The European Peace and Justice Team is back with more Grounds for Peace! Ground for Peace is a series where they explore peace through a Restoration lens. In this episode, they look at reframing and repurposing the Book of Mormon.
Host: Elray Henriksen
Guest: Andrew Bolton and Pete Gaffney
The European Peace and Justice Team is back with more Grounds for Peace! Ground for Peace is a series where they explore peace through a Restoration lens. In this episode, they look at reframing and repurposing the Book of Mormon.
Host: Elray Henriksen
Guest: Andrew Bolton and Pete Gaffney
375 | Grounds for Peace | Reframing and Repurposing the Book of Mormon
Josh Mangelson 00:17
Welcome to the Project Zion Podcast. This podcast explores the unique spiritual and theological gifts Community of Christ offers for today's world.
Elray Henriksen 00:33
Welcome to Project Zion Podcast. This is Grounds for Peace, where we explore Zion, peace and the restoration tradition. And I'm your host Elray Henriksen from Norway, currently living in Brussels. Today's episode is a collaboration with the European peace and justice team of Community of Christ. Our two guests today are both returnees to Project Zion Podcast, Andrew Bolton and Pete Gaffney. Both collaborated on an earlier podcast on earlier Latter Day Saint church growth in the British Isles called The Most Spectacular Harvest of Souls Since Wesley's Time, Latter Day Saint British Isles Mission 1837 to 1863. They are both northern English, Pete from Liverpool, the port city through which many missionaries landed from America, and through which 1000s of British Latter Day saints migrated to first Nauvoo, and then Utah. Pete is a historian and did a master's degree in slavery studies. Andrew was born in Preston, Lancashire, where the first baptisms happened in 1837, and went to school further up the Ribble Valley, a very responsive area to the Latter Day Saint gospel. He worked for Community of Christ coordinating peace and justice ministries internationally, and then worked in Asia. He has published a number of papers on the Book of Mormon in Dialogue, Restoration studies, and the John Whitmer journal. So welcome Pete and Andrew to a conversation about reframing and repurposing The Book of Mormon. Hello, hello. It's great to have you here. So, Andrew, how did you first meet the Book of Mormon? And what was your first response?
Andrew Bolton 02:15
I grew up Roman Catholic, in Lancashire, Roman Catholic, I was 19. I'd done my first year at University studying horticulture. And I was in the United States in Oregon, on a lilly farm, fields ,acres of beautiful lillies. It was a wonderful summer. Week 8, one of our co workers, a primary school teacher, elementary school teacher, for the rest of the year, her name was Jan, shyly opened up and said she was Mormon. And she shared with me and my co workers, there were two other brits, a copy of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's testimony. And so that was my introduction. And I started reading the Book of Mormon on a Greyhound bus, as I went from the west coast to New York. And I remember feeling there was something spiritual in the text. But then I got ambushed and bored by all the wars in Alma and gave it up for two years. But then when I came across Community of Christ in Germany, I started reading it again. But it was only after I was baptized, that I really immersed myself in its story. And you Pete?
Pete Gaffney 03:30
Well, my story I suppose, also begins at 19 in a slightly different way. I was a Quaker from the age of 19. So I became part of the religious Society of Friends, which is a, I suppose you could say a very, a very minimalist form of Christianity for those who are not familiar with Quakers. They sit around and gather together in silence waiting for the leadings of the Holy Spirit to move them to speak in a meeting for worship ,as they call their church services. I was a Quaker for quite some time, but in the UK Quakerism has kind of evolved more into a sort of post Christian social practice than a Christian church or denomination, per se, and my faith that I found in Quakers became very quite traditionally Trinitarian, Christian, and so on. And so I was looking for a more mainstream, more traditional kind of Christian church, but which still had lots of the things I liked about Quakerism, kind of. This idea of living faith, being very socially progressive and inclusive. And I find Community of Christ during the pandemic in the UK during the first lockdown, and immediately discover all of these nice things about Community of Christ in terms of being an aspiring peace church, the journey it's on with social justice and economic justice. Its way of understanding Christianity, its way of being non creedal. And I absolutely love it. And then I get to the section on scripture that says, oh, and we also believe in the Book of Mormon and I immediately have reaction of : “Oh, no, they’re Mormons” because I'm looking for a more traditional Christian church, right? So this feels like it's going into the other direction and isn't really what I was looking for. And I kind of ran away from a couple of weeks. And I ran away primarily because I, as you said, I am trained as a historian, my specialism is the 19th century transatlantic studies: I know of the Book of Mormon, I have had LDS Church friends in the past at university. So to me, it felt like a kind of no go area, right. I couldn't believe in this thing as literal history that seemed ridiculous to me – with respect. That's how I thought of it. But something nagged me thinking, well, if all of this other good stuff is here in this church, and it came from the same kind of background and origin, so you can't completely disregard this, you need to go and figure out how they got from A to B, at least. And so I went away, I discovered the work of people like john Hamer, talking about how you can read it as a 19th century text. And you can read it in the same way you can read parts of the Old Testament, etc. And I thought, Okay, I'm going to read it. So I know the history. And then I can put it to one side, because you don't have to believe in a Community of Christ. And then I can go check out the church. And I can just forget, I can just say, I don't want to touch the Mormon stuff, right? And I open a digital copy of it. And within about three or four pages, I'm making notes on things I already like and already love and I don't put it down until I've kind of flipped through the whole thing. I had a very profound response to it and fell in love with it very, very quickly. And it's now become an essential part of my faith, which was very unexpected. But that was that was my initial encounter with the Book of Mormon.
Elray Henriksen 06:41
unexpected. Yes, both of you have had an interesting first meeting with the Book of Mormon. And then you both struggled a bit with this idea of what it was at first. And what I hear is that you've come both to love it. Can you explain to me why people like you, in Community of Christ, are thinking about reframing and repurposing The Book of Mormon, which is the topic of today.
Andrew Bolton 07:04
The traditional missionary message of the Book of Mormon is that it's ancient history, at least 2000 years old. And that hypothesis about its origin is now struggling. Lots of people have lots of questions about that hypothesis. So, does our Latter Day Saint faith at this point crumble and collapse, If it's not historically true? No, I think we can reframe and repurpose the Book of Mormon and with integrity. And I want to do another re-, in addition to reframe, and repurpose, and that is rediscover the radical message of the text, because - between it being a 19th century document and ancient history - sometimes we forget the story itself. And it's the story itself that I find compelling, moving, helpful. So it's to rediscover the story. So part of discovering the story is that it moves me into deeper discipleship. There's some wonderful discipleship passages: baptism, following Jesus, sermon on the mound, I love its radical message of economic justice, right the way through the whole book. And for somebody who grew up poor, this message speaks to my soul. And then all the violence in the Book of Mormon can be off putting. But then when you read the whole story, and you have to read the whole narrative here, there's, in fact, a radical critique of American violence. Because if you don't repent of the violence, if you don't follow the way of Jesus, peoples end up destroying each other, and then a day when we have nuclear weapons: This is a poignant, prophetic warning message for us in our time. So, reframing the Book of Mormon is a 19th century document helps me understand the context for its criticism of economic injustice and violence. Helps me repurpose it in support of Christ's kingdom mission of Zion today, and rediscover its radical message of hope, and justice.
Elray Henriksen 09:28
Do you have anything to add here, Pete?
Pete Gaffney 09:31
yeah, I agree with everything of what Andrew has said, and I would also just add to it that for me, this is probably my historian brain thinking. But for me, so many of the things in Community of Christ that we value and celebrate and take as unique and special that we care about, including the way we do baptism, our communion prayer, aspects of how we understand priesthood, and our structure and so on… They all come from those formative Latter Day Saint years and many more things come in kind of spiritual character form for those early Latter Day Saint years. And all of that begins with the Book of Mormon, right? That's the foundational text of this branch of the Christian family. And whatever your own personal response to it or perspective on what the book is, in terms of its nature, I don't think you can draw a clear line in the sand between Community of Christ now and the Church of Christ that was founded in the 1830s. Right? I think you have to be able to understand the whole story and the whole journey we've been on and part of that is getting to grips with the Book of Mormon and understanding its role in our heritage and being able to answer the question, so what does it mean for us today? I don't think choosing to not be engaged is really a genuine answer to that question, because you're not really asking yourself that question? So, I think it's important to keep that in mind. We can't clearly divide our history into we were these people then. And now with these people. It's a spectrum. There's no clear division point.
Elray Henriksen 10:57
You’ve both spoken about the radical message and the story that the Book of Mormon then produces, and seeing it as a 19th century document in its American context. Could you say a bit more about this American context? I know you, Pete, have mentioned to me before that “this is a critical theological commentary on the formation of modern capitalism”. Could you say a bit more about that?
Pete Gaffney 11:23
I can try. The early 19th century of the time when Joseph Jr. is, is dictating or translating the Book of Mormon, depending on your perspective, it is a period in which the kind of Western global economy is beginning to take on its modern form. So, capitalism, as we understand it today, isn't quite a thing yet, but it's becoming a thing. And we are, we're out of the bulk of the Industrial Revolution, we're moving towards what we would call economic modernity in terms of how people work, how they live in society, we're becoming increasingly urbanized, etc, etc. It's a period of increasing economic and social inequality for most people, because the radical changes being brought about in the United States, in Britain and France, in Germany, etc. by industrialization means that many people are being forced into forms of work that are more exploitative, involve less pay, they're being managed by people who they don't even know anymore, but being removed from rural communities and moved into urban slums, etc, etc. And so, the Book of Mormon kind of comes to us at this fascinating intersection point in American political history where America is getting to grips with what kind of nation and the idea that you can be a nation is also kind of emerging in this period, right? Countries are things with borders and governments and leader, that sort of coming into popular conception as well. The Book of Mormon comes with a point when this is being debated in American political culture. There’s a very important presidential election in 1828. There are debates about whether slavery can be reconciled with the concept of this republic based on individual rights, freedoms and liberties, who gets those individual rights, freedoms and liberties? the United States in the 1820s is just coming around to the idea that it should be all white men who deserve to share in. This kind of thing was previously was only middle class elite white men. So the Book of Mormon is a, I would say is one working class man's perspective on all of this inequality in society, and how incompatibilities with the gospel that Jesus Christ brings us with the message of justice and equality that we see in the Bible.
Elray Henriksen 13:29
So what I'm hearing is, there's a reason why the Book of Mormon was brought forward in the 19th century, the situation or the environment was very good for that, and also that it is inspired by the Bible. I'd like to explore a bit more what this relationship of the Book of Mormon to the Bible what is, in your opinion, that relationship?
Andrew Bolton 13:53
So the Bible, we say in our basic beliefs, is the foundational scripture. It is the most important scripture of Community of Christ. So the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants are dependent on the Bible. Biblical images, biblical stories, biblical ideas permeate the Book of Mormon. Some people call it biblical fanfiction, and I like that creative use. The theme of Exodus runs through the Book of Mormon. Incarnation is beautifully portrayed in the Book of Mormon. God became human, and Jesus. Isaiah is quoted a lot and creatively the Sermon on the Mount is there in full, tweaked a little bit, but it's lost none of its radicality. So the Book of Mormon selects an inner canon of stories and passages from the Bible, and magnificently indigenizes a message for the young Republic, for people in the young Republic where there is a free market of ideas about religion. There isn't an established church. So there's lots of experimentation that permits this to come forth. And at the same time, there's this gap between rich and poor, the slaves, there's indigenous people really suffering by colonialism. And so the Book of Mormon addresses all this that's happening. But it's dependent and inspired by the Bible.
Elray Henriksen 15:34
Yeah, do you have anything to add, Pete?
Pete Gaffney 15:37
I would just say that the phrase I like to use: traditionally, we say the Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the gospel. I like to say it's an amplification of the gospel. As Andrew says, It picks out certain key themes that, especially maybe don't get quite the attention they maybe would do with the Bible was being written today in the context of our modern economy, and society and really shouts about them loudly. And that's why I think it's its main benefit is.
Elray Henriksen 16:01
So Pete, you see it as this amplification of the gospel. And, and you both seem to talk about these different topics that are brought to the forefront. And that make sense in a 19th century context. What approach or approaches should we use when reading the Book of Mormon, and making it relevant scripture for Community of Christ?
Andrew Bolton 16:22
So the first thing I think to say is the Book of Mormon is a story. And Joseph brings forth not a new creed, but a new story. And yet, it's an old story. It's a repackaged story. We call this narrative theology. That's the posh term. But let's go with story because it's easy to understand. So the gospel is a story. And there's no profound way to talk of God than to story. The Hebrews were master storytellers. Jesus was a master storyteller. He told around 50 parables. Humans are story animals, in this repackaged story, that we have the story of the possibility of Zion, in a fallen world, and a world of economic differences, in a world of violence, in a world of colonization. So it's a story about the mess of the human condition that we find ourselves in. And at the same time, the story, the Gospel story of the possibility of redemption, hope, salvation, through God's grace as a possibility. So the Book of Mormon is strangely utterly realistic about human sin, and at the same time, profoundly hopeful about God's power of love to rescue us, and remake us into a people of Zion. It's got both crucifixion Friday, and resurrection story, as its sub theme all the way through the Book of Mormon.
Pete Gaffney 17:56
I agree with Andrew, I think that the additional point I would make is, we already have to deal with these issues of large parts of the Old Testament, right? So take Job. Job is one of my and many people's favorite books in the Bible, because it's this beautiful fantastically constructed elaborate theological commentary that delves so deep into questions about the nature of sin of who and what God is, what morality is, what the afterlife is about what life means it's a fantastic piece of work. But the vast, vast majority of biblical scholars, and probably most Christians don't believe there was actually a man called Job running around a few 1000 years ago. They do believe it's a very elaborate parable, right? They believe it's a story that was made up one day to illustrate deeper points inspired by God, but still a parable. And at some point, the story of Job is only 200 years old. At some point, the story of Job is only 10 years old. In the same way, the Book of Mormon now is only 200 years old, and the staff arguments are brand new. And I don't think there is anything about the Book of Mormon, we need to do fundamentally differently than we do with the Old Testament, we look to Jesus, we use Jesus as our lens for interpreting and understanding all scripture. Where we see contradiction: the challenge is to question Okay, can we reconcile this? And if we can't reconcile this? Well, there's a flaw to humanity coming through in Scripture, that part can't be where God has touched the work, and that's okay. Because we already have that problem with so much of our scripture, and we deal with it very, very well. We know how to deal with it. And I think we just need to do the same thing with the Book of Mormo. Put Jesus first. And I would argue the Book of Mormon very much says to do by itself,
Elray Henriksen 19:42
you speak of the importance of Jesus and staying centered on our New Testament understanding of Jesus Christ. And for you, Andrew, you're focused on the peaceable kingdom, Zion and finding salvation through God's grace in the world and in a story of struggle. So you both agree that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century document, a parable, an elaborate parable inspired fiction, a historical novel. And it's created in the fertile mind of Joseph Smith Jr. So what is it about the 19th century American frontier context in which the book was produced that makes it relevant today?
Andrew Bolton 20:20
I love what Nathan Hatch, Protestant historian said in his book, The Democratisation of American Christianity, he says this, “the Book of Mormon is a document of profound social protest, an impassioned Manifesto, by a hostile outsider against the smug complacency of those in power, and the reality of social distinctions based on wealth, class and education”. The Book of Mormon advocates for outsiders. It’s a message of hope and compassion for the left behind. It's a message for those struggling in poverty, remarkably, it has a heart for Native Americans at the time of increasing genocidal action against them. The 1830s saw the Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of 60,000 Native Americans from the southeast corner of the United States to what is now Oklahoma. And the Book of Mormon speaks well of Jews. It says that Zion is not possible without the equal partnership of European settlers, Gentiles, and Native Americans. And we have this wonderful sense of equality. And these words, in Jacob “one being as as precious in God's sight as the other”. And then in second Nephi we read, “the Lord invites all to come to him partake of His goodness, black and white bond and free male and female, he remembers the heathen, and all or a like unto God, both Jew and Gentile. So Joseph is semi literate, we could write him off because of that is only 23. He is a callow youth in some ways, but he graduated in the School of poverty. He understands the struggle of life as a poor working class farm laborer, he knows what can happen to a family when there's not a welfare net to catch them. So whilst he's young, his a graduate of the School of hardship, and he writes with passion about a better world, the hope of Zion in that context, and that resonates with me today.
Elray Henriksen 22:38
So the Book of Mormon advocates for outsiders, and it's a message of hope for those struggling in poverty, you even say it speaks well of Native Americans and Jews. I just want to take us back a bit to what Pete also said, which was that it was written at this intriguing point in American political history, where ideas about slavery were being contested. So there are, there are some wonderful things in the Book of Mormon. But can we then still say that it is scripture? Should we study it or spend time on it now, if it comes from the fertile mind of Joseph Smith, even though you do say it comes from the School of hardship, why should we treat that as scripture?
Andrew Bolton 23:21
For me, when I read it, it's a compelling story, I'm caught up by it. It speaks to my family. My dad was a soldier for seven years in World War Two. And World War Two didn't end in our family. In 1945. It ended in 1965 20 years later, my dad began to get help. So speaks to the problem of war. And then we lost the family farm when I was eight, it speaks to economic dislocation. And there's plenty of that today. I'd be interested in Pete's response to that as well.
Pete Gaffney 24:01
For me, as you know, Andrew, there are very, very similar components, and I grew up in poverty as well. And for me, there is something deeply, even if you for a moment set aside anything else about the Book of Mormon, there is, to me something deeply remarkable about this 20 something working class, man deciding he's going to kind of put his view on what the church should be and what Christianity should be about out into the world and publish a vision, a manifesto of what a truly Christian society would look like. To me that's fantastic and wonderful, and an amazing part of our story as a faith community. And then beyond that, this is somewhat uncomfortable for me as a historian, but I do have a very profound spiritual response to the text and millions of people throughout the last 200 years have done. There is something in this book that connects with people and speaks to their soul in a very deep and profound way, in the same way that the Bible does to so many people. That Book of Mormon makes me feel God and feel closer to Christ, like, not quite like anything else does. And for me that's really remarkable and something I, I have to wrestle with and engage with them then, kind of more intellectually, but historically, I’ll try to rescue it a bit. Again, for me not fundamentally different to any other work of Scripture, we believe all of our scripture is a response to the human interaction with the divine, right? the Book of Mormon is only different because it came to us in the modern era. And to me, that's a strength, not a weakness, because it can speak to issues that people writing 2000 years ago could only touch on because they didn't live in a capitalist economy. They didn't live in a society that was equal in the way our society is today. The Book of Mormon speaks powerfully and prophetically on those topics, and has an incredibly sophisticated analysis of some of the problems in our society. So prison is a great example, there is a magnificent criticism of prison in the Book of Mormon, which goes beyond saying, oh, prison is bad. It depicts prisoners, this site of degradation and exploitation, including the use of prison labor, for private profit. that is condemned in the Book of Mormon, that wasn't yet a thing in the 19th century, really, right. Prison is beginning to emerge, the Book of Mormon sees where it's going and calls it out and challenges it, and depicts it as a sign of a falling decaying society. As Andrew said earlier, it's very honest about human nature. And I think the beautiful thing about the Book of Mormon is it's honest about human nature, both individually and collectively. And it gives us this clear vision of how society should be and what the warning signs are, that society is going in a bad way, and what the consequences of that are. For me, that's incredibly powerful.
Andrew Bolton 26:44
I want to just make a connection with what Pete was just saying. So, it's a spiritual book. And it's a book also about material justice. When I see Jesus in his home synagogue, read a passage from Isaiah that goes like this,” the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to liberate the captives, to end oppression, to say this is the year that God's going to do it, the example year of the Lord. So that's Luke 4:18, and 19, Holy Spirit, Holy justice. Let's go back to Exodus, burning bush, Moses, Holy Spirit, Holy justice. And if we go to Acts, chapter two, Pentecost, you have Holy Spirit, and living all things in common, holy justice. So it's a spiritual book, because it's got this passion, for justice in our world in our emerging modern world, if I know anything about God, is that God is passionate about justice on Earth, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. It's profound spirituality, with this profound call for justice, that is so beautiful, they put together in the Book of Mormon, and you find it all over in the Bible as well. And it's in the Doctrine and Covenants, too. This is a big theme.
Elray Henriksen 28:18
I'm hearing that the Book of Mormon informs who we are today and the things we celebrate in Community of Christ today as well. The radical peace and justice message of the gospel is there from the beginning. I mean, in the founding event of the restoration, we find Zion in the Book of Mormon. We believe that the Book of Mormon had a relevant message for its first readers, and that it continues to inform our religious tradition today, it should anyway, especially the aspect of our faith that is practical, concrete, teaching us ways to proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love and peace, but to our listeners who might have put the book on the shelf, can we really truly find Jesus of the New Testament in the Book of Mormon?
Andrew Bolton 29:03
So let me have a go at that. there's a New Testament in the Book of Mormon and when I found that a light went on in my mind, it begins in third Nephi and it ends in fourth Nephi. The resurrected Jesus appears saying, I'm the God of Israel and the God of the whole earth, and I've been slain for the sins of the world. Jesus teaches the Sermon on the Mount all over again, as I just mentioned, in the Book of Mormon it is the sermon at the temple. But it's not the temple that makes the Sermon on the Mount important. It is the teaching Love your enemies. Jesus teaches reconciliation and institutes communion, the Lord's Supper, there's a wonderful passage about the blessing of children. It's stunningly moving in a world in Lancashire at this time, where the infant mortality rate is 50%. This speaks of hope for families with young Children, that in the kingdom of God, Jesus wants them blessed. And there's praise for Isaiah with many wonderful peace passages found throughout the Book of Mormon. There's the discipling church, led by 12 disciples. And then the highlight of the whole story is this picture of Zion without the word being used for 200 years of peace, no classes, economic sharing, radical conversion, It’s a reworking of Acts 2 and Acts 4. So what's important about the Book of Mormon is, for me, it inspires our imagination, to understand that a new world, a better world is possible. And when you can have that utopian dreaming, that kingdom of God dreaming. That's the first subversive act, because then you start criticizing the here and now and you have the possibility of then concretizing that dream into reality. I have a dream said Martin Luther King. Joseph Smith, Jr. had a dream to have Zion here on Earth.
Elray Henriksen 31:17
So could you say a bit more about the themes in the book of Mormon, that can speak to us who seek a better world, that cause of Zion to flourish in our times?
Pete Gaffney 31:27
The Book of Mormon is very, very clear the prison is a bad idea and should not be a thing, right? The bad guys in the story are always depicted as using prison in coercive exploitative ways. Prisons are depicted as a place of violence and humiliation. And the good guys in the story are shown as always pursuing restorative justice, they are always interested in healing people who have done wrong, and trying to reintegrate them into society with a handful of exceptions of individuals. But by and large, that is the theme that the Book of Mormon shows. there is even one occasion where a large group of prisoners of war refused to give up their way of being violent towards the Nephites. And so when the Nephites decide rather than kill them, or imprisonment, they will go and resettle them and give them their own land where they can live in peace safely away from everyone else. They don't take what the 19th century way of thinking or an ancient way of thinking would have said you should do you should kill them all because they are dangerous to you. they pursue harm reduction wherever they can. And that's incredibly prophetic and significant for the modern era, right? We've had the Black Lives Matter movement, drawing attention to how police violence is so appalling impacting people of African descent around the Western world. We know for a fact prisons around the Western world are in crisis in terms of how they promote criminality, in terms of how they stop people from healing from trauma, in terms of how they incentivize addiction and criminal behavior, etc. So that's an incredibly powerful thing to have there in Scripture as a story to talk about. And then in general, as Andrew says, The Book of Mormon literally tells us that the first sign of utopia becoming dystopia is that people start to have the class system and they start to hoard wealth. Now in an age where we have more billionaires than ever before, and we have people within our countries and between countries that have incredible divides in wealth, that's a very important message in it. If the Book of Mormon is scripture for you, it's a lot harder to try and say, “Oh, well, Jesus didn't really mean rich people need to give up their money, he meant something else”. Because the Book of Mormon is pretty clear. No, no, Jesus meant the rich people need to be taxed and pay their fair share, and our society needs to be flatter, right? People in utopian society is depicted as one in which individuality is respected. But wealth and resources are held in common for the greater good of all. So it's incredibly powerful. Slavery as well is and forced labor is condemned on par with the death penalty, with killing someone, right? It's not a major theme, but it appears in a couple of powerful moments. The worth of all persons runs throughout the Book of Mormon in a way that it's presented in a way that critiques specific aspects of society and how society is structured. And that's really, really powerful for me.
Andrew Bolton 34:09
And I like also the discipleship revolution, that the Book of Mormon speaks very powerfully about. And it has some beautiful passages like, plant a seed of faith in your heart, nurture it and watch it grow. You can begin with only just desiring to believe, and then that seed can grow and bear fruit, a passage like feast upon the words of Christ, for they shall tell you all things that you need to do. And then the beautiful passage in Mosiah about the meaning of baptism is about committing to bear one another's burdens to mourn with those who mourn, to stand as witnesses of God to serve Him. keep His commandments, that he may be able to pour His Spirit more abundantly upon you. It is to create a people that when you're hit, You don't hit back to quote for fourth Nephi, when people smite you not to smack back because you're the people of Jesus. So this is a revolutionary change that comes from following the Christ and high cost discipleship.
Elray Henriksen 35:20
So this is what you meant with like rediscovering the message of the Book of Mormon, rediscovering the story of it, because when you hear it like presented, as you've both done now, with these different themes, you kind of go like, well, this is actually mind blowing, should we all be reading the Book of Mormon? However, when I've said that, some will rebut and say there are indeed some good things in the Book of Mormon. But can we now address some of its problems?
Pete Gaffney 35:49
Perhaps I'll start on that, because I'm the experts in its most famous problem, probably, yes. First of all, right, I would say yes, everyone should be reading the Book of Mormon. that's a that's a different tangent. Second, so probably the most glaring problem with the Book of Mormon and the one that probably most people who have not read it will be familiar with is its treatment of race. And in those who don't know, who are listening, there's a passage quite early on in the Book of Mormon, that makes a claim essentially, that if you have a skin color that is darker than white, it is probably the result of God cursing your people for the inequities of your ancestors, right? So Native Americans are depicted as being not white as having darker skin, because of the sins of their ancestors. And it's described as a curse. That is incredibly wrong. It is incredibly problematic. And it is not something we should take as scripture. However, there are a couple of caveats I would throw into that. And this is an example, I think of where you can see the Holy Spirit at work trying to redeem the story when the humanity of 19th century Joseph Smith Goes kind of off on a tangent somewhere. First of all, it offers an explanation for this. And it says that the intention of the curse is so that the white Nephites will not want to have sex, with be attracted to the Lamanites are the people who are cursed, that for the time the Book of Mormon was was written as I believe in the 19th century is actually as strange as it sounds, the progressive position, right? This makes the Book of Mormon more progressive than Abraham Lincoln, the man who abolished slavery, and who was a white supremacist who for most of his life, believe that the United States should be free of African American people that they should be deported. That was also considered a liberal, progressive position for the 19th century United States, it is hard to understand quite how racist this society was. The second thing is that the Book of Mormon goes on to clarify that under no circumstances should a Christian treat someone better or worse or differently, because of the color of their skin. That's not a reading into a passage later. That is an explicit commandment given in the Book of Mormon. And there are multiple points where white characters are chastised because they feel they're better than the Lamanites. And the narrative says, Well, actually, they're much better than you actually. And at various points in the story Lamanites and Nephites, do mix and do become one people one ethnicity, and it is treated as a good thing as a positive outcome. So yes, the Book of Mormon has this very unfortunate kind of racist idea embedded in it that reflects 19th century thinking, but it also tries to correct itself and it corrects itself in a really powerful and strong way. So another example would be, for example, it's a very patriarchal book, it is mostly about men, there are very few named women. That's also true of the Bible, though, right. And we wouldn't say, therefore, that Christianity doesn't have room for women at the table. In Community of Christ, we have complete equality between men and women in leadership and priesthood. We've dealt with that we accept that as human influence in the text, same with the Book of Mormon these are human influences in the text, but the vast majority of it is still inclusive and powerful, and argues for what we would take in our faith community to be, yeah, the virtues that the enduring principles and basic beliefs speak of, and the problems aren't fundamentally any different to anything you'll encounter in the Old Testament, or in the parts of the New Testament, right? It's, it's where the human contemporary perspective comes through. And if you read it critically, and that's true, whether you're reading it in a 19th century or ancient context, you can pick apart the bad human from the good human, and you can pick apart the good human from the Holy Spirit, in my opinion.
Elray Henriksen 39:30
So there are some ethical struggles, obviously, in the text, trying to deal with the 19th century context in which it was written. But I think people today would kind of say, well, shouldn't it be a better scripture? You know, because we need to hold it at a higher standard, because it is a modern scripture. We should know better. Joseph Smith should have known better. God, if it came from God, it should have been better written and those should not have been problems. Andrew, do you see any other problems in the book?
Andrew Bolton 40:05
Well, there's this debate whether it's an ancient history, or it's a 19th century text. But we've touched on that. It gives us the problem of the face killing of Laban, gratuitous violence at the beginning of the story. But if you read the whole story, it is a radical critique of violence, the Book of Mormon doesn't claim to be perfect. It says in the preface, that if they are faults here, and there are the faults of men, not the fault of God. So it doesn't make any claim for perfection. And Pete talked earlier about, we should read all scriptures, through the lens of Jesus of the New Testament, some parts of Scripture are better than others. And we use those to inform the reading of the less good parts. In the Old Testament. Love your neighbor, as yourself is mentioned only once. Leviticus 19:18. It is magnified in the New Testament through Jesus, not all Scripture is equal, as scripture around Jesus is the better scripture. And so by reading all scripture through the lens of Jesus, we can read it rightly. And I think we also need to read it in community, not individualistically. We need to have women's experiences interpreting the text as well as men, as well as people of color. We need to have a readers’ circle that is inclusive as well.
Elray Henriksen 41:41
Thank you, what would you then say to members and friends who have written off the text?
Andrew Bolton 41:46
Well, one of the things that I'm working on at the moment is so much of who we are in Community of Christ is from the Book of Mormon, but we don't realize it. We've not written it off in our deep DNA. So the communion prayers that we love, the inspirational, radical discipleship, they come from the Book of Mormon, the priesthood offices, the idea of lay priesthood, believers baptism, the blessing of children, the cause of Zion, the equal worth of all persons, as Peter said, these are some of the amazing, lovely things in Community of Christ that we have from the Book of Mormon, developed in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Pete Gaffney 42:28
I would also just add, because I can have a perspective of someone who came into Community of Christ scared by the Book of Mormon and then becoming a massive fan of it, we won't ever get past the fact. So if I, if I have a Wikipedia open right now, okay, if I'm looking to find out who Community of Christ are, I've seen a leaflet or spoken to someone or heard the name, the first thing I will probably find in Google is this sentence, “the Community of Christ known from 1872 to 2001, as the reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”, we can't escape from the fact that the Book of Mormon is part of our heritage, we cannot escape from the fact that we used to be the RLDS church, if we changed in 1800, 1900, maybe, we would have been able to kind of do that. But not in the age of the internet, not in the modern era, that is public knowledge. It's a huge part of who we are. And one of the things that I struggled most with, was that because we obviously want to create a broad church and an inclusive family, which is wonderful and important. We don't really know what to say about it, institution needs to bring people in and also not alienate them. So we kind of don't say very much and leave it to people to discover themselves. And I think we need to get to grips with finding a way to explain how people like me and Andrew, and you Elray are engaged with the Book of Mormon, because if I hadn't met Andrew, I don't know how much longer it would have taken me to come into Community of Christ, because I needed someone to help me understand what that relationship was, and look like, you know, currently on our website, and I know it might be different by the time this goes out. But currently, if you were to go to our history page, you would think we were very Latter Day Saints. If you will go to some of the pages, you would have no idea we had anything to do with Joseph Smith Jr. So I think it's perfectly valid for people to say, I don't like it. I don't think it shouldn't be scripture. But I do think that we need as a faith community to all be able to understand it, and understand why people see value in it, and be able to articulate that, because we won't ever get away from the fact it's part of our Canon and part of our heritage, that will always be a either an attraction point. I know it's an attraction point for lots people considering coming over from the LDS Church Community of Christ, or a stumbling block, in which case we need to help those people to either bide it and develop a relationship with it, or contextualize it so they can speak to people like me, and still be part of the same faith community. So, we can't get away from it. We have no choice. I think, regardless of your view on it, you have to engage with it eventually as a community at least.
Elray Henriksen 45:02
Now let's let's talk about that part of where the Book of Mormon has actually spoken to you personally. Do you have any passages or verses that speak to issues of our times today? Or, or anything that, that when you read it, you said, oh, oh, this is it, this, this is it, this, this changes everything.
Andrew Bolton 45:23
So there's a passage in first Nephi, that I had my father in law, say, in a sermon on the Book of Mormon that he said in such a beautiful way, so I'm not able to state as beautiful as he did. It goes like this, and blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, and if they endure unto the end, they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the lamb. And who so shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy. How beautiful upon the mountains, shall they be? Zion, Holy Spirit, salvation, peace.
Pete Gaffney 46:09
Brilliant, thank you, Andrew, I have such a hard time picking one I was tempted to answer by going first Nephi, second Nephi, Jacob and just list all the books. But I think the one I've settled on is Mosiah 2:28 to 32, in our versification system, which is also yourselves was to call those that stand in need of your support, you will administer of your substance to him that stands in need, and you will not suffer that the beggar will put up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps you will say, the man has brought upon himself his misery, therefore, I will stay my hand and will not give to him of my food, nor impart to him of my substance, that he may not suffer - for his punishment are just. but I say to you, oh, man, whoever does this, the same has great cause to repent and accept, he repents of that which he has done, he will perish forever and have no interest in the kingdom of God. For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same being even God, for all the substance which we have for both food and raiment, and for gold and the silver and for all the riches which we have of every kind? And I think that line for behold, that we not all beggars in that context is so powerful and beautiful. It’s a wonderful call out, I think, to lots of us in the modern day and age, it's a beautiful image. We're all beggars before God.
Elray Henriksen 47:37
Thank you so much, you will both have an opportunity to give some last comments or thoughts. But before we do that, and we bring our episode to a close, let me say a few words about reframing and repurposing The Book of Mormon in a way that has integrity that plays to its strengths, and that manages its weaknesses. Based on the things that you both have said and that we've heard today, I think you're helping providing a framework that can help us approach the Book of Mormon, looking at it in its 19th century American context, and still grounded in its biblical source, seeing it as an almost contemporary critique, of many of the things that we are now dealing with, as a society, and written at an intriguing time in modern history. This approach can help bring healing to Community of Christ, and potentially to others who use this book as scripture, as we use the Book of Mormon to amplify messages from the Bible from the gospel of Jesus Christ. For those things that may contradict the gospel, and the teachings of Jesus Christ, we must use caution as we would with the Bible. Not all things in the Bible should be taken literally. And the same must be said about the story that the Book of Mormon presents to a 21st century generation. Do you have any last comment or thoughts, Pete or Andrew?
Andrew Bolton 49:00
read all scripture through the lens of Jesus, the Jesus of the New Testament.
Pete Gaffney 49:06
It doesn't bite, don't be scared of it. I think at the end of the day, the absolute worst thing that can happen to you if you're if you're exploring or you're a member of Community of Christ, and you've read the Book of Mormon, is you read it and you get bored in Alma and we even people who love it, I still get bored in Alma, I'm sure Andrew does as well, it does go on for a while. But that's the worst thing that can happen, right? The worst that can happen, is that it is just a book for you, and you will gain a much richer understanding of the journey Community of Christ has been on and where we've come from. And hopefully, you will have a positive response to at least part of it, and Moroni’s promise at the end. But if you if you pray all the while reading it, it's true spiritually we confirm to you that's the best case outcome, in which case your faith will deepen and go in a wonderful new direction. So don't be scared, you can either not change or only benefit, in my opinion. And that's my little kind of evangelism to conclude the episode.
Elray Henriksen 50:03
Well, thank you so much to both of you to Pete Gaffney and Andrew Bolton. Your message today has has been very interesting and very uplifting. So, we will be putting an email in the notes so you can continue the conversation for you who have been listening to this podcast today, if that might be helpful to you. We will also be running a series of four classes on the Book of Mormon in the coming months, where we'll be exploring the mission initiatives of Community of Christ as important themes that can be found and traced back to the Book of Mormon. More information will be provided as we go. This is the grounds for peace series from Europe as part of the Project Zion Podcast. I'm Elray Henriksen. Thanks for listening.
Josh Mangelson 50:54
Thanks for listening to Project Zion Podcast, subscribe to our podcast on Apple podcast, Stitcher, or whatever podcast streaming service you use. And while you're there, give us a five star rating. Project Zion Podcast is sponsored by Latter-day Seeker Ministries of Community of Christ. The views and opinions expressed in this episode are of those speaking and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Latter-day Seeker Ministries, or Community of Christ. The music has been graciously provided by Dave Heinze.