Church Leaders Can Choose Their Actions, Not the Consequences

The For the Strength of Youth booklet makes a good point about agency:

While you are free to choose your course of action, you are not free to choose the consequences. Whether for good or bad, consequences follow as a natural result of the choices you make.

There have been a couple of notable instances recently of Church leaders appearing to not believe in this connection between their own choices and consequences of those choices.

The first example I’m thinking of is when Church leaders have told us not to pray to Heavenly Mother. As quoted in the recently released gospel topics essay on Heavenly Mother, President Hinckley hastened to add that

The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.

I think he’s entirely wrong here. Church leaders can choose the action–forbidding prayer to Heavenly Mother–but they can’t choose the outcome of that action–whether or not doing so belittles or denigrates her. We can have a Heavenly Mother who we refuse to pray to and who is therefore relegated to the status of an eternally submissive wife and a at best a minor player in celestial affairs. We can have a Heavenly Mother who we do pray to and who is therefore acknowledged as a full and equal partner of our Heavenly Father. What we can’t have is the action of refusing to pray and the consequence of not denigrating her. Not praying to her denigrates her.

The other example I’m thinking of is the recent change made to the Handbook to define gay marriage as apostasy. Church leaders appear to believe that this action is consistent with statements like the following (from the gospel topics essay titled “Same-Sex Attraction”):

The Church’s affirmation of marriage as being between a man and a woman “neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility toward gays and lesbians.”[source] On the contrary, many Church leaders have spoken clearly about the love and respect with which all people are to be treated.

Like with President Hinckley’s assertion about Heavenly Mother, I think this is false. The Church can gerrymander the Handbook to apply the harshest label it has available to people in gay marriages and therefore communicate hostility toward gay people. The Church can leave people in gay marriages alone and therefore not communicate hostility toward gay people. What the Church can’t do is gerrymander the Handbook to punish people in gay marriages and still not communicate hostility toward gay people. Gerrymandering the Handbook communicates hostility.

In both of these cases, I’m happy with the outcome that Church leaders are wishing they could get (not denigrating Heavenly Mother, not communicating hostility toward gay people), but I think I might actually prefer that they just own up to what they’re doing and admit that they’re okay with putting Heavenly Mother down and communicating animosity toward gay people. It’s frustrating to have them make these choices and then when people like me complain about the obvious consequences, to have other Church members defend their choices because Church leaders have asserted that the consequences don’t actually exist.


  1. Do you think there are no consequences to the unrelieved expressions of hostility toward Church leaders of the past couple of weeks?

  2. I think you do get some of this terribly backwards. It is silly to suggest, as you do, that whether or not you pray to HM has any impact whatsoever on her standing and status vis-a-vis HF. If not praying to her denigrates her, as you suggest, it does so only in your own mind and can’t conceivably have any impact on her status. She isn’t the Statue of Liberty from Ghostbusters 2 gaining locomotion from people saying and thinking good feelings at her.

    You likewise miss the point on the homosexual issue. (Aside from this aside, I’ll leave the awkward misuse of gerrymandering alone.) The Church isn’t “labeling” those that contract in same-sex marriages as apostates. They participants in those unions apply those labels to themselves. Any member of the Church who has paid any attention over the last 20 years should have clearly understood that entering into a same sex relationship, much less a marriage is completely and diametrically opposed to state doctrine. Whether you agree with the doctrinal position of the Church or not, when someone chooses to live their life in a manner diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Church, what other label but apostate accurately describes their actions?

  3. Michael,

    The Church isn’t “labeling” those that contract in same-sex marriages as apostates.

    From the handbook…”As used here, apostasy refers to members who: 4. Are in a same-gender marriage.”

    What do you think labeling means? Because it’s pretty clear that’s what the handbook is doing.

  4. “It is silly to suggest, as you do, that whether or not you pray to HM has any impact whatsoever on her standing and status vis-a-vis HF.”

    I don’t think Ziff is talking about impacting Heavenly Mother that way – She’s a goddess, she can handle it. Rather, I believe he is referring to the fact that Church teachings that we are not to pray to Heavenly Mother impact our theology about her. Her standing is belittled and denigrated in our theology because these teachings imply that she is unimportant.

  5. In other words: No, these things do not affect Heavenly Mother’s standing in eternity (although the fact that her children ignore her may well make her sad). What these things affect is OUR perception of Heavenly Mother. They affect the way she is viewed in OUR theology.

  6. @ Pete, #4, Identifying people in a same sex marriage as a apostates isn’t so much as an arbitrary label than an apt descriptor. I the manner in which Ziff pejoratively used the term, the Church isn’t “gerrymandering the Handbook to apply the harshest label it has available” but rather making crystal clear what most people in the Church already knew, to wit, that entering into a same sex marriage is to act in a manner that is clearly and openly in opposition to the teachings of the Church, which is well within most definitions of apostasy, including the previous definition from the Handbook. Despite the various controversy regarding whether or not the Church should oppose same sex marriage or preach against it, the question of whether or not the Church does (and has for a long time) considered same sex marriage apostasy is not something that one can honestly dispute.

    Please keep in mind that the Handbook is not and never has been for public consumption. I see this change as something that tells some small percentage of bishops and stake presidents that they were wrong in interpreting the previous definition as not including same sex marriage.

  7. @nrc42, #5 and #6: I do not doubt that you have better interpreted the intent behind Ziff’s words, but I don’t find your argument compelling either. You say “what these things affect is OUR perception of Heavenly Mother. They affect the way she is viewed in OUR theology.”

    I don’t buy it, frankly. If you are looking at the doctrine, there is generally very little revealed or understood about HM and her role. If that denigrates her in YOUR mind, I don’t know that I can offer much to help other than to say that denigration isn’t the only, or the best, reaction. I personally consider it an unreasonable reaction at best. As for me, I’m curious but I also don’t subscribe to the flawed idea that this curiosity is justification enough for one to disregard everything authoritatively said on the subject and morph the manner in which we have been taught to worship deity. Others are less inclined to follow Christ’s instructions on this point.

  8. Ardis, as far as I am aware, there has never been a single case in which a church leader has given any of their victims so much as an audience. How would they ever experience any “expression of hostility” as you put it?

  9. Michael, it denigrates her in our theology because we believe have a nicely-packaged doctrine on the Plan of Salvation that doesn’t involve Heavenly Mother in the slightest. The implication is that she is not needed.

    For women, knowing the role of Heavenly Mother is not simply a matter of curiosity. It is a matter of knowing our place in the eternities. Will we be equal partners (and our husbands’ only partners) with our husbands, or will we be chickens in a battery cage – no power, no relationship with our children, just mindlessly birthing spirits for eternity with our co-“priestesses?”

  10. On the one hand, we have Elder Christofferson saying this…

    Elder Christofferson: Anyone coming out of a polygamous setting who wants to serve a mission, it has to be clear that they understand that is wrong and is sin and cannot be followed. They disavow the practice of plural marriage.

    On the other hand, we have Elder Oakes saying this…

    But for people who live in the belief, as I do, that marriage relations can be for eternity, then you must say, ‘What will life be in the next life, when you’re married to more than one wife for eternity?’ I have to say I don’t know. But I know that I’ve made those covenants, and I believe if I am true to the covenants that the blessing that’s anticipated here will be realized in the next life.

    One apostle says that polygamy is wrong/sin, and another apostle says he anticipates eternal polygamy.

    Then this (explaining why men are allowed to be sealed to more than one living woman)…

    The precise nature of these relationships in the next life is not known, and many family relationships will be sorted out in the life to come.

    So what do we know, exactly? Sounds to me like nailing jello to the wall.

  11. Michael, it seems like your argument is that no news about women in the afterlife is good news. Being told not to talk about HM doesn’t signal anything about whether she’s eternally subservient or not. I’m kind of surprised that you don’t understand that for people in a less privileged position (women), it’s a more important thing to know, especially given all the church practices that denigrate women in this life.

    “Others are less inclined to follow Christ’s instructions on this point.”

    Don’t dislocate your arm patting yourself on the back too hard there.

  12. Michael, from

    The truths about God that Joseph Smith restored are of paramount importance. In 1844, he taught that “it is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another.” Ten years earlier, the Lectures on Faith, which Joseph Smith directed and approved, taught that to acquire faith unto salvation one needs a correct idea of God’s character, perfections, and attributes, and that one needs to know that the course of life one is pursuing is according to God’s will. He also added, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.”

    If women do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves. Isn’t Heavenly Mother also God?

  13. I don’t pray to Heavenly Mother because I have no evidence at all that she exists. Has anyone ever seen her? Has she spoken to anyone and identified herself by name or title? Many people, including prophets and apostles, have written all sorts of stuff about her, but it is all speculation and conjecture. All of it. Where is a definitive revelation showing her existence? Where was she in the Sacred Grove? Where was she at Jesus’s baptism? Or on the Mount of Transfiguration? Or when Joseph and Sidney saw Jesus on the right hand of God and viewed the celestial kingdom? I know it’s culturally popular right now to talk about her, but what on earth can we say? We have absolutely no knowledge about her. Nothing. Zilch. The bigger question is, Why?

  14. You’re right, Lew. The question is “Why?” and there are no comforting answers. Here are the options as I can see them:

    1) We do not talk about Heavenly Mother because there are many. Polygamy is indeed the order of heaven. Mothers in heaven are not goddesses or equals with God. They – and by extension, all women – are condemned to eternity as breeding stock, with no role beyond producing spirit children and worshiping their husband/God. This view is pretty well supported by LDS theology and teachings of past leaders.

    2) There is no Heavenly Mother. The Church got it wrong. We are not literal Spirit children of Heavenly Parents. We are creations of God, and do not have the potential to become like him. Gender may or may not be eternal. In other words, mainstream Christianity is right; we are wrong.

    3) Everyone who ever had a vision of Heaven was wrong or didn’t notice Heavenly Mother. However, she is a goddess and equal partner with God.

    4) There is no Heavenly Mother. There is also no Heavenly Father. Religion in general is a sham.

    Did I miss any other possibilities? Margaret Toscano’s view should perhaps go on the list.

    I don’t know which is the best option here. As far as what’s likely? It might have to be between 1 and 4. And if it’s between those two, I’d rather go with 4.

  15. Not sure why this issue of Heavenly Mother is lumped with same sex marriage here?

    Speaking of HM, there is just as of yet little to none revelation on the subject. But, then again, so is there very little on the nature of the process for which Adam and Eve were created, yet surely they were created. I personally think we are not heavenly enough (righteous) to understand and respect that knowledge and so God has withe ld it from us. We must remember that our gospel pretty much just deals with saving us from hell and not necessarily in all the intricate details of exaltation. Where does this place women then? The evidence seems to indicate at the moment that men have been called for this first preliminary work of salvation-the dirty work here on this desolate sphere. The temple seems to show that as we progress towards godliness, the women’s role in the priesthood becomes more apparent and more revealing. Even in the temple, the holiness of women are veiled until the approach into celestial glory. It’s as if God has veiled women and their role from us until we become more obedient and holy. This is not any attempt to place women on a pedestal, it is just my opinion that the sanctity of women in heaven is a few notches above in holiness than what we tend to trample around with here on earth in constant backlash against male prophets.

    We know that woman and man come together to be one. Does it then matter in whom we pray to? Our prayers, addressed to HF are in fact heard by our HM and I am positive that they, working as one, answer that prayer together. In time we shall be revealed the unveiling of women’s holiness but not now in this dark world will God unveil such holiness before men that would curse her holiness before Him.

  16. M, I am concerned about the effect of continuous and ongoing expressions of anger not on Church leaders, but on those who make these statements. Bloggers and Facebookers living in a state of unbending hostility, who find ever more creative and even irrational causes for offense, can hardly escape its caustic effect on their minds and hearts and moods and outlooks, IMO.

  17. Ardis, I would’t worry about the church leaders at all. They couldn’t be more insulated or protected from all consequences of what they do.

  18. “Bloggers and Facebookers living in a state of unbending hostility” Whoa. I don’t think I know anyone who can maintain hostility as being described here. We have to stop to pee every now and again. Although I guess it’s possible to pee furiously.

  19. come on, hawkgrrrl, admit it. All your writing with the hope for inclusion for everyone is really just a clever cover for unrelieved expressions of hostility toward people you don’t even meet.


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