I was tagged in a post on a Facebook thread by Bill Reel where he asked:
For believers, how do you solve the Lucy Walker conundrum. Do you choose to believe Joseph Smith lied to Lucy about what God told him OR Do you believe God encouraged Joseph to get sealed/married/Have sex with a 16 year old girl who the prophet Joseph Smith was raising and identified as his daughter?
I believe Joseph Smith had real spiritual experiences that led him to produce the Book of Mormon and start something that has evolved into a vibrant, valid religion where millions of people use it to honestly seek God and participate in the Christian mandate to right the wrongs of the world, care for the needy, and create a heaven on earth. We’re not perfect as a Church but we think we’re on the right track and getting better. I don’t think everything Joseph said or did came from God in a direct, God-breathed way. I think it was more like general impressions where he was left with his own ingenuity how to implement it. I think he made mistakes in implementing the religion and this episode likely represents one of those mistakes. Ultimately what’s important to me in my religion is not what happened in the past involving other people, but what happens inside my heart and mind when I attend church, pray, read scripture, serve, and otherwise attempt to live my religion.
It’s a great feeling when after writing a hilarious facebook post you get a few haha reactions.
But it kind of sucks when you bear your testimony and nine people laugh at it. I was accused of dodging the question and being too vague. So I followed up with this reply.
You asked how I solve the conundrum. I answered that question. But more specific to what I think happened related to Lucy Walker, I said think what he did was likely a mistake and not directed by God. I would have to refresh my memory on this particular episode, but I’ve frequently admitted that I think Joseph lied about some things related to polygamy, was deceptive about hiding it from Emma, and was manipulative and coercive with some of the girls. I think the church’s essay is actually refreshingly revealing on this. That said, I also don’t think his motivations were *purely* sexual or sinister (while admitting at least partially they likely were). I think he had a powerful spiritual revelation related to eternal marriage and sealing, and the whole polygamy episode was a bad implementation of that general revelation. We as a church eventually got it right, but it caused a lot of heartache along the way.
I thought that was a pretty direct answer, but I still got several people wanting me to clarify my position and accusing me of dodging.
This is so interesting and ironic to me, because when I went through faith crisis, my biggest complaint with LDS defenders, both the traditional Apologists like FARMS and Dan Peterson and the new school Neo-Apologists like Givens, Bushman, Miller, were that they were too vague in how they answered many of these questions. That became my primary goal in coming online and starting to post and blog about faith crisis issues. I was determined to never dodge and always give my direct opinion.
Easier said than done. When you answer a tough question, you know there are a lot of people potential hearing your answer. Exmormons wanting you to admit fault, faithful LDS wanting to know if you’re one of them, your wife (is she going to kick my butt for this?), your stake president, your kids. Every word is power packed with implications that might not be intended. I want to be direct. But it’s hard to articulate a position without misunderstanding.
I still have the goal to answer questions directly and never dodge. But I have more sympathy for people I used to criticize.
Speaking of “vagueapologetics”, Terryl Givens is someone I love now but someone who used to frustrate me due to this. I’m trying to understand the new project from the Bruce Hafen family Faith is Not Blind. More on that later, but here are a couple interesting quotes from Givens in an interview for this project. Givens is interesting in that to me he is clearly unorthodox/nuanced on a lot of levels. But then others argue with me saying he’s not unorthodox at all, and I’m just reading more into what he says.
When asked what the most troubling aspect of the BOM was from critical perspective, Givens said it was that some critics claim there is source material for the BOM like Solomon Spaulding, View of the Hebrews, and The Late War (a psuedo-biblical text written in Joseph’s day). I also would add to that generically the Protestant sermon language, doctrines, and phrases floating around in Joseph’s time and the New Testament itself. Givens admits that there seems to be “some striking congruences at times–or borrowing.”
But I came to a place where I believe and continue to believe that Joseph received impressions. He received ideas, glimpses, pictures, images, concepts. But that the Lord had to work through the cultural and intellectual vocabulary that was available to Joseph Smith. And so the particular means and wording I think aren’t the things on which we should hang our faith.
This is a more intellectually sound way to deal with this issue than to imagine God putting those words down specifically for him to copy as if he was dictating and not contributing any creative element. How unorthodox is this? You be the judge. I don’t hear a lot of other people talking this way about the Book of Mormon translation, but I hope we hear more of it. I would also love Givens to explain with a little more specificity how this would work and maybe a theoretical example. When I worked through this exercise, I ultimately decided it was easier to picture it as a purely non-historical text, while still allowing that it could be inspired and more relevant–inspiring.
Here’s another quote from the interview I thought was very interesting.
I know that many millennials especially bridle at the phrase “the only true and living church”. And that can create an impression of tribalism, exceptionalism, and pride. But on the other hand if you consider that officially Latter-day Saints are members of the only church that officially teach the preexistence of the soul, a Heavenly Father who feels our pain, a Heavenly Mother who lives in union with a Heavenly Father, a plan of salvation that envisions the eventual salvation of the entire human family without any barriers erected by death, the family as an eternal unit. There is something fairly unique about this conglomeration of doctrines taken together.
I don’t believe our church is the one and only exclusively true church of God in the same way that most members would view that. Based on this answer, I’m inclined to think Givens is closer to me on this than most of the people we sit in the pews with on Sundays. But I can’t say for sure. You be the judge.
At any rate, I love how he talks about the restored gospel, and I hope more will follow along, despite how vague it feels to some. One more quote from Givens from the interview which I 100% agree.
It (LDS Church) has what I consider to be the most profoundly satisfying, intellectually rigorous system of thought associated with any religion tradition I’ve studied…it is almost impossible to fully appreciate the majesty, and the clarity and the logical consistency of Joseph Smith’s restored system of thought.
Amen Brother Givens, thank you for your contributions.