Limited Tolerance

Over at T&S a discussion about the legalization of polygamy was closed after some of the participants got too heated. I’m not asking to continue that discussion here, but I do think it raises a central issue–how much diversity can and should the church tolerate?

What issues/practices/doctrines can we hold differing “righteous” positions on; and which require complete uniformity? How do describe the interplay between culture and gospel norms? Why does it seem that we are more comfortable with gospel norms varying through time, rather than varying by location? We can consent to the practice of polygamy in the OT or in the 19th century, but why not contemporary Africa?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David J

    Smallaxe,

    What a lot of fundamentalist Mormons miss is that in each case where the OT appears to sanction polygamy, its participants wind up in sadness and despair. I would urge that God does not sanction polygamy in the OT – he seems to disagree with it based upon the results of the lives of its participants, which fits the quid pro quo pedagogy in the OT.

    I think most folks are more comfortable with diachronic changes vs. geographic changes because with diachronic changes, the mind can give complete closure to the specific thing, lending itself comfort knowing that practice in question does not exist anymore and/or anywhere. If a given questionable practice exists in Africa per se, the mind has to find a way to justify it for the present time, which can be difficult.

  • smallaxe

    What a lot of fundamentalist Mormons miss is that in each case where the OT appears to sanction polygamy, its participants wind up in sadness and despair. I would urge that God does not sanction polygamy in the OT – he seems to disagree with it based upon the results of the lives of its participants, which fits the quid pro quo pedagogy in the OT.

    Would you make the argument then that polygamy is universally wrong? I’m not trying to bait you here, as I have no dog in this fight. I’m just interested to hear your thoughts. I completely agree with you in regards to the diachronic/geographic explanation.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Part of the issue here is administrative rather than theological. I think that the church has taken the stance of adopting a uniform set of standards throughout the world because it is simply easier. Now that the world is so small, it would make no sense to create geographic allowances for certain practices. There are Africans in Tennessee, Chinese in Saudi Arabia, Hawaiians in Boston, and Norwegians in Micronesia.

  • Daylan

    How much diversity can and should the church tolerate?

    It the activities are between informed, consenting adults the church should tolerate all diversity. What right (or moral authority from God) do we have to punish anyone as long as they refrain from “thou shalt not steal, lie, kill, etc.”?

  • a random John

    I think that the limits of diversity of practice and doctrine are currently defined by the temple recommend questions. If you can answer honestly and pass the interview then you are OK even if you are a nutjob polygamist sympathizer such as Ben There or on the other extreme a (gasp) Democrat.

  • http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/ Dando

    I think a diversity of thought is one of the most beautiful things about Protestantism. We freely admit that we don’t have all the answers on everything. So we allow people to worship in a way that they feel comfortable. Some feel tongues have ceased, others think they are vital to ongoing faith. So with grace we make a space for both to practice what their own conscience dictates (often we fail to extend as much grace as we should).

    Diversity of thought enriches and deepens the style in which we worship as well. I’ve seen Africans worship in the same way North Americans do, then I’ve seen them flip a switch and explode in delight as they worship as Africans. It would make me sad if they had to go on worshiping in a 19th Century Protestant American style when they’re own cultural methods have so much more passion.

    The LDS church (and all restorationist churches) use this diversity as an apologetic against us though. We don’t have total unity, therefore we must not be (capital t) True. Therefore LDS MUST maintain unity of thought, style and method or they lose an important justification for origin.

    As far as polygamy, I think in the OT it was not against God’s law (and not a sin) but it was not God’s best for people. It’s interesting that those who argue for a modern practice of polygamy, don’t attempt to use the same arguments to justify a modern practice of slavery.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    arJ,

    even if you are a nutjob polygamist sympathizer such as Ben There

    I must have missed it. What did Ben There say to earn the title of “nutjob”? Or were you being ironic?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Dando,
    I agree that unity of practice is an important apologetic trope for Mormons, but I am not entirely sure that I would characterize Protestant diversity as an active choice. All denominations have limits on what they consider acceptable. Mormons and Episcopalians and Snake Handlers are no different on this point. For Mormons, the unity of practice is not contrasted with any one denomination but the diversity of the rest of Christianity. This claim is punctuated by an appeal to a different type of authority rather than the diversity itself. The claim is that the diversity of practice in Christianity at large is the result of a mistaken view of authority as rooted in interpretation of scripture.

  • smallaxe

    Part of the issue here is administrative rather than theological. I think that the church has taken the stance of adopting a uniform set of standards throughout the world because it is simply easier. Now that the world is so small, it would make no sense to create geographic allowances for certain practices.

    Although we do create geographic allowances for certain things like the sabbath day. While this isn’t as serious as polygamy, I think many would take it as an important issue. From what I hear the congregations in Israel meet on Saturdays, and those in Egypt meet on Fridays.

  • smallaxe

    It the activities are between informed, consenting adults the church should tolerate all diversity. What right (or moral authority from God) do we have to punish anyone as long as they refrain from “thou shalt not steal, lie, kill, etc.”?

    Last I checked adultery was also in that list, but isn’t that between consenting adults? In other words, on what basis do we decide what belongs on this “thou shalt not” list?

  • smallaxe

    I think that the limits of diversity of practice and doctrine are currently defined by the temple recommend questions. If you can answer honestly and pass the interview then you are OK even if you are a nutjob polygamist sympathizer such as Ben There or on the other extreme a (gasp) Democrat.

    Does that mean that the person doing the interview should not feel free to interpret the questions? Many of the questions are vague. Should they purposefully be left vauge? In other words, my version of “honestly answering the questions”, may not we what the SP has in mind. Not saying that I’m being dishonest, but my version of a testimony may not be his.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David J

    Smallaxe (#2), based upon my research, I concluded that yes, the authors of the OT do not sanction polygamy based upon the situation of its participants after engaging in the practice. This raises questions for D&C 132, which I believe indicates that God told JS that there were specific cases for God’s justification of it, which would contradict with my findings. Again, I don’t think BY or JS (or whoever wrote D&C 132) is to blame for not picking up on it because the OT doesn’t specifically attribute negativity to polygamy in a concise, clear-cut, manner. But the OT rarely teaches like that. The authors of the OT like to demonstrate through extended narratives (often times through entire books) that the choice to engage in polygamy (or idolatry, or murder, etc.) is one of many contributing factors which lead to sadness, despair, or even death.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    David J,
    How do you explain the legal permission for polygamy in Lev if the OT authors don’t sanction polygamy? I can surmise that you are taking the “negative” stories in Genesis and 1-2 Kings to come to your conclusion, but it seems to be a rather strained reading. If the OT authors didn’t approve, why didn’t they just come out and say so instead of set legal authorizations for it?

  • http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/ Dando

    permitted but not recommended.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David J

    What Dando said. Plus, if one considers source criticism, one might conclude that the authors from pro-monarchic times (from which much of the Pentateuch was written/re-hashed) were attempting to legitimize David’s/Solomon’s practices post eventu. The Lev. verse (yeah, it’s a stretch) might be a plug for Davidic validity.

    Either way, every polygamy tale that precedes and succeeds the Leviticus dictate demonstrates quite the opposite – God doesn’t approve of it. No polygamist in the Bible wound up happy in the end, despite the Leviticus “approbation” of it.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David J

    I should have said: “Constructively God doesn’t approve of it.”

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Well, maybe…but how can you tell the difference between permitted and recommended if they don’t actually say it? Why not say that about marriage itself is not recommended rather than just polygamous marriage (especially since monogamous marriage as a “morally superior” choice to polygamy didn’t really seem to be an available idea in antiquity)?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    But the OT rarely teaches like that. The authors of the OT like to demonstrate through extended narratives (often times through entire books) that the choice to engage in polygamy (or idolatry, or murder, etc.) is one of many contributing factors which lead to sadness, despair, or even death.

    Why can’t we read it to mean “no one could pull it off” rather than it shouldn’t be done? And if plural marriage was the norm in OT times (I’m assuming it was, and could be totally wrong), why are we to assume that the text contains such a self-conscious critique of the practice? In other words is it possible that we read the text as making commentary on the practice only because the practice is questionable to us? Just some random thoughts.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David J

    1. It wasn’t the norm in OT times, which is why it gets special attention when it occurs. This is mentioned frequently in the Library of Ancient Israel series.

    2. It’s possible, but not probable. Again, every time it crops up, that person (usually the male) winds up in awful situations. Since the afterlife doctrines were not fully developed or even existent (cf. “Shades of Sheol” by Johnston), one would argue that the OT authors had to demonstrate proper judgment and retribution upon the “sinner” while he/she is still alive in order to give the reader the proper closure on the story. That being the case, any validation of it in Leviticus, I would argue, runs against the grain throughout the rest of the OT. I think you’re looking at a naughty, pro-monarchic redactor in Leviticus.


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