Antinomianism is generally an epithet signaling heresy in the broader Christian community. It has various meanings but the root idea is the proposition that if one is saved by (typically irresistible) grace, then one’s actions cannot be held to any other standard or laws. The caricature is an idea that there aren’t really any rules you need to live by once you are saved to retain that salvation. The simplified orthodox protestant response is that while that may be technically true, if you have been truly saved then you will live according to moral/divine/scriptural/secular law, because that is what saved people do. Or something.
The idea of antinomianism is so terrifying that Mormon church leaders in Utah grew increasingly discomfited by the promises of perseverance effectuated in the Temple, until Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie threw down the gauntlet and formally disclaimed it (or dramatically curtailed it). The pendulum has swung back in recent years.
I bring this topic up in order to approach an idea that I think is mistaken, but which seems popular anecdotally. It is the idea that whatever the Church is doing is the only way it should be done. And I think it has parallels to antinomianism. I think that the argument goes like this: Despite any fallibility of particular individuals within the authoritative bureaucracy, the Lord gives his imprimatur to the actions of church leaders as mediated through the organizations of the priesthood. Therefore all current policies and teachings of the church have the imprimatur of the Lord. The current policies and teachings therefor are not subject to outside critiques based on moral/divine/scriptural/secular law.
Now, I think that there are multiple reasons why such a position doesn’t make sense. First, it doesn’t seem to jibe with our history. We have examples where influences outside the priesthood bureaucracy changed the church for the better, and others where following internal directives resulted in catastrophe (thankfully these are very rare phenomena). The church is living (by one important account the only true and living church) and consequently always changing. This is a feature, not a bug. Many of the important changes in the church have been initiated outside of the authoritative bureaucracy (think primary, Relief Society, Sunday school, Scouts, the entire Progressive movement). Julie’s comments here resonated on this point. Moreover, in our past, there are some very rare occasions when unquestioned obedience to the directives of church leaders has led to calamities unimaginable to the average member (See Ron Walker’s BYU Studies article, e.g.).
Also historically demonstrated is that the church does adapt to civil law. The earliest revelations on the law of consecration were edited to comply with statutory reality. In a way I don’t completely understand, Elder Oaks has also commented to the effect (I think in response to Sarah Gordon’s work) that the Feds got it right with regards to the Mormon Question.
I’d like to consider another important, but also difficult, area to engage. Now, I’m not a fan of the recent efforts in mobilizing protests. Mostly, because I don’t know or trust the people that are instigating the efforts, and I don’t think such efforts are an effective way to instigate change (that said, I have a tremendous amount of love, respect, and support for my friends who participated in the events and am absolutely appalled by many detractors). Despite my skepticism, I think both pants and prayer are very interesting cases and worthy of attention. In both cases tradition as reified in practice has been exalted in the minds of some as falling under the imprimatur of the Lord. This is of course silly. The problem is that when we don’t make clear distinctions between tradition and the voice of the Lord, often times, as a conservative organization (i.e., often slow to change) we can become burdened by the worst of our past culture. The temple and priesthood ban is an excellent example of this.
Now, I’m fully aware that certain actions and materials can have real and important meaning. For example we ascribe particular meaning to white baptismal clothing. This meaning didn’t exist when Jesus or Joseph Smith were baptized, but it is something we have accepted and celebrated for generations. Often times the meanings we ascribe to certain actions and materials like this are quite valuable. But sometimes there are also other more valuable things.
I don’t know the most expedient methods to counter the ideas implicit in an antinomian approach to church practice and consequently help the church live. My current thoughts revolve around the dissemination of information and the having of conversations. I think that when you learn that we haven’t always done things a certain way, it opens the possibilities for doing it differently in the future. I also believe in the reasonableness of people generally, at least the ones with whom I’m interested in talking. Even if a thing has never changed, perhaps there is still room. Also I may very well be wrong, and I am certainly naïve. So you are justified to go and do as you wish.