Interpreting History, Part 10 Conclusion

Seriously studying history allows us to recognize unresolved issues or to fix our errors. With a superficial knowledge of our history we risk making presumptions and missing the mark, or risk not even recognizing there are errors to what we believe today. Isn’t the subject of our religion and its beginnings important enough to want to carefully examine it?

The mission of Elijah is so important to the wrapping up of God’s strange act that the prophecy about his return before the great and dreadful day of the Lord appears in every volume of scripture. From the Old Testament to the Pearl of Great Price, it is mentioned repeatedly.

When we discover Joseph Smith speaking of Elijah’s return as a future event in 1844, we get our first hint that our current doctrine on the subject may need further examination. However, if we only know the popular story borne out of Orson Pratt’s analysis in the Deseret Evening News of D&C 110 when it was found and first published, then raising the issue seems unnecessary. Since you think you know the truth already, a reexamination seems stupid. Do you look into the matter, and risk discovering there have been historic, and therefore, doctrinal errors made for 160 years on Elijah’s mission? Do you think this is important enough to study it again?

We are the subject and object of many Book of Mormon prophecies. Some of them hold us up in a rather negative light. They seem to suggest we are riddled with mistakes and errors. That we have gone far astray, and are being led to err in many instances. Those prophecies do not trouble us, however, if we accept the self-vindicating narrative that we’ve been headed in the right direction all along.

One of the things that helps orient an historical analysis is the language of scripture. If the scriptures warn us against thinking all is well in our version of Zion, and tells us to never resist hearing more of the word of God, and further tells us (repeatedly) not to trust the arm of flesh, what does this mean? We have a popular account of events that more or less suggests all is well. We are God’s chosen. We have the power to save ourselves. We have a great body of revelation to guide us and don’t need much revelation anymore. And some of what Joseph Smith talked about we don’t really know much about and aren’t sure we believe anyway. We are safe, and the odds are we’ll all be exalted. Those ideas are the polar opposite of what the Book of Mormon says about us. Should the Book of Mormon provide us the themes to apply to our history, or do they not matter at all? If we allow the Book of Mormon to inform the dialogue, then do we reconcile the disparity between our claims and the prophetic text by re-looking  at our history, or instead merely by trusting we are led that in no instance do we currently err?

People of good faith, who believe in Mormonism, can differ in their conclusions about matters. Those differences are not signs of apostasy or evil. They are, in fact, healthy. They ought to be the source from which stimulating discussion and deep thought comes. An unexamined and superficial belief system is always vulnerable to collapse. A thoughtful and reflective believer does not fly to pieces when something new is told to them. They are already acquainted with the idea and practice of prayerfully and through personal revelation considering and reconsidering their faith. New ideas do not cause despair, but become part of the normal process for them. They consider, suspend judgment, study, reflect, pray and then reach a careful conclusion. The conclusion is put into the larger framework and any necessary adjustments are considered, adapted or corrected, and faith improves. This process is allowed to work over and over as they explore their faith more deeply.

The environment of Mormonism is not conducive to healthy discussion at the moment. Correlation and the need for central control has preempted the kind of healthy intellectual inquiry that is needed to solve the present crisis of apostasy. History should be allowed to be merely our true, unembellished, unprotected history. Not a tool for propaganda used by central planners to accomplish a desired end. Using it that way in an information-based society invites the disaster presently unfolding.

I believe in Mormonism. I cherish the faith. It is vibrant and resilient. It does not need institutional protection – borne out of fear. Efforts to protect have, in fact, injured the faith and discredited this approach.

History matters. May we allow it to become the source of truth informing our open discussions, rather than a tool to be manipulate and manage people. Managing people is a dark enterprise. Inform them and allow them the freedom to choose to govern themselves. That is what the Prophet Joseph Smith did. The mere ambition to control people is the beginning of a dark trail that leads to the imprisonment of souls. Not just those who are the targets, but more importantly the souls of those with the ambition. It should be repugnant to anyone claiming to be a saint to allow anyone to control them. Unless they are willing to retain for themselves their right to choose, and then exercise their choice in a responsible and well informed way, they deceive themselves. Saints are made of sterner stuff. They do not recoil from the obligation, difficulty, pain and work necessary to have their minds mirror the mind of God. Surrendering to other men the responsibility devolving on yourself will never happen. But, then again, mankind rarely produces a saint.

Vanity and pride are no substitute for sainthood. Arrogance and flattery from leaders will not produce a saint either. It comes from man reaching up to God, and God answering the honest petition of the humble soul, reaching down to him. Contact with God will inevitably lead to sainthood. False ideas and incomplete or misleading history will prevent that contact from happening.