Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hurray for Mary Higby Schweitzer: Working Mom, Christian, and Dangerous Scientist

The Book of Mormon warns against some of the many fallacies made by the elite and educated ranks who find many reasons to mock religion and deny Jesus Christ (e.g., 2 Nephi 9:28-29). One of the great ironies in science is the ease with which scientists and educated thinkers stop thinking once they think they have something figured out. Don't be shocked: they are human too. In spite of all that education, they can readily fall into the trap of clinging to old paradigms, proudly thinking they now know something for themselves, when real science should take the humble attitude of recognizing that it is tentative and that numerous untested assumptions sometimes go into the mental models we create when we interpret data. This vulnerability is especially great when we make judgments about things that are not simply straightforward matters like how much something weighs. When science is applied to resolve moral issues or matters of faith, for example, look out. It is an inadequate tool for some purposes.

One interesting illustration of the problems in blindly relying on "established" scientific knowledge involves the recent discovery that soft matter--cartilage, skin, muscle tissue, etc.--may have been preserved in some actual dinosaur finds. Sounds crazy, right? Dinosaurs are millions of years old, and obviously soft tissue could not possibly last that long so it's just not possible. Dinosaurs are fossils. Rocks. After millions of years, nothing else but fossilized rock can remain. Science has spoken, and as we all should know, when science has spoken, the debate and the thinking are done. At least that's how some scientists apparently responded when Mary Higby Schweitzer, a woman and a known evangelical Christian, of all things, dared to claim that she had solid evidence for soft tissue from ancient dinosaurs. The woman is Mary Higby Schweitzer and her story is ably told by Barry Yeoman in "Schweitzer's Dangerous Discovery," Discover Magazine, April 2006.
Schweitzer gazed through a microscope in her laboratory at North Carolina State University and saw lifelike tissue that had no business inhabiting a fossilized dinosaur skeleton: fibrous matrix, stretchy like a wet scab on human skin; what appeared to be supple bone cells, their three-dimensional shapes intact; and translucent blood vessels that looked as if they could have come straight from an ostrich at the zoo.

By all the rules of paleontology, such traces of life should have long since drained from the bones. It's a matter of faith among scientists that soft tissue can survive at most for a few tens of thousands of years, not the 65 million since T. rex walked what's now the Hell Creek Formation in Montana. But Schweitzer tends to ignore such dogma. She just looks and wonders, pokes and prods, following her scientific curiosity. That has allowed her to see things other paleontologists have missed—and potentially to shatter fundamental assumptions about how much we can learn from the past. If biological tissue can last through the fossilization process, it could open a window through time, showing not just how extinct animals evolved but how they lived each day.
This is a huge advance. What breathtaking finds are waiting to be revealed in the soft tissue and perhaps even the DNA of these ancient kings and queens of the planet? Hurray for Mary Higby Schweitzer and for her unusual background and her faith that helped her see things other scientists have probably been missing (and accidentally destroying) for decades.

Mary is an evangelical Christian, but also accepts that the earth may be billions of years old (that fits my understanding of the evidence as well). There are other things about her I really like:
In 1989, while dividing her time between substitute teaching and her three children, Schweitzer steered back toward her childhood fascination with dinosaurs. She approached Jack Horner, a renowned dinosaur scientist, and asked if she could audit his vertebrate paleontology course at Montana State University. He appreciated her refreshingly nontraditional mind. "She really wasn't much of a scientist—which is good," says Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies. "Scientists all get to thinking alike, and it's good to bring people in from different disciplines. They ask questions very differently."

Schweitzer's first forays into paleontology were "a total hook," she says. Not only was she fascinated by the science, but to her, digging into ancient strata seemed like reading the history of God's handiwork. Schweitzer worships at two churches—an evangelical church in Montana and a nondenominational one when she is back home in North Carolina—and when she talks about her faith, her bristly demeanor falls away. "God is so multidimensional," she says. "I see a sense of humor. I see His compassion in the world around me. It makes me curious, because the creator is revealed in the creation." Unlike many creationists, she finds the notion of a world evolving over billions of years theologically exhilarating: "That makes God a lot bigger than thinking of Him as a magician that pulled everything out in one fell swoop."

Schweitzer's career began just as paleontologists started framing their own questions in more multidimensional ways. Until the 1980s, researchers were more likely to be trained in earth science than in biology. They often treated fossils as geologic specimens—mineral structures whose main value lay in showing the skeletal shapes of prehistoric animals. A younger generation of paleontologists, in contrast, has focused on reconstructing intimate details like growth rates and behaviors using modern techniques normally associated with the study of living organisms....

This shifting perspective clicked with Schweitzer's intuitions that dinosaur remains were more than chunks of stone. Once, when she was working with a T. rex skeleton harvested from Hell Creek, she noticed that the fossil exuded a distinctly organic odor. "It smelled just like one of the cadavers we had in the lab who had been treated with chemotherapy before he died," she says. Given the conventional wisdom that such fossils were made up entirely of minerals, Schweitzer was anxious when mentioning this to Horner. "But he said, 'Oh, yeah, all Hell Creek bones smell,'" she says. To most old-line paleontologists, the smell of death didn't even register. To Schweitzer, it meant that traces of life might still cling to those bones. 
Wow, right under their noses! Dinosaur finds at that site were well known to smell like cadavers. Dozens of soft tissue treasures had probably been destroyed over the years, with a treasure of information right under the offended noses of scientists. It took someone with a different perspective to dig into what was really there and reveal something tantalizing. Thank you, Mary Higby Schweitzer!

I also love her approach to science as something that teaches us more about the handiwork and, yes, humor of God. It is exhilarating. 

Mary was lucky to have a supportive and open-minded mentor. Meanwhile, another evangelical Christian was allegedly fired from California State University, Northridge (CSUN) for publishing a peer-reviewed article in Acta Histochemia about his discovery of soft tissue on another dinosaur find, also at Hell Creek. Here is part of the story, as told by CBS Los Angeles:
While at the Hell Creek Formation excavation site in Montana, researcher Mark Armitage discovered what he believed to be the largest triceratops horn ever unearthed at the site, according to attorney Brad Dacus of Pacific Justice Institute.
Upon examination of the horn under a high-powered microscope back at CSUN, Dacus says Armitage was “fascinated” to find soft tissue on the sample – a discovery Bacus said stunned members of the school’s biology department and even some students “because it indicates that dinosaurs roamed the earth only thousands of years in the past rather than going extinct 60 million years ago.”
“Since some creationists, like [Armitage], believe that the triceratops bones are only 4,000 years old at most, [Armitage's] work vindicated his view that these dinosaurs roamed the planet relatively recently,”according to the complaint (PDF) filed July 22 in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The lawsuit against the CSUN board of trustees cites discrimination for perceived religious views.
Armitage’s findings were eventually published in July 2013 in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
According to court documents, shortly after the original soft tissue discovery, a CSUN official told Armitage, “We are not going to tolerate your religion in this department!”
Armitage, a published scientist of over 30 years, was subsequently let go after CSUN abruptly claimed his appointment at the university of 38 months had been temporary, and claimed a lack of funding for his position, according to attorneys.
Perhaps the problem may have been that he wasn't quiet about how this discovery supposedly supported his personal young-earth views. If his claims are correct, it was unfortunate and not a very scientific thing for the university to do. Not surprisingly, scientists and university leaders are humans like everyone else and bring plenty of biases with them in their quest for truth and funding. Sadly, some university systems have become remarkably intolerant of diverging views and enforce uniformity of thought much more than they let on in their P.R. Some pretty extreme abuses happen from time to time. I'm glad Mary Schweitzer's work was able to move forward and shake things up for the good of all of us.

By the way, other scientists think they have an answer for how soft tissue could be preserved so long. Turns out iron nanoparticles might be doing the trick. They seem to have done well in preserving soft tissue during a two-year period already. Just another 50 million years or so before we'll be sure.

Related stories: GodfatherPolitics.com discusses some of the initially negative reactions Mary received for her work.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Border Crisis, Unaccompanied Minors, and the Downside of Compassion

With thousands of unaccompanied minors streaming across the increasingly porous borders of the United States, there is an obvious need for compassion for these children. But compassion comes in many forms and some of them can be destructive. Take, for example, the compassionate US law that motivates families and governments from afar to send children here without their parents and loving relatives to care for them. As the Bush Administration came to a close, there was a compassionate bipartisan effort to sign the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 which had a provision to protect children victims of sex trafficking by making it harder to send them back to their home countries if they were from somewhere besides Mexico and Canada. Local parents and governments in Central American nations seemed to understand this law better than our lawmakers did and have exploited it mightily, sending thousands here knowing that they would be granted asylum and receive the many benefits of being a US resident. Our compassion, unfortunately, is motivating parents to abandon their children. Perhaps it's time for the tougher compassionate that stops the incentives to abandon kids?

Obviously, we must be compassionate when we encounter a child in need. But what happens when that one child at your door becomes 10 children, then 100, then 100,000? The standard compassionate approach in this country is to say that all should be taken in and welcomed--by someone else, with someone else's money. I don't have an easy answer for how to deal with the immediate crisis, except to say that we must also address and repair some of the root issues behind the problem.

There are other downsides to our unbounded border compassion to worry about. While parents abandoning children is deplorable, I can sympathize with local governments that may wish to abandon gang members. Sadly, young gang members are among those who are being welcomed to the U.S., allegedly with no obvious effort to separate out the gangsters. Meanwhile, I worry that the non-gangsters coming here without roots and without parents will be more vulnerable to the lure of violent gangs.

There are still other issues. You might not have noticed, but there are a lot of people in this world that hate America. And not all of them are in Hollywood. Some are in foreign countries that would love to have a chance to come here and create a little havoc. In a world of violence and terrorism, there are good reasons to have tightly controlled borders. An open border where anyone can get in by just walking across the border, or even coming in a scheduled bus, is a security risk with severe potential consequences. Regardless of which party the new immigrants are going to support in future elections, our elected officials need to put our local security as a top priority. Instead of spending billions or trillions to police the world and invade other nations, how about if we get back to protecting our own? It can be done. Bring our troops home. Put some of them on the border. Border security is possible.

The vast majority of the unaccompanied minors coming here are being granted asylum with no serious effort to get them back to their families and communities. They will probably spend their lives here. May they be productive, peaceful lives. Some, we are told, may become the next Steve Jobs and spend their time making and marketing overpriced products that will strengthen the economy and make the world better. Great--but out of fairness to the many other potential Steve Jobs from places like Norway, China, and India who have been waiting for years to get through our ridiculously difficult legal immigration process, perhaps we need to expand our compassion enough to treat everyone a little more equally and ask folks to get in line (while speeding up the legal line). Meanwhile, casually allowing entry to those who wish to bring violence to our streets will make life a lot more difficult for everyone seeking to build, to create, or to just raise families in peace. Let's bless the world with generous legal immigration opportunities for those who wish to love and build up our nation, and protect our borders for the security of all of us.

Yes, show compassion to the children who come here, but make reuniting them with their parents and communities a top priority. There should be no incentives for child abandonment. The law that does that should be swiftly fixed.

At the risk of questionable speculation, I think that the growing threat of gang violence in our cities, amplified by a surge in illegal immigration and loopholes of American compassion, might add plausibility to a puzzling prophecy in the Book of Mormon in 3 Nephi 20:
[15] And I say unto you, that if the Gentiles do not repent after the blessing which they shall receive, after they have scattered my people --
[16] Then shall ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, go forth among them; and ye shall be in the midst of them who shall be many; and ye shall be among them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, and as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he goeth through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.
Also see 3 Nephi 21:
[12] And my people who are a remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, yea, in the midst of them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.
[13] Their hand shall be lifted up upon their adversaries, and all their enemies shall be cut off.
[14] Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots;
[15] And I will cut off the cities of thy land, and throw down all thy strongholds....
My reading of the statements of Christ in 3 Nephi 20 and 21 is that the descendants of some of the original peoples in the Americas (who, yes, are descended from Jacob, even if the percentage of Hebraic ancestry is very small due to an abundance of Asiatic DNA also present) will be a source of great trouble for some American cities, though many of them will also be converted and help build up the kingdom of God and be part of the New Jerusalem to come. I'm really not sure what to make of the prophecies and there are many ways they could be fulfilled, but it's interesting to see that what once sounded like a remote and improbable event could be realistically fulfilled in light of ongoing events. There is a genuine threat looming from the weapons being accumulated by gangs and from their swelling ranks. Drug-related violence from gangs is destroying too many communities south of the border (or rather, south of the line formerly known as "the border"), and I don't think US cities have even begun to see how devastating that can become.

Of course, the ultimate answer to most problems is not in law and armies, but in the Gospel. Whatever policies our nation adopts, let us love those who are in our midst, documented or not, and give those who wish the opportunity to receive the blessings of the Gospel. In so doing, may families be strengthened and may children be kept with their parents wherever possible. Meanwhile, may our Gentile cities take a cue from 3 Nephi 20 and 21 and recognize the real lesson there: repent and follow Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

LDS.org Offers "Gospel Topics" Section on the Historicity and Translation of the Book of Abraham

Among the growing body of helpful and carefully researched topics discussed in the "Gospel Topics" section of the LDS.org website, the Church has recently provided a statement that addresses some common concerns regarding the Book of Abraham and its translation. "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham" shares information drawn from some leading LDS scholars about how we obtained the Book of Abraham and how it relates to the small set of fragments from the larger collection of original scrolls that Joseph had (most of which were apparently destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871). The relatively brief statement with 46 footnotes makes several important points. It reminds us that we do not know how the translation was done. The article mentions several possibilities that have been proposed, such as direct translation from one of the scrolls or transmission of the document directly by revelation wherein the physical manuscripts Joseph had may have served as something of a catalyst, perhaps for revelation giving a related but more ancient source.

Here is a section of the statement addressing the relationship between the Book of Abraham and the text on the recovered fragments, including the non-Abraham-related text around Facsimile 1, which is often cited as proof that the Book of Abraham is a fraud (references omitted):
Of course, the fragments do not have to be as old as Abraham for the book of Abraham and its illustrations to be authentic. Ancient records are often transmitted as copies or as copies of copies. The record of Abraham could have been edited or redacted by later writers much as the Book of Mormon prophet-historians Mormon and Moroni revised the writings of earlier peoples. Moreover, documents initially composed for one context can be repackaged for another context or purpose. Illustrations once connected with Abraham could have either drifted or been dislodged from their original context and reinterpreted hundreds of years later in terms of burial practices in a later period of Egyptian history. The opposite could also be true: illustrations with no clear connection to Abraham anciently could, by revelation, shed light on the life and teachings of this prophetic figure.

Some have assumed that the hieroglyphs adjacent to and surrounding facsimile 1 must be a source for the text of the book of Abraham. But this claim rests on the assumption that a vignette and its adjacent text must be associated in meaning. In fact, it was not uncommon for ancient Egyptian vignettes to be placed some distance from their associated commentary.

Neither the Lord nor Joseph Smith explained the process of translation of the book of Abraham, but some insight can be gained from the Lord’s instructions to Joseph regarding translation. In April 1829, Joseph received a revelation for Oliver Cowdery that taught that both intellectual work and revelation were essential to translating sacred records. It was necessary to “study it out in your mind” and then seek spiritual confirmation. Records indicate that Joseph and others studied the papyri and that close observers also believed that the translation came by revelation. As John Whitmer observed, “Joseph the Seer saw these Record[s] and by the revelation of Jesus Christ could translate these records.”

It is likely futile to assess Joseph’s ability to translate papyri when we now have only a fraction of the papyri he had in his possession. Eyewitnesses spoke of “a long roll” or multiple “rolls” of papyrus. Since only fragments survive, it is likely that much of the papyri accessible to Joseph when he translated the book of Abraham is not among these fragments. The loss of a significant portion of the papyri means the relationship of the papyri to the published text cannot be settled conclusively by reference to the papyri.

Alternatively, Joseph’s study of the papyri may have led to a revelation about key events and teachings in the life of Abraham, much as he had earlier received a revelation about the life of Moses while studying the Bible. This view assumes a broader definition of the words translator and translation. According to this view, Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.
I personally don't like the catalysis theory and don't think it is necessary to deal with some of the issues in the Book of Abraham, but it is one of several commonly discussed possibilities.

The article also discusses evidence for the authenticity of the text, mentioning a few of the interesting finds where the text as well as Joseph's comments on the facsimiles have been shown to have surprising and interesting support. The "hits" mentioned are far from exhaustive but should be sufficient to give pause to those who have been told that the Book of Abraham is a complete fabrication without a shred of evidence to support it.

Related resources: LDSFAQ page on the Book of Abraham, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3: Evidences for the Book of Abraham.

Update, July 16, 2014: A related article is "New Gospel Topics Essay: 'Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham.'" In addition to some useful points about the evidence for the Book of Abraham and other aspects of the Gospel Topics article, there is an intriguing observation about some of the sources relied on in the Church's statement:
As an aside, I also find it significant that this essay cited material from both “classic FARMS” publications, such as Hugh Nibley’s The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, as well as Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. This would seem to indicate, I believe, that the claim, made by some, that the Church is trying to distance itself from these materials should be accepted with a bit of skepticism.
If you're not a fan of The Mormon Interpreter, head over there and start digging in. Useful and intelligent material for LDS readers and investigators.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Kate Kelly, Ordain Women, and Foxconn: The Importance of Asking Questions

Kate Kelly's story as presented in the media is a compelling one, stirring and resonating with the emotions of many. A lone woman stands up to a big male-dominated organization, daring to prod and just ask questions, for which she is cruelly punished by being excommunicated from the Church she loves. Indeed, this brave woman is apparently treated so poorly as she is tossed out that the only words she can use to describe the actions of her bishop and others is "abuse" and "cruelty." How dare they excommunicate her for "apostasy" when she has not been teaching any doctrine, just asking questions?

Her Ordain Women movement, at least in its earlier incarnation, can be said to raise issues worthy of discussion. But for a story about a woman just asking questions, I fear that many people are forgetting to ask some questions of their own.

This lack of questioning and the ready acceptance of a stance that plays well with the media and with our emotions, reminds me of another seemingly brave lone individual, Mike Daisey, who dared to stand up against another so-called bully, Foxconn, the gargantuan Asian company that makes most of Apple's products in massive factories in China. (My purpose in pointing to Daisey's story is to highlight the tendency of the media to not ask too many questions when they like the story and dislike the big entity being criticized. I am not suggesting that Kate is another Mike Daisey.)

Daisey became famous for telling and retelling a gripping story of his personal encounters with Foxconn in China in 2010 where he allegedly saw evidence of child labor and abuse of employees. His story was told dramatically in a theatrical performance he did for many audiences, "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." This was a hit with the media. In 2012, he was interviewed in a lengthy program for NPR's popular This American Life, where he again told his story and levied many charges of abuse against Foxconn. That broadcast would become the most downloaded podcast in the rich history of This American Life so far. It resonated with audiences, pulled at their heartstrings, and confirmed many concerns they had about China and big companies.

The story was vetted by NPR's team before going on the air, but there was a little glitch in the process. The journalists there, like just about every Western journalist that repeated Daisey's story, failed to ask some basic questions. Questions like, "What, there are armed guards at Foxconn in China? I thought guns are completely banned in China except for the police and the army. How can there be armed guards?" Or perhaps, "Really? The poor local workers at Foxconn have their union meetings at Starbucks? That's an elite, expensive place in China. Are you sure?"

As far as I know, the first journalist who stood up to ask some tough questions of his own was an American in Shanghai, Robert Schmitz, an outstanding journalist that I met in 2012 after a lecture here in Shanghai where I live. He recognized that many parts of Daisey's story didn't fit reality, so he tracked down the translator Daisey had used and asked her what they saw and experienced. Turns out that much of what Daisey reported was made up. Schmitz did the work of a real journalist and let Ira Glass of NPR know. Embarrassed, Glass brought Daisey back on the show, and then introduced him to Schmitz, to asked tough questions live on the air. It was a devastating moment. Daisey's story did not fairly reflect reality, but was driven by an agenda and was shaped as the fruit of his craft. Even the true parts of it were crafted and spun to play upon our emotions and manipulate audiences into disliking Foxconn.

Craft. That's a word we don't consider very often when we are hearing stories we like in the media. But it's fair to recognize that some people have an agenda and a craft to pursue, and that craft and craftiness can be used to manipulate us, our emotions, and our reasoning. It is especially hard to ask these questions when what we are hearing confirms our own biases (and yes, this cuts both ways!). It is also hard when we are convinced that the source of a highly biased story is completely sincere, as Kate probably is. But craft can be a dangerous thing, even in the hands of sincere people. (The craft need not be hers or hers alone. It can also be particularly powerful in the hands of activists in the media or other parts of society who have an agenda to pursue and find Kate useful.)

The craft of lawyers, for example, can turn mere questions into a powerful tool to attack and destroy. A few minutes of cross-examination with suitable craft can discredit and shame some witnesses, even truthful ones, scoring far more points than a lengthy speech haranguing them.

The power of "mere questions" is illustrated in the scriptures. Questions were a tool of choice of the lawyerly Pharisees that opposed Christ. They were the tool of choice of the actual lawyers in Ammonihah that sought to discredit Alma and Amulek. "Will ye answer me a few questions which I shall ask you?" (Alma 11:21) was the opening query from a lawyer in a group of lawyers in Ammonihah that would be part of an unmistakable attack on the Nephite faith, hell-bent on destruction.

Alma and Amulek would eventually be freed from prison, but scores of believers would perish in the flames ignited by those once just posing questions (see Alma 14). For any lawyer to suggest there is no agenda, no attack, no malice involved because they are "just asking questions" is disingenuous. The questions don't have to be of the overt, "Are you still abusing children or not?" kind to be pointed attacks nonetheless. Kate may sincerely fail to see that what she is doing constitutes an attack on the Church and its leadership, but I feel it's a genuine attack nonetheless.

Lawyers can do a lot of good for the world, but at times, lawyers can spin coherent tales via questions, websites, rallies, and other teachings--yes, teachings--to achieve their objectives, sometimes at the cost of fairness. Lawyer Kate Kelly's story will be told and retold by sympathetic journalists without doing the digging and questioning that used to characterize journalism. While Kate can publicly criticize her bishop for not meeting with her, for not seeking to understand her, and for being cruel and abusive in how he handled her Church court, the bishop's side of the story is not going to be told. Bishops tend to keep those things confidential. We are only left with Kelly's words (see, for example, the video interview associated with an article at the Salt Lake Tribune). But her words raise some important questions.

Here are some questions that you may wish to ask:
  1. Kate, if you have tried to be supportive of the Church and Church leaders rather than opposing them, what do you mean when you ask your supporters still in the Church to "raise hell" in the Church?
  2. Kate, if you are pained that your actions would be viewed as apostasy because you aren't teaching any kind of doctrine or making statement contrary to Church policies, what do you think about Ordain Women's mission statement, which insists that "women must be ordained." That seems like more than just a question, but a bold statement directly contradicting Church teachings. Or does that somehow not qualify as a teaching, doctrine, or policy?
  3. Could you be overlooking some efforts of your Church leaders to meet with you or reach out to you in the past? Are you sure that it's fair to call them cruel and abusive?
I was hopeful that Kate Kelly would take a more respectful and moderate approach in her influential efforts. I am more than merely pained to see her urging her followers inside the Church to "raise hell" from within. I am worried that a lot of people are letting their emotions get the better of them and not asking a few questions of their own now about Kate's agenda and the spinning of her arguments about the Church.

Kate has said that almost no one in the Church is in the middle. She's either viewed as a hero or as the "devil incarnate." I think that fails to recognize how many people are open to discussion. There are many who might have been in the middle, at least initially, and interested in the dialog, though not with the current demands and accusations. Latter-day Saints generally recognize that we don't have all truth and that much remains to be revealed. We recognize that some things can change and change dramatically. We recognize that the LDS temple, which I believe to be inspired of God, makes reference to the future role of men and women in heaven as "priests and priestesses," with intriguing implications about Priesthood. But many of us also recognize that it is not for us to dictate what changes happen when, or what will be revealed and how. We are uncomfortable with the tactics of confrontation and accusation, even if initially dressed as merely asking questions. Some of us worry that behind the emotionally appealing media messages, there might be a bit too much craft.

Could this be another case of lawyers versus faith? That's one of the tough questions that we should at least be willing to consider as we look at the evidence and digest what's happening.

Kate, if you have been misunderstood, if you do have sincere intent to strengthen the Church and not fight against it or weaken the faith of others, and if your excommunication was in error, then I hope you will succeed in having your membership restored and being an active and supportive part of the Church in the future.

Yes, errors can happen in excommunication. I once took up the case of a woman I felt was excommunicated in error and guided her and testified in her behalf during her appeal, and we prevailed. It was a difficult case, a controversial one unfortunately, but I have often felt that standing up for her was one of the more important moments in my life. Church leaders can recognize error and listen, and if that is the case here, may the Lord bless all of you in resolving this matter. But at the risk of possibly sounding like her bishop, I'll add this: It would help allay my fears if Kate would retract or soften the in-your-face statements, tone down the accusations of abuse and cruelty against her bishop and the Church, and encourage her followers to build up the Kingdom of God rather than raise hell. There's just something about raising hell that I find inconsistent with what we're trying to do in the Church.

Before people reject the Church and its leaders because of the apparent injustice to Kate Kelly, I suggest asking whether there might be other ways of looking at this matter. A touch of additional faith and patience might help you keep that which is precious and find better ways to cope with that which may be painful.