Regarding the post in the Nautilus
I am writing about an article by Michael Fitzgerald, titled “How the Mormons Conquered America: The success of the Mormon religion is a study in social adaptation.” It appeared a couple of days ago in a journal, Nautilus. I am misquoted in the piece. Fitzgerald interviewed me several months ago relative this article. He wrote notes as we talked; he did not record our conversation.
In the article, Fitzgerald reviews the history of how the church has changed several practices, such as polygamy and ordaining blacks to the priesthood. He then refers to same-sex marriage; and in that same paragraph quoted me as saying, “… I think I’m farther along than the church is on this one.” It implies that I support same-sex marriage, and that I expect that the leaders of the church in the future will agree with that position.
This is not true. I did not say this. I support wholeheartedly every phrase in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” And I sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, who penned that document.
I am grateful that I belong to a church in which we do not attempt to convince God or our leaders that certain opinions in our society are correct, and God’s are not. Society changes its mind quite frequently. I do not believe that God changes his mind, however. When society is telling me something new, even when it has assembled powerful reasons and powerful people on its side, I do not ask society whether it is correct. I ask God.
I understand that this mis-representation of my beliefs by Mr. Fitzgerald is being widely circulated through the church. I would be very grateful if you could forward this letter to anyone who you believe ought to see this – and by the fastest and most effective ways possible. Thanks for your help!
Here is the original article:
Christensen tells a story from the Book of Mormon about the brother of Jared, an ancient prophet, who talked to God in the clouds. God instructed the brother of Jared to build a boat and when he did, the brother asked God to imbue a host of white stones with light so the brother could place them in the dark hull of the boat to see. God agreed and the brother was “blown out of his socks with fear,” says Christensen, when he saw the actual finger of God, who later appeared to him as a man. The story, Christensen says, shows that while God doesn’t change, what people on earth can know about God can.
Christensen says this process is similar to what the church is going through on some social issues. “Our understanding of God, and our relation to him, and questions like same-sex attraction and marriage, we’re somewhere between here and there.” Christensen says he realizes that same-sex attraction and marriage can be seen as a disorder and a sin. (The church states “sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”) But even if his position were that church leaders were wrong,1 Christensen says, “I can’t announce to mankind that I’m right and the church is wrong. The best I can do is to say, ‘well, just like the brother of Jared, where the truth is on the other side of this boulder, I’m on this side, I’m learning and I can say to myself and to my friends, I think I’m farther along than the church is on this one.’”
For purposes of this post, I mean to engage the citation. I recognize that these are not Clayton Christensen’s words but the ideas behind them are intriguing. The last sentence is particularly challenging: what does it mean to say that you believe you’re “farther along than the church” on a given topic? 
First, some may bristle at the mere notion that someone could be farther long than the church. This is God’s kingdom on the earth; isn’t it the embodiment of arrogance to suggest that an individual would be farther along than the collection of the prophets, apostles, and saints? And yet this church is an organization, a system with a hierarchy and principles, policies and bureaucracy. No one would suggest that everything the church does is perfect; accordingly, it is entirely possible for an individual to be better than the church in one thing or another. I believe, for example, that Kevin Barney could teach Old Testament courses with more detail and accuracy than our manuals. I believe that Jonathan Stapley or Sam Brown could teach temple prep with greater success than the course that is given out. I believe that Kristine Haglund and D Fletcher could put together a hymnbook that is altogether superior to the green monster. It is not hard to think of examples where individual talent surpasses the common denominator presented by the church or where better results could be obtained.
Is this the case in doctrinal matters, and not just with respect to pragmatic issues like teaching classes or organization? That’s a little more tricky, isn’t it – and yet there, too, we see repeatedly that individuals are not only ahead of the church, but that by design they must be for the church to progress. Joseph Smith was consistently ahead of the church, and such was his purpose. Spencer W. Kimball was ahead of the church. In fact, I believe that it is the precise role of our prophets and apostles to be ahead of the church. But how about outside of the prophetic mantle — should we consider lay members who publicly opposed the priesthood ban on blacks prior to 1978 as having been “farther along than the church”? I believe the answer is yes and no; yes, because on that issue they have been proven correct, and yet no, because they also publicly showed a reluctance to be led by the authorities of the church. So it may be possible to be doctrinally farther along than the church – but if you’re not the prophet, you are taking some real risks and you are inherently taking a step backwards in other respects. Orson Pratt considered himself farther along than the church; specifically, farther along than Brigham Young. Brigham Young disagreed. Guess who won.
So, if being farther along than the church is possible but perilous, what to make of the remarks that Fitzgerald attributes to Clayton Christensen? I don’t believe that the real topic is same-sex marriage: it is how the church changes and evolves in relation to individual members. He is describing the feeling and experience of being farther along, and the peril and fear that accompany that position. Same-sex marriage is just the example.  As such, I think his approach is right, which seems to be that it’s ok to think differently than the church currently thinks, but there are inherent limitations: you cannot announce to mankind that you are right and that the church is wrong. This is more than just a structural reality, i.e. that if you make such an announcement you’ll wind up in a disciplinary council; it is also an expression of the humility and fear that accompany personal revelation.  You have looked on the other side of the boulder and seen something special. Your response is not to cheapen that experience, or to use it to gain clout or authority that is not yours. If you are farther along — and it’s possible you are — than acknowledge to yourself the simple fact that you and everyone else are learning, and rejoice in that. What people on earth can know about God is growing. Our response should conserve humility and recognition that we are each entitled to learn independently, while also recognizing and respecting the revealed pattern for how the church is to be governed. That last part is particularly tough to swallow when you have happened upon something really important where you think — you know — that the church is just wrong. That ark is tipping over! And yet this is precisely the burden and responsibility that accompanies personal revelation.
This might be all well and good for personal revelation on matters of esoteric doctrine, but keeping things to yourself is an immensely dissatisfying injunction in the face of social injustice. If you are farther ahead than the church and you know that it is wrong to withhold the priesthood from worthy black members, isn’t it wrong to hold your peace about it? It is enlightening to consider Darius Gray’s history, where he dealt with precisely this conundrum.  Again, there is peril in forging ahead to places where the church has not yet gone. You risk arriving at your destination alone, having left the community of saints. But your conscience may demand action. In that case, consider the public trumpeting of personal revelation as possibly leading you to a pyrrhic victory. And yet there are ways to work within the church for change, frustrating and incremental and sisyphean change as the mammoth organization lumbers towards perfection. This frustration and burden may be the consequence of going farther ahead.
 Farther or further? http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/words/farther-or-further — I am following the usage of the original article, for good or ill. I would have used ‘further’. Angela would have, too.
 The article now features the following correction, which I think confirms my views here: “An earlier version of the article misconstrued a comment by Clayton M. Christensen. The story has been clarified to reflect that he was commenting on a theoretical Mormon disagreement with church doctrine, not his personal one.”
 But yeah, I am sure that Clayton Christensen’s views on SSM would be interesting, if/when he chooses to discuss them.
 Nate Oman has an interesting piece on a tangential topic – what is the line between discussing things with friends and announcing things to the world, or in other words, the line between discussion and advocacy? Worth a read as it may inform the mechanisms here.
 But consider also Douglas Wallace, Byron Merchant and many others as well.