Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Duplicity of the Anti-war Critic

As I’ve been a part of the Mormon blogging community I’ve noticed the same arguments and referenced talk against war, while also noticing certain cultural trends from the same people. These cultural beliefs are often at odds with the words of modern prophets so the proponents of these beliefs must explain how they can be members of the church but not accept the prophet’s words as face value. Yet one of the most referenced talks used against war is “The False Gods We Worship” from Spencer W. Kimball where he argues an incredibly pacifistic stance. Thus on some issues anti-war critics parse a prophet’s words to the point that they become meaningless, while other topics they cling to and use to bludgeon their opponents.

Before we continue I should point out the proper place that a prophet’s words have in establishing doctrine. In statement from May 4th 2007 the first presidency concerning official doctrine they state:

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.

In short a single prophet’s words doesn't have a great deal of weight as binding church doctrine. This may lead to some confusion as there is the weight of church culture, quasi-official publications like the “For Strength of Youth” pamphlet, and standards at Church schools which led to the infamous “skinny jeans” episode that could lead to an average member’s perception of doctrine that is radically different than what even the leaders of the church say is official.[1] It also leads to near comical levels of frustration among anti Mormons as they try to critique odious Mormon doctrines and find that very little of their quotes even qualify as such.

Many internal critics of church policy would agree with the limited ability of a prophet’s words to proclaim official doctrine. This includes those that advance so called homosexual rights, historians of race relations in the church such as Margaret Blair Young, and hard line immigration advocates. In reference to Packer’s talk about homosexuality the critics not only provide the above parsing but they go so far as to denounce his words and claiming that he is a “bully” with “blood on his hands” for his talk.[2] This kind of explicit rejection is not only tolerated but celebrated. Margaret Blair Young repeated "folk lore” and “common 19th century opinions” as the standard explanation for the priesthood ban.[3] Those that oppose the church’s relatively liberal stance on immigration told me in conversation that they simply oppose it. Keep in mind that women who wear shorts and anybody who shows ankle or wrist is also disobeying the counsel of past prophets.

Thus, socially liberal members agree with the church’s official doctrinal channels and amply use them for their social causes; but
they have a different opinion regarding the antiwar talk of Spencer W. Kimball. Whenever the concept of war is discussed this talk is inevitably pointed to.[4] It is usually from liberals that hate war,[5] but also from those that slavishly follow Ron Paul and use this talk to support his fanatical isolationism.[6] I’ve seen it posted on facebook during a Republican presidential debate. At the recent Mormon Perspectives on War and Peace Conference I was excoriated for doubting its binding nature by several of the audience members.

And yet this brings me to the duplicitous part of the behavior. I was excoriated by people, and I regularly receive attacks for not “following the prophet” from those who would say the same thing about a different prophet’s talk concerning their pet subject matter. In other words, they change the weight of a prophet’s words based on their level of support for the topic. The blogs where I see this then devolve into prophet bashing as each participant in the conversation uses the prophets that agree with them to make their case. So if I choose to throw Elder Packer under the bus I will receive the praise of the homosexual crowd. If I choose to ignore the church’s stance on immigration I will receive praise from minute men.[7] But all this time I would not be properly using their words of counsel.

So instead I keep a proper perspective on the words of the prophets as taught by the church leaders. I accept them as wise men but do not believe they pronounce doctrine with every talk, but that binding doctrine is found in the standard works and official declarations. This is one more reason I chose to focus on warfare in The Book of Mormon. Instead of going downstream and proof texting unofficial sources of doctrine, I focus my studies on a more solid foundation.


All accessed December 27th, 2011.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reflections of an Insurgent

Now I’m not an actual insurgent. I don’t set roadside bombs or kidnap journalists but I have been an outsider using nontraditional tactics to reach my professional goals. I borrow the terminology of Dr. Mark Grimsley, a professor of history of The Ohio State University, who used the term “insurgent” to describe the role that blogging has in the field of military history. Since I am about a month away from my third anniversary of blogging I thought I would reflect on where I’ve come from, my original goals, and where I am going.

The Ohio State University is one of the best schools in military history and Grimsley’s award winning blog is a standard in the field so I followed much of his advice. I focused on a particular subject. Since I have an interest in politics, foreign policy, music, movies, and an active personal life I could have gone in many different directions for my blog. But focusing on one topic allowed me to become the “go to” spot for one subject, instead of offering a little bit on many topics. I also wasn’t clever enough to come up with a clever title so I went with a straight forward title.

Grimsley also described blogging as an insurgent medium. He said that it is impossible for one person to acquire an air force, operate large armies across the sea, or do many things that modern nations can. But an insurgent can make a crude bomb, he can pick up a gun and take pot shots at a passing convey of soldiers and he can still fight. Applied to blogging, I don’t have the degrees that many people do. I didn’t have access to a publishing organization, but I did have ideas and desire. So I started a blog and in one sense started “publishing”.

One of my stated goals was to explore the many thoughts I’ve had about The Book of Mormon. While they may not have been the most refined thoughts, publishing them on this blog has produced numerous advantages. I’ve received unsolicited fiction and nonfiction books involving military history and The Book of Mormon. In my count I’ve had three books, an excellent fiction book, and two academic books. I’ve even had an academic publisher, Oklahoma University Press, ask me to review books for them. I’ve had calls for papers forwarded to me. This allowed me to present a paper at Claremont Graduate School, which will end up being published next year.

This shift in “publishing” medium presents me with some very good problems. As Mao Zedong described an insurgency has three phases. The first phase is a local insurgency. The second phase involves taking physical control of remote areas. The third phase involves a transition to a traditional campaign to seize power of the national government. So what this insurgent blog has done is help my career from the first to the third phase. Instead of operating my blog as the only outlet to discuss my preliminary thoughts it has become an accompanying medium to advertise my success in publishing in traditional mediums. So I’ve gone from a guy with a roadside bomb to living in the palace of the old dictator trying to figure out how to form a provisional government.

Just today I received confirmation that I will be writing a chapter in a World Civilization textbook from American Public University Press. I am refining my paper about the American Civil War for publication in a Journal. And I am making suggested revisions in what will be a chapter in Mormon Perspectives on War. I also received a new book from OU Press to review. This is all in addition to my waiting to receive word about my book manuscript, and several presentations next year.

This has a huge time requirement. Every one of these papers has a different citation style and publishing in traditional presses requires more editing and a higher standard of writing than preliminary thoughts on a blog. Next, I am wondering about the function of this blog. It is hard to rail against the machine when you are the machine. At the very least it requires a change in the stated goals of this blog. It seems it is now a way to advertise my more traditional publishing outlets. This means I will most likely, and sadly, provide far fewer posts that analyze scriptures. Change might be tough but in my case it is both easy and necessary because I am still full of ideas but simply publish them in different places. The final problem involves the pace of those traditional outlets. While I publish my preliminary thoughts on a weekly basis, books and journal articles take longer. Hence my publishing frequency here will slow down as well.

I appreciate all of you taking this journey with me and I look forward to continuing to provide quality posts about warfare in The Book of Mormon.