Gospel Symposia are making a comeback
Carol and I are flying up to Salt Lake on Friday to attend a gospel-related symposium on prophecy and cosmology. In other words, it is a seminar about Armageddon and the last days. It is being held at the Provo Marriott in the Aspen room. Attendance is expected to be several hundred. I am encouraged by the interest in the subject and by the very idea that such an event is being held.
Let me explain why. A few years back in the LDS Church, there were a number of people in Utah who started holding gospel study groups in their homes to discuss doctrines that were not being taught in depth in the regular church meetings. One of those doctrines was Armageddon and the events of the last days. You could say that some participants were just a little obsessed.
Gospel study groups in the home
You may recall that the Manti group formed out of a gospel study group that met in the home. For those who don’t know, that was the forerunner of yet another polygamous split-off called the TLC started by James Harmston. It was a sad period in the history of the church because it was also about this time that several outspoken LDS intellectuals were excommunicated for apostasy.
This was also the time that Bo Gritz was running for president and was promoting his ideas of being prepared for the impending collapse of the current socio-economic order. He taught there was a secret conspiracy and new world order being planned and that we should do all we could to resist it. His encouragement of paramilitary preparation was very popular in Utah and Idaho.
The decline of church firesides
The response of the church to the Manti group, the intellectual apostates, and those who went so far as to quit their jobs and hide in the mountains with large supplies of ammunition and food, was to send out a letter to all priesthood leaders warning them of the dangers of people holding study groups in their homes. President Packer also referred to this in General Conference.
The result was that there was an immediate decrease in firesides held throughout the church. I noticed it and so did a lot of others who enjoyed a group gospel discussion outside of church. It is unfortunate that the stimulating intellectual growth that comes from a group setting discussion was curtailed as the result of a few individuals who went too far and led others to apostasy.
I can understand the response of the Brethren in doing what they did. Their duty is to protect the church and to see that the doctrines taught are pure. The unintended result was the demise in legitimate intellectual dialog. I guess what I’m saying is that gospel doctrine classes don’t meet the needs of some individuals when it comes to wanting to increase their gospel knowledge.
I have missed the firesides that we used to have growing up where we talked about the last days and the signs of the times. I confess that I’m a little bit unorthodox when it comes to wanting to know more about Armageddon. I don’t think I am obsessed but my interest is keen, especially as events that I see as being fulfillment of the signs of the times become more and more abundant.
Exploring ideas together
That’s why I am so excited about this symposium and would invest the time and money to travel from California to Utah to attend this two-day event. Now don’t go thinking that I’m following after one of those individuals that is trying to lead the people of the church astray. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anthony Larson is a respected author and authority on the subject.
I have read all five of his books and all of his essays over the years and can tell you that he is in no way advocating anything other than loyalty to the church and to the Brethren who lead it. He does, however, have some rather unique views on what is prophesied to happen in the very last days as the advent of the Savior draws nigh. It has to do with an unorthodox view of cosmology.
I think such a symposium like this can be held again because of the way that the Internet has filled the vacuum for intellectual gospel discussion. The church has embraced new technology and is encouraging members to speak out through all aspects of the new media in sharing the message of the restored gospel. Those with common interests have found each other online.
It is true that a subject like Armageddon can bring out the whackos among us. I have seen this on several of the online discussion groups, blogs and websites. It is also a subject about which mainly guys are interested. Carol finds it boring and is only attending the Friday evening meeting as a courtesy to me. She is spending Saturday taking pictures on the BYU campus.
What is unique about this symposium is that Anthony Larson is considered a crackpot by some in the LDS academic community. His ideas are unorthodox, unproven and in fact, go against what modern science teaches about cosmology. But that’s what I like about him and his ideas. He has studied this out in detail all his life. Isn’t he entitled to some inspiration on the subject?
So I’m going to give him a fair chance. I’m going to hear his ideas out and consider what he has to say on the subject. I have an advantage in that I have already invested dozens of hours over the years in reading and understanding his published material. But still, I have never met the man nor have I seen what kind of individuals attend his symposia. I may be in for a shock.
Preparing for Armageddon
Academic symposia in the LDS community are not new. Sunstone and similar groups have held such events continuously over the years. I am not a Sunstone kind of person. I find that some of the material they publish is not faith promoting. Independent thinking is encouraging, but not at the expense of loyalty to the prophets and apostles who lead the true church of the Lord today.
I am confident that what I hear from Anthony Larson this Friday and Saturday will in no way cause me to feel any less inclined to follow the Brethren. I do expect to have my understanding of the cosmological events of the last days increased. After all, haven’t the prophets always warned us to watch and be ready that we may be prepared for the days when the Lord returns?
Note: I have also written a report of the symposium