‘Grizzly Bear’ Truth versus ‘Teddy Bear’ Truth trips up Mormonism
My friend and former co-worker, Cal Grondahl, says there’s “Grizzly Bear” Truth and “Teddy Bear” Truth in Mormon history.
Whether it’s the prophet Joseph Smith, polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Brigham Young, temple ceremonies, etc., one can either grab a teddy bear or a grizzly bear when wanting answers.
For a long time, teddy bear truth, which is designed to comfort people, was more prevalent than grizzly bear truth. But that has changed in the past several years.
The biggest reason is probably Mitt Romney’s run for the presidency; another is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ efforts to make its appeal more diverse, with pages on its websites on particularly thorny issues that were not addressed for much of the church’s history.
The church also has made inroads with gays and lesbians, although that effort has cooled. Nevertheless, the past few years have proven that teddy bear answers to tough questions won’t cut it anymore.
The remarks several years ago by a Brigham Young University professor that blacks not receiving the LDS priesthood was in reality a “blessing,” or that the Lord was waiting to provide the priesthood, is an example of the teddy bear truth — the lighter, happier version.
The grizzly bear truth is that trouble with violence in Missouri way back in the 1830s, coupled with the prevalent racism of the period, was the genesis of the Mormon policy discriminating against blacks. The old canard that Ham’s race was cursed was piggybacked on by many to justify the ban, and so on.
Baptism for the dead is another doctrine that, while not discriminatory or objectionable, in my opinion, suffers from the teddy bear truth syndrome. It’s easy to say to the world that we baptize the dead, your non-Mormon ancestors, because we want them to have a chance to accept the Gospel. There’s no pressure, they can say no.
The grizzly bear truth, though, is that faithful Mormons believe these dead spirits are eagerly waiting for faithful Mormons to do proxy baptisms for them.
We believe these people will confront us after death if we’re not valiantly helping them while on Earth.
The past several years, the church apologized and backed away from doing post-life ordinances for victims of the Holocaust, whose relatives are understandably disconcerted after being told their loved ones are being helped via baptisms for the dead.
And after they’re baptized, there are more ordinances to be done in proxy. We could even mention so-called “second sealing” in the temples, but that’s a grizzly bear topic for another column.
Another grizzly bear truth is that the practice of baptism for the dead was preceded by the mostly forgotten LDS practice of “adoption,” which involved sealing multiple families and people on Earth into an eternal family headed by a prominent priesthood holder.
There was competition to get people into your family because of this idea: that the larger one’s “adopted family,” the greater one’s glory eternally.
Do you ever wonder why John D. Lee, scapegoated and executed for the Mountain Meadows Massacre, was called an “adopted son” of Brigham Young? Now you know.
The Summer 2011 issue of the Journal of Mormon History devotes more than 115 pages on early Mormon adoption theology in fascinating articles by Samuel M. Brown and Jonathan A. Stapley. It’s at http://tinyurl.com/zyksbcj.
A version of this column was previously published at StandardBlogs.