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    “Surely the reason Christ said, ‘Father, forgive them,’ was because even in that terrible hour He knew that this was the message He had come through all eternity to deliver.”
    —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
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Commentary on Elder Nelson’s Article on Abortion

Elder Russell M. Nelson’s article in this month’s Ensign immediately received a bit of attention in the bloggernacle. In “Abortion: An Assault on the Defenseless,” Elder Nelson puts forth the Church’s position and doctrine related to the practice, and he offers a few of his own opinions on related issues, such as the debate over when “meaningful life” begins. The reactions to this article have been quite interesting to observe. Here are a few of the online discussions about it:

Now that a little time has passed and everyone’s moved on to other matters, here’s my take on all this talk.

As always, the bloggernacle ignores the substance of the article and focuses instead on the seemingly more controversial or political issues related to it. Fine. That’s their prerogative. But frankly, I’m a little less interested in whether the article was timed to influence U.S. elections than in what Elder Nelson actually has to say about abortion. Why aren’t people discussing that? Is it too straightforward for them? Too predictable? Whatever the reason, it apparently doesn’t warrant much discussion in the bloggernacle. But then again, most of what the current Church leaders are actually saying gets short shrift there, so it’s par for the course.

In addition, does anyone sincerely believe that Elder Nelson would have written this article for purely political purposes, or as a mere academic plaything for the self-appointed intelligentsia? Think about it. When was the last time a Church publication discussed this issue in such detail? If there’s any timing involved in the publication of this article, it’s more likely the long-range, multigenerational timing of the Church’s influence over its members than some partisan agenda.

If you talk to bishops and LDS Family Services counselors, many of them will tell you that they have counseled young women who either had an abortion or were considering an abortion and were apparently unaware of the Church’s teachings and disciplinary policy on the matter. This sort of situation is, in part, what Elder Nelson is trying to address in his article, I think.

Now, of course, Elder Nelson also discusses abortion as a matter of public policy, so it’s fair to talk about his article in a political context. But even if Elder Nelson carefully planned the timing of this article, in collusion with the General Authorities and Church employees who oversee and run the Church magazines, so what? Perhaps he saw election time as the perfect time for Church members to be discussing the matter since it may be on people’s minds anyway. He still doesn’t tell anyone which party or candidate to vote for. He merely infuses a bit of Church doctrine and policy into the debate. In his argumentation he is careful to label some statements as his own opinion, though those statements are made in support of a larger argument regarding the Church’s official teachings. If all of this upsets people or doesn’t harmonize with their political ideas, so be it. But it shouldn’t be ignored and labeled as purely political.

In any event, I’m glad to see that the Brethren are still speaking out on a variety of moral issues, knowing that they’ll be criticized both from without and from within. And I’m glad that the Church magazines provide a channel for them to publish their words.


5 Responses

  1. I was interning when Elder Nelson finished this article. That was summer 2007. This has been in the works for a long time and carefully reviewed so it would not be an influence in public policy. I think the timing was coincidence.

  2. Well, Janessa, I happen to know that, in addition to having insider knowledge as a former Church magazines intern, you are also a reasonable person who is not beholden to an agenda or self-image that would cause you to view Elder Nelson’s article as political meddling by the Church. Thanks for the comment. By the way, have you been to this Web site recently? Check it out.

  3. So, mormonmagmeister, I can clearly detect your opinion regarding FMH Lisa’s poll. Do you have any comments on the discussion on Steve’s thread, or on Eve’s post, or on my remarks? Or did you not get to them? It’s a bit odd for you to complain that people didn’t talk about the substance of the abortion issue when you simply disregarded the posts that do address the substance.

  4. Thanks for the comment, J. Nelson-Seawright. I’m frankly shocked that my little blah-blah-blog got your attention. So, since you asked …

    I like Eve’s piece overall. I agree with her general conclusion about the problem inherent in using the “aborted genius” argument in furthering anti-abortion cause.

    I actually find polls such as the one at FMH somewhat interesting, though often disheartening for a TBM like myself (a label I don’t mind owning, I suppose). I simply wish the discussion and the rhetoric were balanced out with more references to what Elder Nelson actually said. Luckily, a few comments brought some of that out. But to me, it just felt like there was something important missing. And the whole thing seemed to imply a foregone conclusion. But, of course, FMH was probably just trying to get a discussion going. Mission accomplished.

    As for the posts on BCC, I was impressed with the thoughtfulness and overall message of your post. It was enlightening on several points. I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusion regarding the role of government on this issue, but I can see you’ve got some good thoughts, and you argued them well. Steve Evans’s discussion thread about Elder Nelson’s statement regarding when life begins was interesting. Elder Nelson made a statement of personal opinion, so it’s fair enough for those commenting on BCC to discuss it in the same vein. And they did. Again, it was an entire discussion about one paragraph in Elder Nelson’s article. That’s fine. Actually, that’s great. If only people would show as much interest in all of the Apostles’ words and not just the seemingly controversial ones. But that wouldn’t make for very interesting blogging, and I understand that.

    Now, you stated that I “complain[ed] that people didn’t talk about the substance of the abortion issue.” That’s actually not correct. I complained (I would prefer “accurately stated,” but let’s go with your word) that people didn’t talk about the substance of Elder Nelson’s article. I freely acknowledge that people talked at length about the “substance of the abortion issue” as they saw it. But it seems to me that Elder Nelson’s article was a big reason why people were discussing it in the first place, and yet his actual words got relatively little mention. That’s really my only point. I don’t have much to add to the debate itself, such as it is.

    Again, thanks for the comment. I hope I cleared some things up. If not, please disregard the foregoing paragraphs, and have a nice day.

  5. mormonmagmeister, thanks for the clarification. I guess it’s worth distinguishing between “showing interest in” and “blogging about.” I’m sure that a lot of bloggers pay a great deal of attention to most of what our leaders have to say. But blogging isn’t really an effective forum for most of that; I guess that’s why we have church, as well.

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