Lowered Expectations

MAD TV used to have a running gag called “Lowered Expectations,” which was the name of a dating service for the, shall we say, less than desirable. They showed clips of dating profiles from various outlandish people. It was a funny bit. I like that title, and think that therein lies the key to happiness in the Church.

I have a friend who a couple of years ago experienced a crisis of faith. He is of a scientific bent of mind, and his issues all revolved around science. I asked him what his issues were, and although I cannot now recall the complete list I remember that the first couple of items were evolution and a global flood. When he finished his issues, I felt a flush of anticipatory excitement, as I realized that I agreed with all of his newfound positions. So I thought, “This is going to be easy.” But I was quickly disabused of that notion. He had had a self perception as a thoroughly orthodox, conservative Saint. I told him “No big deal, you’re just a liberal Mormon like me.” But he didn’t want to be a liberal Mormon. I thought maybe the passage of time would ease his feelings, but after a year or so I asked him if he had come to terms with his newfound views, and he gave me a one word answer: “No.” He still goes to church for the sake of the family, but he’s an empty shell of his former self.

So that caused me to wonder. On a list of scientific issues, we had identical opinions. Yet I perceived myself as a faithful, believing, active member, and he perceived himself as some class of a heretic. What was the difference?

It’s all a matter of background expectations.

I’m involved in apologetics. I spend a lot of time trying to help members who freak out over some new thing they’ve learned about the Church. And the bane of apologists is what I call fundamentalist (small f) assumptions, by which I mean assumptions of prophetic infallibility and scriptural inerrancy. Even though the Church does not formally or officially accept those notions, as we all know they are informally held by many, many members. And while they may sound good in principle when expressed over a pulpit, they leave people who accept them in a bad position whenever they learn that such assumptions aren’t sustainable. And while some members go their entire lives and never have such a problem, anyone who is intellectually curious will eventually find out for herself that those assumptions aren’t true. And if she has held to those assumptions, breaking them is a serious problem.

I was raised without those particular assumptions, for which I largely credit my father. To name one example, I recall when I was a teenager we had a couple who were both pursuing master’s degrees in English team teach us for SS. I liked them; they were young and interesting. And in one class they made a big deal out of claiming that the BoM was grammatically perfect, and that that was some sort of evidence for its divine origin. I mentioned this to my father (who was a professor of education at the same university), and he just laughed and said that was ridiculous. I remember feeling mildly scandalized at his cavalier attitude towards my teachers at the time. But in retrospect, I can see that he gave me a great gift; the gift of a certain amount of healthy scepticism over wacko faith claims.

Sometimes your starting point is as important as the finish line for determining how you are going to react to difficult, newfound knowledge. We seem to have the idea that putting the Church high, high up on a pedestal is a good thing. In my experience, we would be better off if we could “lower expectations.”

Comments

  1. Pedro Olavarria says:

    Good points Kevin. Whats the saying? No antimormon can do as much harm as a mormon who teaches something that isnt true?

  2. Sadly, because the pervasive attitude in the Church is that the Prophet and Apostles are de facto infallible there is little hope of most members developing lower expectations, though I agree wholeheartedly with the idea.

  3. He’s “an empty shell of his former self”??

    Does he agree with your assessment of him?

  4. Very interesting, Kevin.

    I recently listened to John Dehlin’s interview with Richard Bushman over at the now-defunct Mormon Stories. One of the things Bushman said in the interview (paraphrasing broadly here, from memory) was that a certain type of absolute personality is vulnerable to being “flipped” (my language, not his) from believing absolutely everything about the church and defending it ardently to disbelieving it all and attacking it. He said he didn’t know what to do about that sort of personality.

    I wonder to what extent we’re imbibing dangerously absolutist notions like inerrancy and infallibility from our immediate political and religious landscape. Many have noted changes in emphasis toward grace and away from works and away from more uniquely Mormon ideas that were more prominent in the nineteenth century. (Whether that’s good or not, on the whole, is of course an entirely different discussion).

    The story you tell of the man who couldn’t come to any kind reconciliation strikes me as sad. (Of course I’m not a scientist, and science isn’t my particular issue, so that’s easy for me to say, I’m sure.) There’s always the classic move to redefine devotion in terms of practice rather than “orthodoxy” in issues like evolution and the age of the earth, but clearly this guy just couldn’t make that kind of move. And while I don’t share his issues and I’d draw the lines very differently, on some level that makes sense to me. I’d be very hard pressed to surrender my belief in the atonement, for example, and still consider myself Mormon.

    Perhaps we can see the church as, like Christ, at once fully human _and_ fully divine?

  5. I dunno if “lowered expectations” is the descriptor I would use — something more along the lines of “seeing things as they really are” or “not looking beyond the mark,” maybe. But I certainly agree with your observation that our initial assumptions certainly color the way we interpret new knowledge. If we’ve built our faith on false perceptions of the gospel, then (unless we’re good at adapting) it will all collapse under us just as if it were built on traditional apostate misperceptions.

    I’ve been able to adapt better than some, I think, because I’m more willing to believe that *I* might have been mistaken originally than some are.

  6. Aaron Brown says:

    It can be very difficult to overcome deeply-ingrained notions of what orthdox Mormonism is. Even if you’re intellectually capable of excising silly religious notions from your past from your current faith. I’ve considerably reworked my own conception of what being a Mormon entails, given the religious environment I grew up in. I find much of that environment to be downright silly, and often pernicious. I have absolutely no doubt that other pathways and approaches to Mormonism are superior to what I was raised in (and I say that as someone who has lots of doubts about most everything). But there is still a part of me — maybe a part that will always be here — that viscerally feels like the Mormonism of my youth is the “real thing,” while we Bloggernacle-types are dealing in something not quite authentic, merely making the best of an awkward situation, putting dress and makeup on a pig, as the saying goes.

    Part of me knows that’s not really true. But then there’s that other part …

    AB

  7. Terrakota says:

    We seem to have the idea that putting the Church high, high up on a pedestal is a good thing. In my experience, we would be better off if we could “lower expectations.”

    They need to include it in the missionary discussions. When I was baptized, I thought that the Church was absolutely perfect because Christ was the Head of it. And then came the reality.

  8. Henry Eyring (Senior), in “Reflections of a Scientist,” talked about not teaching our children scientific falsehoods in the name of religion. His message was, basically, that if we teach our children that the church teaches that the earth is 6000 years old, there’s a good chance they’ll go to college, learn about the overwhelming evidence that it’s much older, and “throw the baby out with the bath,” (throw the gospel out with the notion of a young earth).

  9. Natalie B. says:

    This is a situation that I very much relate to. I have always been comfortable with having a lot of questions about my faith — in fact, I love discovering new questions to ask — so I have never needed to leave the faith over an issue, because I never believed the church was a perfect place to begin with. However, a close relative of mine was always used to seeing the church as a “perfect” entity. When he encountered his first questions later on his mission and in college, he didn’t know how to handle them and eventually went inactive for a time. We have many of the same questions, but because I was more comfortable asking them, I am the one who has stayed most active.

  10. Natalie B. says:

    #6 — I agree. For better or worse, my parents’ brand of Mormonism continues to define for me what I think of as authentic Mormonism.

  11. Nobody’s going to be adding an “inoculation” chapter to _Preach My Gospel_. Don’t ignore Kevin’s reminder that he’s an apologist. He does important work for people trying to negotiate whatever divide they’re facing at the moment. I personally love attending both FAIR and _Sunstone_ conferences in August. And I get to see Kevin at both.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 3, another way to put it is that the church used to be a source of great joy to him, and now he just seems profoundly sad in the church context.

  13. BJ Slocum says:

    I think we need to be anxiously engaged in what we know. I have had revealed to me certain things that are true. These things I hold on to. From reading and other means, I have learned of things that that are interesting but with no confirming witness I could not stand at a martyr’s wall.

  14. I’m fascinated by this idea of intuitively authentic Mormonism. I wonder to what extent our first experiences with Mormonism set the standard against which other forms are judged. Would the sentiments Aaron and Natalie express be equally likely to be true of converts’ first experiences with and understandings of the church?

    I think one of the reasons I’ve never had issues with religion and science (other than the big obvious one, which is that I’m not a scientist) is that my father was a scientist who considered religious denigrations of evolution, for example, to be an abomination. (Now I would think that’s overstating it considerably, but that’s the worldview I imbibed.) Similarly, while I don’t remember much discussion of particulars my mother told me that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, and I always got the impression that there was more to church history than appeared in the lesson manuals. So that’s my authentic Mormonism, in which rejections of evolution (for example) seem, intuitively, not orthodox, but rather fundamentalist. A related data point: a few years ago I announced in casual conversation to a friend that I just wasn’t going to Enrichment Night anymore, it wasn’t my thing, I wasn’t enjoying it, it seemed better to stay home. I was astonished when she rebuked me and called me to repentance and told me I needed to attend all of my church meetings. In retrospect, the reason I was astonished was not that her position, while quite hard-line, was completely indefensible, but that in the home in which I grew up Enrichment Night and ward activities were completely optional. Not the least whiff of obligation attended them. (On the other hand, my mother disliked motorcycles, and as a child I somehow got the impression that motorcycles, like coffee and tea, were against our religion. So there you have it–my personal authentic Mormonism. Evolution yes, polyandry yes, Enrichment Night no, motorcycles no.)

    I really get the emotional pull of authentic Mormonism. I feel it too, in my idiosyncratic way. But I also wonder to what extent it’s an artifact of the kinds of narratives we have about faith. Interestingly, it’s precisely the opposite sort of narrative that the stages-of-faith theory constructs, in which you get more authentic and advanced as you go along. Or maybe the two theories describe different kinds of authenticity–the authenticity of childlike faith, on the one hand, and the authenticity of intellectual maturity, on the other.

    I’m not crazy about stages of faith theory. But I wonder too about the pull of a primal authentic Mormonism. If the first faith is the most authentic, it seems we leave ourselves nowhere to go but into apostasy. So to speak.

  15. Margaret (#11), I get why there’s not going to be an inoculation chapter in Preach My Gospel, but I wonder how much anguish we could spare people by communicating more directly about the real, human fallibility they’ll inevitably encounter in day-to-day interactions with local church leaders and members. I’m not thinking of any elaborate intellectual exercise here. Something more along the lines of, “Christ restored this church. This is the church of God on the earth, and this church has the authority to act in God’s name. But that in no way means the people and leaders of this church are infallible. More specifically and practically, sooner or later you’re going to get offended by something someone says or does at church. You may be deeply hurt, and you may be strongly tempted to leave. People, Mormons included, are sometimes offensive and ignorant. (And for the record, sooner or later you yourself will offend someone else.) This is the reality of not yet being perfected saints. When this happens we work things out together, we forgive and repent. But don’t think for a moment that a rude thing someone said in the hall or the political remark over the pulpit or the YW’s president who’s involved in shady financial dealings or the fact that your bishop turned out to be having an affair negates the reality and truth of the Atonement and the Restoration.”

    Well, OK, I’m not crazy about my own phrasing there–I sound way too preachy and overbearing–but it would have been really helpful to me to learn something like that somewhere along the line.

  16. Kevin: he just laughed and said that was ridiculous

    Hehe. I suddenly feel better about reacting in similar ways to some of the stuff my Beehive tells us she hears at church.

  17. I think inoculation has to come; it’s just a question of when. I just taught seven 17-year-olds. No need to tell them about falibility. I just want them to hang on. I want them to take things seriously. I did indeed tell them this morning that THEY are in the group which begins the big fall-off in Church activity. If you see the stats, it looks like a big pit when we get to this age group and move up to 25-year-olds. I think there are multiple reasons.
    As for me and my house–my kids have grown up with some issues just in the air. (Race, obviously…) My biggest concern, at this point, is to let them know that I’m in this church because I genuinely love it. At my core, I am absolutely Mormon. Even though I would say “I believe” rather than “I know” before several statements in a traditional testimony, I believe in this church, the goodness of its effort and its people, and I long to have these young people find something to love about it.
    So, I’m at a different place today than Kevin is, since I’ve been dealing with young people–several of whom are spiritually at risk. I am not going to tell any of them to lower their expectations, but rather to lift up their eyes.
    As I think about it, several have seen and experienced things they should have been spared. I hope to be part of a team which builds a refuge for them.

  18. Aaron Brown says:

    The Simonds Ryder story in Gospel Doctrine from a few lessons back was a great opportunity to talk to the class about the importance of not having unrealistic expectations about church leaders (which I did). Too bad the manual writers missed the opportunity, instead seeing it as yet one more chance to drone on and on about “not criticizing our leaders.” Sigh.

    We need to stop repeating the don’t-criticize-your-leaders mantra ad nauseum and start integrating the human elements of church leadership into our teaching better than we do. The result of constantly beating the our-leaders-are-beyond-reproach dead horse is that we send the message — intentionally or unintentionally — that we shouldn’t criticize our leaders because there’s simply nothing to criticize.

    Finally, the result of maintaining and enforcing taboos in this area causes many to think that the only “real” reason a churchmember would want to discuss our leaders’ human foibles is as part of an effort to construct arguments that rationalize disobedience. It’s hard for many to even imagine that one might have other, better motivations.

    AB

  19. I of course don’t know this for certain, but I suspect that there are many, many members of the Church who adapt (without much trouble, at least in terms of crises of faith) throughout their lives in relation to outworn fundamentalist ideas they had previously believed. (I wonder if some here might be underestimating this possibility.)

    I feel like I was raised with more-or-less fundamentalist ideas of Mormonism (at least this is how I interpreted them) and beginning in college I completely adapted in a way that only strengthened my core beliefs. I realized that other areas of uncertainty are hardly the hills I want to die on. At least at BYU, I think the majority of students have similar attitudes, to varying degrees, and usually without becoming “liberal” or “scientific.” I also see this in the ordinary folks from my hometown. From my experience, there is a growing, healthy awareness that there is a goodness and truthfulness to the Church that pervades one’s past interpretation of certain details.

    The way I like help people with this: Tell them to be careful to not mistake the branches of the tree for the trunk and the roots. A branch can be snipped here and there, but it’s the same tree. In fact, it can be the very thing to help loftier branches to grow. (In this way, there can in fact be “greater expectations”–still, I get Kevin’s point.)

  20. It would be interesting to make a list of “wacko faith claims”. I’m sure it would be interesting and be good for a few laughs.

    I’ve never really paid too much attention to the conflict between science and religion. After reading Kevin’s post I wondered how it is that scientist like the Eyring’s are able to deal with these issues. For that matter, how do any of us deal with the conflicts between our specialty and religion?

    I would hazard a guess that religious experience is the way for most. There is nothing like having a “thin veil” experience to close the door on the conflict between “whatever” and religion.

    Based on my experience, church member have the blessing of accessing the gift of Holy Ghost if they will make a sincere effort.

    According to the scriptures this is what the Lord would have us do (Moroni 10:4-5) and He has given a miracle to help, in the form of the Book of Mormon.

  21. I don’t really like calling this sort of thing “lowered expectations.” Instead, I prefer to think of it as cultivating humility. The leaders or doctrine, under this scenario, aren’t failing to live up to some objectively achieved high standard; instead they are failing to live up to my subjectively enforced high standard. I am fairly certain that god doesn’t require perfection of us (in behavior or knowledge) in order to get his work done; perhaps we shouldn’t expect it of each other. In any case, I wouldn’t label this “lowering expectations” so much as I would label it “admitting that just possibly you don’t have everything figured out just yet.”

  22. Thomas Parkin says:

    I sat in the Gospel Principles class today and we had a wonderful, Spirit filled discussion about honesty. A member of the Stake Presidency had spoken earlier in Sacrament. He had said something like this … “many of you who have only seen or known me only a leadership position in the church may have a view of me, that I am a particularly righteous man, that isn’t true. Trust me that other people people have only seen me when I was being a jerk, because at times I’m far too competitive, and they have an incorrect view of me, as well …” (“Jerk” was the word he used.)

    I’m thankful for a father who taught me that no question was the wrong question, and that all questions will find their answers in time, if sought spiritually. And I’m thankful to have learned at some point that I’m not perfect, and neither is anyone else,- in fact, not even remotely close,- and that the church isn’t Zion, yet. I think if we are spending _any_ effort propping up an image, either of ourselves to others, of ourselves to ourselves, of the church to ourselves or the church to others, these images will always come at the expense of true righteousness and true learning, and deprive of us of that starting place that we could springboard from to real enhancement of ourselves and hence, by the collective individual effort of all, the church.

    */end sermon* ~

  23. Kevin, this is a great post. I think so in part because working in science I’ve had friends leave the church or become just as you describe because they believe there is no space for them in the church. I have been considered unfaithful be some because of my belief in evolution. I get sad at the dogmatism and GA worship that disallows meaningful discourse about the possibility that they might be wrong in their scientific (political, racial, name your poison) understanding. There is an expectation of infallibility that while not claimed formally, is widespread and harmful.

  24. Oh, I loved this article because I feel so alone sometimes in the way I believe and wonder why so many LDS are so narrow minded when this same gospel has taught me to be open minded. I wouldn’t call it lowering your expectations, I would call it having realistic expectations. We should expect human imperfection, we’re human.
    I love the gospel even more after learning more of Joseph Smith and his “humanness” because it explains why I, being the imperfect person I am, can and have received personal revelation for my own life. The prophet was the same, not perfect, just good enough to be a prophet and receive some marvelous revelations and restore gospel truths. I admire him more as a complex human being than as some perfect being. As for science, I don’t see any conflict between science and religion. There is room for human misunderstanding and primitive explanations of phenomenon in religion, and if we accept that, we’re fine. I might not know all the answers, I just trust they’re there. I look at how poor Galileo was so abused by the church of the time for saying the sun was the center of the solar system, because they thought that was a threat to their belief in God and the creation. No one seems to have issues with that anymore, do they? Because the threat to their belief was self imposed. Nothing in the Bible really says the earth couldn’t orbit around the sun, does it? Science helps us understand God more, not negate his existence.

  25. One thing that has helped me to negotiate these issues is to focus on the hope of the future. I think about “what could be”, instead of “what is”, or “what was”. Perhaps a kind of temporary “lowering of expectations”. I look forward very much for the bride of Christ to “come of age”, or “be prepared to meet Him”… That hope is tempered by the reality that adulthood is preceded by childhood, including teenage years. I learned a great deal from my youth, often through the mistakes I made. Are there any among us that don’t have some awkward or embarrassing experiences as teenagers? I have great hope and high expectations for the Church in the future, but for me it is hard sometimes to be patient during what I see as “growing pains”. In my case, maybe the issue is the cultivation of patience. I don’t know if this is the best way to handle it, but for now, it seems to work for me, and I am able to feel good about my service to that end. In short, I try to look at the Church as a teenager, with a bright and glorious future.

  26. Nothing to add, I’ve just enjoyed this thread and can relate to a lot of it.

  27. Even when I come face to face with “doctrine” that makes no sense to me, I know that I belong to this church because this is where Heavenly Father wants me to be. I sustain our leaders, both local and otherwise, because I have no idea which were called by God and which were called for convenience. I wouldn’t say my expectations are low, just reasonable.

  28. Isn’t titling this post “Lowered Expectations” going to confirm all the worst suspicions of the fundamentalist crowd that liberal Mormons are simply selling-out?

    Personally, I’d prefer to be more positive, and go on the offensive, and call all the Mormon neo-orthodox people heretics.

    Much more catchy. And fun to boot!

  29. Bro. Jones says:

    #28: Neo-orthodox. I like that. :)

  30. Kind of like “neo-conservatives.” But more pious-looking.

    And less stealth bombers.

  31. jjackson says:

    I think that “lowered expectations” is an appropriate description. It’s also really sad. The thing I miss the most about the faith I had as a younger person was the certainty, the idea that I could completely throw my energy behind something that was unassailably good, undeniably God’s one and only truth.

    My expectations have been SERIOUSLY lowered, and it’s a sad, sad thing.

  32. I also miss being tucked in at night, and not having to worry about paying for health insurance.

  33. CS Eric says:

    I like Ardis’ point of view, that it may help to think I’ve had a mistaken idea about a given subject. I would rather go to bed at night thinking that I have learned something new and am therefore smarter than when I woke up than to go to bed at night thinking that evey bit of my worldview has been confirmed and that I have nothing left to learn.

  34. While serving as a missionary I wrote an unofficial chapter for the missionary guide called “create the concern” -a spin on the official “resolve the concern.” I figured that struggling through concerns would force people to be decisive. Perhaps I was on the wrong track. Concerns will always come up, but what I am hearing for Kevin is that accurate background assumptions are critical issue. Though I concur with AB that incorrect assumptions are a hard habit to break. Real hard.

    I too vote for neo-orthodox.

  35. Really great post and discussion. A quote from this talk by Neal A. Maxwell related to this thread jumped to mind. After looking it over again I decided to just link the whole talk…not as the “authoritative word by a GA” or to make some conversation-killing point, but just because it’s a good’un:

    http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=7085

  36. Hi. The church is a force for good on earth. It is perfectly acceptable to throw your weight behind it. It is perfectly acceptable to have faith in the organization. You can do this even when accepting its flaws. Even if there are flaws here or there, most of the Mormons I have encountered have been good people, all of the leadership with whom I have had dealings have been wonderful, and the funeral potatoes are out of this world.

    I refuse to lower my expectations if it means assuming that the world and the church along with it is going down the drain. There is plenty to be optimistic about within and without the church.

  37. Struggling says:

    While I agree with Kevin’s original post, I think it is important to distinguish between two different situations. The first is our expectations of the church and its members and leaders. I agree that those who believe in near infallibility are at risk when they encounter all of the evidence to the contrary. For those people, it is probably true that they need to lower their expectations so that they can accomodate the human frailty of their leaders. That is a hard thing to do when our children are singing “Follow the Prophet” and when those who voice any kind of disagreement are often considered heretics. The church itself fosters the very mindset that Kevin appropriately criticizes. We also lack a good explanation of what it means to be a prophet seer and revelator if those prophets seers and revelators are quite capable of revealing error on occasion, rather than truth.

    However, issues such as the apparent conflicts between science, or secular knowledge in general and church doctrine are not really a matter of reducing our expectations. For example, I belive that we are doctrinally committed to a literal Adam and Eve. I still have not seen a persuasive reconciliation of that doctrine with science. I know that there are many faithful Mormons who seem to have found a reconciliation, but so far it has eluded me. I don’t think that the problem is that my expectations are too high.

  38. One can believe in a local flood, accept evolution, etc. etc. without being a liberal Mormon I think. (I’ve not read the comments yet, so I don’t know if anyone else latched onto this point)

    I think a lot of FARMS folk are pretty conservative theologically but reject some of the McConkie styled theological speculations. It’s unfortunate that there is a false dichotomy put out there that one has to either feel comfortable in the Sunstone crowd or the McConkie crowd but that there are no other choices. (Not that you are making that claim in the least – but I sense that your friend is)

  39. Now to the comments.

    Ardis (#5) I think this is dead on. The “absolutists” get caught up on looking beyond the mark. There have been several talks on this (including several by McConkie).

    Aaron (#18) I don’t think the “don’t criticize your leaders” message is at odds with the “leaders are fallible human” message. I think one of the great tests each of us will face will be how to deal with a leader who is making some screwed up decisions but is still a righteous person and then figure out how to sustain them. I’m pretty convinced that the “don’t criticize” and “don’t backbite” messages are important. The problem is that a few (although I don’t think anywhere near the numbers some claim at various blogs) treat “don’t criticize” as “treat as infallible.” But that simply doesn’t follow. And I’ve heard this actually discussed pretty clearly in every ward I’ve been at. (Indeed it was discussed in both Sunday School and Priesthood in my current Provo ward today)

  40. I think lowered expectations are the key to happiness in life, period.

  41. I wonder how the Q12 could communicate that many/most of them believe in evolution* without causing the Adam/Eve-literalists to leave the church. Or would they then be looked upon as the “fallible leaders”?

    *Sorry, I can’t reveal my sources. But it’s true.

  42. Eric Russell says:

    It seems to me that most spiritual crises involve unrealistic expectations of some sort, to include those outside the church, ie. athiests who refuse to believe in God becuase they cannot believe that God would allow so many bad things happen. It always seems to come down to an individual’s refusal to accept that the church/reality/God is different than how they think it ought to be.

  43. The Church spent seventy some odd years getting into this predicament, it no doubt will take nearly that many to get out.

  44. Mack Samaha says:

    “People, Mormons included, are sometimes offensive and ignorant.” Sometimes, classic…

    I don’t think I’ve posted before but I’ve been looking in from time to time and always like what I see.

    I had similar concerns regarding the 6000 years thing and Adam and Eve when I was a YSA and I remember discussing it with my YSA fiends who mostly used the argument: “seeing as the earth is made up from matter unorganised, it stands to reason that the fossils we see and the age of different rocks are simply from other planets that Earth was made up of” (I’m sure you’re aware of that old chestnut). I disagreed and came to the hypothesis that evolution is a reality and the earth is much older than 6000 years and that God obviously had a hand in it. It wasn’t until recently (I’m 32) that I came across Nibley and others who had been saying the same things for years. This helped me out heaps.

    I considered myself a moderate Mormon for a long time and it seems as though I’m becoming a liberal more and more. I agree with “lowering expectations” it makes sense as the expectation is of perfection, anything else is less! Although doesn’t this less-than-perfect state of our leaders really emphasise how good they (the good ones) are? I mean, sure a perfect leader acts perfectly right? But how does an imperfect leader act?

    Mack.

  45. Peter LLC says:

    I think lowered expectations are the key to happiness in life, period.

    True; I suspect you would find yourself pleasantly surprised much more often.

  46. Clark #38- Indeed. I was starting to self-identify as a Sunstone-type Mormon… until I read through their conference schedule for this year. No way in hell am I a Sunstone Mormon, I decided.

  47. Henry Eyring (Senior), in “Reflections of a Scientist,” talked about not teaching our children scientific falsehoods in the name of religion.

    The notion that the earth is the center of the Universe came from Greek Philosophical Science, not the Bible, and it always saddened me that there were great conflicts over the concept when it was disproved — a false science that became a religious doctrine that became a crisis of faith for some people.

    Too often we do things like that to ourselves, in spite of a text that does not require our conclusions (do fundamentalists actually read Genesis and how Noah’s family discovered other peoples and divided the land with them according to their languages — well before the Tower … ).

  48. I wonder how the Q12 could communicate that many/most of them believe in evolution … err, by starting a discussion of how the Church financed Talmadge to do a series of lectures on evolution to convince the members that the Church did not take one side or the other on the topic.

    From there I would move to Nibley (who believed in pre-adam mankind, though he did not think much of evolution as a theory, he did not stick the literalism viewpoint either).

  49. For a long time I have struggled with the lowered expectation that England would never again beat Australia at Lord’s. On days like this #45 is absolutely true. I love Fred Flintoff.

  50. gomez,
    I am going to the temple tomorrow to be sealed to Freddie. Wonderful stuff, although from about 3pm yesterday until midday today, I felt physically ill.

  51. Jonathan M. says:

    gomez, Ronan, no more lowered expectations, at least when it comes to cricket. As an Englishman living in Australia, truly these are days never to be forgotten. Truly, Heavenly Father is just! I can see it now…April Conference 2025 as (English convert) President Flintoff is appointed to the First Presidency….

  52. John Mansfield says:

    A key piece of education for me was reading the Doctrine and Covenants during my second year of seminary. Page after page the members of the Church were being told that the way they were doing things needed to improve. They were the original “Latter-day Saints,” and they were being told to repent of one thing or another constantly. The obvious lack of perfection in my own ward wasn’t an anomaly; it was part of the pattern of the kingdom of God on earth!

    On the other hand, an elders quorum instructor once opened a lesson with a couplet (to which purpose I can’t recall): “Don’t sweat the small stuff. And it’s all small stuff.” That’s the way many feel about everything, but I share the notion that transcendent religious claims (heavens opened, life and salvation, endowment from on high, resurrection and eternal life) don’t match so easily with a shoulder-shrugging “maybe so, maybe not” response.

  53. Or maybe we should be raising expectations? Showing the youth and others a theology that is relevant in a world of serious ideas? I think many youth are leaving the Church because what they learned in Primary seems laughable–they never got a mature and serious gospel. So let’s start teaching them better theology and accurate Church history from the beginning. Evolution, genetics, history, and the whole gamut of human learning should be taught as fun fields of exploration and part of the glorious earth and history that the Lord encourages (actually commands!) us to be involved with as we grow in our ability to love and serve.

  54. Kristine says:

    Ben (46)–I suspect you’re not alone in that experience this year. I was a bit stunned myself.

  55. 18 – To echo Clark, I didn’t have the same reaction when the Simonds Ryder story came up in gospel doctrine (or when I read the manual). Given the context of the story (leaving the church over a misspelled name), I think that Aaron’s point of not having unrealistic expectations of our leaders was implicit in the discussion of avoiding criticism. I don’t think it had anything to do with there being “nothing to criticize.” Clearly, Simonds Ryder had something to criticize. It was just stupid and small. Had Mr. Ryder simply read any of Joseph Smith’s other writings, he would have realized that his (JS’s) poor grammar and spelling knew no bounds (see, e.g., Joseph Smith Papers v. 1).

  56. teancum says:

    Lowered expectations works great for marriage, too.

  57. kumquats in clover says:

    Whenever the subject of people leaving the church comes up in priesthood or Sunday School, I often will say the following:
    1. People tend to leave the church because they become disillusioned.
    2. People become disillusioned because they have illusions of what the church is “supposed” to be.
    3. It would behoove us individually to shed our own illusions, but to tread very lightly around other’s illusions.
    4. The best way I know to shed our illusions is to read what I call the white pages in our scriptures. For instance, when we recently studied the forgiving nature of the prophet Joseph in priesthood, I pointed the class to the first few verses of section 121, wherein the prophet in effect “sics” the Lord on his enemies, and commented that this is our example of a forgiving man. Everyone seems to be very familiar with the sublime verses toward the end of Section 121, but we don’t linger over the opening verses. I contend that it may well be that the agony and despair of the opening verses were essential to the realization of the profound truths that we have memorized and hold so dear. If we turn a blind eye to what we find in our standard works of scripture, it is no wonder that we harbor illusions of what the church is, or rather what we wish it to be.

  58. Ben (#46)

    You can still be a Sunstone Mormon, you just need to lower your expectations. Kevin Barney has some thoughts along these lines, just scroll up. :)

  59. Nicely put kumquats (#57). It drives me crazy that we spend so little time at church actually reading and discussing more than a few of our favorite scriptural or GA quote chestnuts.

  60. Bro. Jones says:

    #53 Interesting thought. As a veteran Primary teacher, I treated each lesson independently depending on the pace of the kids and how much they wanted. Sometimes we really could spend 45 minutes just talking about how it’s good to be nice to your siblings. Other times, the kids would ask questions like, “What’s going on with Jacob and Leah and Rachel?” or “How come Jacob got to fool his father and that was OK?” If I had strictly followed the book, I would’ve just read the manual answer (which often excises “controversial” or mature-audience details)–instead, I would go through the “real” story in the actual scriptures with the kids, ask them what they thought, and give them my own opinions.

    Never got any complaints from parents.

  61. Bro. Jones says:

    By “as a veteran Primary teacher” I meant “I’ve spent ages teaching Primary,” not “I’m an expert.”

  62. Very wise post.

  63. Thanks Bro. Jones (#60). I like your approach. Sometimes I’m afraid Primary is too often a place where kids sing songs, have a story time, and eat candy rather than where they are taught how to partake of the fruit of the tree of life. Sometimes we aren’t even giving them gospel milk anymore, just candy!

  64. Kevin, et al,

    So, are you telling me that my elder’s quorum president’s wife’s testimony of some “all natural, cure-all vitamins and minerals” is NOT infallible, either? I suppose you’ll say that the MLM structure wasn’t inspired of God, either? ;)

    I believe that JFSmith Sr, through BRMcConkie felt they had to drive certain conclusions as doctrinal (hence the strong titles for their books: Doctrines of Salvation, Mormon Doctrine, etc).

    Thankfully, our current leadership does express that not everything said is doctrine. Also they are focusing on true doctrine under Pres Packer’s direction. It is nice to listen to conference and not have to hear speculations and ramblings.

  65. Many folks have a penchant for viewing all things as a zero-sum game. You win, or you lose. I got turned down by Amanda for the Junior Prom, so I am a perennial loser. I got the starting quarterback job in high school, so I am destined for great success in life. The church is true and perfect, or the church is sham because my bishop drinks diet coke and votes democratic.

    Strangely enough, this school of thought seems to work for the winners, but not so much for the losers.

    In reality, we ought to be more concerned about the journey than the destination. If we pay attention to what is happening around us, our quality of life can be so much better, and we still are moving towards our ultimate destination. It’s only when we take every stumble or difficulty as a terminal event, that we start to lose our way.

    I’m not sure that is exactly diminished expectations as much as having a flexible world view that includes the church. Some people just seem predisposed to the zero-sum thing.

  66. kumquats in clover says:

    “Nicely put kumquats (#57).”
    This is the first time I have posted anything and actually received acknowledgement of my existence. Thank you, Rob.

  67. The Middle Way Mormon

    - Our leaders are somewhere between “completely infallible” and “just expressing opinion with no room for revelation”

    - Evolution is somewhere between the “work of the devil” and an explanation for “no need for God”

    - Various meetings are somewhere between “absolutely necessary” and “completely optional”

    The list goes on and on. It has rings of Buddhism to me, which I like.

  68. Bro. Jones says:

    #68 Make tithing and WoW somewhere between “required” and “optional” and I’ll join your Middle Way LDS Church, Brother Mike.

  69. Terrakota says:

    When people struggle over science vs. religion, I ask them to turn to the pasts science. Here is a list of some absolutely ridiculous and now funny claims that were made by famous people of the past. So, when scientists claim that they have figured out something, and it contradicts my religion, I don’t have any problem with it, because in some 50 years a lot of current scientific claims will be revised, if not abandoned. Though, if it will turn out that the Church was wrong on something – so let it be. So, here is the list (just a few):

    Invention – “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
    Charles H. Duell, commissioner of the US Patent Office, recommending that his office should be abolished (1899)

    Computers – “I think there is a world market for about five computers”.
    Thomas J. Watson Jr., chairman of IBM (1943)

    Planes – “Heavier-than-air flying machines are fantasy. Simple laws of physics make them impossible.”
    Lord Kelvin, president, British Royal Society (1895)

    Nuclear – “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.”
    Albert Einstein (1932)

    Electricity – “Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.”
    Thomas Edison (1889)

    Planes – “There will never be a bigger plane built.”
    A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin-engine plane that holds ten people

  70. I enjoyed this post and the thought-provoking discussion. I like the point that putting the Church on a pedestal can prove to be ultimately more destructive to faith than faith-promoting. And my experience, like that of many here, is that a bit of skepticism can be a crucial component of maintaining one’s faith (not to mention one’s sanity).

    I do, however, have some reservations about the “lowered expectations” model. When people express feelings of deep hurt and betrayal over encountering things which shattered their faith, I cringe to hear it suggested to them, as it sometimes is, that they were too naive and believing, that they should have known better than to swallow all of that infallibility stuff–despite having heard it in church every week, and being repeatedly told that doubt is an evil to be avoided. This isn’t really a response to you, Kevin (I can’t quite imagine you responding to anyone in such a fashion!) or what you’re saying here–but it’s a dynamic I’ve seen often enough to make me a bit wary of the framework. I do see it as helpful in terms of making us think about our communal responsibility in nurturing faith–but I also think it runs the risk of leading us to take people’s individual concerns less seriously (e.g., “she just left the Church because she was too foolish to have realized which things you’re actually supposed to believe.”)

  71. Terrakota says:

    Does anyone know the letter of Bruce McConkie to Professor Eugene England about teachings of Brigham Young? Apparently, some time after he wrote the letter, Bruce McConkie was convinced that he didn’t interpret B. Young correctly, and he shouldn’t had written the letter the way he did (stating that Brigham Young taught false doctrine). But I wonder if the other things in the letter are still the way we should look at the Church’s leaders (at least I hope so). There is no such a thing as constructive criticizing. Here is the quote from the letter:

    “Nonetheless, as Joseph Smith so pointedly taught, a prophet is not always a prophet, only when he is acting as such. Prophets are men and they make mistakes. Sometimes they err in doctrine. This is one of the reasons the Lord has given us the Standard Works. They become the standards and rules that govern where doctrine and philosophy are concerned. If this were not so, we would believe one thing when one man was president of the Church and another thing in the days of his successors. Truth is eternal and does not vary. Sometimes even wise and good men fall short in the accurate presentation of what is truth. Sometimes a prophet gives personal views which are not endorsed and approved by the Lord.”

    “This means, among other things, that it is my province to teach to the Church what the doctrine is. It is your province to echo what I say or to remain silent. You do not have a divine commission to correct me or any of the Brethren. The Lord does not operate that way. If I lead the Church astray, that is my responsibility, but the fact still remains that I am the one appointed with all the rest involved so to do.”

    “Now you know that this does not mean that individuals should not do research and make discoveries and write articles. What it does mean is that what they write should be faith promoting and where doctrines are concerned, should be in harmony with that which comes from the head of the Church. And those at the head of the Church have the obligation to teach that which is in harmony with the Standard Works. If they err then be silent on the point and leave the event in the hands of the Lord. Some day all of us will stand before the judgment bar and be accountable for our teachings. And where there have been disagreements the Lord will judge between us. In the meantime if we want to save our own souls we need to strive with all the power we have to be in harmony with the revelations and not to be teaching or promulgating doctrines that suit our fancy.”

  72. Hello?

  73. I come from an absolutely absolutist background. In the past couple of years, however, I’ve become considerably more intellectually/spiritually curious, and have begun to “see things as they are” as Ardis stated. Fortunately, I’ve been able to find and connect with other curious people who have helped me navigate the path of taking off the rose colored glasses while at the same time not throwing the baby out with the bath water. One of the most amazing things to me about this whole process has been that instead of losing the spirit and being swallowed up in the earth for apostasy, I feel like my testimony has only deepened and allowing myself to see the church as an imperfect entity has endeared me even more to it.

  74. Lynnette (70) – good point. It’s hard to adjust unrealistic expectations to make them more realistic, and a sympathetic ear and encouragement is very helpful in the transition. Having someone tell you that you were dumb to hold your original opinion is a real roadblock to a happy adjustment.

    When I was changing my expectations, the most helpful thing was to hear a calm, believing Mormon say, “yes, I understand your point of view,” and then explain a more mature and developed point of view. I didn’t listen for an instant to people who sneered at my naivete. Well, I did listen to them, but only so I could get angry at them.

  75. Terrakota (#69 & #71),

    None of the quotations you list have any actual science in them, just certain folks’ speculation about what may or may not be possible with technology in the future. I am surprised you didn’t include Bill Gates, “Computers will never need more than 640K of RAM,” as it’s always good for a laugh as well.

    And since you’re so fond of BRM, what do you make of his teaching that the Catholic Church is the great and abominable church in the BoM, or that Negroes would never hold the priesthood on earth? If it was his province to teach doctrine, why didn’t he teach correct doctrine? Why did he need to correct himself and his published writings years later?

    Despite BRM wanting to teach otherwise, God has not asked us to forgo our own intelligence or spiritual insight just because a leader in the church teaches a particular point, whether that leader is the President, an apostle, or a local EQ or RS instructor.

  76. Amen Jon,

    And thank God for those, like Kevin, who are there to help and explain. Individuals who see the Church and its history for what it is – and yet remain – are truly valuable assets. We should honor and thank them – not push them out.

    This reminds me of a comment someone made recently in GD. They equated a recognition that our leaders (general AND local) make mistakes to breaking Temple covenants. This notion troubles me deeply. It sets people up for failure – both leaders and followers.

  77. I would point out, for those who have a negative impression of FAIR or apologetics, Kevin Barney is on the board of FAIR, and personally responds to many of the questions sent in ;)

  78. Terrakota says:

    Kari

    My point was that scientists err. One can often read in the news that scientists have discovered “X” that fundamentally changes their conception of “Y”. For example, when I was a kid, my grandmother cut out very many articles from newspapers and magazines that talked about the benefits of drinking tea and coffee – because I didn’t like them. Today, one would hardly find such an article.

    BRM – just because I liked one of his statements doesn’t mean that I’m fond of him. I’m afraid I’m not. Catholic Church… yeah, it should’ve been Russian Orthodox :).

    God has not asked us to forgo our own intelligence or spiritual insight just because a leader in the church teaches a particular point, whether that leader is the President, an apostle, or a local EQ or RS instructor.

    Isn’t it exactely what he said in the letter that I quoted?

  79. Ha, I can hear the little jingle MAD TV had for this sketch. “Lowered Expectay-ay-tions”

  80. @73. Well! Hello to you, too!

  81. So those who stop believing altogether (as opposed to becoming liberal believers) were just too rigid (or limited) in their expectations about the church?

    I feel like this theory has been discussed many times already on the Bloggernacle. IMHO, the best treatment of the question was the post Grayer Than Thou.

    To give one data point, I was never a rigid looking-beyond-the-mark type, nor was I an apathetic jack Mormon. It was just that — once I analyzed the question carefully — the evidence for the church’s truth claims didn’t stack up compared to the evidence against. Period.

    p.s. sorry to be getting in late on this discussion (aside from my comment #3), but even with the explanation (#12), I found the personal judgment of the friend incredibly off-putting.

  82. Thomas Parkin says:

    “So those who stop believing altogether (as opposed to becoming liberal believers) were just too rigid (or limited) in their expectations about the church?”

    Sometimes. Sometimes it is one thing, sometimes it is another.

    I think the parable of the sower, and the allegory of the Tree of Life, in Nephi, are the best guides we have to why some stay faithful and some do not. ~

  83. Chanson, would you say you are a typical ex-Mormon?

  84. Kevin Barney says:

    chanson, I wasn’t judging my friend. He would freely acknowledge the deep sadness he feels and the emptiness in his life now that he no longer perceives himself to be Mr. Orthodox Mormon. I wasn’t projecting onto him; this is his own self-assessment. He would love nothing more than to get back to the position he used to be in vis-a-vis the Church, but for him it’s like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube.

  85. It was just that — once I analyzed the question carefully — the evidence for the church’s truth claims didn’t stack up compared to the evidence against. Period.

    Thank goodness I’ve never carefully looked into the truth claims of the Church!

  86. Visored says:

    i think the point isn’t that most or all or whatever number of ex-mormons are those who had black-and-white, rather than nuanced thinking or whatever.

    but rather that, for whatever it’s worth, we do see members and ex-members who have this kind of thinking, and we see that whether in belief or out of belief, it is not a healthy reaction (I just don’t think it’s healthy for Kevin’s friend — whatever the case may be — to be an “empty shell of his former self.) Whatever you want to call it and however you want to describe, how is it that some become “empty shells,” or people who vehemently oppose the church in the future, while others become “liberal” or “new order” or nonmembers you never hear from again who have fully moved away?

    And is there a way to mitigate those who will think in a black-n-white way?

  87. “articles from newspapers and magazines that talked about the benefits of drinking tea and coffee – because I didn’t like them. Today, one would hardly find such an article.”

    No? Do you read the news? I just saw one today on the health benefits of coffee, and one can hardly wander the supermarket aisle without seeing all the things with green tea added to them as an “active ingredient” with health benefits.

  88. Despite BRM wanting to teach otherwise, God has not asked us to forgo our own intelligence or spiritual insight just because a leader in the church teaches a particular point, whether that leader is the President, an apostle, or a local EQ or RS instructor.

    To be fair, that is not what BRM taught. He taught that members should not propagate doctrines contrary to or beyond those those of the current apostles or try to correct what they say. In other words, study in private all you want, but don’t make a public issue out of it…

  89. Terrakota says:

    Mark D.

    Yes, you’re right. I somehow missed the reference to the local instructors in the previous post. It’s the apostles that he was talking about.

  90. Terrakota says:

    Nitsav

    Ok, let’s put it this way. I live in a tea drinking country. Everybody drinks it all the time. 20-25 years ago doctors considered it good and healthy. Period. Kids were taught to drink black tea from the very early age. Now even when somebody talks about some benefts of it, there will usually be a list of currently known disadvantages, as well.

  91. Anne (UK) says:

    fascinating and heartening post and comments. Thank you to all.

    re: 49,50,51: I suspect I may lose my recommend worthiness status if I offered to have Freddie’s babies, but the temptation is great…

  92. Kevin, I love this post! I really like your approach of trying to get the fundamentalism out of our beliefs so that our faith is less brittle.

    Lynnette (#70), I think you make a great point about not making people feel like gullible fools for swallowing fundamentalist ideas presented at church. At least from my perspective, there are no obvious cues to separate teachings like the 6000-year old earth and the Book of Mormon’s inerrant grammar from the First Vision. I would think if people are made to feel like they were overly gullible for believing in the 6000-year-old earth, then their likely response will be to take a cynical approach to everything, including what would be considered the core doctrines of the gospel.

    Aaron Brown (#6) you nailed how I often feel too. I probably read too much “Mormon Doctrine” as a kid, and I still have rooted in me the feeling that the fundamentalist approach is the only true one, and all other approaches are just attempts to paper over the truth. I wish I could rid myself of that feeling.

  93. There are two definition of the word gospel that I am aware of:

    1. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is perhaps the most comprehensive subject that we can study…it embraces all truth, wherever found, in all the works of God and man that are visible or invisible to mortal eyes…revealed and…unrevealed, whether religious, political, scientific, or philosophical…

    2. Even though Latter-day Saints use the term “gospel” in several ways, including traditional Christian usages, the Book of Mormon and other latter-day scriptures define it precisely as the way or means by which an individual can come to Christ.

    Definition 1 is so broad that there is bond to be a lot of differing opinions on a wide variety of subject that come under its canopy. The apostles and prophets can certainly have a variety of thoughts and feelings on evolution, age of the earth, issues in church history, doctrine as taught by the early brethren, and etc.

    The gospel as defined in definition 1 doesn’t deserve our best efforts because so much of what comes under this heading doesn’t impact our becoming joint-heirs with the Savior. We certainly can have lowered expectations for the many of the subjects in this category.

    Definition 2 is what all true followers of Christ should rivet their attention on. There is no need to lower our expectations here, that is, unless we are so absorbed in definition 1 that our hearts have hardened and we struggle to believe in the atonement of Christ and we view the gift of the Holy Ghost as obtainable for us, or worse–a myth.

    There is no need to lower our expectation regarding the “gospel”, as long as we’re willing believe in, and believe Christ.

  94. Lawyer Lady says:

    Chanson,

    Very well stated. I too never had the church on a pedestal nor expected infallibility from the leaders. That assumption does smack of condescension.

    Some folks, like myself, after a long and hard fought battle, just find that it doesn’t all add up. I wouldn’t summarily dismiss someone’s loss of faith (or testimony, to stick with the LDS vernacular) as necessarily being a result of having their lofty and naive dreams of the way things should be, shattered. Way overly simplistic and a bit insulting, in my opinion.

  95. #46, me too, unfortunately…I would love to go to the blogging stuff. Isn’t there some kind of annual blog get together?

  96. Low expectations says:

    The fundamental problem with the ‘low expectations’ idea is that it assumes you can’t do any better.

    If you go out to eat and the food is average and the price is high, you may leave not thinking too highly of the restaurant. Your expectations were set by other restaurants and this restaurant simply didn’t measure up.

    It isn’t very convincing when someone says, “Your expectations were too high because of the better restaurants that you’ve been to. You just need to lower your expectations and then you’ll appreciate this new restaurant.”

  97. I can’t say I agree with all you wrote but i understand what you’re trying to get across. You wrote-

    “We seem to have the idea that putting the Church high, high up on a pedestal is a good thing. In my experience, we would be better off if we could “lower expectations.”

    Generally I would agree with the idea of not putting anything on a pedestal however in this case how can a true Latter Day Saint not? From an early age you are taught things such as how members aren’t perfect but the church is and consistently hear how the church is the one true church. If the LDS church is the only true church, which i don’t personally believe, then why shouldn’t you expect greatness?

  98. damned if you do…damned if you don’t

  99. brailsmt says:

    If it is necesary to lower one’s expectations in an institution to make it palatable, why is it worth remaining a member?

    What if I am intellectually capable (thank you for this judgement of my intellectual capacity #6) of excising silly notions of mormonism, but find myself unwilling to compromise my integrity and honesty in so doing? What I if *have* evaluated these “silly notions” and read the apologists, but still could not reconcile the differences of what I had been taught my entire life with a new (lesser) view of the church? I guess, I was just intellectually incapable of accepting that we were always at war with eastasia.

  100. Which expectations should I lower?

    Question 2 and 3 of the temple recommend interviews asks if I believe that all the GAs are prophets, seers, and revelators, and if I sustain them. If I don’t believe everything they preach, because sometimes I feel they are obviously wrong, am I sustaining them?

    Even before that, there’s question one, which asks if I have a firm testimony of the restored gospel. What does that even mean, if the prophets are not infallible in speaking for God?

    President Hinckley proclaimed that the church is true, or false. You sound like you want to say that the church is sorta true, mostly, enough of it anyway, but it’s certainly not false.

    Anyway, what you’ve posted in this blog doesn’t really matter. If the President of the church, or an Apostle, was to say this, officially, from the pulpit, that would be one thing. But when a Prophet asks me to believe what he says, and someone like you says I don’t always have to, we have a basic problem.

    I think, when all is said and done, that you lack faith in the Mormon church, and you are trying to pretend that it’s okay to pick and choose which commandments to obey and which preachings to believe. When even the GAs disagree with each other, why should I believe your advice?

  101. It requires humility to face the possibility that your entire paradigm – crafted over years of effort – is essentially screwed-up. Otherwise, you’ll feel outraged at the wrongs done upon you, and the anger and resentment will drive you out.

  102. Terrakota says:

    Goldam

    Question 2 and 3 of the temple recommend interviews asks if I believe that all the GAs are prophets, seers, and revelators, and if I sustain them. If I don’t believe everything they preach, because sometimes I feel they are obviously wrong, am I sustaining them?

    Even apostles sometimes have different opinions on some subjects. So, how do you believe them all if they were to say different things. You don’t have to agree with somebody in order to sustain. For example, if a counselor to a president says, “President, I don’t agree with you, but I will do as you say” – it would mean that he sustains his President.

  103. David Kelly says:

    Kevin,

    You know as well as I do that the LDS Church condemns cafeteria Mormonism. The question is not whether the Church’s teachings are all true or all false. The question is whether the Church is what it claims to be. The Church claims to be the only religious organization on earth that is directed by God through prophets. It claims to have come into existence in order to restore truths that were lost in the centuries following Christ’s death and resurrection. The entire foundation upon which the Church’s doctrine and teachings rest is revelation through prophets, authorized by God to speak in his behalf. If a man claims to be a prophet and thus speak for God, isn’t he claiming to have some greater access to truth than non-prophets?

    If members of the church are free to reject any prophetic teaching they personally find irreconcilable with their own beliefs, then what value does a prophet have? Why would any Mormon feel the need to carefully listen and follow the counsel of a prophet? I think all Mormons can understand that sometimes people get things wrong, even prophets. However, there are plenty of examples from Mormon history of a prophet claiming to speak for God and being proven wrong. If prophets are not always right when they claim to speak for God, doesn’t the whole foundation of Mormonism come crumbling down?

  104. I understand as an gay ex-mormon academic, I probably am not welcome here, but this post really just grated on me and I have sincere questions about your approach to the fact that many of us leave the church.

    How exactly are you supposed to develop lower expectations of an institution that claims to be the Only True Church, with the Authority to do god’s work on earth? What is the appropriate level of expectation for a group that makes such grand claims?

    I will admit that I did have extraordinarily high expectations of the church when I was a member (for roughly 26 years). I expected it not just to teach about compassion and loving-kindness, but to live up to its professed ideals; I got instead a church of rules and regulations and tight orthopraxy with strict enforcement of community boundaries (that is, a community that had very rigid lines of who was acceptable and who wasn’t). I expected an ethical organization that sought to help people, to ease their burdens; I found instead an organization of obedience, authoritarianism, judgment, and abuse.

    Kevin, I don’t understand your argument at all, because it seems to me that if you need to lower your expectations of the Mormon church, that is proof that it is not an organization worth devoting your time, talents, and money to. If you’re going to commit to a religious organization, with your whole heart and with your life, why not hold it to the highest moral standards and expect it to live up to it? And if it doesn’t, or worse, as was my experience with mormonism, it violated my personal ethics and my integrity just to be a member, why NOT leave it and set out on a path more in harmony with what you see as the truth and the good?

  105. Jared E. says:

    Those are excellent questions David Kelly, and I look forward to a well reasoned response.

  106. “I understand as an gay ex-mormon academic, I probably am not welcome here,”

    You kidding? This blog thrives off those types.

    Now, if you were a straight, accountant, active Elders Quorum President, who wears a white shirt and tie EVERYWHERE, enjoys Janice Kapp Perry, Richard Lund, and quoting from Miracle of Forgiveness…

    We’d have to ask you to leave.

  107. Seth, don’t be ridiculous–no one enjoys Janice Kapp Perry.

  108. “And the bane of apologists is what I call fundamentalist (small f) assumptions, by which I mean assumptions of prophetic infallibility and scriptural inerrancy. Even though the Church does not formally or officially accept those notions, as we all know they are informally held by many, many members.”

    I wish it were true that the Church does nothing to give the appearance that it has formally and officially adopted the notion of prophetic infallibility. However, when we have Primary children chanting the mantra: “Follow the Prophet, don’t go astray,” and the Gospel Principles manual quoting the line about how the Prophet “will never lead us astray”, I think a reasonable person gets the impression that the Church does officially endorse a position of prophetic infallibility. (Wouldn’t a Prophet have to be infallible to “never lead us astray”?)

    So I completely agree that fundamentalist thinking like prophetic infallibility is the bane of apologists, but I think we may be kidding ourselves if we don’t recognize that bane as being promoted everywhere from Primary songs to Gospel Principles lessons to General Conference talks. And if we’re ever going to rid ourselves of that bane, it’s gotta start at the top.

  109. I’d like to add to the above the frequent misapplication of one of the most often misinterpreted scriptures of all time: “Whether it be from my own mouth or the mouth of my servants, it is the same.” This scripture is repeatedly misused in Modus Tollens fashion (for your prepositional logic fans) to establish that anything the Prophet says must have been said by God.

  110. #103 David & 104 Todd,

    I’ve put the prophets and the church to the test for over 40 years.

    My experience has been mixed depending on my focus. When I’ve focused on the “gospel” as defined in #1 (below) then I’ve had disappointments. However, when I’ve focused on the “gospel” as defined in #2 I’ve been astonished at the results.

    I’ve learned the Lord keeps His promises when we do our part. When I’ve repented, fasted and prayed, and sought the Lord with all my heart and soul He has answered my prayers. And on a few occasions has done so in ways that are undeniable, like get written up in the scriptures.

    I feel very sad that there is so much doubt and unbelief present in the bloggernacle among such wonderfully gifted people. Why is this so?

    I hope that everyone will change their focus and diligently seek for greater testimony and then conversion. Conversion occurs when we fulfill our baptism covenant and receive the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.
    ——————————————————————
    There are two definition of the word gospel that I am aware of:

    1. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is perhaps the most comprehensive subject that we can study…it embraces all truth, wherever found, in all the works of God and man that are visible or invisible to mortal eyes…revealed and…unrevealed, whether religious, political, scientific, or philosophical…

    2. Even though Latter-day Saints use the term “gospel” in several ways, including traditional Christian usages, the Book of Mormon and other latter-day scriptures define it precisely as the way or means by which an individual can come to Christ.

  111. Froggie says:

    All right. Let’s lower the expectation. In turn, I expect that the church, and those that claim to be communicating for God as far as expectations from me, be lowered as well.

    If I am unable to pay 10% and lower it to 7% to fit my budget, do not castigate or lecture me.

    If I am unable to hold a calling because it interferes with my midday yoga class, do not tell me I am being a disobedient steward.

    If I feel only one sacrament meeting a month suffices my spiritual needs, accept that. And do not even think about refusing my temple recommend because of this lowered standard.

  112. Ben Clarke says:

    Kevin,
    I enjoyed reading your post. It’s a little bittersweet, actually, since this is the first article of yours that I’ve read since leaving the church. During agonizing years of feeling increasingly marginal in the church for some unorthodox positions, I have thought about this topic quite a bit.
    Yes, lowered expectations might make many of us squeamish, thinking types more comfortable. However, low expectations don’t sell. I really do not mean this hurtfully, but the church is a missionary church in the business of making converts. And converts do not flock to realistic expectations and gray areas. I remember the first time I realized I couldn’t go out and teach with the missionaries. Not because I didn’t believe in the church, but because I knew that I couldn’t give the ‘sales pitch’ without scores of qualifications. And qualifications, realistic church history, and pragmatic views of scriptural errancy are hard to rally around for many who prefer their beliefs black-and-white. Best of luck, Kevin.

  113. Terrakota says:

    Ben Clarke,

    The Church is an instrument, not the end in itself. If God had superhumans to work with, then the Church would be perfect. What matters is that He had given these people the authority to perform ordinances, to orginize His Church, and to teach. And as imperfectly as they might perform the task, He accepts it, as a wise Father who gives us, His children, the chance to learn and grow without directing our every step. Children will never learn to walk if their parents carry them all the time. If you want your child to learn how to draw, you will not draw every line for him .

  114. Thanks for the post, Kevin.

  115. As noted above, although the Church does not formally endorse infallability, it does vehemently emphasize the need to obey the prophets (current, not necessarily past). If there is an irresolvable conflict between your conscience and current “prophetic” proclamations , does the Church expect you to a) follow your conscience and disobey the prophets) or b) to violate your conscience (and follow the prophets? Despite protestations here that expectations of prophets getting stuff right should be lowered, which might allow for a) to be chosen, the fact is that the typical lived experience in Mormonism is b). And the constant violation of conscience entailed in choosing b) is not acceptable to some people (though maybe only to the overzealous).

  116. In short, I’m fine with the leaders of the Church not being perfect (to say nothing of the members), but not fine with them expecting members to nonetheless follow unconditionally despite that imperfection.

  117. Froggie,
    please don’t lecture the church regarding to whom it gives recommends. That isn’t appropriate.

  118. I think froggie’s just saying that if she’s supposed to lower her expectations of the Church, that she would expect the favor to be returned.

    Maybe she is wrong to ask the Church to lower its expectations. In turn, maybe it’s wrong for folks to lecture her for not lowering her expecatations of the Church.

  119. oaxaca,
    I don’t get the impression that Froggie’s problem at this point is that she thinks too highly of church leadership.

  120. She and Kevin should get along swimmingly then.

  121. brailsmt says:

    I took a class at BYU title “Follow the Prophets”. I could go back and look at my transcript to get the course number. The entire class very clearly teaches, over the course of an entire semester, that prophets are infallible…so long as they are speaking as prophets. The funny thing is though, you can never tell if a prophet is speaking as a prophet until after the fact. But, hey! What do religion professors at BYU know, clearly this blog post should disabuse them of their errant ways. But wait! There’s more! Isn’t BYU’s board the QoT and the FP? If they didn’t want it taught that prophets are infallible, I think they might ask that that class be removed from the course offerings… Naw, that’s too easy…

  122. Kevin Barney says:

    A number of recent commenters have taken offense at the OP where, I don’t believe, any was intended. Let me try to restate my basic observation.

    I was perpexed that a friend and I had exactly the same beliefs concerning a number of issues, yet I perceived myself as a happy believer and he perceived himself as an unhappy unbeliever. Since we believed the same things, why this difference in our perceptions? I suggested that it was a function of differing background assumptions, and that my greater happiness was a function of my lower expectations. And I thought maybe people might be able to learn something from that as a way to maintain a sense of peace in an imperfect church.

    Now a number of you who have left the Church were offended because you think I’m accusing you of a lack of mental acuity to be able to handle ambiguity, and that must be the reason you lost your faith and left the Church. But I think you’re reading far too much into the OP. People lose faith and leave for all sorts of reasons. I didn’t intend to express a universal paradigm for loss of faith. I”m not for instance one of those who believes that when people lose faith, they necessarily must be engaged in some great sin. If you say you have reasons sufficient unto yourself to leave the Church, I believe you. And if yoiur particular reason wasn’t being blindsided by fundamentalist assumptions, then why are you assuming I’m even talking about you? I’m not. If you’re happy with your decision to leave, then I’m happy for you, and I’m not accusing you of a lack of mental acuity or anything like that.

    Another group of commenters has focused on how pervasive the rhetoric of perfection is in the Church, and have therefore suggested that people are perfectly justified in accepting that as a premise. And that, therefore, when they encounter less than perfection, they are perfectly justified to chuck the whole thing. Well, fine, if you’re happy with that then don’t let me stop you. But to me it is clear that all of the perfectionism stuff clearly is rhetorical, meant to express an ideal, but not actual boots-on-the-ground reality.

    Take for example the expression “the prophet will not lead the Church astray.” That comes from a specific historical context–the effort to stop polygamy. And the Church was in for the fight of its life on that issue, and a lot of people didn’t buy it, which is why there are 35,000 fundamentalists (big F) living in Utah and elsewhere to this very day. Now I personally agree fully with the decision to end polygamy, not because the prophet is infallible, but simply because it was the right thing to do. I personally believe prophets can and do err (whether that is tantamount in any case to “leading the church astray” is a semantic question). So I personally am willing to take that rhetoric with a grain of salt. But for those of you who buy into it completely, I understand your position. If anything, you’ve just proven my point–that we’d be better off moderating that rhetoric and not putting the Church on such a high pedestal, such that any perceived error or slight however minor becomes a reason to lose faith and leave.

  123. As a general principle the “lower expectations” theory of happiness is, I think, pretty well established. E.g., the reason that folks who are more well-off (in wealth, health, or whatever) aren’t as markely happier than the less-well of as you might expect them to be is that expectactions ratchet up along with their living conditions.

    In the Church, from my perspective the problem isn’t fundamentally with the rhetoric of infallibility, but the rhetoric of what is acceptable for people to believe/do. Apologists seem to spend more time than anything else addressing past statements of church leaders that are now obviously ridiculous/factually incorrect/morally reprehensible, or some combination of those. And the pat answer is that what was said in a talk, book, church magazine, or church manual was the opinion of the person and not Church doctrine. But 99.99% of what we hear from Church leaders is precisely of that kind of non-doctrinal nature.

    Lowered expectations mean an expectation that Church leaders are going to be wrong about stuff (as past history supports). That being the case, do you think that it should be socially and ecclesiastically acceptable for a Mormon in good standing to openly say they disagree with positions that Church leaders stake out (in General Conference, the Ensign, instruction manuals, etc.)? Or do you think that it is a Mormon’s obligation to not disagree or, if they do disagree, to keep the disagreement to themselves? If it’s the latter, then I think that “lowered expectations” are meaningless, since they require you to act as if you had high expectations (and act in violation of your conscience) anyway. If it’s the former, then fantastic.

  124. brailsmt says:

    @Kevin:
    There is a pervasive ideal within the church that “the church is perfect, not the members”. I cannot count the number of times that mormons have said this to me, including my parents, my siblings and people I’ve never met before. If you are stating that the church is imperfect, then you are taking a position which is a small minority in the church. Furthermore your position is in direct contradiction to D&C 1:30.

    I was taught that the church is perfect, led by Jesus Christ himself. I was taught that members are humans and have faults like any other human. This is in accord with D&C 1:30, the problem that many, like myself who have left the church, have is that this teaching is pervasive within the church. The side effects are devastating and there is no way around the issue while maintaining integrity in the teachings of the church. The side effects which I mention are that these teachings cause people to internalize struggles they are having. If you are not enjoying church anymore, the problem is not the church since it is perfect (D&C 1:30), it is your own self, you simply need to try harder (http://bycommonconsent.com/2009/07/22/expect-more/). If one cannot gain a testimony, the problem is not with the church since it is perfect (D&C 1:30), the problem is with the person that cannot gain the testimony. They either aren’t sincere enough, are praying wrong, need to repent more, aren’t ready for the answer yet, aren’t in tune with the spirit, etc… If someone has left the church, it is not because there is a problem with the church since it is perfect (D&C 1:30), it is because said person is sinning, couldn’t cut it as a mormon, was offended, etc…

    Your blog post is a neat idea, but it flies in the face of church scripture and teachings.

  125. Low expectations says:

    I don’t think that many of the recent comments were offended by the OP. Its just that the OP doesn’t make a good case for the importance of staying strongly affiliated with the church.

    When you realize that the prophets aren’t really that prophetic, there is no reason to follow them in the way that the mormon culture demands. There are plenty of other good organizations that have leaders and teachings that aren’t very prophetic.

    Lowered expectations prevent someone from becoming bitter about the church. Lowered expectations, however, justify becoming less involved in the church.

  126. #122: Kevin, it’s the Church that puts itself on the high pedestal. It believes in it’s perfection, and states that.
    I don’t think it’s just using “rhetoric”. It don’t think the Church feels you can take “with a grain of salt”, what it teaches.

  127. “What do religion professors at BYU know”
    Words to live by

  128. Uncertain says:

    I enjoyed the opening post. And I certainly think there are those who leave the LDS church because they have unrealistic expectations concerning the church. But I think this raises an important question on what kind of expectations we should have concerning an organization that makes the claims the LDS church does (i.e. one true church, headed by God etc.). And how we arrive at these expectations. Clearly it is possible to have to low of expectations. A wife who is constantly beat by her husband may stay with him if she “lowers” her expectations on what to expect from a husband. This does not mean her expectations are reasonable or logically.

    If Kevin’s policy of lowered expectations were universally practiced and taken to the extreme no one would ever convert from any religion. Which would put a damper on LDS missionary work :). What expectations should reasonably be expected from the one true church and how should we arrive at these expectations? Maybe Kevin’s friend actually had his expectations at the right level and it is Kevin that has his expectations to low for what one should expect from the one true church :).

  129. It strikes me that some of these people are echoing Kevin’s OP. Can’t have any trust in something unless it’s perfect and infallible. Once people can make mistakes, you can’t trust them at all.

    My lowered expectations don’t justify lesser activity or anything. My covenants with God , which dictate my involvement within God’s kingdom-in-training, are just as valid and binding whether my Bishop is angel or an almost-never-inspired jerk.

  130. Shi An de says:

    I think the issue is something like this.

    So, the church has a narrative. This narrative is to say the church is infallible, its leaders should be trusted (whether or not they are theoretically infallible, for all important intents and purposes, they are trustworthy), and individuals who see issues with this narrative should look at problems within themselves. This is the narrative that is pervasive throughout the culture of the church, and it is part of its success, because it engenders so much loyalty.

    And as long as people can buy into this narrative, they are ok.

    If people can’t buy into this narrative, that’s where there are problems. So, liberal Mormons and people with lowered expectations are those who deconstruct the narratives and provide alternative reasons. However, even ex-Mormons do this. The thing is the deconstruction that liberal Mormons do still allows for divinity within the church, but the ex-Mormon narrative does not.

    The liberal Mormon says something like, “It doesn’t matter that the church is teaching a false (or at least exaggerated) narrative and constantly doesn’t live up to this…this is not necessary for divinity.”

    The ex-Mormon says something like, “It most certainly *does* matter that the church is teaching a false (or at least exaggerated) narrative and constantly doesn’t live up to this. At WORST, this negates divinity…at best, this kind of rhetoric and narrative is not worthy of being bought into (for the sake of worshipping, membership, etc.,)”

  131. Low expectations says:

    Ben,

    You may have low expectations and you may someday have a bishop that is a jerk, but you still believe that the church is God’s tool and that the covenants that you make in the church have some validity.

    Many of the people that have been commenting probably have lowered their expectations well below this point. They don’t see the church as anything more than any other churches. When you are at this point, the bishop that is a jerk does make a difference because you can just as happily go to a different church or to no church at all.

  132. Andrew’s blog “Irresistible (Dis)Grace” is currently discussing this post. I put up a comment there and figured I’d just cut and paste it here (warning – long rant):

    The problem with Kevin’s position is that it’s still letting the “fundamentalists” set the agenda. We START from the position of the fundamentalists, and then tell them to “lighten up.”

    This is why “liberal Mormonism” is not going to succeed. It provides nothing to follow. It gets all it’s reference points from the “conservative” view. But it offers no new leadership. And ultimately, it’s just “settling” for something less than you had before.

    I was only half-joking in the comment-thread when I suggested that we just call the LDS conservatives heretics and be done with it.

    None of this, “your problem is that you take things too seriously.” Human experience is to feel passion. To take things seriously.

    Napoleon said that “great men are like meteors, designed to burn so that the world may be lighted.” And in some sense, we all feel this.

    The desire for greatness and excellence is in the heart of every human soul. Religion speaks to this human need. Day to day, we have to live in the world. We have to eat, we have to use the bathroom, we have to sleep, and otherwise live in humiliation. But we all have a sense that these mundane realities, these humiliations, are not what define us. We believe we transcend all that.

    “Getting real” didn’t envision the Cathedral of Nortre Dame, or the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It didn’t write War and Peace, or compose Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. It didn’t create the other great works of thought, art, music, and even politics that illuminate human history. Greatness occurs when a person transcends the mundane demands of reality, blindly reaches into space, and pulls down a piece of eternity for the rest of us to gape at.

    Liberal Mormonism offers no vision. So it’s existence will always be parasitic. “The dogs barking at the caravan” as my dad put it. Liberal Mormonism cannot exist without a dominant fundamentalist culture.

    If we really want to chart a new course, then let’s chart a new course. It’s time for someone to grow some balls, step up like Jeremiah did, and tell Jerusalem exactly what is wrong with it, and what God’s new destiny for his city, and his people is.

    I worry that Brigham Young’s fears may be prophetic – the LDS Church cannot stand wealth. It cannot withstand success. We have grown fat and complacent in our certainties and blessings. We have taken our moral rightness for granted. We have taken our status as chosen people for granted.

    We have been given a pearl of great price, and thus far, we seem content to use it as a paperweight.

    That is the fundamental flaw with Mormon fundamentalism. It’s smug. It’s prideful. It’s complacent. It takes it’s own blessed status with God for granted. It assumes that just because you grew up in God’s true Church, that he is now obligated to bail you out of every tough online debate you run across. It assumes that God owes you a testimony, and you don’t have to do a damn thing to get it, except show up for Sunday School each week. It assumes that because your life of faith has been easy so far, God is therefore somehow bound to make sure your faith life CONTINUES to be smooth sailing.

    The trouble with the “cultural conservative” view in Mormonism is not that they take religion too seriously. The problem is that their religious beliefs are false. The problem is not that they advocate for strong morals. The problem is that they really did nothing to earn those morals.

    I never slept with any woman before my wedding night. But, while I am grateful for that, I take no moral self-satisfaction from it. The truth is, I didn’t have sex with girls before then because I was raised not to. And frankly, I was too shy as a teenager to ever get to the point with a girl where sex was even a possibility. I earned no right to feel smug about my “purity” as opposed to the drunk frat boys I kept hearing about. What did I earn? What basis for pride on the issue did I ever have?

    But modern Mormon culture takes exactly this position. The modern generation of Mormons rest on laurels they have not earned, tout morals that are not truly theirs, and pray to a God that they cannot know – because their preconceptions keep getting in the way.

    The cry of “all is well in Zion” has gone on long enough. I think I’d like to see some new sermons.

  133. @Ben: I can’t speak for the others, but I was not offended by the OP. It just struck me as a feat of mental gymnastics to accept an illogical position in order to say in an organization that is clearly not living up to its own claims.

    If the Mormon church officially (and its members culturally) stopped claiming that their leaders were “prophets” and stopped claiming that they were the only true church and stopped claiming that they had “priesthood authority”, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But both the church and its members (culture), officially in its lesson manuals and scriptures and culturally in the practices of its adherents, do in fact make these claims. These false claims then create a massive disconnect with the real church in practice, with its actual actions in the world, and with the unethical behaviors of its members. If the LDS church were instead built with the understanding that it is a fallible human institution and worked in the world with a massive dose of humility that would bring, and the understanding that we are humans together working toward divinity, not God’s One True Church, the whole world of mormonism would be completely different.

    But conservative, authoritarian, minority religions actually survive on grand truth claims and tight social scripts (i.e., rules governing adherent/believer behavior). So you’re left with a situation where people who by emotional and intellectual temperament can no longer live in that kind of heavy, tightly scripted, authoritarian environment leave; and only those who can or who choose to, for whatever reason, stay.

    My post up thread wasn’t about being offended, but about saying that given the realities of the Mormon church (institution) and mormonism (culture), your idea makes absolutely no sense.

    As a side note, if any of you followed the past couple years of battles within the Episcopal Church over ordaining gay priests and bishops and officiating gay weddings, you can see in action a group of people who believe in the divine, but who understand that there organization is made of up imperfect people. You can see first hand how a group with high moral expectations, but humble grounding in human reality, can work to create something better together, an organization of openness, love, acceptance, true charity, service, support.

  134. #132: Seth, if “Liberal Mormonism offers no vision.” And “The trouble with the “cultural conservative” view in Mormonism is not that they take religion too seriously. The problem is that their religious beliefs are false.”, where do we turn?

  135. Shi An de says:

    re 133

    but Todd, the problem is that if we did have a “human” church, this would lead to hemmorhaging of followers…in the same way that happens to “liberal Christian” denominations today (exactly like the Episcopal church… remember, the Episcopal battles over gay priests and bishops led to splits, walk-outs, etc., Additionally, the growing churches are ones with tough, conservative theological stances.)

    So, in response to:

    If the LDS church were instead built with the understanding that it is a fallible human institution and worked in the world with a massive dose of humility that would bring, and the understanding that we are humans together working toward divinity, not God’s One True Church, the whole world of mormonism would be completely different.

    Yes, it would be very different. It wouldn’t be even smaller and less influential than it currently is.

  136. Todd, I see no disconnect between the claims of prophecy, priesthood authority, and fallibility.

  137. brailsmt says:

    @Bob:

    Where do you turn for what? What is it you are seeking? The question is a personal one, and one you need to determine for yourself. No one, or no thing (me, the church, etc…) can tell you what you want from life, nor how to get it.

  138. @Ben, I tried for years not to see the disconnect, to live with the cog dis. Ultimately, I could no longer live in an social world that claimed to be holy, but which was clearly harmful to the people who lived it, not least of whom, me.

    @Shi An de, you say that as if it would be a bad thing.

  139. Ah, so anyone who disagrees with you is mentally ill? ;)

  140. Low expectations says:

    #135,

    This is what is wrong with the church. The people with high expectations think that the church should do what is ‘right’. The church, on the other hand, places a higher priority on preserving the institution.

    The church has become an end unto itself. Like the branches in the allegory of the olive tree, it has taken strength unto itself, overcoming the root. The result is that the fruit is bad.

  141. Shi An de says:

    re 138:

    LOL, not I! But the church and its leaders would certainly see it as bad — in essence, they can NOT back out of this corner they’ve put themselves into. It’s better that a few people should fall away or get crunched in the machine so that *more* people can get the idea of the One True Church.

    re 140:

    Well, to be true, this is like saying, “Someone who follows God should do what is “right.” But in actuality, humans and human institutions place a higher priority on preserving themselves.”

    I perfectly and completely accept that the church, its leaders, its members, etc., will do the latter and not the former. But it’s AWFULLY easy to do that when you don’t put God in the mix. God is a higher expectation for what reality gives us.

    re 134:

    I think what Seth would say (although I didn’t quite understand everything when he originally posted the comment at Irresistible (Dis)Grace) is that the church should get correct beliefs and then press them with passion. The fault of liberal religion is that it is willy nilly and weak…but what if you could have a liberal (or moderate) religion that is closest to truth because it doesn’t accept certain ridiculous fundamentalist claims…but it still PREACHES as if it’s conservative?

  142. Todd W.: There is no fundamental reason to claim, for example, that Isaiah was a prophet and Joseph Smith wasn’t. Isaiah was apparently a better writer, but Joseph Smith had a lot more to say.

    There might be a better argument that prophets have not typically exercised presiding authority in the way LDS presidents do, but that is quite a different matter.

  143. “LDS church presidents” that is.

  144. Kevin, with regard to your statement above: “But to me it is clear that all of the perfectionism stuff clearly is rhetorical, meant to express an ideal, but not actual boots-on-the-ground reality.”

    I understand that you it “clearly is rhetorical,” but you’re an apologist who is up to his eyeballs with Church history; you’ve heard “the rest of the story;” you’ve seen the bumps, warts, and all. The simple fact is that most Church members have not. So when they hear this “rhetoric” from the pulpit at General Conference, or read it in a Gospel Principles manual, they don’t recognize it as “rhetoric” rather than “the boots-on-the-ground reality.” Especially Gospel Principles students, who are investigators and new converts who have had no immersion in the thorny topics of Church history.

    These are the expectations the Church sets for its new converts [quoted from the Gospel Principles manual]:

    “We should follow his inspired teachings completely. We should not choose to follow part of his inspired counsel and discard that which is unpleasant or difficult. The Lord commanded us to follow the inspired teachings of his prophet:

    “Thou shalt give heed unto all his [the prophet’s] words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;

    “For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:4–5).

    The Lord will never allow the President of the Church to lead us astray.”

    I completely agree with you that we need to lower expectations. Unfortunately, the Church creates high expectations right out of the gate with new converts. And when they find the bumps and warts, they lose their testimony about prophets altogether and leave. Or when there’s a drastic change of course, people who have been taught to be fundamentalists in Gospel Principles leave the Church and become capital “F” Fundamentalists.

    I’m sure apologists can recognize “rhetoric” when they see it; the unfortunate fact is that most members can’t. So to lower expectations, the folks at the top will have to decide to remove the “rhetoric” from our lesson manuals and Conference talks. Otherwise, I see apologists fighting an uphill battle for decades to come (buy hey, job security!). :)

  145. Kevin Barney says:

    Good point, Andrew. As you rightly say, I’m up to my eyeballs in this stuff, and what looks obvious to me undoubtedly isn’t so obvious to others, especially newer members.

  146. Terrakota says:

    Unfortunately, the Church creates high expectations right out of the gate with new converts. And when they find the bumps and warts, they lose their testimony about prophets altogether and leave.

    Somehow, in my experience as a convert, it was precisely the testimony that made me stay active in the Church. When my harmonious view of the Church went crushing down as I discovered some facts from the early history of the Church, Discourses of Brigham Young, Bruce McConkie, etc. (and still discover), there was no way I could deny what I felt when I was confirmed as a member of the Church.

  147. #145: The question is: Is it obvious that it’s “only rhetoric” to the Church leaders?

  148. Bob,

    Rhetoric is only rhetoric when it is acting as rhetoric.

  149. #148: A rose by any other name is still a rose.

  150. Bob, I know, I was making a joke. I was playing on the “A prophet is only a prophet when he is speaking as a prophet” line. It fell flat apparently/

  151. For me sustaining the leaders of the church means believing that 1) they have the keys that make efficacious the covenants of the temple and the sealings performed therein, and 2) they are the people that God want’s overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Church as an organization.

    Anything more or less than this is, well, more or less than this.

  152. Thank you, Kevin. After the lashing I’ve been getting this week over at Mormon Momma because I dare to hope for clarification and insight about some gender issues in the church (not unlike Elder Holland, President Kimball, etc., did about race issues), I’m thrilled to see that so many here think it’s something less than heretical to be “intellectually curious.”

  153. #150:Back to back joke failures for us. I am lowering my expections as a joke teller.

  154. Mark D. says:

    There are a lot of good reasons to honor, respect, and in most cases follow a prophet even when you don’t completely agree with him. The Catholic Church has these kind of subtle apologetics down pat – and teaches them to everybody. Just take a look at a Catholic catechism some time.

  155. Kevin said: “Now I personally agree fully with the decision to end polygamy, not because the prophet is infallible, but simply because it was the right thing to do. I personally believe prophets can and do err (whether that is tantamount in any case to “leading the church astray” is a semantic question). So I personally am willing to take that rhetoric with a grain of salt. But for those of you who buy into it completely, I understand your position. If anything, you’ve just proven my point–that we’d be better off moderating that rhetoric and not putting the Church on such a high pedestal, such that any perceived error or slight however minor becomes a reason to lose faith and leave.”

    Would there come a point where your expectations of the church could go so low that it would be impossible for you to stay? The reason I ask is because you mentioned polygamy…

    What if “open” marriages become the norm and the church reinstates polygamy because now there are no laws to prevent it? In other words, is there a deal breaker where your own conscience is SO at odds with the actions of the Church that your support would have to end?

    johanna
    **************

  156. What’s wrong with polygamy per se?

    So long as everyone is being treated well, who cares?

  157. ZD Eve (#15)
    “I wonder how much anguish we could spare people by communicating more directly about the real, human fallibility they’ll inevitably encounter in day-to-day interactions with local church leaders and members… it would have been really helpful to me to learn something like that somewhere along the line.”

    With all due respect, do you really believe new converts are suffering a lot of “anguish” over learning that church members are imperfect and sometimes give offense? We all learn this “somewhere along the line”, as did you, usually by being offended, and we work through it, learn from it and move on, wiser and more mature for the experience. It’s part of life, part of the plan, part of “opposition in all things”.

    Besides, this principle is widely taught – isn’t the phrase “The church/gospel is perfect but the people aren’t” one of the more common ones in LDS culture? I wouldn’t be concerned with protecting new converts from experiencing excessive anguish as they come into the church. Speaking as one, I would suggest we’re not quite that naive.

  158. Seth said: “What’s wrong with polygamy per se?
    So long as everyone is being treated well, who cares?”

    I don’t think that a typical LDS woman would join in polygamy unless they thought it was God’s will. If they really had a choice, I don’t think they would do it. As long as it is tied to salvation how can she refuse?

    And I guess “being treated well” is a matter of opinion. I think it is too open to abuse and actually changes the personality and character of those that practice it.

    My ggggrandfather left his wife of many years and 2 little girls to travel with the saints to Utah (and took 3 sons from their mother.) He was married to a 19 year old within months. Would he have done that normally? He was a faithful family man up to that point. I think that women lose their “spark” and men lose their empathy. Just my opinion.

    Plus there are many ways to abuse it like marrying young girls to men they don’t love or aren’t age appropriate for them.

    johanna
    *****************

  159. I think you could lay similar abuses at the door of monogamy. But we don’t reject monogamy. We simply expect people to step up to the plate and make something good of it.

  160. And, to be clear, “polygamy” and “polygyny” are not synonyms.

  161. “This is what is wrong with the church. The people with high expectations think that the church should do what is ‘right’. The church, on the other hand, places a higher priority on preserving the institution.”
    This is, in my humble opinion, complete and utter horse pucky and it encapsulates everything that is wrong with the direction of this thread. You are creating a false dichotomy. You haven’t defined what you mean by right, you haven’t begun to discuss what anyone else thinks as right, and you are taking it for granted that “preserving the institution” is wrong. Gee whiz, low expectations, it really is no wonder that you feel let down by a church that hasn’t bent itself to your will at every turn; have fun playing church at home with the dolls next week.

  162. John, I agree that “preserving the institution” doesn’t seem to fit here. At the same time, it does seem to me that the “lowering expectations” concept implies adopting an attitude of acceptance toward the proposition that the church will sometimes engage in acts of moral evil. Whether that evil is teaching false ideas, as sometimes happens in church-sanctioned sunday school or seminary classes, or otherwise. It seems that the lowered expectations model is partly about a pragmatic acceptance of some degree of imperfection in the church — and therefore of some degree of moral evil. So the commenter may not be dead on in terms of sociological characterization of the church as an institution, but there is some insight here in terms of, I guess, a bit of moral relativism being part and parcel of the lowered expectations model.

  163. With all due respect, do you really believe new converts are suffering a lot of “anguish” over learning that church members are imperfect and sometimes give offense?

    Of course I have no way of knowing how many new converts–or for that matter, old converts and lifers–are suffering over various offenses. But judging by the number of people who’ve gone inactive over offenses in nearly every ward I’ve ever lived in, and the number of stories I read over and over on the Bloggernacle, and the number of times the issue keeps being addressed in conference (by Elder Bednar and Elder Wirthlin, most recently) a fair number of people (in all categories) seem to be suffering considerable anguish over the issue. In fact, such offenses seem to be the single most common reason people go inactive. So I definitely think it’s worth addressing, more frequently and more directly than we currently do.

    We all learn this “somewhere along the line”, as did you, usually by being offended, and we work through it, learn from it and move on, wiser and more mature for the experience. It’s part of life, part of the plan, part of “opposition in all things”.

    Indeed it is. But judging from inactivity rates, a fair number of people seem unable to work through it, as you did.

    I certainly wouldn’t claim my particular approach to warning people against future offenses is the best or that it should be widely adopted. As I said above, I myself am not happy with it and wouldn’t use it. I was speaking pretty off-the-cuff in terms of what I wish I had been taught, growing up in the church. Clearly I’m not a model for everyone. But again, I do think the issue ought to be addressed in some way, since it’s something we all eventually encounter.

    Besides, this principle is widely taught – isn’t the phrase “The church/gospel is perfect but the people aren’t” one of the more common ones in LDS culture? I wouldn’t be concerned with protecting new converts from experiencing excessive anguish as they come into the church. Speaking as one, I would suggest we’re not quite that naive.

    Maybe you weren’t. I was. And I see a lot of new converts–as well as old converts and lifers–who come to feel a sense of profound betrayal when their on-the-ground experience of the church doesn’t life up to their initial expectations.

    Although I was raised in the church and heard all the oft-repeated cliches like “the church is perfect, the people aren’t” personally, I didn’t find the phrase at all useful in preparing me for the realities of imperfect people because it wasn’t specific enough. Hearing it, I imagined that it meant someone might not smile at me in the hall one day or my VTers might fail to come one month. So I was shocked when I encountered a BYU bishop in my home ward who had been committing adultery for years, and later, through work, an active member of an elders’ quorum presidency who was both habitually dishonest in his business dealings and cruel to others.

    I do realize it’s dangerous to extrapolate too much from one’s own experience. But my experience with offense, such as it’s been, seems to be a relatively common one, so I do think it’s worth trying to prepare people for that reality, in some way or other. I’m wide open to suggestions as to how best to do so.

  164. JNS,
    I think you have to be careful how you parse that. You say that Kevin’s post “implies adopting an attitude of acceptance toward the proposition that the church will sometimes engage in acts of moral evil.” But that is the very thing that I find objectionable. It is easy for me to imagine individuals (even influential, big-time individuals) using the church to make evil choices, but it is harder for me to agree that THE CHURCH is knowingly engaging in moral evil. People and leaders may be (and often are) short-sighted, but to think that, presented with clear good and evil options they would choose evil, is beyond my capacity to accept. So, while I accept that the church is staffed with people and people can be evil, I have to believe (and I acknowledge this as such) that the church is good and a force for good in its own weird way. Without that, I don’t think I could have faith in it. FWIW

  165. John, fair enough. I guess it comes down to how we determine what “the church” is engaged in, as opposed to people in it.

  166. re # 163, any time a group of people do things together for a while a number of them will be offended by stuff other people do — this isn’t specific to the Church and it isn’t clear how or why being an institution that God directed disciples to establish would make this any different. The people who attend are still people who offend others and who are offended by others.

  167. brailsmt says:

    @ZD Eve #163:
    “With all due respect, do you really believe new converts are suffering a lot of “anguish” over learning that church members are imperfect and sometimes give offense?

    Of course I have no way of knowing how many new converts–or for that matter, old converts and lifers–are suffering over various offenses. But judging by the number of people who’ve gone inactive over offenses in nearly every ward I’ve ever lived in, and the number of stories I read over and over on the Bloggernacle, and the number of times the issue keeps being addressed in conference (by Elder Bednar and Elder Wirthlin, most recently) a fair number of people (in all categories) seem to be suffering considerable anguish over the issue. ”

    How are you certain that people *really* leave because of offense? It sounds to me as though “being offended” is an easy scapegoat leaders can use to deflect inquiry from the real reason people leave the church and go inactive. To say something like “John Doe was offended by bishop Clark and so he stopped coming to church.” stops any further inquiry of the “faithful” members. In reality it is likely that John Doe is not so petty and really left because of a large number of other issues from doctrinal absurdities to historical facts. Orwell’s term crimestop comes to mind.

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