September 24, 2010

Standing for Something

One of the more honorable attributes of Jesus Christ is His usually quiet defiance of social and political norms when they are ungodly. Obviously I do not refer to the "cleansing of the temple," which appears to have been rather violent (John 2:14-15), but in all other areas where something was out of place with social and religious practices, He shamelessly did what was right, often opposing what was popular. In fact, in driving out the moneychangers, He showed that He feared not what man thought; as long as it was ungodly, He would defy it.

Christ did not usually defend righteousness in such aggressive ways, but it appears that He openly opposed society's more subtle wrongs as well. For example:
  • John 4:7-9. The woman at the well was shocked that Christ, a Jew, would speak to her, a Samaritan. Christ did not shy away, did not avoid her because of her nationality, but instead engaged in very personal, loving conversation. His disciples were clearly disturbed that He would speak with her (John 4:27).
  • Luke 7:37-48. A woman of low esteem washes Christ's feet in her tears, and dries them with her hair. The Pharisee observer clearly is troubled by Christ's allowing the woman to touch Him, yet he patiently allows her penance to proceed, then teaches all that their practice of shaming and chastising sinners is wrong.
  • Luke 6:6-11. In opposition to the widely held social and religious norms, Christ heals a man on the Sabbath.
  • John 9:1-3. He shattered the belief that physical disabilities were the consequence of sin.
  • As a general rule, He held women in high regard - a radical practice in the region and time (e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:34-35). After His greatest miracle of all, the resurrection, the first to learn of it were women (Luke 24:1-8), but even His disciples would not believe women (Luke 24:11). The first person on Earth honored with direct witness of the miracle was Mary Magdalene, a woman (John 20:11-18). This was a strike against the male-dominated culture of the age.
There are, of course, several other examples in the New Testament. My point is that Christ was never one to shy away from controversy. He stood His ground for what was right, even when it led to His death.

Why, then, would this same Christ, who defied even the most deeply rooted practices whenever they were out of line with God, the same Christ, who is supposedly the head of the LDS church - why would He command, without reason, that persons of African descent be denied priesthood blessings and temple attendance? Even though racism was popular at the time, and even when it was becoming taboo to continue the policy, the LDS church clung to the racist practice, that they stated was revealed to them by Christ (source). Later, of course, it was re-revealed to have been wrong (source). To command leaders to do the wrong thing for more than a century is uncharacteristic of the Christ of the New Testament. It seems reasonable to conclude that either Christ is inconsistent, or the leaders who claimed that He made the former revelation were lying.

Similarly, what Christ apparently revealed to be divine commandment - polygamy - was phased out for the purpose of becoming a more mainstream church, and to fit society's expectations (source beginning with "The question is this:"). Rather than standing His ground and defending His commandment through tribulation and opposition, rather than insisting that His divine revelation be adhered to, He apparently buckled under the pressure from popular politics and social practices.

I find it odd that Christ, while in the flesh, would personally defy generally held beliefs for the sake of doing what was right, while easily relenting from the heavens - letting society and politics push His commandments around. It is an odd deity who is unchanging (e.g., Mormon 9:10) and yet appears to have made drastic changes in character.

Either that, or the LDS church was not and is not led by Christ.

September 17, 2010

Trying Faith

We are promised in the New Testament that God will never try our faith beyond our ability to bear it.
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
God apparently tests out our threshold at times, pushing our limits. Take Job and Abraham for example; they were both pushed far beyond what any reasonable person should be expected to endure, yet all the while praised God. They both are held as heroes of the Old Testament. They set examples for believers - demonstrating that we should not question, should not doubt, should take whatever the Lord can throw at us.

What I find odd, however, is that the apparently same God has been inconsistent in His demands on the faith of His children. For example, when Joseph the Carpenter discovers that his betrothed, Mary, is pregnant, he is faced with a huge trial of faith. His future wife asks him to believe that not only is she a pregnant virgin, but that the child she carries is the literal son of God. As Joseph sorts all of this out in his mind, it appears that God decides He would rather not test the threshold of Joseph's faith, but instead reveals to him in a dream that Mary's explanation is correct (Matthew 1:18-24). Rather than push Joseph to the limit of his faith, God grants him a sure sign so that he may overcome his perfectly reasonable doubts.

Joseph, the man ordained to be the earthly guardian of the Son of God, was not left to anguishing soul searching, constantly wondering for the rest of his life if Mary had been unfaithful. Instead, he was reassured in a very loving and personal way.

I find this divine behavior odd in another LDS context, however. Just as Mary gave her fiance a fantastic story to explain why she was pregnant, Joseph Smith, Jr. gave his wife, Emma, a fantastic story about why he married several women without her consent. Both Joseph the Carpenter and Emma Hale were in extremely difficult positions. They were both faced with evidence of a fornicating partner, but also told that the purpose of the infidelity was by divine providence. Understandably, they both reacted in the same way initially - disbelief, disenchantment, likely anger, jealousy, etc.

Yet God's response to each differed greatly: He gave Joseph the Carpenter a comforting vision to help his faith, but He threatened Emma - through her seemingly adulterous husband - with destruction (D&C 132:54, 64), stated that if she continued to question her husband's actions he would be rewarded with even more wives (D&C 132:55), and is told that her forgiveness from sin depends upon her forgiving her husband of his sexual infidelity (D&C 132:56, 65).

In brief, when Joseph the Carpenter and Emma were presented with very similar trials of their faith, God provided Joseph with a clear sign that his betrothed acted according to His commandments, while it appears that He never once gave Emma a sign. On the contrary - He commanded her husband to chastise and threaten her!

It appears that God is either a respecter of persons, pushing the faith threshold to its limits for some of His servants while reassuring others, or one of the above acts of infidelity was not in accordance with divine commandment.