Faith-Promoting Rumor

Dedicated to oddments and marginalia in Mormondom and, failing that, deep doctrinal discussion

Friday, September 30, 2005

An open letter to the webmaster (or why out-of-context quotes are bad)

"Happiness and spiritual progress lie in following the leaders of the Church."
—Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Ensign, May 1999, 37

I love the church, the gospel, and the prophets. I am a particularly big fan of Elder Oaks. But this quote, found without context on the page, is kinda creepy, huh.

Let's put it in context. It is from a talk about Martin Harris. In it, Elder Oaks describes Harris's life, emphasizing the good about him. He covers his alienation from and then reconciliation with the church. After covering the events of Harris's life and his unwavering testimony of the Book of Mormon, Elder Oaks draws the following conclusions.
What do we learn from this example? (1) Witnesses are important, and the testimony of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon is impressive and reliable. (2) Happiness and spiritual progress lie in following the leaders of the Church. (3) There is hope for each of us, even if we have sinned and strayed from a favored position.
In this context, the quote is much less creepy. It is inspiring even. It's meaning is more fully informed. It is no longer a vaguely brainwashy message from on high, but rather an example of how the gospel ultimately blessed the life of a great man, an example we can learn from.

The church is in the habit of putting quotes up at its website, generally drawn from the General Conference talks of the quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency. In general, I think it is a good idea, but they should try to remember that context helps one to understand the intended meaning. It allows us to grasp the whole picture a little better. So, dear webmaster of the site, please stop using a random generator for the quotes we see there. Read them over carefully and decide if the acontextual message you send out is one that we really want to say. From your neighbor, the Mormon.