Prophet in Carthage Jail. It’s right there in the Documentary history of the Church and in several other source both LDS and non.

    As with most other lifestyle changing directives it takes a few years to get up and running. The Word of Wisdom did not become a temple recommend item until 1930. Now after a couple generations it is a primary hallmark of the Church to those outside.

    So, why was it not a sin for Jesus or Joseph Smith to drink wine? Because in their lives it was not a commandment. There are quite a few commandments that are specific to the times of the peoples to whom they were commanded. The best example, or at least most notable, is the Law of Moses being superseded by the Law of the Gospel.

    Not being privy to the mind of God, I would not want to been seen as speaking for Him, but it seems there is a reason for not prohibiting alcoholic drinks to people up to fairly modern times. Water is one of the major carriers of very dangerous, even fatal diseases. Alcoholic beverages are more likely not to have those pathogens. To prohibit wine et al. in such circumstances is to invite massive plague outbreaks on a regular basis. You need only to read of the continuous Small Pox contagion or the seasonal Yellow Fever epidemics in Colonial Philadelphia to see what it could mean. Now that we know what causes water born diseases and how to prevent them, it is not so necessary to have alcoholic drinks available.

    Alcoholic drinks have always been something like fire. A useful servant but a terrible master. In a world where there is so much that is addictive, adherence to the Word of Wisdom ensures that we will not be among those addicted by such.

  • Michael O’Connor

    Pedophile is an inflammatory word with no real use other than to prejudice. It is also more of a social construct than anything. It is a modern word invented to describe a modern idea.

    Through out most of human history, a girl became a women on first menses, usually around 13 years. At this time, she became marriageable. This was not considered evil or perverse. It was a actually more of a necessity. Given the high mother and infant mortality rates of most of human history, it was though best start early and be pregnant often to have as many children as possible to ensure that a few would survive to adulthood.

    everyone is passingly familiar that Rome and Juliet were in their early teens. But it is also good to remember that Juliets mother chides her for being so old and unmarried. She tells Juliet
    “younger than you,
    Here in Verona, ladies of esteem,
    Are made already mothers: by my count,
    I was your mother much upon these years
    That you are now a maid.”
    Juliets actual intended, Count Paris, was probably in his mid to late 20’s. No one demurs that it was pedophilia. It is very likely that Mary, the mother of Jesus was of the same age as Juliet.

    Now that we are no longer in such danger of mothers dying in childbirth, we have the luxury of allowing our children the extended childhood called adolescence. Along with that comes the new vice of pedophilia. A concept that would have been unknown and unintelligible in the lifetime and frontier society of Joseph Smith.

  • Seth R.

    Well, sort of.

    Truth is that young marriage was growing less common by 1830 – even in frontier USA. 14 years old was young enough to raise eyebrows even back then. 17 probably would have gone without much comment.

    However, it is correct to say that while teen marriage wasn’t commonplace, it wasn’t frowned on or considered a scandal back then either.

    When the mob stormed Carthage Jail for Joseph Smith’s blood – they didn’t give a flying fig how old the girls were – just that Joseph had more than one of them. This is still purely a case of modern manufactured outrage.

    Pedophilia is a stupid word to describe it in any case – even if you believe Joseph had sex with Fanny Alger and Helen Mar Kimball.

  • Mike Bennion

    Ms. Riess,
    Perhaps the thing that troubles me most about the general thrust of many of your articles has to do with your avoidance of explaining that to active Latter-day Saints, ordinances restored by heavenly messengers constitute the primary purpose for the existence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a fairly conservative Latter-day Saint, I find myself concerned about my personal righteousness as a means to know and understand how to help the most people I can during my time on earth.

    I see myself not as better than others, but rather as more accountable for the things that I do with my life. I am concerned about the poor, as I have been one of them at times in my life. I am also concerned that I teach all those around me of the doctrines of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end to receive all that God desires for me and to learn and do his will. I understand from the voice of that spirit that I may also be endowed with power from heaven and joined for eternity to my family. I also now know that I may also provide these ordinances for my family who passed on before they had the chance to receive these things for themselves. I see this work as the greatest gift I can give to my family, friends and any who will listen.

  • Bond23

    “Today our issues include a relentless policing of female dress, an obsession with homosexuality, and a deep fear of pornography. Of the 399 discussions of pornography in General Conference since the 1850s, 212 have occurred in just the last 14 years. The first mention of it did not even appear until 1959. -”

    What a howler!!

    Gee, I wonder why the general authorities weren’t “obssessed” with pornography back in the 1940’s and the 19th century like they are in 2014??? I just cant figure out why? I mean what has changed since then?

    Those silly general authorities. Back in the good old days, I bet they were preaching against horse thieving more than they were pornography (now available on every 12 year old boy’s laptop and smartphone!!!)

    Why cant the general authorities stop obsessing about pornography and go back to what King Mosiah was talking about?

    Genius. thanks for the laugh.

  • GP

    I am legitimately interested in your sources for your claim that “just about all the married women who were sealed to Joseph were done so with the permission of their existing husbands”. I can only find evidence for only one such case – Henry Jacobs and that is from family recollection (not firsthand). I have not seen the evidence for the approximately 10 others. Of course, I’m talking about when they were married to Joseph Smith when he was alive… not the second posthumous ceremony “for eternity”.

    And… you don’t have to live with someone to have sex. Do you seriously think that he’s going to carry his new 14 y/o bride home and all of a sudden tell Emma that she’s moving in? Remember, he practiced this in secret, not openly. Based on how Emma reacted when she found out about a few of his other “marriages”, I wouldn’t want to be around when that news broke.

  • GP

    You are incorrect. The DNA testing for Josephine Lyon is not complete since the DNA goes through a female line. And Olive Frost is said to have given birth to Joseph Smith’s child, but the child died in its infancy and they do not know the location to perform DNA testing.

    Besides, there were birth control techniques known in the 1840’s, not the least of which is to avoid intercourse during ovulation. There are rumors of other techniques that were employed by John C. Bennett to avoid more children from Joseph Smith, but I dismiss them because it only comes from one source.

  • Jen K.

    Re: “Evidently it wasn’t important for Jesus or Joseph Smith to avoid wine, but it is important for us.” Why would this be? Is there any logic behind this other than an obedience test?

    I have one hunch/theory – of course it’s just my opinion, but here it is: Heber J. Grant was the prophet who put the “zero alcohol” rule in the temple recommend questions. If you’ve read a history of Heber J. Grant, you might know that at one time he became addicted to beer. It was a difficult habit for him to break. I am left to conclude that, knowing first-hand what a terrible master addiction can be, he was trying to help the saints avoid alcoholism (this was before much was known scientifically about genetics and addiction). Perhaps some people can moderate their drinking and be responsible but other folks are prone to excess and addiction – obviously, addiction will never ensue if never consumed.

    I personally feel the tee-totaling stance saved many a soul from the ravages of addiction (and countless families from ruin as well). Talk to any police officer or emergency room surgeon (or any family therapist for that matter) and they’ll tell you the most ungodly and gut-wrenching atrocities usually have alcohol (or other drug addictions) in the mix. I think many Mormons have no idea the pain and suffering they & their families have been spared, avoiding it altogether.

    Maybe that’s made us seem strange, too uptight, or maybe we’ve become too judgmental about something not intrinsically evil – but I know plenty of non-Mormons who also believe that avoiding alcohol altogether is a healthier way to live.

  • GP

    I followed the counsel of the church leadership, and prayed, read my scriptures, held FHE, attended church, fulfilled my duties in callings, etc. I was also told to avoid outside sources when searching church history. So I avoided it… and just stuck with what was taught in Sunday School. Nowhere in that regiment does it talk about Joseph Smith drinking wine in Carthage. When I eventually did study church history, I went to a “safe” source by reading Rough Stone Rolling since Bushman was a member of the church. And boy, did that get the stone [ball] rolling. Since then, my study of church history has been more complete. So… I’m not sure what your first statement really meant. I just happened to find out later in my life because I was just following the advice of the brethren. If you had a different upbringing, then that’s great. It must be good to have found this out earlier and perhaps served as an inoculation.

    As to the remainder of your comment, you are conflating alcoholism (which can certainly be destructive) with strict abstinence. It’s not black and white. This is precisely what Jana was getting at… why is it 100%? What if we had a glass of wine a week? Is that so bad in the eyes of God to prevent exaltation for his children (by not having a TR)? Why the inconsistency over time? It sounds more like an obedience experiment to me… similar in some ways to telling women having only one set of earrings.

  • GP

    Michael, Seth, good gracious. I hope that either of you are never called as guest speakers to talk with YW to explain how it was appropriate for a 37 year old man to have sexual relations to multiple teenagers without the knowledge of his wife.

  • Michael O’Connor

    I must admit that I do not remember hearing about it in any Sunday School class. However, it was included in my Church History classes at BYU. I also seem to remember it is Joseph Fielding Smiths History of the Church. I currently do not have access to my books as they are still in my moving boxes, so I cannot verify that. “Rough Stone Rolling” is a good biography, as you say. the Documentary History of the Church is an official Church publication. covering the time from the First Vision to the beginning of the Apostalic period.

    We did hear about Jesus drinking wine and turning water into the “best” wine. They tried to tell us that it was just grape juice but I always had a problem with that.

    As for the rest of my comment; although the avoidance of alcoholism is a part of it, I do not think it is a major reason. I do not think that the proscription on coffee or tea is aimed at avoiding caffeine. Saying no to drug abuse may sound like it is helping us to avoid addiction but there is more to it than that.

    From at least the Law of Moses on, there have been commandments that seem to have no other purpose than making the Hebrews different from their neighbors. For instance Leviticus 19:27

    27 Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.

    Why does Jehovah care how his followers shave or wear their hair? Why does he care if they mix two different types of thread in their cloth? Although the prohibition on pork can be defended for health reason many of the other eating rules are more difficult to explain. No shellfish or catfish but you can eat grasshoppers (locusts).

    Paul is implying a kind of eating code by saying not to eat things sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:28). Why? Certainly the Saints of his time knew that the idol was not anything other than a statue of a false god.

    The issue is not what you eat or what you wear, it is will you obey? We are to be a peculiar people. That is we are the Lords special people. We are to be an example to the people around at all times. We are to stand out from the crowd. We are to be a “tried people” (D&C 136:31). So the Lord has prohibited us from consuming some of the most common things that other in the world drink. Will you go along to get along or will you obey and stand out like a sore thumb? When looking at the Word of Wisdom or clothing restrictions or any other prohibition, we need to remember that it is not just a temporal thing.

    “Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual. ” D&C 29:35

    Will we obey? Will we follow the Lord? Will be peculiar or ordinary?

  • Michael O’Connor

    I posted a reply on this thread that more fully goes into this subject.

    Although there are definite health benefits to abstinence, I feel that the more important issue is one of obedience. Who will we follow? If we follow the Lord and the Prophet, we will be increasingly out of sync with the world and will be seen as being prudish prigs and judgmental. That’s just the way the world works. Great and spacious building and all that, you know.

  • GP

    Good comment Michael… I appreciate the well thought-out and honest response.

    Regarding obedience, I don’t have a problem obeying the Lord… as long as the signal is clear and it makes sense. D&C 89 is clear that the WoW is not a commandment. I get the concept of continuing revelation, but when faced with so many inconsistencies (also in other areas), questions are raised.

  • Annie

    Wow. Every time I drop by this site and read through the comments I’m am astounded at how mean spirited people are. It’s okay to have differing opinions, but when you throw sarcasm and rudeness into the mix you lose credibility. And seriously, what is with the pornography obsession??? I’ve been married for 15+ years and it’s a healthy part of our sex life. I just don’t get the fear factor involved (and yes, I’m an active member of the church). Sorry, but the church is WAY off the rails on this one. As a wise man once said, ” be excellent to each other.” Does anything else really matter more than that?

    Merry Christmas!

  • Chloe

    Annie – I agree we would be better off without rudeness. Do you think “mealy mouthed” and “bug up his butt” is rude? I think we sometimes notice rudeness more in those we disagree with, but overlook it in someone who is likeminded. We could all do better.

  • Wayne Dequer

    I am reminded of Matthew 23:23 which says: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” In the Gospel, it is often Not either/or, it is both. In the last General Conference the most common topic discussed was Jesus Christ, followed by adversity and service (see ) I see a consistent emphasis on caring for the poor and the need and on avoiding coercion and unrighteous dominion (D&C121) and the weightier matters of the law where they should be, proportionately more than on skirt length, white shirts, and Word of Wisdom. Of course what we perceive may say as much about our focus as it does on what is actually being taught.

  • Wayne Dequer

    There is certainly violence in LDS history as there is in most history. Further violence is fairly common in sacred scripture. While we should all be concerned about violence, the essay entitled, “Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints” at , puts this topic in its historical context. As a college age convert to the LDS faith in 1966, the gospel taught me to “renounce war and proclaim peace” (D&C 98:16 at ) and after many thoughtful readings, “The Book of Mormon” has specifically taught me that the most righteous response to aggression is the “weapon of love.” (see J. David Pulsipher’s “The Ammonite Conundrum” at )

    I’m an opposed to the use of torture, and, in fact, I oppose the use of most form of coercion (see D&C 121:41-42 at ), including many commonly and legally used by law enforcement in the U.S. However, I’ve studied enough history to recognize that torture has been used by members of most faiths including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and even Atheist. Further, I can conceive of how some might justify torture, as well as execution, in extreme circumstances.

    This does not mean I condone torture used post 9-11 or the participation of a couple of Mormons in planning and approving such techniques. I only somewhat understand the circumstances and follow the usual Christian caution about judging (see Matthew 7:1-6). Additionally, I believe in the principle of repentance, that people can have a mighty change of heart, and receive forgiveness from God. Finally, the actions of these two member should serve as a cautionary lesson to all people of the consequences of individual decisions and actions and of the need to focus on consistent compassion and benevolence in our lives.

  • Danny S

    Jana, keep writing and blogging. You wanted a discussion and you got one. Clearly you’ve also struck a nerve. I’m saddened but not surprised by the vitriol, ridicule, and sarcasm heaped your way. And this from your fellow members, brothers and sisters. The brittle and sometimes strident tone of their responses indicate to me a self-awareness of the fast-eroding effectiveness of doctrinal conservatism as the authoritative conversation ender it once was. Thanks to Google the church can no longer dictate the conversation. Increasingly it and its defenders look like the little man behind the curtain.

  • Nobody Important

    Wow! I can’t think of many ways of discrediting something faster than saying “pornography is healthy” and “I’m active LDS” in the same post.

  • Annie

    Chloe – I definitely feel that those comments are offensive and unnecessary. I’m not on one side or the other here. I just think it’s sad that people choose to communicate in such an unproductive way.

  • Annie

    Lol, yeah, I figured someone would say that. And it’s okay, I undetstand why that attitude exists.

  • Seth R.

    Annie, I think it’s kind of pointless to think much about your assertion until we know exactly what pornographic content you think it healthy. On second thought – don’t – your sex life is none of my business.

    But how about you run a Google search on pornography and tell me what’s healthy about the offerings out there.

    Shall I get graphic and explain to you exactly what they do to women on those websites? Shall I explain to you how insanely difficult it is to find stuff in that field that is even remotely “tasteful” and how much horror, humiliation, misogyny, and human contempt and filth you have to wade through to find anything that even has redeeming qualities.

    Shall I tell you about the Russian Mafia connections to the smut you claim Americans ought to be supporting? How about the human trafficking enslavement and coercion of illegal immigrant women? Shall I tell you about “revenge porn” (Google it), and boyfriends who post their private webcam sessions on YouTube without the girl’s permission?

    Shall I tell you how ugly and emotionally dead porn stars are in the midst of all the fake orgasming while being exploited, spit on and worse? Shall I tell you how there is no such thing as a safe and healthy work environment in the sex industry? How about rectal tearing now that that kind of sex has basically become a mandatory part of a porn actress’ “skill set?”

    How about how desensitization and chemical addiction to the orgasm response rewires your brain so you need more and more of “buzz” to get the same effect – how you have to keep seeking out more and more hardcore stuff to get the same buzz?

    Shall I get more explicit for you and the rest of the audience?

    Honestly, I don’t think you know what the hell you are talking about – nor what a wretched nightmare it is out there, nor how your consumer choices impact the world around you.

    For now, I’ll just recommend a book for you and leave it at that:

    Oh, and will you give it a try if I tell you it was written by a feminist?

  • Rick

    Considering their respective futures at Liberty Jail and Golgotha, it comforts me to know Joseph and Jesus were allowed a bit of drink to take the edge off. Ditto if they would have instead ate a pot laced brownie, consumed dentist quality nitrous oxide or smoked a Camel stud. God, in his wisdom allowed these things to happen and surely educated them in the process. He knew these two favorites of his, were not susceptible to the physical and emotional addiction issues that often grab people by the rear end and won’t turn loose. He was also confident they would not engage in making bad choices, which in fact in the best reason to avoid the impairment, gently a/k/a ‘stinkin thinkin’.

    For everyone else, especially those living in a time when every drug of choice is abundant and expertly marketed, inspired encouragement to abstain can be the difference between heaven and hell. Hell, be it earthly and in real time or eternal in nature, is where addicts of all type suffer beyond most of our understanding. One need not depend on cops, therapist and ER nurses to verify this. Just look around your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers and understand WOW and yes, even GC talks, can be truly inspired to help the intended audience.

    Under potentially highly destructive drug of choice, I don’t limit definition to heroin, meth, cocaine and pain pills. The foregoing by all means, applies to porn. Just as with anything else in this paragraph, one tends to insidiously and as if by flaxen cord, build tolerance. It takes more frequent and stronger doses to achieve a desired outcome. Others are not luke warm, but dive in head first and are consumed with insatiable cravings from the very first taste. One also compromises so many more important things, though primarily themselves, in order to feed the addiction, be it porn, heroin, meth, cocaine, pain pills or a combination thereof.

    Use of technology, like playing cards, depends on whose hands it is in. The same deck of cards used to play gin rummy, works equally as well to play poker or blackjack for money or for strip poker. Prior to 1959, porn was expensive and hard to come by. In 1959, the hourly long distance phone call rate cost was a multiple of minimum wage and was the only real time delivery system for the very type of conversation we engage in here. As technology evolved to allow us to interact on many different devices with ease and for relatively low cost, Moore’s Law also applies to porn.

    Let’s leave the esoteric and theoretical. In the real world, before the internet drove down cost of manufacturing and delivery, I’ve seen a porn addicted coworker spend hundreds of dollars monthly for a constant flow of new and more titillating experience. His father accidentally died engaging in auto erotic asphyxiation, while consuming porn. I had business dealings with a good looking, suave, filthy rich porn addict who went on to eventually rape a baby, while simultaneously copulating with her mother. I had prior distanced myself after he bragged about his daily animal sex picture email and verbalized the most vile, evil fantasies.

    For many, for whatever reason, be it DNA or other, porn doesn’t flip a switch in their brain and consume them. For everyone else, porn can lead to creating earthly and eternal hell, by the poor choices people make in order to get their fix.

  • Seth R.

    I’ve always found it interesting how the same people who say “Well, I don’t have a problem with porn/alcohol/marijuana – what’s YOUR problem?” are the same people who get completely outraged when you tell them “Well, I didn’t lose my testimony of the church over these controversies – what’s YOUR problem?”

    Just another case of “for thee, but not for me” I guess.

  • Annie

    Whoa Seth, easy boy. I don’t think I ever elaborated on what my spouse and I do or do not feel comfortable watching. And after that tongue lashing, I don’t plan to: ). My point is that there is a serious problem in the church regarding healthy attitudes about sex. The “porn problem” in Utah exisits primarily because members are SO uninformed on what a strong healthy sex life can and should be like. the church would be wise to exit the sex monitoring business entirely. I bet the porn problem would instantly disappear. But until then, my 4 children (2 of them teenagers) will know what a normal sex life, within or outside of the bonds of marriage, should be like. We do NOT teach that masterbation is wrong and we don’t allow our bishop to ask any questions regarding their sexuality (no pushback at all so far). The church does many things better than any other institution that I know of. But they get a big fat F on this one. I know what’s best for my marriage and for my children, and the church will stay out of it. Period.

  • Chloe

    Bloggers aren’t responsible for the comments left, but I think an author does set a tone when “bug up his butt” is used to describe someone who many consider to be a prophet. I think Jana could write in a way that invited more thoughtful discussion.

  • Seth R.

    Annie, that’s an obviously untrue assertion.

    The porn problem does NOT exist merely because the Church is “down on it.” Otherwise it wouldn’t be a problem in secular parts of society. Yet porn addiction IS a problem in non-religious corners of America, and in cultures that are largely not impacted by “Victorian” ideals – like Japan.

    Heavens yes, Japan… If you want to encounter a male culture irreparably damaged by porn addiction, Japan would be it.

    And the entire point of churches is to tell you what to do Annie. You aren’t some parenting prodigy that just sprang out I the head of Zeus knowing “everything that’s best” for you and your kids, and neither is everyone else.

    For myself, I don’t think Boyd K. Packer’s advice on masturbation was ultimately useful either in some ways. But you go too far.

    A heated response is appropriate in the face of such disgusting porn apologetics.

  • Danny S

    Jana, did you realize you made them respond so nastily to you? As the abuser says, “I didn’t want to hurt you, but you made me…”

    I seriously doubt that a celestial Heber J. Grant needs or cares about Jana’s terminology. He might even admit she was right. Rumor has it he wouldn’t allow the church to sing We Thank Thee O God For A Prophet for a year after Utah was the swing state to repeal prohibition.

  • Annie

    I think my opinions are so far away from yours that we will continue to talk over each other. Besides, when a conversation gets argumentative it’s over anyway. I’ll just end by saying that my parents did an amazing job raising us with healthy attitudes about sex. They protected us from the mental traps that exist on both ends of the spectrum. Because of that, all six of us kids have strong healthy marriages and we are all raising our own children in a very similar way. And I couldn’t disagree more with your idea that “the entire point of churches is to tell you what to do.” Yikes!!!
    Take care and Merry Christmas

  • Chloe

    Danny – I used the words “set a tone” and “invite more thoughtful discussion” when referencing Jana’s choice of words. I think your response was a bit over the top. Abusers?

    Let’s all take responsibility.

  • Seth R.

    I certainly hope you have a lovely holiday as well.

  • Seth R.

    He didn’t allow them to sing that? I never heard that.

    Good for Heber.

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  • MAfrom MD

    Ms. Riess – you are looking at the phenomenon of the LDS church through a straw and showing your terrible ignorance of it. Why not stick to writing about topic you can demonstrate knowledge about!? Spend some time getting to know some devout members, call in the missionaries, interview a church general authority … and avoid such an embarrassing display as this article!

  • Wayne Dequer

    This is Not the Deseret News. I disagree with Jana Riess on a fair number of topics, but I value her thoughts and defend her right to state them.

  • James Sneak

    it appears to me that she has a pretty good handle on the doctrine, traditions and culture of the LDS church, By the number of comments, its obvious that she hit her mark. I have great hope for the LDS church in the future because I know solid (devout?) members that are doing what’s right when that doesn’t always align exactly with what is being released in Salt Lake. I have spoken to General Authorities and know that not all of them are Right Wing/Fundamentalists but are quite progressive in their view of the world. Good things are going to happen in the future. If you are prevented from examining, questioning and correcting your belief system then you are in a cult not a church.

  • Shee

    I like your reasoning, but. . .i don’t mind being peculiar I just don’t think we should be prohibited from healthy things to be peculiar. There are many studies that show coffee, and tea especially, have many health benefits. If I were an outsider looking in and see so many Mormons that have addictions to diet coke and other soft drinks, which have zero health benefits, and they are still temple worthy, I would find that dumb, not peculiar. Make me peculiar, and smart, by giving up soft drinks, that I could live with.

  • sneakthief

    >On the other hand I read in many places in the scriptures were God has commanded the government to enforce sexual morality. That women and children may be protected, and men not tempted above their strength.

    You mean like this?

  • Blue Eyes

    Mormons have no qualms marrying plural wives including very young ones even if they are old, but a glass of wine is a crime.

    I find this reverse morality and though i seldom drink, i think sex and forcing women to marry men that are already married to others (especially with the lies) a far greater crime than drinking a glass of wine and far riskier too. I have no respect or admiration for someone like Joseph Smith and never will.

  • GP

    “Mormons have no qualms marrying plural wives including very young ones even if they are old, but a glass of wine is a crime.”

    It is a crime unless you are Jesus Christ or Joseph Smith – both of which consumed wine. It wasn’t until Heber J. Grant that the WoW was elevated from being a “greeting” and not by “commandment or by constraint” in D&C 89 to a full-blown commandment.

  • HarryStamper

    GP…’s possible complying with the Word of Wisdom came much earlier than thought…
    Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section 3, Footnote #1, p.117
    1. This statement by the Prophet is in accord with the action of the High Council of the Church shortly after its organization in February, 1834. At one of the earliest meetings of this council over which the Presidency of the Church presided, the following action was taken: The question was asked: “Whether disobedience to the word of wisdom was a transgression sufficient to deprive an official member from holding office in the Church, after having it sufficiently taught him?” After a free and full discussion, Joseph Smith the Prophet gave the following decision which was unanimously accepted by the council: “No official member in this Church is worthy to hold an office after having the word of wisdom properly taught him; and he, the official member, neglecting to comply with and obey it.”

  • GP

    Thanks for the quote Harry. I do find it interesting that there can be different statements that seem contradictory, yet may hold similar weight. D&C 89 is very clear that the Word of Wisdom was just that… and not a commandment. But things get muddy when you mix in other statements like the one you mention.

    The interesting thing is that Joseph Smith drank coffee and wine even up until he was killed in 1844. Yet another data point to try to reconcile with so many others out there… it’s hard to pin down exactly what the intent was or how serious these statements really were/are.

    In the face of criticism or ambiguity I see a lot of members turn to the canonized scriptures and push aside uncomfortable statements (e.g. Journal of Discourses, men dressed like Quakers on the moon, etc). In this case it would seem to go the other way… away from D&C 89 and more towards strict abstinence as a commandment.

  • David Pope

    Wine was also used in the sacrament until the early 1900’s. If you read the WoW on wine, it states that it is okay to partake of wine that is pressed from your own vineyard. If it is homemade it’s okay, but we are advised to drink it sparingly. The church asks that we abstain from alcohol completely, due to the appearance of evil, and its addictive properties. People usually don’t know they are alcoholics until it’s too late. Todays wines and other beverages have other additives in them that are also bad for you as well. Back in the 1800’s there was no regulation on alcohol, and some of the purchased wines would go as far as to cause blindness and even death.

  • David Pope

    I see all of these posts about Joseph Smith and his many wives, and about marriages with young teenage women. My great-great grandfather lived near Joseph Smith in Nauvoo. His recollections of the prophet never discussed plural marriages, but did talk about Joseph and Emma, and how happy they were together. Now for the American History part of this. In 1844 the legal age of consent for marriage was 10, like it or not, and as sick as it is, that was a fact. Most of my grandmothers over the last 500 years were between 14 and 18. As the average life span was around 46 years of age. Many of those grandmothers died between the age of 30 to 50. Opinions, customs and moral character continue to change. 70 years ago pornography was illegal, and today its in our faces. Today more people live together before marriage than ever before. Today homosexuals are legally getting married. In 1844 if two men said they were married, they would be hanged here and in Canada. Now we have laws protecting it.