Thursday, April 12, 2007

Appeals to Authority

I've recently begun to notice an interesting aspect of modern Mormon teaching--there not that modern. Take the following, the Young Women's Manual 1 lesson, Patriarchal Leadership in the Home. It's a great read to understand why the church bothers me so much, but that's for another post.

This lesson is extremely simple, and dwells on a concept that is one of the crucial differentiators between Brighamism and mainstream churches. It starts with some directions to the teacher to be sensitive to the fact that only some girls will "have fathers who are righteous patriarchs in their homes." Then there's a quiz, the answers, and a story.

The answers (except for one) all come from quotes from dead General Authorities. The most recent quote is from 1984--23 years ago! Not a single answer cites Hinckley, nor do any of them simply use their own "authority" as a church publication. Even the story at the end, where a daughter learns that she can love her non-Mormon Dad, comes from 1978. (Don't worry, he becomes a member of the church in the end, so loving him was worth it after all!) Now, the copyright is from 1992, so that lowers the gap to 8 years at the time of publication (with most quotes 15+ years old), but that also means that supposedly nothing has happened in the last 15 years that might impact how we discuss family structure.

I've noticed this same trend toward constant quoting in Conference talks, as well. Maybe they were always like this, but I was never struck that way when reading the Journal of Discourses or talks by McConkie. Now, using past sources can be a valuable way to reach across a philosophical divide (such as quoting C.S. Lewis when proselyting to Christians), but how is that relevant here? Do current leaders feel like they have to win over active members (i.e. the only people who care about the cited authorities)? Or are they just afraid to step out of correlated discussions?

As an aside, consider the following two quotes from the lesson:

In the Church there is full equality between man and woman. (John A.
Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft,
1960], p. 30)

The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity. There is, then, a particular reason why men, women and children should understand this order and this authority in the households of the people of God. … It is not merely a question of who is perhaps the best qualified. Neither is it wholly a question of who is living the most worthy life. It is a question largely of law and order (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 287).

To the comment, ‘My husband [or father] is not a member of the Church, nor does he respect it,’ I with love and compassion answer: ‘Dear Sister, whether he is a member or not, he is still the father and head of the family (Richard G. Scott, “Father Is Head of the Family,” Ensign, Feb. 1977, pp. 84–85).

In the home the presiding authority is always vested in the father, and in all home affairs and family matters there is no other authority paramount (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975], p. 27).

As the old classic song goes, "One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong." Unfortunately, my faith lies in the one that doesn't belong.

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