Exit, Voice & Loyalty: Mormons Can’t Vote with Their Feet

In his explanation of the theory of loyalty in Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, Albert Hirschman asserts that

Loyalty is a key concept in the battle between exit and voice not only because, as a result of it, members may be locked into their organizations a little longer and thus use the voice option with greater determination and resourcefulness than would otherwise be the case. It is helpful also because it implies the possibility of disloyalty, that is, exit. Just as it would be impossible to be good in a world without evil, so it makes no sense to speak of being loyal to a firm, a party, or an organization with an unbreakable monopoly. While loyalty postpones exit its very existence is predicated on the possibility of exit. The even the most loyal member can exit is often an important part of his bargaining power vis-à-vis the organization. The chances for voice to function effectively as a recuperation mechanism are appreciably strengthened if voice is backed up by the threat of exit, whether it is made openly or whether the possibility of exit is merely well understood to be an element in the situation by all concerned.

This is, I think, simply untrue with respect to Mormonism. At least in the internal logic of Mormonism, the church has an unbreakable monopoly. There are a few moments where exit may matter—for new converts, post-mission men, and young people in the transition from youth programs to Relief Society or Elders’ Quorum. Otherwise, exit simply doesn’t matter. I don’t mean to say that it doesn’t matter to individual church members or church leaders—-every person’s exit from the church affects someone else, usually many others, and I think many (almost all, in my experience) leaders care deeply and may even think more deeply about certain issues when they are broached by members with concerns serious enough to leave the church over–but statistically, for the institution, unless you belong to a large, identifiable cohort of exiters, it just doesn’t have anything like the kind of leverage Hirschman describes. In a Protestant context, where inter-denominational movement is possible, perhaps exiting one congregation for another would register in a different way, but I don’t think it works in institutions with the kinds of truth claims and robust notions of authority that, say, Catholics and Mormons have.

Exit is simply not a viable option for protest. (This is not to say that there are not honest and compelling reasons to exit. I believe that there are honorable reasons to leave, and I deeply respect my friends who have chosen this path, even as I grieve the Church’s loss, the injury to the body of Christ. I mean to say only that exit is not a productive mode of articulating criticism.)

Matt Bowman, borrowing from a Catholic theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, has formulated the problem this way:

But at the same time, Dulles reminds us that dissent always occurs within the context of a church, not merely as a rejection of it. This is important because, for both Catholics and Mormons, belonging to a church means membership in an ecclesiastical body that claims to be more than merely a gathering of Christians. Rather, God is in contact with the Church as well as with the individual. In other words, the church is a sacrament; it is a channel through which God extends grace and duty to human beings in ways not possible for individuals alone. In such a religion, authority and conscience exist in dialectic; they condition each other, strain at each other, but neither can exist fully before God without the other. The Church does not exist for its own sake, but neither do we gain salvation in isolation. So one can—and should—dissent as a member of a faith. The act of dissent should not be understood as a departure from that Church but rather as an act within it that draws upon its theology, history, and relation. A Mormon dissenter should dissent first as a Mormon.

Dissenting as a Mormon is tricky, of course, since there is both doctrinal discouragement and fierce social pressure to refrain from voicing any criticism. At the very least, a plausibly Mormon dissent requires abandoning the possibility of exit, and making it plain that one has done so. In his “Decalogue for Dissenters”, Armand Mauss has offered suggestions for how to do this:

1. Seek constantly to build a strong personal relationship with the Lord as the main source and basis for your own confidence in the alternate voice you are offering.
2. Do your homework before you speak up.
3. Relinquish any and all aspirations (or even expectations) for leadership callings in the Church.
4. Endure graciously the overt disapproval of “significant others,” including family members, but never respond in kind. [ed. note: If you can pull that off, beware of whirlwinds]
5. Pay your “dues” as a Church member. …Make clear your willingness to serve wherever called.
6. Be humble, generous, and good-natured in tolerating ideas that you find aversive in other Church members. …No one is won over by being put down, especially in public.
7. Show empathy and appreciation for Church leaders, male and female, from the general level to the local ward and branch. …Some of them sacrifice a great deal for no apparent benefit, and all are entitled to our support and our praise, whenever these can reasonably be given.
8. Do not say or do anything to undermine the influence or legitimacy of Church leaders at any level. …Let us by all means criticize policies, practices, or interpretations of doctrine; but let us not personalize our criticisms with ad hominem attacks. We should feel free to seek private interviews and/or correspondence with leaders, in which we can offer, in a spirit of love and humility, our constructive criticisms and suggestions.
9. Take advantage of legitimate opportunities to exercise your “alternate voices” and to exercise your free agency in “alternate” ways within the LDS Church and culture. We must never lapse into a posture where we just sit and gripe.
10. Endure to the end.

John Durham Peters has articulated a similar point in an interview with Ethan Yorgason, locating in the person of the Apostle Paul a model for would-be critics:

Ethan: Yeah, as long as you’re bringing him up, how would you present this to Mormon audiences: Paul’s idea that as for myself, I’m not necessarily bound by the law, but for others who feel bound by the law, I respect their view and their field of vision. This is a very different Paul than most Mormons would feel comfortable with, I’d guess.

John: This is actually a deeply Mormon Paul, one who combines deep devotion with respect for reason and care for the other; he is believing, modern, and neighborly all at once. It seems to me that Paul’s argument is that, if you have higher knowledge, you should prove it by your higher kindness, rather than by exposing or insulting or belittling people. So, I think Paul kind of gives a mission for the intellectual, the task of understanding those who are not intellectuals. He talks about those who have gnosis (knowledge), the Gnostics. What are the Gnostics supposed to do? They’re supposed to respect the narrower field of vision of the other.

Ethan: Does that mean that you accept what the other has and don’t try to ask them to stretch themselves?

John: Well, why should just I ask them to stretch themselves if they’re not asking me to stretch myself? I may have knowledge, but what’s that worth if I don’t have love? And the best way to stretch your mind yourself is sometimes to stretch your mind into a smaller box. [laughs] And see how I’ve let condescension into the idea that it is a smaller box—maybe it’s just a different one. I don’t know. . . If it’s not a mutual enterprise—this is going to sound like dialogue instead of dissemination—but why should it just be a one-way thing? We all know that the best teachers are those who are vulnerable, those who are ignorant, who really want to know.

I think this can be formulated to apply to critics as well-—the best critic is the one who is sincerely trying to understand and sustain the church leader or policy she is criticizing. We have a distinctly Mormon articulation of this possibility:

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

We cite these verses always directed at those who wield authority by virtue of priesthood office, and yet, if we take seriously the idea that personal revelation and faithfulness also confer the authority of knowledge and wisdom, these words must surely apply to us as dissenters, as well. We cannot prevail by force of argument, or threat of exit, or insistence on credentials . We claim the power of our own revelation and wisdom only on the same principles that priesthood authorities can. We may, indeed we must, regard ourselves as fellowcitizens with those who are (temporarily) in authority over us, and our discussion must recognize that we are engaged in the same project, even if that project is so large and beyond all of us that the visions we see through the glass darkly appear to be in conflict. And here I want to insist that calling for a critique articulated in community and in love is NOT to suggest perpetual self-censorship. Faith lies in acting according to the commandments of God and being dedicated to the work of building the Kingdom, not in twisting one’s reasoning faculties into a knot to believe that manifestations of human weakness in the church organization are somehow divinely sanctioned. Friends don’t let friends perpetuate racist, sexist, homophobic, or stupid policies. A fearful silence is the very opposite of speaking the truth in love.

For a complicated and troubling example of such humble criticism, we might turn to Levi Savage. (I’ve stolen this succinct sketch of his biography from Nate Oman at Times and Seasons).

Levi Savage emigrated to Nauvoo after joining the Church, where he was intimate with Joseph Smith. After the Saints left Nauvoo he travelled west with Brigham. In 1846 at the urging of Church leaders, he signed up for the Mormon Battalion, marching hundreds of miles through the desert until his discharge in California in the summer of 1847. …In 1852, he was called on a mission to Siam (present day Thailand). He left his wife and 21-month old son, walking from Salt Lake to San Francisco, where he caught a boat to the Far East. During his passage he almost died of small pox. He spent over two years preaching the Gospel in Asia. He initially landed in Calcutta, India but couldn’t make it to Siam due to a civil war in the country. He did, however, get as far as Rangoon in Burma. In October 1855, he headed for home, reaching Boston, Massachusetts via the Cape of Good Hope in early 1856. In short, Levi Savage was a man willing to make enormous sacrifices and literally circle the globe at the direction of the leaders of the Church.

From Boston, Savage made his way west to Winter Quarters, where he had joined the Mormon Battalion more than a decade earlier. There he met a group of westward bound immigrants from England. At the urging of another prophet and apostle — Franklin D. Richards — this group of immigrants formed themselves into two companies, one led by James G. Willie and the other by Edward Martin. The companies were part of an experimental system of moving immigrants across the plains with handcarts. The initial attempts with the new handcarts had gone well, and Richards assured the immigrants that if they trusted in the Lord and did their duty to Him that they could cross the plains in safety.

By this time, it was mid-August and Levi Savage, who knew something about the problems of crossing the vast distances of the North American interior, was incredulous. He insisted that it was too late in the season to begin. The handcarts might be trapped in the high Rockies by an early winter. It was too dangerous, he insisted. His objections were overruled by his ecclesiastical superiors. He then said:
“What I have said I know to be true; but seeing you are to go forward, I will go with you, will help all I can, will work with you, will rest with you, and if necessary, will die with you. May God in his mercy bless and preserve us.”

I think this may be the only viable model of dissent, the only expression of voice that can matter in the contemporary Church.

Sappy though it may be, I think that it finally comes down to love — the sort of loyalty that motivates us not just to articulate criticism kindly, in ways that consider the needs and capabilities of those to whom we are speaking, but to be willing to work and die with the Saints because we love them beyond all differences of opinion, indeed, beyond all reason. In a community that aims not merely at tolerance or acceptance, but at the transformation and redemption of its members, criticism must be rooted in unshakeable love and a commitment to the radical submission of the will that Christianity demands.

In some ways, especially immediate, practical ones, this is profoundly unsatisfying—Savage’s counsel, after all, went unheeded and robustly mistaken authority triumphed over knowledge. We can multiply examples of silly policies and worse—-of lives wrecked by uninformed or uninspired counsel from authorities. I have some experience with these consequences; this is not a blithe dismissal or glib theoretical conclusion. I have longed for a way to communicate my own grief and others’ in a way that would be heard and make a difference, result in changed minds, or hearts, or, especially, policies (in some amount of time measured in units smaller than epochs).

And yet I believe this slow, excruciating (and I mean exactly that word–note the etymological kinship with crucifixion, the resonance with the crosses we must take up) process of governing and being governed by persuasion and longsuffering is the tragic price of the freedom that is ultimately redemptive, the gift of a God who demands that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, both individually and collectively. Our love of God and our love of each other are ultimately meaningless without the opposing possibility that we will disappoint and fail and hurt each other, sometimes terribly. If the scriptures are to be believed, or at least taken seriously, we have to grapple with a model of criticism that proceeds by submission, that insists that the meek will inherit the earth, and that the bonds of love are stronger than death.


  1. Kristine, I’ll be needing a frame to hang this on my wall.

  2. My Sunstone highlight.

  3. Thank you for sharing these profound thoughts.

    “What I have said I know to be true; but seeing you are to go forward, I will go with you, will help all I can, will work with you, will rest with you, and if necessary, will die with you. May God in his mercy bless and preserve us.”

    This may be my new mantra.

  4. Mommie Dearest says:

    I think Armand Mauss’ “Decalogue for Dissenters” is good practice even for those who aren’t inclined toward dissent. And Levi Savage just became (again) a favorite exemplar.

    P.S. This isn’t boring

  5. So true, and definitely fits with my own experience.

    I would add that this is easier to do when you are a long-standing member of a ward. Easier when the other ward members know you will volunteer to clean the kitchen and pick up chairs. Easier to do when you know that Brother X who just said that sexist/racist etc thing is the one who always gives people rides to church and is sweetly caring for his wife with Alzheimers.

    Harder to do when you are new to a ward and don’t know that about Brother X, are a student who others don’t invest in much because you are not going to live there long term, etc. Harder to do when your time constraints prevent you from volunteering to clean up the kitchen.

    I wonder if part of the difficulty many face with balancing dissent and activity (or criticism and submission) are related to this. While I think submission in theory is independent of the context, in reality lived experience makes the benefits of submission easier/harder to see.

  6. Wonderful.

  7. “Our love of God and our love of each other are ultimately meaningless without the opposing possibility that we will disappoint and fail and hurt each other, sometimes terribly. If the scriptures are to be believed, or at least taken seriously, we have to grapple with a model of criticism that proceeds by submission, that insists that the meek will inherit the earth, that the bonds of love are stronger than death.”

    Simply beautiful. Thanks.

  8. Fantastic comments, Kristine.

    As you know, I think that your idea is substantively wrong in some ways, and in particular that the church would be better off with a more robust model of voice, for a variety of reasons. (That was my own talk.)

    But your articulation of this position is still fantastic. :)

  9. Kristine, your thoughts on D&C 121 echo (I know he’s persona non grata in many circles) Orson Scott Card’s old essay “Walking the Tightrope.” It’s one of my favorites on how raise our critiques within the Church and effect positive change. I’d love to run it at Patheos, but various barriers prevent that.

  10. You are so gifted at articulating hard things, Kristine. Brilliant.

  11. Wow–I think that’s almost like the Haglund-Greenwood Axiom (If Adam and Kristine agree about anything, it is necessarily true). I have not (to my knowledge) ever been in agreement with OSC before, so that’s somethin’ :)

  12. I appreciate the counsel to “pay your dues”, as Mauss’s other points. I’ve heard that same sentiment echoed by Kevin Barney. It seems reasonable — my question is whether we have any evidence that it actually works. I’d love to hear stories of change successfully effected through the points listed here.

  13. Kristine, I fully agree with Kaimi (your articulation of your position is fantastic). But I still would like to hear Kaimi’s ‘talk’.
    I agree Mormon loyalty to the Church has given it great strenght. But at what cost? There have been many times a Levi Savage voice has been needed, but loyalty brought silence.
    I don’t see criticism or dissent as always disloyalty or unneeded.

  14. Bob, “I don’t see criticism or dissent as always disloyalty or unneeded,” either, and I’m sad if that’s not clear in what I said. I tried to say something like this once a long time ago, here: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2004/03/apologia-of-a-critical-believer/

  15. Dane, I think the answer is mostly no, we don’t have any evidence that it works on any large scale. I use the Levi Savage example advisedly, because he did everything right and it didn’t matter. We do have evidence that other possibilities–exit, and overt public criticism perceived as disloyal–do _not_ work. As I said in my conclusion, I find the model I’ve articulated deeply problematic and paradoxical (at least), and yet I think there may be no other way.

  16. Well said at Sunstone.

  17. Dane, I think that this model of dissent works. In many ways I think this model is at the heart of the gospel. Not all problems are “solved” in this life. I believe that they will be in eternity, but how I respond to perceived problems and challenges in mortality is critical to peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come.

    If this really is Christ’s Church (and I believe that it is), the we need to get in line with it as much as we can. That doesn’t mean that we can’t do our best to improve conditions locally, nor does it mean that its leaders are 100% inspired all of the time. It does mean being as patient and faithful as we can be individually and supporting those around us as much as we can.

  18. #12 – It works to varying degrees in different places. It can work wonderfully.

  19. Kristine, I spoke in church recently about supporting and sustaining our leaders while living by the light of personal revelation. It’s a balance, and, like all balances, it’s not easy to maintain – but it can be done with persistent effort and dogged determination.

    For most people, “The Church”, at the most practical level, is what we experience at the local level – and this type of dissent is not contentiousness. Growing causes growing pains, and growing pains are the result of resistance to stretching. Where there is no stretching, there is no growth – and stagnation and atrophy occur.

    Yes, there must needs be opposition in ALL things – including the Church. It just has to be productive opposition, and I appreciate the model you’ve articulated.

  20. Well done, Kristine. I appreciate this, and I mostly agree with you.

    My disagreement centers on the example of Levi Savage. As you have already said, this example is deeply problematic, so maybe you share my concerns. I agree that our loyalty may sometimes require us to suffer greatly, but it is one thing to give our lives for our beliefs and quite another thing when our actions contribute, however peripherally, to suffering and perhaps even deaths of other people.

    I love Levi Savage. He is one of my heroes and I have no expectation of ever being as valiant in testimony as he was. And yet I always wonder what might have happened if he had been a bit more forceful in his disagreement with elder Richards, even to the point of direct defiance. Perhaps some of those new British converts would have stayed with him in Winter Quarters until Spring, and their lives would have been spared. This question becomes even more meaningful when we realize that a few months later when the survivors reached the Great Basin, Brigham Young was furious with the leaders who had sent the handcarts so late, in particular elder Richards.

  21. It’s hard to know. But it’s also hard to believe that brand-new converts who were willing to give up everything to join the body of the Saints would have listened to someone outside of the hierarchy. Robust notions of authority have a real downside.

  22. these words must surely apply to us as critics if we will only accept them, and to us no matter what we are doing.

  23. wait…is “oman” supposed to rhyme with “bowman” as well..? hmm.

  24. Thomas Parkin says:

    “we take seriously the idea that personal revelation and faithfulness also confer the authority of knowledge and wisdom, these words must surely apply to us as critics, as well.”

    I don’t wholly disagree with anything you’ve said, and this bit is, especially, so apt.

    My worry has to do with tying one’s identity to one’s ideas. “I am a critic of the church.” I want to make sure that any identity I take on is tentative and open, like this ideas themselves with which I must remain tentative and open. Better yet, I’ll avoid taking on any identity, as the ego temptations involved are very great.

    Instead, I want to stretch myself to first perceive honestly, and then communicate as honestly as I’m able. Quite often, out of politeness, we will grant that other people have made and are making this good faith effort. But my own experience, primarily with myself but with others, sure, tells me that this takes exceptional effort and isn’t the rule. If this attempt at self-honesty means saying something that is or appears to be critical of the church, I will certainly do that and let the chips fall where they may. But this doesn’t, in my view, make me a ‘critic.’

    Identities are too often cast as against other identities: faithful as against apostate, conservative as against liberal, feminist as against regressive, or whatever. To me, the tension that impels my learning should primarily lie in the field between what I am and what Jesus is. We constantly draw attention to the tension that lies in fields between identities. In my experience, allowing to much of my intellectual and spiritual energies to be drawn to those tensions, as personally compelling as they may be, distracts me, except accidentally, from that process of becoming more like Christ.

    I want to always keep the door wide open to to further light and knowledge, or just plain further information, whether my current stand might be characterized as basically critical or basically ‘faithful.’ (Faithful is surely the wrong word.) Whatever the information that the powers that be have in store for me, that new information will cast my current views and ideas in a new light. Things will not then appear quite as they do now. Rarely, I find that I have to eliminate an idea I’ve held dear; always I will have to qualify and amend ideas I’ve held dear. But it is always good to feel one’s soul enlarge, however much resistance our published ideas may cause us to shrink from letting that enlargement happen. ~

  25. I admire this beautiful vision of what it means to dissent from within, yet in this age of mass- and instant-communication, could we not forge a far more robust church that was capable of learning from its Levi Savages rather than killing them?

  26. Jim Donaldson says:

    Part of the problem is that we don’t have a vocabulary in the church, at least in my experience, to voice disagreement. For all of Russell Ballard’s talks about governing by councils, a kind of a disguised collaborative decision making process, we aren’t comfortable doing that. Some bishops tend even unintentionally to choose people for those councils whose tendencies is primarily to agree with whatever he says, and even if not, most members are hesitant to criticize, even in a group discussion where the comments are requested, any leader higher up the command chain. We simply need instruction in how to voice and receive comments that are loyal but not in agreement.

    This results in Mormons being the masters of passive resistance. Many never say anything for fear it will be taken as lack of testimony, not simple difference of opinion, and so their sole means of communicating that difference is to do nothing. To skip an activity, not to respond to volunteer requests, to undermine leadership by not showing up for assignments. It’s not like anybody is going to get fired.

    The solution is honest discussion, but we don’t have the words or the opportunity very often.

  27. Jim, I think you’re exactly right. And I don’t think we can simply import the vocabulary of dissent from a liberal democratic (small l, small d) model into the church. That’s part of why I don’t think Hirschberg’s analysis applies to the church very readily.

  28. #25: Jim, in the military I believe it’s “Free to speak freely Sir”. In my work life, when I got a new boss, I would sit down with him and make it clear, we would work by consensus. That is: I managed about 200 litigated claims files, and felt I knew them better than he did, and I wanted a voice in their outcome. That being said__ he was the Boss and he had the final say in the matter and I would always carry it out his wishes.

  29. #25 Jim, your comment just doesn’t match with my experience. When I have served on a ward council but not as bishop, I’ve felt free to express my view, often contrary to the popular view around the table, and contrary to the bishop’s opinion. People don’t always agree, and my recommendations are not always accepted, but I’ve never felt marginalized for them.

    When I was bishop (twice) I actively sought dissenting points of view. They were hard to come by sometimes, so I finally learned simply not to speak until everyone else had said what they thought, because I did have members for him the bishop’s word was the last word.

    When I instructed a Saturday evening session of stake conference, I counseled bishops to keep their mouths shut in ward council if they really wanted to hear what the members of the council thought.

    What language to use? How about these:

    – Bishop, have you considered…?

    – I wonder what would happen if we….

    – Do we really know how the sisters feel about that? Do you think we ought to ask them?

    – I know I don’t speak for the group, but here’s my experience….

    I realize that my experience is on a local level; I don’t have any idea how to generate such discussion at the general level. But on a local level, I’ve found Armand Mauss’ decalogue to work pretty well.

  30. Also, I recommend that you achieve Level 3 Internal Blog Rhyming by referring to Mr. Oman as Nat.

    There are several advantages to this. For one, Nat is actually a fragment of the word Nathan. No extraneous e’s. For another, it sets the stage mentally if you ever just feel like swatting at him. Finally, it allows you to call him Nat-Han Oman in more formal settings, and that’s really a win-win. You get to label him as a small bug; but he also gets the cachet of an iconic Star Wars name. Everybody wins.

    And Nat Han Oman would definitely not wait for Greedo to shoot first.

  31. Jim Donaldson says:


    One’s experience can differ from person to person, place to place, so I can’t argue with your experience. I’m just jealous.

    At least where I’ve been in the church we spend an inordinate amount of time lying to each other. E.g., “that was a great activity” when it really was awful and pointless; “this is going to be great” when the speaker actually knows absolutely nothing about it. We can be so positive that we lose all credibility. When I was the bishop, I actually told my leaders that they had license to tell me the truth, and they used it, and I meant it. I always followed the “Bishop Shut Up” rule and sat there in silence until comments started, or I would even invite people to “talk me out of it” which was never the case with the ten or so bishops on whose ward councils I’ve sat during the rest of my adult life.

    Your suggested language is good, that’s what we need. But I don’t see it happening very much around me. People don’t have the courage, or think that they will be considered ‘negative,’ which is perhaps worse that unrighteous in Mormon culture.

  32. We had a generational member (few and far between out here) stand up during testimony meeting and say he didn’t believe in paying tithing with several reasons why. I kept expecting someone from the BP to escort him away from the stand, but it never happened. Maybe my unit is more open minded than I thought or maybe no one was paying attention. I wish I knew which it was.

  33. my experience is also along with jim. i still can’t tell if it is the individual bishop that wants yes-men around him or if it is everyone around him simply lacking the testicular fortitude to voice any opposing opinion. we had a ward activity were an individual was assigned to organize some sports and bring a few things. since this was at a park he was going to bring a volleyball, but was soon greeted with the “well, i don’t know, we need to check with the bishop first” to which he quickly responded “you assigned me to do this, and this is what i am doing.”

    quite frankly micro-management is getting out of hand, whether it is intentional or not. don’t make assignments and then do a line-item inspection of every planned minute. this doesn’t just go for the bishop’s calling either. i can’t describe it, but it’s as if people view being called to any leadership position suddenly accelerates you to some form of earth-bound godliness where every step and every opinion is inspired of the spirit and is thus considered doctrine

  34. I have come to believe that there is great power in sustaining others in their callings, and that doing so is an essential part of the commandments to be united (if ye are not one, ye are not mine), to love another, and to avoid evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed. I believe that my own sanctification process requires that I sustain others in their callings while I try to magnify my own. I believe dissent (or lack of understanding) is best handled quietly and respectfully.

    If someone sees me as lacking courage when I choose to sustain my leaders and choose to speak well of them, or thinks of me as a mindless or spineless follower, that someone errs. I purposefully choose to sustain and support others in their callings.

  35. I thought a little further last night, and want to offer one additional thought. The Lord commands us to honor our fathers and mothers — even though there might be some fathers and mothers in this world who are less perfect than we are, the Lord still expects us to honor them. I believe this isn’t so much because they (the faulty parents) deserve our honor, but rather my own sanctification requires it — so the commandment to honor my father and mother isn’t given for their benefit, it is given for my benefit. Similarly, I see the Lord’s counsel for me to uphold the Church and those who are called to serve in Church offices as being given for my own sanctification rather than for the benefit of the Church itself. Or in other words, such counsel is not a tool to make me subservient; rather, it is counsel to help me become perfected and sanctified.

  36. Jim Donaldson says:

    The party is over on this one, but I have to say: Yours is a legitimate and admirable point of view, ji, but for some of us, if we fail to offer our experience and opinion, even if not the same as the leader’s, that would be a failure to sustain that leader or magnify our callings. I’d suggest that such a viewpoint is equally legitimate and, dare I say, righteous.

    So, to quote John Lennon, whatever gets you through the night.

  37. For what it is worth, when I was called to be a counselor in the bishopric by a member of our stake presidency, I was explicitly told that my job as a counselor was to tell the bishop when I disagreed with him. I was also told that I was supposed to seek my wife’s thoughts on issues facing the ward consistent with confidentiality requirements, etc.

    Strikingly, however, he did not articulate this counsel in the language of democratic deliberation, the marketplace of ideas, or the like. Rather, he said sometimes more inspiration is needed to run the ward than a single person can receive and that we were all tasked with getting inspiration, even if ultimately our counsel was not followed.

    Interestingly, this was from a very “conservative” member of the state presidency. (He’s the one who made me shave my beard.) I don’t think that he would see himself as a reformer working against Mormon authoritarianism or someone who was trying to dress-up dreams of liberal democratic deliberation in a more palatable language for Mormons. He simply thinks that this is a better way for God to direct His Church.

  38. #37 — Nate, that is exactly my experience.

  39. This is all well and good but when can we get permission to put a tree with Christmas lights on it in the cultural hall for a ward Christmas party?

  40. 34-ji: I don’t think I would consider you weak for sustaining your leaders, and I’m sure that your local leaders are grateful for your support (I know I would be!). Those local leaders carry an awesome load.

    When we are in a position, however, to counsel “with our councils” as Elder Ballard puts it, it is our obligation to do so. It is, in fact, an act of sustaining, just as #36 Jim D puts it.

    (I think lights on meetinghouse Christmas trees has more to do with fire codes and insurance than anything else.)

  41. Sustain leaders need not be equated with silence. In a spirit of brotherhood, any Church member can talk with his or her leaders and offer his or her thoughts and concerns, or ask questions about troubling matters, in a quiet and private and helpful way. This does not rise to the definition of dissent. There is safety in the multiude of counselors. At the same time, there is also a need to support those who carry the burden of leadership. I appreciate the original posting and wish the poster well.

  42. “In a spirit of brotherhood,”


  43. I have to use the language of the site, which is English. I’m not aware of another word I could use which might be explicitly gender neutral. Brotherhood, as I used it, can include all persons and, as I used it, is implicitly gender neutral. A spirit of siblinghood?

  44. I really liked Rosalynde’s review of a seminar she attended with Catholic theologian. The idea of a broken-hearted ecclesiology has been a provocative idea for me. I must remember to approach dissent with my own fallibility firmly in place.

    Moreover, I believe that you have encapsulated something quite profound about dissent in the Church. Though you have implicitly referred to the idea of forgiveness in your comments around love there is something difficult about negotiating dissent (esp. in painful situations) that is still committed to forgive those who fail to hear.

    Personally I have been grateful for those who have dissented from my choices as leader and have found that the struggle of maintaining integrity in the face of community to be a penetrating experience which has allowed me to feel that there are times when I will forgoe my personal beliefs for the sake of others who I care about more. Levi Savage has been a profound example of this.

  45. Can someone provide a link to Nate’s handling of Savage at T&S?

  46. Matt, I would also suggest you look at Eugene England’s essay on integrity and community.


  47. Thank you!

  48. Neal Kramer says:

    To me, this “problem” lies at the heart of how we do things week to week in the Church.

    I preface my remarks by saying, I can’t imagine a situation in which fifteen strong-willed, overwhelmingly successful people sit around a conference table and passively resist each other every day.

    I have served as president, counselor, councilor, kitchen cabinet adviser for almost 40 years. I cannot remember a time when bishops and stake presidents were not extremely interested in getting as much information as possible, even when masking sensitive calls like Bishop. The losers in situations where leaders take counsel primarily from yes-people are simple, from my experience: wards do not run well.

    Members are lost, definitely not served, and, if I may be blunt, the Holy Ghost is often not present. Missionary work does not thrive. Everyone distances themselves from revelation and a kind of death settles over the ward.

    Wards need inspiration from everyone, especially when the inspiration does not bring consensus.

    Let me be clear: I’m not talking about the things that typically happen in business, education, and other settings where people thrive primarily on power plays and rational intimidation.

    This is an ongoing search where your current position in the ward has nothing to do with the quality of inspiration you receive. It has more to do with the kind of inspiration you seek.

  49. Neal, I can’t tell whether you’re reading me as advocating “passively resisting” or somehow suggesting that being a yes-person is a good thing. If so, I need to do some revising!

  50. I decided to not be a lurker for once. Just wanted to say this is great, Kristine. Just what I needed to read!

  51. I’m so glad you posted this! I was just telling someone about it yesterday and wishing I had it in my greedy little hands, and here it is, like magic!

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