An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Spencer W. Kimball’

Virture–More than Virginity

Both Shauna and Amy surprised me at my high school reunion.
Shauna, pregnant and hastily married in 9th grade, had graduated
with our class— with the help of a very supportive mother who baby sat for
Shauna, not only during school, but also for her piano lessons and practice.
Most of us expected that Shauna would be not only the first girl in our class
married, but also the first divorced. Statistics for teen marriages are not
encouraging.

 Fifty years later, I
found Shauna happily married to the same husband who had become a very
successful building contractor. After raising three kids, Shauna enrolled in
the university and completed all the classes for an art major. Her living room
boasts a valuable art display collected from their travels abroad—particularly
in Africa. Shauna, who has served on the Utah Symphony board as well as those
of other arts organizations, has led the most interesting life of any woman
from my high school class.

In high school, Amy would have been my guess for achieving a
life like Shauna’s. The Molly-est of my Mormon friends, Amy graduated from
college while waiting for her missionary, Scott. A temple marriage followed his
mission release. Amy taught school while Scott got his B.A. and Ph.D. Scott
excelled in his profession and they raised three children. After 40 years of
marriage, Scott divorced Amy to marry his longtime girl friend.

According to all the lessons and talks to Young Women I’ve
heard, God got it wrong. Shauna, who transgressed at age 15, is the one who
should have been divorced by a philandering husband. Amy, who did everything
right, should have been blessed with a faithful husband and bountiful life.
Apparently God doesn’t read the lesson manuals.

A relative raised in the Spencer W. Kimball era told me that,
as a member of his ward bishopric, he gave the YM/YW a talk on the evils of
sexual transgression. A young woman in the group asked the question that always
comes up: “What about girls who are raped?” My relative took his answer from The Miracle of Forgiveness: When
virtue is lost, it is gone—no matter how it happens.

I couldn’t believe Pres. Kimball had made such a harsh
statement, so I looked it up. And yes, he did. His exact words were:  “Once given or taken or stolen it [chastity]
can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest. . . .” Of
course, Pres. Kimball was a product of his time and I believe no current Mormon
General Authority would make that kind of statement. Still, a lot of members
carry the Kimball message stamped on their hearts and have used it to make
girls and women who have been victims or who have transgressed Church morality
laws feel they are lesser persons.

Virtue is not defined purely by sexual abstinence. Included
on any list of virtues are such traits as: integrity, humility, generosity,
compassion, and courage. A person doesn’t lose all virtue by giving into
youthful passion or persuasion—and certainly not by being the victim of sexual
assault. I applaud Elizabeth Smart for having the courage to face the publicity
engendered by testifying against her rapist in court. With virtues intact, she
set an example for other women victims. Certainly her courage has been
strengthened by speaking up to ensure that justice was done.

I hope Elizabeth Smart’s story will be incorporated into
future lessons for YW. Sexual activity does not ruin a girl’s life.
Stigmatizing and guilting girls does.

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Mormons vs. Theology

Our son, who is married to a Baptist minister’s daughter,
asked me to define Mormon theology for our daughter-in-law. “Mormons aren’t
very interested in theology,” I replied.

“But theology is the study of the attributes of God. Why
aren’t Mormons interested in that?”

Good question—and my answer is that Mormons focus on
pleasing God by keeping His commandments rather than trying to define Him
beyond the basic attributes of love and justice. This has not always been the
case. I think Spencer W. Kimball moved Mormons from the notion of study for the
sake of study when he suggested changing the word “know” in the Primary song, “I
Am a Child of God” to “do.” The current line reads: “Teach me all that I must do to live with him someday.”

Early Mormon leaders took theology seriously. Joseph Smith
had a lot to say about the attributes of God. The prophet’s concept of God
expanded through the nearly two decades of his ministry—from a traditional Trinitarian
view of God as found in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 15) and Lectures on Faith—to the God of Eternal Progression revealed in D&C
132 and the King Follett Discourse.

Brigham Young developed some radical theology—which he
insisted he’d learned from Joseph Smith. Brother Brigham’s unorthodox Adam/God
theory has been relegated to the dustbin by modern leaders—as has Lectures on Faith which was removed from
the D&C in 1921.

Joseph F. Smith, a 20th century prophet with an
interest in defining Mormon theology, provided space in the SL temple for scholarly
apostle, James Talmage to write two doctrinal books, The Articles of Faith and Jesus
the Christ
. The only books besides scripture officially endorsed by the church,
both were quoted extensively in church lessons and conference addresses until
the church published the 1979 edition of the King James Bible with quotations
from the Joseph Smith Translation included in footnotes. Some of Joseph Smith’s
emendations contradicted Talmage’s Bible exegesis and references to Talmage’s
books have disappeared from lessons and conference addresses.

As an apostle, Joseph Fielding Smith put forth his
interpretation of Mormon theology in a long-running Improvement Era column titled “Answers to Gospel Questions.” His
son-in-law, Bruce R. McConkie, became unofficial church theologian when he
published his book Mormon Doctrine in
the ‘60s. Both Smith’s and McConkie’s books have now been dropped from official
church discourse.

Unlike Protestants and Catholics, Mormons quietly replace
rather than build upon the learning of past church scholars. Since an unchanging
God who reveals gospel truths perfectly is a core Mormon belief, this is not
surprising.

Theology attempts to define God.  I think what theology really does is provide insights about people who write about God .

Choose Ye This Day . . . Cafeteria Mormonism

Spencer W. Kimball’s greatest legacy is his revelation extending priesthood to blacks. A lesser appreciated legacy (on my part) is his motto, “Lengthen Your Stride.” Although retired for several years now, I still drive myself to fill every minute. Even sleep fails to subdue this message of urgency, and I often awake with heart pounding, dreaming it’s the first day of school and I haven’t used my time diligently and am unprepared for the bell to ring in 15 minutes.

Had President Kimball’s motto come to me when I was still a lazy teen, it would have been revelation direct from heaven. Instead, the message arrived when I was a busy mother of five trying to serve in every church calling and service opportunity asked of me.  “Lengthen your stride” and subsequent Relief Society lessons on time management was like cracking a whip on a winded horse.

 Working oneself to exhaustion and feeling guilty for nor doing more is not spiritual—not even a little bit. I’m pretty sure women like myself were not the target of President Kimball’s remark. Now, I’m not criticizing the advice—I’m sure it was beneficial to many people. What I am criticizing is a culture that doesn’t encourage members to evaluate messages from leaders—to determine if that advice does apply to their own lives at this particular time.

With all due respects to “Obedience First” Mormons, Cafeteria Mormonism is the most logical approach to obeying Church leaders. In an organization with millions of members, leaders cannot possibly know the personal situations and needs of each member. General Conference remarks must address either a generic group of “average” Mormons or a targeted group which has been identified—at least in leaders’ minds—as having significant problems. This approach is not necessarily bad; in fact, it may be the only workable approach for such a large organization. The difficulty comes with the insistence that obedience to leaders take priority over individual contemplation of leaders’ words and making  thoughtful decisions about applying them to one’s own life.

At this time in my life, I need to hobble my stride—to spend more time in silent meditation, to refill my bucket. I suspect President Kimball, if he were here today, would agree with my choice.

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