Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dealing with Our Personal Dissent

For many Latter-day Saints, there will be times when we disagree with a Church leader or even with a Church policy. First, we must understand that this is natural and is an inherent consequence of allowing mortals into the Church. We do not believe in the infallibility of anybody or anything other than God, so even inspired prophets chosen by God are prone to mistakes, as are the rest of us in the Church who sometimes find that our own views and opinions are (surprise!) much superior to those of the Brethren or anyone else who disagrees with us. In fact, those who disagree with the Church on some issue may be right. They may understand something better and have more scholarly insights and more progressive views than those in charge. They real question is what to do next.

The natural man in us is always anxious to criticize and proclaim our moral superiority. After all, to bring about needed change, don't we need to create awareness and public pressure to help enlighten the Church? Aren't we doing God and the Church a favor by turning up the heat on human error, including antiquated perspectives and aging doctrines that need to be refreshed? Isn't it all about spreading Truth?

I offer my experience that those who begin to publicly criticize the Church, even with good intentions, in many cases swiftly find themselves caught up in currents of hostility. They develop a mindset, enhanced with abundant social reinforcement, that increasingly looks down on the Church and its leaders. As they become more vocal in criticizing its leaders, past or present, the beauty and power of the Gospel becomes a faint echo drowned out by louder voices or, in some cases, war drums.

Step back and consider this: If the Restoration really took place, if God really did authorize living but fallible prophets in our day, what attitude would He expect us to take in light of apparent mortal error from His servants? Can there be any doubt that He would expect us to be patient, forgiving, lenient, and still supportive? Could He possibly be the inspiration behind snide remarks, name calling, anger, and public denouncements? Ponder the impact of our criticisms on those investigating the Church or on those struggling with the Gospel or, perhaps, on our own family members, especially children. Ponder the impact of campaigns of criticism on our own relationship with God. Is what we are doing really what He would ask of us? Is it the humble, loving, Christlike thing to do?

Consider the problematic case of Abraham. Yes, a great prophet, but also a mortal man with mortal issues. There are many unanswered questions and some moments that seem to justify harsh criticism, such as sending his concubine and child out into the desert without adequate supplies and other symptoms of the challenges of polygamy. Yet when his name comes up in the New Testament, it is with respect and deference. James writes that Abraham was called "the friend of God" (James 2:23). Christ speaks of him with respect. His problems are left between him and God and not made the subject of harsh criticism. Perhaps the same kind of respect, in spite of knowing of his mortal weaknesses, is something we should have for the Prophet Joseph Smith and others, including our own Thomas S. Monson, an amazing man but still a mortal. We might disagree with the Church and its current or past leaders on one or more issues important to us, but may we be very careful in how we express that criticism, if at all, that we may be acting the way God would have us act in building up His kingdom and advancing His purposes, and not our own proud will. I think each of us needs to be aware of the dangers of taking our differences too far and being too confident in our own wisdom, too sure of our own agenda, and too harsh or unforgiving in our attitudes when we think others have erred. Faith and patience may be more important in the long run than boldness and activism, even when we are right, and also when we, due to our own mortal weaknesses, are not.

78 comments:

Joseph Smidt said...

Wow what a great post and how well said.

Howard said...

Jeff,
I appreciate the sentiment of this article especially pointing out the risk of the Gospel becoming a faint echo as it is drowned out. That is not my intention however, it is well accepted even by many of the faithful that some of church history and doctrine is controversial and few argue when it is pointed out that correlation sweeps these issues under the rug sometimes spinning with gusto as in the portrayal of a monogamous Joseph! The internet is creating a power shift probably much more profound than the mass printing of Bibles that gave commoners access to reading and interrupting the gospel for themselves. These potentially testimony ending controversies are no longer conveniently tucked away in dusty old archives, today they just a mouse click away. Are the brethren oblivious to this? I think critism is generally healthy, let the church deal with these issues. The gospel and it's prophets should be strong enough to stand inspection in the light of day!

Greg Hamblin said...

Excellent article, Jeff.

Didn't you use to have "The Cracked Planet" back in like 97 or something? I remember loving that site as well. Look forward to seeing more here.

Chino Blanco said...

Hey Jeff, you'd be a great moderator over at mormon.reddit.com

Please feel welcome to check it out and thank you for considering this invitation.

You've got the kind of even temperament that would be a great asset over there.

Papa D said...

Wonderful post, Jeff - and the Gospel Doctrine teacher in my new ward (a former Bishop) said much the same thing at the beginning of his lesson.

Two scriptural passages come to mind:

1) "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - which applies to how we talk about others, not just what we do in other ways to them.

2) Charity as described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 - especially the aspect of long-suffering kindness.

I am not successful all the time, and sometimes I fail spectacularly, but I try hard to keep these things in mind as I comment in any public setting - in person or online.

Steve Dalton said...

Jeff, this was a wonderful post. I think we need to be very careful before we criticize and judge the leadership of the Church. Of course, they are not perfect, and we should not expect them to be. I can't imagine if other people expected me to be perfect all the time. I am sure President Monson (and co) must have very thick skin.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

The Cracked Planet is still JeffLindsay.com.

John Blogwalker said...

Thank you for the post. Two thoughts come to mind. One, Jesus lived what he taught about loving God with all His might, mind,and strength. Two, Neal Maxwell taught what he tried so hard to live, that the only true gift we can give to God is our own free will.

Paul 2 said...

I agree that we should deal with difference of opinion in productive ways.

Here is an experience related to my current feelings: I worked with a women who spoke incessantly about her ex-fiancé that had chosen not to marry her. Over the course of several years, it became obvious to everyone but her that the relationship was no longer really a relationship and that at this point it existed only in her head.

This experience is related to our church. Our church leaders send an annual letter telling members not to contact them and that no response will be forthcoming if they do. That should be the starting point for most people---to realize that even though our church leaders are real people, our relationship with them is imaginary---I know who they are, but they don't know who I am. I can see carefully orchestrated talks beamed by satellite. But I am never interacting with them. For me, it is not worth forming an opinion or getting riled up about people that I will never meet. The system guarantees that I have zero say in who my leaders are or what they will say or do. Being LDS means accepting that in a way that is not psychologically damaging.

So we should figure out the most healthy and moral way to function in a system that does not want feedback. Anger is counterproductive, because the phone is off the hook and our relationship with the brethren only exists in our heads. Just as my co-worker could only hurt herself, it is the same for us. We can only hurt ourselves because we are not really in a relationship.

Please note that I am not saying that the fact that the phone is off the hook means the church is bad or that our leaders are bad. We have our own testimonies to rely on to feel comfortable that God has called these men to lead the church. And we should obtain charity for them and everyone else.

ji said...

I appreciate the original posting and also Paul2's thoughts.

As a follow-on to Paul2, it is important to remember that each of us is supposed to labor in our own calling -- this is God's way and his instruction to us -- so my duty is to magnify my calling (calling really means more than current assignment) -- to bloom where I'm planted -- and to allow others to magnify their callings.

There is great beauty in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I rejoice in that beauty.

Anonymous said...

Paul 2,
If all church leaders followed their policy, that may work, but when we have members of the 12 reading letters members have written them (a la Elder Oaks), it makes me question the "reasoning" that "they don't want my feedback."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post Jeff. My faith has struggled a bit recently from some decisions coming out of the higher ups in the church. For example, the whole "it's cool to be a Mormon" campaign really bothers me - whatever happened to "we're a peculiar people"? Suddenly it seems we're all about blending in. The current stance on illegal immigration where it seems to have become exempt from "honoring and sustaining the law" has also confused me a bit.

None of this changes my testimony that this is God's church run by -MEN- with weaknesses. This is nothing new, the original three witnesses (who SAW an angel and the plates) left the church over Smith's decision-making. The important thing is that, the fundamentals are still true, Joseph Smith was God's Prophet and, though stumbles will come and go, the church and the work will go forward , ultimately doing far more good than bad.

goslow said...

We have local leadership that basically is put in place to assist the prophet and apostles, if we have questions we seek out answers thru the local leadership, and if we still have problems then it is passed along to the higher officers in the church. If everyone was allowed to comment or complain or question the brethren and expect a direct response those few men would be more burdened than they are now. That is why we have the church broken up into wards/branches and stakes/districts, Just put yourself in there shoes for a minute would you want every member of this church worrying you because they fail to trully read, ponder and pray to the Lord and seek his counsel thru the Holy Spirit? The church is true and yes those men have weaknesses but if we honor and respect them the Lord will never lead us astray. I myself have questions but I have the fore thought to not burden those men with my simple minded questions, but I try to diligently study and ponder and pray listening for that still small voice to guide me to the truth and it does.

Jon said...

I agree that we need to be careful in our criticism, or rather, disagreements with the brethren and church but we should not be silent. If we cannot speak openly then what kind of relationship do we have? None.

My main disagreement is how the brethren portray themselves as infallible, or, at least that is how the general membership views them. They then don't think for themselves and what BY or JS said, they're minds are darkened and God isn't their master but men are.

I have respect for the brethren and other church leaders, but I also disagree with many of their positions. I view them more as prophets with a small p, which all of us who have a testimony of Christ and share it with others are.

Jon said...

Anonymous-12:15 PM, April 30, 2012,

Honoring and sustaining the law is a misinterpretation that many have, including church leaders and the brethren about what that means. The law, according to God, is God's law. Man's laws need not be adhered to. Sometimes we adhere to those so-called "laws" because it is expedient but not requisite. If it were so then we would be trampling on many of the saints in the scriptures that refused to follow man's laws.

Immigration is man's law. We find, that when people are righteous, the borders are open and free trade is abundant (per the BoM). It is a sign of a wicked generation that the borders are becoming more and more closed.

Anonymous said...

Jon,

I have to disagree with you about your statement of the misinterpretation of AoF 12:

"We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."

The subject of the Article of Faith is not about being subject to God (although we are) and therefore the law being referenced here is not God's law but man's law.

Steve

Jon said...

Steve,

So are you saying that the revolutionaries shouldn't have rebelled against Britain? Are you saying Abinadi shouldn't have spoke against the King, or that Alma shouldn't have secretly taught the gospel and baptized people?

There's a lot of people that have written on this subject that are much smarter than I am. I believe one of the podcasts on LDS Liberty talked about it, or at least referenced it, sorry I don't have a link to the podcast.

Here's an article on the Law of the Land:
http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2012/03/what-is-law-of-land.html

You can believe what you want I suppose, but I find it difficult to use one verse and ignore all the rest.

I suppose that is why we tend to criticize others so much, we tend to look at one aspect and ignore the rest and grasping to that one aspect. I do it also, so I not trying to criticize, just trying to point out why we may gravitate to extremes and then find fault.

Take it as you will.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like the "law" that is referred to is that law which protects us in our inalienable rights; thus the laws of men which are, at least in this country, constitutional.

Doctrine and Covenants 134:5 We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.

Jon said...

@Steve,

God's laws, or natural law, etc, are "constitutional," but not necessarily in the US Constitution. So, if the US Constitution has constitutional laws, or rather, God's laws, then yes, we should obey them, but when the government goes against God's law, or constitutional laws, or natural law, then we have no obligation to follow these so-called "laws."

Didn't I say that before?

"Sounds to me like the "law" that is referred to is that law which protects us in our inalienable rights; thus the laws of men which are, at least in this country, constitutional."

That's what I'm saying, man, that we only need to obey law that protects our inalienable rights, that's called God's law, etc.

Anonymous said...

Jon,

The other anonymous is not me. I will always sign with my name even though I post anonymously. I guess others can sign with my name too. I guess those are the perils of posting anonymously.

You quoted Article of Faith verse 12. I was only pointing out that Article of Faith 12 does refer to man's laws (inspired or not). You said that AofF 12 is often misinterpreted. I only pointed out that it is actually pretty clear. You then assumed that I believe we should not advocate for our freedom. I said nothing of the sort. My only subject was AofF 12 which is pretty clear in what it states, that is all. I do think that is more to consider than what is in that verse.

Steve

Scott Hinrichs said...

Like Benjamin Franklin, the older I get, the less I am disposed to trust my own judgment. I try to take that into consideration whenever I develop some kind of disagreement with church leaders.

I very much appreciate the part of the post about dissent. I have a deep sadness in my heart for a friend that followed the path from disagreement to hostility to rebellion. He has reaped the whirlwind in his life when he had so much potential to do good. Even though years have passed, I still pray for him.

I do not think that it is necessary or even healthy to silently simmer with opinions that differ from those of church leadership. However, I do believe that it is important that any approach be carefully worked out with the Lord to ensure that it is free of pride, resentment, and rebellion, while being replete with charity and mercy.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the question in the temple worthiness interview refers specifically to the laws of man (country, government, etc). Otherwise, why ask the other questions about chastity, word of wisdom, etc?

In the case of the church and immigration, I don't think they are doing anything but advising people to enter the country the right way (lawfully). However, in God's eyes, I believe that this transgression is less severe than many other more serious sins and therefore not going to withhold you from entering the temple.

bearyb said...

Paul 2,

In thinking about your comments regarding our relationship with the brethren, I found myself trying to remember anywhere that we are encouraged to have such a relationship. I couldn't think of any such statements. There are only a few relationships I can think of that we are encouraged to nurture. The most basic ones are with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. After that, our spouse and children come to mind, as well as any other family members. Anything else is extra.

I have known of some "tender mercies" that have been given through the efforts of others to myself and my family, but I recognize them as having come from the Lord through those who seek to serve Him. I likewise serve in large part because I seek the spirit of the Lord in my life, and it comes more easily when in the service of others. Serving others does not slways result in the development a lasting relationship, though it certainly can (as often happens through home and visiting teaching for example).

People are fallible and inconsistent. If we rely on the actions of others to secure our happiness, we will often be disappointed. As a member of the bishopric in our ward, I try to do what I can to help others, but I sincerely hope their testimonies and happiness aren't built in any way on my puny efforts.

The only relationship we should really count on is the one we should develop with God. It is through that relationship that we can find peace and understanding, as well as the capacity to live, forgive, and serve others in the best ways.

bearyb said...

Howard,

Your suggestion that the Church "deal with" the controversial issues of its past is misguided. What do you think would be the result of some "official" discourse on them? What are you hoping for? Can you think of anything they could say that would strengthen your testimony or those of anyone else?

I could just as easily ask, "Why hasn't there been an official declaration on how, exactly, the Book of Mormon was translated beyond the sketchy details that were given us by Joseph Smith?"

I don't ask that because I would be missing the point of the BoM. There are even things within the BoM that could (and apparently do) give some pause. Not until we do as Moroni directs will we hope to begin to understand its importance and value to mankind.

Life is way to short to dwell on the shortcomings of others, or on some judgment we may make about them especially when there is no way we will ever have enough facts to be able to make one accurately.

We would do better to concentrate on our own understanding of and degree of obedience to what we know is right (which changes with increased understanding), and leave justice and judgement to the Lord.

Tim said...

A few quotations that I think are especially beneficial in this conversation:

"The kind of doubt which is spiritually dangerous does not relate to questions so much as to answers....We all have unanswered questions. Seeking and questioning, periods of doubt, in an effort to find answers, are part of the process of discovery. The kind of doubt which is spiritually dangerous does not relate to questions so much as to answers. For that and other reasons, it is my conviction that a full knowledge...must await further discovery, further revelation..."
Boyd K. Packer - "Law and the Light" BoM symposium, BYU Oct 30, 1988

"To hold a private opinion on such matters is one thing, but when one undertakes to publish his views to discredit the work of a prophet, it is a very serious matter."
Ezra Taft Benson - This Nation Shall Endure, 26-27

Larry King: "Are people ever thrown out of your church?"
Gordon B. Hinckley: "Yes"
Larry King: "For?"
Gordon B. Hinckley: "Doing what they shouldn't do, preaching false doctrine, speaking out publicly. They can carry all the opinion they wish within their heads, so to speak, but if they begin to try to persuade others, then they may be called in to a disciplinary council. We don't excommunicate many, but we do some."
Larry King Live Interview, Sep 8, 1998

and most importantly (to me):
"O Hyde said to O Pratt, my opinion is not worth as much to me as my fellowship in this Church."
Wilford Woodruff journal, Jan 27, 1860

Jon said...

Tim,

So what happens when it is the leaders that are teaching false doctrines, will they be excommunicated? According to BY and other prophets, the church has been in apostasy for quite some time now. The scriptures also talk about it false leaders in the church and leaders leading people astray. Why is it only top down and not bottom up?

I think we should respect others, those in leadership and those not. But I also think that we should be able to voice our opinions on the matter, if we can't voice our opinions then I would question if this is truly God's church. I think God would want us to discuss things so we can come closer to truth, in the end that is what I seek, truth, not belief, but truth.

Mark said...

The two scriptures that come to mind when I read your post were, "He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone..." (John 8:7) and "...why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" (Matt. 7:3).
Its so true that it puts you on a VERY dangerous path to publicly criticize the Church and its divinely called leaders. I think this problem comes more often as a result of criticizing local leaders, bishops, stake presidents, etc. We know these men intimately in many cases, and of course are well aware of their faults and short comings and weaknesses. It is therefore especially important for us to remember that they are divinely called of God and respect them as such, even as they are mortal and falible.

Tim said...

Jon,
Brigham Young did not say the Church was in apostasy, he did feel that members of the church were in apostasy, hence the reformation of 1855, but there is quite a difference between the church as a whole vs a collective body of members.

As to your Q - what if leaders are teaching false doctrine? Let me ask, whose place is it to correct them? Do you think it is yours? If so, you are mistaken, hence the point of most of my quotes. You are free to disagree, but you are not free to "steady the ark" as it were, without preparing to have church-related consequences.

As far as church leaders being excommunicated - Amasa Lyman lost faith in the efficacy of the atonement and he was excommunicated. It wasn't the members' responsibility to perform the excommunication, rather it was the Lord's anointed ones.

Why is it top-down, not bottom-up? Read your scriptures and find even one precedent where the bottom-up approach is acceptable with the Lord. Why is it that way? Because this isn't a church of democracy, it is a church of revelation, and as JS stated, "I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them..." TPJS, 21

You believe you should be able to voice your opinions. I agree that you are entitled to your opinions, but we aren't talking about American liberties here, we are talking about the Kingdom of God on earth, an institution that you, presumably, belong to. It isn't your right to belong to the church, it is your opportunity, as it is mine, and our membership is dependent upon recognizing that the Lord calls mortals to lead us, irrespective of their shortcomings. It's not our right to call out those shortcomings, but to focus upon our own. If you have a contrary opinion, it's your right to take it to the Lord, not to critize those whom He has called. Would it be any different if somebody an online forum called you out for not performing your calling according to their expectations, than it is for you or anybody else to call out the Lord's prophets and apostles in a public forum?

I agree, that God does want us to discuss matters to discover truth, but where there is a lack of revelation, Elder Packer's guidance in being reluctant to settle into conclusions is key. Otherwise, we are relying upon the arm of flesh.

Those of us who have been to the temple have also covenanted with God that we will not speak evil of His anointed. This is a covenant I take very seriously.

At Sidney Rigdon's membership trial, John Taylor said:
"Some people talk as though they considered these things very little matters; but it was for a transgression of this kind that satan and his angels were cast out of heaven, and it is those very principles that have destroyed the church in every age of the world. It was not for drunkenness, theft nor any other act of immorality that satan was hurled from heaven, but for resisting authority, and trying to subvert the order of God."

I'm not trying to be an extremist, and say that we shouldn't ever speak our mind. What I am saying, is that for us to publicly ridicule the Lord's anointed is a serious matter, and probably in violation of covenants, and changes in church policies, programs, etc., are not by the voice of the people. If you are uncomfortable with the current situation of the church, take it to the Lord, and leave it with Him.

"The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place..." Wilford Woodruff - Oct 6, 1890

Tim said...

Jon,
Brigham Young did not say the Church was in apostasy, he did feel that members of the church were in apostasy, hence the reformation of 1855, but there is quite a difference between the church as a whole vs a collective body of members.

As to your Q - what if leaders are teaching false doctrine? Let me ask, whose place is it to correct them? Do you think it is yours? If so, you are mistaken, hence the point of most of my quotes. You are free to disagree, but you are not free to "steady the ark" as it were, without preparing to have church-related consequences.

As far as church leaders being excommunicated - Amasa Lyman lost faith in the efficacy of the atonement and he was excommunicated. It wasn't the members' responsibility to perform the excommunication, rather it was the Lord's anointed ones.

Why is it top-down, not bottom-up? Read your scriptures and find even one precedent where the bottom-up approach is acceptable with the Lord. Why is it that way? Because this isn't a church of democracy, it is a church of revelation, and as JS stated, "I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them..." TPJS, 21

You believe you should be able to voice your opinions. I agree that you are entitled to your opinions, but we aren't talking about American liberties here, we are talking about the Kingdom of God on earth, an institution that you, presumably, belong to. It isn't your right to belong to the church, it is your opportunity, as it is mine, and our membership is dependent upon recognizing that the Lord calls mortals to lead us, irrespective of their shortcomings. It's not our right to call out those shortcomings, but to focus upon our own. If you have a contrary opinion, it's your right to take it to the Lord, not to critize those whom He has called. Would it be any different if somebody an online forum called you out for not performing your calling according to their expectations, than it is for you or anybody else to call out the Lord's prophets and apostles in a public forum?

I agree, that God does want us to discuss matters to discover truth, but where there is a lack of revelation, Elder Packer's guidance in being reluctant to settle into conclusions is key. Otherwise, we are relying upon the arm of flesh.

Those of us who have been to the temple have also covenanted with God that we will not speak evil of His anointed. This is a covenant I take very seriously.

At Sidney Rigdon's membership trial, John Taylor said:
"Some people talk as though they considered these things very little matters; but it was for a transgression of this kind that satan and his angels were cast out of heaven, and it is those very principles that have destroyed the church in every age of the world. It was not for drunkenness, theft nor any other act of immorality that satan was hurled from heaven, but for resisting authority, and trying to subvert the order of God."

I'm not trying to be an extremist, and say that we shouldn't ever speak our mind. What I am saying, is that for us to publicly ridicule the Lord's anointed is a serious matter, and probably in violation of covenants, and changes in church policies, programs, etc., are not by the voice of the people. If you are uncomfortable with the current situation of the church, take it to the Lord, and leave it with Him.

"The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place..." Wilford Woodruff - Oct 6, 1890

Jon said...

Tim,

As to the apostasy. I was referring to things that he and other presidents of the church have said referring to, if such and such happens then the church will have fallen into apostasy. Then those things happen and no one owns up to them. Don't ask me to tell you what those quotes are because I've read them over quite a span of time and don't recall where they are, I'm sure you could easily google it and find it for yourself if you are interested.

If I disagree with church leaders it is my place to disagree with them and speak my disagreement if I deem it important enough to voice it. It is not my place to criticize them, as in saying that they are bad people. But I can, and will say that I disagree with them or their decisions.

I know we are all human, so it is not wise to judge others harshly for their actions, since we can equally be judged poorly for our actions. But I'm OK with people disagree with my view points just as I'm OK with disagreeing with leadership opinions.

The scriptures talk about the whole church's leadership becoming corrupt and the Lord continued to allow this corruption, are we to follow corrupt leaders? I'm not saying that the LDS church is corrupt, but I am saying, if all of Israel worships at the feet of the golden calf, I'll choose to serve the Lord, not mammon.

Bottom up. Let's see, the spirit needs to talk to and confirm with everyone individually. Alma left King Noah and the priests (AKA the corrupted church) to start his own. I'm sure there are plenty more examples to be had. Yes, we should give deference to those leaders who are doing their best, but we need not worship them and believe that everything that comes from their lips is from God, I believe the scriptures call this priest craft.

As for your next paragraph, yes, it is a private organization and the leaders can choose who belongs to it. But those decisions need to be confirmed by the HG, if not it is man who takes those actions, not God and they have no effect. The church isn't what saves us, it is Jesus only, the church is only a tool that can become corrupted, as described in the scriptures. And, yes, I can disagree publicly. If the leaders choose to throw me out, it is their choice, but it has no bearing on my salvation if God doesn't agree with those choices.

There is a difference between speaking evil of someone and disagreeing with saying and stating as such. I think we might agree more on this than you think, or maybe not - I don't know your mind.

Changes in church policy are supposed to be more of thing for all members to vote on and in the early church were voted on, the church has become much more authoritarian than it used to be. The LDS church has gone to one extreme and the RLDS church has gone to the other, the true point probably lies more in the middle.

That last quote is probably one of the worst statements that was ever said, since it leaves so many to leave their agency and to stop thinking for themselves, causing peoples minds to be darkened (as said by Joseph Smith).

Jon said...

The last paragraph should read, I believe the statement by Wilford Woodruff to be incorrect, or, if not incorrect, misinterpreted. What's another way to look at that statement? There's two other ways.

1) The president won't lead the church astray because the members would receive the HG and reject bad advice.

2) The president won't lead the church astray because the members will reject Christ themselves and so will lead themselves astray.

Also, I think it would be important to understand what is defined by "astray."

If causing men to not receive salvation, then what of the blacks, where they not stopped from going to the temple for saving ordinances? McKay called the actions of the church not letting the blacks get the priesthood a "policy" not revelation or anything from God. Is this not leading people astray and causing them to not receive salvation?

No, Woodruff could have just been speaking as a man, not as a prophet when he said that. History and the scriptures have shown differently than what that quote states.

Deila Taylor said...

I sure agree with you on this, and I have read Boyd Petersen (son-in-law of Hugh Nibley) say that this is one of the things he learned from Nibley--"if you disagree with church policy, keep quiet."

There are several examples I could cite where Hugh disagreed with Church policy. But when he could not argue forcefully for the Church, he kept his mouth shut. During the debate over blacks and the priesthood, Hugh evidently disagreed with the policy. Nevertheless, he never voiced those beliefs until after the priesthood ban was lifted.12 I once asked him about something that might be seen as heretical today but which was not in the nineteenth century, and he responded, “I never think about that.” Then he paused and restated, “Well, I think about it, but I never talk about it.” This may seem cowardly to some, but clearly Hugh was able to do more for the Church by remaining loyal and quiet; he would have lost that ability had he come out in open opposition to the Church’s position." (What I learned about Life, the Church, and the Cosmos from Hugh Nibley)

Tim said...

Jon,
I'm growing tired of this conversation because I can see we are already going in circles. Many quotations that I would provide to you, I have already provided. You think it is fine to voice your opinion, and that is your American right; I believe voicing opinions contrary to the general authorities is spiritually harmful (and perhaps even more harmful to our families - Jeffrey R. Holland's talk "A Prayer for the Children"), and that is my religious conviction. My answer, as well as the others provided in these comments and Jeff Lindsay's post has already answered your objections, and the quotations I provided to you indicate as much, regarding opinions. Like I said before, if you have a problem with the current situation with the Church, take it to the Lord.

Bookslinger said...

There are mechanisms and proper channels for feedback from members to church leaders. It is through members talking in private with their bishops and stake presidents.

Below, I'll give some examples in my life time, too.

If enough people tell their stake president something, it gets passed up the chain of command through the 70's (it used to be "Regional Representatives" and "Area Representatives"). If the 70's keep hearing the same things from various stake presidents, it gets passed up to the Apostles and First Presidency.

If my understanding is correct, things like the block meeting schedule on Sunday, instead of having to make TWO trips to the chapel on Sunday, and TWO more trips during the week for Priesthood meetings, and primary meetings, was the result of members' requests as the church grew outside of Utah. Outside of Utah, going to church was often a matter of driving a couple hours instead of walking 2 or 3 blocks down the street. People out in the "mission field" ended up camping out at the chapel on Sunday instead of making two long trips. People ended up missing Priesthood meetings and Primary, because families couldn't afford the transportation costs involved.

That information filtered back up to the leaders, and policy got changed.

Though I am sure, that the Brethren took it to the Lord to get approval of the change.

From what I've read, it also seems that some changes to the endowment ceremony took place in the 1990's, that were the result of members' feedback about certain aspects. Again, these likely got back to church leaders through stake presidents.

Church leaders used to preach against all forms of contraception, even in marriage. I think there used to be something in the Church Handbook of Instructions about it, long ago. Members complained about the proscription against contraception, and then church leaders stopped mentioning it, and it is no longer in the CHI.

The scriptures have examples of the Lord granting people what they want, sometimes even after advising them against it.

Ancient Israel wanted a king, and the prophet tried to talk them out of it, but they insisted. The Lord, through his prophet, eventually granted them a king, Saul.

The Jaredites wanted a king, even though Jared and his brother warned them against it, but eventually relented.

The Lord told Joseph Smith not to loan the 116 pages of translation to Martin Harris, but Martin Harris kept pestering Joseph, and Joseph kept pestering the Lord, and the Lord finally said "okay, but you're responsible."

Emma complained to Joseph Smith about the tobacco use (chewing and smoking) of the brethren, and Joseph took it to the Lord, and we got the Word of Wisdom.

So, whether for good or bad, there is precedent of "feedback" from members up the chain of command, and the Lord giving people what they want, to their benefit, or to their condemnation.

In my lifetime, there was the change of missions from 24 months to 18 months and back to 24 months. I remember that church leaders said that both decisions were due to feedback from missionaries and their families. The shortening of missions was due to concerns about the cost. But then so many missionaries said they weren't getting the full benefit, and everyone finally decided it was worth the costs for 2 years, and changed it back.

Bookslinger said...

Note: I meant Priesthood and primary meetings during the week, not on Sunday. Those required even more trips back to the chapel, and some people in the mission field just didn't go because of the travel costs involved if they weren't close to the chapel.

Jon said...

Tim,

Just for the record I never said voicing my opinion is my "American" right. You are characterizing me and painting a picture in your head that is not who I am.

You can have your opinion and I'm fine with that. I believe just the opposite you do, that not voicing your opinions is more spiritually harmful and blind obedience leads to doing things that are contrary to God's will, as attested by the scriptures and history.

The comments and Jeff's post haven't answered my objections because they assume the fallacy of authority. You would need an argument beyond use of such a fallacy to convince me otherwise. I have provided you a quote and alluded to many others, but I don't desire to look all those up for you, if you asked I could dig up some of them, but it sounds like you are not interested and likely wouldn't change your opinion either.

So, if neither of us is willing to change then discussing the issue is not worth it. I am willing to change, but, like I said, you would need to not use fallacies in the discussion.

Tim said...

Jon,
We can go on and on about this and not get anywhere. I only want to clarify one thing here. You indicate that I have misrepresented you. I want to inform you that you are absolutely misrepresenting most Latter-day Saints when you use ridiculous cliches such as "blind obedience." Most Latter-day Saints know exactly why they are obeying. I'm sure there are plenty who don't think about why they are obeying, but to characterize everybody this way, is an extreme use of a logical fallacy.

bearyb said...

The current New Era has an excellent article on the very discussion you two (Jon and Tim) seem to be having. It is titled: "Any Questions?"

I highly recomend it!

Jon said...

bearyb,

Interesting article. It has good insights. The main thing I disagree with it though is that the ultimate goal is to keeps ones faith or belief. I think the ultimate goal should be truth. Which makes it OK to ask, "In light of this knowledge how does this reflect on the truth of the church or on the truth of the gospel of Christ."

I think many people choose to seek for belief rather than truth in their understanding of the world and God. Yes, we can't know the specifics of things and know of a surety of everything but it is OK to say, "I believe that there might be a God but I don't know how."

Politics is an interesting way to view this dichotomy of belief vs truth. Belief tells us that the two major political parties are different. But truth tells us that Obama and Romney are both, pretty much, socialists. But people refuse to see truth but instead vote for their favorite team.

Jon said...

Tim,

When I say blind obedience I'm referring to believing all the words of a president of the church without an open and critical mind and being willing to believe that the prophet could be wrong. Yes, you could obey because you believe they are a prophet, but to refuse they could make mistakes and to not seek truth oneself is blind obedience.

Joseph Smith and others called this a "darkened mind" which is synonymous with "blind obedience." So, you are saying that Joseph was wrong?

Tim said...

Jon,
Thats the whole point of this post. We all (likely) have personal disagreements from time to time with Church leaders - it is how we respond to those issues that is the subject we are discussing. Your reference to blind obedience is an unwarranted generalization and you are making sweeping assumptions relative to Latter-day Saints. You have no idea how open or critical the membership as a whole should be reflected. The real question is that even when we think we are 100% correct and a Church leader is dead wrong, does that justify us in leaving the Church or criticizing them, OR, do we recognize that they are the Lord's anointed irrespective of their shortcomings, and leave it in the hands of the Lord. I believe the latter is the most appropriate answer, and I wouldn't waste my time online or at church proclamining why they were wrong. It is one thing to believe that a General Authority may be incorrect on something, it is an entirely different issue to believe that the Church is in apostasy. If you are in the latter camp, you have some serious issues to deal with, and referring to your previous posts, the burden of proof to evidence anything suggesting such.

Jon said...

Tim,

Let's take prop 8 over in California. That was not a principled move by the church. I understand where the brethren were coming from. But the bill would have hurt people, I say, I will voice my opinion and say that the church should be in the businesses of helping, not hurting people, I will speak out when I see the brethren using their influence to hurt others. Based on their own reasoning it was a position of fear that the brethren were reacting to.

What's the principled position? Get government out of marriage altogether so the government can stop hurting the sacred ceremony any more than they already have.

So there's something that I think people should have spoken out against, likewise with prohibition. Some people look at like the people in the church were doing a bad thing by going against what President Grant wanted, but it is just the opposite, the people in the church rejected unsound counsel and followed what the Lord would have wanted. There's a couple of examples to show you what I mean when we have disagreements we should speak out. But it is a dangerous philosophy to not follow God but man.

Tim said...

Jon,
I figured we'd eventually get to the heart of your concerns: moral issues on one hand (homosexuality) and political on the other (Ron Paul fan?).

Your position that the church reacted in "fear" to Prop 8 is pure speculation. Your position that members were correct to oppose President Grant on prohibition, being sanctioned by the Lord - also complete speculation.

Your problem here is that you are implicitly concluding that you have special insight that the Brethren do not. I think you are naive. You think you are right and the Brethren are wrong, and therefore you are justified in your opposition. You aren't concerned with getting to the truth, you are concerned with getting your perspective to be accepted by the mainstraim. It is clear that you aren't concerned with why the Church has taken such positions (as evidenced by your misunderstanding of their intent, which has been publicly provided), because you have been blinded that they haven't provided the answers you are so sure are right.

Again, "I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them..." - Joseph Smith

I'm certain I'm reading into your character with a degree of conjecture, but I doubt if I'm too far off. Either way - have the last word, I've got to call it quits, before we end up writing a book.

Jon said...

Tim,

The root of the issue is that I wish people would be willing to think for themselves and trust God rather than put their trust in the arm of flesh. I would like to be able to discuss my concerns with others without saying, "The prophet said so, end of discussion."

As for Ron Paul, he's the most like Thomas Jefferson in his views but everyone thinks he is crazy and instead want to vote for the socialist Romney. It doesn't make any sense, anyways, that's a side issue.

My issue that fear is the root of the prop 8 concern is not speculation, I read the press release on why the brethren were for prop 8 and it was based on fear.

Also, I've read the scriptures and I understand what King Mosiah was saying to Alma the elder when he said, "These moral issues are what government is about, go and take care of it yourself." We have no right to use violence against others to force them to do what we want them to do, the only time we have a right to do so is when the other person/people directly harms us, and even then Christ told us to forgive them. By His example we are told to use persuasion to convince them otherwise but it is not our business to hurt them.

My special insight is that the brethren grew up in a different generation and so have a harder time with change, which is a blessing and a curse. I've seen them moderate their stance on homosexuality, look I don't like homosexuality but I'm not going to use violence to stop it, I'm going to propose persuasion. If someone presents me with a good argument that opposes my view I'll moderate or change my view, but people throw the, "he's the prophet, end of discussion" card, just like you just did.

I am concerned about getting to the truth, how many times do I need to say that? What makes you think I'm just concerned about what is popular or mainstream? You say that I support Ron Paul, last time I checked that isn't popular nor mainstream. That's called Ad hominem attack, you're skirting the issue. Once again, you say I'm not concerned with the reasoning the brethren gave, but I did look at their reasoning and concluded it was a position of fear. I scanned through the press release again and still hold that position, yes, it's not totally based on fear but the root is.

I don't say that I am receiving instruction for the brethren. All I'm saying is that I've pondered the subjects and concluded differently than they have and, so, disagree with their conclusions. You accuse me of something I haven't done.

All I ask is that people think and ponder for themselves and pray to God on these ponderings. I ask that we discuss the subjects in a clear headed fashion, that we don't hide ourselves but try and get to truth. If we aren't allowed to discuss with one another then how are we to find truth? We cannot because often times the truth is found outside of ourselves after discussion. If this weren't true we wouldn't send out missionaries to discuss the gospel with people because they would be able to figure it out themselves.

Tim said...

Jon,
You continue to assume that if people agree with the prophet, then they haven't thought for themselves and haven't prayed. This is your overriding logical fallacy present throughout all of your comments, and it is absolutely absurd. Seriously??? Give me a break. This is the nonsense that fundamentalists, apostates, and anti-Mormons spew all the time, and faithful members know it is simply untrue.

Jon said...

Tim,

That is not my assumption. But, if people don't talk to each other about their concerns then they haven't thought it out completely. That's like saying someone that is investigating the church has thought it out without ever going into a building nor talking to a member of the actual church itself. Yes, you can figure out a great deal on your own, but in the end you need to talk to other people to figure out what you have missed and what other view points are out there.

It appears Tim that you just see me as an antagonist rather than a truth seeker, that just because you think one way I must think the same way otherwise I'm an apostate?

I thought you were going to let me have the last word but you need to do ad hominem attacks to the very end?

Anonymous said...

Before criticizing anyone, we should be sure that we are right. It is not good enough to think that we are right, but we need to know that we are right. The two very seldom are synonymous.

When it comes to matters of doctrine and church policy, this is trebly true. Even though I may have disagreed with one or more church policies during my lifetime, I could never find myself in a position where I knew I was right, and thus have kept my peace.

Glenn

Paul said...

'Dealing with Our Personal Dissent" aka self-censorship. Suppression of dissent has a long colorful history in authoritarian groups: Suppression of Dissent on WP

.. occurs when an individual or group which is more powerful than another tries to directly or indirectly censor, persecute or otherwise oppress the other party, rather than engage with and constructively respond to or accommodate the other party's arguments or viewpoint.

How oppressive it is to not be able to speak your mind! Or to have to adopt opinions incompatible with your own experience. It's been a long time since I was back there, but do I remember that.

Reminds me of something Tolstoy once said, 'dare to tell the truth to the Tsar.'

Suppression of dissent in organizations and governments arises out of fear. Sometimes founded, sometimes not.

To the Church, I say engage the dissenters and the disagreers. Sooner or later you will have to anyway, especially in this age. To those who disagree, I say SPEAK UP! Who knows, you might just save the Martin Handcart Co.

Falsehood fears truth.
Truth does not fear falsehood.

Anyhow, my two cents.

bearyb said...

Paul,

Can you give an example of where the Church is "oppressive" toward anyone with opinions that would differ from accepted teachings or doctrines?

You may rightly claim that dissent is not tolerated among the ranks of the faithful, but wouldn't that be true by definition - in ANY organization?

The Church doesn't force anyone to do anything they don't want to do, so why should the Church be inevitably "forced" to engage the dissenters and those who disagree with it? Hasn't it consistently done so throughout its history anyway? If you would like to see serious "Church responses" to anything you might bring up as a sincere grievance, try studying the addresses of any recent General Conference.

Basic doctrines are not up for debate. If some member has a problem with them, they should probably seriously consider their continued affiliation with the Church. Membership in the Church should not be entered into (or left behind) lightly.

It is disingenuous for those who claim faithful membership to openly speak out against basic tenets or leaders, as it would be in any organization. If some feel the need to go that route, they should probably disassociate themselves first (or likely already have in some fashion).

Some speculative statements made by leaders and others are and will continue to be sources for much contention (for some) for the foreseeable future. But what are the real consequences of such statements on individual salvation? The biggest such consequence I can see is the choice individuals make to let such things fester in their minds and grow out of proportion to personally known facts and feelings they once had about the Church and the gospel (if they ever had any), and their failure to recognize that the Church and the gospel are not the same thing. Following such a route usually ends up in individuals "kicking themselves out of the Church."

I also think you grossly underestimate the solid foundation upon which the Church is built. To imply that it somehow "fears the truth" because it will not tolerate dissenters within its ranks is to ignore the basic rights it has as an institution at the very least, and also ignores the very real reasons why so many continue to adhere faithfully to it.

bearyb said...

And besides, what do you really know about the Martin Handcart Company?

Paul said...

Hi bearyb,

Dissent is tolerated by organizations in different degrees. Our country was founded with the idea of free speech, whereas many other countries weren't, but nowadays most first world countries are reasonably free with respect to that.

But that wasn't always the case.

Do you think the handling of dissenters differs between the US and Islamic theocracies in the middle east? Clearly it does. It's a matter of degree.

Companies that handle disagreement well tend to be more innovative and flexible than more authoritarian companies.

This is an attribute of authoritarian organizations. More egalitarian organizations tend to handle disagreement better.

You said:

Can you give an example of where the Church is "oppressive" toward anyone with opinions that would differ from accepted teachings or doctrines?

The Church has always had a clear policy on this topic. Dissenters are excommunicated, period. Or they leave of their own accord. You know this is true.

This has devastating consequences for people whose lives and families are rooted in the Church. In the words of Tennyson, "Cut off from love, howling in outer darkness."

As for your second question, I respond with a question: How much do YOU know about the Martin Handcart Co.? ;)

(I only know what I read on Wikipedia, and that's pretty grim)

bearyb said...

Paul,

You claimed that "Dissenters are excommunicated. Period." But earlier you observed that many things are considered "by degree." I'm sure the same consideration of degree is given to dissenters in the Church. Many within the Church are known, at least by their local associates, to hold views contrary to those of the brethren. I've known a few myself. (Even some prophets in the scriptures have not quite "been with the program" from time to time.)The ones I know tend to keep their opposing views generally to themselves. It is only when they cross the line into general, open rebellion that I would think excommunication would be in order.

On the subject of egalitarian vs. authoritarian... Under which of these two systems (if either) do you suppose God would govern His Kingdom?

If I understood your last post correctly, you infer that the Church is rather authoritarian. I took the liberty of looking up some definitions of that word:

1.
favoring complete obedience or subjection to authority as opposed to individual freedom: authoritarian principles; authoritarian attitudes.

2.
of or pertaining to a governmental or political system, principle, or practice in which individual freedom is held as completely subordinate to the power or authority of the state, centered either in one person or a small group that is not constitutionally accountable to the people.

3.
exercising complete or almost complete control over the will of another or of others: an authoritarian parent.


I cannot reconcile what I know about the Church with any of these. (Perhaps you have some other definition in mind.) In fact the Church teaches, as a very basic tenet, the fact that we are "agents unto ourselves, to act and not be acted upon." (2 Nephi 2:26,27)

As far as your reference to egalitarianism goes - though God is "no respecter of persons," the scriptures are quite clear that not all will go to the same rewards. Where, then, are all equal? (Alma 13: 4,5 sheds interesting light on this.)

As to those whose heritage is firmly rooted in the Church, yes, I can see how devastating it must seem to have loved ones leave or be "forced out." I have a couple of children who themselves have decided to go another way. The tragedy is when those who do are ostracized by their families or former friends in the Church. That is not the way it should be, and that is not what we are taught to do. But we are human and sometimes do dumb things...

Finally, yes, the sufferings of the Willie and Martin handcart companies were horrific, to say the least. There were many who sought to lay blame upon those they deemed responsible. But one of the paragraphs in the wikipedia article gets to the heart of what I was hoping you might understand:

Many survivors of the tragedy refused to blame anyone. Survivor John Jacques wrote, "I blame nobody. I am not anxious to blame anybody ... I have no doubt that those who had to do with its management meant well and tried to do the best they could under the circumstances." Another survivor, Francis Webster, was quoted as having said, "Was I sorry that I chose to come by hand cart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Hand Cart Company." On the other hand, survivor John Chislett, who later left the Church, wrote bitterly of Richards promising them that "we should get to Zion in safety."

It seems those who actually participated in that trek represented a microcosm of exactly what we are talking about - the difference in attitude and outcome between those who exercise faith and those who doubt.

Paul said...

Hi bearyb,

What a tremendous response! I appreciate the thought you obviously put into it, and you're sucking me in deeper haha ;)

I'm going to have to take this a chunk at a time. I'll start with -

Authoritarianism

I'm surprised that my characterization of the Church as authoritarian is a point of argument. I have always considered it so, even when I was quite active and believing in the Church, many years ago.

1. favoring complete obedience or subjection to authority as opposed to individual freedom: authoritarian principles; authoritarian attitudes.

I can find TONS of stuff for this. Just a few things:

- "Obedience is the first law of heaven."
- Many, many talks on obedience & the consequences of failure to do so.
- I Want to Obey
- "When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. .. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. .. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God."
- "Our unquestioning obedience to the Lord’s commandments is not blind obedience. .. 'Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient. .. We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see.'" (Faith Obedience).

Obedience is not one of the more redeeming features of the human race, to be honest. There's the disturbing conclusions of the Milgram experiments, for example and, well, I can find plenty to caution against obedience from history.

2. of or pertaining to a .. system, principle, or practice in which individual freedom is held as completely subordinate to the power or authority of the state, centered either in one person or a small group that is not constitutionally accountable to the people.

Qualifies, see above.

3. exercising complete or almost complete control over the will of another or of others: an authoritarian parent.

Absolutely; especially considering the degree of control that the Church demands and receives over even the most intimate detail of human existence: ie, green tea vs. black tea; your underwear; your intimate practices.

I cannot reconcile what I know about the Church with any of these.

Interesting that you would say this as a comment under a post called, "Dealing with Our Personal Dissent." Dissent, by definition, requires an authority to dissent against. 'Dissent' rarely enters the lexicon of freer organizations.

You also said, "..cross the line into general, open rebellion .." Rebellion is also defined in terms of authority.


Conflation of God and the Church

However, there is one central and crucial fallacy which reoccurs throughout these texts, throughout the posts, and every document dealing with obedience. That is that in every single one of these instances the Church and God are conflated. To obey the Church or your leaders in the Church IS NOT THE SAME as obeying God. To dissent from the Church IS NOT THE SAME as dissenting from God. Even a very faithful but reasonable member, who believes these to be effectively equivalent, can't argue that obeying the LDS prophet himself and obeying God are identical.

There is an enormous logical, spiritual and faithful leap to make this conflation, and it is simply ignored in these texts.

Paul said...

(I tried to submit this before, but didn't see it appear. I'll try again in case they aren't moderated, but if they are, Jeff please delete one of them.)

Hi bearyb,

What a tremendous response! I appreciate the thought you obviously put into it, and you're sucking me in deeper haha ;)

I'm going to have to take this a chunk at a time. I'll start with -


Authoritarianism

I'm surprised that my characterization of the Church as authoritarian is a point of argument. I have always considered it so, even when I was quite active and believing in the Church, many years ago.

1. favoring complete obedience or subjection to authority as opposed to individual freedom: authoritarian principles; authoritarian attitudes.

I can find TONS of stuff for this. Just a few things:

- "Obedience is the first law of heaven."
- Many, many talks on obedience & the consequences of failure to do so.
- I Want to Obey
- "When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. .. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. .. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God."
- "Our unquestioning obedience to the Lord’s commandments is not blind obedience. .. 'Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient. .. We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see.'" (Faith Obedience).

Obedience is not one of the more redeeming features of the human race, to be honest. There's the disturbing conclusions of the Milgram experiments, for example and, well, I can find plenty to caution against obedience from history.

2. of or pertaining to a .. system, principle, or practice in which individual freedom is held as completely subordinate to the power or authority of the state, centered either in one person or a small group that is not constitutionally accountable to the people.

Qualifies, see above.

3. exercising complete or almost complete control over the will of another or of others: an authoritarian parent.

Absolutely; especially considering the degree of control that the Church demands and receives over even the most intimate detail of human existence: ie, green tea vs. black tea; your underwear; your intimate practices.

I cannot reconcile what I know about the Church with any of these.

Interesting that you would say this as a comment under a post called, "Dealing with Our Personal Dissent." Dissent, by definition, requires an authority to dissent against. 'Dissent' rarely enters the lexicon of freer organizations.

You also said, "..cross the line into general, open rebellion .." Rebellion is also defined in terms of authority.


Conflation of God and the Church

However, there is one central and crucial fallacy which reoccurs throughout these texts, throughout the posts, and every document dealing with obedience. That is that in every single one of these instances the Church and God are conflated. To obey the Church or your leaders in the Church IS NOT THE SAME as obeying God. To dissent from the Church IS NOT THE SAME as dissenting from God. Even a very faithful but reasonable member, who believes these to be effectively equivalent, can't argue that obeying the LDS prophet himself and obeying God are identical.

There is an enormous logical, spiritual and faithful leap to make this conflation, and it is simply ignored in these texts.

bearyb said...

Paul,

Thank you for your response.

The problem I have with your characterization of the Church as authoritarian is that it (the Church) doesn't claim any power of recourse beyond excommunication (along with revocation of ordinances) for those who dissent. All the examples you used to prove your point speak of obedience to God, not the Church. All references to obedience I can ever recall hearing about in Church are calls to obey God's commandments, not Church edicts - UNLESS they are accompanied by something along the lines of "thus saith the Lord."

Doctrine and Covenants 134:4 "We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others;"

I can understand some confusion that could arise in thinking that God's commandments and Church policy are the same (the conflation you spoke of), but they are not. However, it must be recognized that there needs to be order in the kingdom, and that order of necessity is administered by human, fallible men. Taken together with the fact that any who may choose to follow them are just as fallible, there is a lot of opportunity for error.

Still, when speaking of God's commandments, how else can one proceed except to say that perfect obedience is required? Certainly nothing less that the ideal can or should be taught. And how else can any of God's commandments or promises be known except through His earthly representatives? Of course, It is completely up to us individually to choose whether or not we will accept those who claim such authority as true representatives.

A point of controversy along these lines of course is the question of what constitutes the will of the Lord (commandments) as spoken by these men. Disagreement about this is usually the birthplace of the dissent about which we are talking.

Talking about obedience "not being one of the more redeeming features of the human race," using the Milgram experiments as a context, does make a valid point. But it only emphasises the importance of choosing the right voice to follow. (This assumes that one should follow something.) The main problem I have with that particular example in this discussion is the premise upon which those experiments were based: "The willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience." Evidence of the importance of a clear conscience is spoken of many times in the scriptures.

People are not naturally inclined to obey, particularly when those commandments are of a spiritual nature. This is spoken of clearly in Alma 26:21 and Mosiah 3:19.

In the end, all we really have to give to God is our will (everything else is already His), which we demonstrate through obedience to His commandments.

Paul said...

(Posting in two parts - it's too long lol. Part 1.)

bearyb,

I realize now (reading my post above) that when I wrote 'is not the same' in all caps and bold it looks like I'm yelling. Sorry about that ;) Thank you again for your response by the way.


Conflation of God and the Church

You said:

All the examples you used to prove your point speak of obedience to God, not the Church.

The following clearly speaks of obedience to men:

"When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. .. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. .. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God."

The following quote is interesting because of a rhetorical sleight-of-hand. Notice it's the Lord's commandments, not the Lord. The Church defines (even if by inspiration) the Lord's commandments.

"Our unquestioning obedience to the Lord’s commandments is not blind.."

You said:

"The willingness .. to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience." Evidence of the importance of a clear conscience is spoken of many times in the scriptures.

I agree with this. However, this blog post and many of these comments talk about how to silence personal dissent. Silencing our true beliefs and acting in opposition to them muddies our consciences and our integrity. Do you agree with this?

For example, speaking to our children only of our great faith (perhaps exaggerating a bit) and never of our doubt isn't honest or fair to them.

Paul said...

(Part 2.)

bearyb,

The Power of the Church

You said:

The problem I have with your characterization of the Church as authoritarian is that it (the Church) doesn't claim any power of recourse beyond excommunication (along with revocation of ordinances) for those who dissent.

Excommunication is the most obvious threat (tho probably the least important). Yet when we speak of dissent here, we rarely speak of dissent to an extreme that merits excommunication. Yet we still have posts called, 'Dealing with Personal Dissent.'

There are clearly other forces at work.

Why is it that men wear white shirts (preferably suits) and ties to church on Sunday? That's no commandment.

You conform to the expectations of your loved ones, your peers, your community.

Obedience itself is an extension of conformity, and the pressure to conform in any culture is enormous.

In this case, the expectations are numerous and elaborate and they are structured around important life rituals. You want to be worth something in this life (we all do), you want your loved ones to think you're worth something too. You don't want to be unworthy or second-class.

(As a side note, about the time of my mission, I recall hearing this gem told to exiting missionaries by their parents:

I'd rather you come home in a pine box than in disgrace.

Nice. For my part, my parents never felt that way. I nearly did come back in a pine box due to dysentery+zero medical care, but that's another story.)

You sing primary songs in sacrament meeting and your parents beam with pride. You are baptized, not fully understanding, but knowing it's a grand event and again your parents beam with pride.

At twelve, you begin to confess your most private, intimate selves to the bishop (or mission president, etc.). You don't see this as a violation because your parents sanction it, because your peers do it. You want to be a good person, especially in the eyes of your community. You're faithful, having been taught what faithful means and its importance. But you also fear people snickering about why you're not passing the sacrament.

You go on a mission because you've internalized that expectation as a child. At your farewell, your parents beam with pride. It's the coming-of-age rite. You avoid the second-class status of not being a returned missionary, of not having proven your worth. You also want to marry a good Mormon girl and not a second-class (non-member or 'soiled') girl. You've also internalized the beliefs of your close-knit community. You know they're true.

You stay faithful for a temple wedding, instead of a second-class cultural hall wedding. You believed because you were expected to, in turn your children believe. You stay active, because when your children are born, you want to be considered 'worthy' to bless them, and then to baptize them. Because blessings/baptisms are crucial life events.

You may come to a point in your life where you doubt everything. But you think of the havoc that would ensue if you were to pursue those doubts. You fear:

* losing your worldview, meaninglessness
* losing your spouse!
* losing your children!
* losing your friends
* losing control of your appetites if you were to feel no shame/guilt

And all that to gain what? So you stay.

Or you may never doubt. Or never think about it.

As you age, you continue paying tithing to attend your children's weddings.

Throughout your life, you do all this because these things matter to the people who matter to you.

The Church sets what you expect of your loved ones and what they expect of you. The power of the Church over you is the power they have over the people you love.

That is the power of the Church.

bearyb said...

Paul (Part 1),

Thank you again for your response. I'm afraid this will take at least two parts as well... probably three.

Yes, it is easy to say that the words of Church leaders are the words of men. In some cases, they probably are. But God has chosen to lead His Church through His chosen spokesmen, so I'm not sure what else we should do, or where else we should look for divine leadership. It is important to remember, however, that He has not left us alone in our reception of such counsel. We have always been promised a means of confirmation, if we are able to receive it. In fact, we are (ironically) commanded to ask Him if we lack such wisdom, in more than one place in the scriptures.

You referred to a talk by Boyd K. Packer titled "I Want to Obey." Did you read it? I think it makes very good points about the balance of authority and agency and other things, but I especially like the following illustration:

If you feel pressed in and pressured and not free, it may be for one of two reasons. One, if you have lost freedom, possibly it has been through some irresponsible act of your own. Now you must regain it. You may be indentured–indentured to some habits of laziness or indolence; some even become slaves to addiction. The other reason is that maybe if you are not free you have not earned it. Freedom is not a self-preserving gift. It has to be earned, and it has to be protected.

For instance, I am not free to play the piano, for I do not know how. I cannot play the piano. I could quickly prove that, but I think it may be a mistake on your part if you ask me to. The ability to play the piano, the freedom to do that, has to be earned. It is a relatively expensive freedom. It takes an investment of time and of discipline. This discipline begins, as discipline usually does, from without. I hope that you do not have contempt for discipline that originates from without. That is the beginning. A parent usually presses a youngster to practice the piano. But somewhere, it is hoped, practice grows into self-discipline, which is really the only kind of discipline. The discipline that comes from within is that which makes a young person decide that he wants to be free to play the piano and play it well. Therefore, he is willing to pay the price. Then he can be free from supervision, from pressure, from whatever forms of persuasion parents use.


At any rate, consider just the title alone - "I Want to Obey." That sounds exactly like what Christ said when He was entering the most difficult time of His life.

And I wouldn't characterize the meaning of this blog post as talking about "how to silence personal dissent." The title stated it was about how to deal with it, not silence it. It recognized that dissent happens and is a part of life. We will never all agree on everything all the time. It simply encouraged caution in expressing it, and suggestions on how to deal with it.

bearyb said...

Paul (Part 2),

Part 2 of your response was very thoughtful and articulate, thank you.

I have not experienced many of those losses you described so well, but I have thought of them. I know those losses can be and are very real and painful for those who have gone through them. Ironically, many of them are exactly why some don't join the Church in the first place - they fear they would (or could) lose all those things by converting to the gospel. Joining the Church, especially for those who may be adults and well-established in life is likely most often a life-wrenching decision, and certainly life-altering. A careful study of Lehi's Dream illustrates many of the outcomes of choices indviduals make once they are introduced to the gospel.

There are times when I've had my doubts, for sure. In the past, I've usually let time pass and continue to do what I've always done all my life. (I'm a life-long member, my parents having joined after their first two of eventually seven children were born.) My doubts have always been dissipated as I have continued to feel the Spirit in my life - not constantly, but enough to keep me "in the way." I have recognized that until I really try to fully live the gospel, which I've never been perfect at, I can't honestly say I've given it a fair shot. So during those times of doubt I try even harder to do what I know I should, just to see if my doubts have any basis. I have always come out feeling closer to the Lord on the other side.

I have to share this: Last Sunday in Fast and Testimony meeting, a young sister (married only just last summer) told of how she and her husband try to daily read their scriptures and pray together. Except the previous evening she had been upset at him and didn't want to read the scriptures when he suggested it, because,as she said, "I knew it would bring us closer together, and I didn't want to be close to him just then." They ended up reading together eventually, and they did grow closer. I thought it was interesting that she knew what the outcome of studying the scriptures would be, and precisely for that reason didn't want to do it!

bearyb said...

(Part 3)

To answer your question though, yes, I would agree that going against our true beliefs "muddies our consciences and integrity." But we need to be careful to compare our beliefs with truth before we call them "true beliefs." And what if our beliefs are contrary to God's commandments? How great the importance, then, of conforming our will to the Lord's!

Many tragic things happen when words are not interpreted or understood as they were intended. I know of one woman who was bothered by a certain understanding she had of scripture, for example, until she was encouraged to really read it carefully. Upon doing so, she came to a toally different understanding of what it said, instead of what she always "thought" it said, and it changed her life!

There are likely many, for example, that misunderstand the oft-spoken sacramental prayers, thinking that we are promising to perfectly obey all the commandments. That would be ideal, of course, but the prayer for the bread actually says "...and are willing... to keep his commandments..." How tragic that some might not partake because they don't think are "perfect enough!"

I know of the traditions you speak, such as the wearing of white shirts, but the Elder's Quorum president in our ward (against the preferences of the bishop) usually doesn't. I'm not sure why, and I haven't asked him. But I think he does a decent job as president of the quorum.

Regarding difficult life decisions that are sometimes made in the face of doubt - It would certainly be difficult to "go through the motions" of living the gospel for very long just to alleviate or avoid social and relationship pressures. I don't believe it would be possible to be very effective at it if done for those reasons, and I'm sure the will to do it it would eventually collapse. This is easier said than done, but I don't believe an LDS lifestyle should be attempted for social reasons, nor do I believe it should be abandoned for them.

Some attitudes in the Church are changing. For example, the latest version of the "Especially for Youth" booklet that is published by the Church giving guidelines for acceptable behavior does not direct the youth to date only members of the Church. However, it does say that whomever they date should share their moral values and standards. And while I understand why they might say it, parents that would tell their missionaries to come home either with honor or dead are not making very Christ-like statements to them (in my opinion).

Paul said...

Hi bearyb,

Thanks for your insightful comments!

I don't know if you're interested, but I'd love to correspond by email instead of bogging down Jeff's blog. My email is xochitec at gmail com.

I'll try to keep this shorter than my last one ;)

On Obedience/Freedom

Of course, any freedom we have is very limited. We are human beings after all, not supermen. However, that we are limited isn't a justification to yield up what freedom we do have.

As an occasional pianist myself, I want to illuminate that statement about piano playing. It's not discipline that makes a great pianist, it is a love of playing. The person forcing themselves to play (disliking it) will never be of any quality. And of course Packer's free to play the piano. It wouldn't sound any good maybe, but if he keeps at, it might. He's perfectly free to learn to play the piano.

He says if you are not free it is because either: you did something wrong & lost freedom, or you didn't earn it. This is a false dilemma. It is certainly possible for freedom to be taken.

It's also possible for your options to be (externally) stacked so unevenly that freedom doesn't effectively exist. (ie, renounce x or face the firing squad. Whichever way, it comes out to the same: you're not free to continue to represent x.)

Freedom is a very slippery concept anyhow.

I Want to Obey is a spooky phrase. An inherent contradiction. Very 1984-ish.

First, it doesn't specify who I want to obey. The Watchtower Society? Big Brother? The Third Reich?

Second, the concept of obedience demands overriding your own wants for what you're told. The phrase I Want to Obey is then nonsense. Kind of like the old Orwellian freedom=slavery bit. Here's a question: if you do something because it is coincidentally the same as what someone wants you to do, are you obeying them? If you disobey, it is precisely because you don't want to obey.

Third, it reduces the value of human volition to nil with four words.

--

You said:

Regarding difficult life decisions that are sometimes made in the face of doubt - It would certainly be difficult to "go through the motions" of living the gospel for very long just to alleviate or avoid social and relationship pressures. I don't believe it would be possible to be very effective at it if done for those reasons, and I'm sure the will to do it it would eventually collapse.

I absolutely, 100% agree with this. It's not effective and many go inactive for long periods of time. The Church makes tremendous demands and without a passion for it or true belief in it, the will does collapse. I have been there.

I think your Elder's quorum president probably doesn't wear a white shirt because he doesn't want his entire self and identity subsumed by the Church. It's psychologically healthy for people to feel unique.

At the base, our disagreement comes because you see the Church as the One True Church, as I once did too.

I see the Church as simply another of thousands of human organizations seeking power, therefore not meriting my obedience.

The concept of a One True Church is a deeply supernatural concept, and there is not much supernatural about the Mormon Church (or any existing church). There's a profound deficit of evidence that it speaks with God or is capable of true prophecy.

If that evidence could be provided, well then it might be a different story.

Jon said...

Paul, BearyB,

I would appreciate it if you continued posting here. I'm enjoying the thoughtful insights given by both of you. It is nice to read a debate that isn't confrontational and actually sticks to the single topic at hand. Doesn't happen very often.

Paul said...

Thanks Jon! I appreciate that.

bearyb said...

Hey Paul,

I wouldn't mind corresponding through email, but apparently there is an audience that would like to follow the conversation, so I guess it would be okay to continue here for now...

If we operate within the context of secular assumptions alone, the acceptance of human limitations makes perfect sense. But if you include statements the Lord has made that all things are possible for those with sufficient faith, the implications are vast. Limitations, then, are relative - not absolute.

Referring to Elder Packer's freedom to play or not to play the piano - I'm sure he didn't intend to imply that he was not free to attempt that activity, only that he did not then possess the knowledge and skill to do so very well. Apparently it had never held sufficient interest for him - or was never a high enough priority - for him to pay the price required to be a competent piano player.

Please keep in mind the context and intent of the discourse. It obviously emphasized subjects of a spiritual nature, though certainly physical realities were a part of it as well. The paragraph about the likely (he did say "may" and "possibly") reasons for the loss of freedom did tend to concentrate on the consequences of individual choices. We all know that some freedoms can be taken away from us by the actions of others. But we are still free to choose how we will react to even those circumstances (Consider the dilemmas of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego and the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, among others).

You alluded to this last statement with your firing squad example. But I say that your conclusion (that we would no longer be free to represent X) only holds merit in a world where death is considered the absolute end of individual existence. Even then, many secular causes have been born or rejuvenated by the actions and perceived intentions of those who have given their very lives for them.

The phrase "I Want to Obey," in the context of Elder Packer's discourse, obviously meant to convey the willful desire to obey God. I'm not sure why you listed the other causes you did.

Then you said, "...the concept of obedience demands overriding your own wants for what you're told. I don't think that is necessarily true. Examples of obedience in order to obtain certain outcomes are everywhere around us. If we want those outcomes, we have to observe the requisite procedures to get them. Certain requirements for a given outcome may change with time and increased understanding, but obedience of some kind or another will always be required. Think of travel in all its forms, or the learning of a new skill or the creation of a product. All are accomplished by obedience to certain laws (or theories).

Finally, you stated that "There's a profound deficit of evidence that [the Mormon Church] speaks with God or is capable of true prophecy." There is obviously a difference in the way you and I would define the characteristics of true prophecy. I consider, for example, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," as well as "The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles" to both be very prophetic, as they plainly lay out gospel principles so that there can be no confusion. One of the roles of prophets is to speak plainly of Christ and the gospel, and all true prophets have always spoken of the reality and Atonement of Christ and taught gospel principles. As well, you may find any number of prophetic statements in General Conference addresses. Where would we be as a church if we didn't have and acknowledge their continual guidance?

Paul said...

bearyb,

Thank you for your comments again!

You said: .. all things are possible for those with sufficient faith ..

This statement sets people up to expect miracles, then blames them (for faithlessness) for their failure to appear. As a missionary blessing the sick, some faithful people then declined medical care because they 'knew' the blessing will cure them. Did the handcart disaster victims lack faith? They 'knew' the Lord would preserve them until their arrival, as they were promised.

You said: The phrase "I Want to Obey," in the context of Elder Packer's discourse, obviously meant to convey the willful desire to obey God. I'm not sure why you listed the other causes you did.

You say obvious, but I believe it means 'I Want to Obey (the Brethren)' and I'm sure there are members who'd agree. I wanted to highlight the fact that, as a disembodied title, it is utterly stripped of context. Devoid of the crucial questions: Who to obey? Why obey? By not acknowledging the existence of those questions in the title, they appear unimportant to the author. Why didn't he name his talk "I Want to Obey the Lord," if that's what he meant. Of course he would have. It's more precise and without the robotic subtext of 'I Want to Obey.'

You said: Finally, you stated that "There's a profound deficit of evidence that [the Mormon Church] speaks with God or is capable of true prophecy." There is obviously a difference in the way you and I would define the characteristics of true prophecy.

Wiktionary: Prophecy: A prediction, especially one made by a prophet or under divine inspiration. By extension, I think true prophecy is prophecy that has been revealed to be accurate through the course of time. There are more definitions, but this is one definition that the Mormon Church does recognize, since prophets have long predicted [often incorrectly] the future, calling it prophecy.

You said: One of the roles of prophets is to speak plainly of Christ and the gospel, and all true prophets have always spoken of the reality and Atonement of Christ and taught gospel principles.

Here, I think you've fallen into circular reasoning saying that prophecy is what prophets say and that a prophet is someone who says prophecies.

The fate of those handcart companies is powerful evidence against true prophecy in the Church.

Contradictory that the Church:

- claims divine guidance
- does not claim infallibility
- demands obedience as if it were infallible
- claims prophecy but disavows failed prophecies

How can all these be reconciled?

(Encycl. of Mormonism under prophecy says something like true prophecy can only be known in retrospect. What kind of prophecy is that?)

-

Imagine what true prophecy of a One True Church would really mean.

First, a couple quotes you know well:

-As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river .. as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.
-But if any of you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God, .. and it shall be given him.

Now, consider what the prayer might be, for example, of parents of a child with leukemia in a One True Church with real access to divine knowledge:

Please inspire the prophet with the cure or therapy to heal our child.

Imagine then a prophet furiously copying down chemical symbols, genetic sequences, all the knowledge the Lord knows and has promised to reveal, then turning these over to the researchers. Imagine a prophet warning of 9/11, Pearl Harbor, Hitler's rise, specifically. A prophet revealing the German ciphers early in WW2. A Church with access to true divine knowledge would absolutely change the course of world history.

But true divine knowledge, not fortune-telling.

bearyb said...

(1 of 2)
Paul,

Thank you. Sorry I am not able to respond very quickly to your comments, but I try to get to them when I can.

I can't presume to know you very well, but it appears you have left behind not only the Church (LDS), but all things faith-based. As balanced and opend-minded as I try to be, I must admit that I tend to approach things from a scriptural and faith-based background. My phrase that "all things are possible for those with sufficient faith" is based on biblical teachings (and BoM teachings, and latter-day teachings...) - not my own ideas. You use the words "set people up to expect miracles" as though it were something that should be avoided. I disagree that the expectation of miracles should be avoided. It is that very mindset that rejects them as miracles when they do happen, and the reason stated by the Savior in one place where He could do no miracles because of the unbelief of the people. (Incidentally, our recent Stake Conference had "Miracles" as its theme.)

Anyone who would blame others for the failure to have miracles manifested in their lives, judging such as lacking faith, does not acknowlege the hand of the Lord surrounding our situations. Anyone who likewise would request a blessing of healing and then sit back to wait for a miracle to happen does not understand the meaning of faith.

Many times where "faith to move mountains" is mentioned in the scriptures, it is accompanied by the qualifier that it would have to be in accordance to the Lord's will. There is mentioned places where the Lord has granted unto certain individuals (I can look them up if you want) incredible power that "whatsoever they should speak will be done," but it is because He knew they would not speak anything contrary to His will.

It would be helpful to read President Henry B. Eyring's address in the recent April Conference titled "Mountains to Climb" for more on faith and trials.

You say that the titular phrase "I Want to Obey" was stripped of context, yet you admit that you believe it meant to convey desire to obey "The Brethren." That perspective doesn't seem any more or less likely than any other you listed until the discourse is read. Then it becomes obvious what was intended.

How much understaning can anyone hope to have about anything if they stop at "the title?"

bearyb said...

(2 of 2)

On prophecy - rather than cite a wiktionary definition and say that it is one the Church recognizes, I prefer the definition stated in the LDS Bible Dictionary as being a more accurate representation of the Church's view (since, after all, it is an official publication of the Church).

Prophet: The work of a Hebrew prophet was to act as God’s messenger and make known God’s will. The message was usually prefaced with the words “Thus saith Jehovah.” He taught men about God’s character, showing the full meaning of his dealings with Israel in the past. It was therefore part of the prophetic office to preserve and edit the records of the nation’s history; and such historical books as Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings were known by the Jews as the former Prophets. It was also the prophet’s duty to denounce sin and foretell its punishment, and to redress, so far as he could, both public and private wrongs. He was to be, above all, a preacher of righteousness. When the people had fallen away from a true faith in Jehovah, the prophets had to try to restore that faith and remove false views about the character of God and the nature of the Divine requirement. In certain cases prophets predicted future events, e.g., there are the very important prophecies announcing the coming of Messiah’s kingdom; but as a rule a prophet was a forthteller rather than a foreteller. In a general sense a prophet is anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost, as in Num. 11:25–29; Rev. 19:10.

Your characterization of some of my thoughts as "circular reasoning" doesn't make sense to me. By "always spoken" I did not mean that everything prophets say is prophecy, but I would say that no true prophet would neglect testifying of Christ and the truthfulness of the principles He taught, as well as warn of the consequences of disobedience to those principles.

As for the handcart companies, what exactly were the "prophecies" that "failed?"

And what do you mean by the Church "not claiming infallibility" and yet "demanding obedience as if it were infallible?" The very title page of the BoM allows that there could be mistakes within it, and yet cautions against condemning the things of God.

The perspective of hindsight when identifying true prophecy I would imagine applies mostly to those on the receiving end, not to the prophets themselves. Only after it was too late, for example, did the warnings of Ether begin to make sense to Coriantumr.

Your scenario portraying what you feel might be the result of the prayer of parents belonging to a "One True Church" regarding their child with leukemia assumes many things that I do not, namely - 1) True, sincere, heartfelt prayer for matters of personal interest is not the sole privilege of the members of any particular church; 2) Divine knowlege likewise is not reserved for individuals of any particular professed faith (which church did Joseph Smith belong to when he had his First Vision?); 3) The result of such a prayer cannot be predicted in general terms, especially for hypothetical situations. Would you say that evidence of divine knowledge would only be extant in such a case if a healing, or cure, were the result? Things don't always work out the way we want them to. But they will always, eventually, be worked out the way they are supposed to - and usually even better than we could have hoped for. At least, that is the hope I have based on the prophecies contained in the scriptures.

Finally, it is my belief that a Church with access to true, divine knowledge has already changed the course of world history, and in fact will save the world from being "utterly wasted" at the time of the Second Coming, as is spoken of in D&C 2:3.

bearyb said...

I think there is something else I'd like to add in response to your final few thoughts about how divine knowlege could change the course of history. There are many, many examples in the scriptures where reigning kings (those who had the power to command armies and affect the course of nations) were made aware of prophetic directives and warnings. Some heeded such instruction, but most did not.

Is there some reason you think that a "true prophet" would (or should) be accepted on his word alone, and that all concerned would be more than happy to act based on whatever he might say? In other words, what do you really think might have happened if such specific warnings as you mentioned would have occurred?

I wonder what your own response would be if you were in such a position of command over armies and were approached by a "true prophet" offering his counsel? From what I have gathered from our discussion, you seem to have some issues with obdience to "divine guidance." How would you determine what to do?

Prophets have warned us of "wars and rumors of wars" for a very long time. Historically (in the scriptures), the Lord has both intervened and not intervened in the conflicts of men. I cannot claim to know His purposes - even after the fact - of His choices about whether to do so or not. There are some scriptural accounts given about the Lord allowing men to perform acts that will testify against them at the judgement, but there is no way I would even try to guess at the extent of such allowance or judgement.

Paul said...

Thanks bearyb, for your responses. I'll probably break this up, responding to each of your comments in turn.

To your first response:

I suppose I'm agnostic.

Millenia of human history shows the question of God's existence to be probably unprovable by human reason. That said, I've seen miracles -- claimed by LDS, Catholic, Protestant and otherwise that I can't discount out of hand, nor do I want to, acknowledging that we know only a tiny fraction of what there is to know.

As a cognitive/statistical matter, human beings radically underestimate the frequency of coincidence (see the Birthday Paradox), often attributing supernatural causes, or simply misunderstand natural causes or cause-and-effect (Magical Thinking). As human understanding progresses we have come to understand these causes better and much of what we previously took as supernatural has been revealed to be natural, reducing the explanatory role of religion in human life to very little in favor of more effective explanations of how the world works. This, of course, is a much larger phenomenon than simply Mormonism.

So then it comes down to faith.

By chance, I was born into the Mormon 0.2% of the world population. Numerically, what's the likelihood that's the One True Church? I did nothing to merit that, surely I'm not one of 0.2% best people in the world/preexistence. On numbers alone, it's not likely *at all*, especially since there are thousands of religions, all claiming superiority to all other religions (else why would they exist).

If you accept that the Lord wants humanity to know Him through a One True Church, and is willing to intervene to establish and grow such a church, then it's unlikely that the LDS Church is it. It simply doesn't have the reach of the Catholic Church, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. For better or worse, it seems Islam is the stone rolling forth to fill the earth.

You say you believe in miracles, but do you only believe in LDS miracles? What about stigmata, or weeping Virgins? What about the miracle of the Quran? Do you believe those or accept those? How are LDS miracles qualitatively different than those?

I don't want to get distracted redefining prophecy and miracles. I think the accepted English definition of these includes a verifiably supernatural component, but it doesn't matter. The key question the LDS Church must confront is this:

The LDS Church claims to be the One True Church. In what way, observable by non-believers, is the One True Church qualitatively different from other religions that it has dismissed as Myriad False Churches?

This is important, because converts start as non-believers, and many members lose their belief. Do you see the problem? All claims to be the One True Church appear to be tenable only by people who already believe it --- an argument in circles.

On miracles, I don't think you expect miracles in your day-to-day life. You don't expect miracles to get you to work, you expect science and technology to. Why weren't the handcart folk simply teleported to Utah? (More on them in a subsequent response) Hyperbole and metaphor aside, have you ever seen a real mountain move through faith?

Paul said...

bearyb,

(Part 2/2)

Regarding prophecies failing for the handcart companies, this is from the wikipedia page:

One of the returning missionaries, Levi Savage, urged them to spend the winter in Nebraska. He argued that such a late departure with a company consisting of the elderly, women and young children would lead to suffering, sickness and even death. All of the other Church elders argued that the trip should go forward, expressing optimism that the company would be protected by divine intervention.

The handcart design itself was designed by the Prophet of the Lord, Brigham Young included a (typically) hickory axle - "without a particle of iron," he wrote. A disastrous design decision because the axles ground away over the trip. It's a shame true divine knowledge was not available here, it cost them a great deal, even lives. A far cry from the plans supplied for Noah's ark or the Jaredite barges.

You said:
And what do you mean by the Church "not claiming infallibility" and yet "demanding obedience as if it were infallible?" The very title page of the BoM allows that there could be mistakes within it, and yet cautions against condemning the things of God.

Don't you see a contradiction? The things of God containing mistakes? God mistaken? The first edition BoM contained many mistakes, spelling, grammatical and otherwise, most of which have been fixed now, presumably by editors of mere worldly knowledge.

You said:
Things don't always work out the way we want them to. But they will always, eventually, be worked out the way they are supposed to - and usually even better than we could have hoped for.

This is an interesting statement, intriguing but I don't believe it at all. It's very optimistic, but bad, even horrific things do happen to fine people and even to members of the Church. Do you think a young mother laying her family, her dead children to the side of the handcart trail in Wyoming feels things can ever turn out better than she hoped? All she has left is her faith (with whatever consolation that is) and to pine for the next life to come.

On one hand, you've mentioned that we should expect, rely on the expectation of miracles, on the other, you acknowledge that they don't always come. They don't. This is why we don't rely on them.

You mentioned that military leaders wouldn't take the advice of the Lord's prophets into battle. Not now they won't, because the track record of prophecy from any faith is poor. However, if one particular sect established a real track record of specific, verifiably correct predictions of the future, then people would listen!

I briefly want to revisit the idea of the One True Church in this age of the internet. At this same time that we are on the web having this discussion as Mormon and ex-Mormon, there are people having almost this exact same discussion as Catholic/ex-Catholic, JW/ex-JW, Muslim/ex-Muslim, Baptist/ex-Baptist, and on and on. I thought about that reading through an ex-JW board the other day. I laughed outloud at one thread because if you replaced Mormon for JW, it would have fit exactly.

That's the illusion. That the Church is somehow unique, somehow special, somehow true in a world of falsehood, but people everywhere are making these exact same arguments to defend any creed you can think of, saying their creeds are unique, special and true.

bearyb said...

(Part 1/3)

Paul,

Sorry so long in replying...

It is interesting that you brought up statistical analysis in this venue. It is also interesting that it was a substantial part of Jeff's most recent blog entry "And Their Numbers Were Few." I don't know if he may have read your response here and was inspired to reply there, but it is what it is. Anyway, apparently you agree that the truth of a matter has nothing to do with its popularity on one hand, and on the other you state that in order to meet a prophetic goal it must obtain some minimum degree of popularity. (I think I'll try to respond to this under that particular blog entry.)

Jeff already mentioned something about the improbability of our existence, and you mentioned something about the improbability of various Church-related claims. But coming back to this entry, you stated something I'd like you to more seriously think about: "... we know only a tiny fraction of what there is to know."

If people paid attention to scriptural claims about the "knowability" of God, it would not take them millenia to figure out that His existence cannot be proved by human reason. Only human reason would raise such a question in the first place.

It does come down to faith.

You claim there's nothing you did to merit having been born into the Church. How can you be absolutely sure about that? In Alma 13:4-5 it refers to our being on equal standing "in the first place" (which has reference to the pre-existence), but then the privileges of some became greater than those of others through their faith.

Ironically, it is your numbers that would tell me that we are more likely on the right track than the other great religions of the world. The only times I can remember numbers being mentioned regarding any "true church" or probable adherents to gospel taught by Christ, they were always in the "few" category. Clearly, the "stone rolling forth to fill the earth" should be thought about in some other way than absolute or even relative numbers.

bearyb said...

(Part 2/3)

As far as the "brand" of miracles I believe in - be they LDS or any other (and I might point out that none of the miracles mentioned in other than the D&C or current publications would be strictly "LDS"): I would have to say that true miracles (in a religious sense) would have as their purpose the strengthening of faith in Christ as our Savior, though more correctly I suppose it should be stated that they would be the result of faith in Christ. Other unexplained phenomena happen, but I'm not sure what category to put them in.

The best "observable" difference I can think of that sets the LDS Church apart from any other religion is our claim to the priesthood as conferred in the manner that Christ conferred it during His ministry. The only way a non-believer could observe anything about this claim is by studying the biblical writings on the subject and comparing it to what they see practiced in any church they might care to study. Obviously, the eastern religions you mention would not conform to this kind of study, at least I am not aware of any claim to any kind of priesthood on their part. What would be lacking to a non-believer, however, is the true significance of such a claim.

Back to miracles - What I experience as miracles is mostly based on my point of view. I do expect miracles in my day-to-day life. Life itself is a miracle to me, as is love, forgiveness, change of character, any of our senses, and the fact that we have enough intelligence to even have conversations about these things. Any of those are more important to me than watching a mountain move (which I have not, as yet, witnessed).

Regarding the handcart companies - "expressing optimism" for an outcome does not rise to the level of prophecy, in my opinion. We are allowed to make their own decisions, and are even allowed to make bad ones. We cannot and do not expect the Lord's protection from the consequences of bad choices. What kind of growth would this life provide if all obstacles and stumbling blocks were taken out of our way for us? Do you think it a wise course of action for parents to remove all possible "bad things" from their children's lives? How or what would they then learn?

bearyb said...

(Part 3/3)

Regarding the title page of the BoM, what it actually says is, "And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ." Where in there does it say anything about the things of God containing mistakes? It is not until you add people into the equation that mistakes appear. Perhaps that is why Joseph Smith referred to it as the "most correct book" and not "a perfect book." The point of that last sentence on the title page, to me, cautions against rejecting the entire work because of some human error that might be in it. So, sorry, I don't see the contradiction to which you refer.

And I stand by my statement that things will, eventually, work out the way they are supposed to. Otherwise God is not a just God. Just because we may experience things here in mortality that seem unfair does not preclude them being worked out eventually. That is the ultimate promise contained in the scriptures and testified to by prophets. It is one aspect of the peace we are promised when we seek to live by Christ's teachings.

If I said that we should rely on the expectation of miracles, I was mistaken. We should rely on the Lord, who can do all things. If a miracle happens, it happens. If it doesn't it doesn't. Our decision to be or remain faithful should not hinge on whether or not a particular miracle we expect to happen really does or not. As you said before, we don't know all there is to know...

You talked about the "track record" of the efficacy of prophecy from various faiths as being one reason military leaders would be reticent to believe any of it. I wonder how many of them have ever even tried or desired to believe? Faith precedes the miracle... The scriptures are full of examples of victory and defeat attributed to faith or lack thereof.

You said that "if one particular sect established a real track record of specific, verifiably correct predictions of the future, then people would listen!" You really think so? I have my doubts. Personal righteousness is not built on the "track records" of others, and there are plenty of examples that demonstrate that knowledge alone is not sufficient to change behavior. (How much more "verifiable" evidence do we need to produce of the hazards of smoking before it will be eliminated in this world?)

The idea of a One True Church makes perfect sense, if you agree that Christ taught that only through His name and by following what He did can anyone be saved. (Did any other prophet-leader even make such a claim? I don't know...) Obviously, that would eliminate many of the world religions from the start. For the rest, who claim belief in christ, it rests on correct interpretation of what He really expects us to do, and the will and authority to do it. Of course, this is just the way I see it, while an adherent to Islam would obviously differ in their opinion. The only course I'm aware of as to how we can tell which is the correct path to follow is to try it, do it, live it. The scripures promise that as we do, the truth will be made known to us.

Tim said...

bearyb - I appreciate your comments. I thought they were insightful and articulate.

Anonymous said...

I am so impressed with the discussion here. You are all well spoken/written people and it is refreshing to read a respectful debate. I agree with everything written by Tim and bearyb so far, but I don't mean that as a put-down on anyone else. Great topic, great discussion.

Senzee said...

Hi bearyb,

This is Paul, but I'll probably go ahead and log in using my blogger account, since I've noticed that there are other Pauls who post here.

Thanks for your response, sorry I just noticed it. :/

You said,

If people paid attention to scriptural claims about the "knowability" of God, it would not take them millenia to figure out that His existence cannot be proved by human reason. Only human reason would raise such a question in the first place.

I'm not sure what you mean by this. You first have to establish the truth of scripture to use it to establish the truth of other things. And that truth has never been objectively established. (That is, to people who don't already believe it.)

You said,

It is also interesting that it was a substantial part of Jeff's most recent blog entry "And Their Numbers Were Few." I don't know if he may have read your response here and was inspired to reply there, but it is what it is.

I think we all accept as fact that we exist, as improbable as it may be. But because we all accept it, the improbability of our existence becomes irrelevant to this discussion.

bearyb, or Jeff, correct me if I'm wrong, but it seemed to me that the argument was that the improbability of our existence coupled with the fact of it makes the improbability of the Church being the One True Church actually become more probable? This doesn't make any sense to me.

You said,

Ironically, it is your numbers that would tell me that we are more likely on the right track than the other great religions of the world.

If being few makes a church truer, then the FLDS would be truer than the LDS, no?

You said,

The best "observable" difference I can think of that sets the LDS Church apart from any other religion is our claim to the priesthood as conferred in the manner that Christ conferred it during His ministry.

I don't think this claim is unique. I think the Catholic and/or Eastern Orthodox have stronger claims here. There's the FLDS, Strangites, AUB, other sects with roots in the latter-day saint movement, etc. with that same claim. Also, other denominations (ie, the Jehovah's Witnesses) have their own criteria, that from an outsiders' perspective may appear equally or more compelling. After all, how do you show that the LDS actually HAS the priesthood and that the others don't?

Because the LDS Church is a proselytizing church, to convert, you MUST be able to show something about the church to persuade prospective members to make that leap of faith, to get down on their knees for a witness. We live in a more educated world than ever, where a good part of the sum of human knowledge is available to anyone with a smartphone. To an outsider, what is it that makes the church divine?

If I had known the answer to this, my job as a missionary would have been far easier.

In the 1800's a charismatic young man having a bible-esque book he'd translated was enough to convince people. Later James Strang actually produced his Voree plates, drawing many people with him. In the mid-1500's much of Mexico was converted to Catholicism by the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who 'left behind' the famous image painted on a cloak. Serving my mission in Mexico, I found this account incredibly compelling.

In any event, for those 'miracles', it's hard to argue that any of them were supernatural now, but in those days, they were revolutionary!

But .. faiths live and die on their ability to convince outsiders that they are legitimately divine.


(part 2 coming)

Senzee said...

(Part 2/3)

You said,

Regarding the handcart companies - "expressing optimism" for an outcome does not rise to the level of prophecy, in my opinion. We are allowed to make their own decisions, and are even allowed to make bad ones. We cannot and do not expect the Lord's protection from the consequences of bad choices.

The handcart migration was organized/encouraged by the Church leadership, Young received divine inspiration to lead the saints west and designed the carts. I think this is a case of blaming the victim. To me, this comes directly back to the subject of the post. It's not fair to strongly discourage (ie, by ostracization) dissent and then blame those who don't dissent for not dissenting. The Church made disastrous planning mistakes that killed people, while claiming divine inspiration, and people followed.

Unless you're infallible, you have no moral right to expect unquestioning obedience.

Or as someone once said (don't know who):

When someone demands blind obedience, you'd be a fool not to peek.

You said,

Regarding the title page of the BoM, what it actually says is, "And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ." Where in there does it say anything about the things of God containing mistakes? It is not until you add people into the equation that mistakes appear. Perhaps that is why Joseph Smith referred to it as the "most correct book" and not "a perfect book." The point of that last sentence on the title page, to me, cautions against rejecting the entire work because of some human error that might be in it. So, sorry, I don't see the contradiction to which you refer.

The hallmark of divinity is perfection, the LACK of the error that characterizes humanity, natural man. Early editions of the BoM were rife with grammatical errors. (B.H. Roberts: "Many errors, verbal and grammatical, have already been eliminated in the later English editions, and there is no valid reason why every-one of those that remain should not be eliminated.") How can you ask someone to believe the divine origin of mediocre human craft? Especially in the light of the magnificent feats of biological engineering we can attribute to God; that are so far beyond us?

The BoM does not ring of divine craft, nor even of superb human craft. The hand that created the human brain should be able to create a grammatically correct text.

You said,

You talked about the "track record" of the efficacy of prophecy from various faiths as being one reason military leaders would be reticent to believe any of it. I wonder how many of them have ever even tried or desired to believe? Faith precedes the miracle...

I know that at some point the US Federal Government seriously investigated the effectiveness of supernatural phenomena. That said, I doubt they had much faith in it.

I recently watched an episode of Our America with Lisa Ling that followed faith healers and a paralyzed man full of faith who hoped to walk again. It was an emotional episode and unfortunately, (unsurprisingly) the man was not healed. I wrote a story about a similar, very disappointing experience in my own mission called Gangrene (Caution: not faith promoting).

Senzee said...

(Part 3/3)

You said,

The idea of a One True Church makes perfect sense, if you agree that Christ taught that only through His name and by following what He did can anyone be saved. (Did any other prophet-leader even make such a claim? I don't know...) Obviously, that would eliminate many of the world religions from the start. For the rest, who claim belief in christ, it rests on correct interpretation of what He really expects us to do, and the will and authority to do it. Of course, this is just the way I see it, while an adherent to Islam would obviously differ in their opinion.

To me, it doesn't seem that there is such a thing. If there is a One True Church, perhaps it is Christianity as a whole, or more believably perhaps, the Western and/or Eastern Catholic church that claim direct lineage from (mortal) Peter. Even from this starting point, there are still several leaps of 'faith' to believe that if there is a One True Church, that it is the Mormon church:

- was there really an apostasy? (why would Christ come only to have the truth be lost again?)
- did Smith and Cowdery really receive the priesthood from John the Baptist/Peter/James/John?
- was Smith not a fallen prophet (as some groups believed)?
- did Brigham Young really have the same authority granted to Joseph Smith, was he the true successor?

Ironically, it's not faith in Jesus Christ that you need to accept these as given, but faith in something else.. the Church, I suppose--or the missionaries, or your parents. There are a lot of questionable links in this logical chain that ends in the Mormon Church being the One True Church.

The only course I'm aware of as to how we can tell which is the correct path to follow is to try it, do it, live it. The scripures promise that as we do, the truth will be made known to us.

Should we live all the paths to make such a decision? Catholicism, Pentacostalism, Islam? That's not feasible or possible for most people.

Most people simply believe what they were taught to believe.

Thanks bearyb, it's been an engaging conversation so far.