Recently someone very dear to me let me know that although he has a strong testimony of God, he has been questioning his ability to participate in the Mormon church, because many of his beliefs in God and experiences have lead him to perspectives that contradict some of the cultural ideas in the church as well as what authorities have said. My purpose in the next few blog posts is not to blame him, but rather to hypothesize that many Mormons can deeply sympathize with his positions. I want to respond to him in these posts by looking at the various concerns that he raises and asking what we as church members can do both to make our church more open to questions and when we face our own doubts. Today, I want to begin to think about the process through which church truths emerge.
One of my friend’s concerns is that he has difficulty sustaining church leaders, because these leaders often represent ideas that he finds problematic – particularly ideas about the role of women and minority cultures. However, what I want to ask is to what extent are these leaders actually responsible for promoting these ideas as truths and to what extent do we make leaders responsible for the very complex processes, often beyond their direct control, through which our church as a system raises some doctrines to the idea of truth.
Although leaders say many things, only parts of what they say actually become elevated within our church to principles that the majority of members take as doctrine. Whereas on rare occasions leaders might claim that what they say is revealed doctrine, the majority of the time it appears to be a much more arbitrary process by which their stories gather that type of weight. I want to hypothesize that much of the time, members themselves participate in deciding what messages become authoritative through practices as diverse as continuing to cite certain sayings in sacrament talks or cementing these sayings within the needle point crafts that adorn many Mormon homes.
If this hypothesis is correct, then it leads me to conclude that the process that makes doctrine carry weight is often not isolated to the relationship between an apostle and God, but rather the authority to elevate claims to truth is often dispersed amongst all church members. In that case, I believe that church members must turn not only a historical eye towards some of the “truths” conveyed in church, but also find themselves in a position of immense responsibility as they become agents in disseminating what counts as truth. For me, it is an exciting possibility, and one that makes me think more generously of church leaders, realizing that the claims they make take shape in the complex relationships they have with members of the church.
Incidentally, I stopped my blog, Mormon Rhetoric, for a time while writing on BCC. Although I am continuing to post on BCC, I invite readers to return to my original blog for a more diverse range of posts.