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  Saturday, February 21, 2004

A Salt Lake Tribune article notes that university presses involved in publishing LDS history include the U of Illinois and USU.  Why is it that neither the press at the University of Utah nor its counterpart at BYU is a major player in this field?  The U went so far as to cancel its Mormon Studies series in 1994, but has recently reversed course, according to the article. 11:52:25 AM      

There's another interesting Salt Lake Tribune article on Mormon Studies, Utah colleges lagging on LDS history.   This article relates how several major universities have Mormon Studies programs or professorships, but Utah universities, especially the U, have studiously avoided moving in that direction, even in Mormon history, and cites the recent decision not to hire D. Michael Quinn as illustrating the reluctance of Utah colleges to be active in the field.  The Y hasn't done much better.  Thus UVSC, the upstart state college in Utah County, seems to be more supportive of the religious studies approach to Mormonism than any institution of higher learning in the state of Utah (caveat: the article mentions that USU has a small program in Mormon Studies).

Sample from the article which might explain this:  Mormon students have an especially tough time being objective, says Kathleen Flake, an LDS professor who teaches American religious history at Vanderbilt University. Flake says many LDS students are primed to review any class on Mormonism through an "are-they-for-us-or-against-us" lens.  "Unlike a lot of undergrads who are taking religious studies to understand the faith of their parents, Mormon students come to the class thinking they already know it and are prepared to debate the class material and defend the church from perceived attacks," Flake says.  Is this a failure of objectivity or a simple case of know-it-all hubris on the part of Mormon students?  And it is probably unfair to limit the scope of the problem to the approach taken by students, who after all tend to reflect what they've been taught. 11:40:05 AM      

I recently came across a Papal encyclical on marriage (Encyclical Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae, meaning "God's wise secret") that covers much of the same ground as the recent LDS pseudo-revelation on the family (The Family: A Proclamation to the World).  The Catholic encyclical was issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1880.  It provides a nice contrast in style with the LDS document.  The Catholic encyclical contains 45 lengthy paragraphs, with 56 footnotes referencing scriptural texts, Church Fathers, and prior pronouncements of Catholic leaders.  The LDS proclamation contains 9 short paragraphs with no footnotes, no references to prior pronouncements, and one scriptural reference (to Psalms 127:3).  Here are short excerpts from the Catholic encyclical:

[Jesus Christ] bore witness to the Jews and to His Apostles that marriage, from its institution, should exist between two only, that is, between one man and one woman; that of two they are made, so to say, one flesh; and that the marriage bond is by the will of God so closely and strongly made fast that no man may dissolve it or render it asunder (Paragraph 5).  The LDS proclamation reads "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God."

Marriage was gradually corrupted, however:  [A] common custom was gradually introduced, by which it was accounted as lawful for a man to have more than one wife. . . .  Moreover, plurality of wives and husbands, as well as divorce, caused the nuptial bond to be relaxed exceedingly. . . .  When the licentiousness of a husband thus showed itself, nothing could be more piteous than the wife, sunk so low as to be all but reckoned as a means for the gratification of passion, or for the production of offspring (Paragraphs 6, 7).  The LDS proclamation, on the other hand, is actually very careful not to condemn plural marriage.  It says "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God," but does not say marriage between a man and several women is not ordained of God.  Elsewhere, it uses the phrase "marriage between man and woman," generic terms that admit of a plurality as well as the singular.  Of course, Mormons distinguish plural marriage from group marriage: while several women were all married to one Mormon patriarch, that did not mean that the plural wives were also married to each other, somehow legitimating relations between them. 

Again, in the very beginning of the Christian Church were repulsed and defeated, with the like unremitting determination, the efforts of many who aimed at the destruction of Christian marriage, such as the Gnostics, Manichaeans, and Montanists; and in our own time Mormons, St. Simonians, phalansterians, and communists (Paragraph 13).  Recall that this encyclical issued in 1880, whereas the mainstream LDS Church did not renounce the practice of plural marriage until 1890.  Still, I imagine it's a bit of a surprise for most to see Mormons described as having "aimed at the destruction of Christian marriage."

Marriage, moreover, is a sacrament, because it is a holy sign which gives grace, showing forth an image of the mystical nuptials of Christ with the Church. But the form and image of these nuptials is shown precisely by the very bond of that most close union in which man and woman are bound together in one; which bond is nothing else but the marriage itself (Paragraph 24).  Monogamous marriage is a symbol of Christ's mystical union with His Church; this mystical and symbolic view of marriage derives from the Bible and is is well established.  Ironically, the LDS doctrine of plural marriage, from this perspective, becomes an implicit ratification of God's endorsement of tolerance and religious diversity, and a repudiation of the "one true church" approach to Christianity.  That's the nicest take on plural marriage I've ever encountered.

Care also must be taken that they do not easily enter into marriage with those who are not Catholics; for, when minds do not agree as to the observances of religion, it is scarcely possible to hope for agreement in other things. Other reasons also proving that persons should turn with dread from such marriages are chiefly these: that they give occasion to forbidden association and communion in religious matters; endanger the faith of the Catholic partner; are a hindrance to the proper education of the children; and often lead to a mixing up of truth and falsehood, and to the belief that all religions are equally good (Paragraph 43).  Like modern Mormons, the Pope here opposed mixed-religion marriages, for many of the same reasons.  His Holiness understandably opposes the chartiable and tolerant "belief that all religions are equally good."   Funny how religious tolerance, so often held out as one of the finer achievements of "the West" and emblematic of the personal freedoms we enjoy, is a product of the godless secular state.  Godless secularism isn't such a bad thing, perhaps. 9:13:01 AM      

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