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That last sentence seems particularly noteworthy. I've seen the Church take stands on issues before and "call out the voters" on stuff like gambling legislation.

It seems like the LDS.org statement is saying that the Church isn't going to be calling out the vote on abortion. That means no calls for Mormons to vote down pro-abortion legislation.

That's actually a pretty significant statement and seems like the biggest change of policy that I've ever seen the Church take on abortion.

Of course, the statement leaves plenty of wiggle-room for Church leaders to decide LATER whether or not to get behind a piece of legislation or actively fight it.

I guess to really understand the full impact of that additional sentence, we'd need a list of current "legislative proposals" and "public demonstrations" that the Church is refusing to comment on with this statement.

Anyone know of any?

I don't follow this stuff very closely, but it looks to me like we're positioning ourselves to adopt individual responses to specific legislative initiatives rather than being tied to a blanket approach. Looks like a good approach, too.

My question is: if this really is a baby step away from the Church's historically more rigid stance on abortion, why?

Even as someone who favors abortion laws that are less restrictive than Church policy, I've always found abortion to be one issue where Church policy is expressed in a way that it hasn't been hard for me to reconcile having a different position.

I guess I wonder why abortion restrictions, of all things, are being softened. For a conservative religious organization, the Church's position is relatively uncontroversial (if anything, I seem to hear other Christians complain that the Church is already too permissive). If the Church is going to start changing some policies and positions, there are a few other areas I'd like to see receive attention first. . .

Dave, the current LDS.org statement is a "newsroom" article written for the national (and international) press. It was not written as guidance for Church members.

If you look at the end of the article, you'll see three links to additional information about abortion (in addition to TTTF) that is directed to Church members. In these three articles abortion is described as "repugnant" (Gordon B. Hinckley), "consummately wrong" (James E. Faust and Russell M. Nelson), and "one of the most revolting and sinful practices of this day" (First Presidency Statements Jan. 1973 and July 1976, and the General Handbook of Instructions).

Gordon B. Hinckley: "Abortion is an evil, stark and real and repugnant, which is sweeping over the earth. I plead with the women of this Church to shun it, to stand above it, to stay away from those compromising situations which make it appear desirable. There may be some few circumstances under which it can occur, but they are extremely limited and for the most part improbable." (Gordon B. Hinckley, "Walking in the Light of the Lord," Ensign, Nov. 1998, 97.)

James E. Faust: "We have come to a time when the taking of an unborn human life for nonmedical reasons has become tolerated, made legal, and accepted in many countries of the world. But making it legal to destroy newly conceived life will never make it right. It is consummately wrong." (Ensign, May 1975, p. 28; as quoted by William S. Evans, director for Church Special Affairs/Public Communications, in "I Have a Question: What can Latter-day Saints do to fight the growing incidence of abortion?" Ensign, Dec. 1984, 45.)

Russell M. Nelson: The Lord has repeatedly declared this divine imperative: "Thou shalt not kill." 6 Recently he added, "Nor do anything like unto it." (D&C 59:6.) Even before the fulness of the gospel was restored, the enlightened understood the sanctity of life. John Calvin, the sixteenth-century reformer, wrote: "If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man's house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light." 7

But what impropriety could now legalize that which has been forbidden by the laws of God from the dawn of time? What twisted reasoning has transformed mythical concepts into contorted slogans assenting to a practice which is consummately wrong....

The woman's choice for her own body does not validate choice for the body of another. The expression "terminate the pregnancy" applies literally only to the woman. The consequence of terminating the fetus therein involves the body and very life of another. These two individuals have separate brains, separate hearts, and separate circulatory systems. To pretend that there is no child and no life there is to deny reality....

Scripture declares that the "life of the flesh is in the blood." (Lev. 17:11.) Abortion sheds that innocent blood. (Russell M. Nelson, "Reverence for Life," Ensign, May 1985, 11.)

General Handbook of Instructions: "The Church opposes abortion as one of the most revolting and sinful practices of this day. Members must not submit to, be a party to, or perform an abortion. The only exceptions are the rare cases where, in the opinion of competent medical counsel, the life or health of the woman is in jeopardy or the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape. Even then, the woman should consider an abortion only after counseling with her husband and bishop or branch president, and receiving divine confirmation through prayer."

Church members who, ignoring either priesthood consultation or the approbation of the Lord, "encourage, perform, or submit to an abortion are to be disciplined by Church councils, as necessary."

The Church policy statement concludes: "As far as has been revealed, a person may repent and be forgiven for the sin of abortion." (General Handbook of Instructions, 1983, pp. 77–78; as quoted by William S. Evans, director for Church Special Affairs/Public Communications, in "I Have a Question: What can Latter-day Saints do to fight the growing incidence of abortion?" Ensign, Dec. 1984, 45.)

Conclusion: I think you are confusing a carefully worded public relations statement written for the press with instructions given by the Church to its members. For those news people (and Church members) who would like to know more about what the Church teaches its members, three links are provided. I see no evidence that the Church's position on abortion is changing.

There is also a statement on embryonic stem cell research that is similarly worded.

Interesting that these statements about political positions are coming out in the context of Romeny's run. I've long insisted that the Church's position (allowing abortions in some circumstances) is a conservative pro-choice stance but that the church lets you vote however you want on the political issue.

I have come to a change of mind myself, or rather, a making up of my mind about this issue. Perhaps God is trying to tell us all something.

I like the term "conservative pro-choice." I don't see how we can be anything but that when agency is such a big part of our doctrine.

I'd like to note one thing regarding the last sentence in the lds.org statement, "The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion."

The sentence is not new. Almost identical language appeared in the January 1991 First Presidency statement on abortion, which was issued "[i]n view of the widespread public interest in the issue of abortion." Here is the relevant portion of the 1991 statement:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an institution has not favored or opposed specific legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion.

Inasmuch as this issue is likely to arise in all states in the United States of America and in many other nations of the world in which the Church is established, it is impractical for the Church to take a position on specific on this important subject.

However, we continue to encourage our members as citizens to let their voices be heard in appropriate and legal ways that will evidence their belief in the sacredness of life" (Ensign, Mar. 1991, 78).

The 1998 General Handbook of Instructions similarly states: "The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion. However, the First Presidency encourages members, as citizens, to let their voices be heard in appropriate and legal ways that will evidence their belief in the sacredness of life. (See Ensign, Mar. 1991, 78.)"

Gary, comments are great and I welcome alternative and opposing views, but not preachy sermons. If you want to post that on your own blog, fine.

It seems like the more recent statements are an attempt to make it clear to the larger public that the opinions of folks like you (which you invariably insist are official views, however extreme and outdated they are) DO NOT represent the present attitude or position of the Church.

I think your real beef is with the fact that current statements by LDS leaders are somehow failing to reflect your own extreme views. Maybe you should direct your complaints to them.

To the extent that the current lds.org statement is a departure from the TTTF statement, it seems to be a return to the 1998 CHI statement. The lds.org statement closely tracks the 1998 statement, right down to identical language at several points. It cuts out the handbook statement's opening sentence ("The Lord commanded, 'Thou shalt not ... kill, nor do anything like unto it' (D&C 59:6)") and the last three sentences, but the rest is nearly identical.

Dave, the "preachy sermons" came directly from the LDS.org web page that is linked in your post. How is it, then, that they suddenly became "outdated" and by what logic do they not represent the present attitude or position of the Church when they are recommended on the very web page YOU see as representing the same?

Gary, "preachy" goes to tone, not substance, and was referring to your tone, not your quotations. GA's speaking from the pulpit or the Ensign can preach without being open to the charge of being preachy, but in friendly conversations different conventions apply. There's also a difference between how comments are perceived when posted at one's home blog as a post versus (for example) posting an 11-paragraph comment with bolded titles at someone else's blog. On my turf, I'll respond in kind, whereas anywhere else I figure people can say whatever they want without me chiming in.

So -- I'm puzzled at why you think the recent statement posted at LDS.org is just a "cleverly worded PR statement" when in fact it is obviously an official statement and one intended to clearly communicate the present position of the Church. Your attempt to paint it as some PR trick that somehow intentionally misstates the true LDS position (not surprisingly, your position) essentially depicts the LDS leadership as dishonest or two-faced, saying one thing in public statements but really meaning or believing something else (such as what you believe).

The fact that your position implicitly paints LDS leaders as dishonest should tip you off to the idea that you are a little off-base on this one. Of course leaders still counsel strongly against abortion, but they have moved away from the harsh language you find so rewarding. I think they are doing the right thing.

You're really straining at gnats if you think the newsroom.lds.org article is different than the TTTF article. They are worded slightly differently, but the church-approved exceptions to abortion are the same and have not changed.

"(2) It makes it clear the Church opposes elective abortions undertaken for personal or social convenience rather than making a blanket general statement condemning all abortions."

The italicized 2nd portion of your statement #2 is incorrect. TTTF does not blanket condemn all abortions.

Everything outside of the exceptions listed in TTTF in essence _are_ elective abortions understaken for personal or social convenience.

Dave,

My apologies. My mistake. By placing additional resource links on its abortion answer page, I thought the Church was informing its readers that the page does not represent the last word or complete answer on the subject.

If the three linked articles were identified as "Outdated Statements" (instead of "Additional Resources"), I would have to agree with your analysis.

I also apologize for the "11-paragraph comment with bolded titles" — although I did read your FAQ & Comment Policy before posting on your blog and I didn't see anything about comment length or the use of bold type, so I (wrongly) thought it would be okay to quickly summarize the 114 paragraphs of additional information on abortion (Hinckley 46, Nelson 42, Evans 26) that the Church apparently doesn't want anyone to read.

By the way, it's a "carefully worded" (my description), not a "cleverly worded" (your description) statement.

Thanks for your comments, Gary. Just to let the LDS.org site have the last say on the status of the statements posted in the "Newsroom" section, I'll quote from the Current Social Issues page that lists four statements, including the one I quoted on abortion:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued official statements regarding many of the social issues of today. Several of these statements are collected here. [emphasis added]

I think that "official Statements" to the press, and "official Statements" to the members are very much different. Lets see what, if anything, is said in General Conference -- the true source of official statements. President Hinkley made that very clear on more than one occassion that what is said for the public does not translate for the membership. You can question the wisdom of such an approach, but it seems to have always been that way.

Jettboy, you seem to be thinking that leaders can say one thing "officially" to the public, something else (whatever you think they really believe) in a less public setting to members, and still be considered honest. I think that you are making leaders out to be hypocritical and dishonest, hardly a tactic inclined to generate much respect or agreement. Why not just take their representation -- that the statement posted at LDS.org is, in fact, an official statement -- at face value? What makes you think you can simply dismiss official statements as somehow not really being official?

Since I don't have anything smart or important to add, I'll just drop in and say I heart Dave. Because it's been a while since I said so.

Dave, to my knowledge the church has never opposed abortions in cases of rape, fetal demise, or when necessary to protect the mother, but has always opposed elective abortions. The recent statement doesn't vary from that tradition. I think you were thrown off by the switch in emphasis in the press statement to identifying which abortions the church opposes (elective abortions) from their usual tack of identifying the exceptions (non-elective abortions).

Dave, because I have seen it time and time again. It isn't so much a different statement as much as a watered down version of a stricter statement to the members. Like I said, you can probably question the wisdom of that approach.

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I suppose it's worth pointing out that, in the LDS Church, there can be huge changes in practice with no apparent change in public discourse. Thus we went from having plural marriage as the central doctrine of LDS salvation theology to an excommunicable offense while the term "celestial marriage" carried on with no change in offical rhetoric (although the meaning of the term gradually changed, of course).

So I won't dispute that there is little change in substance in the more recent statements. The quesion is whether the change in tone (and it is indisputable there is a change in tone) reflects quiet changes in practice at the local level, where local leaders interact with LDS women or teenage girls who are either contemplating or have undergone an abortion. Here's my main point, stated a little more directly: I believe the change in the tone of the rhetoric supports other anecdotal evidence (the only kind we can get on this issue) of a change in practice.

I don't think the Church's position has changed that much, but I would like to point out that it is my impression that the comments on the LDS.org page for the press are as close to an "official policy" from the Church as you can get. They are not posted without close consultation with the Brethren, and President Hinckley is especially conscious of PR and the media.

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