Wednesday, July 16, 2008

We Don't Know

I recently attended a funeral at an Episcopalian Church. During the homily, the priest said something like the following:

"We don't know where Bob is now, since that is a mystery to us. We can only have faith that he will enter into the Lord's rest and have repose with all of the saints."

The candid way in which uncertainty about the afterlife was admitted was somehow refreshing. I can't imagine our leaders saying "we don't know..." over the pulpit about much of anything. So I started wondering why this is and can think of a few possible reasons:

1. One of the key points of the Restoration is that truth has been restored in its fullness in the latter days. Admitting any uncertainty in doctrinal matters may be seen as undermining this core premise of the Restoration.

2. The clergy at mainline churches generally have extensive formal training and practice their calling on a full-time basis. Perhaps that makes them more secure in admitting ambiguity in doctrine (i.e since many of the laypersons can't really challenge them theologically). LDS leaders are put into their callings without much formal training, so admitting uncertainty in doctrinal matters may undermine their authority a little too much.

3. It is acceptable in our church (though I don't think in others) for leaders to suggest that personal revelation is the appropriate sphere for more speculative doctrines. It is probably easier for a leader to suggest that members pray about something themselves rather than admitting that they aren't sure about an issue.

Any others?

(Another post might address the interesting reasons why the public face of some mainline churches (let's say Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and some Lutherans and Methodists) seems to offer a message that is extremely light on doctrinal content.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Marriage Update

I am expecting specific plans to come out sometime soon on how our ward/stake is going to implement formal support for the marriage proposal. So far, I've only heard that Elder Ballard is spearheading the effort and that California Stake Presidents are involved in conference calls.

My opinion on this whole matter lines up very well with Seth's here.

Kaimi (another Calfornia lawyer) has a good write-up here.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

15 Minutes

I only caught the last 15 minutes of Gospel Doctrine today, but still made it in time for a couple of interesting discussions. For the record, interesting discussions are the exception rather than the rule in my ward. The text seemed to be Alma 13 or thereabouts.

First, the teacher suddenly asked whether we were supposed to "question" our leaders. I don't think this query was well-framed, but the answer was likely to be more interesting than simply "pray" or "read the scriptures". A sister I've never seen before raised her hand first - we are always supposed to question our leaders because they are just people and can easily lead us astray while holding on to their positions. A bishopric member's hand immediately shot up - our leaders are called for a reason and there is a hierarchy in place that should be consulted when somebody privately doesn't agree with a leader (i.e. ask the Stake President, etc.) Somehow this devolved into a discussion of the old chestnut about how "sustaining" our leaders actually means to actively help them. I suppose that's true enough, but this definition seems to be a convenient workaround to avoid discussing the uncomfortable step where we actually get to choose and publicly manifest whether we will assent to their leadership.

Second, the teacher entertained a long discussion of how we have complete free agency even though God already knows how things will turn out. Well, He has foreordained certain people to enact his plan but, in case they don't step up to the plate, He has back-up people in place. But He has complete foreknowledge of this anyway. At any rate, we can all agree that foreordination is a superior concept to predestination, which we definitely don't believe in. It occurs to me that a whole body of convoluted explanations have sprung up to reconcile some version of free will with the foreknowledge of God.

The good thing is that nobody had to bother with terms like "determinism" or "libertarian free will" to leave Gospel Doctrine feeling that all is right with the universe.