Zelophehad’s Daughters

Oh, Say What is Truth

Posted by Mike C

“You can’t handle the truth!”

This famous retort by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men seems to me to echo the conscious or subconscious thoughts of some of our leaders when addressing difficult issues, such as the priesthood and temple ban for blacks of African descent, the multiple first vision accounts of Joseph Smith, or the sexist, racist, or homophobic statements of past or current leaders. There appears to be a fear that our testimonies are too immature to cope with complexity, too fragile to handle full disclosure, too brittle to countenance the imperfections of leaders without crumbling like sand castles before the tide.

Exhibit A: Despite an encouraging increase in openness and historical accuracy, recent Church efforts to discuss race or polygamy still appear to be incomplete at best and misleading or even untruthful at worst (see compelling critiques here, here, here, here, and here). While I am grateful for the Church’s efforts to be more forthcoming, the new gospel topics on lds.org–the virtual stone tablets of our day–appear emblazoned less by the finger of God than by the correlated fingers of the PR department. Though I enthusiastically shared with my seminary students the Race and the Priesthood article–I do believe it is an important step forward–inwardly I felt discouraged to read that we have a “fully integrated faith” (clearly a bit disingenuous to anyone living in the South), that the priesthood and temple ban was considered policy rather than doctrine (despite a 1949 1st Presidency statement to the contrary), or that Brigham Young prophesied of blacks one day receiving the priesthood (but, the article neglects to disclose, not “…until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood…”).

I’m left to wonder, why this approach? Why create new gospel topic articles that, despite their virtues, are still obviously problematic even to a give-them-the-benefit-of-the-doubt believer like me who has limited skills for digging up Church history on the Interwebz?

And so a nagging part of me wonders whether the Jack Nicholson explanation is at least partly true. But why would it be? Why would our leaders doubt our ability to deal with difficult issues without losing our faith?

President Hinckley believed that, “The strength of this Church lies in the hearts of its people, in the individual testimony and conviction of the truth of this work.” We members have individual witnesses of the truthfulness (or, I would add, the goodness and beauty) of this work, we have our own hard-won inner convictions and personal spiritual experiences that don’t depend on borrowed light–this is the great strength of the members, and it propels us to do visiting teaching and genealogy and missionary work and it helps us cope with cancer and miscarriages and alcoholic children. Wouldn’t this strength, then, also help us absorb difficult truths?

Unfortunately, I wonder if this strength is also our Achilles heal, because for many members our powerful personal conviction is based at least in part on a faulty foundation, one that we have come by honestly as we have been taught to interpret and create meaning for our very real spiritual experiences.

Europe’s Achilles heel

What is the faulty foundation? It is our worship at the idolatrous altar of practical infallibility of leaders–the idea that although leaders are fallible in the abstract, no particular example of fallibility can be admitted and no criticisms of current leaders can be countenanced. As summed up by Katie L in her brilliant post: “The Church is so invested in a narrative of obedience to authority that there is very little room to acknowledge that leaders are flawed, that revelation is messy, and that sometimes we just plain get it wrong.” In many instances, we members have been taught that part of the meaning of our spiritual experiences is that the Church never gets it wrong, leaders never make important mistakes (that would be “leading the Church astray”, right?), and there is always a righteous explanation for what the Church does (often involving placing responsibility for problematic practices at the feet of God, blaming His mysterious will). We have been taught the monolithic Truth and Rightness of the Church, and many of us base our testimonies on it. But such testimonies are brittle because they are susceptible to come crashing down if we are confronted by evidence that the Church and its leaders have significant flaws.

Apparently our leaders perceive this, and perhaps not unreasonably try to shield us from the flaws because they fear we will be lost if we have to confront them. Or perhaps some of our leaders don’t even know the flaws themselves, or maybe they avoid “going there”–confronting possible flaws–because of their deep investment in the institution or because of their fears for their own testimonies. But in being less than forthcoming about our history or the fallibility of leaders, the Church appears as just another Big Organization with a slick PR machine, rather than the Kingdom of God on earth. As a result, current members feel let down and potential members feel turned off–who wants to join a church that can’t seem to tell the truth?

Furthermore, when members experience a challenge to their faith they seem forced to land on one of three unfortunate conclusions: 1) They themselves are deficient for disagreeing with God’s will; 2) Their leaders are frauds for explicitly or implicitly claiming infallibility; or, 3) God is an unsavory character not worth worshipping or even believing in–all sad conclusions and, in my opinion, all unwarranted. But they are not irrational conclusions given the infallibility premise presented by some elements of the Church. The conclusion that is not even considered is that God’s leaders are both inspired and make honest mistakes.

The solution to all this, in my opinion, must begin with something my wife and I have learned in therapy. As partners in an intimate relationship, we’ve been encouraged to speak to the best in each other, rather than the worst. That is, we must compassionately speak up in spite of fears that being honest might cause the other person to feel upset, because we believe that the best of what is inside our partner will rise to the occasion, will be able to handle the sometimes painful authenticity and will respond positively in a way that will strengthen the relationship and increase intimacy.

How does this translate into our relationship with the Church? I see a joint responsibility. The Church needs to speak to the best in me by being more honest about its history and flaws, believing that I have the spiritual maturity to understand that despite their good intent, the Church and its leaders, like myself, have a capacity for evil, and that God is able to use an imperfect institution and seriously flawed leaders to bring great and beautiful truths to the world. The Church needs to stop insisting on practical infallibility and absolute obedience to authority in General Conference talks and lesson manuals (no more Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet!).

For my part, I need to speak to the best in the Church by resisting the unexamined path of obedience only, the path of relying on another to tell me what is good and true and right, never becoming a spiritual adult who takes full responsibility for himself. And when at church I hear of practical infallibility and strict obedience to authority, I need to graciously preach against it, using goodwill and patience to problematize such an approach. I also need to let the Church know that I am still here even though I know the sometimes disturbing history of our past leaders. Like many others who have faced troubling Church issues, I have not left, but am still teaching seminary and doing home teaching, loving the Church like I would an irascible uncle, in spite of his flaws and because of his underlying goodness, hoping that he, like me, is ultimately redeemable.

Since I only have control over my part of the relationship, my New Year’s resolution is to be more forthright with the Church about what I believe, about harms that I see, about ways I believe we need to change and grow as an institution. I acknowledge that this is not for everyone, but I am now at a place where I feel able to speak out and let the consequences follow.

One way I’m going to do this is by trying something new–I am going to write to my Church leaders, starting with the apostles I know personally. I will Cc my stake presidency and bishop since they are probably the only ones who will read my letters anyway. They may disagree with me, they may wonder why I tilt at windmills, but I hope that they will see my sincere intent and know that I am on their side and want to make things better for all of us. I’ll let you know how it goes.

This is a big job, a job that needs all of us, so I hope that this year you can also find ways that work for you to help our leaders know that you can handle the truth.

Happy New Year!

 

 

39 Responses to “Oh, Say What is Truth”

  1. 1.

    Mike,
    I would take issue with some of your major issues that you raise. You say that we should not claim to have a “fully integrated faith” due to current conditions in the South. I have lived in various southern states and would consider the LDS church one of the more integrated large denominations. For churches which have been around for 100+ years we are definitely above the average level of integration.
    We are also one of the denominations with the fewest native born southerners in the pews. We probably have the highest percentage of yankee pastors, but we also have integrated congregations and leadership, even in areas still putting up with court ordered bussing.

  2. 2.

    I live in texas. No issues with integration here. What are you talking about? Where in the south have you lived?

    Also, since the BY statement about children of Adam is technically meaningless, why bring it up?

  3. 3.

    Also, since the BY statement about children of Adam is technically meaningless, why bring it up?

    I don’t think I get what you mean by “technically meaningless.” But I think it’s pretty obvious what Mike is getting at here. The Church’s new statement on race and the priesthood is disingenuous in pretending that everyone always knew the day would come when the priesthood/temple ban was changed. This is all just post-hoc rewriting, as it’s pretty clear that Church leaders living through the ban largely did not expect it to ever end.

    So are you saying you’re on board with this bit of history being hidden? Why?

  4. 4.

    Also, great post, Mike! I’m glad you’re going to work on pushing back on the infallibility rhetoric, and that you’re going to write your leaders. I hope you get some good responses!

  5. 5.

    So, el oso, I would agree with you that the LDS Church in Atlanta where I live is one of the more integrated large denominations. However, that is a lot like saying that I am more socially skilled than a lot of other scientists. The bar is just not that high. I think what MLK said is still true today: “…the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning…”

    I have lived in two wards in metro Atlanta over the past 17 years. Our county is 55% black, 35% white, and 10% Latino. My current ward is about 10% black and 90% white, and perhaps a handful of Latinos. My former ward, in a more predominantly black area of the county (>90% black) was about 40% black and 60% white.

    My past two stake presidents have been African American, but during all these years I have known of perhaps 3-4 black bishopric members in the entire stake. Whites are overrepresented in local leadership.

    So, my experience is not what I would call “fully integrated”. I would call it “partially integrated”, more so than some churches in the area, but certainly less so than many of the more in-town “liberal” churches. On top of that, when I oogle the centerfold of the Ensign, I see a sea of white faces.

    I want to validate what you’re saying about our church’s efforts at integration. I am glad that you and Matt W. have experienced limited integration issues in the South. I do think attending meetings in our geographic area is an important integrating feature of our church. My experience is that most of the white members do not harbor explicitly racist attitudes. I believe that is tremendous progress.

    My concern is that we still have a ways to go, and saying that we are “fully integrated” has the potential to stunt our progress as a church because it implies that we are post-racial now, nothing to see here, move along. And yet as long as the Church does not apologize for past racism, priesthood ban apologists will hawk their wares on the internet and in Sunday School. As long as we don’t face up to the racist passages in the Book of Mormon, our black friends and neighbors will still be hurt.

    I would like to think that I am a not a racist person. I believe blacks are as good as whites, my oldest friend in Atlanta is a black man, I like the black boys my daughter has dated and I would be fine if she married one of them one day. But does that mean that I need to stop thinking about my latent racism, my underlying and automatic attitudes that make me more nervous when I pass a black man on the street at night than when I pass a white man?

    Just as my ongoing repentance includes confronting my racism, I believe that the institutional church’s repentance must include doing the same, and I’m just not sure that the Race and the Priesthood article adequately does that.

  6. 6.

    Dear Mike C: Thank you for your sincere words and thought in this post. I have recently come through a faith crisis at the same time as having “come out” gay to my wife of 28 years and my 5 children, and all my extended family and ward and friends, having lived a TBM life for 20 years here in the same stake. I can say with some pretty high degree of accuracy that doing those two things at the same time will definitely put most people in the psych ward on suicide watch (me, me, and me).

    As I’ve considered your three points, a couple more have passed through my mind during this difficult time of my life. One is that my faith, what little is left, should not really have ever been tied to the leaders at all, something you say in your post, too, but I mean that God, in whom I have some little bit of faith left, wasn’t ever unsavory to me and so I keep looking for Him/Her wherever I can. I found Him at the Metropolitan Community Church, amongst a group of gays and lesbians who cried with me when I came out. That’s kind of a 4th option some turn to, I guess. The other one I’ve thought about a lot is that is that many people I’ve met in Mormon faith crisis status come to the fundamentalist-type conclusion, that Joseph Smith was the “best” of the prophets and that everything he said, in “Pure Mormonism” form, was the absolute truth because it’s been “canonized”. These Mormons, I’ve noticed, help form the base of people who are learning as much as they can from Denver Snuffer and others about the “old” Mormonism, and they are relying soley on the merits of Joseph Smith, who I think is and was as much of a human as the current apostles and prophets. Going through your #1 since I was just a young boy of 5, and now I’m 50, thinking I was “deficient” has taken such a huge emotional toll on me that it’s almost overwhelming. And, I think your words “both inspired and make honest mistakes” pretty much sums it up for me. There was never any room for “gray” in the Mormon gospel I grew up with, between my placing Bruce R. McConkie on a pedestal and seeing things only through the eyes of Boyd K. Packer and many, it seems, like him who see only two opposites, black and white only, and my very TBM parents, grandparents, and huge extended family, most of whom are very traditional and conservative religiously and politically, it seemed my only choice as a bright young child to “hide” my deficiency.

    Anyway, thank you, very sincerely, for your thoughts. It is helping me with my mustard seed.

    (excerpt below is from your post)
    1) They themselves are deficient for disagreeing with God’s will; 2) Their leaders are frauds for explicitly or implicitly claiming infallibility; or, 3) God is an unsavory character not worth worshipping or even believing in–all sad conclusions and, in my opinion, all unwarranted. But they are not irrational conclusions given the infallibility premise presented by some elements of the Church. The conclusion that is not even considered is that God’s leaders are both inspired and make honest mistakes.

  7. 7.

    This was a fantastic post. I admire your ability to be optimistically honest with church leaders and wish you the best. I’ve tried that approach and did not have much success and finally concluded for the time being, and with my current role/position, my “partner” in this is not going to rise to the occasion quite yet. While I continue to hold out hope that it will, I have to protect my own spirit in the meantime.

    And Kevin Rex, I’m sending you a hug across the internet. That’s a lot to go through. May you find peace.

  8. 8.

    “The Church’s new statement on race and the priesthood is disingenuous in pretending that everyone always knew the day would come when the priesthood/temple ban was changed.”

    Ziff, I lived through that period. I was a HS student and a BYU student when other schools boycotted BYU sports teams. I prayed about it, talked about it and heard many anguished comments about it. We ALL knew it was a matter of when and not if the ban would end. Some, like Bruce McConkie believed that day would arrive in the millennium, others believed it would happen sooner, but we ALL knew that someday it would end. I was there. You are wrong.

  9. 9.

    Thanks for straightening me out, KLC. However, you lived through, what, 10 percent of the length of the ban? And your personal experience generalizes to the other 90 percent of it?

  10. 10.

    Since pretty much all of my posts in the last year have been pointed in the exact opposite direction as this post, I hope you won’t mind a somewhat lengthy retort.

    The main thrust of my criticisms will be that you are defending doctrines and policies which originated with Greek and modern philosophers rather than divinely authorized prophets. This should at minimum give a faithful LDS pause.

    “There appears to be a fear that our testimonies are too immature to cope with complexity, too fragile to handle full disclosure, too brittle to countenance the imperfections of leaders without crumbling like sand castles before the tide.”

    This is not something the church has ever said (as far as I know), but is instead a position which others have attributed to them for their own purposes. Whatever these purposes are, they are not building up the kingdom.

    “recent Church efforts to discuss race or polygamy still appear to be incomplete at best and misleading or even untruthful at worst”

    Where does the idea that our priesthood leaders owe us a full and complete explanation of their actions come from? They answer to God, not us.

    “appear emblazoned less by the finger of God than by the correlated fingers of the PR department”

    Actually, they appear to be perfectly in line the Hebrew notion of truth rather than the Greek version that you are trying to hold the brethren accountable to. The priesthood leaders to trying to point us the way back to heaven, not give us a map so that we can find our own ways back.

    “we have our own hard-won inner convictions and personal spiritual experiences that don’t depend on borrowed light”

    What is this borrowed light you speak of? Yes, we are told to have strong testimonies of Christ, but having a strong testimony of our leaders (like we are supposed to) does not in any way amount to some kind of second-rate testimony or light. With this you are showing that your allegiance to priesthood leaders is constrained by your allegiance to various principles and doctrines rather than the other way around. Again, this follows the Greek rather than the Hebrew tradition.

    “our worship at the idolatrous altar of practical infallibility of leaders”

    This is where your deviation from the path becomes obvious. The question of (in)fallibility isn’t highlighted that much because it is largely irrelevant. Our trust in and support for priesthood leaders isn’t supposed to be constrained by their (or our) allegiance to timeless and universal principles or doctrines. That approach is firmly based in the philosophies of (Greek) men. Our trust is not supposed to be in abstract doctrines or principles, but in uniquely authorized individuals and the policies that they institute – an approach firmly based in the Hebrew scriptures. The fallibility of timeless doctrines or authorized men is totally beside the point.

    “considered policy rather than doctrine”

    This distinction is only meaningful to somebody whose true and strongest allegiance lies with doctrines rather than priesthood leaders – in other words a philosopher. Since the Hebrew version of truth is more like following a path than it is like reading a map, there is no significant difference between policies and doctrines.

    ” no particular example of fallibility can be admitted and no criticisms of current leaders can be countenanced.”

    There are quite a few mistakes at play here. First, since an allegiance to timeless doctrines is tacitly being given priority over allegiance to authorized leaders, it is being assumed that any change in policy necessarily constitutes an error by some leader at some point in time. If one gives proper priority to the priesthood leaders rather than some timeless doctrine then this assumption breaks down altogether. Second, the idea that we are owed a full disclosure of whatever errors might have been committed presupposes the division between fact and value which I have pointed to in Greek/modern thought in that we are owed as much value-neutral information as possible such that we can make our own decisions rather than live on “borrowed light”. Finally, since the Hebrew perspective does not see information in value-neutral terms, it would thus see any information which distances us from divinely appointed leaders as being false and evil. THAT is why criticism of leaders is forbidden: no matter how factually accurate it is, it’s not the truth that God wants us to be guided by.

    “But such testimonies are brittle because they are susceptible to come crashing down if we are confronted by evidence”

    Any testimony which consists in an allegiance to evidence, ideas, doctrines, principles, etc. will inevitably come into conflict with a testimony which consists in an allegiance to priesthood leaders. The philosophers teach that the latter must always give way to the former while the prophet teach the exact opposite. When framed this way, neither testimony is brittle as such. The strength or brittleness of either testimony can only be measured against the other when the two come into conflict with each other.

    “Or perhaps some of our leaders don’t even know the flaws themselves, or maybe they avoid “going there”–confronting possible flaws–because of their deep investment in the institution or because of their fears for their own testimonies.”

    Or maybe it might be better to point all of these accusations back at the philosophers, academics and critics whose uncompromising allegiance to Greek principles consistently goes without question, examination or criticism? I would be a little more careful about the beams that might be in my own eye before I start picking at the motes in my priesthood leaders’ eyes.

    “just another Big Organization with a slick PR machine”

    “PR” is the philosophers’ way of writing off or deriding the contextualized, value-ladenness of truth from the Hebrew perspective. If we are soldiers in God’s army, why would we ever expect our military leaders to give us information which is neither necessary or helpful? In fact, what leadership in any organization does this? It is the philosopher only that thinks that doing things differently is in any way better.

    “The conclusion that is not even considered is that God’s leaders are both inspired and make honest mistakes.”

    Another conclusion that is not even considered is that the philosophical values and doctrines that unreflexively advocated by many people who find their faith challenged might be the problem rather than the solution to such challenges.

    “believing that I have the spiritual maturity”

    Spiritually mature by whose standards? The Hebrew tradition would never see the positions you advocate as marks of spiritual maturity, but the Greeks sure would. In this context “maturity” simply means to strongly embrace a particular set of values and the values and most of the values you advocate and the particular interpretations which you bring to them are not that highly prized or prioritized in the scriptures.

    “The Church needs to stop insisting on practical infallibility”

    The church doesn’t insist on this. Those who criticize the church sure do though.

    “the unexamined path of obedience”

    This sounds a lot more like Socrates than Moses. I’m not saying that the prophets will take a contrary position regarding our examination of our obedience. Rather, I am saying that the prophets never would have framed in the discussion in these terms in the first place.

    “my New Year’s resolution is to be more forthright with the Church about what I believe”

    Contrast this with “my New Year’s resolution is to be more loyal to the Church in what I believe”. One of these resolution presupposes a philosophical mindset while the other is that of a divinely authorized prophet.

    In conclusion, I don’t expect anyone to actually agree with each an every point I make here, nor do I expect to change anybody’s mind. I just hope to make people a little more self-conscious and reflexive about the contingent values and standards against which they are judging the Church. There is no praise or condemnation as such, just praise or condemnation from a one standard or another.

  11. 11.

    Ditto to Jenn.

  12. 12.

    “my New Year’s resolution is to be more forthright with the Church about what I believe”
    Contrast this with “my New Year’s resolution is to be more loyal to the Church in what I believe”. One of these resolution presupposes a philosophical mindset while the other is that of a divinely authorized prophet.

    I think this is a very good point. I pledge to be loyal to the Church, to allow God to humble me, to not fear the opinions of men (including Church members and leaders), and to hold fast to the Iron Rod. Here’s to 2014!

  13. 13.

    Sorry, Jeff G, but I don’t know any of the Hebrew or Greek philosophies you’re talking about. It sounds like the bottom line is you’re saying our job is to follow leaders without any concern for their rightness or wrongness. Is that right? Rightness or wrongness is beside the point? I don’t know that I can buy into a way of thinking about religion where rightness or wrongness is beside the point because it’s just my job to follow.

  14. 14.

    Thanks for straightening me out, KLC. However, you lived through, what, 10 percent of the length of the ban? And your personal experience generalizes to the other 90 percent of it?

    Ziff, what is your evidence for claiming otherwise? I can’t think of a single instance of a church leader, or of any discussion I ever had pre-1978, where the assumption was that the restriction would never end. Unimaginably distant, perhaps, but someday.

  15. 15.

    I guess it’s the 1949 FP statement that affirms the idea that Blacks were less valiant in the pre-existence.

    ” It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.”

    So, “at the present time” kind of sounds like it’s leaving the door open for a future change. But it strikes me as empty rhetoric, given that the statement then goes on to emphasize that Blacks were being denied the priesthood because they had been evil in the pre-existence. If the denial was based on something Blacks obviously couldn’t change, then it seems pretty clear to me that the FP was saying the policy based on that rationale wasn’t expected to change either.

    (Here’s the text of the statement in a BCC post from many years ago: http://bycommonconsent.com/2004/04/21/a-statement-from-the-first-presidency/)

  16. 16.

    You’ve got to have read tens of thousands of historical documents from the time period when the ban was in place, though. I’d love to hear what (if anything) you’ve come across that might clarify how people thought about the ban during that time.

  17. 17.

    Ziff,

    Your response begs all the important questions at hand by assuming that there is a meaningful difference between what a divinely authorized prophet says and what is right. The prophetic worldview simply does not allow for a straightforward difference between the two like a philosophical worldview does. The question that I’m raising isn’t “what about when the prophets are wrong?” but is instead “who gets to decide what is wrong?”

  18. 18.

    Thanks, Jeff G. I guess I’m happy with my Greek worldview (if you want to call it that), where it is possible to tell that a prophet is wrong. I don’t see that you’ve said anything that doesn’t boil down to a belief in practical infallibility.

  19. 19.

    No problem Ziff.

    I didn’t expect to change your mind. I just hoped to help you see the contingent choice involved in framing these issues as you choose to do, and I think you’ve done that. The next step would be to decide how the Lord wants us to frame these issues which is not the same as a pro/con analysis of each way of framing the issue.

  20. 20.

    Thanks for sharing something of your wrestles. I think your perception of this fear felt by church leaders rings true.

    Elder Boyd K. Packer addressed this issue in a talk he delivered to religious educators 32 years ago: “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”

    Here is a recent and relevant blog post that tries to understand this perspective from Packer and Elder Dallin H. Oaks:

    http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/some-things-that-are-true-are-not-very-useful-a-vindication/

    For further insight into how Oaks, as a church leader and an attorney, thinks about the value of different kinds of truth, you may want to google the phrase “The difficult question is whether we are morally responsible to tell the whole truth.” It reportedly brings up a talk he delivered at BYU in 1993.

    In some ways I think Mormonism never fully embraced modernity, which showed us avenues to truth outside of God and scripture. Modern people place their faith in individual and social achievements, rather than pointing to the hand of God to explain most of their life and history.

  21. 21.

    Bless you, Mike, for this post. For all the emphasis the church body puts on the notion of the church being True, there’s a really complicated relationship between the institutional church and the body of saints around “truth.” The version of history with all the complexities is really the only thing I’ve ever found strengthening and sustaining to my faith–the sanitized version never seems real enough for me to actually relate to it.

    I’m glad to hear you’re going to enter into a conversation with some people in leadership. I have things I’d really like to say, but I just can’t summon the energy right now. I am, however, truly inspired by your optimism!

    And I join Jenn in sending hugs to Kevin!

  22. 22.

    The Hebrew philosophy is, recognizing God’s limitations, to bargain with God.

    I’ll take it.

  23. 23.

    “appear emblazoned less by the finger of God than by the correlated fingers of the PR department”

    I am a historian involved in Mormon studies, and since I am familiar with the subject matter, it is very evident that the new Gospel Topics articles were not written by any PR department. Public relations professionals are trained in media and marketing, not in historical research and writing. Those articles were written by historians, and historians familiar with the subject matter.

    If you’re used to reading about these topics on disaffected- and ex-Mormon sites, the presentation of this historical material may not be what you’re used to, but the articles are written for a general audience, provide historical context and up-to-date scholarship, avoid many of the historical fallacies you tend to see in the presentation of this kind of information on the internet, and are well edited.

    I am impressed by the tone and contents of the articles and have been touched to see the hope and discussion they have generated among many members of the church.

  24. 24.

    Jeff G.:

    Actually, they appear to be perfectly in line the Hebrew notion of truth rather than the Greek version that you are trying to hold the brethren accountable to.

    I’m curious to see the evidence upon which your assertion is based. What sources are you relying on when you claim that the Hebrew concept of “truth” is as you describe it?

  25. 25.

    Kevin, thanks for joining the discussion. Your perspective is very helpful for me. I am glad that you’ve found a religious community where you can still foster your connection with God. Good luck as you keep working through things. Keep us updated on how it’s going.

    Jenn, you make a really great point. Sometimes it is unsafe or unhealthy to speak out, and sometimes we need the healthy boundary of keeping our struggles to ourselves. I think there is a time and season for everything.

    Jeff G, in all honesty I’m a bit tickled that I managed to write a blog post so completely opposite to your approach. In the future we can save each other time by creating the blogging equivalent of a photographic negative of our posts to put on one another’s blog.
    Anyway, I’m glad you shared your views and that we are able to discuss our differences civilly.

    I think we both have in common that we want to strengthen the Church and build up the members. I can see that following church leaders with exactness can be a comfort and strength to many members, and that their lives are made better in so doing.

    There are a few issues, though, that I haven’t been able to make work in my life with what I understand to be your approach, i.e., our leaders are the ultimate framework for our morality (please correct me if I misunderstood). The first relates to the logic of the approach: How does that framework function if a leader actually says, as BY and GQC and others have said, that we should not use such a framework, that we should not follow their teachings if the Spirit tells us otherwise? I certainly think this teaching is a legitimate strain of Mormonism.

    Second, with the framework you present, how do we handle the situation where current leaders contradict past leaders, or even more difficult, when current leaders contradict one another? Elder Benson was twice asked to apologize to the 12 for his 14 Fundamentals talk, and then a few decades later it was recycled in GC. How should we view that talk, for instance?

    Finally, I have been unable to make your framework function in my life when I see a loved one suffering because of leaders’ teachings. At that point I’ve decided I need to turn away from the teaching and toward my loved one and take my chances that God will damn me to hell for doing so. It is the only way I’m able to live with myself.

    Laura, Angie, and sterflu, thanks for your encouragement.

    Amy T, I appreciate your perspective. I may not be giving the writers enough benefit of the doubt, and I may not have adequately acknowledged the role of historians (but, my stone tablets sentence sure was fun to write :-) ). As my co-bloggers know, my initial and even current reaction to these articles is positive. But, I do not need to read writings of disaffected or former Mormons to be troubled by the current sanitized version, even if it is less sanitized than previous versions. I do a lot of scientific writing for lay audiences and I would not be satisfied with my work if it contained misleading or incomplete explanations like some of those in the Church’s articles. I love this Church and am committed to it, and that is precisely why I’m raising my concerns–I think we can do better.

  26. 26.

    Mike,

    You bring up some great points, not all of which I’m capable of responding to. When it comes to certain teachings hurting loved ones, I don’t have much to say. We all struggle with such things and can only keep faith that such things are, ultimately, for the best.

    When it comes to positions changing, I would ask: who ever said that positions rather than prophets would be the thing we should trust? I see no reason to think that the positions which led people to God 2,000 yrs ago should be the exact same that do so now. I just don’t see any reason to get worked up about positions such as who can hold the priesthood, etc.

    When it comes to interpreting the promptings of the spirit, I need to be very careful. Posts such as these interpret personal revelation as value-neutral information from god to man. There are other interpretations! Is personal revelation a type of information or guidance? Is it a means of negotiating a relationship between two people (god and us) or triangulating a relationship between three people (god, us and priesthood leaders)?

    If we see our lives in terms of the abstract ideas we stay loyal to it will be very different than if we see it in terms of the people we show loyalty toward. I worry that posts such as these fall in the former camp rather than the latter.

  27. 27.

    Jeff G, thanks for considering my ideas. Also, having someone who disagrees with me helps me see things from a different perspective and catch ideas I hadn’t thought about or understood.

    So, I’m not sure I understand your comment about revelation being value-neutral or what you were getting at regarding the two-way or three-way relationship. Could you clarify?

    Regarding the abstract ideas vs. loyalty towards leaders, here is the question that vexes me (my example is hypothetical but I have had to face this type of loyalty conflict with an issue affecting a child of mine). Suppose one of my children came to me and said that he was gay, and that hearing the rhetoric at church was really distressing and he had thoughts of ending his life. I could stay loyal to my leaders and say that they are teaching God’s will and that my son has to adapt, or I could say, look, let’s go find you a healthier religious community. I would choose the latter, but I would not classify that as being loyal to an abstract idea, but rather being loyal to my child’s well-being.

    I guess my question would be, how would the moral framework you’re describing deal with this issue, which is not abstract but rather very concrete, involving loyalties to different people? Also, what if I felt that the Spirit told me to be loyal to my child’s well-being? If you were in my place, how would you process that experience and what would you do?

  28. 28.

    Mike C. I see things very similarly to the way you do but describe them slightly differently. I was very impressed with the statement on the Priesthood until I discussed it with conservatives, and found out that it was full of loopholes. For example I read that the ban was attributed wholly to the culture of the time and was not in any way the will of God, but it doesn’ t clearly say that and if you try hard you can still believe the Prophets were doing what was appropriate for the time. So yes it could have been clearer, and there could have been an apology.

    I believe there is; 1. the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Love, along with the priesthood and the ordinances required for exaltation. 2.There is the church which is there to continue the priesthood, conduct the ordinances, and help us to live the gospel with programmes. Thirdly there is the conservative Utah culture that is wrapped around them both.

    As is acknowledged in the priesthood statement the culture of the time can be as powerful in creating doctrine as the Gospel. The statement condemns racism past and present. So if you were a member who opposed the church on racism were you closer to living the Gospel than those who were racist even though they were more obedient to the Prophets of the time? Can you ask the same question about opposition to gay marriage?

    Is there still culture that is taught and members accept unquestioningly now? There are a whole package of them.
    “Obedience is the first law of heaven” has been taught for years but is in direct opposition to the Gospel which teaches that Love is. I think this is changing, in the last conference there was no “Obedience is first law of heaven” and 4 or 5 Love is the first law of heaven.

    You have a very different church if love is the first law of heaven (difficult to hate), than obedience is first law (hate who we hate)

    Following on from Obedience is the first law, is that anything said in conference, or by a GA, is equivalent to scripture and should be followed and not questioned.

    The concept that if the leaders do anything wrong the Lord will intervene, so our responsibility is to obey not to question. All the examples of revelation since JS are of the people asking the Prophet to ask the Lord if a change is OK. Revelation is bottom up not top down.

    The idea that anything that comes from SLC is scripture also makes it impossible to give different weight to things. It is impossible to assert that a Declaration has more weight than a Proclamation, and a revelation than a conference talk. If you can’t give different weight you can’t judge which are more important. Priorities, and also everything is gospel even if it is culture.

    The ever darkening world. Nothing to do with Christs teachings or JS but quite popular with our conservative church leaders .

    The idea that all the Apostles are reading from the same text, that there can not be conservative Apostles, and progressive Apostles.

    The idea that we are under attack (the church or the family) because other people don’t agree with us, or won’t allow us to impose our ideas on them.

    That the way to create a Zion society is to exclude everyone who recognises these as culture and doesn’t accept them unquestioningly as Gospel.

    Our language about modesty and the position of women in the church.

    Finally our attitude to homosexuality and opposition to gay marriage.

    I believe all the above are conservative American culture and it is our responsibility to discern this and value them appropriately in our lives. Most of us like to think we are not racist, would we have stood against racist leaders, and would we have been closer to Christ if we had. Learning to love perfectly is what the Lord wants from us, will he accept the Nuremburg defence that we were following orders unquestioningly?

  29. 29.

    Mike C and Geoff and so many others in this discussion, thank you all for keeping cool heads and discussing rationally. This seems the best way to get ideas rolling forward and making progress. I wish there were this way you speak of, Mike C, to talk to the leaders. I have tried so many times, but it seems to fall on deaf ears, let alone the countless letters I’ve written to General Authorities that go somewhere I don’t even know about and never get responded to (and yes, I realize they’re busy men). My journey isn’t at the Metropolitan Community Church, I have stopped going there as I’ve tried to reconnect with my wife and am learning about mixed-sexual-orientation marriages and trying hard not to discard my 27 year relationship and all that entails. I play organ at my LDS Ward and find music the only spirituality right now in my life. I can barely stand to sit through Sacrament meeting, let alone Sunday School and Priesthood meeting which I haven’t attended in about 6 months. Priesthood meeting is especially difficult as I always start thinking how nice it would be to be married to one of those nice Mormon men! LOL. My mustard seed is still planted, I’m waiting for it to grow. Thanks for the kind thoughts many have expressed.

  30. 30.

    Geoff-A, I must say that you summed up very nicely how I feel about things. Thanks for sharing.

    I am much more comfortable with the morality framework that I need to look myself in the mirror each morning and be able to say that I’m striving to treat those around me the way I feel Christ would be treating them, or the way they wish to be treated. Other considerations count, but are secondary to this one. Many days I feel happy with my progress, but on some days I come face-to-face with my capacity for evil and see how much further I have to go.

  31. 31.

    Yes, Kevin, I certainly don’t have high expectations about my letter writing plans but I don’t know what else to do, so I’ll try it. I feel that I at least have to do what I can, and perhaps it will influence someone. I do wish the Church had a more formalized means for providing feedback in a safe setting where members are not at risk for sanction for being honest about their struggles.

    I’m glad you get to play the organ in your ward. I play the piano for Primary and absolutely love it and love contributing in that way. Sounds like the rest of church is tough for you (your comment about the nice Mormon men cracked me up, though). Our therapist has taught us to learn to engage in relationships on our own terms in order to be safe, and I think that applies to the Church too. I would say that if sacrament is nice but Priesthood is negative, that perhaps staying away from Priesthood is exactly what you should be doing. My next blog post is going to be about this topic–learning to say no, engaging on our own terms–so I’ll be interested to hear what you think about it.

  32. 32.

    I have been trying to communicate with my Stake President about these ideas, and he is unable to understand what I am talking about.

    He sees it as. “You also clearly have an approach to life that seeks to differentiate people within the church based on some sort of ideological/political paradigm. I am concerned that your efforts seem primarily focused on seeking to find inconsistencies, flaws, weaknesses, perceived changes or contradictions within the church and its members. This is not helpful and does not build up or strengthen others.”

    He would like me to forget all this and get a testimony like his, obedient, and unquestioning.

  33. 33.

    That’s too bad. It would be nice if he were able to have more empathy with your point of view, even if he doesn’t feel the same way. His conclusion that it “is not helpful and does not build up or strengthen others” is really projecting his own experience onto yours. I have found that many people manage to stay connected to the Church and Gospel by using the approach you take; the obedience-focused approach actually drives them out of the Church.

  34. 34.

    Mike C. #5
    Sorry about the delay in response. I agree that we as a church still have a ways to go before we have “complete integration”. I would caution about looking at the racial composition of a ward and stake versus the general population to be a major yardstick for measuring levels of integration. A significant portion of most US LDS communities in areas outside of deseret are transplants. They will most likely be white and middle to upper-middle class. Thus the transplants will skew the LDS community and especially the leadership make-up in that direction. I do agree with many of your further points.

    As for letters, have you personally met a local area authority? That might be a good place to start. The best person to send the letter to would be the appropriate GA/staffer handling these issues at Hdqts. Unfortunately, I do not know who that is.

  35. 35.

    El oso, you’re absolutely right about the transplantation dynamic. My local wards are whiter not necessarily because of some sort of ongoing institutional racism, but at least partly because so many folks come from the West for school or work.

    However, my brother’s experience in small-town rural Georgia where there are few Western transplants, seems to suggest that we could be better integrated. His ward is very warm and welcoming and also very white, much whiter than the area it is located in. He senses some benevolent or passive racism, though how much of that is due to historical Church attitudes versus historical local attitudes is hard to know.

    About the letter writing, I appreciate your suggestions. I’m still thinking through the best way to proceed. I’m inclined to write to a couple of apostles I worked with many years ago, but I haven’t kept up contact, so it’s not like we have an ongoing relationship.

    On the other hand, the area authority might be a reasonable next step. I want to speak my truth but still be respectful of the demands placed on GAs’ time. My bishop and stake counselor have listened to my concerns and been extremely gracious, still treating me as a full-fledged contributing member of the ward and stake despite my less orthodox views. So I want to be considerate of them by trying to use “proper channels”; the problem is that the issues I’m raising are structural and, in most cases, beyond their control. It would mean a lot to have my voice heard by people who are actually able to address my concerns. So, I’m going to give some more thought about how to proceed. Further ideas are welcome.

  36. 36.

    […] Perkins, Russell Stevenson, and John Dehlin) that this essay was an important step forward, despite caveats that I and others have […]

  37. 37.

    […] confess that I’m one of those progressive Mormons who was happy with the statement and yet had hoped for more. I was hoping to see Lazarus in a tuxedo and instead got Pee-wee Herman. But, according to […]

  38. 38.

    Local authorities–even Area Authority 70s–are discouraged from passing issues up the chain. I think it is more a cultural discouragement than an explicit policy, but it is a big problem in my mind. Unresponsive leadership, whether intentional or not, makes people feel voiceless and unloved.

  39. 39.

    […] Well, that and the demythologizing of modern-day prophets and apostles. But I suppose that is the topic for another post. […]

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