Posted by: rusch | March 15, 2005

The Rebuttal to Chad

Dear Chad Phares

My name is Chris Rusch. I am a former student of BYU Idaho and am an aspiring author. While I was attending BYU-Idaho reading the opinion section of the newspaper was a favorite pastime of mine. A fond memory is of my friends and I sitting in the Galley and having a good laugh at our fellow classmates expense who were so bold to tell others that they were going to hell for one reason or another. Some of them were so opinionated that it was comical, and others were so myopic that flames would shoot out of my ears after hearing them on their soapbox bickering about caffeine and movie ratings.

After having our immature fun at the expense of others the latest edition would end up in a trash or recycling bin because we did not really care about anything that was going on around campus, and turned to such outlets as CNN and Fox News to be informed of what was going on in the rest of the world.

Opinion pieces are the most fun because they portray humanity at its’ best and worst. From time to time I will look up the Scroll online to see what human beings are thinking about in Rexberg and am hardly disappointed. The flames still shoot out of my ears and I still manage to have a good laugh, or at other times say,” You can’t be serious”.

But your article struck a particular chord. You should know that I did not laugh at your expense nor did flames shoot forth from my aural cavities ( A fancy way of saying ears). No, your opinion piece was motivating and I have been totally consumed the past few monthts with writing a response to your article entitled Choose Lds book cautiously-avoid doctrinal deceptions. I have written and rewritten this letter and think that I have finally gotten it right.

What I can say is that I completely agree with your title. Care should be taken when selecting all forms of media. Time and again we have heard leaders instruct that we should select things that uplift and edify. You are dead on here. There are probably a few movies, CD’s, and books that should go to the only place worthy of them, the dump. After I graduate from school at BYU- Hawaii, I will take into inventory what I own and purge my collection of that which does not uplift and drives the spirit from my life.

I will be the better for it.

One question that I want to ask is can a writer of LDS fiction really hurt the only true and living church. Is there anything that can stop the progress of the restoration of the Gospel in these the latter days? Is this church the stone that Daniel saw was cut out of the mountain without hands that would itself become a mountain and fill the whole the world? Or consider the Standard of truth. Has it been erected? Have persecution calumny, apostasy, and writers of bad fiction defamed? Will the truth of God go forth boldly and independent until it has reached every country and sounded in every ear?

I believe that there is nothing that can stop the progress of the Church. Where some fall away, others will take their places and the Church will continue to grow regardless of what stupid members do. J. Golden Kimball said that the church must be true or ignoramus missionaries would have destroyed it long ago.

Church history is full of examples of how the individual apostasy of some merely presented bumps in the road but ultimately could not stop the spreading of the Gospel. Apostate fiction writers are no different.

Lets consider some events in comparison to the current crisis of certain member’s writing works of fiction. If you know your church history you probably have heard about the failure of the Church owned bank in Kirtland Ohio. Truly this was a dark day in the history of this dispensation. Hundreds, if not thousands, left the Church convinced it was not true because the bank failed. But an amazing thing happened. Just when it looked like the Church was about to go under, thousands of converts from England were made and took the places of those whose faith wavered. The church did not fail, but continued to flourish in the face of opposition.

Or what about the Martyrdom of Joseph Smith the prophet? The testimony of many died along with him. But even the death of the prophet could not stop the progress of the Church. Brigham Young succeeded Joseph and lead the saints west, and from there the Church continued to grow.

Even the persecution that came from the federal government could not stop the Church. Time and again God has delivered his saints, and will ever deliver them so long as there are some that are faithful. I think that the church will survive idiot members, who want to write bad fiction.

You also said that some of these authors are merely seeking fame and fortune. That may be true, but why limit it to artists. Are there not members of other fields that do not have the best interests of Zion at heart? Is it possible that there are some students in the Business program who only care about being rich and want to heads of companies? Is it possible that there are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and others that don’t have the best interests of Zion at heart? I will leave you to answer this for yourself.

Recently I attended a performance of The Forgotten Carols by Michael McClean. The show is supposed to be about a woman who discovers the true meaning of Christmas when she spends the holidays with an eccentric old gentleman. But throughout the show you got the feeling that it was a big advertisement. McClean frequently informed the audience that his items were for sale in a rather tounge and cheek manner. It was funny at first, but after about the fifth time you began to wonder if this was not just a big advertisement to buy stuff with his name on it?

The show gave you the impression that making money was a big part of his agenda. What made me even more suspicious was that he made references to the spirit and even provided the audience with the feel-good experience or singing “we can be together someday” and then let the members loose to purchase his products. I have a problem with that. But you just get the idea that if McClean was willing to do whatever necessary to make a sale, and he is one of the mainstream “faithful” LDS artists.

McClean is what could be considered a safe mainstream artist. But if he is consumed with greed then he does not have the best interests of Zion at heart even though he may appear to be an upstanding LDS artist who inspires. Ask Dr. Robert Marrot of the religion department what he thinks about a lot of LDS entertainers.

What of Orson Scot Card, the LDS novelist that you and others seem to have a problem with? Card is a fascinating author because he has not only enjoyed success in the LDS market, but he has enjoyed phenomenal success in the secular market with his science fiction novels. He has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list throughout his career and is respected in his field of writing science fiction.

Card should be an inspiration that LDS writers can be successful and make a living doing what they love. Compared with popular novels today, Card is safe. His book Ender’s Game is considered a high water mark for writing, and amazingly the book is free from much of the profanity that plagues so many novels today.

Many don’t know Card is LDS because for years he was not what would be considered an overt LDS writer. In his books you will find elements of Mormonism, but Card is not bearing his testimony in what he writes, the same way that my Dad does not call upon his co-workers to repent at work. There is a time and place for everything and perhaps Card feels that speculative fiction is not the place for missionary work to be done. Frankly, I agree.

With regards to his novel about Joseph Smith, what makes his fictional portrayal different then from Gerald Lund’s in his widely read The Work and The Glory Series? Lund probably took some Liberties in his portrayal of the prophet and other historical figures. In the end we should not take our cues about what to believe about Church leaders from works of fiction. I found it disturbing that members of the Church made references to Lund’s books in their testimony meetings, which you would probably agree is inappropriate.

Card is by no means a dangerous LDS writer. In fact he is probably a great asset to show that Zion is just as capable of producing people that can and will excel in all the arts and sciences.

One of the problems with literature is that you never really know what the writer is intending because they are not always available to comment on their work. We don’t know what Card had in mind when he was writing his book, and he is not exactly available to answer every query that we may have about his writing. It is possible for the reader to miss the author’s intent, like with this piece. I hope that you do not think that I am ridiculing you, for what you wrote, but I am just responding to what you wrote.

As for Card’s A Storyteller in Zion, I found it fascinating that he has given us a chance to go inside his head and to see what makes him tick when it comes to writing. Card has just about as much authority to declare doctrine for the Church as you have to condemn authors that write LDS fiction.

But what I find alarming is that you claim that if someone is not a General Authority that they could not possibly uplift and edify others. Why can’t a book be written by someone who does not hold any Church office not be able to uplift another? Card was never declaring doctrine for the Church when he wrote the book, and why should anyone assume so now?

It must be very hard for you to sit through sacrament meetings when there are no General Authorities present and sister Smith is talking about how we can find strength by being faithful.

But if you are right, and General Authorities are the only people who could possibly uplift and edify others and teach doctrine, then I, as Sunday- School president of the BYU-Hawaii 19th ward will personally request that all teachers be released and that only past General Conferences be shown during Sunday school.

For that matter, members should not teach the gospel in their own homes because they do not have the authority necessary to uplift and edify. Why bother calling missionaries to uplift and edify the world when they do not hold any special authority other than the right to preach the gospel on a full time basis? Or for that matter, all full-time and volunteer seminary teachers, along with religion and institute teachers that teach college students and do so much good should resign because of the futility found in being able to edify that comes along without being a General Authority.

Why did Apostles speak at the funeral of Hugh Nibley? He was a prolific writer that was held in high esteem by many of the brethren but did not hold any special office in the Church. For more years then my father is alive, Nibley wrote prolifically on a variety of subjects and became an expert on the writings and sermons of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Early Christianity, Near Eastern Culture in the Book of Mormon, Ancient and Modern Temples, and the list continues.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if this man, with so much knowledge kept it all to himself because he held no more authority then you or me? It would be a shame (By the way, Elder Packer Quoted Nibley extensively in a 1974 General Conference).

Chris Stewart was one LDS author that was worthy of your ire because you felt that he was making a lot of money off of fictional books about the premortal life and plan of salvation. To me, his books, along with most LDS fiction just does not look all that inviting. The story seems absurd. But what does anyone really know about the life before?

Stewart is probably not trying to declare doctrine for the Church. He is a writer that had what he thought would be a good idea for a story and went with it. As for authority to write such things, he has his agency and can use it how he wants, and if he wants to use it to write pulp fiction, then that’s his deal.

As for how much money he makes off of royalties, how do you know how much he makes or what he uses it for? Some LDS authors donate their royalties to the Church’s humanitarian fund, as did one of the professors at BYU-Hawaii with a book that took him ten years to put together. If Stewart is making a lot of money who cares? If Michael McClean is driven by the flow of cash into his bank account then in the end does it ultimately matter to my eternal salvation and me? No. I simply express what I think about their work by not buying it.

Shane Whelan is an interesting duck. I do not disagree with his excommunication for writing salacious things about the practice of plural marriage. The Church leaders reserve the right to excommunicate those that pose a threat by leading members astray. But what I have found is that most dissfellowshipped and excommunicated writers don’t ever go into what their leaders had to say to them, and their leaders rarely comment. The member disciplined for their writing usually sing the same song that the Church’s hierarchy and so on wronged them. But it is not even worth talking about because the only parties that should be involved in matters regarding membership are the Lord, the Church, and the individual.

Hang around Sunstone, or any other Mormon intellectual group that has large numbers of those no longer fellowshipped and you will hear the same thing (And boy does it get old).

Authors need to be held accountable for their work, and if they are not in this life, then they will be in the final judgment. Whelan is entitled to his opinion and can believe what he wants, but ultimately he is the one who is responsible for what he has written.

Has the Church written any books that should be used by members? Yes and no. The scripture study manuals along the Sunday school manuals and the Priesthood Relief society manuals are official Church publications and are the closest thing to official church doctrine.

In fact what is official Church doctrine? The question, “ Is that official Church Doctrine?” is one only asked when someone is not sure about what is being taught, or when someone disagrees and does not want to believe what is being taught. There really are only two kinds of doctrine, true and false. Either what is being taught is one or the other. It is either true or false regardless of who writes it and the responsibility to find out rests upon the members. . Time and again we have heard that members need to gain further testimonies of what is being taught in conference by going to the Lord the same way that they went when inquiring about the Book of Mormon. This is not an easy church to be a member of with all of the searching and asking if things are right.

Again, there is no such thing as “official church doctrine”. Either what is being taught is true and we are bound by it, or it is false and should cast it aside. But signatures and other things that we think validate statements do not make them true, it is the content of the statement itself that determines whether it is true or false.

In the end members will continually waste their time. But in my opinion, I would rather have wasting time and salvation with “trashy” LDS romance novels then with things such as pornography and video games, two things that we have been warned about time and again.

Thank you for the effort you put into putting together your article. I will miss your opinion pieces but know that “Scroll” (really needs a “The”) will continue to amuse and inform in the future.

Best regards,

Chris Rusch

P.s. Dean Hughes wrote some books about a family during world war two that you might like.



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