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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Unncessary Attacks, Part 2: In Defense of Grant Hardy

My previous post responded to Duane Boyce's critique of some modern LDS scholars who pointed to the fallibility of human leaders in the Church in ways that Boyce felt were egregious and irresponsible. Since then, Boyce has published Part Two of "A Lengthening Shadow: Is Quality of Thought Deteriorating in LDS Scholarly Discourse Regarding Prophets and Revelation?"
where his target is Grant Hardy's impressive work, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

I felt the tone of Part 2 was an improvement over Part 1. But flaws in the approach remain that I wish to address, for I feel that Hardy's book, in spite of some flaws, is a genuinely important and faithful work on the Book of Mormon in which analysis of easily missed subtleties in the text help us see and better understand the distinct and ancient voices who produced various parts of the Book of Mormon text.

Hardy's analysis of Nephi's voice seems to offend Boyce for it suggests that Nephi was not simply regurgitating the words of God, other prophets, and angels, but reveals some of his own feelings, perspectives, and even agendas. Hardy's analysis of how Nephi presents and interprets the tree of life vision, for example, is said to be horrifically flawed. Hardy sees in Nephi's account a brother who emphasized hell and judgement in teaching his abusive elder brothers, at whose hand he and Jacob had suffered for years, whereas father Lehi does not focus on the same details and instead is more of a tender parent fearful that two of his dear sons might not have the joy that God offers them.

However, Boyce’s analysis of the tree of life in his critique of Hardy seems to overlook some crucial points. Boyce seems to want things to be neatly classified as black and white, such that the tree of life either means the very tree John saw, or the specific tree Adam encountered. Connections to both are improperly ruled out. The broad significance of the tree of life in the ancient Near East (and Book of Mormon) is overlooked.

After noting the relationship between the tree of life in Nephi’s vision and Mary and the coming of Christ, Boyce says: “The idea of life — indeed, of divine life — permeates the account. These elements of the record make it easy to imagine Nephi’s referring to the tree he sees as the ‘tree of life,’ independent of the tree in the Garden of Eden. Nephi explicitly saw what John saw of a ‘tree of life’ — a tree that represented spiritual abundance and glory and that was associated with living waters. Moreover, even what he saw of Lehi’s tree served as a forceful and holy symbol of the bestowal of life.” [emphasis added]

But how does Boyce jump from parallels to John’s tree of life to the claim that Nephi’s tree is “independent of the tree in the Garden of Eden”? The tree of life is a well-known ancient theme, or complex of themes, that permeated wisdom literature and abounded throughout the Near East in art and literature. That term is used multiple times in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Both Christian and Jewish writings link it not only to fruit but also to waters and to life, including divine life. I cannot imagine an ancient Jewish or early Christian writer such as Nephi or John or Lehi speaking of the “tree of life” without understanding and intending connections to various well known aspects of that ancient theme.

Boyce writes as if the Genesis tree of life cannot possibly have been invoked by Nephi because his tree has strong parallels to John’s tree of life, but John’s tree of life cannot be separated from that of the Old Testament. His tree may be different or used for a different purpose, but the concept is overtly similar: a divine tree with fruit that brings life. They are part of the same complex of themes.

Neglecting the basic knowledge and extensive scholarship on this point raises serious questions about the methodology in Boyce’s black-and-white effort approach that seeks to paint LDS scholars with interesting insights as egregiously wrong. It’s OK to disagree with their interpretations and some may go too far, but the reasons given in the tree of life discussion seem highly flawed.

By way of background, see Wilford Grigg, “The Tree of Life in Ancient Cultures,” from the June 1988 Ensign. It’s an excellent overview of how that theme rooted in Genesis plays a vital in later Jewish and Christian thought. See also Daniel Peterson’s famous work, “Nephi and His Asherah,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 16–25, 80–81. Also just consider Genesis 2 and other OT references to the tree of life to see that it is likewise associated with water and, of course, life (Gen. 2:9-10, and Prov. 13:10-12 with a fountain of life and tree of life). Also consider, among many works that could be cited, Roland E. Murphy, The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature, 3rd ed. (Frand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1990), Kindle edition. An excerpt follows:
Within the Hebrew Bible itself, the wisdom literature is exciting, because it deals directly with life . The sages of Israel did not share the same interest in the saving interventions of the Lord as did the Deuteronomistic historians. Their concern was the present, and how to cope with the challenges provoked by one's immediate experience. Their intensity often equalled that of the Deuteronomists (cf. Deut 4–11, esp. texts like 4:1, 6:1–9). The choice between life and death which Moses dramatically places before Israel in Deut 30:15–30 is reechoed in the sages' emphasis on life. The life-death situation is expressed positively in the image of "the tree of life." Wisdom "is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; fortunate are they who embrace her" (Prov 3:18). This image was well known from its appearance in Genesis: the first dwellers in the garden were kept from that tree lest they live forever (Gen 2:9, 3:22–24). In a vivid turn of metaphor, wisdom has become the tree of life and is personified as a woman: "Long life is in her right hand—in her left, riches and honor" (Prov 3:16). She can boast that the one who finds her finds life (Prov 8:35), and the one who fails is ultimately in love with … death (8:36). (Kindle edition, "Foreword," loc. 52)
And later:
The teaching of the wise [in Proverbs] is "a fountain of life" (13:14); this is also applied to "fear of the Lord" (14:27), which is also the beginning of wisdom. The symbols of fountain and tree of life are frequent: 10:11; 16:22; 3:18; 11:30; 13:12. (Kindle edition, p. 28 loc. 731; emphasis added)
I don’t think one can fairly claim that whatever Nephi and Lehi said about the tree can possibly be “independent” of the Genesis account and the many interrelated themes and concepts. That John and Nephi associate water with the tree does not exclude a connection to the tree of life in the Old Testament.

Boyce’s claim is even further undercut by Lehi’s own words recorded by Nephi a few chapters later when he expressly addresses the tree of life in the Garden of Eden in 2 Nephi 2:15. These teachings of Lehi in the discourse with his call of repentance to his wayward sons have a purpose similar to the purpose taught by Lehi’s dream of the tree, and the connection simply cannot be denied.

This connection should be overwhelmingly clear by Nephi’s reference to a flaming sword associated with his tree, obviously and remarkably similar to the flaming sword the Lord uses in Genesis 3 to keep Adam away from the tree of life. Boyce seems to turn to special pleading to deny the significance of the connection, while grudgingly admitting that there is a superficial similarity(!). Again, he points to the existence of some differences to deny a connection: “The first feature that creates a difficulty is the dissimilarity that exists between the two fiery elements. Whereas the fire and sword Nephi sees specifically represent the justice of God — and explicitly separate the wicked from the righteous and from God — this is not true of the fiery sword in the Garden of Eden. The Genesis account does not frame Adam and Eve as wicked, and its fiery element does not represent the justice of God: it is a flaming sword that merely prevents Adam and Eve from partaking of the tree and living forever. That both accounts have fiery elements, therefore, is only weak evidence that the fire Nephi sees puts him in mind of the tree in the Garden of Eden.”

The fiery sword protecting the tree of life has become merely a “fiery element” shared perhaps by chance alone with Nephi’s vision. We are to dismiss the connection–when the mere use of the term “tree of life” is ample evidence of a connection to the well known tree of life theme, and the specific use of a fiery sword should remove all doubt. Hardy has a very plausible point, and what becomes implausible if not egregiously wrong is the effort to deny a connection. The methodology Boyce applies leaves me perplexed.

Boyce makes a valid point in noting a significant weakness in Hardy’s use of 1 Nephi 15:36, “the wicked are rejected from the righteous, and also from that tree of life” (1 Nephi 15:36). The word “rejected” probably should be “separated” which undermines one supporting argument from Hardy but does not demolish his point about Nephi’s view relative to Lehi’s. Hardy offers a footnote observing that Skousen proposes it should be “separated.” This is not enough for Boyce, who cries foul since Hardy has failed to let Skousen’s conclusion change his mind (after relying on Skousen’s proposed changes elsewhere) and insists that Hardy is guilty of error in this manner.

While I personally respect Skousen’s work and rely on it heavily, there is irony in Boyce’s argument that needs to be noted. Some of the irony is that the very mistake he accuses Hardy of making, connecting the tree of life in Nephi’s account to that of Genesis 2, has been rather naturally made by other LDS leaders in various talks and sermons, and even the footnotes in the current printing of the Book of Mormon for 1 Nephi connects the term “tree of life” to Gen. 2:9.

There is further irony. According to Boyce, Hardy’s error here is in relying on the wording from the official LDS canon (“rejected”), the wording that has been approved by leaders of the Church instead of fully accepting an alternative (“separated”) proposed by an LDS scholar in an unofficial, uncanonized but highly scholastic work. I agree with Boyce that this should have been addressed more fully in the text and not merely observed in a footnote, but feel Boyce’s protest is too harsh here. Isn’t Boyce’s argument highlighting a case where human fallibility among leaders has resulted in an alleged error in the scriptures that LDS scholarship may now help correct? If such errors don’t matter because prophets are virtually infallible in all things that are important, can Hardy’s apparent error actually matter?

In other words, in Parts 1 and 2 Boyce condemns scholars who imply prophets are fallible in ways that might actually matter. He also condemns scholars who offer new readings of scripture that may highlight human weakness in prophets or otherwise depart from teachings of some leaders in the Church. But then he condemns Hardy for an argument that draws upon the wording in the official, canonized version of the Book of Mormon instead of fully accepting an alternative in wording proposed by an LDS scholar in an academic work that has not been canonized and that inherently points to the existence of possible error in the canon that the prophets have given us. Is this not a touch of irony that should help the author soften his stance a bit? Is Hardy’s problem relying too much on the official wording rather than a scholar’s revision?

A further problem is Boyce’s view that Nephi’s words to his brothers about the vision he had cannot reflect his own views since he is merely an intermediary passing on what he learned from an angel and from Lehi. This seems out of touch with the basics of human conversation and certainly scholarship on the ways in which a text or story can be shaped by the teller for the teller’s own purposes. I can add a touch of my own views just in the way I read a fixed text out loud, choosing where to pause, what to emphasize, what to brush through quickly. But when I can paraphrase or retell a story in my own words, then I can dramatically inject my own views and attitudes, whether intentional or not. This should be obvious and is something that LDS students should know especially well as they consider the different ways Joseph shaped his First Vision account or the different ways Alma’s dramatic conversion story is told.

Further, many of us should know from family experiences that the attitude of a parent toward a rebellious child is often greatly different than the attitude of a well-behaved sibling who has suffered at the hands of the rebel. It is insufficient to deny this by saying that Nephi is just an intermediary or merely “answering questions.” Answering questions is the ideal way to teach our views and achieve our objectives in a conversation, whether we are conscious of that or not. Boyce’s insistence that Hardy is wrong because Nephi is just passing on Lehi’s vision or an angel’s words and is merely answering questions does nothing to undermine Hardy. I am surprised that this line of argumentation is pursued.

Hardy helps us see that Nephi’s own text provides subtle clues about this very plausible and natural difference in attitudes. Seeing it through the lens Hardy offers should not make us feel threatened by the possibility of Nephi having human weakness and frustrations that may have shaped his tone and message. Rather, Hardy’s lens helps us see in remarkably subtle ways that there are different voices and different authors in the Book of Mormon, indeed, real people, and the result is a nuanced, beautiful text that is deeper and more plausible that we had previously realized. Nephi and Jacob, for example, are very different in tone and style, but both are plausible examples of men who have suffered much at the hands of their brethren. One struggles with anger (2 Nephi 4) at his “enemies,” while the other seems to have become highly sensitive from his years of abuse. Meanwhile, Lehi is a tender parent doing all he can to love and rescue his wayward sons. Nephi speaks of justice and punishment for his enemies, while Lehi speaks of fear that his wicked sons may be lost. Those clues are there and need not be so vigorously denied because they do not undermine Nephi or prophethood or the Book of Mormon after all.

Building in such subtlety and plausibility that only now is being noticed would have been a remarkable task for young Joseph dictating from a hat. What Hardy offers is powerful evidence of Book of Mormon authenticity. Some of Hardy’s points may be weak at times, but the overall approach is one of refined and noteworthy scholarship from a faithful writer deserving more praise than condemnatory nitpicking.

I agree that scholars sometimes go too far in advancing their theories and sometimes fail to emphasize how speculative some suggestions may be. But Hardy's approach does not deserve to be treated as an example of blatant, fallacious, misleading material reflecting dangerous attitudes and a loss of real scholarship in the Church. His work deserves to be treated with more fairness.

The personal insights Hardy brings out regarding Nephi's stance and agenda resonates well with more recent scholarship on the evolution over time in Nephi's use of chiasmus. See Dennis Newton, "Nephi’s Use of Inverted Parallels," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 22 (2016): 79-106. Newton explores the large chiasmuses from Nephi, 15 in total, and sees an evolution in his themes. Nephi initially emphasizes obedience in his more extensive chiasmuses, but near the end of his writings he has shifted to focus on grace and the love of Christ. In light of Newton's analysis, Hardy's position seems all the more plausible: the early Nephi may have naturally preached obedience and keeping the commandments to his wayward brothers, coupled with an emphasis on the punishments they faced for their sins, while the more mature Nephi may finished his final chapters with a deeper understanding of the grace of Christ and a fuller appreciation of the love of God that the tree of life represented. Even prophets must learn and progress, and we may see some of this in Nephi's own writings.

Addendum, Aug. 1, 2017: Suppressing or Ignoring Evidence from Skousen? 

Boyce’s comments regarding Hardy’s alleged double-standard in his use of Skousen’s Critical Text also require a response. Boyce states:
Reliance on the word rejected in this part of Hardy’s argument, then, is an error. The truth about the language in this verse, far from serving as evidence for Hardy’s view about Nephi’s condemning and justice-oriented tone, actually serves as compelling evidence against it.
Additional Error. There is an additional layer to this error. After all, Hardy is familiar with Skousen’s textual change from “rejected” to “separated.” It is something he acknowledges in an endnote. What he does not do, however, is allow this alteration to affect his argument. This is surprising. Throughout his volume Hardy refers to Skousen’s textual changes and in each instance he accepts Skousen’s modification. In this case, however, while acknowledging in an endnote Nephi’s use of the word separated rather than rejected, Hardy proceeds in the text with his characterization of Nephi as if this correction didn’t exist — or at least as if it didn’t matter.
It does matter, though. Hardy’s characterization of Nephi as exclusionary and condemning depends in no small measure on the appearance of the word rejected in this particular passage. When Hardy discovers this is the wrong word, one would therefore expect him to identify this passage as a counterexample to his thesis about Nephi and address it in some way. What we do not expect is what Hardy actually does: ignore the disabling effect this correction has on his argument altogether.
This suggests a highly unfair, perhaps even unethical handling of Skousen, but that charge is questionable. Where does Hardy show signs that any of Skousen’s changes have changed or served as the basis of his argument? What does Boyce mean with “Throughout his volume Hardy refers to Skousen’s textual changes and in each instance he accepts Skousen’s modification”?

In the Kindle edition of Hardy’s book, it is easy to search for “Skousen” and thus one can see that he is mentioned only 3 times in the body of the text, outside of endnotes. First is in the Acknowledgements (loc. 47). Then comes a mention on page 67, where a table of 4 Isaiah verses from the KJV are compared to the Critical Text’s version of the Book of Mormon to illustrate something about the translation process, not anything relevant to Hardy’s arguments about Nephi or other Book of Mormon prophets. And finally comes another mention right after that table, still on page 67, noting that Skousen estimates that about 1/3 of the changes relative to the KJV involve italicized words. And that’s it. All other references to Skousen are in the endnotes (chapter notes), with little indication that any of his arguments depend on Skousen’s proposed changes, though there are many interesting and sometimes quite academic insights.

When Hardy discusses the fiery sword keeping mortals away from the tree of life, it is only in an endnote (#32 on p. 54) where we learn that Skousen proposes “sword” should replace “word” in 1 Nephi 12:18. I think that is an important observation that greatly strengthens Hardy’s argument, and wish it had been given more emphasis in the body of the text, but he discusses that merely as a quiet observation in an endnote, just as he observes in the next endnote (#33 on p. 54) that Skousen offers a proposed change that undermines Hardy’s point about the wicked being “rejected” (versus Skousen’s “separated”) from the tree of life.

Those are the only two changes in wording from Skousen’s Critical Text that appear to have significant bearing on Hardy’s arguments, one significantly strengthening part of an argument and one undermining an aspect of an argument, and both are handled the same way–fairly. Both are cited in an endnote. This cannot fairly be characterized as unethical. I don't think it is proper to say that Hardy acts “as if this correction didn’t exist” when he gives it just as much weight as a similar change that greatly strengthens his argument? Boyce seems to error when he says that Hardy fails to identify Skousen’s proposed change and that he has chosen to “ignore the disabling effect this correction has on his argument altogether” when in fact he has identified Skousen’s proposed correction and has not ignored it at all, but given it just as much weight as a proposed correction in his favor.

Hardy’s book was written nearly 10 years ago and published in 2010. Skousen’s work was not so widely known and accepted then as it is now, and it was a sign of good scholarship that Hardy was citing Skousen and paying attention to the details of that scholarship already at that time. But his tendency is to rely on the canon that we have, leaving the details of a scholar’s proposed changes for endnotes. And for this, for failure to value Skousen over the canonized text, we are to accuse Hardy of grave error in failing to rely properly on the prophets instead of LDS scholarship?

The other references in endnotes to proposed textual changes from Skousen include endnote 13 from page 40 (the note itself occurs on p. 268) which tells us that 1 Nephi 3:16 has the singular “commandment” in Skousen’s Critical Text versus “commandments” in the current printing, which is consistent with a minor argument made by Hardy, but not of great import. Another minor observation from Skousen’s Critical Text is found in a note regarding 1 Nephi 19:4 (note 23, p. 47). Another minor observation is made regarding 1 Nephi 9:4 in endnote 24 on p. 47 (“reigns of the kings” vs. “reign of the kings”), which has little impact on Hardy’s arguments.

A proposed change is also found in endnote 37 on p. 56 which has little impact on Hardy’s point about 2 Nephi 4:26 (Skousen proposes that “visited men” should be “visited me”).
In the section on Mormon, Hardy in endnote 1 on p. 89 observes a minor change proposed by Skousen with no obvious bearing on the analysis of the verse considered (Jacob 7:26). Other revisions noted without significant bearing on his argument include endnote 45 on p. 80, endnote 3 on p. 90, endnote 12 on p. 102, endnote 14 on p. 103, a minor insight from Original Manuscript in endnote 44 from p. 142, a minor issue in endnote 28 on p. 171, another in endnote 44 of p. 206, endnote 52 on p. 211, endnote 2 on p. 219, endnote 14 on p. 227, endnote 22 on p. 236, and endnote 7 on p. 268. These are provided for the reader’s information and aren’t necessarily accepted or rejected.
Nearly all of the endnotes discussing Skousen’s work are there for completeness and don’t affect the argument Hardy is making. Skousen’s proposed alternative is directly relevant in only two cases, in my opinion, and both are handled in the same way. There is no sign of a double standard or unethical cherry picking that Boyce alleges, in my opinion.

If Hardy were actually suppressing evidence, he could have simply left out the footnote where he explains Skousen’s offers “separated” instead of “rejected.” But he treats that case the same way he treats a proposed change that strengthens his argument: it’s placed in a footnote, while the main body of the text relies on the canonized text. It’s evenhanded and fair — unlike the harsh treatment Hardy receives in this paper. I feel an apology, retraction, or correction of some kind is warranted. Boyce is trying to strengthen the faith and encourage acceptance of prophets and the canon, but the methodology here seems seriously flawed. I hope Part 3 will reflect careful corrections to ensure it more fully complies with the high standards that the Interpreter seeks to follow.

Concluding Note
Finally, let me remind readers that in spite of my strong disagreement with conclusions and methodology, Boyce is sincerely seeking to strengthen the faith and thinking of Latter-day Saints, and I apologize if my own tone in challenging him is too harsh. He makes numerous points that many readers might perceive as well reasoned and intelligent. But I think that at least some of his targets do not deserve the criticism he levies, and in his passionate effort to condemn sloppy LDS scholarship, has made some unfortunate errors in scholarship himself.

Such errors are easy to make, and I have made similar errors in my own writings where I miss a key point or misunderstand a source I criticize. I hope the explanation of apparent errors will result in some revisions, at least in the forthcoming Part 3, and some form of acknowledgement to temper what has been said so far, so that noteworthy and faithful LDS scholars may be more fairly characterized.

Monday, July 24, 2017

An Unnecessary Attack on Faithful LDS Scholars: Does Prophetic Fallibility Matter?

A faithful call to respect the prophets and take them more seriously is the intent of Duane Boyce’s article just published at the Interpreter. See Duane Boyce, “A Lengthening Shadow: Is Quality of Thought Deteriorating in LDS Scholarly Discourse Regarding Prophets and Revelation? Part One,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 26 (2017): 1-49. While I agree with much of Boyce’s intent and likewise affirm the reality of divine revelation given through living prophets and apostles, I feel some tempering is needed. Indeed, I feel more respect for the men he targets may be due. I also feel they may have been seriously misunderstood. Some of the mistakes he labels as egregious blunders may be much more plausible or even acceptable than he realizes, and may reflect a faithful and reasonable reading of the scriptures as well as of history and the human condition. The problems are serious enough that I feel the article should be revised at a minimum.

Boyce is concerned with the teachings of LDS scholars on the issue of prophets and revelation, where he bemoans “a general deterioration of thought … in LDS scholarly discourse.” He warns that some LDS scholars, even though they may be widely considered to be highly faithful, are making grave errors in what they teach. In his article, he focuses on Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason, who have gone dangerously afoul and undercut the faith and trust we need to have in prophetic words, actions, and policies. His main target in Part 1 is Givens:
To begin, consider a single paragraph by Terryl Givens [citing Terryl L. Givens, “Letter to a Doubter,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 4 (2013): 131-146]. In it he desires to show that we should not expect moral superiority from men called as prophets — they are not “infallible specimens of virtue and perfection.” As partial support for the obviousness of this claim, Givens draws attention to the Lord’s statement to the infant Church, regarding Joseph Smith, that “thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments” and that “his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:4–5). Givens quotes only the phrase “in all patience and faith” in this passage, however, remarking that “God would not have enjoined us to hear what prophets, seers, and revelators have to say ‘in all patience and faith’ if their words were always sage and inspired.” Givens thus interprets this passage to indicate that we are to have patience and faith toward the Brethren since they are not always “sage and inspired.”

Givens has made this claim more than once… [here he cites Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens, Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2014), Kindle location 1396, which is inside Chapter 6, “On Delegation and Discipleship: The Ring of Pharaoh”].
Boyce’s lengthy article would only be slightly longer and more fair if it reproduced the “single paragraph” that Boyce mentions and condemns. That paragraph provides important context and examples that undercut some aspects of Boyce’s stance. Here it is (Terryl L. Givens, “Letter to a Doubter,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 4 (2013): 131-146; quotation from 134–136):
1. The Prophetic Mantle
Abraham deceived Abimelech about his relationship with Sarah. Isaac deceived Esau and stole both his birthright and his blessing (but maybe that’s okay because he is a patriarch and not a prophet, strictly speaking). Moses took glory unto himself at the waters of Meribah and lost his ticket to the promised land as a result. He was also guilty of manslaughter and covered up his crime. Jonah ignored the Lord’s call, then later whined and complained because God didn’t burn Nineveh to the ground as He had threatened. It doesn’t get a lot better in the New Testament. Paul rebuked Peter sharply for what he called cowardice and hypocrisy in his refusal to embrace the gentiles as equals. Then Paul got into a sharp argument with fellow apostle Barnabas, and they parted company. So where on earth do we get the notion that modern-day prophets are infallible specimens of virtue and perfection? Joseph said emphatically, “I don’t want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous.” To remove any possibility of doubts, he canonized those scriptures in which he is rebuked for his inconstancy and weakness. Most telling of all is section 124:1, in which this pervasive pattern is acknowledged and explained: “for unto this end have I raised you up, that I might show forth my wisdom through the weak things of the earth” (D & C 124:1; emphasis added). Air-brushing our prophets, past or present, is a wrenching of the scriptural record and a form of idolatry. God specifically said he called weak vessels so that we wouldn’t place our faith in their strength or power, but in God’s. Most crippling, however, are the false expectations this paradigm sets up: When Pres. Woodruff said the Lord would never suffer his servants to lead the people astray, we can only reasonably interpret that statement to mean that the prophets will not teach us any soul-destroying doctrine—not that they will never err. President Kimball himself condemned Brigham Young’s Adam-God teachings as heresy; and as an apostle he referred as early as 1963 to the priesthood ban as a “possible error” for which he asked forgiveness. The mantle represents priesthood keys, not a level of holiness or infallibility. God would not have enjoined us to hear what prophets, seers, and revelators have to say “in all patience and faith” if their words were always sage and inspired (D&C 21:5).
In context, Givens’ statement seems well supported and points to obvious difficulties from assuming infallibility in Church leaders. Dealing with mortal leaders clearly requires “patience and faith.” But Boyce will make a seemingly plausible argument that Givens’ neglects a key part of the verse he cites, the phrase “as if from mine own mouth," thereby leading to grave error and an absurd, egregious reading of scripture. This, perhaps the most crucial argument of Boyce’s paper, will be addressed below.

Boyce goes on to give a firm rebuke to those who question the consistent accuracy of prophetic utterances or who think that the Lord only “occasionally” offers direct revelation to guide the leaders of the Church instead of constantly or continually guiding them, although the practical difference between "occasionally" and "continually" is rather vague and hardly a reasonable metric for discerning scholarly apostasy (could revelation, say, once or even twice a day be considered within the scope of a scholar's "occasionally" and yet register as "continually" for another faithful member?). Boyce buttresses  his argument with declarations from scripture, statements from various leaders about the frequent revelation they experience, and anecdotes showing examples of the Lord’s ability to give specific and precise revelation. These teachings and examples are things which many faithful Latter-day Saints will and should generally accept. Revelation to our leaders, in addition to personal revelation in our lives, is a core element of the LDS faith. But Boyce's collage of faithful clippings does not adequately cover the argument from Givens.

Indeed, Boyce, takes these widely accepted teachings regarding revelation and arguably takes them too far in his effort to criticize the thinking of some LDS writers seeking to cope with the occasional gaps between theory (the theory that prophets consistently speak for God) and practice. Some readers will think Boyce is advocating infallibility, but it is not exactly that. He recognizes that leaders are mortal and that error can occur, but only in relatively minor ways (see his footnote 60, where areas such as details for “activity days for Primary children or the awards to be earned by Priests or Laurels” or the length of missionary service are said to be obvious examples of the minor things where human error would not “lead the Church astray” and thus could plausibly occur).

The gap between theory and practice in dealing with prophets and revelation comes from the limitations of imperfect mortals when they act as divinely appointed but still mortal delegates for the perfect and glorious God of heaven and earth. Boyce seems to brush over these gaps without addressing, recognizing, and empathizing with the pain that can come human weakness. This pain is explained well in Givens’ The Crucible of Doubt:
Mormons frequently describe priesthood as the authority to act in God’s name. But they often fail to plumb the potentially vexing implications of that principle. Authority is the source of delegation, delegation involves humans, humans entail error, and error in the context of authority creates conflict and tension. These stresses, which involve fallibility in conduct as well as in words, can be a challenge to the most faithful. Imperfect actions can be personally devastating. Knowing in theory that even those in authority over us will succumb to the same flaws and weaknesses under which we also labor does little to mitigate the pain when we suffer from poor judgment or downright unrighteousness. Teachings that seem to bear the stamp of divine authority and are later declared to be in error are even more challenging to faith.

Austin Farrer, the great Anglican churchman beloved of C. S. Lewis and often quoted by Elder Neal Maxwell, wrote an essay on “Infallibility and the Historical Tradition.” Farrer’s effort to balance God’s divine purposes with the imperfection of His human instruments suggests one way Mormons might think about faith-wrenching practices (polygamy), missteps and errors (Adam-God), and teachings that the Church has abandoned but not fully explained (the priesthood ban). Practices, in other words, that challenge and try one’s faith; teachings whose status as eternal truth is either disconcerting, questionable, or now denied. Here is what Farrer said: “Facts are not determined by authority. Authority can make law to be law; authority cannot make facts to be facts.” (Or, as Henry Eyring once quoted his father as saying, “in this church you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true.”)

What does it mean for us if God’s anointed leader propounds what is an error? What does this mean for the truthfulness of the Church, for our duty as members and as Christian disciples? Farrer continues his meditation on the subject with a discussion of the Lord’s meaning when He promised Peter that whatsoever he would bind on earth would be bound in heaven. Though he doesn’t use the kind of vocabulary Mormons often employ, we might think of what Farrer says in terms of the principle of priesthood delegation of authority: “If Peter and his colleagues make law in applying the Lord’s precepts, . . . their law is the law of Christ’s Church, the best (if you will) that God’s Spirit can make with human instruments there and then, and, as such, to be obeyed as the will of God Himself. But to call Peter infallible in this connection is to misplace an epithet” (Kindle edition, Chapter 6, Kindle location 1343).

The divine appointment and mortal fallibility of modern LDS prophets and apostles is much like what we learn from earliest Christianity. A fallible Peter who can even (temporarily) deny Christ after receiving the keys of the kingdom is still the Lord’s chosen servant and leader of the Church. But surely the various flaws among the early apostles were the source of confusion and pain at times for some of the Saints, and some degree of disappointment for us generations later.

Boyce never recognizes the sincerity with which Givens and many others can ask, “What does it mean for us if God’s anointed leader propounds what is an error?” This is not a nonsense question that can only come from critics or renegades in the faith. Boyce quotes various leaders to assure us that God will not allow men to lead His Church significantly astray, which many Latter-day Saints accept, but a gargantuan deviation from the purposes of the Church is not necessarily what Givens and others are addressing. Rather, they consider specific challenges from the past that continue to cause pain. Issues such as Brigham Young teaching puzzling and sometimes contradictory doctrines that are now called the Adam-God theory, a concept that has been officially repudiated by later prophets. One can argue that those teachings were Brigham’s personal opinions and not commandments or policies of any real import, and that may be right, but there were many who heard and read such things taught as doctrine resulting in confusion and pain, and that pain was not simply erased for all eternity when later prophets explained that Brigham was wrong.

Much greater pain derives from teachings regarding the previous race-related restrictions on the Priesthood. The very existence of that policy was painful enough, but his was exacerbated with the natural attempt of well-intentioned leaders attempting to fill in their knowledge gap with attempts at explaining the policy, resulting in more pain from speculative and harmful teachings. When revelation came in 1978 that did away with the previous policy, and when the Church officially renounced previous attempts to justify the old policy, the pain from that era and from the misguided human teachings was not erased. Part of that pain comes from the inescapable recognition that however constant and continuous revelation may be in the Church, it did not prevent erroneous and harmful speculation about the premortal worthiness of blacks from being espoused from the pulpit. What some leaders once taught as inspired doctrine was now renounced. Surely this experience must teach us something meaningful about the limitations inherent to having mortal leaders acts as God’s delegates on earth. Surely the pain and confusion from that episode in Church history needs to be recognized as a legitimate topic for scholars and laymen alike to discuss in understanding that the fallibility of mortal leaders is not just limited to theory but can have serious practical consequences beyond the trivial issues that Boyce would impose for its scope.

Boyce fails to acknowledge, much less empathize with, Givens’ well articulated sources of pain from the fallibility of divinely appointed leaders. Givens’ response is not one of an apostate a questionable scholar teaching radical, egregious, and absurd false conclusions that threaten to contaminate thinking in the Church, but of a believer who insists that the leaders in the Lord’s church are truly given authority from God and that revelation from God to men is real and offers insights drawn from scripture and history to guide the faithful in sustaining their leaders. He recognizes, wisely, that delegation is a terrible burden, one that imposes great challenges on those who receive it as well as those affected by it (Crucible of Doubt, Chapter 6). Before citing Givens’ teachings on delegation, it is time to again take up the primary and most pointed attack Boyce makes on Givens, that of abusing scripture in a way that results in absurd propositions and egregious, deceptive error.

Givens’ Alleged Abuse and Neglect of Doctrine & Covenants 21:4–5:

When Terryl Givens cites Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5 to suggest we need “patience and faith” to follow the prophets since sometimes they will make human errors, Boyce finds this a nonsensical proposition based on an egregious misreading of scripture:

Misreading and Absurdity
Unfortunately, the interpretation Givens and Mason offer of this verse is untenable. After all, immediately prior to telling us to receive prophets’ word in patience and faith,9 the Lord tells us to receive that word “as if from mine own mouth.” But this creates an obvious problem. If the Lord is telling us to receive prophets’ words as if from his own mouth, it is not likely that he is simultaneously telling us to have patience and faith because those words might not be “sage and inspired.” Such an interpretation reduces to the claim that the Saints should recognize that the Lord’s own words are not always sage and inspired and therefore that members should be patient with him. This absurdity is not what Givens and Mason intend, but it is what their interpretation of the verse logically entails.

Boyce states that when Givens makes his argument by citing Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5, he only quotes one phrase, “in all patience and faith,” as if he is neglecting the key “as if from mine own mouth.” Boyce asks if patience and faith are needed to accept the words of prophets because of their fallibility, then why does the Lord tell us to accept those words “as if from mine own mouth”? Boyce insists that Givens’ reading would require us to likewise require faith and patience to receive words of the Lord directly from His own mouth because He, too, is not always reliable. Without the context that Givens supposedly has stripped out or overlooked, Givens misreads the verse to argue that it is because prophets are fallible that we need faith and patience to follow them. Not so, Boyce explains, for since their words are “as if” from God’s own mouth, the need for faith and patience is obviously not because God’s words are unreliable, but because of the sacrifices and trouble that may follow from the opposition of the world when we follow God. Thus, Givens makes a horrific blunder in misreading scripture and threatens to lead believers into doubting God’s words. Givens’ reading of Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5 is thus said to result in the absurdity of God Himself being unreliable, speaking words from His own mouth that cannot be trusted.

It’s an argument that can be made plausibly, but the next step, rather than condemnation of Givens and other scholars and a declaration of victory in defending the faith, should be to at least conduct the thought experiment of asking how Givens might respond to such a critique. Is it remotely possible that Givens thinks the Lord God is not reliable? Of course not. So must we assume that Givens has simply taken “faith and patience” out of context, as Boyce implies, and blindly missed or deliberately concealed the all-important statement about receiving the prophet’s words “as if from mine own mouth,” a statement that anyone can see leaves only one possible reading for the verse Givens distorts? Is Givens the scholar really this clumsy, building huge misleading arguments out of a catchphrase ripped from context and easily exploded by simple analysis of the text? Boyce says yes: “Unfortunately, Givens and Mason quote only a portion of the passage they cite, and this leads them into error.” Those two men are said to present a view of the prophets that “has had influence among the Saints, even though it is the near-opposite what the verse actually says and even though it entails a conclusion about the Lord that is logically absurd.”

Here Boyce’s warnings regarding inadequate scholarship might well be considered and applied to yield a more gracious argument. Yes, it is true that Boyce has found a paragraph form Givens that only directly quotes “faith and patience” from Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5. But are there vital other passages in Givens’ writings that show a serious awareness of the allegedly overlooked passage that might guide us in understanding what Givens actually means and how he might response to Boyce’s critique?

Beside Givens’ lone paragraph from a short article that Boyce has targeted, Boyce also is aware of a longer, more recent work of Givens that addresses this topic, as we see in his footnote 7 citing Givens’ The Crucible of Doubt. The citation is to Kindle location 1396, which is early in Chapter 6, “On Delegation and Discipleship: The Ring of Pharaoh,” a carefully considered discussion of God’s delegation of authority and leadership to mortals where Givens also discusses Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5, including the issue of prophetic fallibility and the proper response of the faithful. A relevant excerpt follows:
Delegation is a sobering, even terrifying gesture on God’s part. To delegate or to deputize, both mean that the person receiving that authority has something like God’s power of attorney; the person’s acts, within circumscribed limits, carry the weight and efficacy of God’s own acts. But surely no human can act with the wisdom, the perfect judgment, the infallibility of God. Precisely so. And if delegation is a real principle — if God really does endow mortals with the authority to act in His place and with His authority, even while He knows they will not act with infallible judgment — then it becomes clearer why God is asking us to receive the words of the prophet “as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.” Indeed, this counsel was part of the very first revelation God gave to the newly organized Church in this dispensation, which should give the warning particular primacy among God’s many counsels. Clearly, the Lord can delegate His authority to a human without any assumption that said human will always exercise that authority in perfect conformity with God’s intentions. From Sunday School teachers to prophets, those with God’s authority to act in His name will, even with the best of intentions and efforts, make mistakes. God has already anticipated the need to overlook His prophets’ human weaknesses; hence His admonition on the day of the Church’s very founding. And so did Joseph himself remind his people: “if they would bear with my infirmities . . . I would likewise bear with their infirmities,” he said.

However, a different question emerges when it is the action, not the person, that is imperfect. If a bishop makes a decision without inspiration, are we bound to sustain the decision? The story is told of a Church official who returned from installing a new stake presidency. “Dad, do you Brethren feel confident when you call a man as the stake president that he is the Lord’s man?” the official’s son asked upon his father’s return home. “No, not always,” he replied. “But once we call him, he becomes the Lord’s man.” The answer disconcerts initially. Is this not hubris, to expect God’s sanction for a decision made in error? Perhaps. It is also possible that the reply reveals the only understanding of delegation that is viable.

If God honored only those decisions made in perfect accord with His perfect wisdom, then His purposes would require leaders who were utterly incapable of misconstruing His intention, who never missed hearing the still small voice, who were unerringly and unfailingly a perfect conduit for heaven’s inspiration. And it would render the principle of delegation inoperative. The Pharaoh didn’t say to Joseph, your authority extends as far as you anticipate perfectly what I would do in every instance. He gave Joseph his ring. The king of Spain didn’t say, I will honor your judgments and directives insofar as they accord with my precise conclusions at such a time as I second-guess your every word and act. He signed the viceroy’s royal commission. And after calling Joseph Smith to his mission, the Lord didn’t say, I will stand by you as long as you never err in judgment. He said, “Thou wast called and chosen. . . . Devote all thy service in Zion; and . . . lo, I am with thee, even unto the end.” [Doctrine & Covenants 24: 1, 7, 8]

So, what does this mean for us devoted disciples of the Loving God? In Farrer’s opinion, God “does not promise [Peter, or Joseph] infallible correctness in reproducing on earth the eternal decrees of heaven. He promises him that the decisions he makes below will be sanctioned from above.” In that view, if delegation has any meaning at all, then God is as good as His word. He honors the words and actions of His servants, sincerely executed on His behalf. Here Farrer gives an interesting reading of Christ’s words to Peter, that what His servant binds on earth, will (then and therefore) be bound in heaven. The words are God’s promise to give His divine weight of authority to the principle of delegation, to stand surety for the leaders He entrusts. (Givens, Crucible of Doubt, Kindle location 1363)

Givens’ teachings here should do much to strengthen the ability of Latter-day Saints to sustain not just the President of the Church but their leaders throughout the organization, even when we see human imperfection or suspect human error in a decision or policy. We may sincerely disagree, but there is a need to respect the divine commission of the Lord’s mortal delegates. There are other hard questions that still need to be taken up, and Givens does so, but that is beyond the scope of this post. Boyce and other faithful Latter-day Saints should welcome Givens’ thoughtful and faithful analysis of divine delegation in Chapter 6 of The Crucible of Doubt and not denounce it as heresy for suggestion that human imperfection may have practical and painful implications for the rest of us mortals in and out of the Church.
There can be no doubt that Givens has considered the import of the phrase “as if from mine own mouth.” There can be no suggestion that he has overlooked or deliberately neglected the key phrase in The Crucible of Doubt. We can see Givens’ thinking more fully and see how he weighs it. In my opinion, in light of the extensive discussion in Chapter 6 and even in light of the brief excerpt above, Givens’ reading becomes not only plausible but superior to Boyce’s.

Also note that the words “as if” can indicate that a non-existent, hypothetical, imaginary or even impossible situation is being described, as in “he acted as if the world were ending.” The world is not necessarily actually ending in that sentence. In the verse in question, the words we receive are not actually from the Lord’s own mouth. That would be a much different experience that what we actually have when a mortal speaks. Even though we are told to receive them as if they were from the Lord’s own mouth, there is a range of differences between the “as if” and the reality that can color the experience and our response. From the mortal prophet, we do not see the Lord’s glory nor feel the impressive surround-sound rumbling with intense bass and other incontrovertible soecial effects that some might expect were the Lord speaking to us directly with His own mouth. Rather, we may encounter a frail elderly man with a raspy voice addressing a topic which we might think he can’t possibly understand fully. This is the moment that requires faith and patience to also hear and accept the voice of the Lord.

One of those differences between hearing God speak directly versus God speaking to a fallible delegate is that mistakes are possible.

If the meaning of Doctrine & Covenants 21:4–5 is that prophetic declarations are essentially as infallible as God Himself, and that faith and patience is needed only because of the future trouble that will come to those in the world who do God’s will, then why does the Lord continue in the next verse to speak of the miracles and success that will come to those who obey? By obeying the prophet, the powers of darkness will be dispersed, the gates of hell will not prevail against them, and heaven will shake for their good. These are glorious promises of success, a promise of powerful evidences and confirmations for the faith they exercised in obedience, not a warning of opposition that will try their faith and demand future faith and patience. The faith and patience seem to be needed now. The trial seems to be a present one.

Boyce also criticizes Givens for for his use of a 1963 letter from Spencer W. Kimball. Kimball, as an Apostle pondering the priesthood ban for blacks and the desire of many to change it, wrote "I know the Lord could change his policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error which brought about the deprivation." Givens cites this in the "single paragraph" above that draws the initial attention of Boyce and uses it to show that Elder Kimball could entertain the possibility that the priesthood policy arose through possible human error. Boyce is incredulous and accuses Given and Mason of radical error in once again misreading a simple sentence. Boyce states that since Kimball recognizes the policy as "the Lord's policy," it cannot possibly be in error, and therefor the "possible error" must refer to something else. Boyce argues that it refers to the possibility of "error committed in the pre-earth existence" that Kimball might have been considering (erroneously considering, that is). This might have been Kimball's intent, but were it so, it is puzzling that he would use the singular "error" to describe the (hypothetical and now disavowed) errors of many individuals leading to their loss of priesthood rights. Such collective error/sins/mistakes of some kind are plural and that would be the most natural way to describe them. The use of the singular "error" would seem to more likely point to a human error in establishing the policy. How, then, could it be the Lord's policy? Precisely because of the principle of delegation, in which error-prone humans act with the Lord's authority to create policies in the Lord's Church. It is the Lord's Church, and to those who understand authority and delegation, or at least who accept the concept as neatly described by Givens, it is possible to recognize the policies in the Lord's Church can be "the Lord's" and yet be the result of human action and occasionally even some degree of human error. The argument can be made either way, actually, leaving no space to assume that a different plausible reading necessarily represents dangerous apostasy and radical error. Boyce is consistently too confident in his readings and in the assumptions he applies, and too harsh in criticizing those who differ.

Overall, while I agree with the importance of revelation and authority among our leaders, the "long shadow" of scholarly error condemned so strongly by Boyce looks much less fearsome in light of what the LDS scholars are actually saying, the historical realities that they must contend with, and the likely meanings of the verses or other passages they allegedly have abused. I hope Boyce will reconsider, for example, what Given has written about Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-5 and more fully consider the practical issues that beset and pain faithful members when human limitations come into play among Church leaders. Human fallibility is not just limited to low-pain impact on minor issues like the scheduling of Activity Days, but can have lasting impact on the Church.

Examples of lasting impact from human weakness can be cited from the areas that concern Givens (the past priesthood ban, the Adam-God theory, and the difficulties and implications of polygamy), but one that might be easier to consider involves Joseph Smith's obvious mistakes leading to the loss of the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon. This problem, of course, was anticipated by the Lord and compensated for in part with the small plates of Nephi. However, I think one cannot reasonably deny that we as a Church have suffered loss as a result and would have had a stronger, larger, more data-rich text if we still had the 116 pages along with the rest of the Book of Mormon. You can say that we have all we need, all the Lord sees fit for us to have, etc., but those pages were there and were part of the sacred record written and preserved by ancient prophets at great cost to benefit us in our day, and through a modern prophet's mistake we temporarily do not have them. Call that minor, but it matters to many of us. Prophetic fallibility matters, just as the fallibility of Apostles, stake presidents, bishops, and deacons quorum presidents can matter. Yet the Lord has called and authorized these leaders, whom we should sustain and support, in all patience and faith.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The End of the Bill of Rights? Civil Asset Forefeiture in the US

Burglars and other crooks across the United States manage to seize around $4 billion a year in cash and goods from their victims. That's actually less than the value of the goods and cash seized by law enforcement without the need for a trial or any form of due process. Welcome to the world of "civil asset forfeiture," a pernicious scheme that allows local officials to take your property with no more than an allegation against you, and then they can keep it to line their budgets. It's the very kind of abuse that caused our Founding Fathers to denounce the king of England and his officers. It's the very kind of abuse that the Bill of Rights seeks to banish from the land. But that abuse is back in force, and the Bill of Rights appears to be little more than a distant memory now when it comes to property rights.

Much of this happens at the local level, but the Federal Government also does its share directly. As Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post reported in March 2017, "Since 2007, the report found, the DEA has seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of involvement with the drug trade." Ah, but those are drug dealers, right? Convicted, jailed criminals whose stuff should be taken! That's what we are supposed to think. "But 81 percent of those seizures, totaling $3.2 billion, were conducted administratively, meaning no civil or criminal charges were brought against the owners of the cash and no judicial review of the seizures ever occurred" (emphasis added).

When some officer says your car, cash, home, or whatever was "somehow" involved in a crime and takes it, no charges need to be filed. No trial or judicial review needs to be held. The burden (a prohibitively costly one for many) is on you to prove that the officials are wrong if you want to get it back. This is completely contrary to the principles of due process and the "innocent until proven guilty." If this can happen, and it's happening at a rapidly increasing rate, you have no property rights. The Bill of Rights then is worthless.

In Philadelphia, where I'll be in a few days, a city with a key role in the history of liberty's rise in the United States, a tragic loss of liberty is being experienced by a growing number of people like Chris and Amy Sourovelis. Officers from the Philadelphia Police Department, according to Pennsylvania Watchdog, raided their home "with guns drawn — one of them pointed at the head of the family dog — and found small amounts of the drug in the 22-year old’s bedroom." The parents had known nothing of the son's drug habit, but the police did after his son sold $40 worth of heroin to an undercover cop. The son was busted, of course, and then "a few weeks later, the cops were back to tell the Sourovelis family they had to gather their things and leave the property. The home was being confiscated under civil forfeiture rules, leaving the family homeless and forced to sleep on a neighbor’s couch." That story was reported in 2014, and I see that in a later 2015 story they were able to retain their home and made some progress in their legal battle against Philadelphia. In fact, they were luckier than many who have lost their home, truck, cars, cash, or whatever under similarly scenarios. 

According to Wikipedia's article on civil asset forfeiture, its victims face long legal battles if they want to get their property back, and it's estimated that only 1% of seized property is ever returned.

This nightmare of civil asset forfeiture began with the war on drugs during the Reagan era, where the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 allowed law enforcement agencies for the first time to retain the proceeds of successful civil forfeitures, creating a pernicious profit motive. In many cases, local law enforcement agencies get 80% of what they seize and the Federal government gets 20%. Much easier than raising taxes or getting legislators to raise your department's budget. For a review of the history of civil asset forfeiture and some of the details of its operation, see Jason Snead, "Instead of Raiding the Assets Forfeiture Fund, Congress Should Simply Discontinue It," at Heritage.org.

I believe the reason why most of you probably haven't even heard of this issue, rich in shocking stories, alarming statistics, and genuinely newsworthy drama, is that property rights are anathema to the political views of the highly unified and highly politicized mainstream media. Crying foul about this clearly abusive practice is not going to be a priority for those already bent of encouraging government to take more of your property to "spread the wealth around" for their good and their agenda. But enough such stories have come to the attention of Congress in the past that there was pressure on both sides of the aisle for some kind of reform regarding civil asset forfeiture, and thus under the Obama Administration, Attorney Genera Eric Holder actually imposed some rules that slightly softened the power of states to take your stuff. But in an expression of Trump's pro-police stance, last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions dismantled those protections and once again ramped up the power of the State over the citizens. See Lucy Steigerwald's article, "Jeff Sessions: Feds Have the Right to Seize Your Cash, Property," July 21, 2017. My apologies to those of you who were hoping that President Trump might turn out to be some kind of small government guy ready to squelch the rise of the police state.

So what to do? Write your congressman and speak out against this abuse. Also work with state leaders to push stronger state policies and laws against this blatant abuse of basic liberties. Quit talking about sports and celebrities and get people talking and thinking about liberty instead.

I have had conversations with a variety of well educated adults on this topic in the past few days. Almost nobody I've met seems to have ever even heard of this. I hope you'll be an exception and be a further exception by speaking out.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Pressing Forward

At a recent meeting of the BYU Management Society, Shanghai Chapter, our speaker was Jessica Liu, a local Chinese woman in a prestigious position at Marriott International and a graduate of BYU-Hawaii. She talked about the importance of adding new skills as one of the many small things we need to do in life to prepare for future opportunities. She began with a painful story.

As a student in a marketing program at BYU-Hawaii, she sometimes had to prepare presentations and images for a class. She had a roommate who was proficient in Photoshop, and several times asked her for help. Once her roommate said something like, "I can do this for you, but how about if I show you the basics of Photoshop so you can do this yourself whenever you need it?" Jessica thought for a moment and figured that she just needed help once or twice more, and since she was going into marketing and not graphic design, there really wasn't a need for that. "Umm, I'm not going to need that in the future, so how about if you just do it?" Her patient roommate understood and edited the image for her.

Not long after that Jessica had the opportunity to interview with a great company offering a position that looked like her dream job. The interviewer was impressed with her resume and background. In the interview, he said that she appeared to be a great fit. "I just have one question," he said. "Can you use Photoshop?" Jessica's heart sank. He explained that in this marketing position, the candidate would need to be able to edit images to prepare marketing materials, so Photoshop skills were essential.

Jessica told the truth and didn't get an offer. It was a terrible disappointment, but she resolved to not make that mistake again and to keep growing and adding skills.

One of the most distressing things I encounter in the world is stagnation of human talent. When people quit growing, when they feel no need to develop new talents, explore new fields of knowledge, set and achieve personal goals, and become something more in life, it makes me wonder why they wish to go on living at all.

In the Gospel of Jesus Christ, at least as taught among the Latter-day Saints and I hope many other places, I love the vision of personal growth and overcoming that is presented to us. We are urged to not give up, to endure to the end, to overcome personal weaknesses and add new layers of faith, knowledge, and ability. I love to see that hunger for growth in people. The late Hugh Nibley had it. He seemed to always be learning and exploring new things up to the end. Don't let age or health stop you. There is so much to achieve, to learn, and to do, wherever you are in life.

From Paul in Phil. 3:
12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
16 Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.
17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample....
20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:
21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
Peter in 2 Peter 1, sounding like something of a closet Mormon, I'm afraid, writes to Christians who already have faith in Christ, and like Paul urges them to press forward. He offers a list of things to add to their foundation of faith so that they might be (gasp!) partakers of the divine nature:
3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.
And then from the revelations to Joseph Smith, we have passages like Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.
78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;…
79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms
80 That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you....
118 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.
119 Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.
To be able to minister effectively here in mortality, the Lord asks us to learn about nature and science, history and politics, other nations and international events, etc. He asks us to seek learning and turn to the best books (not necessarily the most entertaining video or YouTube clips, by the way). There's no end to what we should be learning and achieving in our lives as we follow the Savior Jesus Christ. As we've been taught recently by Gordon B. Hinckley and others, "Get all the education you can!" Education is actually a commandment for us Mormons, and one I'm so grateful for.

The journey isn't over once we accept Christ as our Savior. That's the beginning of an endless but beautiful journey as we strive to follow the One who said, "Come, follow me."

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Miraculous Feeding in 3 Nephi 20: Intensified Over Mark, Who Intensifies an Elisha Theme

In preparing my recent paper on the longer ending of Mark and its implications for the Book of Mormon (see Part 1 and the newly published Part 2), one of the sources I turned to was Adam Winn, Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010), Kindle edition. Winn finds that Mark has deftly applied themes from Elijah and Elisha in describing the ministry of Christ, and Mark's use of Elijah and Elisha themes is one of the unifying thematic elements that Nicholas Lunn points to in support of Markan authorship of the disputed longer ending (Mark 16:9-20; see Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9–20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014)).

One aspect of Mark's narrative, according to Winn, is showing Christ's superiority to or transcendence of both of those ancient prophets by "intensifying" Elisha-Elijah themes in Mark's account. For example, the miraculous feeding of two crowds by Christ is seen as an intensified parallel to 2 Kings 4:42–44 where, during a time of famine, Elisha takes 20 barley rolls and fees 100 people with them.

Interestingly, the Book of Mormon account of Christ's ministry among the Nephites offers interesting parallels to Mark and the Elijah-Elisha accounts, sometimes with clear intensification beyond Mark. The table below compares common elements in the miraculous feedings in Mark and in the Elisha account, adapted from a table by Winn (p. 82), and compared with 3 Nephi 20.

Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44)Christ in Mark 6:30–44 and 8:1–103 Nephi 20
Hunger/famine in land (38)Hunger implied: day or days without food (6:31, 8:1–2)Implicit since those present on first day labored through night to bring a larger crowd. Hunger and thirst mentioned also in v. 8
Small amount of food: 20 barley loaves and fig cakes (42)Small amount of food: 5 loaves + 2 fish (6:38), 7 loaves and a few fish (8:5, 7)The miracle begins with no food or wine present (vv. 6–7)
Command to pass out food: “Give to the men so they may eat” (42)Command to provide food: explicit (6:37) and implied (8:2–3)Christ commands the disciples to give bread and wine to the multitude (vv. 4–5)
Servant responds with doubt/hesitation (43)Disciples respond with doubt/hesitation (6:37, 8:4)Doubt is absent. The disciples and multitude respond with faith and unity (vv. 1, 9–10)
Command is repeated (43)Command to the disciples to sit the people down (6:39, 8:6)The command to give to the people is repeated: once for bread, once for wine (vv. 4–5)
Food distributed by a servant (44)Food distributed by disciples (6:41, 8:6)Food distributed the disciples (vv. 4–5)
A large number of people eat : 100 (44)A large number of people eat: 5,000 (6:42) and 4,000 (8:8)Multitude is several times larger than the 2,500 of the previous day (3 Nephi 17:25, 19:2–5)
Extra food remainsExtra food remains: 12 baskets full (6:43) and 7 baskets full (8:8)Remnants of food not mentioned, but remnants of Israel are cited immediately after the miraculous feeding (vv. 10, 13)

Interestingly, of the eight elements in the story of Christ’s miraculous feedings that Winn lists as having parallels with the 2 Kings 4 account of Elisha, seven of these are also found in 3 Nephi 20, sometimes with logical further intensification. What is missing is the parallel element of doubt expressed by Elisha’s servant and Christ’s apostles (2 Kings 4:43, Mark 6:37 and 8:4). This absence, though, is consistent with the emphasis on the greater faith of the Nephites at this stage. Among this tried and faithful people, Christ is able to work greater miracles, as Christ tells them in 3 Nephi 19:25. The absence of doubt as a parallel is a reasonable and appropriate reversal of the pattern apparently being alluded to in 2 Kings 4. Winn observes that reversals of themes are often used in ancient literature when building on a previous text (Winn, pp. 13–14, 29, 79–81, and 112). Thus, one can argue that Mark’s use of Elisha’s miraculous feeding in the account of two of Christ’s miracles is used with equal detail and resonance in 3 Nephi 20, while differing from Mark in some significant and appropriate ways rather than being a clumsy copy.

Other Elijah and Elisha themes used subtly by Mark are even more interesting in the Book of Mormon, in my opinion. I treat them in detail in "The Book of Mormon Versus the Consensus of Scholars: Surprises from the Disputed Longer Ending of Mark, Part 2" at MormonInterpreter.com.

As with all discussions of miracles involving food, I welcome feedback.

Monday, July 03, 2017

An Ayi for an Eye: The Tragic Story of Our Maid, Now in Jail

As I contemplate the blessings of freedom on this Fourth of July here in China, there is quite a different feeling this year as we struggle with the uncertainties and pains of a dear friend being held in detention here in China. She may be there for months before the trial and then could face up to five years in prison. We have been trying to help her and her family in this process but feel quite helpless.

A couple weeks ago we had to move from one apartment to another, and were sorely disappointed to have no help from our ayi (a word pronounced somewhat like "eye-ee" or more accurately "ah-yee," meaning maid or aunt or older woman) during that intense week. We have a diligent, honest, and intelligent woman named Zhiping (that’s her first name, pronounced sort of like Jurr-ping) who has been working for us part-time for nearly all of our six years here in China. She has proven to be completely trustworthy and honest. But when we needed her most for a difficult and unwanted move, she wasn’t there. It took two weeks to find out what had happened: our ayi is in jail.

I will carefully report what I have learned, seeking not to spread any inaccurate rumors, which would be contrary to Chinese law.

A few weeks ago she was at a mahjong (majiang) parlor where people gather to play one of China’s most popular games, superficially related to dominos and often but not necessarily associated with gambling. According to the story she has conveyed to us and her family, reported in the presence of the lawyer we helped find for her with the kind aid of my boss, she and three relatives were playing mahjong when one of them, a woman, went into a side room to play a slot machine.   As I recall, that other woman spent 20 RMB and was delighted when the machine reported that she had suddenly won 160 RMB.

This machine does not spew out coins the way Las Vegas slot machines do, but requires the customer to go to the parlor boss to receive payment. But the boss refused, and a loud argument followed. At this point, the lone man at our ayi’s mahjong table went into the side room to join in the argument. It sounded like a brawl was taking place, so our ayi opened the door to see what was happening and could tell that a serious fight was underway. She called for help, seeking to stop the fight. But when she opened the door again, it was too late. The man from her table was holding a plate, perhaps a fragment of a broken plate I am guessing, and the manager had blood all over his face and one of his eyes had been injured. His eye was apparently destroyed and he is demanding 1.2 million RMB compensation, which I understand is much higher than normal.  (Since this is a criminal case, it will go to trial even if the demand is paid, but paying up may lead to a reduced sentence.)

When the police got statements, the man who had apparently been fighting the boss and the boss both claimed that all three of the women at the table had joined in the attack. This could be true, but I understand it contradicts what our ayi says and what one or two recently found witnesses say. One could imagine incentives for both men to enlarge the net here: the victim can get a larger settlement and the man with the plate might hope to soften his burden. But both could be reporting the facts accurately. I was not there so cannot say for sure, but do not think our friend could gouge out an eye.

The police of Huangpu District in Shanghai, where we used to live, have been kind and helpful to me in the past and I know they have a difficult job. They also have a legal system much different than in the States, one that still confuses me and adds to the uncertainty for us.  With the help of my boss, we found a good lawyer for the woman, but lawyers play a relatively minor role here and evidence they may wish to present might not be considered. Further, I understand that gambling is illegal in China, so one might wonder if there are complicating factors involving the operator, though I won't speculate
 on that issue.

Please do not interpret this post as being anti-China or a critique of the Chinese legal system. China is a land with remarkable safety and a great deal of freedom, with much the West can learn from. There are also challenges and puzzles.  As a foreigner living in China, I have no right to tell China how they should run their system or how to best preserve social order and state stability. These are important and complex issues for the people of China and their officials to manage. I just mourn for the tragedy that has befallen our ayi and the risk that others have falsely accused her. If she is being blamed for a crime she tried to prevent, this would truly be tragic.

I pray that the police and judicial system will be able to separate the guilty from the bystanders in this case, which for now has been classified as a group crime. I also pray that they will be able to consider the new evidence from witnesses and also that they might allow bail for this case. Most of all, I pray that our ayi can have her freedom and that her husband can have his wife back.

Our next step is preparing the family for the hopeful possibility of bail to secure the release of their mom and wife during the months before the trial. Bail may not be granted and if it is, it can be very expensive and typically the money given won't be returned, so I have read and been told.

Maids are often impoverished outsiders who migrate from the countryside to big cities looking for work. They can feel completely helpless and lost when caught up in legal trouble in the rather foreign big city.

I welcome any advice. Donations to this blog (PayPal button on the right) will be used to help her and her family with the costs they are facing. I would welcome your prayers for our dear friend and, of course, for the welfare of China, a nation we respect with incredible people we admire and love.