29 July 2007

What is the Church's settlement value?

I promise that this will be my last post on the OR sex abuse case, at least until some real steps forward have been taken and I can report on them here. But I was wondering that if the Church is willing to settle this lawsuit, how much should it be willing to offer to make this lawsuit (and the judicial order to reveal its financial information) disappear?

I'll be using a little tool called a decision tree, and if I was more proficient with MS Office, I could probably post a decision tree here. Needless to say, to come up with any definitive answer on what the maximum settlement the Church is willing to offer, I would need a lot more information. But these should provide some tools to analyze with.

So first, we assume that there are two options for the Church- 1) settle out of court OR 2) take it to trial. I think that the case against the Church is pretty weak here and that it will probably win its defense. However, there is always some chance that the judge or jury will rule against the Church even if the Church has the facts on its side. So let's assume that the Church has a 90% chance of success. If the expected value of losing is $45 million (the damages being asked for, probably should add attorney's fees, etc.) and the expected value of winning is $3 million (attorney's fees; note: THIS IS AN ASSUMPTION), that means the weighted average value of the option to take the case to trial is 3.6 million. So the Church should only be willing to give this as a maximum settlement value.

HOWEVER...there are some other key facts to point out. The chances of the Church's success may be overstated above. As the chances for success decrease, the settlement value will rise rapidly. Also, the Church obviously places some value on keeping its financial information secret, so this would increase the expected value of losing the lawsuit (maybe dramatically). I could be completely wrong about my estimate of the attorney's fees and other costs; I don't have any real empirical evidence to back that up. Chances are that the Church will be offering something much more than 3.6 million as a settlement. If so, it probably indicates that the Church thinks its chances are poor or really values its secrecy very highly.

Interpreting the scriptures vs. likening them to ourselves

Over here, I asserted a difference between interpreting the scriptures and likening them to ourselves. I wanted to explore it a little more deeply in this post.

When we liken the scriptures, we are searching for a practical application of scriptural principles to our daily lives. (how many times have we heard this is SS?) Therefore, likening the scriptures ought to be a matter of purely personal interpretation. The Spirit guides an individual in their reading of the scriptures. Because we are looking for a present and modern application, there is no need to introduce details of language/culture/context et cetera into the study of the scriptures. All such readings are on equal footing. Because of this, one should not attempt to elevate his/her understanding to "doctrine"/"testimony"/"the one true and living meaning of X scripture". Any sharing of that understanding should be done with humility and a spirit of charity rather than of authority.

Interpreting the scriptures is another matter entirely. When we interpret, we want to know what the scripture says, if indeed a scripture can say or mean anything. Though some may discount its usefulness, I personally believe that their is a scriptural injunction to perform such analysis when Christ says to "Search the scriptures; for in them ye believe ye have eternal life" (paraphrased). Jesus was not asking them to find a practical application of the scriptures; rather he wanted them to know more about the doctrinal foundation of his role as the Messiah and Son of God. The authority to interpret the scriptures is much more narrow. The question of this authority is a vexed one, as I will explore in a future post about BYU. What is clear is that the prophets and apostles have it. What is not clear is who else might have it. Also, knowing what scriptures mean for those who are not prophets and apostles ought to be a matter of consulting context, culture, language, archaelogy, etc. If we want to teach an interpretation to others, it needs to have a solid rational footing in evidence, or either be the inspired pronouncement of one of the members of the highest quorums of the Church. I know that this sounds undemocratic and elitist (because few have the resources or education to pursue this kind of study) but I think that what most people call interpreting the scriptures is really likening them to ourselves, which is open to all. Most members are satisfied with this (whether or not they should be is another question).

Any opinions out there?

26 July 2007

Update on Church lawsuit in Oregon

See story here. Looks like the Church is going to go the settlement route, which was really predictable. But it appears that the plaintiff really wants to see the records. With the amount of money the Church will probably offer the guy, it will take someone really stubborn to stick out just to get those Church financials.

Approaching but never reaching...

Those who frequent the Bloggernacle are sure to have noticed various references to two recent press releases posted on the Church's official website (here and here), "Approaching Mormon History" and "Approaching Mormon Doctrine." I would like to post on the content of those statements at another time, but for now I am struck first by the manner in which they were released and second, by their titles.

I have heard pleased responses to the release of these statements both in personal conversations with other Latter-day Saints and in discussions on the Bloggernacle. I count myself among that group. I do appreciate it when the Church makes clear difficult issues. In some instances, we might prefer that things are left somewhat vague in order to provide us with "wiggle room." But in both instances, I think that these statements were needed for the membership's own benefit.

I was intrigued to see that the Church chose to release them through the official Church website. To my knowledge, they were not read in sacrament meeting like other official Church correspondence and they have not (yet) been published in the Ensign, which carries most other official Church news. I am unaware whether they have been published in the weekly Church News. What a remarkable development if they have only been released through the website. Is the audience really the press? Or does the Church know that the official website gets so much use and scrutiny by members that it feels that such a location is ideal and/or sufficient? I checked briefly and discovered that it is not available in other languages or on the web pages for other countries that may be accessed through the LDS.org portal. I am concerned that it may only be intended for the Church "literati" and those who typically follow such things, and completely inapplicable to the average member of the Church (who may not speak English or visit the Church website with any frequency). It could be some kind of test run and will be published more broadly in the future. Are we being subtly encouraged to submit comments and reactions? I appreciate the Church throwing the Internet generation and the Bloggernacle a bone here. But it raises as many questions as it answers.

Moving on to the titles, I am struck immediately by two features. First, the use of "Mormon" rather than "Latter-day Saint." This use of a colloquialism (which the Church has previously (but mildly) disclaimed its use here. This seems to me another point in favor of reading this as being a release simply for the media and not for general Church membership. However, I think that most Church members have never stopped calling themselves Mormons anyway; at least I never have. The second thing is the use of the word "Approaching" in the title. To those of a post-modern bent, this seems to indicate that we can approach Mormon doctrine and Mormon history but never actually reach a true understanding of it. My impression has always been that the Church was hostile to post-modernism (perhaps unjustifiably). Mormons have always been proud of their free agency and past Church leaders (Joseph Smith and David O. McKay in particular) have rejoiced in their freedom to believe as they wished. Among the general membership, there seems to be a much greater emphasis on orthodoxy and setting down the "correct version" of Mormon doctrine (probably an outgrowth of Bruce R. McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith's tenure in the Quorum of the Twelve). Should I perceive some shift? I am not sure how I feel about the GAs ending vague signals through Internet press releases, but I may be reading too much into it in the first place.

Then again, perhaps very little thought went into choosing the titles and they were simply looking for something that sounded nice and catchy. I will admit that it is an equal if not greater possibility.

Humane General Authorities ???

I wish I had the references on hand, but over the past couple of weeks I have seen this adjective appear in several discussions of various Apostles and other leaders of the Church--humane.
What does this mean? Clearly, humane means the following (according to the American Heritage Dictionary-1. Characterized by kindness, mercy, or compassion; 2. Marked by an emphasis on humanistic values and concerns: a humane education.). But does it imply that there are other GAs who are inhumane? Who are they?

24 July 2007

Living a life of conscience

The BYU-Dick Cheney controversy is old news now, but one of the people who many of us heard a lot about during those weeks was Diane Bailey, president of the BYU Democrats. I imagined (and it was later confirmed) that she endured a great deal of social pressure and unpleasantness because of the stance that she took. I wanted to send her an e-mail thanking her for being willing to give a voice to what many of us who are members of the Church, but are not currently affiliated with BYU, were thinking at the time. As part of the e-mail I said something that sounds roughly like the following:

"Though I am constantly challenged by other members of the Church about my political principles, I feel that liberal principles and the platform of the Democratic party are my best opportunities to live a live of conscience within the Church"

I am sure that it was even less eloquent than above when I originally typed it in my e-mail, but that was the gist of the thing. I believe that espousing liberal principles is most fully in harmony with the values of Mormonism, even if it clashes with the political beliefs of most of its members and leaders.

An old Book of Mormon

This summer, my wife and I are house-sitting for a friend in Dallas while I work in the city. This friend is a religious scholar (though not of Mormonism) and I enjoy looking at all the books on her shelves (I do this in almost every home that I visit). One day I noticed that she had a copy of the BoM in her apartment. Aside from being a scholar of religion, she is honestly one of the last people I would have thought would have a copy of the BoM.

Her copy is only a wee bit outdated. Its copyrighted 1960-something. For those familiar, its a paper cover with blue and clouds and a big Angel Moroni on the front. I picked it up to see if there was anything else different about the presentation and what I found within the first couple of pages was striking. There are several photographs of ancient Latin American relics and historical sites, all referring to episodes of BoM history. For those who have not looked in the missionary copy of the BoM lately, we know feature a couple of those old Arnold Friberg paintings of BoM scenes, and one of Joseph Smith. This got me thinking about the difference from a historical and sociological perspective. How is the experience of reading and praying about the BoM different now than it was when this was the version of the BoM in use? Now, we ask for people to accept the BoM as real history but only on the basis of a spiritual testimony, namely the promise found in Moroni 10. If you want some archaelogical evidence, you need to take a look at FARMS and some of the stuff they produce. But I doubt that more than 10% of investigators (or Church members at large) ever do. Did we ever expect investigators to believe the story of the BoM on the basis of historical evidence, either exclusively or primarily? Did the Church face the fact that such evidence was lacking and that they would be better served to go with the spiritual side? I remember a couple of chapters in the old Missionary Library that got into issues of BoM evidence on the basis of some old Native American/Latin American legends and myths. But I think that part of the Church has largely died out, except for the FARMS die-hards. I'll admit that I am not current with the latest BoM research, but I don't think that the physical evidence for BoM historicity has become overwhelming, nor do I expect it to become so in my lifetime.

19 July 2007

An open letter to Micheal Bay

For those LDS bloggers who are following along, please bear with me for this detour into popular culture:

Dear Mr. Bay:

Congratulations on making a terrific movie (Transformers)! I can hardly tell you how excited I was to be one of the first members of the paying public to see it. For the most part, it was the movie I have been waiting my whole life to see. I have a couple of minor issues of disagreement with your interpretation of the source material (Optimus Prime does NOT have lips; Megatron does NOT look like that) but I guess it could have been worse.

I do have one concern that I hope you might address in the future. As I was watching the movie, I noticed that seeing my first Transformer transform on the big screen was no big deal. Even seeing OP for the first time was kind of a blah moment. After I had been waiting so long, why would this be? The answer: Marketing. There was no sense of wonder in seeing OP for the first time because I had already seen him do that trick about 100 times in the previous month. If you do a sequel, I would beg you to preserve some surprises for us. I wanted to feel the boyish wonder of seeing one of my heroes for the first time on the big screen, but it just wasn't there. Now, before you get all defensive, I know that this is not entirely your fault. Those crazy guys in marketing will do anything for a buck. But you are the big dog, man! Exercise that Hollywood influence! Give 'em hell! See you at the first showing for Transformers 2,


18 July 2007

Does Mormonism encourage cheating?

Over at T&S, in a discussion about the merits of the HT program (trust me, the post didn't start out that way), a commenter brought up lying about your HT/VT numbers and why people do it. This commenter brought up lying about your numbers on the mission. That got my mental juices flowing. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say the following: I never lied to a mission leader about how many discussions I gave in a day; however, I may have on occasion misrepresented the quality and thoroughness of those discussions and I may also have misrepresented my opinion of the prospects of several investigators approaching baptism. I don't think that is out of place for most missionaries' experience.

But clearly anyone who has been on a mission knows that missionary perfidy extends much farther than simple subjective misrepresentations. There are the baseball/basketball/(insert popular youth sport here) baptisms, the copying of names from tombstones for baptismal records, etc. (not to mention the more grievous personal sins that missionaries commit. It is tempting to say that these are urban legends and that their frequency and significance have been blown far out of proportion by generations of missionaries telling and retelling these stories. However, the recent David O. McKay biography spoke in depth about the problem relating to Church records and growth in Latin American that necessitated cleaning up after this mess. (If anyone does not know what I am talking about and wants some explanation, just ask).

The mission is, in my opinion, a very "business-school" type experience, particularly as it relates to the focus on numbers and results. HT/VT is a little less intense, but really no different. Admittedly, counting and measuring (profit, inventory, etc.) are key to a business enterprise. I think this fits perfectly in the larger observation that Mormons do very well in business. They learned it on the mission. Unfortunately, it creates competition, which is good for young men's motivation, but corrupting of their principles. In fact, missionaries are almost universally disgruntled with the fact that they are measured in this way (and yes this includes very good, hard-working missionaries too). There is enormous pressure for numbers. In fact, at least in my mission, anything that did not involve giving a discussion was not counted, thus discounting the value in the eyes of most missionaries of many other worthwhile activities (working with less actives, service). I know that the experience of others will be different, and mission administration practices change all of the time, but if most of us have not personally experienced it, we have at least heard about it at some point.

Going back to HT/VT, I have never lied outright about whether I did my home teaching, but I may have massaged the precise contours of our visit and how much "teaching" was done. The pressure is the same. There is a sense that the bishop is looking at the HT numbers to see who gets the really good callings. if you look at a lot of EQPs, they are usually guys with good HT numbers. I don't think this is any accident, just like the assistants on the mission being the guys with the highest baptisms, regardless of other factors. I don't think the competitiveness in HT is the same as in the mission; in fact, I don't think it exists. Most male members are involved in different enterprises and professions during the week, that is where the competition takes place. In the mission, we are all missionaries, all the time. Nevertheless, the incentive to cheat and lie still exists. Not doing HT somehow puts us out of the mainstream "good member of the Church" (even though it seems that a majority of the priesthood does a poor job of HT), and we will do anything, even lie, to get back in that august company.

So what do you think, does Mormonism encourage cheating?

17 July 2007

Church snipers on the roof...

I have been surprised that so little has been said in the Bloggernacle regarding the recent Oregon Supreme Court decision that ordered the Church to open up its finances.  I won't go into all the legal gobbledy-gook for the non-lawyer's sake, but it looks like the only recourse that the Church will have is an appeal to the US Supreme Court.  They don't actually have to take the appeal so the OSC decision may stand as is.  If so, expect that the Church will request an airtight protective order on that information (meaning legal sanctions for anyone who discloses it).  Even so, Church snipers on the roof might be a better idea...

While I myself would be interested in seeing the Church's full financial statement, I understand why they guard that secret so jealously.  Plaintiffs love to go after the deep pockets and the Church's are real deep, no doubt.  After all, that's what is happening here.  Some HT molested a boy who is now looking for punitive damages and for some reason, the bank account of the Church is relevant to this question.  I won't get into the legal theories of the Church's liability any more than to say that there is a price you pay when you call every worthy male a member of the Priesthood.


I decided to get a little more involved in the Bloggernacle over the past week.  I have put in a couple of comments here and there as AHLDuke, but I decided that I needed my own forum to direct discussion.  To give you a little background: I'm a convert to the Church (baptized in 1999), living in the South (though not for long), and attending law school at Duke University (duh...).  I stumbled onto the Bloggernacle last summer and have been pretty entranced ever since.  I have made reading it a regular part of my daily schedule but actually contributing something to the dialogue has escaped me...until now.  I will be posting regularly about LDS topics, with a few general posts thrown in here and there as well.  I hope that people will comment and get a discussion going.  This is as much a learning experience for me as it is a forum for me to put my ideas out there.  I am sure that I will make some ridiculous statements now and again and I hope people will enjoy the conversation enough to muster some evidence to correct me.  With all that said, let's get to it....