Selected Remarks: Excerpts from “The Expanding Church” Symposium


Noel B. Reynolds, chairman of BYU’s Philosophy Department, “Cultural Diversity in the Universal Church”: As the gospel comes to men, it presents them with a radical alternative to the world views to which they have previously been exposed. … It would not be misleading to say that the world view of the gospel is essentially subversive of the world views perpetuated by the cultures of man. For the gospel does have its own world view, teaching men that everything in this world was created by God, that men themselves are … spirit children of their Father in heaven, and that obedience to his commandments as received through personal revelation takes priority over any requirements of a traditional culture.

Every cultural world view is a gospel in the sense that it features some notion of the good life and of human salvation, whether it be in this life or another. Each of these is false to the extent that it does not correctly identify the Savior as the only source of salvation and his priesthood as the human agency through which access to salvation is available. Every worldly culture idealizes some set of moral values by which men are to guide their lives. But the gospel offers a radical and different approach which would be impossible through any culture, that approach being direct individual guidance by God. To the extent that cultural values blind members of a society so that they cannot appreciate the truths of the gospel, these values function as the chains of hell, fastening people to ways of living below the celestial order.

It is in this sense that every worldly culture is a false gospel. They fall short of the truth on the most important questions. Therefore, in any cultural setting, the gospel will be subversive. …

The bulk of our cultural paraphernalia may not matter for Latter-day Saints. How a Latter-day Saint expresses love and appreciation to his wife will vary according to the customs of love and respect in his culture. But all that seems to matter from the Lord’s point of view is that the commandments are being kept within that cultural setting. The gospel governs ends, but leaves the question of cultural means open, at least within limits. …

Few Latter-day Saints are fully aware of the almost total secularization of most modern cultures. … Secularization generally means stripping our beliefs and our cultural symbols of their sacred or divine elements. Instead of seeing the hand of God in all things, secularized peoples see only chance and nature. Because of the almost universal secularization of modern cultures, contemporary Latter-day Saints often fail to recognize the many ways in which these cultures lead them to behave very much like atheists, failing to confess God’s hand in all things. They are tempted to look first to science and government for solutions to the problems of men. They are inclined to trust in their own power, the arm of flesh, in dealing with the world and in providing for their own.

Hugh Nibley, professor emeritus of ancient scriptures, BYU: The basic question is: Is there a gospel culture? Let’s begin with the idea of whether there’s a gospel community or society. Well, of course there is. Most emphatically. And is there a basic culture? That’s inescapable. If the gospel community preserves its integrity for any length of time, it’s going to emerge as a separate culture.

What’s this gospel culture composed of? Everything good. Like patriotism, it’s more inclusive than exclusive. Its peculiarity is that it puts its own seal on whatever it finds desirable—everything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy. It’s the combination—the structure—that’s peculiar, not the separate elements. They become special things, a peculiar culture, a Zion culture. …

But not just the gospel is restored in each dispensation; with it goes an environment. Not only is it a single, central, celestial culture, but also it’s the model and the foundation of all the great cultures that have appeared from time to time, all too briefly, among men. All great cultures are copies from it.

John L. Sorensen, professor of anthropology, chairman of the University Studies program, BYU: The gospel is content; culture is a kind of vessel. Therefore, the gospel can act through the cultures of any people on the earth. It can be kept out by the cultural features of any culture—including our own here in Utah. Some cultures are preferable; some cultures are inherently superior, but I think God will find a way to work through any culture to express the gospel.

Noel B. Reynolds: I think if you and I and everyone else in our own church assignments could overcome the cultural overloads that we bring with us as teachers, bishops, whatever, we’d solve our own problems. As we’ve been preparing these symbols, most of the examples of serious frustration have been examples at the local level. That’s where the rubber hits the road, as they say. It’s misunderstandings on that level that are most difficult for people to live with.

Hugh Nibley: Cultural conditioning has never blocked people from accepting the gospel, regardless of what it may be. They are the people set apart from the world. Someone came to me and said, “There are thirty reasons why I couldn’t join the Church and only one reason why I should—and that makes all the difference. It’s true.” So the gospel isn’t just another culture. When the celestial order steps in, it breaks the other. There is a culture shock. If you’ve visited meetings while you’re traveling, you know that they’re the same everywhere. You’re in a typical Mormon meeting.

Elder Charles A. Didier of the First Quorum of the Seventy: For certain members, it was a real problem to accept the fact that they had to sacrifice. I was branch president and many came to me and said, “President, they are asking me to participate in the budget. What is that? The missionaries only told me about tithing. Now you’re asking more and more and more. When’s it going to end?” I told them, “Never.” That’s the idea of a stake.

Douglas F. Tobler, coordinator of BYU’s European Studies Program: In 1914 there were probably no more than 1,000 people in the creative intellectual community of Europe. In the 1970s this number has grown to at least one million. This enlarged generation of intellectuals plays a vital role in articulating and disseminating information. Many of them are disillusioned with the materialism of their parents, but they have no alternative themselves. … Society’s enemies have thus become boredom, loneliness, meaninglessness, and emptiness of soul. …

This condition is a golden opportunity for the scholar-intellectuals of the Church. If, in this time of groping, we are able to express our faith in God skillfully and forcefully and to explain our views on the central issues of the day, we will have a great influence on creating the intellectual climate in which people will respond more readily to the ideas and doctrines presented by our missionaries. …

We have presumed Christianity to be the foundation of conventional wisdom, but we should be aware that the younger generation has shunned Christianity. Atheistic theology is one example of the theologic double talk that will make people who are earnest seekers shun organized Christianity. Two other failures have contributed to its lack of visibility: the ecumenical movement and the social gospel. Christianity gives only an uncertain sound and few, therefore, prepare themselves for battle. …

Today’s liberal pessimism has no power to change the world. Democracy is making alliances with communism in European political policy. What people are discovering today is a new kind of Marxist humanism. What’s important for LDS scholars to do is to make a distinction between communism and Marxist humanism. Despite the horrendous historical track record and the widely publicized criticism of communism’s failure to enhance human dignity, an increasing number of young intellectuals are turning to Marxism to provide a political, social, economic, intellectual and, yes, spiritual explanation for modern society. It gives them something to have faith in, hope for, and work for. …

Intellectuals, as other people, will be likely to listen to an ideology promising hope and an eschatological vision of what human existence can become if they come in contact with practicing Christian scholars. Thus the achievement of wholeness in ourselves becomes a key to discharging our intellectual responsibility. Central to all the rest of what Mormonism might offer is the affirmation of God’s existence and our relationship to him. Just as Nietzsche propelled the secularization movement forward with ten-league boots by declaring the death of God, so we can humbly try to reaffirm that existence by the evidence of his life in us.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve and former Church Commissioner of Education: I’d like to make six points very briefly.

1. What fascinates me about the gospel is that it gives us a galactic view of existence, and we need to take that into account.

2. The Church constitutes a distinct alternative to the world. We are a counter-culture. We’ll pass through great tribulations, as the Lord has said, but his people will be preserved. And our whole assumption is that we change the world by changing individuals. Ours is the original gospel of hope.

3. As we confront secularism, we’ll be a light on a hill. We’ll be known by what we stand for and what we reject. At the same time, we’ll be misunderstood and misrepresented.

4. In time there will be globalization of the Church, multiple Zions. We have our first Maori member of the Church in the New Zealand parliament. In Mexico in February of this year there were more than 3,000 baptisms in one month. There will probably be 7,000 a month by November.

5. We’ll see individuals who will have influence on society at critical junctures. … There’ll be Colonel Kanes raised up to assist us and much of the yield will come from those who find the emptiness of Marxism and secularism. It will include a stake president I met last month who, five years ago, was an atheist and a Marxist.

6. The emptiness of secularism is that it has no memory. I remember Sir Winston Churchill writing that the great democracies had triumphed in World War II and thus were able to resume the follies which so nearly cost them their lives. Secularism is always looking “beyond the mark.” We must put forward our alternative articulately, but most importantly by our example. …

A dozen years ago I worried greatly about transculturization. That was before I met the rising individuals in the Church like Enzio Busche, Ho Nam Rhee, Elder Charles Didier, Elder Jacob de Jager, and others. In his own natural way, the Lord is helping us to solve that problem.

Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Council of the Twelve: I am at least superficially acquainted with some of the problems encountered by our missionaries and other problems incident to our carrying out the program of the Church in lands where there are marked differences between our culture and the people of these lands.

But I feel these differences are of minor importance in comparison with the great burden of our responsibility to teach the gospel of the Master and that alone. I should like to suggest also that in comparison with the problems encountered by our earlier missionaries, those now encountered are of relatively small significance.

In the first place, we live in a rapidly shrinking world. … Secondly, as the educational level rises throughout the world there is a concomitant factor of greater understanding of the ways and customs of other peoples. … The third factor is an increasing knowledge of languages among the people of the earth. … Another factor which substantially diminishes the “culture shock” that missionaries might experience is the kind of men we have presiding over the missions of the world. … Finally, I might mention the tremendous erosion of strong cultural patterns in many parts of the earth. …

Now even greater challenges lie ahead for the future. One cannot think of the seven hundred millions on mainland China, the five or six hundred millions on the subcontinent of India, and the vast populations of Russia and the Middle East without wondering how [the work] can ever be accomplished. It will be accomplished, for the Lord has given us a mandate, and if we will put forth our effort, he will open the way. The task seems formidable, but who, fifty years ago, or even twenty-five years ago, would have dared to think that in 1976 we would have eleven missions and twenty-nine stakes in the islands and lands of the Pacific; in South America eighteen missions and twenty-two stakes; in Mexico and Central America nine missions and twenty-one stakes; in Asia fifteen missions and seven stakes?

The God of heaven has brought to pass this miracle, and what we have seen is but a foretaste of greater things yet to come.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Parry Merkley