Yesterday the Church caused a minor kerfuffle when its Newsroom announced the return of opening prayers in Sunday School. That wasn't the controversial part; it was the fact they cited Section 29.6 of the Church Handbook, "Prayers in Church Meetings" that says:
"Members should pray using words that express love and respect for Heavenly Father. In English, this includes using the pronouns Thee, Thy, Thine, and Thou when addressing Him."
Using the King's English in prayer ("How do I love THEE, let me count the ways") is nothing new for members of the Church; it seems to be a hobby horse of President Dallin H. Oaks (see his talk, "The Language of Prayer," April 1993 General Conference; republished in January 2006 Ensign as "The Special Language of Prayer"); as well as for President Nelson (who, let's admit it, rides more hobby horses than any church leader in recent memory). Elder Nelson taught in 2009:
"We can use “right words”—special pronouns—in reference to Deity. While worldly manners of daily dress and speech are becoming more casual, we have been asked to protect the formal, proper language of prayer. In our prayers we use the respectful pronouns Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine instead of You, Your, and Yours. Doing so helps us to be humble. That can also enhance our prayers." ("Lessons from the Lord's Prayers," April 2009 General Conference.)
But this Post is not about the "proper" and "right" way to pray ― the reason I bring it up is because it is a case study in how members frame what is "right"; yesterday I read a number of online comments about the prayer-pronouns controversy, which invariably ended the argument with "follow the prophet." Obedience, after all, is the soup du jour.
(Since no one asked, I will share my opinion on the matter. For all I care you can pray in Pig Latin as long as you do it with "real intent" (see Moroni 7:9). The Church makes much ado about nothing, when the Lord teaches us to do "as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me; only be faithful" (D&C 62:5). It is faith, not observing proper forms, which brings power.)
Argumentum ad Verecundiam (no, that's not a spell from Harry Potter)
How do we decide whether something is right or wrong? Let's take prayer-pronouns as an example; how are we supposed to decide what pronouns to use?
1. Option A. Let the Prophet do the thinking for us and simply follow the Handbook.
I think Option A is the most common way we resolve differences of opinion in the Church: by appealing to authority.
But unfortunately the notion of "appealing to authority" is premised on a logical fallacy (yes, that's right; let it sink in: the bedrock of how the Church governs is fallacious; it is based on the sandy foundation of a logical fallacy).
This fallacy is called (since we like high-falutin words) argumentum ad verecundiam. "Appeals to authority are not valid arguments, but nor is it reasonable to disregard the claims of experts who have a demonstrated depth of knowledge unless one has a similar level of understanding and/or access to empirical evidence. However, it is entirely possible that the opinion of a person or institution of authority is wrong; therefore the authority that such a person or institution holds does not have any intrinsic bearing upon whether their claims are true or not." (Logical Fallacy).
Watch out: I am going to invoke President Boyd K. Packer to illustrate my point. One of President Packer's favorite stories to tell in General Conference (I lost count how many times I heard it) was about a . . . kitten.
President Packer's Story
"On a visit to a school at Albuquerque, the principal told me of an incident that happened in a first grade class. During a lesson, a kitten wandered into the room and distracted the youngsters. It was brought to the front of the room so all could see it.
"One youngster asked: “Is it a boy kitty or a girl kitty?”
"The teacher, unprepared for that discussion, said, “It doesn’t matter; it’s just a kitten.” But the children persisted, and one little boy said, “I know how we can tell if it is a boy kitty or a girl kitty.”
"The teacher, cornered, said, “All right, you tell us how we can tell if it is a boy kitty or a girl kitty.” The boy answered, “We can vote on it!”
I am going to tweak the story: let's pretend the teacher (the authority figure) tells the class the cat is a boy, when in fact it is a girl. In other words, the teacher gets it wrong.
Should the class jump on board and defend the cat's boyness? Is it wrong for someone to stand up and claim, "It is a girl kitty" against the teacher's declaration?
You see, the very point Elder Packer made refutes (!) the way the Church operates; we have merely to substitute an authority figure's pronouncement for the class's voting results: neither guarantees the truth.
To quote President Packer, "Some things cannot be changed" ― regardless of what the Prophet says.
2. Option B.Truth is discerned through the power of the Holy Ghost and the light of Christ.
A different approach we could take to discovering truth is, instead of appealing to authority, to rely upon God. You know, ask Him.
You might object, "Tim, that's like appealing to the ultimate authority!" Or someone might argue, "That would result in disorder and confusion, if everyone followed their own inspiration! Cats and Dogs living together? Get with the program, man."
Let's look at what the scriptures teach:
a. Holy Ghost
If ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you [how will He?] by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost [how; whose power?] ye may know the truth of all things [what percentage is "all"?]
b. Light of Christ
And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, [how are we to judge?] which light is the light of Christ, [whose light?] see that ye do not judge wrongfully. [how do we 'judge wrongfully?']
c. Trust in the Spirit
I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, [how will we know?] all things whatsoever [what percentage is "all"?] you desire of me.
(D&C 11:12, 14)
Okay, I think we get the idea. The point I want to make is that freedom exists in following Christ and His light. Not from obeying the Handbook as if it were our master (which is akin to being in spiritual 'bondage').
Wherefore, hear my voice and follow me, and you shall be a free people.
We are free insofar as we become His Constitution; otherwise, we remain serfs.
"We the People" No More?
How can we become the Lord's Constitution when the Church operates against Constitutional principles?
- Instead of "We the People," we get "We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles."
- Instead of due process, we get "do your ministering."
- Instead of checks-and-balances, we get "write your tithing checks."
- Instead of independent judges, we get bishop roulette.
- Instead of representative government, we get "Which Way Do You Face?"
- Instead of Term Limits, we get a gerontocracy.
- Instead of freedom of conscience we get the Handbook's definition of "apostasy."
- Instead of the 4th Amendment protecting us from unreasonable searches and seizures, we get the Strengthening Church Members Committee.
- Instead of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and transparency, we get closed councils and secret finances.
. . . and on it goes. What happened; how did the Church go from being a champion of liberty to resembling the repressive sultanates of the Middle East?
Restoring Liberty to the Restoration
Have you ever heard the idea that the Lord established America as a land of liberty so He could restore His church here, where Joseph Smith enjoyed religious freedom? As if implying that the Restoration could not have transpired in Tudor England?
Well, I have news for you. The Church in 2022 resembles Tudor England more than it does Frontier America.
If Joseph attempted to teach the truths he did 200 years ago, today in the Church, he'd be excommunicated; the Church he founded would not welcome or want him; just as the Jews rejected their Messiah.
The Restoration will continue, but only among a free people.