Methods of Scriptural Interpretation


Constitutional Interpretation:

Judicial interpretation explains how a judge/court should interpret specific statutes of law, particularly in constitutional documents and legislation.

There are two main camps with regard to how this legal interpretation should work:

  • Originalism/strict constructionism – which would be characterized as “conservative” or “judicial restraint”.
  • Functionalism – which would be characterized as “liberal” or “judicial activism”.

Simply speaking, the former emphasizes fidelity to the original meaning [or originally intended meaning] of the words in the constitution.  It seeks to be loyal to the authors’ original intent by looking at things like what the words used generally meant at the time they were written and looking at what reasons the authors had for using particular phrases, etc.

While the latter would argue that the constitution was deliberately written to be broad/vague and flexible to accommodate social or technological change over time.  It seeks to be loyal to the author’s original intent by looking at what the words have generally come to mean in applicable ways to people today, etc.

The Constitutional Example of “Cruel and Unusual Punishment”:

In the 8th amendment of the US constitution, there is a clause that states:

nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This seems cut-and-dry – however, there is controversy as to how to apply this clause/standard in specific judicial cases.  To look at it from the point-of-view of the two above schools of interpretation, we could interpret the clause in terms of:

  • What were generally accepted as “cruel and unusual” punishments during the late 1700’s?  What were the specific conceptions the founders had in mind when barring “cruel and unusual punishments”?  Etc.
  • Or what do we, as 21st century Americans, understand to be “cruel and unusual” ways to punish criminals?  How did the founders want us to be guided by the general concept of “cruelty” or “unusualness” in assigning punishments?  Etc.

In this way, one group has ground to argue, based on the idea of original intent, that hanging is not a cruel and unusual form of capital punishment because it would have generally been accepted at the time the constitution was written.

While the other group, still based on the idea of original intent, can argue that hanging is cruel and unusual at a time when we have developed more humane technologies for capital punishments – or that we have come to view the taking of human life as a form punishment itself as being cruel and unusual.

Scriptural Interpretation:

Scriptural interpretation can be seen as very similar to this constitutional/judicial interpretation.  There are different ways to approach the “original intent” question of passages that may seem quite vague when one attempts to apply them to particular circumstances.  These mirror to two schools of thought on judicial interpretation:

  • Strict textual/contextual interpretation – which would be characterized as “fundamentalist” or “conservative”.  Wherein this group focuses on the specific context of the scripture, what the author was addressing in that scripture, what did the words used mean at the time they were written, etc.
  • Liken the scriptures to yourself interpretation – which would be characterized as being more “liberal” with interpreting passages.  Wherein this group focuses on personal circumstances and concerns, what general concepts did the author outline in that scripture, what do the words used in the translation mean to me or what can I conclude from them personally, etc.

The former approaching scriptural intent by focusing on original context – the latter approaching the same goal by focusing on application to modern issues.

The Scriptural Example of Adultery:

Many directives in the scriptures seem cut-and-dry at first glance.  Take:

thou shalt not commit adultery

as an example.  What seems straight-forward can be really quite vague as we start to look into applying this “statute” to specific cases.  For example:

Alice is in an “open relationship” with Barry.  Both she and Barry have agreed to allow the other to seek extra-marital sexual partners for one-time flings – given that consent is granted prior to any intercourse.  Alice has had sexual relations with men other than Barry [her only husband], but she has always sought and obtained his permission for each of the encounters.

Barry [from the above example; married to Alice] has had some sexual relations with women other than Alice [his only wife], but maintains that – based on the original meaning of the Hebrew word “na’aph” – a man is not able to commit adultery.

Connor is married to two women.  Both know about the polygynous arrangement and both consented to it and find joy in it.  Connor engages in sexual relations with both women separately.

Darren is Christian.  Though he is married to only one woman and has only had sexual relations with his wife, he has imagined lust in his right-brain-heart towards other women.  Jesus Christ said:

But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Earl is Catholic.  Though he is married to only one woman and has not imagined lust in his right-brain-heart towards other women, he has imagined lust in his right-brain-heart towards his wife.  According to Pope John Paul II:

Adultery “in the heart” is committed not only because man “looks” in this way at a woman who is not his wife, but precisely because he looks at a woman in this way.  Even if he looked in this way at the woman who is his wife, he could likewise commit adultery “in his heart”.

Who in this group committed adultery – which did not?  For what reasons did that person commit or not commit adultery?  Answering these specific cases suddenly reveals how vague a simple command of “thou shalt not commit adultery” can really be.  Am I bound by what adultery would have meant to Moses when he wrote it – or by what the church currently interprets “adultery” to entail – or by what my wife and I have agreed would violate the terms of our marriage covenant?

The Scriptural Interpretation of Hot Drinks:

Another example is:

And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

The current church method seems to be the “strict textual/contextual interpretation” method, wherein essentially all official exposition on the subject default to this quote from Brigham Young:

I have heard it argued that tea and coffee are not mentioned [in D&C 89]; that is very true; but what were the people in the habit of taking as hot drinks when that revelation was given?  Tea and coffee.  We were not in the habit of drinking water very hot, but tea and coffee — the beverages in common use.

However, Brigham Young is going thru some contextual reasoning.  He is answering the question in terms of what the saints were generally in the habit of drinking very hot.  He is not laying down a clear-cut definition of “hot drinks” so that “tea and coffee” simply can just be substituted in for the words “hot drinks” to make the revelation read:

And again, tea and coffee are not for the body or belly.

However, given Brigham’s line of reasoning, it could be argued that the Lord is counseling against habitually drinking things very hot — which for the early saints happened to be tea and coffee.  However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that those are the only two specific conceptions the Lord wanted the saints to be guided by.

Putting this into the perspective of the two schools of interpretive thought:

  • Are we bound by the specific conceptions of “hot drinks” – meaning we, today, should just not drink the things that people in the 1830’s were in the habit of drinking very hot [As Brigham was arguing] — such that even though tea and coffee are now often consumed cold, we still must avoid them?
  • Or are we bound to the general concept of “drinks that are hot” – meaning we, today, should not be in the habit of drinking anything very hot [regardless of what the early saints were habitually doing] — such that if the saints became in the habit of drinking apple cider or chocolate as “hot drinks”, then we must avoid those too?

Questions:

  • How do you interpret scripture?
  • Are you an “original meaning” kind of reader – or a “liken it to myself” kind of reader?
  • Might one be appropriate at some times, while the other more appropriate for others?
  • What are the implications of favoring one school of thought over the other?
  • How might an “original meaning” person give extra insight to a “liken it to myself” person.  What about the other way around?

Next Article by Justin:  The Healing Gifts
Previous Article by Justin:  The Will of God and Faith

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Anarchy in action: congregational nullification


Jury Nullification

Jury nullification means making a law void by jury decision, in other words “the process whereby a jury in a criminal case effectively nullifies a law by acquitting a defendant regardless of the weight of evidence against him or her.”

Jury nullification is more specifically any rendering of a verdict by a trial jury, acquitting a criminal defendant despite the defendant’s violation of the letter of the law. This verdict need not disagree with the instructions by the judge concerning what the law is, but may disagree with an instruction, if given by the judge, that the jury is required to apply the law to the defendant if certain facts are found.

Although a jury’s refusal relates only to the particular case before it, if a pattern of such verdicts develops in response to repeated attempts to prosecute a statutory offense, it can have the practical effect of disabling the enforcement of the statute. “Jury nullification” is thus a means for the people to express opposition to an unpopular legislative enactment.

The jury system was established because it was felt that a panel of citizens, drawn at random from the community, and serving for too short a time to be corrupted, would be more likely to render a just verdict, through judging both the accused and the law, than officials who may be unduly influenced to follow merely the established law. Jury nullification is a reminder that the right to trial by one’s peers affords the public an opportunity to take a dissenting view about the justness of a statute or official practices.

(Taken from the Jury Nullification entry of the Wikipedia. See the entire entry for more information.)

Jury nullification occurs when a jury judges both the facts of a case and the law it is based upon. In modern times it doesn’t occur very often, perhaps because juries are not aware that they have this common law right or power due to modern judges not informing them of the entire jurisdiction of a jury. In fact, judges often do the opposite and give them instructions that they must apply the law. However, the truth is that juries do have this power regardless of what a corrupt judge may say.

Congregational Juries

Our system of church government consists of judges, courts and councils, with witnesses and advocacy, but apparently without juries. However, as all appointments/callings must be approved by the congregation through common consent vote before an appointment/calling is solidified, in reality and practice the congregational members are the juries of the church.

Again, any calling in the church needs to be ratified by the congregational jury. A name is read and a call to ratify is made to the members, who raise their hands in approbation or in opposition, or who do not raise their hands, at all. A count is made and if the voice of the people (the majority) is for the appointment, it goes through. If the voice of the people is against it, it does not go through. In this way the congregational jury renders a verdict of their approval or disapproval of the various appointments/callings. We call this vote sustaining. Nothing in the church happens, nor can happen, without a sustaining vote of the members of the congregation, as that would be tyranny and a usurpation of powers, because all things must be done with the consent of the congregation.

Congregational Nullification

There is, however, another way that the congregational jury renders a verdict. Sometimes policies or instructions are handed out to the members from their leaders without taking a vote. For example, recent First Presidency letters read in sacrament meeting contained instructions to the members concerning the passage of a constitutional amendment on marriage (for California saints) and sacrament meeting behavior, specifically, not using visual aids or asking the congregation to turn to a scripture while giving a talk. These instructions are similar to those received by trial juries from the presiding judge concerning how they are to apply the law to the case. In both instances, neither jury is instructed that they can pass judgment upon the judge’s instructions and discard them if wisdom so dictates.

Many saints get offended when instructions they feel are overbearing or tyrannical come down from their leaders. To prove their point, they’ll sometimes take actions that end up pitting the church against them, such as taking a public stand against the church. This is not the wisest course to take and may lead to their being disfellowshipped, excommunicated or even them just leaving on their own.

The Lord has given us the means to nip all tyranny in His church in the bud via the law of common consent. Just as trial jury nullification exists as a common law right, it also exists as a right of the congregational juries. Simply ignoring all instructions deemed to be unjust, unwise, overbearing, tyrannical or humiliating nullifies the instructions. End of story.

Most instructions given today by leaders are called “counsel.” When members are asked to do something, usually that is the very word used: ask. Anybody can ask anything they want of you. Asking you to do or not to do something does not rob you of your agency. It also does not obligate you to do the thing asked. Like trial juries, congregational juries have the choice to obey instructions received by them from the leaders without another thought, or they can render the instructions null and void by ignoring them.

Anarchy in Action

Both congregational nullification and the raising of the hands in approval/disapproval during a sustaining vote is anarchy in action. Ultimately, always, the people decide all matters of the church. The leaders can do nothing without the consent of the people.

Taking the two examples given above, for those saints who agree with the First Presidency letter on the marriage bill, they can sustain the letter’s instructions by donating time, means and effort to that cause. For those saints who disagree with the letter’s instructions, they can ignore the petition entirely and donate no time, means or effort to it. Just as during sustaining votes, members do not campaign other members to sway votes in favor of or against particular church callings, campaigning need not occur for non-voting uses of the law of common consent. Everything remains peaceful, ordered and anarchic, each man, woman and child of the church casting a verdict on the instructions by their actions.

In the second instance mentioned above, congregational nullification can also occur, should the people think the instructions are unneccessary or unjust. Or, congregational ratification can occur should the people think the instructions are wise and timely. All that is necessary is that each speaker either obey the instructions and stop using visual aids or asking the audience to open their scriptures, or disregard the instructions and use visual aids and ask the congregation to turn to such-and-such a verse.

The bishop or other leaders may attempt to correct a single person who ignores counsel or instruction, but if that person continues to ignore the counsel, or if more than one person ignores the counsel and it becomes apparent that the congregation has passed a verdict against the counsel, by ignoring it, then congregational nullification has occurred and that counsel is now null and void. There is nothing a leader can do with a group of people who refuse to ratify an instruction by obedience to it.

In my own experience, eventually even the most power-tripping leaders will throw up their hands in frustration because peaceful, ordered, anarchic congregational nullification cannot be stopped. No one can be tried for ignoring counsel or petitions. There is no law against it in the church. There are only laws against sin.

Use of Common Consent Stops Tyranny

Jury nullification drives leaders up the wall with frustration, as it limits their power and control over a congregation, but it is one of the means the Lord has set up to stop tyranny in His church. Used as a proper check to usurpation of power, it properly balances the church and puts all saints, leaders and members alike, on equal ground.

So, the next time you receive instructions from your religious leaders you do not agree with, even after prayer and fasting, instead of publicly fighting them and becoming an apostate, instead of striving to get other members in your camp and pit member against member or member against leader, or instead of trying to win the leader over to your cause (which never works), just apply the principle of congregational nullification and ignore the instructions.

Next Anarchism/Anarchy article: Anarchy in Education

Previous Anarchism/Anarchy article: The dissolution of the corporate LDS Church via “gay marriage”

Next Common Consent article: Apathy is not a problem, it’s a symptom and a solution

Previous Common Consent article: Power of the Law of Common Consent

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How I get out of jury duty


I received my official jury summons this month. Every few years it arrives and each time I send the following letter back to them. I never hear from them again until a few years later, when I get another jury summons. Feel free to use this template if you want to easily get out of jury duty. Modify where necessary.

LDS Anarchist
123 Anarchy Lane
Anarchism City, Anarcho-State 12345-6789

July 11, 2008

Mr. Some Guy
Manager, Juror Services Division
Office of the Jury Commissioner
PO Box 123456
Anarchism City, Anarcho-State 12345-6789

Re; JID Number – 012345678

Dear Mr. Guy,

I have recently received a “Juror Summons” in the mail. This is my response to the Summons. In order to know if I am “qualified” to be a juror, I must complete the Juror Affidavit Questionnaire. I notice that I am expected to sign the Affidavit under penalty of perjury. In light of this fact, and to insure that I fully understand the legal terms being used on the Affidavit and the nature of the duty that may fall upon me in this matter, I will need your office to provide me with certain information.

1. In the Juror Affidavit Questionnaire section, question 1, I am being asked if I am a “citizen of the United States”. Please provide me with the statutory definition that you are using for the term “citizen of the United States” in question 1. Please include the source of the definition so that it may be seen in proper context.

2. In the Juror Affidavit Questionnaire section, question 4, I am being asked if I am a “resident” of Anarchism County. Please provide me with the statutory definition that you are using for the term “resident” in question 4. Please include the source of the definition so that it may be seen in proper context.

3. In the Juror Affidavit Questionnaire section (step 2) it instructs a person to sign the affidavit under penalty of perjury. Please provide me with your authority to compel me to affix my signature to any document (including the affidavit) under penalty of perjury.

You may mail your response to the address shown at the top of this page. I appreciate your assistance in this matter.

Sincerely,

LDS Anarchist

Thanks goes out to Original Intent for providing me this jury summons response letter which I’ve now used many times. It works every time and it feels good to assert my rights. Hats off to you guys.

Next Anarchism/Anarchy article: The dissolution of the corporate LDS Church via “gay marriage”

Previous Anarchism/Anarchy article: How the Lord will clean his church: a possible scenario

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