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Second, for me, Jesus is the center of my faith, and I believe I stand with normative Latter-Day Saints in saying that. (Some Mormons seem to place Joseph Smith at the center of their faith.) And the teachings of Jesus are the center of my faith -- his teachings of compassion for the outcast, the underprivileged, the poor, those seen as lesser beings because of their race or their gender. His atonement is meaningless unless we try to follow his teachings and actions. (And I certainly do not measure up to his example.) His teachings, combined with the modern day teachings of such leaders as Spencer W. Kimball, Howard W. Hunter, Hugh B. Brown, and Lowell Bennion, have caused me to view ethical concerns as the center of the gospel. For me, the ethics of Jesus, and the Old Testament prophets is the lens through which other aspects of the gospel are refracted.
For instance, in viewing authority, instead of a legalistic, hierarchical view of it, I believe we need to see authority primarily from the ethical perspective of Jesus's teachings. This gives us a startling revision of one commonly accepted Mormon view of priesthood -- instead of a legalistic view of priesthood leaders as infallible, I see more authority than Mormons usually do in leaders in other religions, in those who are not allowed priesthood in our church (including women) -- and less authority in those few leaders in our church who try to govern by intimidation and compulsion, instead of through love. (This of course receives support from the well-known scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants, 121:37: "When we undertake . . . to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness . . . Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.")
Jesus taught over and over again that no aspect of the religious life, however accepted a part of church practice it might be (praying, tithing, fasting), has validity unless it is motivated by sincere compassion and love. He particularly warned against righteous deeds done for social approbation. In a parable such as the parable of the good Samaritan, he criticized members of the true priesthood who lack true love and compassion, and he praised a racially and religiously impure man who had the spiritual insight to take the time to help a badly beaten traveler.
Third, I see the supernatural occurring in human events on occasion, but I do not see it as occurring in such a neat, pat, predictable fashion as extreme conservatives accept. For instance, I accept miraculous cures as taking place at times (In Sacred Loneliness records one cure in Mormon history remarkably attested by a non-Mormon source, p. 230); on the other hand, sometimes cures do not take place when a neat, pat solution would demand it. I accept the reality of man's existence before and after death (and again, I could point to examples of spirits returning after death cited in In Sacred Loneliness). Furthermore, I accept that God does intervene mysteriously in the affairs of this world on occasion; but I do not see God as needing to intervene continuously, second by second, in human events, even in Mormon history. He works through laws, though infinitely careful planning; He is bound by law, according to Mormon doctrine.
This is, of course, one of the central arguments extreme conservatives have used to attack the "New Mormon History." The new, revisionist history has used many models and perspectives (sociological, economic, feminist, psychological) to view events in Mormon history -- and extreme conservatives have charged that the such historians are atheists because sociology, economics, psychology leave God out of the equation. Important "New Mormon" historians, such as Leonard Arrington and Thomas G. Alexander, have argued that for them, God is always part of the equation. All natural laws, both of science and of society, work in conjunction with God and his laws. For me, also, God is always part of the equation (and thus I have no naturalistic (i.e., atheistic) views at all, even in the slightest form); but this does not prevent me from accepting the laws and data of science, sociology, ethics, the laws of historical evidence and theory. Sometimes extreme conservatives denigrate "secular" truth as opposed to "spiritual" truth, but this is a false dichotomy. In fact, my belief in God and the gospel includes the totality of truth. There is no conflict between the intellectual quest and the spiritual quest; they always must be intertwined. I see everything in history and science through the lens of the eternal perspective of the gospel, the ethics of the gospel. Studies in science, sociology, psychology, and history only cause me to appreciate how the laws of God work.
Viewing everything in history and science through the lens of the gospel does not prevent me from making the sincere effort to view everything in Mormon history with complete honesty – in fact, my belief in God and God's requirement for honesty on all levels is one of the factors that motivates me to seek for complete honesty in writing history. As Juanita Brooks said, "Nothing but the truth is good enough for my church." Belief in God and loyalty to church and gospel should inspire the historian to greater honesty in his quest, rather than less.
The idea that willingness to write dishonest history is a test of your faithfulness, is a profoundly flawed position. (And we should remember that there are all kinds of shades and variations of dishonest history, from factual errors, to quiet behind-the-scenes censorship policies, to the resulting self-censorship, to transparent special pleading in argumentation, to policies of "silent omission", to subtle spinning of the truth.) Granted, these forms of dishonesty have been accepted and used skillfully in law, in business, and in politics. In the short run they can seem to be effective. But in the short and long run, they run contrary to the most basic principles of the gospel. I believe that dishonest attempts to conceal and censor problematic aspects of Church history hurt the church far more than the problematic aspects do. Obviously, the true gospel, the true church, does not need dishonesty, concealment of relevant historical facts, censorship.
While there are some church members who advocate policies of censorship of the truth, i.e., dishonesty on an organizational level, some prominent Church leaders disagree. When Elders Howard W. Hunter and Harold B. Lee brought the late Leonard J. Arrington into the Historical Department to be Church Historian, Apostle Hunter cautioned him that care and discretion should be used in writing Mormon history because of reverence church members felt for church leaders. But he also told him that "he felt the Church was mature enough that our history should be honest. He did not believe in suppressing information, hiding documents, or concealing or withholding minutes for possible censorial scrutiny. He thought we should publish the documents of our history. Why should we withhold things that are a part of our history? he asked. He thought it in our best interest to encourage scholars–to help them and cooperate with them in doing honest research." President Harold B. Lee said, "The best defense of the church is the true and impartial account of our history."