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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Mormon Mentions: Ilsa J. Bick

If you're new to BBB, you may be wondering what in the world a "Mormon Mention" is. You may even be wondering what the heck a Mormon is. Well, a Mormon is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Like me. As such, I'm naturally concerned with how my church is portrayed in the media. Since this blog is all about the written word, every time I see a reference to the church in a book written by someone who is not LDS, I post it. Why? That depends. Sometimes it's just to snicker along with the author at my crazy Mormon culture, other times it's to correct a misconception or simply to offer my view as an "insider." I always welcome your thoughts, opinions, comments and questions on these posts and if you have no interest in them, feel free to skip right over them. I won't be offended. Promise.

With that disclaimer, here we go:

In Ashes, Ilsa J. Bick's new YA dystopian novel (see gushing review above), the heroine finds her way to a walled village called Rule. In trying to figure out how the town works, Alex has this conversation with Kincaid, one of Rule's residents:

"Why is it so important that I see this Council and the Reverend? I mean, they can't decide where everyone goes. There are too many people."

"Five hundred, give or take, yeah. And no, they don't eyeball everyone. Wardens - men who've been given the keys - do that."

"Keys? You mean, like, to unlock doors?"

"Not physical ones, no. It's, ah, a biblical reference. Matthew: And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Same concept as the Mormon priesthood, although we're not Mormons. What it boils down to is that the Council awards certain men the authority to make decisions in certain areas: the farms, the armory, supplies, sanitation, for example ..." (319).

Twenty-some pages later, Alex asks Kincaid, "What is this place? Are you a cult or, you know, one of those really religious ..." She groped for the right word. "You said you're not Mormons or something, but like the Amish? Some kind of weird sect? Things seem so decided."

[Paragraph omitted]

Kincaid studied her for a long few seconds. "Considering some of my best friends are Amish, I might take offense. They're not weird, or a cult. They're gentle, good people."

"You know what I mean."

"Yeah, I do" (346).

Let's go ahead and deal with the second passage first ... I realize Bick's not suggesting the LDS Church is a cult, but it's such a prevalent myth that we might as well get this out of the way once and for all: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (members of which are commonly known as Mormons) is not a cult. It's a church, which - as its name indicates - is centered around Jesus Christ and His teachings. Yes, members of the mainstream church did practice polygamy in the 1800s. This no longer occurs. Hasn't for over 100 years. It is against the laws of the country and the LDS Church.

Disagreements among early church members over various doctrines led to the formation of off-shoots like the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. These sects are not affiliated with the LDS Church. They differ in theology, practices, leadership, everything. While I have no personal experience with the FLDS Church (run by famed polygamist Warren Jeffs), it is often referred to as a cult and I don't disagree.

Make sense so far? Let's recap: The LDS Church (also commonly known as the Mormon Church) is not a cult. Not. A. Cult. Got it? Good. Let's move on.

The comparison Bick makes between the "Mormon priesthood" and Rule's government is interesting. In some ways, it's apt; in other ways, not so much. Let me explain.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believe the priesthood is the power of God. The keys are the right to use this authority in certain ways. Jesus Christ has always held all the keys of the priesthood. When He called the Twelve Apostles, He gave them the priesthood. Before He was crucified, He gave the keys of the priesthood to Peter, James and John (see Matthew 17:1-9). In the ensuing centuries, this power was lost. We believe it was restored via Joseph Smith and that, today, those same keys are given to all the apostles and the prophet/president of our church. Although all of the apostles hold the keys, only the prophet/president can exercise them in behalf of the church.

Because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is an enormous church, with congregations all over the world, the prophet/president cannot manage it all alone. He delegates certain of the priesthood keys to men who then use it to preside over their specific area of responsibility. They, in turn, appoint other men and women to help with necessary tasks. Thus, every active, adult member of the church has a "calling," or a job within the church. I, for example, teach a weekly Sunday School class for 10-12 year old boys. Someone else plays the piano/organ for meetings, while another person is in charge of scheduling church activities, while yet another organizes meals/housecleaning/yard work, etc. for people who are too ill or elderly to do it for themselves, and so on. Callings are voluntary, unpaid positions which are absolutely vital to the efficient running of church congregations everywhere.

With me so far? Totally lost? Either way, click here for a much, much better explanation of everything I said above and more.

By comparing the Rule's government to the "Mormon priesthood," Bick seems to be saying the priesthood is something reserved for only a few, elect members of the LDS Church. Not so. All worthy (meaning they do their best to honor God's commandments by living honest, chaste, responsible lives) males 12 and over hold the priesthood. Depending on what type of priesthood they hold, bearers are allowed to perform ordinances (i.e. baptisms, marriages, the administration of the Sacrament during Sunday meetings, etc.) as well as give blessings of comfort and healing to those in need. Holding the priesthood is considered a sacred gift and duty. Those bearing this power must make sure they always live worthily of having it.

No priesthood holder is considered more special, more powerful, or more trustworthy than another. All are equal. "Certain men" aren't "awarded" authority - all are offered opportunities to serve within the church community and these opportunities change over time. A man might be a bishop (leader over a local congregation) one year, a children's Sunday School teacher the next, and a pianist the next. Women, by the way, do not hold the priesthood, but do have leadership positions in the church. These also change over time. For example, a woman might teach a class of toddlers one year, preside over a Relief Society (the church's women's group) the next, and direct a choir the next.

In Ashes, a select group of people run the town. They have all the authority, all the power, all the opinions that matter. That's not at all true in the LDS Church. Everyone is equal, whether they hold the priesthood or not.

So, what do you think? Clear as mud?


  1. Taking on the book at a time. Keep it up!

  2. I love how you faced the misconceptions head on. Although not Mormon myself (I'm Catholic) I know a lot of the things people believe about LDS are wrong and I try to say something. Most of the time I'm fighting for the misconceptions of my Church too.

  3. Wow, I was nodding along with everything you said in this post. I think you did a wonderful job of explaining the ways of the Church, good job!

  4. I forgot you had said this book had a Mormon mention in it. So I was taken by surprise when I read the first passage you wrote about.


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