The conservative trump card

I want to discuss a phenomenon in church culture that I’m going to term the “conservative trump card.”  By this term, I’m referring to our tendency to acquiesce to the views of the most religiously “conservative” person in the room.  Since conservative is hard to define, I’ll give some examples I have come across in the last few weeks:

  • If one person is uncomfortable doing visiting teaching one month over lunch instead of at the home, it must be done at home.
  • If one person is uncomfortable having ward parties on the weekend of a fast Sunday, they can’t happen that weekend.
  • If one person is uncomfortable talking about feminist issues at church, they can’t be discussed.
  • If one person is uncomfortable with caffeinated soda, it can’t be served.
  • If one person disapproves of the Simpsons in class, no one else can feel comfortable admitting they’ve seen every episode.

I want to be clear on one thing: I respect and affirm the right of each person to have a view on these topics.  But what makes me uncomfortable is the unspoken expectation that the most conservative view dictates everyone’s conduct in church settings.

It perplexes me why any of us think that others should conform to our personal opinions and preferences when they lack a clear doctrinal basis or LDS consensus.   Indeed, I think that this expectation often creates a negative environment.  Because people feel that they can’t step on the toes of the most conservative person, other people’s ideas become marginalized in discussions and activity choices.  This tendency becomes damaging when it leads to clichés developing among members or culture reflecting the most conservative part of the ward.  It leads to frustration and feelings of exclusion.  Although these cultural practices strike me as insignificant in the larger gospel scheme, they seem to have a disproportionate weight in turning people away from church.

Church settings might be unique in that perhaps we find our fellow member’s behavior threatening if it does not comply with cultural practices that we see as part of our church practice.  But, it is not clear to me that all of these practices are worth preserving or that members behaving differently should really threaten someone else’s belief.

So why not more flexibility in church settings?  Why not more acceptance of a range of practices and ideas?  Why do conservative views seem to carry the day?  Would it really damage youth to know that activity standards vary across Mormon households?  I remember being shocked to learn that other YW watched R rated movies with their parents’ permission when I couldn’t.  But, really, why was I so surprised?*  Would we be better off if we didn’t insist on preserving an image (perhaps illusion?) of a united front on cultural practices that are not essential to the gospel?

* One legitimate argument I see for letting the conservative view carry the day is in the context of youth activities: We shouldn’t put kids in the position of choosing between parents and church activities.  But I think this is a limited instance, unique to children and sponsored activities.  Nevertheless, even children need to learn to use their own agency to remove themselves from things they do not want to participate in without expecting others to conform to their standards.

Comments

  1. I tend to think this isn’t about the most conservative view being made normative, as much as it is about people not liking or not knowing how to agreeably disagree.

  2. But J., If Brother Smith suggests an activity to be held the night before Fast Sunday and Brother Jones thinks it inappropriate, chances are Brother Jones will have no problem sharing his opinion. Chances are also very likely that Brother Smith will not counter. It’s not that people don’t know how to agreeably disagree, it’s that disagreeing with a more conservative view is often perceived as toying with the dark side. Better to err on the side of caution and all that…

  3. Natalie B. says:

    #1: That’s definitely part of it. Because we have unique discomfort with disagreement at church, we tend to grumble silently in a way that we wouldn’t in other settings. Which I suppose means we feel the effects of our disagreement even more since, at least for me, repressed issues tend to fester.

  4. Natalie B. says:

    #2: That’s also definitely part of the problem. The weird thing, is that it isn’t clear to me that going overboard on the “conservative” side on some issues could not be characterized as toying with the dark side too. Taking where to do visiting teaching–if you think the visiting teachee needs friendship more than a spiritual message at a particular time, going out to lunch with her might be the better choice. But by asserting discomfort, one creates the impression that the conservative stance is more appropriate.

  5. But what makes me uncomfortable is the unspoken expectation that the most conservative view dictates everyone’s conduct in church settings.

    well said.

  6. Very interesting thought. I’ve seen this go both ways, but admittedly more the conservative way.

    RE: “But, really, why was I so surprised [that YW in the ward were watching R-rated movies]?” If your youth was in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, maybe because they were specifically decried over the pulpit in general conference. The current teaching seems to be more principle-based than MPAA-based. But I know what you mean – in my last ward, some youth got in trouble for watching a preview for Spider Man III at the end of a mutual activity – not because the youth were watching a movie preview in church, but because the movie was PG-13, and the bishop’s family (and one other family – none of whom were a part of this group) had a strict G-and-PG-only policy.

  7. #4: Right. When I said “Better to err on the side of caution” I meant that that seems to be the general consensus, but not one I necessarily agree with. I agree that jumping to the more conservative answer is it’s own form of the dark side because it precludes viable and often more individualized options that may serve people quite well.

    There is often a fear-based, knee-jerk reaction to alternative suggestions that spawns the more conservative or status quo suggestion. While the conservative member fears doing something wrong, the other generally fears being seen as wrong (or bad, or less faithful) and withdraws the original suggestion, thus squashing what could be enriching activities, classroom discussions, etc.

  8. I wonder how much of this isn’t about a conservative view trumping as it is about not wanting others to fee uncomfortable. To look at the examples given:
    If one person is uncomfortable doing visiting teaching one month over lunch instead of at the home, it must be done at home. The person okay with meeting over lunch is probably just as okay with meeting at the home.
    If one person is uncomfortable having ward parties on the weekend of a fast Sunday, they can’t happen that weekend. Those who don’t care if Fast Sunday is the next day usually don’t care when the party is held–they’ll probably be there anyway.
    If one person is uncomfortable talking about feminist issues at church, they can’t be discussed. This is one where I see my idea not working, since someone comfortable with talking about feminist issues will probably want to talk about them.
    If one person is uncomfortable with caffeinated soda, it can’t be served. Those okay with caffeinated soda are usually okay with uncaffeinated, and can always get their Cherry Coke fix later if they have to.
    If one person disapproves of the Simpsons in class, no one else can feel comfortable admitting they’ve seen every episode. As a die-hard Simpsons fan (at least until the past several seasons), I am totally okay with making sure everyone knows I love the show, but I am also totally okay with not making explicit cultural references that others might disapprove of. There are plenty of OTHER references I can make if I feel it is necessary.

    That being said, I am once again finding myself wondering what it is about my particular experiences that has kept me from seeing these trends. Ward parties are usually planned around the stake calendar and the build coordinators calendar (our ward shares facilities with three other wards). Home and visiting teaching is done, under the explicit encouragement of the Stake President, as “the best contact possible” and he has regularly encouraged non-standard visits and meetings. I am not the only one in my ward who brings up controversial topics in classes, and nobody feels offended. In fact, it is appreciated when class members bring up counterpoints to the “accepted” approach. So, is the conservative trump just another example of Intermountain West Mormonism, or are the Saints in East Central Illinois just totally bizarre?

  9. A few months ago I discovered the concept of “group polarization”, the phenomenon that a group opinion tends to be more extreme than the opinions of the individual members of the group (Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_polarization ). It’s counterintuitive, since we expect people act as moderating forces on each other.

  10. I’m not sure why this is a big deal but if you must know why it happens so often I’m pretty sure comes down to the fact that the conservative position is often safe. I didn’t say it is the best or the most correct position but it is usually safe.

    It’s the whole staying as far from the cliff as possible idea. Do you always need to do it? No, but at least it is safe. Or the: if you are going to error you might as well error on the side of caution idea.

  11. Every Church group has a leader who is responsible for that group. If someone makes a comment that the leader thinks is inappropriate, the leader can acknowledge the contribution and then invite others to make a contribution. If the person continues to be disruptive, then the leader can speak to the Bp and ask him for advice. Prehaps the Bp will speak to the person to help that person respect others and thus make positive contributions.
    A new member of our ward was called to be GD teacher. I privately spoke to him and told him that he had two class members who dominated the class, so he should plan on how he would handle it. I was so pleased that in the next class, he was prepared, so he responded as directed by the spirit. Sometimes he had to interupt the person and tell him that he, as the teacher, had to continue the lesson. I think that he set a good example for all teachers.

  12. i have no qualms about making known my stance about sunday football. i even invite people over to partake! mmm…sacrilicious…

  13. How about if one person is uncomfortable with caffeinated beverages being served, serve both caffeinated and caffeine-free beverages? That way each can have what he or she desires, and there will be no need for anyone to get his or her cherry coke fix later. Why is what I drink of any consequence to someone more conservative when it isn’t specifically against church doctrine?

  14. Natalie B. says:

    “I wonder how much of this isn’t about a conservative view trumping as it is about not wanting others to fee uncomfortable.”

    The thing is though, that the people taking the conservative stance DO make others feel uncomfortable, because there is an implicit moral condemnation of things they feel are fine.

  15. #14–while the moral condemnation may be there form the conservative member, if the condemned thinks that condemnation is foolish (as coke-drinkers and Simpsons-watchers often do), then it has little to no impact. Personally, I am as likely to judge the holder of the conservative view as foolish. I guess that is a condemnation, too.

  16. Is the “one person” the bishop or leader or teacher? If not, then what difference does it make what they think? I ask this gently, because while I believe that we need to be respectful of individual’s feelings … you don’t ignore the ninety and nine sheep in favor of the one (even the shepherd made sure the 99 were taken care of before he went after the one). Maybe not the greatest analogy, but I think we tend to focus on “the one” a little too often…

    There are a lot of members who suffer from degrees of hyperorthodoxy — where they have invented rules of righteousness that go beyond doctrine or normal practice. Those members are extremist and their views shouldn’t be normative (you could fast all day Sunday if you want to; you can reference pop culture in a lesson; you can drink Dr Pepper openly at Church).

    (And for home teaching – it’s what the home teachee wants. Period.)

  17. As for differing standards in different households, a bishop we had several years ago had a powerful point. We were doing a 5th Sunday reviewing the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet. The bishop talked about how there were differing standards of dress for youth who obviously are not endowed and how *PARENTS* need to make those decisions when outside the Church or a Church activity. Also how *PARENTS* need to define standards on dating, etc. Also how *PARENTS* need to define standards on non-R movies (some parents will never let PG-13, etc.).

    And then he said that one of the single biggest dispute resolution issues he ran into was how parents would not respect the rights of other parents to run their families.

  18. It’s the whole staying as far from the cliff as possible idea. Do you always need to do it? No, but at least it is safe. Or the: if you are going to error you might as well error on the side of caution idea.

    However, sometimes, in your attempt to stay away from the cliff, you get stuck in the mud, off the road, on the shoulder on the opposite side.

  19. We’ve all heard in church told the story about the bus drivers vying for a job that had routs on a mountain road. One brags that he is such a good driver that he can drive with the wheel only one foot from the edge. The next, trying to top that, can drive with only 1/2 a foot of space from the edge. Then the third driver says he can stay as far away from the edge as possible. The story usually concludes with the question, “Guess which one got the job.”

    Well, that may be a nice story in theory, but in reality – in life – the mountain pass has two cliffs, one on the right side of the bus and one on the left. You can drive off ether. There is no safe wall to cling to.

    We all have to walk out into the field, which Lehi said was large and spacious. On the left is a river of filthy water and on the right is a huge field in which you could wonder for your whole life.

    We all know people that act like they are able to see perfectly well in the midst of what Lehi said was an exceedingly great mist of darkness. (“Just turn left at the head of the fountain, and you’ll see a path which takes you right there!”) But how productive is it, really, to try to point out to others what one considers to be guide posts, paths, land marks or directions when, in reality, nobody can see anything around them. And apparently those which try to follow the path by sight end us losing their way, wonder off, and are lost.

    Notwithstanding, there is this rod that apparently gets you to the tree, even though you can’t see anything with your eyes. If you cling to the rod, if you feel where it is even though you can’t see it, apparently it will get you to the tree.

    Lehi never says what side of the rod you have to be on. But we need to cling, which to me means that we need to read and repeat to each other the words of God, not so much our own opinions about the lay of the land in the large and spacious field.

  20. It seems that the idea of “staying as far from the cliff as possible” can turn into the Pharisaic idea of building a fence around the law, as well as the idea that my fence is better than your fence, or a conservative fence is better than a liberal fence.

    Defending a more conservative fence can sound more praiseworthy than defending a more liberal fence, which can sound like flirting with the world. Hence the conservative trump card.

  21. I went on a sales call with my boss once (this was at an old job, back when I did sales). After the call we stopped by his mom’s new apartment that she had moved into, because she needed some help moving a couple pieces of furniture. When we got there she asked me if I would like some water or orange juice. “No thanks, I just had a coke a couple minutes ago.”
    She paused for a moment, looked at me, “Oh my, I’m sorry, for a moment I didn’t realize you weren’t Mormon.”

  22. it's a series of tubes says:

    But we need to cling, which to me means that we need to read and repeat to each other the words of God, not so much our own opinions about the lay of the land in the large and spacious field.

    This. Is. Great.

  23. The thing is though, that the people taking the conservative stance DO make others feel uncomfortable, because there is an implicit moral condemnation of things they feel are fine.

    I don’t think it’s about feeling comfortable; it’s about the fact that–while I may think my father-in-law’s swearing off of caffeine is just plain silly–to him it is a token of a sacred covenant he has made to his Father in Heaven. I don’t have to take that covenant upon myself; but (as per Romans 14) I do have a basic responsibility to make reasonable accommodations so as not to become a stumbling block.

  24. 22–Actually, I thought it was a little obnoxious–nothing especially “great” about charging into a discussion with people you don’t know, not bothering to read the other comments (which have made your point more succinctly), and denouncing the discussion as foolish and probably sinful.

    Different strokes, I guess…

  25. Aaron Brooks says:

    Seems to me that a big part of this, at least for me, is guilt. I am usually aware of the more conservative views, even if
    I don’t subscribe to them, and this creates a situation where I feel guilty if I get caught out. This is especially true with things like drinking caffeine or R-rated movies. Even now I feel the urge to tell you how I really feel about those two things, but I’m not going to. You have to decide for yourself :)

  26. prometheus says:

    Regarding the whole Romans 14 – stumbling block idea, I do understand that I have a responsibility to my siblings in the faith, in terms of not being a stumbling block to them. However. I do not believe that the obligation is all one way.

    The OP is about the default to conservative position so as to not make people uncomfortable. The point was also made in the comments, that for people that don’t care one way or the other, it really doesn’t matter.

    However, for people that do care about whatever issue it is, it does matter, and it is not fair for conservative members to become a stumbling block to those of us who are more liberal in nature.

    As a personal example, I wear a beard and I do it because I like how it looks, and I most emphatically do NOT like my face without a beard. When the default is to the conservative, thou-shalt-not-wear-facial-hair stance, it threatens to become a stumbling block for me. When I am told that my beard makes me unqualified to pass the sacrament, or to speak in church, or to hold a calling (and these have all happened to me), I find it a little offensive.

    At the end of the day, I guess my comment would be, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Every single one of us is obligated to not cause others to stumble. Conservative or liberal, majority or minority, doesn’t matter – the requirement for reasonable accommodations applies across the board.

  27. Many Mormons believe there is a slippery slope just to the left of whatever their own stance is on any given issue. They’re correct. But they fail to see the other slippery slope to their immediate right, which is no less real. The key is to recognize you’re always standing in the center of a teeter-totter, and you’re always going to need to perform a balancing act. There are no safe plateaus.

  28. Having recently lived in a small branch…it was much more a those with the most family and connections have the opinion that holds. I didn’t particularly like some of the decisions. I am conservative in some issues (really a burlesque “Santa Baby” including stockinged leg out the curtain? with scarcely a nod to baby jesus?…that’s the christmas party?)

    I did speak up, but was an outsider. I know there were a few other people who didn’t like the situation-this same christmas party had been basically unchanged for years and years. They spoke out. nothing happened.

    I don’t see many of hte examples you give as a more righteous v less righteous choice..but more as a habit or just the way things are…vs. something new. The confusion between those two is a problem/

  29. 26 – well put.

  30. I think it’s important for us to be clear on what is doctrine and what is policy, and realize that the rest is just opinion and personal choice — and then to be tolerant of those who have made different choices.

    That can be tough to do. It requires a lot more effort and maturity than having all the details spelled out and requiring everybody to act and think exactly the same way.

    Me, I detest cola, but I’m not going to turn down a Barq’s just because it has bite.

  31. #24 – In my own defense, in my mind I was trying to suggest that those that have hard and fast “conservative” rules are like those that think they can see in the mist of darkness or those that talk about how to and what to do and how it all is situated.

    Otherwise, I’m sorry that I was obnoxious and apparently superfluous.

  32. I’m afraid using “conservative” in this context (which I believe is correct usage) automatically calls for “liberal” to be used as its opposite (which I don’t believe to be correct usage). I don’t think this post is about political views – even though that is part of the discussion (i.e. feminist v. non-feminist) its not the whole discussion (i.e. caffeine/R-Rated v. Sprite/”Nanny McPhee”).

    Not sure what the right word would be. . .

  33. I like the analogy in 26. Taking it a bit further, I think it’s interesting that we all tend to think that we’re right on the high point of the ridge, and that everyone to either the right or left of us is further down the slope.

  34. “By this term, I’m referring to our tendency to acquiesce to the views of the most religiously “conservative” person in the room.”

    this has not been my experience. or my practice. and i agree that if and where this occurs, it should be resisted.

    i resist by bringing diet coke to ward council and bishopric meeting. and referring to r rated movies like “there will be blood” in lessons.

    you’d be surprised by the nods i get when i use object lessons from movies like that. or maybe you wouldn’t.

  35. Not superfluous, Quayle, but it probably would have been more helpful if you had read the other comments and explicitly distinguished the point you were making. As it was, since you invoked the staying away from the cliff thing, it was hard not to read the rest of what you said as advocating that stance, as those comments had done. Sorry if I misread.

  36. Otherwise, I’m sorry that I was obnoxious and apparently superfluous.

    You weren’t. Nor did you say the things #24 says you did, nor did #24 have any basis for claiming that you didn’t read the other comments or that you’re unfamiliar with the personalities here (even if it is true).

  37. Conservatives are more fearful and more reactive. Liberals are less fearful and more nuanced. Studies have determined this.

    I drink a Coke and am not afraid for my immortal soul because I am liberal. A conservative might well be. This conservative might (and probably would) look on me as a threat to his/her children. This conservative will report me to the Bp for any infraction (movies, caffeine, not believing in the great flood, etc., etc., etc.) because my impurity might spread and damage him/her, their children, the church, the nation, etc., etc., etc.

    Better than one man should perish than a nation (church, family, etc., etc., etc.) dwindle in unbelief. Eject the infidel or kill him.

    Liberals will tolerate disagreement because of their lack of fear. Conservatives will battle to the death because of their fear. (This is a bit of oversimplification but not much. Think Joseph McCarthy.)

  38. Liberals are . . . more nuanced.

    Yes, as your comment clearly demonstrates . . .

  39. So why not more flexibility in church settings? Why not more acceptance of a range of practices and ideas? Why do conservative views seem to carry the day?

    “Spinal-deficiency Syndrome”
    Stand up for what you believe in; defend it with love, consideration for others’ feelings, and sound reasoning. Reassure them that you are brothers and sisters in Christ, and working toward building the Kingdom of God as you best know how.
    Demand sound reasons, doctrinal statements, and quotes from the handbook of instruction or get decision makers to admit it’s merely a temporary (or even unnecessary) policy (or possibly political) decision.

    Doing this made me unpopular, but I believe valuable, in Ward Council meetings. Not unpopular enough, though. I still had to go to those for years and years. ;)

  40. Prometheus – Sure, the obligation isn’t all one way. But the fact is, when you invite a caffeine-abstaining family to a ward function and then offer them Pepsi, you’re asking them to violate a personal covenant that they have made with the Lord and that (according to Paul) the Lord still honors and accepts. By contrast: when you invite someone to shave in order to pass the sacrament you may be looking beyond the mark, but–unless he’s a Hasidic Jew–you’re not trying to get him to violate his covenants.

    Certainly, there are elements of Mormon cultural conservatism that are probably not covenant-based. But there are some that are, and those ought to be considered before just dismissing the conservative as some kind of Molly Mormon moonbat and insisting that our right not to be offended trumps all.

  41. it's a series of tubes says:

    22–Actually, I thought it was a little obnoxious–nothing especially “great” about charging into a discussion with people you don’t know, not bothering to read the other comments (which have made your point more succinctly), and denouncing the discussion as foolish and probably sinful.

    Hmm, that’s not how I interpreted it at all. To me, that post was saying: “don’t get too worked up when someone else has a view of the lay of the land in the great and spacious field that differs from your own – rather, remember that it is the holding to the rod that matters. And two people can both be holding to the rod while differing in their views regarding the field.”

  42. RW Says:
    November 2, 2010 at 10:24 am
    Conservatives… [snip]

    I kept waiting for an ironic twist or even a punchline, but it never came. I don’t think RW knows how to write satire.

  43. prometheus says:

    JimD #40,

    A few comments on what you said. Offering someone a Pepsi is not the same as asking them to violate a covenant. It is an offer, not a demand. If they do not wish to partake, they don’t have to. They can have the orange juice.

    In contrast, although my beard is not worn for any religious reason whatsoever, actively denying me participation in the church because of it, when such a stance is non-doctrinal is quite the opposite of offering someone a Pepsi that they can decline if they so choose.

    Forgive me if I was unclear, but I am certainly not dismissing any of my more conservative friends as Molly Mormon moonbats. I value their different viewpoints and input. My point was simply that I would expect the same kind of respect be accorded my viewpoints and input.

  44. My personal opinion is that Alex had it dead right in comment No. 8. This isn’t about staying as far from the cliff as possible (as a group). It’s about the fact the more conservative opinion has a Good and a Bad. Which the more nuanced opinion says both are fine. So you go with the choice that satisfies both.

    Change the example up just a bit to see what I’m talking about. A couple is going out to see a movie. Person A would like to see Movie 1. But Movie 2 is a good choice as well. Person B has no desire to see Movie 1. None at all. But they really want to see Movie 2. Which movie does this couple see? Movie 2. It’s the movie that makes the pair happiest. Even thought Person A isn’t seeing their first choice.

    Same thing. Family X is strongly against caffeinated sodas. No one is strongly against non-caffeinated sodas. The strong opinion sways the decision. This is a kind of manifestation of preferential voting.

  45. when you invite a caffeine-abstaining family to a ward function and then offer them Pepsi, you’re asking them to violate a personal covenant that they have made with the Lord and that (according to Paul) the Lord still honors and accepts.

    What covenant are they being asked to violate?

    They’re not. They’re being offered something that is outside of their own understanding of a health code. Asked and offered are two different things.

    I also don’t agree that people will be blessed for misguided obedience. I don’t think they’ll be punished for not drinking Pepsi, but I don’t believe they’ll be blessed either.

    Also, I think its interesting how quickly you dismiss “looking beyond the mark” as no big thing. Or at least assuming that it is a lesser evil than breaking a covenant. Wasn’t Jacob referring to the Pharisees who crucified Christ, the people who were unable to recognize their savior because of their overzealousness for the rules and standards that they had created over centuries of dogmatism?
    Weren’t these Pharisees the ones that Jesus himself rebuked for straining at the gnat but swallowing the camel?

    I agree that we shouldn’t just dismiss them as “Molly Mormon”, but I also don’t think we should dismiss the common judgmentalism (which I think is a large part of this issue) which often accompanies said “Molly Mormons”

  46. “Same thing. Family X is strongly against caffeinated sodas. No one is strongly against non-caffeinated sodas. The strong opinion sways the decision. This is a kind of manifestation of preferential voting.”

    not the same thing at all. they can only go to one movie together. but they can easily have two different kinds of soda together.

  47. Cynthia L. says:

    “…unless he’s a Hasidic Jew–you’re not trying to get him to violate his covenants.”

    Interesting that you bring up Jewish observance. While Jesus main purpose in coming to earth was obviously the atonement, wasn’t the *entire* purpose of his ministry/teachings to call people to repentance for shoving people out of fellowship for things that were totally unimportant? I would think that followers of Christ would maybe think twice before advocating doing the same today.

  48. Maybe it’s a case of being able to get to the real issue and being a good listener. In the VT lunch/home example, maybe the concern is money, not religious conservatism.

    Either way, I think the solution is missionary work. Our church needs the energy and different world views of new members

  49. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Notwithstanding, there is this rod that apparently gets you to the tree, even though you can’t see anything with your eyes. If you cling to the rod, if you feel where it is even though you can’t see it, apparently it will get you to the tree.”

    The conservative mistake concerning the Iron Rod is that they cling fine, but then just stand there. After all, it’s dark up ahead. Better get it half right than all wrong. The liberal error is mistaking camp fires on the plain for the very Holy Tree.

  50. Natalie B. says:

    “However, for people that do care about whatever issue it is, it does matter, and it is not fair for conservative members to become a stumbling block to those of us who are more liberal in nature.”

    #26: This expresses better than I did the problem that I was trying to get at.

    Another example of this problem might occur in the doctrines we choose to emphasize. For example, I feel very strongly that the eat meat sparingly part of the Word of Wisdom is important. But that concern is not taken as seriously as the other parts of the W of W in our conversation. Yet I would never expect others to stop eating meat at ward functions because of my feelings. Whereas those who decide to eschew all caffeine often get people to not serve it at all. It just seems more mature to live and let live.

  51. @ 43: In contrast, although my beard is not worn for any religious reason whatsoever, actively denying me participation in the church because of it, when such a stance is non-doctrinal is quite the opposite of offering someone a Pepsi that they can decline if they so choose.

    Well, I at least agree with you that it is quite the opposite.

    You can still attend services and commune with the Lord by partaking of the Sacrament; you just don’t get to play a leading role in the service. Whether the exclusion is right or wrong, it is you who ultimately chooses whether you will allow the situation to come between you and your relationship with the Lord.

    By contrast, in the latter situation we have Church members knowingly and deliberately placing their fellow Church members in a situation where they will be tempted to break their covenants. If there’s nothing theologically wrong with that, doesn’t it also follow that there’s nothing theologically wrong with at least having a sixpack of beer or two on the buffet table at the next ward potluck?

    @ 45: What covenant are they being asked to violate?

    They’re not. They’re being offered something that is outside of their own understanding of a health code.

    Are you sure? You’ve picked apart their brains? You fully understand their motives? You know their hearts? You can confidently and comprehensively map every step of their individual spiritual journeys?

    I don’t think they’ll be punished for not drinking Pepsi, but I don’t believe they’ll be blessed either.

    Romans 14:23 says otherwise.

    Also, I think its interesting how quickly you dismiss “looking beyond the mark” as no big thing. . . Wasn’t Jacob referring to the Pharisees who crucified Christ, the people who were unable to recognize their savior because of their overzealousness for the rules and standards that they had created over centuries of dogmatism?

    Actually, Jacob is talking about the Jews that Lehi’s family had just left; not about Pharisees 600 years in the future.

    Paul himself was more than willing to condemn legalistic observances performed primarily for show–see, e.g., Galatians 2. But he also recognized that one person’s dead work is another person’s sacred observance; and the point of Romans 14 is that the Church ought not to go out of its way to eradicate whatever sacred cows its more conservative members might recognize.

    @ 47: While Jesus main purpose in coming to earth was obviously the atonement, wasn’t the *entire* purpose of his ministry/teachings to call people to repentance for shoving people out of fellowship for things that were totally unimportant?

    I’ll grant that it was a *major* purpose.

    Now let me ask you a question: did Jesus ever intend for the Church to dismiss its members’ individual experiences with deity as “unimportant”?

    Paul didn’t think so.

    I would think that followers of Christ would maybe think twice before advocating doing the same today.

    Which makes one wonder why such professed followers would openly encourage Church congregations as a whole to take actions that are anticipated–if not designed–to conflict with many of their members’ deep and good-faith spiritual beliefs.

  52. For example, I feel very strongly that the eat meat sparingly part of the Word of Wisdom is important. But that concern is not taken as seriously as the other parts of the W of W in our conversation. Yet I would never expect others to stop eating meat at ward functions because of my feelings.

    On the other hand, I submit that if there are people there who happen to know your feelings, then it’s their obligation to abstain from that (or at least, limit their portions) as well.

  53. prometheus says:

    JimD #51

    “Whether the exclusion is right or wrong, it is you who ultimately chooses whether you will allow the situation to come between you and your relationship with the Lord.”

    Well, that’s the thing. I didn’t allow the situation to come between me and the Lord. I attended and participated anyway. There were, however, several other people who were offended on my behalf. The mistaking of custom for doctrine became a stumbling block to them, and could have been a stumbling block to me, and that isn’t fair.

    “the point of Romans 14 is that the Church ought not to go out of its way to eradicate whatever sacred cows its more conservative members might recognize.”

    Perhaps not, but what about sacred cows that are nonsense? Taking the sacrament with the right hand was all the rage when I was growing up. A nonsensical practice with no foundation in doctrine, and should I simply agree to participate just because some people think that that is the way it is to be done? Should I be prohibited from bringing any question on the practice just because it exists?

    (And, if I may point out, Joseph Smith trampled on a great many sacred cows. :) )

    If we look at Romans 14, it specifically dictates a two way responsibility:

    1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.

    Regarding verse 21:

    21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

    There is no prohibition against discussion about the meat and drink, no prohibition against communicating clearly so that we all understand each other, and no prohibition against strengthening the weak member so that he or she will be able to eat meat without fear.

    Ultimately Romans 14 is an indictment of judgement. We ought not to judge each other because of personal religious practices. We also ought not to go out of our way to make life difficult for others, whichever side of the debate we are on.

  54. Prometheus, I’m sorry that you have gotten flak for your beard. I wore a beard as I served as bishop and I wear one now as ward mission leader. The only place I have served where I was asked to shave my beard was the temple, which I did for that period of service. It seems a strange thing.

    As I read the OP I first thought that I behave this way out of common courtesy: if something is important to someone else and not to me, then I cede to the person for whom it is more important; others do the same for me. And I think that approach in a small group is still the right one.

  55. Actually, Jacob is talking about the Jews that Lehi’s family had just left; not about Pharisees 600 years in the future.

    Well, I suppose if you read verse 14 and then subsequently shut your book to never open it again. But perhaps you should go ahead and read the next verse.

    I don’t think they’ll be punished for not drinking Pepsi, but I don’t believe they’ll be blessed either.

    Romans 14:23 says otherwise.

    No, no it doesn’t. It says that someone might be cursed for doing something they feel is wrong – regardless of whether or not its wrong. But it doesn’t say that people will be blessed for doing something that is wrong because they feel it is right.

    Following that line of thinking we would be led to believe that Catholic Priests who participated in inquisition torture/massacre will be blessed for their faithfulness to their beliefs.

    From reading your comments I would believe that the responsibility to not offend lies completely with those who are not conservative. While those with conservative dogmatic viewpoints are responsibility-free and can cause offense without fear. I’m sorry, but thats a sloppy reading of Paul.

  56. Martin Willey says:

    I have not had time to read all posts, so pardon the possible redundancy, but this is a very interesting topic to me. It think the answer lies somewhere at the intersection of our increasing emphasis in the Church on overt/visible religiousity and the tendency of the more broad minded members to self-censure. I do not really understand why either thing happened, nor why I buy into either so often. The unfortunate result is that Church meetings sometimes feel like some kind of odd contest over who is most righteous.

  57. StillConfused says:

    I find that the most conservative person trumps in most matters, not just religious ones. It is typically easier for the less conservative person to come to the terms of the more conservative person. Religiously, I am about as unconservative as they come. I am perfectly fine going out to eat on Sundays and all other manners of sinfulness. But I don’t like to see other people uncomfortable. So if they aren’t cool with something, I try not to involve them in it or do it around them. Just being polite, in my mind.

  58. It is typically easier for the less conservative person to come to the terms of the more conservative person.

    Ha . . . . . ha . . . . . haha . . .

    Try telling Kristine that women don’t have the priesthood because men are spiritually weaker and need the responsibility in order to help them progress . . .

    (no offense Kristine)

    Try telling a pro-union worker that unions are a burden on our economy and drain us of resources that could better our collective lives. . . .

    I don’t think people who live/think more liberally (there HAS to be a better word) tend to be more agreeable and passive.

  59. I don’t think it’s especially liberal or conservative to think men hold the priesthood because they’re spiritually weak–it’s just dumb!

    ( :) Got me, B. Russ. Well played)

  60. RE: liberal vs conservative
    Since the above two words were used in #37 &#59, perhaps they, or anyone else can explain to me the difference between them. In the NT, the word “liberal” is used at least seven times, everytime in a very positive manner. With which part would anyone disagree? The word “conservative” was not used by the King James translators, but the scriptures tell us to hold to age-old gospel principles. Would someone like to comment of that for me and others?

  61. Jim D., I don’t agree that merely having Pepsi as an option at a function is asking anyone to violate his or her principles. If someoone were to say, “Please drink this Pepsi, I made it myself and it’s the greatest drink in the world, and my feelings would be eternally hurt if you do not at least taste it,” that would be asking someone to violate his or her principles. Just having it there as one option, however, is not asking them to do any such thing.

    I also do not think it is wrong to partake of meat when with someone you know who is against it. What if the shoe were on the other foot. Let’s say a cattleman dined with a vegetarian. Why would it not be equally a slap in the face of the cattleman to refuse to partake of beef when it’s his vocation and avocation as it would be to eat the beef in front of a confirmed vegetarian? Either way would be forcing one’s ideology upon another.

    If you invited someone with a personal convication against beef, caffeine, or wine to an extremely small gathering, i.e. your family and the other person’s family, it might be in poor taste to make the object of their conviction a central part of the meal or entertainment. If other options are available, however, only a highly judgmental person would get on his or her high horse over the issue.

  62. I hereby dub this the “I’m-a-better-Mormon-than-you-are” effect.

    Or maybe the “You’re-a-better-Mormon-than-I” (Gunga Din) effect.

  63. Furthermore, whoever said that home teaching takes place whenever or wherever the home teacher wants it to take place had better not ever be assigned home teacher to my family, or he’ll never make it past our doorstep. Church callings don’t overrrule common courtesy. A person with decent manners doesn’t show up at another’s home at any time he or she is unwelcome or not specifically welcomed.

  64. #63 Alexis, I think you misunderstood Queuno. He wrote:

    “(And for home teaching – it’s what the home teachEE wants. Period.)” (emphasis mine).

    He meant that those who are to be visited or home taught get to decide the when, where, and how and the those will will be doing the visiting/teaching.

  65. Jewish dilemma: it is Friday afternoon and everyone is working late for a midnight deadline. You live eight miles away and the Sabbath is approaching. What do you do?

    This happened to an Orthodox Jewish coworker of mine named Morris. Did he shirk his work duty and drive home in time for sundown? Did he fail to keep the Sabbath holy? How easy it would have been to say he had to leave by sundown. Certainly the owner of the company was (non-Orthodox) Jewish and would have understood.

    Morris said nothing. He worked dutifully with everyone else, late into the night, without offering any excuse. Rather than burden others with his own religious covenants, he set his beliefs aside for the greater good. After the work was complete, he repented: leaving his car at work and refusing all offers of a ride, he walked home eight miles in the dark. He would bend his vows for others but not for his own convenience. [I on the other hand might have said: in for a penny, in for a pound!]

    It is possible to honor your covenants with God without burdening others or making them unwilling co-covenanters. I admire Morris’ commitment both to his coworkers and to his faith.

  66. Interesting that nobody has mentioned marriage. I see this happen *all the time* in my marriage. My wife isn’t obnoxious, vocal, or pouty about it, but there is very little room to compromise on the conservative position. TV (or as this weekend, Halloween) on Sunday? Music too out there? Caffeine? Tell the home teachers they can stuff their boring lessons and just come over for a night of board games? Hamburgers or salad? All real-life questions that we can agree to disagree on, but when it comes to family policy the only tenable option is usually to side with conservatism.

  67. Natalie B. says:

    #66: I’ve definitely seen this issue be a real point of tension in some marriages.

  68. I’m not sure liberal vs. conservative are the correct terms to use here.

    And while I appreciate that things are different in various spots of the vineyard, it turns out that at least where I live, those members who are trying to be so “safe” that they do not have internet in the home, teach that chocolate consumption is against the word of wisdom, insist on homeschooling even when it may not be in a particular child’s best interest, etc.–well, it turns out that those folks are NOT called to positions of leadership.

    Which kind of makes sense because they may not be comfortable walking through a homeless shelter, giving a blessing to someone dying of liver disease (from drinking), or performing a marriage for a young couple who are expecting. Or whatever–of course I don’t know why they are not called, I just know they are not.

    So the burden of leadership falls upon those of us who are more in the middle: who occasionally skip church for a professional conference, play solitaire with face cards, read Harry Potter, etc.

    Which is starting to make me grumpy after more than a decade of having those heavy callings that suck up every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday as well as all Sunday and many Fridays and Saturdays.

    Zealotry may make THEM more comfortable and keep THEM safe, but it isn’t helping MY family or the church in general.

  69. Martin Willey says:

    Re: #66. Interesting. Although I find myself at the liberal/flexible end of the spectrum in most Church settings, I am the conservative/observant one in my marriage. And, I find that I am rarely deferred to in that context, unless I play the “righteous card” pretty heavy-handedly, which almost never feels right to me. What am I doing wrong? How come I never win?

  70. 62> I hereby dub this the “I’m-a-better-Mormon-than-you-are” effect.

    I second that. We used to have a family locally who didn’t have an Internet connection at home. I was called as the “Communcations Person” – responsible for the weekly program, the ward website, the calendar, etc. Being that I work in a rather technical/financial capacity, I made it clear that the ward website would be the ONLY source of information, and that all scheduling had to go through the website.

    Brother Better-Mormon-Than-You raised a huge stink, claiming that I was deliberately trying to exclude his family from ward activities, since they didn’t have that “open sewer of filth” Internet in the home.

    I finally told him “Fine. Head down to the public library and access it there. I’m not sending the entire ward Amish just because you think you’re morally superior to the rest of us.”

    They moved a couple of weeks later.

  71. Our ward has many members who would say what they think about all of those topics. I’ve not been in a ward where discussion was not welcomed. I like to hear about the experiences of others because they help me better understand my own choices. Speak up, and don’t worry. We’re all in this together.

  72. I agree with Stillconfused. It’s natural–it’s easier psychologically on the whole to come to terms with a more stringent commandment. Think about the sabbath day. It’s so much easier to give up some activity because your spouse doesn’t do it, than to start doing something you’ve always shunned out of personal conviction. There’s not as much guilt involved in going along with a more stringent commandment as in stepping down on some standard you already hold.
    I’m not saying it should be that way, because taken to the extreme we get to be pharisees pretty fast, I’m just saying I think it’s a pretty natural response, having nothing to do with people thinking they’re better than anyone. (And I’m just talking about commandments and standards, not conservative and liberal politics or church doctrine).

  73. This post struck me as being profoundly myopic–particularly since others so often extend it to us. Regardless of where one falls on the “conservative” or “not” dimension in the church (and I really think that’s an insufficient way of looking at it), just about any active mormon, regardless of how ‘non conservative’ is probably the most behaviorally ‘conservative’ one (not in terms of politics, but behavioral standards) in the room in a group of non-member friends. After all, how often do non-member friends try to find an alternative to an evening at the bar (and when I say bar I mean a real bar, a place principally designed for the consumption of alcohol to the end of getting hammered and or hook up), so that we can comfortably be a part? Or be a bit coy around us about having been to a strip club the night before, so as to avoid making one uncomfortable or feeling excluded? Or resisted the urge to watch porn in the dorm common room out of respect for us? (all of those have been done–unasked by me–by my friends–And many of those people have been among the best influences in my life.)

  74. Natalie B. says:

    I never ask non-member friends to change their habits. If I don’t want to attend an activity, I don’t go.

  75. I have never asked. They have insisted on it.

  76. Haven’t read the whole thread–

    I agree the “conservative trump card” can be a huge annoyance — I hate it. But not as much as the “liberal trump card” which dominates in just about every other venue.

    The liberal trump card can shut the mouths of kings who would otherwise call the kettle black when judging bad policy, bad ethics, or even bad art.

  77. TMD – Your experience has not been my experience at all. The majority of my friends have usually been non-mormon, both in California as well as in Utah. Both in college as well as in the professional world. And it has rarely if ever been the case that they change their activities to pander to me. It’s possible that my friends were not as good as your friends. . . I guess it’s also just as likely that you are more of a burden on your friends than you realize.

    Sorry to be “myopic”, I had lasik a couple years ago, I thought I’d taken care of that.

  78. B Russ, perhaps it has always been that there has never been anything so special about me that people who didn’t want to be around me simply weren’t my friend. But those who have been my friends have always accepted me as I am, and part of that is the integrity of my position religiously. They don’t wish me to change for them. (Incidentally, I have lived in PA, TN, OH, and NY. Perhaps the fact that I have never lived in UT (or, indeed, CA) is part of this. And the fact that many of my best non-mormon friends have been religious. (From my group of college friends and room-mates, there are now a jesuit, two lutheran pasters, a now former monk, two southern baptist pastors, and a couple of episcopalian priests. And a number of intellectual soldiers. But also lots of grad students, and now junior faculty, And also high school teachers, a couple of metal workers, etc.))

    And let’s be realistic: this same calculation is going on in every such situation. When someone says, as Natalies does ” If I don’t want to attend an activity, I don’t go” that’s essentially saying in quite stark terms to her friends–perhaps implicitly–that if they want her around, they can’t do things beyond her comfort zone. And while she does not seem to be apparent to her, it seems obviously true to me.

  79. Also, B Russ, lest you be concerned about my friends, I’ve always been willing to go to the reasonable full extent of my boundaries to not be a burden, whcih they also know: so I have no aversion to going into a bar (particularly if it’s a nice one…many will give you pop for free!), will watch the occasional R rated movie, etc.

  80. “will watch the occasional R rated movie, etc.”

    Oh, now you’ve done it–we might as well call in gst preemptively before the thread goes down that well-worn track :)

  81. Seems like “love your neighbor” covers this type of situation.

    Since “love your neighbor” includes respect for their values, then helping them conform to their values is something that we should aspire to — whether their values are conservative or liberal.

    That does not imply any change in anyone’s personal values (eg. feminist to non-feminist, or pro-life to pro-abortion), but a deep respect for the free will given by God and his commandment to “love your neighbor”.

  82. One simple reason: fear of judgment. I don’t want to lump all “conservative” members together, but in my experience they often see their view as the only correct view. I think this stems from extending our belief in one true Church; thus there must be one true way of thinking or acting in all circumstances. That’s why the most extreme of these will view drinking a coke the same as drinking a beer, and the offender needs to be shunned or given guidance and testimony to help return him to the fold.

    Our stake president has emphatically spoken out against R-rated films, caffeinated beverages, and facial hair. My wife and I have learned that it’s important to pick your battles when in church settings before expressing our “pragmatic” views (which is the term I prefer to “liberal”, although I’ll admit it has it’s own problems/connotations). That doesn’t mean we’re afraid to share what we think, it’s just that some of these topics are hot buttons and in a church setting it’s too easy to end up inadvertently creating contention, or to not have adequate time to really explain your view and thus be misinterpreted and further misjudged. When the group consensus seemed to be that little girls should wear clothing as if they had temple garments to cover, my wife decided not to be the apparent black sheep. But when she was confronted about why our little daughters were wearing sleeveless dresses to church she politely stood up for our parenting and denounced the non-doctrinal concept of modesty the sisters were trying to impose.

    Here’s an example of what I’m talking about that had an unfortunate outcome.

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/645192575/Ex-LDS-author-says-art-church-clash.html

    It’s sad to me that he felt his only recourse was to leave the church.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,828 other followers