Like anyone could even know that

Layne is an opinionated firecracker, slatternly hausfrau, failed hippie, and amateur student of the Second Estate. She blogs at www.babacapra.com.

There is a scene in the movie Napoleon Dynamite in which Napoleon’s emotionally stunted Uncle Rico is showing Napoleon and his brother Kip a video of himself throwing a football, demanding validation from them. When Napoleon complains that the video is “pretty much the worst video ever made,” Uncle Rico snaps, “You know what, Napoleon? You can leave!”

How much you wanna make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains?

I have heard a similar sentiment expressed frequently in my life as a Mormon, and its use has ramped up exponentially over the past few weeks as the time grew nearer for the Ordain Women group to try to attend the Priesthood session of General Conference. It has echoed and rebounded over and over until it has created an acrimonious cloud of alienation. “If you don’t like the way the church is run, why don’t you leave?”

I understand why those people say what they do—it comes from a place of frustration, when you feel like someone is invading a space that for you has been happy and peaceful, trying to change what you see as an important component of that space’s character. Their grievance is alien to you, and you don’t understand how someone who loves the same thing that you love could want to change it—they must not really love it, at least not like you do. Don’t they understand that the thing they’re asking to change is what makes that thing great?

I see a similar situation in the small rural town where I live, which is slowly becoming more populated, and we’re starting to see zoning complaints and arguments between long-time residents and newer residents, as well as between those with a preservation mindset vs. those with a growth mindset. The old-timers/preservers want things to stay the way they have always been, and the move-ins/growers are frustrated by what they see as outdated zoning ordinances that hinder progress. I sympathize with both sides, because I can see the value in both their arguments—we need to preserve farmland, because the simple truth is you can’t eat houses, but we also need to allow our community to grow and serve the needs of a larger set of people, because a community that doesn’t grow dies, in which case it will serve the needs of no one. These decisions have to be navigated very carefully, or you can destroy what you’re trying to create or preserve. And both groups have claim upon the space and deserve to be heard.

In a similar case, those who study the English language and advise on its correct use are generally separated into two camps: prescriptive and descriptive. Prescriptive grammarians tend to want to preserve the English language the way it has been and adhere to long-standing rules and customs for speech, while descriptive grammarians tend to be very welcoming of new words and customs as they are added to the language. But a balance between these approaches is necessary, to keep the English language both vibrant and easily understood. Ask Latin what happens when a language stops growing and changing . . .

My point here is this: the LDS church is a temporal structure meant to enable people to learn about God and Jesus Christ, and what they want for and from us in this life and the next. As such, it needs to fit the needs of a widely varied group of people: the entire human species. No one member, or group of members, actually has claim upon what the LDS church should be or look like, because quite frankly it’s not their church or our church or anybody’s church but God’s. So for one group of members to tell another group of members to take or leave it is pretty darn ballsy, not to mention incorrect. And if I understood President Uchtdorf’s Saturday morning message correctly, there is a place at the Lord’s table for everyone, even those who doubt the practices or customs of the LDS church.

There are those among us who get comfort from rigid structure and clear rules, and those among us who want freedom and exploration of our divine nature. The church can’t survive without either group. So how to reconcile these warring factions? Well, we should look to the basics, the things that we know for sure are true. I suspect that the pure doctrine of Christ is a lot simpler and more unifying than we let it be. I am very fond of the children’s song “He Sent His Son,” because in my opinion it describes our entire purpose: have faith, have hope, live like His Son, help others on their way. That’s it, folks, the building blocks of eternal spiritual progression. Stop thinking that you know what God wants for anyone but you, stop making judgments about the spiritual health of anyone but yourself, stop thinking that the only revelation that is genuine is the revelation that comes to you. Stop telling people to leave. Say to yourself, “This is not my church. This is not my church. This is not my church.” And while you’re at it, say, “We need each other. We need each other. We need each other.” Say it as many times as you need to until you believe it. And then start living that way. Slide over and make some room.

Comments

  1. [Applause!]

    That was just fantastic.

  2. Ron Madson says:

    Amen and Amen. In fact we are to governed “in all things by voice and common consent.” No one owns this church. No ones. Heck even the Presiding High Priest can be removed from office if need be. We need to adopt a horizontal rather then vertical structure—the latter is the way of the gentiles and not the way of the Lord as I read/interpret Jesus

  3. Thomas Parkin says:

    Amen.

  4. Antonio Parr says:

    No question that everyone who wishes to be part of Christ’s kingdom will need to be prepared to stretch themselves in ways that will often be uncomfortable. But it would be naive to avoid acknowledging that the figurative pew is only so wide, and there comes a point where sliding over means falling off anything that resembles common ground.

    Is there room in the Church for people who deny that Jesus is the Christ and who see it as their mission to use Church meetings to dissuade others from believing in the Messiah? Is there room in the Church for Westboro Baptists who wish to use Church meetings to promote their belief that God hates homosexuals? No and no, and etc.

    A church will need to establish basic tenents of belief and standards of conduct that form the basis of the group’s identity. These parameters will make the organization a welcoming place for some, and an unwelcoming place for others.

    We can and must be kinder and gentler and more willing to love and worship with those whose vision to our own. But we also can and must be prepared to be true to the faith for which martyrs have perished, and true to our understanding of what that faith requires from us as a covenantal community.

  5. Antonio Parr says:

    (“Whose vision may differ from our own”)

    Tough to draft on a handheld device. Sorry for the glitch!

  6. Lovely! We really should realtalk sometime, Layne.

  7. Wonderful, Layne.

    Nice cartoon straw man examples to prove Layne’s point, Antonio. Brilliant!!

  8. Antonio Parr says:

    Ray –

    Thanks for the kind and welcoming observation.

    Slide on over!

  9. Antonio Parr says:

    (Layne – very well written, very thought-provoking post. But it leaves me wondering, with or without cartoon straw men: when does an embrace become so wide that it ultimately excludes those who hold certain tenets to be nonnegotiable and essential to defining a community? And when is/what makes a tenet “essential”? It seems to me that every religious community must ask this question, and the answer will inevitably and simultaneously both embrace and exclude a large number of people.)

  10. Brilliant. I needed to hear this today.

  11. Really enjoyed this, especially the shout out to my favorite primary song!

    I think the tension between members with different views of current practice is a healthy opportunity. When we genuinely try to understand why people see things another way we grow in empathy and challenge our own assumptions. This assumes we acknowledge a difference between “our assumptions” and “gospel truth”. This is especially tough in a climate where we are supposed to have a rock-solid testimony and challenging one’s assumptions can be interpreted as losing said testimony. Also, our anti-contention bent leads us to the conclusion that people should just see everything our way; why can’t THEY just stop being contentious already?

  12. Mark Brown says:

    Antonio,

    Your argument makes sense theoretically, but it breaks down almost completely on the practical level. Consider: B. H. Roberts expressed some doubts about the Book of Mormon, yet he was still retained as a general authority. If a man like that can thrive in the highest councils of the church, we can jolly well welcome doubters and non-believers in our local wards, and fellowship them as friends. The same thing goes for behavioral standards. The gospels record that Jesus sought fellowship among drunks and prostitutes. Indeed, I think one very telling measure of our discipleship is the extent to which we are willing to welcome and include the man who smells of tobacco or the woman in the skirt that is too short and too tight and the youth who think that Jesus, the church, and religion in general are all bogus.

  13. So the way for reconciliation is for one side to sit down, shut up, and reconcile themselves to change without protest?

    I get that isn’t what you’re trying to say. I agree that anyone telling someone else to leave should rethink their approach. But I think that’s a whopping huge straw man itself. I haven’t met many people who want to kick people out.

    Most people who say “why don’t you leave?” are asking a sincere question born from confusion and hurt, not issuing an invitation.

    “Stop thinking that you know what God wants for anyone but you, stop making judgments about the spiritual health of anyone but yourself, stop thinking that the only revelation that is genuine is the revelation that comes to you….” applies quite thoroughly to the Ordain Women movement.

    The main difference is who is capable of receiving revelation for the Church. Some clearly believe that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are out of touch, unable to hear what the Lord wants for the Church, making it necessary to bring secular pressure to bear on them to make them hear and accept God’s will.

    Without faith that the Lord is truly in control of the Church and capable of moving the leadership in the right direction at the right time through normal channels of agitation and revelation, there is no reason to follow their lead. To those who possess that faith, those who use the media and popular opinion to try to force change are not just contending against the leadership, they are contending against God. Bewilderment that someone who does not believe in the divine source of leadership in the Church would want to change it when there are so many other churches that more closely resemble the individual’s beliefs is perfectly predictable.

    Doubtlessly, charity needs to be exercised by those who are in a position to succor those finding themselves in pain. They need to make room for the people. But that doesn’t require that they make room for the ideologies. Especially ideologies that attempt to undermine the foundation of the Church. It isn’t about women’s ordination for them. It is almost entirely about understanding whose Church this really is.

  14. SilverRain, precisely. What’s good for the gander should be equally prescriptive to the goose. There is a point where you are no longer helping to build the kingdom but instead are sowing destruction. It’s fair to ask hard questions but a goal of harmony should never be lost.

  15. I liked the analogy to prescriptive and descriptive language as well. I have also used that when evaluating the Proclamation on the Family. Either it’s an accurate description or not, but you can’t prescribe roles like that. Either it fits or it requires individual adaptation. People can’t be who they are not.

    This is the same phenomenon as provincialism and third-culture people (those who navigate between cultures rather than just affiliating with their own and staying put). Until you see your culture as an outsider, through empathy or first hand experience, you lack objectivity about it. And yet the provincial attitudes are why there is a culture in the first place that is unique. They preserve it. I enjoyed your OP very much.

  16. Yep. We should eliminate the term “apostate” from our vocabulary and accept everyone. Change the name of the church to “People Who Value Diversity of All But Authority of None.”

  17. Well said. Thank you for this fantastic commentary.

    As for revelation – personal and institutional – I think a mass of similarly-understood personal revelation has direct connection to church hierarchical revelation. A literal, spiritually subterranean connection. It seems to me The Body of Christ – the church – is like a giant aquifer.

    Who is to say where, when or through whom the living water will surface at a given time? Maybe it’s via a prophet at the pulpit for some things. Maybe for other things, it is via a group of brave souls seeking entrance to a meeting from which they have been banned. Truth is truth. It’s all connected. Personally, I see Ordain Women as a manifestation, a “well” through which vital truths are being brought to the surface of our collective consciousness. It tastes good to me.

  18. Antonio Parr says:

    Hi Mark:

    My post was not so much an argument as it was an inquiry. How does a group such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints define itself and protect its core beliefs? And how does it create a culture that helps its members unite around this core beliefs?

    Accommodating ~behavioral~ deviations is one thing, and, of course, we should welcome sinners and strugglers and fumblers, because it was for such that Jesus came. But accommodating ~doctrinal~ deviations is much more difficult, especially in an environment where we are teaching children principles that we believe to be essential to their happiness in this life and salvation in the life to come. And, of course, the sought-after unity that helps define Christ’s people becomes almost impossible to obtain if we value equally mutually-exclusive doctrinal positions about issues such as the nature/existence of Christ, the Messiaship of Jesus, the Restoration of the Gospel, the Book of Mormon as scripture, etc.

    P.S. I used the word “Naive” in my first post in this thread. That word was poorly chosen, and was not in any way directed to the author of this post.

  19. @IDIAT

    I’m with you. The laws of the Lord are fixed, and so should the policies of his church. If anything we need to enforce these rules of law more stringently. Force the saints into unified behavior and thought. I mean, we did choose the plan of free agency right? Wait, what?

  20. Antonio Parr says:

    Elder:

    Your sarcasm aside, what is the minimum amount of unified thought necessary to define a religious group? What beliefs are the bare minimum for Mormonism, the disavowal of which makes one not a Mormon?

  21. Magpielovely says:

    Your phrase “This is not my church,” stuck a chord. Lately I’ve been saying to myself “It’s my church too” as a way to explain and justify and stand up for myself. But this post reminded me that it’s not really my church or yours, it’s His. Truly, all of us need to be flexible in adapting to serve and grow in His church.

  22. melodynew says:

    My comment above is directed to the author of the OP.

  23. Elder – “No one member, or group of members, actually has claim upon what the LDS church should be or look like, because quite frankly it’s not their church or our church or anybody’s church but God’s.” And who do we claim expresses God’s will with respect to what the church should look like? I think it’s the guy we claim possesses, and has authority to exercise, all priesthood keys. The post is standard “we need to feel good about everybody and not question or challenge their ideas, even if their ideas don’t remotely resemble things found in the Gospel Principles Manual.” I’m all for inclusiveness. There is already a wide variety of individuality and belief among the Saints. There’s room on my pew for anyone who wants to worship on the Sabbath. But don’t expect me to let just anyone take the microphone and preach to the congregation.

  24. Antonio Parr:

    I don’t think you can create a specific list of core beliefs all must prescribe to. Each person born into this world is unique. As such, the lens through which they view life will never match exactly yours or mine. In general, I think in order to be unified you truly need only a few basic core principles of belief. Mainly, that their is a purpose to this life and we each have a responsibility to find out what our purpose is. In this quest basic Christian principles should be discovered as important aspects of eternal growth and happiness. As literal children of God each has the potential to be great in this life. Recognizing your potential for greatness as a child of God should help you recognize others potential for the same. And my great is not your great, as designed by God.

    When I go to church on Sundays I find more comfort from members who openly advocate their struggles and doubts than those who act as though everything in the church is perfect and so are their lives because they have fully conformed.

    I can’t answer your questions exactly, but neither can you. And neither can the church for that matter given it’s never ending shifting and growth.

  25. IDIAT:

    Isn’t that was testimony meeting is for? To give everybody the opportunity to speak their feelings and beliefs? If we had perfect faith we wouldn’t need the church. Openly discussing our differences and true perspectives can only benefit the church, not degrade it. Homosexuality is a very taboo subject in our church, but a very prevalent issue on the minds of most people these days. Instead of being told what I should believe regarding the matter, I’d like to hear what others truly feel and how they reconcile it to their faith. God gave us free agency and brains. I think we should advocate the use of these. If we truly seek God’s direction in the use of our free agency and thoughts shouldn’t we collectively come to eternal truths?

  26. The laws of the Lord are fixed, and so should the policies of his church. When I look at the progressive nature of the gospel; the Old Testament ten commandants are eclipsed by New Testament beatitudes taught by Christ himself which themselves are eclipsed by following the Spirit of God and experiencing the BoM mighty change of heart and beyond that apparently lies even more gospel contained in the 2/3 sealed portion of the plates I find this static statement to be sorely lacking. The gospel is living, it is dynamic and it progresses and so should the church. Should a politically progressive agenda be imposed on the church? Of course not. Is it okay to ask our prophets to ask God if it’s time for women to hold and exercise his authority? It absolutely is!

  27. It’s rare that I find so many people to disagree with on a single thread! From Ron Mason’s alternative universe church to Silver rain’s efforts to take ecclesiastical discipline into her own hands, it’s simply remarkable. Thanks guys!

  28. Antonio Parr says:

    Elder:

    I, too, appreciate people who speak authentically of their spiritual journeys. However, sharing a doubt is different from “advocating” doubt, and, while I am usually comfortable with the former, would chaffe at the latter.

    As to core Mormon beliefs, I would think that they involve the belief in a living God; the messiaship of Jesus Christ; the reality of the Holy Ghost; the acceptance of a Restoration through Joseph Smith; and the belief in a combination of continuing revelation/priesthood authority.

    There is room in the pews for those who doubt, but still hope for, the truth of these core beliefs. There is certainly room for those who have not mastered all of our behavioral standards (i.e., all of us). There is room for those who doubt core beliefs but who wish to join Latter-Day Saints in their quest to live lives of service — the needs of God’s children exceed the current number of available servants — provided that expressions of doubt are not so vocal or strident as to disrupt the essential process of encouraging each other in our quest to have faith and unity in core principles.

  29. Antonio Parr says:

    (At the end of the day, every person in the Church needs to be prepared to go through the uncomfortable process of learning to love and live with those who are different from ourselves To that end, Elder Causse hit a grand slam home run with his General Priesthood Session talk on the welcoming of strangers, something that I and I’ll bet everyone on this list needs to learn to do better. God bless us all on this journey.)

  30. questioning says:

    What? are we talking about replacing the strait and narrow way with the broad and wide way or are we just saying that we need to appreciate that we share the church with the other ‘Latter-day Saints’ that Christ has called and changed in his church? Don’t like the first idea – but do like the second. Still, I’m reminded that there are, within the kingdom apparently, both wheat and tares, both wise and foolish.

    There are examples, in scripture (and elsewhere) or Christ being both inclusive and exclusive. It is tough to follow his example.

  31. God gave us free agency and brains. I think we should advocate the use of these. If we truly seek God’s direction in the use of our free agency and thoughts shouldn’t we collectively come to eternal truths?

    Well, not really. That’s not the pattern the Lord has established. In our fallen state I just don’t think we’re capable of naturally coming to understand eternal truths collectively.

    Don’t forget that the central point of agency is not just being able to do whatever we want, but it is the power, gift and ability to choose good or evil.

    How do we discern good from evil? Well, we have personal revelation, but we also have modern prophets and the scriptures. Relying on any one of those independently, in my opinion, is dangerous. A balanced combination of the three is necessary.

    So, your approach of listening to “what others truly feel and how they reconcile it to their faith,” while well intentioned, cannot be the only basis by which we arrive at truths that should guide our decisions.

  32. Kerbearrn says:

    I loved the OP, thanks Layne!!
    Enjoying the discussion of others, thank you too.
    Just want to say, what if Joseph Smith had not questioned the status quo of Christianity?

    I believe we, as a people and as a church, will grow and learn a great many things along the way. Remember, the whole organization is really just a tool that exists to help people know God the Father, Jesus Christ, and return to Them. Pretty much all of it is a means to an end, the only end that matters is reuniting in the celestial kingdom, however we get there. I pray that my imperfections will not cause another to walk away from their own opportunities. And I would be thrilled to welcome any and all– cigarette smoke, beer breath, tattoos, LGBT, nonbelief, whatever. We all can find a place. I really believe that.

    Sliding over…

  33. “Silver rain’s efforts to take ecclesiastical discipline into her own hands.”

    This deserves a big, fat guffaw. What on earth did I say that has anything to do with disciplining people? Rarely have I seen you make such nonsensical accusations without a whisper of an attempt to back it up. Oh, wait . . . never mind.

    Apparently, I struck a chord with you. *LOL*

  34. “I haven’t met many people who want to kick people out.”

    You are fortunate.

    I wrote the following in March:

    “Giving Each Other Some Wiggle Room” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2013/03/giving-each-other-some-wiggle-room.html)

  35. Also, since the beginning of the Restoration, we have had apostles who disagreed with each other ab out various things, including some that were central concepts of the Gospel. If such disagreement is okay in our top leadership, it ought to be okay in our local congregations.

    Disagreement isn’t the issue. The issue is our reaction to and handling of disagreement.

  36. If such disagreement is okay in our top leadership, it ought to be okay in our local congregations.

    To a point, Ray.

    Don’t forget one of the first items of business Jesus took up when he appeared to the Nephites was settling the issue of baptism. “Let there be no disputations among you.”

    Any kinds of discussions that stir up our hearts to contend with one another (as I believe several recent issues have) are not appropriate for our local congregations, which is why I’m sure you see bishops and SPs tamp down those kinds of discussions. No good can come from bringing up certain issues in a congregational setting.

  37. I think it’s clear that there is very little that most members must or must not believe (or practice) in order to be called latter-day saints. I think our tolerance of this diversity is not as wide as it should be.
    I really have no problems with this concept in general, but what I’m concerned with is: what about those who are asked to fill leadership positions or work at BYU? Is the “minimum amount of unified thought” that they have in common with the correlated church or current views of the Brethren different for these people than for someone who has no calling or church employment? Should a person who believes that women should be ordained (or that gays should be allowed to marry, or that the Book of Mormon might not be literally true, etc) accept a leadership calling? How close to the chest should they keep these views? Should they hold temple recommends? Should they be BYU professors?

  38. I agree that fighting about stuff at church isn’t appropriate, Jay – but that’s not the same thing at all as silencing disagreement and demanding everyone see everything (or any particular thing) the same way. That quote you provided actually bolsters my point – that it’s not the disagreement that is the issue but rather “our reaction to and handling of disagreement”. It doesn’t say, “Let there be no disagreement among you” – and that’s a vital distinction.

    In that light, any issue can be brought up in a congregational setting if the people in that congregation are mature, meek, humble, charitable, etc. enough to discuss it in the right way. If they aren’t, it ought not be discussed – but not discussing it ought not be the universal default . We ought to want to be able to discuss anything and then use discretion and charity in determining when not to discuss something.

  39. One view point is not contentious, it requires at least two. A conversation is not contentious. If you wish to avoid contending simply allow the minority to speak, if you attempt to silence or exclude them you are paving a road of potential contention.

  40. Agreed, Ray, which is why I made sure to begin my post with “to a point.”

    There is a line, somewhere, that the Lord expects us not to cross from disagreement to disputation. We have to be careful, however, in acknowledging that, absent the Lord himself to tell us when we’ve crossed that line, we have to rely on our (admittedly imperfect) earthly leaders.

  41. Romni, there are some pretty specific beliefs you need to have in order to hold a temple recommend. Many call themselves Latter Day Saints who do not hold a recommend and as such I completely agree with you that there aren’t many things you need to believe in order to join the congregation. Though if we’re being honest with ourselves, we covenanted to many of the same things when we entered into the waters of baptism. And as such, if there are any of those basic principles with which we disagree or live lives that are contrary to those covenants then we should abstain from the sacrament.

    It is entirely possible for someone to believe that women should be ordained and still be faithful to their covenants. There is nothing wrong with hoping that gay marriage might become acceptable also. But when you’re employed by the Church it would probably be wise to walk a little more circumspectly in how you present those views. As for roles of leadership with the Church, clearly there have always been differing views on sensitive issues. What one has to be careful about is not presenting one’s own views as the Church’s views if they run contrary to current doctrinal or even possibly cultural attitude.

  42. Antonio Parr says:

    Ray:

    Sometimes disagreement is the issue, especially if it undermines the core messages that form the heart and soul of a particular religious community.

  43. Layne, thank you for teasing out the productive tension between the extremes. I am finding that sometimes I have to discover the excesses of one or the other approach, before I finally stumble on wisdom and moderation…which makes me want to ask if you can forgive me for being an insufferably self-righteous coworker back in the days of Rusty and Rosy? I love your writing.

  44. Antonio Parr says:

    Ray:

    I agree with the last paragraph of your most recent post, although the inevitable presence of children, youth and those new to our faith renders formal Church meetings an ill-suited place for expressions of disagreement over core principles.

  45. Antonio, again, I draw a very careful line between disputation and “expressions of disagreement”. Too often, merely expressing a different perspective is lumped with and defined as disputation – and “disagreement” alone is seen as wrong. Honestly, I wish my children and new members (and investigators) heard more perspectives (more expressions of disagreement) at church, expressed in non-threatening, non-confrontational, civil, humble, meek ways, so they understand that we aren’t a church full of hyper-sensitive, homogenous, close-minded people with whom they and their honest but different opinions can’t possibly fit.

    It’s fine to talk about extremes, but that’s not reality in 90+% of the cases we experience in church. Most of the time, it’s people with interesting, enlightening, unique perspectives from which we communally could learn who feel different and, therefore, remain silent. We all lose something important when that happens.

    The default shouldn’t be, “Keep your mouth shut unless you feel prompted to open it, and never express disagreement when someone says something about core principles.” The default should be, “Share your honest feelings unless you feel prompted not to do so, even when dealing with core principles.” Reality is somewhere in the middle, but I’d rather err on the side of charity and inclusiveness rather than judgmentalism and exclusivity.

    Also, who gets to determine which specific view of something is correct and ought to be shared in a group setting? Take something as core but complicated as the Atonement. There are multiple perspectives of the Atonement that I love and from which I have gained insight and solace. Is it really wrong to “express disagreement” with one view, especially if all people do is express different views that works for them?

  46. To the OP, Layne- BRILLIANT. Standing ovation. Really. Wonderful.

  47. In my church experience, there have been a few people who asked me the OP question, “… then why don’t you leave?” Every one followed up with actions that demonstrated that they were not concerned with my view of the gospel, but that they were uncomfortable with me being there and wanted me to leave. In contrast there have been others who strongly disagreed with me, but were able to discuss our differences in their own quest for enlightenment. Those are the people that let me sit next to them at church.

  48. Antonio Parr says:

    Ray:

    Respectful, nurturing disagreement is an art form possessed by very few.

    In a divisive, tribeless society, people crave unity, and the LDS Church does a wonderful job of creating a sense of being a part of a benevolent tribe. Call it Zion, call it community, call it whatever, but it is priceless identity for many.

    People are busy and hurried, and I don’t know many men or women who want to give their few discretionary hours to attend meetings where people are sparring. They find value in simplification and value in repetition, and the fruits that I see from this process are a kind and service-oriented people who are making the world a better place. I am grateful to be able to worship with fellow Latter-Day Saints.

    You indicated that, in effect, expressions of disagreement don’t have to be disagreeable. And yet the spirit that prompted you to dismiss an earlier post of mine as a “cartoon straw man” is hard for any of us (myself included) to repress when we feel that a deeply-held position is being ignored or rejected by others, hence the likelihood of doctrinal disagreements becoming moments that divide a community rather than unite it. This is something that should not happen when people are gathered together to worship.

    There are some who have perfected the art of presenting challenging or even contrary positions in a way that is wise and kind, and who leave the person with opposing views feeling loved and cherished and respected. Those who possess such unique interpersonal skills can and and should make efforts to elevate religious discourse. The rest of us should probably bite our tongues and work on building bonds of trust and understanding with those who might at some later date be more open to hearing our unique perspectives.

  49. Antonio Parr says:

    (One of the values of BCC is it allows those who want to go outside the manuals the opportunity to explore ideas and to have those ideas tested by bright people. In that and other respects, BCC is a remarkable resource.)

  50. Jumping over the comments before I jump in, this reads like the best commentary ever on Christ’s injunction in 3rd Nephi that “this is my doctrine” and “whatsoever is more or less than this.”

    I really like the big picture – the recognition that both points of view (or really, the many, many points of view) all have their value, but that which they all can/should have in common is the gospel of Christ.

  51. I don’t disagree with that last comment, Antonio – but it took the previous discussion, that included expressions of disagreement, to get here.

    Also, just so you know, I intentionally used the “cartoon straw man” phrase here, after carefully considering whether or not to do so, because citing the Westboro Baptists as a reason why we need to be careful of our borders actually is an extreme straw man. Nobody in their right mind within the LDS Church and nobody who comments here disagrees with you about that. I also used it because I hoped it would lead to this sort of discussion, in which real differences can be separated from commonalities hidden beneath different modes of expression. However, I never would use that phrase at church, for the reasons you mentioned already.

    Again, I simply point to the use of words and the connotations they present (like “contrary” and “opposing”, when, often, differing views are neither contrary nor opposing but merely different). Thus, my assertion is that it is not having a different view and expressing it that is the issue. The issue is respect, charity, meekness, etc. – and asking people not to share different perspectives, as the default, simply because the mere expression of them might be seen as contrary and opposing, might be where you and I differ enough to end this particular discussion.

  52. Thanks for this one.

  53. “our entire purpose: have faith, have hope, live like His Son, help others on their way. That’s it, folks, the building blocks of eternal spiritual progression.”

    If this were entirely true, there are plenty of really good churches I could belong to. Furthermore,there would also be plenty of good churches for those who don’t like the policies of mine. We could all pick what we feel is most in harmony with God’s will, and we’d all be in pretty good shape. We could even have a few schisms within our own church, one with polygamy and one with female clergy, and it would be fine.

    I don’t want church to simply be a marketplace of ideas. I come to church to receive light and knowledge from God, and if I’m convinced it comes from God, I’m willing to adjust my thinking and behavior, even if it’s intrusive and ridiculous like to abstain from beer and masturbation. Sometimes, the only reason I accept these teachings is because they come from leaders I feel spiritually impressed to trust, because they don’t always make intellectual sense to me. Authority matters to me. I don’t come primarily for community, although I do appreciate it very much.

    I know there are those who are just the opposite — they come to church for community but consider many teachings to be questionable. I believe God gives us a fair amount of space to work out our sins, our doubts, and our convictions, and I believe we can work most of these things out within the umbrella of the church. I also believe in honest questions and humble supplication. But when their voices become strident, when they take it upon themselves to correct our prophets, seers, and revelators by taking issues to the court of popular opinion (such as a press conference), then I don’t see how a divorce is avoidable.

    I do see these people as a threat. They’re either wrong and tempting the faithful, or they’re right and the shepherds are less inspired than the sheep. If I become convinced of the first, I’d rather they’d go away. If I become convinced of the second, then I will.

  54. “I do see these people as a threat”

    LOLZ. Dude you have got to relax a little.

  55. Martin, I think you’ve badly misread the OP. If you think there are lots of other churches in which it is common to talk about “the building blocks of eternal spiritual progression”, I guess your exposure is significantly broader than mine.

  56. The second sentence in my last comment should have said, “Also, if you think . . .”

  57. Antonio,

    I respect your comments and I appreciate the inputs of Ray and Martin. As someone who believes very deeply in the core tenets of the church (the atonement, the temple, service, etc.), I can tell you that my few beliefs that conflict with mainstream mormonism (prostitution and marijuana should be legalized, we should support gay marriage, it’s not only Republicans who can be members in good standing) mark me not as a faithful though thoughtful and open-minded member in good standing but rather as a dissenter who has, at various times, been threatened with physical violence because of my beliefs about gay marriage, had my priesthood worthiness been questioned by more than one member and been yelled at (I mean literally yelled at) in Sunday School by multiple members of the class because I dared suggest that the Book of Mormon illustrates the folly of war and suggests that war can never, ultimately, be profitably, righteously waged.

    You mention that people in the church find value in simplification and repetition. Fair enough, and I think I agree with you. However, the consequence of that, as I see it, is not only a service-oriented and loving people, but also a narrow-minded, bigoted and decidedly un-Christian group of people. Do they have good qualities? Sure. Do we as a church do many good things? Absolutely. I myself have learned a great deal about love and kindness in this church from many people whose views aren’t the same as mine and I will never leave it. However, even a cursory examination of the Sermon on the Mount (a sermon that we hear far too little of in our sacrament meetings, IMHO) reveals, at least to me, Christ’s desire for us all to love each other unconditionally and his earthly ministry and example calls us to especially minister to those who are in need and to those who we may consider to be outsiders (the Good Samaritan, anyone?). Given this, it’s disappointing to see how much energy we put into holding hard and fast to absolutely absurd cultural codes like women wearing pants, men wearing white shirts or to see so many people losing their collective sh*t over someone’s tattoos, piercings or haircut. These are the actions of superstitious infants with an impossibly narrow worldview, not disciples of Christ.

    All of which brings me to the larger point about liking things “simple.” I’m all for wanting things to be simple, but when the desire for simplicity eclipses our compassion, prevents our charity and excludes unnecessarily our brothers and sisters from our community, simplicity is a drawback, not a virtue. And if we say in one breath that we welcome visitors (as the language on every chapel clearly states) and that the gospel of Jesus Christ applies to and is suited to everyone and with the next breath we don’t welcome married gay couples, snub people who don’t look like us and expect everyone to conform to cultural codes that have nothing to do with what the Savior taught, then we’re really not doing it right and I don’t think it’s out of line to suggest that we either adjust our notion of inclusivity/community or just stop lying about welcoming everyone. As Ray implies, maybe we have a problem with labeling or understanding “difference” and so tend to label it as something subversive when it’s really not. I think honest and open questioning and discussion are good and healthy things, not subversive things.

  58. Ray, back off man. You’re not the BCC cops.

  59. glasscluster says:

    I don’t believe Joseph Smith was a prophet.
    But I still attend and serve and try to find Lord in the Church.
    Do I publicly announce (except here where it is safe, sort of) that’s how I feel. No, especially because I recognize how dear and vital that belief in Joseph Smith is to others in the Church.
    Though Antonio has taken a beating here, I think he/she has stated many things so obvious about the Church…that many seem to find so offensive…which strikes me as odd since he basically reiterated what general authorities have said from the pulpit. Trust me, I am not dyed in the wool Mormon, feel no pressure to stay in from anyone in my family, and did almost leave. But I have many reasons to stay, namely that I feel God working in my life as I continue to be a Latter-day Saint. I do find it odd that women want something they feel they need permission to get. If I thought i was owed it, i wouldn’t ask permission for it. I am not trying to start a fight. I admit I don’t understand a lot of what goes on in this Church…and pretty much carve out a space in my heart and mind to figure it out.

  60. Sorry, Steve. I wasn’t trying to be, and I honestly don’t understand your comment in the context of this thread, but I will walk away from it now. I certainly have said enough in it.

  61. I just want to point out that I think lots of people, including children and new members, wrestle with questions about God’s truth and his expectations for His children. I don’t think we need to protect them from the idea that doubt happens by not discussing certain things – I think we should protect them from the idea that there are no doubters who still come to Church or enjoy the many beautiful blessings of the Gospel in their lives! At some point, keeping issues from being discussed at church turns AWAY new members, investigators, and children who wonder if they’re already beyond the pale, or who think “I guess I don’t belong in this club,” or who wonder if we really believe that God will answer our prayers, or if we only believe that if everyone’s answer is the same as ours. I think there is no problem in admitting that not all truth has been revealed already (that’s in an Article of Faith somewhere, I just know it). It’s okay that as a church and a people and a bunch of individuals, there’s a lot we don’t get yet. I think it’s part of the test and trial of mortality.

    I think it’s wrong for a bishop to decide that a topic shouldn’t be discussed in testimony meetings, and to tell a ward member that, though. I can understand a feeling of being threatened as new ideas are presented, or as ideas that run counter to one’s beliefs are presented – that’s hard. But maybe the best answer is, as we act in leadership and teaching capacities in the church, or just as testimony-sharing members, to be sure that the balance of heartfelt testimonies of the Lord Jesus Christ shared is high enough that all can feel fed and reassured by the Spirit, regardless of other topics struggled with and discussed as a community. But really, shouldn’t our children be raised knowing that grownups have questions and have to turn to God too??

    I think this is a hard process. Sure, I think there have been mistakes made. But that’s okay – we’re not meant to have all the answers or to know just how all things should be handled. I think this is part of our training for godhood – finding which truths ring to our souls and learning to express that to each other. Learning to teach and attempt to convince each other with caring and compassion, and with humility. Trying to be like Jesus – who was both the first comforter and a seriously controversial guy.

  62. The “hard process” I referred to is the process that the Church is going through right now – having some commonly held notions questioned, and discussing.

  63. So often in our society, we want everything to be about “me” or “us” — but Paul teaches us in Romans ch. 14 that there is something more important than my own doctrinal beliefs, and that is building faith in my neighbor and not putting stumbling blocks in the way of my neighbor. So many here are defending their “right” to share their own doctrinal beliefs (or their doubts of the beliefs of others), but I believe with Paul that not putting a stumbling block in the way of my neighbor is more important than my own doctrinal beliefs.

  64. Antonio Parr says:

    To be sure, most of us wrestle with doubt. But, as mentioned in the prior post, Church is not just about me. It is a gathering intended to strengthen faith in God and (for Christians) Christ and (for Mormons) the Restoration. People — not just Latter-Day Saints — gather together to worship with people who generally embrace whatever theological model is being promoted by the church in question.

    I wouldn’t walk into a worship gathering at an Orthodox Jewish synagogue to criticize the concept of Sabbath observance.

    I wouldn’t walk into a worship gathering at a mosque to criticize the concept of an annual month-long fast.

    I wouldn’t walk into a worship gathering at a Catholic cathedral to criticize rosaries and the saying of Hail Mary.

    And I wouldn’t walk into a worship gathering at a LDS meetinghouse to criticize comparably sacred and core teachings of Latter-Day Saints.

    In each case, worshippers are gathering to be strengthened in a theology in which the find hope, and civility requires us to allow these groups to worship in accordance with the dictates of their consciences. Let them be.

    There is room outside of a formal worship gathering for people to ask hard questions (which we should). But on Sundays, when people enter our buildings searching for hope for the week ahead of them, that is not the time for me to challenge the fundamentals of a faith in which they may find that hope.

    Is there room for doubters? I hope so, as otherwise there would be no room for me. But I can harbor doubts and still be respectful of sacred time and sacred space, which is what I try to do.

  65. Peter LLC says:

    “But on Sundays, when people enter our buildings searching for hope for the week ahead of them, that is not the time for me to challenge…” anyone besides yourself?

    Your unwillingness to disrupt the worship of Jews, Muslims and Catholics, particularly as you are not one, is no doubt appreciated. But I’m not sure how insider/outsider etiquette should apply to an inhomogeneous group of insiders, especially when conservatism in all of these movements is a moving target.

    I can understand the annoyance one might feel when liberal/unorthodox/cafeteria Mormons attempt to refashion the church in their own image, but I’m afraid that the tendency to focus one’s gaze outward knows no political boundaries.

    What ostensible outsiders find upsetting about Mormon “orthodoxy” is not a focus on Christ-like attributes or covenant-making, keeping and the attendant blessings/advantages/etc. of doing so, but the matter-of-course manner in which lessons and talks are peppered with contrasts to and condemnation of those who fail to adhere to a vision of Mormonism (as filtered through the values and experience of middle-class America, unfortunately).

    So while well-meaning Mormons might not barge Mass, all too often they’re willing, for example, to take Catholics to task in a lesson that was supposed to be about, for example, eternal marriage, as in “those poor misguided souls who only marry for time. Aren’t we glad we know the truth and marry for eternity?”

    Anyway, I’m going out on a limb here, but I suspect that one of the reasons President Uchtdorf resonates with so many members is precisely because he gives voice to a perspective that, while thoroughly Mormon, was influenced by a set of circumstances at least somewhat foreign to the American establishment.

  66. And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.

    Moroni 6:5

    I don’t know about you but my soul is a pretty complex thing. The question to ask yourself is how well am I and my Ward family doing in caring for the welfare of each others’ souls? If we’re not talking about it in real terms in church and giving others the space and time to do so, then why exactly are we meeting?

    Real life is messy. I see people cringe when one of the Ward’s downtrodden get up and reveal their hardships in very stark terms and their joys at the small triumphs as they have seen blessings.

    Maybe we need to squirm a little more in our seats. Because if we’re not squirming then it’s possible we’re not really discussing the true welfare of our souls.

    If you’ve ever attended a Quaker meeting, you might find outward similarities to our testimony meetings, but it’s the tenor and reality of what is shared that often separates the spirit of those meetings vs. the sterile nature of many LDS testimony meetings.

    The Bishop or whomever presides over a Sacrament meeting has the responsibility to ensure correct doctrine is taught but it should be a rare occurrence where a leader stands up to correct what was said.

  67. Thomas Parkin says:

    I never never let my reality intrude on anyone else’s fantasy about my reality.

    Everything is a-ok in my world. I do pay my tithing, after all.

  68. Geoff - A says:

    As a person who has been told twice this year that I will not get anywhere near the celestial Kingdom and might as well leave, I think the problem is that conservative members believe the Utah culture that comes with the church is in fact Gospel, were as others want the uncontaminated Gospel.

    For example Oaks talk was all culture and no Gospel but was very popular with the conservatives. It also said to be a Mormon you have to believe as I do. Likewise those who find it necessary to say “between a man and a woman” whenever they say marriage, are effectively saying, hating gays is a gospel principle, if you don’t like it….

    Some of the leaders were able to give talks that were pure gospel. As far as I noticed there were no “obedience is the first law of heaven”, and a number of Love is the first law, so this looks like progress.

    There was quite a lot of talk about missionary work but to a large portion of the first world outside the USA, this conservative culture is a complete turn off. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is taught by the missionaries but if it comes packaged with conservative US culture it is going no where except in the third world where they are less aware of such stuff.

    It was obvious from talks by non US born speakers that they were teaching the Gospel without the culture – the one that is acceptable to the whole world. If we want members who are not ultra conservative we have to get rid of the conservative culture and just teach the Gospel. In the rest of the world the ultra conservatives (those who would not be offended by Elder Oaks talk) make up less than 5% of the population. Not going to go to the whole world then with the present culture.

  69. Oaks talk was all culture and no Gospel but was very popular with the conservatives…Some of the leaders were able to give talks that were pure gospel…we have to get rid of the conservative culture and just teach the Gospel.. Excellent comment! The church wasn’t always consertive. Consertive does not equal the gospel and the gospel does not consertive!

  70. OP here–thanks for all the kind words as well as the criticism, everybody. It’s good to have my thinking challenged.

    I think Geoff-A’s comment was very insightful. I think we confuse culture for gospel fairly frequently, and unfortunately defend the culture at the expense of the gospel when they are in conflict. Teasing out the differences between the two is an ongoing struggle.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,617 other followers