“Come unto Christ”
So much to discuss as we conclude our study of the Book of Mormon this year. Points we will explore this lesson:
- Mormon’s sublime letter on faith, hope, and charity in Moroni 7
- Moroni’s promise in chapter 10–perhaps the most read section of the Book of Mormon. How do we know what is true? What does it mean if this promise doesn’t pan out?
- Relatedly, a discussion of good and evil. How do we discern between the two? What role does intention play? More importantly, how do we “cleave unto every good thing”?
- Spiritual gifts
- Mormon’s diatribe against the baptism of “little children”. What do we learn about theology from chapter 8? What does this letter teach us about agency, choice, accountability, covenants, and salvation?
One Time Donation:
Emily, Danny, and Davey provide a satisfying and thoughtful discussion to conclude our study of the Book of Mormon.
Please continue the discussion by posting your comments and questions here, in the facebook group, or email them to me at MormonSundaySchool at gmail.
You can access my Lesson Notes here.
Thanks as always to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for his hard work in postproduction.
1) Moroni 7:2: Is this evidence of the charismatic administration of church meetings as outlined in Moroni 6:9, and in accordance with a charismatic calling to teach after the model mentioned in Moroni 3:4? Mormon claims to be permitted to speak to the church by the “grace of God”, according to Jesus’ “holy will”, and because of the “gift of his calling unto me”. If this is the case, is Mormon 7 to be interpreted as spontaneous preaching under the influence of the Holy Ghost? Also, what is the nature of speaking under the influence of the Spirit? Under such influence, can one teach no incorrect doctrine? I ask because I think Mormon leads off his sermon with an incorrect observation about good and evil, based on Jesus’ saying in Matt 7:16-20 about knowing the truth or goodness of a person by their “fruits”. In Moroni 7:5-14, Mormon makes the claim that an evil person cannot do that which is good, and a good person cannot do that which is evil. That’s just patently wrong, and is a dangerous epistemological heuristic. Ultimately, we may judge the character and trustworthiness of a person based on their previous words and actions, but we cannot know of a person’s overall goodness or cravenness simply by observing whether they do good or bad things. Don’t get me wrong: I accept Mormon’s idea that a person who seeks after the good and tries with real intent to follow Christ will (most likely) be found doing good things (giving gifts, bringing forth good water, producing good fruits, etc.), and the opposite may be said of those who consciously seek after evil, but it does not follow (non sequitur) that a person who seeks to follow Christ will always produce good fruit. And it does not follow that a person who does evil will always do evil things. Therefore, you cannot know whether a person is of God simply by observing their behavior. Also, the binary outlined in v.12 wherein Mormon claims that all good comes from God, and all evil comes from the devil must be rejected. God created the devil, ergo God created evil! Or to put it another way, God created each one of us, and we all have the potential for doing evil, ergo God introduced evil into the universe by creating us, and both good and evil originate with God. The way to judge is not “plain”, and I seriously doubt we can ever attain a “perfect knowledge” of anything in this world (see v.15). How can these blatantly false assumptions about the nature of good and evil be considered scripture? How can Mormon claim to be under the influence of the grace of God and the Holy Spirit and preach incorrect doctrine? Is there a corollary for us here to be wary of all preaching, regardless of the reputation or authority of the person speaking? Mormon’s intent may be good, but I fear this incorrect doctrine encourages a black-and-white worldview that gives “good” Christians license to mistreat those who don’t act in ways acceptable to them, condemning them as “evil”. Is there any way to soften these teachings? The only way I can think of is to put *everyone* in the evil category, so that we are all perpetually in need of God’s grace to bring forth anything good in this world (Mormon seems to do this, too, in Moroni 7:24). That sounds a bit like King Benjamin and John Calvin, but not very much like Joseph Smith’s later doctrines. Thoughts?
2) Moroni 7:23: When exactly did God declare to prophets with his own mouth that Christ should come?
3) Moroni 7:28: Mention of the penal substitution theory of the atonement. Most scholars agree that this theory is a later development, not taught in the Early Church, but which appears later during the Reformation period, and was advocated particularly by Luther and Calvin. Mormon gives only brief mention here, but the concept is further developed and reference throughout the Book of Mormon, particularly in Alma 7, 11, 34, and 42. Blake Ostler argues that the there is too much modern for the Book of Mormon to be an exclusively ancient document and too much ancient within the Book of Mormon to be exclusively modern. (See Blake T. Ostler, “The Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source” in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20 (Spring 1987).) As readers of my questions probably know by now, I definitely see the former claim all over the place in the Book of Mormon, but increasingly have a hard time identifying the latter. Why does Joseph Smith put words into the mouth of Mormon that couldn’t possibly been spoken by him? We’re back again to question 1 above, I suppose, asking whether inspiration of the Holy Spirit makes all things OK (including incorrect teachings and misquoting or misattributing teachings to another person anachronistically). Or, if Mormon wasn’t a real person in literal history, does attributing words to a fictional character become fair game, and can this fictional sermon teach us yet something “true” about the nature of God and the way for humans to live more abundantly and compassionately?
4) Moroni 7:29-32, 36-37: Mormon lays out a doctrine of angels. Latter-day Saints have lots of extra stories of angelic visitations (Joseph Smith, Nephi, Jacob, Alma the Younger, Nephi (III), Mormon, Moroni, etc.) but all of these stories originate with Joseph, and we don’t have many other accounts of angels in our collective or personal histories. I hear of dreams wherein deceased family members visit the dreamer to tell them to do family history and such, but angels are something different, according to these verses in Moroni 7. What happened to the angels? And I’m not talking about reinterpreting “angels” to mean “mortal men and women acting as angels” as is sometimes preached; while people can act like angels, these scriptures outline the literal existence and functions of heavenly messengers, and as v.37 says, “if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.” So what happened to the angels, and what does it say for us collectively that there seem to be no more angelic visitations reported?
5) Moroni 7:39: Is faith a litmus test for belonging among the saints in the church? Joanna Brooks and others have turned the LDS paradigm of “believe–>behave–>belong” on its head, claiming that in a healthy religious community, we choose first to belong to a community, after which we learn and conform to community behaviors as a sign of trust toward others in the community, and from which community the individual learns to believe or trust in people and God more fully. Moroni 7:39 seems to challenge this vision of the church, placing faith (belief in Christ, or assent to doctrinal propositions about God and Jesus instead of simple trust or devotion toward God) at the start of a life in the church as a portal through which all must pass before entering. At its core, doesn’t the believe–>behave–>belong paradigm misunderstand the nature of faith, claiming it must be based on intellectual assent to principles rather than intentional actions of devotion to God?
6) Moroni 7:40-44: Concerning hope. I believe hope springs forth from both propositional and devotional forms of faith, but that hope is firmer when it emerges from the latter rather than the former. Why? If our hope is based on our faith in a theological assertion that Jesus died but actually came back to life and somehow ascended into heaven, all of which was necessary in order to reconcile our sins with God’s punitive justice, or if our hope is based on our faith in the historical assertion that God, Jesus, and angels visited Joseph Smith and gave him instructions to “translate” a record of ancient peoples recorded on golden plates deposited 1400 years previous in a hill close to where Joseph lived, we set ourselves up to have our hopes dashed when our faith falters or we discover that history is messier than it otherwise claims to be. Hope springing from devotion to people and to God as a determination to enact God’s vision for humanity within a particular community, however, is grounded in faith in the power of humans to transcend their personal failings and inclinations to be petty, vicious, selfish, or destructive. I hate to attack Mormon’s sermon on the three most important features of Christian life (faith, hope, love), but I think he builds these up on a false or shifty foundation, contrary to the intent of Paul in 1 Cor. 13:13, which exhorts us to faith, hope, and love but doesn’t insist that our faith and hope be *in* doctrines or creeds, but in each other and in God. After all, prophecies fail, tongues cease, knowledge comes to an end, and we all see only dimly and imperfectly in this life. But our affirmation of faith (devotion) to each other gives us hope that one day we will know in full, and see the fruition of God’s kingdom together. Faith, hope, and charity bind us to one another, and to God, and they transform our hearts and the world; they are not tests and evidences of grace, and they really aren’t dependent upon the correctness of certain theological assertions. Moroni 10:22 adds further insult by the assertion that if one doesn’t have hope, one must be in despair, which despair comes from iniquity (n.: Gross immorality or injustice; wickedness). Thoughts?
7) Moroni 8: hyperbolic Mormon. Somehow, the topic of baptism of little children calls for some of Mormon’s strongest condemnatory language: he calls those who support baptism “[in] gross error”, “[a] solemn mockery” (2 times), “in the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity”, “[having] no faith, hope, or charity”, “in danger of endless hell” and torment (2 times), “[in] awful wickedness” (2 times), “pervert[ing] the ways of the Lord”, “deny[ing] the pure mercies of God” (3 times), and “set[ting] at naught the atonement, put[ting] trust in dead works”. I can’t tell if this is just Mormon’s way of communicating when he’s not editing other peoples’ stories, or if baptizing children really is one of the most heinous crimes against God. V.8 is a veritable cornucopia of doctrinal issues important to early American religionists: it has statements about children being sinless and incapable of sinning (touching upon sin as willful disobedience), it has a reference to the “curse of Adam” understood to be the idea of “original sin”, and it has a statement that a “law” of circumcision is eradicated in Jesus. Interesting that Mormon seems to think that the curse of Adam has power, which conflicts with Article of Faith 2, which states that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression. If the curse is taken from children so that it has now power over them, we must assume that the curse somehow returns for adults and has power over adults, no?
8) Moroni 8:13 claims that hell is endless for the unbaptized who are accountable. Is Moroni right, or is Joseph Smith ca. 1830 (see D&C 19:4-18)? D&C 19, btw, sounds like a clever play on words that makes room for more universalist theology than Moroni 8 or other Book of Mormon scriptures do. I’m in no mood to argue in favor of Mormon’s threats of endless hell (which I think is false), but I really don’t appreciate Mormon’s ham-fisted diatribe to prop up a theological point that doesn’t need his help to sell. Mormon’s “boldness” and appeal to his own authority only make him sound less charitable, despite his statement to the contrary in v.17.
9) Moroni 8:23: Mormon uses a phrase common to Calvinists and other protestant faiths that vaunt salvation by grace: “dead works”. The phase originates with Hebrews 6:1 and 9:14, wherein the author of Hebrews eschews a reliance on the works of the flesh to atone for sins committed, in favor of full reliance upon the merits of Christ’s grace, which alone will make a person holy. Mormon uses the term similar to the author Hebrews by arguing that those who support child baptisms deny Christ’s graceful and unconditional redemption of children, preferring instead to try to rely on “dead works” (infant baptism) to ensure their children’s salvation. Does the Book of Mormon support salvation by grace alone? If not fully, then what could Mormon have meant by the use of this phrase, which has specific meaning pointing toward a theology of salvation by grace alone?
10) Moroni 10:4: Must one have faith in Christ in order to receive a witness of the truth of “these things”? Also, what are “these things” that are received? Do they refer to the stories and sermons and theological statements recorded in the Book of Mormon, or do they refer more to general Christian concepts of faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost for those that accept Christ’s atonement with intent to follow Christ? In other words, is “Moroni’s promise” meant to be applied to accepting Jesus, or to knowing whether the Book of Mormon itself is true? I ask because it would seem strange that Moroni the historical person would feel the need to address future skepticism that his record was historical: it would seem strange to me for Moroni to be saying that one day someone will be reading his words and wondering if they were really written by an ancient guy or invented by Joseph Smith, so God would let them know that Moroni was real and that the words in the book were true. Rather, it seems, based on the emphasis on the fundamental principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ outlined in Moroni 1-9, that Moroni is inviting everyone to come to Jesus and know by the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, the savior and redeemer of all those who have faith, repent, and determine to follow the commandments. If this is the case, have we been misappropriating these verses in the church’s missionary efforts, directing people to ask God about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon instead of inviting Jesus into their lives? How could Moroni’s promise of the Holy Ghost be accorded to those who aren’t even asking the question he’s exhorting them to ask?
1)… what do you think “cometh of God” means. I don’t think it means that He created it, but that it is godlike. That it belongs in and comes from the kingdom of God. That it is apart of his teachings.
Because I’m always better at expressing myself in writing than I am verbally, I decided I’d copy and paste this paper I wrote for my BYU Book of Mormon class in the comments section here. It covers part of Moroni 7, and writing it was a really exciting, meaningful, and rewarding personal experience for me. I express the basic ideas in my comments on the podcast, but they’re probably better fleshed out and a bit more eloquent here. It’s long, and there are bits I would rework if I were to redraft it for another context (some things are obviously catering specifically to the criteria of the assignment and my incredibly orthodox, CES professor), but hopefully the ideas in the paper will be helpful to someone and hopefully the formatting (copied and pasted from Word) isn’t too difficult to follow. Thanks so much for allowing me to participate in the podcast!
“Moroni 7 and the Call for Redemptive Readership”
The Book of Mormon as an historical record ends in death, bloodshed, war, rape, cannibalism, and warfare. The book is, as Terryl Givens has pointed out, a story of “sibling jealousies… culminating in a tragic and genocidal finale painfully deferred until the record’s final pages.” i The story ends with Moroni, the sole Nephite survivor, wandering the earth, hunted, with the preservation of a sacred record and a people’s history resting squarely upon his shoulders. Yet the final chapters of the Book of Mormon contain some of the most deeply optimistic passages in any book of scripture. As he concludes the record, in the midst of despair and desolation, Moroni returns to the document’s fundamental thematic through-line—the inherently redemptive hope at the heart of Christian faith.
Writing to a post-Restoration readership (the only audience to which he had access), Moroni begins his record of his father, Mormon’s, sermon in chapter 7 by saying:
For I remember the word of God, which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also. For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. (Moroni 7:5-6)
Moroni goes on to very clearly delineate that which is of God from that which is not, saying:
Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil. (Moroni 7:14)
There is an unmistakable, black-and-white kind of clarity to Moroni’s formulation—“a man being evil cannot do that which is good” (Moroni 7:10); it’s a fundamental, mathematical precision, which eliminates gray area entirely. There is good and there is evil—there is God and there is Satan—and every man and woman must make a choice, both in his actions (the “gift” he offereth) and in effectively judging the offerings of others. No man can serve two masters.
Still, Moroni complicates this potentially polarized line of thinking by introducing an implicit spiritual phenomenology into the equation—there is the sender, but there is also the receiver, and, as always, “by their fruits [we] shall know them” (Moroni 7:5).
Behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do
good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth
and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve
him, is inspired of God. (Moroni 10:13)
If these are the fruits by which we know them, then the burden of meaning rests with the receiver’s interpretation of the “gift” to an equal or greater degree than it does with the sender’s intention, because many different gifts have invited and enticed many different receivers to “do good, to love God, and to serve him.” What yields fruit for one may not yield the same fruit for another.
I know of a Jewish woman who, in the late 1980s, was receiving the missionary discussions. There were many things in the gospel that she loved, many things she believed to be true, and many things that seemed to bring her a greater understanding and a greater sense of closeness to her Heavenly Father. Still, as much as she wanted to, she couldn’t connect with the Savior. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t find a way to believe in Christ.
This was 1988, and it was the year of the release of one of the most controversial films ever made, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, The Last Temptation of Christ. The film’s depiction of a troubled Christ being tried and tempted by Satan throughout his life and even in his final, lonely moments on the cross—tempted to return to earth and lead a happy and normal life with a wife, family, and career—led to bans from churches around the world, including a warning about the film from a Latter-day Saint apostle. In spite of the controversy, this Jewish woman went to see the movie, and its portrayal of a human Savior struggling to overcome temptation in order to redeem his fellow man and fulfill the will of the Father touched her. Suddenly, the story of Christ’s life, ministry, and ultimate mission made striking sense to her. She felt the Spirit, and she joined the Church soon after. This film—a sincere and troubled work from a sincere and troubled believer, which had been widely (and perhaps reasonably) branded as blasphemous—persuaded at least one soul to believe in Christ. Some gifts may more frequently or more straightforwardly point the way towards Christ than others, but ultimately the power lies in us—in our formative experiences as receivers and in our creative and redemptive potential as gods in embryo. We must be redemptive readers and receivers.
In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan makes the case that, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”ii This is a dangerous notion if we hope to construct a theology based only upon the power of the sender—and there is a reason that Milton gives the line to the devil. Yet Joseph Smith expressed the very same sentiment centuries later when he said, “And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it.”iii Joseph’s vision of the hereafter was radically physical—a heaven with roads, architecture, and dimensions—yet it remained rooted in a spiritual state of mind; like all else in creation, Zion becomes physicalized only after a pre-existing spiritual genesis. Christ taught that “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21)—in other words, it is a state of mind or heart (as Milton’s Satan suggested); it is a spiritual state. Heaven is an attunement with the governing creative powers of the universe, a sense of alignment that provides the necessary groundwork and sense of collective unity to enable Joseph’s grand visions of city-building. Once we are of “one heart and one mind,” with “no poor among [us]” (Moses 7:18), the construction can commence; Zion is built with bricks and mortar, but the kingdom of heaven begins and ends within us—and the power remains within us to make a heaven of hell.
If that is the case, then we can find no more humbling, no more inspiring, and no more moving an act of redemptive readership in the Book of Mormon than Moroni, as he writes the concluding words of his father’s sermon years after his death. Surrounded by death, brutality, and apostasy, in constant fear of his life, writing to an audience he knows won’t even be born for centuries, Moroni has every external reason to be unhappy—but, with limited time, space, and energy to write, he selects a very specific sermon of his father’s to record. With no one left to talk to, his family and friends murdered, Moroni, through his father’s words, asks the question, “How is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?” (Moroni 7:20) In the midst of a hell, Moroni fashions a heaven through the transformative lens of the Spirit; there is more good to be found in the world—even a fallen, utterly infernal world—“than we can ever lay hold upon.” In one of the final chapters of the Book of Mormon, Moroni concludes by bearing powerful testimony of the Atonement. With this one simple verse, this rhetorical question, Moroni testifies and exemplifies the redemptive, healing power of Christ, and the redemptive, healing power that lies within us when we access Him. Moroni is not physically translated to another plane of existence—he’s still alone, still in danger—but his spiritual eyes are opened to the entirely unexpected beauty around him. The power of Christ’s Atonement is not that it provides an entirely clean slate, but that it does something even more extraordinary—it redeems. It doesn’t remove our negative experiences, but it transforms all of our experiences into good and constructive ones; it is the power by which we may become redemptive readers of our own lives. This is the central faith and hope of Christianity, a faith and hope that turns a hell into a heaven (and the absence of which will make a heaven hell)—it is the kingdom of God that lies within us.
From its first chapters, the Book of Mormon testifies of Christ—and, even as the history of the Nephites and Lamanites hurtles towards tragic self-destruction, Moroni concludes his record with the possibility of redemption. There is goodness in this bleak and fallen world, so much goodness that we can never lay hold upon it all—and the goodness comes through the transformative power of Christ. It is the kingdom of God, and it is within us.
On gender use in the scriptures. I agree with you that the scriptures in general are male dominated. But I think with you passion for gender equality you over-step when you say certain scriptures are not referring to women because they do not say the female pronoun (or whatever part of speech is being referred to).
The scriptures our gender neutral when they are referring to everyone as the male pronouns are considered neutral in their usage and so – do not need correction. There is a movement to include both genders when referring to neutral gender language, but, it isn’t wide spread yet. But, during the time the BoM was written it was perfectly fine to use the male gender as the neutral gender – and so it is. So to say that it only refers to men when in reality it is neutral is over-stepping and degrading to women.
Personally I prefer the simpler “he” when referring to both sexes, I would even be OK with “she” when referring to both sexes, but using s/he or he/she is more letters where it was obvious when read in context what the meaning was before. So, although it might make the English language clearer it also makes it more “wordy.” It would be nice just to invent new gender neutral words just to get the debate over with.
So, in conclusion, your gripe is about the English language and its historical use, not the language of the BoM.
For further reading and references see:
“Grammatical gender” in Wikipedia.
Love the work you are doing. I hope I’ll get the donation out to you before Christmas! Hope I portrayed this in a loving manner! No ill will meant!
Thank you for your comment, and for your support! If I recall correctly I specifically brought up this point, that in older forms of languages the male nouns and pronouns referred to both men and women. In Greek and Hebrew for example any mixed gender group takes male grammatical forms, even if it is one man and fifty women. So the Greek “brothers” did refer to “brothers and sisters”. I didn’t say (or mean to say) these scriptures don’t mean to refer to women; I said they don’t explicitly or functionally refer to women.
Where we disagree is what should be done about these grammatical conventions. The reason why man refers to humans and he refers to one etc stems from pervasive patriarchy that remains the status quo. The key problem is that when we hear and read “man” and “he”, we don’t translate into inclusive language. The male language penetrates us. Thus when girls and women read the scriptures or hear of heaven, they don’t see themselves.
So you say man means humans and he means one and thus nothing needs to change. I say we should update that language so that we make clear and powerful what was really meant, though people were not accustomed to expressing gender realities so clearly.
I would have to listen to the podcast again – I could have omitted your comment on he in languages from my listening 🙂 .
I would push back though when you say that Thus when girls and women read the scriptures or hear of heaven, they don’t see themselves. I know you didn’t say all women/girls but I don’t think all women think that when they read those scriptures. I would question if it is but a small percentage that don’t see themselves when they read those passages.
I like the conciseness of the current form and added words makes English more cumbersome. I was thinking if instead of saying s/he we could say just e. Instead of her/his we could say er, etc. I know that would be harder to change the language to since you would need to define the new words to people, but, if people started using that language it would eventually catch on. Just my fantasies of a more perfect and less cumbersome language 🙂 .
Thanks for your reply.
I’m sorry but I have to contend your argument about only a “small percentage of women” thinking a certain way.
First off let’s remember that language is to the human brain what binary is to the computer. It literally programs our brain on how we should interpret the world around us.(Ex: is snow just snow to you or are their many different types of snow that you need to know about for your survival.) This is the reason behind the study of linguistics.
From the moment you learn that you are a “he” or a “she” you also learn that there is something else, something that is not you. For boys, from a linguistic point of view, there isn’t a bunch of “she” you are confronted with (unless you are raised as the only boy in a house full of sisters). There are rarely moments where who or what is being talked about can’t be identified with you. This isn’t the case with girls. Most of the language is talking about people who are other. People who are not, and cannot, be you.
If you are lucky you are shown through other words and actions that even though the words say “not you”, “she” is still included. If this is the case your brain takes on a translation loop where every “he” reference is filtered to deduce if the “he” also includes “she”. This becomes an automatic program the girls brain runs, usually without her having to think about it. Some women get so good at it that they never notice it. Some do not. This does not negate that this process IS happening.
In the case of scripture and religious rhetoric, some women get so good at this mental leap that it is there default to see themselves in parable, in descriptions of heaven, etc. However as they get older and gender roles become more stressed in the outside world, they have to learn a second program that takes themselves out of that heavenly picture more, they must become adept at filtering which parts relate to them and which do not. Ex: I can have faith like the Stripling Warriors, but I won’t be expected go to battle for that faith; I can teach select groups about the gospel, but I will never hold a position like prophet, apostle, bishop, etc; I can know and rely on the power of the priesthood in my home, but I will never be able to give my dying child a blessing; I can Love Captain Moroni, as long as I never try to Be Captain Moroni, I can strive with all my heart , might, mind and strength to become like my Heavenly Father, even though I will never be a father.
Once again, there are some women who become very good at these mental gymnastics. It doesn’t mean that the linguistic program isn’t running.
Linguistically, this is a program that a man never has to run. There is never a time when “she” is supposed to mean “he” too. Linguistically “she” is not relatable to “he”. Try it some time. Try going through your day saying only feminine pronouns. Take a bible story and change all of the pronouns. If you’re really brave, imagine going to General Conference and switching all the genders, both on the stands and in the talks. Most men, and women, would be shocked. Men especially would feel out of place. But that is what the female brain comes against every day, constantly running linguistic programs to find a place in a male-centric world.
Jared Anderson says:
So well said Amber. The Book of Morma is a striking thought exercise to illustrate how pervasive gendered language is in the Book of Mormon. It is achingly pervasive. I a so glad you commented; I was just about to comment that Jon and I are the wrong gender to weigh in on how the scriptures affect women.
I talked to two women about it both said it is simple to understand when the scriptures say “he” or “his,” etc that it means all people and not gender specific. I think you two spend enough time around people that think like you that you have a hard time imagining women that don’t think like Amber or Jared’s projection onto women. Really, anyone that understands English shouldn’t have difficulty understanding and recognizing gender neutral language in the “he” “his” form.
Really, we would need to do a study or find a study done to know how many women this isn’t automatic.
Amber, as for your thought exercise, of course it would be difficult, because, like you said, this is learned from when we are babies. If we learned the other way around it would come equally as easy to understand for males (as it does for what I think would be most women).
I’m not saying that a gender neutral language wouldn’t be nice, it would be. But I disagree with the current cumbersome replacement language. Just make up some simple easy words like I pointed out.
I think you guys are coming from a certain paradigm and it is difficult for you to recognize the other paradigm. It would be nice to see an actual study on the subject because I think Jared is way over blowing his concerns in the podcast. I know this is something that is important to you Jared but to a lot of people (not only men), it is a non-issue. People understand that it is just language – and, no, I’m not saying language isn’t important, just that you are projecting your ideas on something universalizing it when it might be so universal.
Jared Anderson says:
I appreciate the pushback. Yes, a study would be helpful. As far as your “talked to two women” anecdote, there are complex issues at play here dealing with socialization. People cannot feel the affects of present circumstances and the status quo until they have awakened to the alternatives. Sue Monk Kidd in her “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” chronicles her feminist awakening and quotes the saying “We don’t know who discovered water, but it wasn’t the fish”. At the top of my World Religions Syllabus I have the related quote “If you know one, you know none.” Many women in a patriarchal system will say they are happy, or that it is ok, because they have not experienced anything different. We don’t feel the lack of women leaders until we go to a religious service where they are there. My wife was powerfully moved by a scene from Big Love where a woman in white baptizes a young girl. We make do with how things are, but again, it isn’t until we are aware they can be different that we feel the harm of the current status quo.
Correction (should have read it better before I hit reply):
…just that you are projecting your ideas on something AND universalizing it when it might not be so universal.
Sorry, Jon, but a cursory search for academic studies about identification in regards to gender-specific pronouns proves your point false. Simply put, as this study from way back in 1990 demonstrates (built upon reams of previous evidence you’re welcome to hunt through), both male and female participants consistently identify male gender with the pronoun “he”. It’s not considered gender neutral at all, and to contend as much just shows how much we as a culture and a language have yet to evolve.
Frankly, we can do better, and it’s our responsibility to do better. And yes, that means fixing scripture where necessary. I mean, come on, we’ve done over 3,000 changes to the BoM already – what are a few more to promote gender inclusion?
Jessica F says:
Jon- I think that it is equally important for men to hear the gender neutral language. I think women are quite well trained to see themselves in a partial way in the gendered language, but I do not think men visualize women when reading the male centric language.
And even if women *do* understand that they are included, and even if men *do* remember that women are included, how powerful it is for everyone to hear themselves included, rather than having to interpret/read that in.
As in, “Hail, the Heaven-born Prince of Peace, Hail the Son of Righteousness, Born to free the sons of earth; born to give them second birth.” versus “Born to raise us from the earth; born to give all second birth.”
Or, “Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice” vs “Good Christians all, rejoice”
Or, “We are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves us, and we love Him” vs “We are daughters of Heavenly Parents who love us and we love them.”
Jessica F, I don’t think that there is a strong correlation between the neutrality/non-neutrality of gender in language and the attitudes of speakers of a given language toward gender. Turkish, Persian, Hindi, and Armenian are all gender neutral languages, meaning that the words for he, she, and it are all the same. When the speakers of these languages learn English they regularly confuse she and he and him and her. But this hasn’t prevented machismo from prevailing in many of these cultures where these languages are spoken.
1828 definition of charity (I like the first definition):