Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Mormon Newsroom: Reading Between the Lines

The church's top spokesman recently said, "Our task is to find language that most accurately reflects what's in the Brethren's minds." To do this, they have written a creed to encapsulate what they think the brethren might say if they were writing their own material:
We have faith in God, strive to live the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ and embrace God’s plan for His children, bringing joy into our lives and the lives of others.
We are strong supporters of the family, defenders of strong, enduring marriages and child bearing, and of raising well-educated children with high moral values.
We value and defend freedom, including freedom of religion, respect individual agency and moral choices, freedom to worship and freedom to share our faith.
We hold and try to live by strong moral values, including personal honesty and trustworthiness, and other Christlike attributes.
We serve others, including those in our own faith and those not of our faith. Charity, or love of our fellow men and women, is a source of joy.
We strive to demonstrate through the redemptive power of the gospel that lives can change for the better. We think of this in terms of faith, repentance and the Atonement.
The PR team writes up releases on all sorts of topics, then submits them for approval "to a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' committee, made up of two apostles, a senior member of the Seventy, the presiding bishop, the church's legal counsel and a female officer." (source) Sometimes there are corrections made, other times the article stands as ghost written.

TODO quote on single person does not...

Does it make sense that the LDS public affairs team should be making doctrinal proclamations when only two of the 15 men they speak for oversee them? I thought only the prophet can speak for the whole church? Ironically, it was the PR office itself who issued the following edict:
Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. 

Isn't it odd, then, that the newsroom would issue such dramatic doctrinal statements such as:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledges that following today's ruling by the Supreme Court, same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States. The Court's decision does not alter the Lord's doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the Church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice."
It seems that in an environment where such bold statements are made without commensurate tie-in to the stakeholders of the church (the 15), it is very likely that at some point--should the 15's actual position be or become markedly different--they can plausibly deny the statement of the PR office with impunity. That seems to undermine the idea of having a PR office in the first place, that is, if your objective is to pronounce true unchanging doctrine.

Furthermore, it seems like doing so without all leaders involved would be asking for mistakes to be made.

For instance, the LDS newsroom article on "Apostle" starts with the leading line, "The highest priesthood office in the Church." This is false. The highest priesthood office in the church is that of King. It is the office which comes above priest (Melchezidek priest, not Aaronic), which in turn comes after prophet. Joseph taught that Hyrum was ordained to be the prophet of the church so that Joseph could go on to be its priest. He was ordained king by the counsel of 50 shortly before his death. Heber C. Kimball wrote that this blessing comes with the fullness of the priesthood:

Those who come in here and have received their washing & anointing will [later] be ordained Kings & Priests, and will then have received the fullness of the Priesthood, all that can be given on earth. For Brother Joseph said he had given us all that could be given to man on the earth (Heber C. Kimball Journal kept by William Clayton, 26 December 1845, Church Archives).
Joseph taught:
There are 3 grand principles or orders of Priesthood portrayed in this chapter
1st Levitical which was never able to administer a Blessing but only to bind heavy burdens which neither they nor their father able to bear
2 Abrahams Patriarchal power which is the greatest yet experienced in this church 21
3d That of Melchisedec who had still greater power even power of an endless life of which was our Lord Jesus Christ which also Abraham obtained by the offering of his son Isaac which was not the power of a Prophet nor apostle nor Patriarch only but of King & Priest (Words of Joseph Smith, 27 Aug 1843)
On 6 August 1843, Brigham Young said,
"If any in the church [have] the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood [I do] not know it. For any person to have the fullness of that priesthood, he must be a king and priest."
But, the anonymous committee that oversees the spokesperson's ghost writing probably did not know that.

Under "Prophets," the newsroom opens by saying, "One designated by God to be His spokesperson." If the 15 are God's spokespeople, the term used by the newsroom writers, perhaps we are to understand that they operate for God the same way that the newsroom spokespeople operate for the brethren. Perhaps the brethren's "task is to find language that most accurately reflects what's in the Brethren's minds on God's mind." Maybe they've even constructed a creed to give them some pointers.

This suggestion may seem crude or irreverent, at least until you read the newsroom's article for "Revelation":
Most often, revelation unfolds as an ongoing, prayerful dialogue with God: A problem arises, its dimensions are studied out, a question is asked, and with sufficient faith, God leads us to answers, either partial or full. Though ultimately a spiritual experience, revelation also requires careful thought. God does not simply hand down information. He expects us to figure things out through prayerful searching and sound thinking.
So when we see someone in the church who claims to receive revelation for the church, what they really mean is that they find problems, pray about them, and then think up solutions carefully. One thing's for sure, "God does not simply hand down information."

After all, we all recall that our religion is founded on a young boy reading "if any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God," fully expecting that the only result would be that he would have some undetected guidance in his effort to study out the scriptures that he had heretofore studied without said undetected guidance for some two years in his efforts to know which church was true. Oh, wait...

I would venture to guess that most Mormons think of revelation, particularly that they envision the brethren receiving, as "simply [God] hand[ing] down information." After all, isn't that what he has done throughout the scriptural record to prophets, seers, and revelators? Did Joseph have to study out the Book of Mormon and gradually think out what the book said? No. He looked at his seer stone and read the words that appeared. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joseph and the rest repeated the words that God said to them. This was not an intellectual exercise. It was simply repeated what had been said to them. This is what makes it God's word instead of men's word.