Thursday, March 28, 2019

CNN Coverage of the Church's name change

While doing research on the topic of the Church's name and writing up a post about it I came across a CNN article from last Sunday titled: Why the 'Mormon' church changed its name. (It's about revelation, not rebranding.)

It's an interesting read. It was pointed out to me this week that (I'm paraphrasing):

The media has bias. In the interest of speed or to tell the story with just a hint toward the angle they're taking, they do one of two things: either take a line that illustrates their point, and use it divorced from its context (which usually puts it in appropriate light), or re-state a comment without direct attribution, allowing them to reframe or tweak the direction.  The more sensational, the more readers.  Motives like hits, likes, and of course money play a motive in how the news reports things.  Interviewees are often not allowed to explain for very long or give much background, so interview responses can be used by the media to create the desired story.  

Those were some good points. Everyone knows the media does do this.  Sometimes facts get twisted or they take angles or present things in a sensational way so as to attract readers. The problem is, is the media are not the only ones who do this. The Church does the same thing but the words change from "sensational" to "faith promoting" and from "making money" to "making members".  Deseret news and KSL or even the historical department follow similar patterns of bias. I admit it's very comfortable to identify twisting of statements and taking things out of context in the mainstream media, but much more unsettling to identify the same behavior from your religious institution.

Back to the article.  CNN's religious editor Daniel Burke said some striking things.  We can fact check and see if they were twisted or taken out of context.  A few of them are below.
Sometimes the spirit prompts the prophet's wife to leave the bed, though she'd rather sleep. One such morning, Wendy Nelson told Mormon leaders, her husband emerged from the bedroom waving a yellow notebook.

Fact Check: This is something Sister Nelson has mentioned publicly in a Church produced video. Link.   At minute mark 1:56 she gets an impression "Move out of bed, now".  I almost wanted to use an exclamation point because of how her voice tone and inflection relayed the impression she received.  Later in the video she comments that she doesn't read the revelatory messages to her husband.  She views them as private messages to him and she "would never look".

Conclusion: CNN is accurate.  The Church produced video is stranger even than CNN's reporting of it.  One surprising bit not covered by CNN in that video was she says she "is a witness ["That the Lord instructs his prophet"] by being present, and a witness by being absent".  The idea of being a witness by being absent was a little odd.

Side note: Interesting to be told to leave the room, "now".  And then President Nelson received revelation.  One concern this raises is it seem like her presence was an impediment or that she was somehow uninvited or too distracting to be there on such occasions.  I certainly hope a woman would not be viewed or put in a position where her presence is not welcomed or even tolerated by the spirit when God communicates to her husband.  The scriptures teach that neither is the man without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord.  President Nelson's wife being required to leave the room for unexplained reasons struck me as curious.

I don't know of hardly any accounts of a President of the Church's wife recounting or describing her presence, or lack of, during or surrounding her husband's revelations.  One example we do know of was Emma Smith.  She was very involved with Joseph in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon even acting as his scribe as he would translate the plates transcribing more than anyone other than Oliver Cowdery.  Link.

Another interesting passage from the article:
Nelson has been forceful in his rejection of the "Mormon" nickname, saying it offends God and represents "a major victory for Satan." He made a similar argument in 1990, when he was a church leader, but was apparently rebuffed by superiors.
Asked about the apparent contradiction -- why would previous Mormon prophets reject what is now apparently God's will? -- church spokesman Eric Hawkins said the church has a saying: The most important prophet is the living one.
"God may have different intentions for the church at different times," Hawkins said. "That's baked into the notion that the church can change."
Fact Check:  These are accurate and are found in President Nelson's conference talk Oct 2018.   The rebuffing by superiors is likely a reference to President Hinckely's talk 6 months after the 1990 talk given by Apostle Russel Nelson.  President Hinckely, first counselor in the First presidency at the time, said the term "Mormon" meant "More good" and he encouraged the members make the term shine.

Regarding the contradiction CNN references.  President Monson and President Hinckley were major adopters and sponsors of the nicknames he cites. Full length feature films even. This appears to go beyond a mere difference of focus or emphasis for one President's tenure vs another. If God doesn't change than it's curious how can he direct the leaders to sponsor and promote what he later says offends him and scores victories for Satan? That would seem fully out of character for God.  President Nelson said to the media that the new emphasis on the full name is a "course correction". That prompts the question of who was it that led the Church off course? These statements implicate his predecessors in a way that is gives pause. But from another point of view, as an alternative, did President Nelson possibly speak in error about what offends God?

The scriptures tell us plainly what offends God: "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments. That verse from D&C teaches that "in nothing" does man offend God except the things it says.  It didn't include superficial things like people using church nicknames. President Nelson didn't cite a source for his assertion that nicknames like Mormon offend God. So I could see a case being made for this simply being an error, and that "Mormon" nicknames don't really offend God and never did

The Church spokesmen's comments by Erik Hawkins are not whimsical, they have a sermons and teachings behind them. The Church spokesmen says "The Church has a saying".  This is accurate and probably all he had time to say in the statement.  The church does have this saying, and it stems from a sermon titled The 14 Fundamentals of Following the Prophet. Seen here as a "First Presidency Message".

The idea of a changing God, who's one day leading the top leaders to score victories for the adversary and a few years later contradicting that and saying such things actually offended him.... this changing God according to lectures prepared by Joseph Smith is not characteristic of the God taught in those lectures.  A God who changes would prevent a person from being able to exercise faith in such a being.  See Lectures on Faith, 3rd Lecture.  So how God is being portrayed is kind of a big deal.

I want people to exercise faith in God.  These statements by the Church however are inexplicably contradictory and faith defeating compared to what Joseph Smith taught.  The statements from the Church are confusing and potentially disrupts your ability to have faith in God. 

Back to the article.  The Church spokesmen then says "God may have different intentions for the church at different times" "That's baked into the notion that the church can change".

The issue here is that God's intentions are what is changing, not just Church policies changing.  Scriptures teach God does not change.  By contrast this public statement is saying God's intentions not only change, but his shifting intentions cover such a wide spectrum that some of them are later said to be victories for the adversary.

Another quote from the CNN article:
But prophecy can be a messy business, as Joseph Smith found out when other Mormons claimed to have divine sanction for their vision of the church. Smith ended the competition by claiming that God told him only the faith's top prophets could speak for the whole church, a restriction that stands to this day. Mormons now believe that revelations are parceled out according to one's role in the church and in wider society.

Fact Check:  This statement about Joseph ending the competition is based on D&C 28 1-6.  This revelation is documented. It quotes the Lord in first person speaking to Oliver.  Oliver and Hyrum page were getting revelations about how to run the Church and it did create a messy situation.
Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given. But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses. And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church. And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it. But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom; And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church
CNN isn't being obtuse or unfair. Technically this revelation is addressed to Oliver, not Joseph.  But since it came through Joseph I don't fault CNN for presenting it they way they did.  The background source for this statement by CNN however makes no reference to  the "faith's top prophets".  The source behind the statement exclusively refers to Joseph Smith who was receiving revelation as Moses did.  But what CNN reported is an accurate portrayal of what the Church regularly teaches today.  So their facts are accurate.

Side note:

CNN may not believe it was God speaking in this revelation but was instead Joseph solving a messy power struggle by putting his own ego on top.  However if Joseph was on an ego trip he didn't take it nearly far enough because the source material here shows a lot of leeway for what Oliver could do.

-He (Oliver) was to be heard by the Church in all things whatsoever he teaches them by the Comforter concerning the revelations and commandments which I [The Lord] had given. So he can teach previously revealed commandments, which came from God, just not receive new ones or receive ones that weren't from God. And this is related to Moses and Aaron.  A pattern that we see in existing scripture.
- By the comforter he could "speak, or teach at all times by the way of commandment unto the Church."

He just wasn't supposed to write by way of commandment.  But instead was to write by wisdom. Seems to me this was discouraging Oliver and others from using a trump card to direct the affairs of the Church.  And this section instructed them not command the person at the head of the Church because that was up to God.

What if we all stopped commanding each other?  Or what if no one used revelation as a trump card?  And instead used persuasion, wisdom, pure knowledge and kindness?  Wouldn't that be awesome? There is intelligence in this revelation.

The same revelation addresses Hyrum Page:
And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him; For, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants. For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.
All things were to be done in the Church "by common consent".  That's not a trump card. How many things are done in the Church by common consent now days?  Fewer and fewer.  It's now directed and dictated and regulated by the top hierarchy.

But back to CNN.  I feel like CNN was within tolerance on this.  They accurately stated the Church's current view on the hierarchy and who can speak to the whole Church, although that view is itself perhaps a little tweaked and without context compared to the text of the revelation it originated from.

Another segment of note from the article:
In many ways, Mormonism is not so different from other American relgions, which are also grappling with crises of authority and struggling to connect with increasingly secular millennials.
Thus far, Nelson's strategy seems to entail liberal use of his "trump card," as Evans put it: his authority as the church's chief prophet, seer and revelator.
In what you might call a prophetic speech, Nelson told Mormon millennials in 2016 that, in a society littered with "servants of Satan," only God's own prophets can be truly trusted.
Fact Check:   First paragraph has academic research behind it.  CNN linked to it here.

Third paragraph is based on this talk by President Nelson.  Relevant quote below.  This quote is found under the talk's heading "Follow the Prophet".  After reading that entire section, and looking up all the footnotes below, CNN is again pretty accurate.  They presented it in somewhat of a striking way, but the source supports it.
Around 41 b.c., many Nephites joined the Church, and the Church prospered. But secret combinations also began to grow, and many of their cunning leaders hid among the people and were difficult to detect. As the people became more and more prideful, many of the Nephites made “a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation.”11
Those same threats are among us today. The somber reality is that there are “servants of Satan”12 embedded throughout society. So be very careful about whose counsel you follow.13 
My beloved brothers and sisters, you were born to be True Millennials! You are a chosen generation,14 fore-determined by God to do a remarkable work—to help prepare the people of this world for the Second Coming of the Lord.
Only the Prophet cannot lead the Church astray and can be trusted says the next in line to be the prophet.  Very interesting.

Overall, CNN didn't twist things.  The citations and references all held up.     

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