Institutional Change: Pulling the Rug from Under the Most Committed

[Edited to add link to Gospel Topic essay on the end of plural marriage]

In a recent article, Cardinal Schönborn and Archbishop of Vienna analyzed the response to the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” [1]: “At the moment there is a massive wave of attack on the Pope from various circles.” It turns out that these circles also include traditionalists:

There is growing concern from conservative groups who are concerned that Francis and his approach to concrete problems and his compassionate image could soften the official doctrinal positions. […] Maintaining dual loyalty both to the existing teachings of the Church and to the many problems of the people is a balancing act. […] The areas of tension that manifest themselves here are now open to further discussion. [My own translation of remarks made in the article linked above by Jan-Heiner Tück, head of the Department of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Vienna]

Professor Tück’s remarks about the balancing act between theory and practice reminded me of Armand Mauss’s work on new religious movements in The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation:

At any given point in time…a movement is grappling with either of two predicaments: If it has survived for some time as a “peculiar people” (in the biblical phrase), conspicuously rejecting the surrounding society and flexing the muscles of militancy, then it will begin to face the predicament of disrepute, which invites repression and threatens not only the movement’s success but its very existence. […] After a movement has achieved some success through this strategy of purposeful accommodation, however, it will soon find itself in the opposite plight: the predicament of respectability. Now the movement has taken on so many traits of the surrounding culture that it is not readily distinguishable from the establishment. […] To complicate matters, every time the movement switches direction, it must contend with the endemic internal tendencies toward schism and defection (apostasy), for different kinds of individual needs among the members are satisfied (or threatened) by different forms and degrees of tension with the surrounding society. Theories of social psychology have taught us that people tend to commit themselves to those causes for which they are required to sacrifice to some degree. (pp.5, 6)

Sure, the Roman Catholic Church is the opposite of a new religious movement, but it is interesting to observe that the establishment is not as static as one might suppose and that opposition to leadership is hardly the sole domain of the non-committal, half-out-the-door, activist liberal. While Mormons may have had a different experience with navigating the narrow channel between assimilation and repression, for the time being it appears that Mormons and Catholics have something in common—namely, change is in the air, and conservative members of both denominations seem to be feeling the pinch.

This has probably been hashed out more eloquently elsewhere, and I will leave discussion of the Catholic experience to someone more qualified. Still, I wonder if negative reactions to shifting policies and teachings of the church stem less from the divergence between institutional and personal ideological commitments and more from a sense that such changes 1) upend expectations of the way things are and 2) devalue sacrifices made out of obedience to what were understood to be the policies and teachings in force.

Just a couple of days ago, for example, the church flooded the earth with a video depicting not only the temple garment but also the robes of the holy priesthood! On YouTube! With comments turned on! [Update: “It has just been brought to our attention that criminal charges had been brought against a Church member shown in [a short clip of stock footage]. We have therefore replaced that eight-second clip with new footage” (Newsroom statement). The edited video is available on YouTube here.] While the move seemed to be generally welcomed as a means of getting in front of the public discussion of things Mormons consider holy, this departure from the default setting of faithful temple attendees that what happens in the temple stays in the temple was a source of dissonance for at least some who report being devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church.

In this case, the problem seems to be disorientation. After all, if shared expectations are vital to maintaining satisfying relationships with each other, how much more important is it to the faithful to be able to gauge where they stand with God? Even if our expectations about and relations with the divine remain largely unexamined, it can be disconcerting to discover that what we thought we knew turns out to be temporary rather than eternal.

Mauss’ insight that “people tend to commit themselves to those causes for which they are required to sacrifice to some degree” points to a second reason why highly committed members may experience anger, resentment or hurt to accommodations in church policy and teachings to the surrounding culture—it lessens tension and in doing so devalues previous installments paid in the name of discipleship. For example, I know someone who forewent college, a career and professional development to raise a large, naturally-occurring family, complete with a time-intensive garden and a room devoted to food storage, who now wonders what that was all about in light of the current practice of tip-toeing around family planning as a matter between couples and the Lord. (Compare, for example, this 1980 statement from N. Eldon Tanner: “There are various arguments for curtailing the birth of children or the size of families, but they are contrary to the laws of God” with this one from Neil L. Andersen in 2011: “When to have a child and how many children to have are private decisions to be made between a husband and wife and the Lord.”)

Other examples abound. In the brand new essay on “The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage”, the church notes that “the end of plural marriage required great faith and sometimes complicated, painful—and intensely personal—decisions on the part of individual members and Church leaders”, no doubt commensurate with the great sacrifices to faithfully practice this principle in the first place.

Today, many manifestations of 19th and 20th century Mormon life that required pretty significant sacrifices—polygamy, big families, gardens, unconsolidated meeting schedules, member-built meeting houses, just to name a few—are not as important as they once were. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—as Mauss observes, responsiveness to changing circumstances is necessary for survival, and continuing revelation is usually regarded as a feature of Mormonism. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that when the price of discipleship is discounted, early adopters may understandably respond like the laborers in the vineyard, “Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.”

Of course, an institution cannot be held solely responsible for the ways its members choose to express their commitments to it and the disappointment that ensues when expectations are not met, and some of the sacrifices associated with Mormon life reflect American mores rather than uniquely Mormon policies or teachings, but still—institutional change will try even the most committed of us and in ways we may not have anticipated.

——————

[1] BCC coverage here; statement here

Comments

  1. A Happy Hubby says:

    Your contrast of N. Eldon Tanner quote to the latest from Neil L. Andersen really strikes a cord with me. It makes me contemplate the absoluteness of current statements.

    I like your bringing in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. I do think that some will very much feel that way.

    I wonder if we are in a way going through another “correlation” where a bit less is required (or at least explicitly commanded) in order to allow the world-wide expansion to continue. More of just the bare basics.

    Look at “Meet the Mormons”. There was very little mention of doctrine or even what makes the church different from other Christian churches. I do think many other Christian religions could come up with 6 families across the globe that are just as wonderful.

  2. Bro. Jones says:

    First link in this sentence is broken: “what happens in the temple stays in the temple was a source of dissonance for at least some who report being devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church.”

    On topic: good post, and I think a very accurate assessment. Much as with political parties, the value of the Church changing positions on an issue must be weighed against the cost of alienating the “base” of orthodox supporters.

  3. It took my mom a few years of pushing all my SILaws to have more babies before one of them finally told her that bishops say # of kids is between you and the Lord and it was none of her business. My mom was shocked, she had no idea… She’s definitely sad everyone stops at 3-4. It’s for this reason we have to be soooo patient. If any hoped for change happens, it’ll be at a snail’s pace, and often not shouted from the rooftops.

    I’ve come to the conclusion we’d all be a little better off with Armand Mauss on our shelves.

  4. Ah, the follies of marrying oneself to a false idol…

  5. Thanks for the heads up, Bro. Jones; the link is fixed (I hope).

    I wonder if we are in a way going through another ‘correlation’ where a bit less is required (or at least explicitly commanded) in order to allow the world-wide expansion to continue.”

    If the church publications are any indication, there does seem to be greater awareness of a global audience.

    If any hoped for change happens, it’ll be at a snail’s pace, and often not shouted from the rooftops.

    Indeed. Let’s hope we don’t end up like Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

    “But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”
    “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”

  6. My mother got teary-eyed the first time I mentioned that I wear my bra under my garments. She was adamant that they were to be the first thing next to your skin.

    This past summer she joined me as I sat with my niece’s info session with the Matron before her endowment. My mother was a little peeved that they give such different instruction now regarding the wearing of the garment/underclothes than she had received, and don’t attempt to disseminate it among previously endowed sisters.

  7. A Happy Hubby says:

    @ Bro. Jones

    Much as with political parties, the value of the Church changing positions on an issue must be weighed against the cost of alienating the “base” of orthodox supporters.

    It used to feel to me that this didn’t matter. The Lord is going to say/do what the Lord is going to do. I wonder what % of the members at the time were OK with polygamy when it was introduced? But coming to an understanding of this is how I finally got my head squared with Blacks and the priesthood.

  8. Good post. I am one who struggles to forgive the church for placing such intense strictures on what I did with my life, in God’s name, only for none of it to be hard truth. In the 2000’s I felt frustrated to have my womanhood so narrowly defined by Elder Faust (“Unfortunately, we see some very poor role models of womanhood in today’s society. We see women boxers and wrestlers as we flip through the television channels trying to find something uplifting. I believe the women of our time need to be strong, but not in that sense. In my opinion, these activities demean the nobility of womanhood”) only for them to have a woman boxer lauded in Meet the Mormons (complete in Tank Top – I was instructed that there were no exceptions to God’s modesty requirements for his women).

  9. ^ I know that ‘not everything from the stand is revelation’, but that concept is weakened significantly when a member of the first presidency delivers his opinion, from the stand, during a women’s meeting, when you’re told to prepare to go to that meeting because you’re going to hear the Lord’s voice though his servants.

  10. Great post Peter! Very interesting to compare the situation with the Catholic Church and its charismatic, moral leadership of Pope Francis.

    As to the sociological observations you make, it sort of boils down to the old “I suffered with it the old way and, by golly, you should have to as well! (Or else it’s just not fair!)” doesn’t it?

  11. I don’t know quite what to think of this public display of the temple clothing. I was a newly endowed member, attending the temple for maybe the third or fourth time ever, when I approached a brother at the front area of the temple to ask a question. I was still fully clothed in my regalia- which set this brother off. He proceeded to inform me of my atrocity, setting me straight as to where and when and why I should be seen in my robes. It was both embarrassing and a learning lesson, or so I thought at the time. ( late 1990’s) It seems that what I thought was a doctrinal issue was actually a cultural issue after all. Sigh, and moving forward!

  12. For someone whose career in the Octagon was cruelly cut short by the carelessly-chosen words of Pres. Faust, you did an admirable job of beating the stuffing out of that “modest women” straw man.

  13. D., it is interesting what some people take to be immutable eternal things or procedures or “rules”, isn’t it?

    A lot of crazy things have happened under the banner of ostensibly eternal-unwritten-but-nevertheless-absolutely-correct-binding-only-way-to-do-things, including Mormons in the nineteenth century who thought it was a mandate not to fully remove garments ever, including while bathing or at other intimate times. Were they to come to our day, they would likely be quite incensed that we have it so easy compared to them with our much more rational design of garments and approach to their use.

    The example with the kids mentioned a couple of times above is very important. I know many in my grandparents and parents generations who are troubled that they were essentially commanded to have kids immediately and not to plan them out, letting them come naturally, resulting in families of 6, 8, 10, or more kids. Don’t get me wrong — they love all their children and resulting grandchildren now but more than a few of them recognize that it broke them to do it that way, especially when it becomes clear that other ways are just as viable and righteous because it truly is a personal decision to be worked out with the spouse and Lord rather than dictated as a blanket mandate from Church leaders.

  14. I waited until I was at the temple to look through the packet, but the matron took it before I met with the temple president. After I completed the initiatories and went to meet with her, to hear the instructions about garments, I asked to look at the items to prepare myself (I’m not very good at dressing myself at the best of times, let alone with new items in front of 30 people), and she responded that it would not be appropriate. Should’ve just looked at home. (Wish this video was out 4 months ago).

  15. As a “progressive,” or “liberal” Mormon I am in favor of discomfiting the doting traditionalists, those that never examined, learned, wondered, or doubted the traditional “prophets, seers, and revelators” mantra/coupled with the “speak no evil” mantra–which strongly reinforced the false notion that God speaks through the GAs every time they open their mouths.

    I am also in favor of teaching the GAs to recognize and understand the same thing so that they don’t pontificate all the time. They need to better realize and teach that what they say and write is only their learned and considered opinion. Thereby, if they were ever to be actually inspired it would be such a unique experience that it would be readily recognizable.

  16. “Of course, an institution cannot be held solely responsible for the ways its members choose to express their commitments to it and the disappointment that ensues when expectations are not met, and some of the sacrifices associated with Mormon life reflect American mores rather than uniquely Mormon policies or teachings, but still—institutional change will try even the most committed of us and in ways we may not have anticipated”

    Apologies if this seems pedantic, but I take issue with semantics here. The institution in question purports itself to be God’s One True with a President who speaks for God. Thus, if you want to please God, you have to demonstrate obedience to his servants. If it counteracts your conscience, that means you have to work harder to prune your ‘natural man’ into streamlined obedience. How then can this kind of institution not be held to a higher level of culpability than others? The members aren’t just ‘choosing’ ways to express their commitment, they’re being told how to express their commitment, and then that instruction (which was originally put out there are ‘prophetic’) is retracted without official retraction. How then can that institution not be strongly responsible for the ensuing disappointment and regret?

  17. J. Stapley says:

    Great write-up Peter.

  18. You are correct about the reflection of “American Mores”, though. An an English saint, I have learned that the hard way.

  19. One way of mitigating the inevitable feeling of conservatives having the rug pulled out from under them would be to channel their devotions into different aspects of the church and/or the gospel. E.g. instead of worshiping an infallible, unchanging church and being certain beyond the shadow of a doubt, they could instead build their houses on a foundation of personal revelation, becoming Christlike, spiritual independence, etc.

    But then again, I’m a liberal, so I’m more interested in that than in having all the answers. Plus, focusing on those items I suggest seems to inherently represent a lesser devotion to the institution, so…

  20. Thank you all for your responses.

    You are of course correct, Sally K., that the church and various levels of leadership do define obedience, sometimes in great detail. In the passage you quote, I was simply trying to acknowledge that members will have a range of responses to any counsel, policy, teaching, etc., some of them being more Catholic than the Pope, so to speak, and others ignoring it and wondering what the big deal is later when accommodations are made in their direction.

  21. Good post. Lately, I’ve come to a new sense of empathy and charity for those members who left the church in the wake of the 1978 revelation. Not being old enough to remember the event, I’d always assumed that those who left were just bigoted racists. I’ve now come to believe that, for most all of them, the decision was not so much about race as the heavy burden of accepting a change they had been told could not happen in their lifetime.

    I worry that too often we are setting up the current generation for a similar fall. Why is it that leaders who profess they are not bound by past teachings (see the 14 fundamentals), can nonetheless assert that their teachings will never be changed by future leaders?

  22. One common response is that in a world open to continuing revelation, Church principles and teachings are specific to time (and sometimes place): “this is the law until it’s not”. This is necessarily discussed when talking about plural marriage. (Note the phrases “standard of the Church today” and “standing law” in the new lds.org discussions of plural marriage:)

    However, continuing revelation turns out to be a hard principle to live. It runs counter to our very human need for safety and confidence. Particularly so when the rate of change feels like it is best measured by generations, rather months or years. Change at that pace allows many of us for much of our lives to carry the illusion that everything is settled.

  23. I like your post Peter. I have a lot of sympathy for members who faithfully supported the church’s prior explanations for the priesthood ban in through difficult times in the 60s and 70s, or who joined the church believing they were literal descendants of Lehi, or were confident that polygamy was ended immediately in 1890 after a clear revelation. I’m happy to see the church take a more open and nuanced approach to these issues, but I feel for the members who took a leap of faith to follow past leaders on these issues.

    But I’m also impressed with how many members seem to go with the flow when the church changes its stance. Just a few days ago, my faithful family members and friends would have been abhorred if I had posted a Facebook video showing images of temple clothing, but now they’re all linking to the church’s new video with gusto. It makes me think that all the polls about women and the priesthood were asking the wrong question: sure the majority of members don’t giving the priesthood to women, but if the prophet were to announce today that all worthy members could hold the priesthood, I’m confident we’d see overwhelming support for the decision (despite some more conservative members privately feeling like the rug was pulled out from under them).

  24. Dave K: “the heavy burden of accepting a change they had been told could not happen in their lifetime”

    Christiankimball: “continuing revelation turns out to be a hard principle to live”

    It could be less so depending on how teachings are presented. An ounce of humility is worth a pound of cure. Maybe rhetoric from Church leaders will begin to present teachings in a less “this cannot ever change” way and more along the lines of “this is the current standard,” i.e. leaving open whether that will be changed in the future through channels of revelation or inspiration?

  25. What this goes to show is that in a church built on the principle of continuing revelation, building hedges about the law–and then attacking like a rabid guard dog anyone who dares approach those hedges–is the epitome of foolishness.

    On a related note, I was in one of the big SoCal singles wards during Prop 8, and a lot of my friends (many of whom are now in the “former” category) were on fire for Yes on 8 while I was quietly and resolutely opposed. I have to wonder if any of them have any regrets about devoting so much of their time, talents, and money to what arguably was the biggest error by Church leadership since the Mark Hoffman incident.

  26. The church and its leaders exacerbate this problem by frequently speaking in absolutes only to see those absolutes abandoned in later years. Such certitude is the inevitable offspring of such myths as prophetic infallibility, scriptural errancy, and the eternal, unchanging nature of doctrine.

    Yes, change is occurring—more subtle and forthright explanations are being advanced for policy changes and embarrassing episodes in church history. But a certain amount of disillusionment will naturally follow policy reversals that were originally presented as carved in stone.

  27. “policy reversals that were originally presented as carved in stone” — exactly. THIS is the problem. We can ameliorate so much of the disaffection that we cause by changing the way we present many things. And that’s not even hard to do!

  28. Spot on, Peter. I know I’ve read discussion of the old “have lots of kids” versus the new “figure it out between you and God” counsel a number of times at fMh, and just as you said, it’s clearly painful for a lot of people (particularly the women actually bearing, and typically raising the children) to find that the rules are changed later, and the sacrifice they made doesn’t seem to be considered important anymore.

  29. And looking forward not many years hence to a time when gay marriage is booted from the spotlight to merely a spot on the list of “evils of the World” (“We decry abortion, divorce, abuse of spouse or children, so-called “gay marriage”…), the people who, for example, took Elder Andersen seriously in April Conference and went out and boldly stated their opposition to it will feel the same way. I harmed relationships with friends and neighbors (and family!) to stand up for a principle that . . . just isn’t that important anymore?

  30. A Happy Hubby says:

    “policy reversals that were originally presented as carved in stone” – I second that “exactly”

    I heard about a quote from Neil A Maxwell (sorry I don’t have the reference, so take it with a grain of salt) that said something to the affect, “Don’t oversubscribe on your revelation.” or in other words your “revelation” might not always be true revelation and don’t get too carried away with it (my interpretation). This was directed at members, but I really think that the leadership should be following that also. When I hear near fist pounding “this is the way it is and always will be” in conference, I just have to squirm. I can’t help but think, “Is this another blacks and the priesthood” or many other cases where policy/doctrine was XYZ and changed later.

    So confusing for a logical-minded engineering nerd!

  31. john f., to answer your question (and my own), I believe the reason our leaders stick to saying “this can never change, we really mean it” is because the alternative does not lead to enough sacrifice and trust to get anything done. How would members in So. Cal in 2008 react if they were told by church leaders: “we think SSM is bad; we can’t imagine that God would ever approve of it; but we’re fallible and so who knows; nevertheless, we feel inspired to oppose SSM strongly at this time so please donate as much time and money as you can spare”?

  32. @Erin Ann You can wear your bra under your garments?? When did this change??

  33. Dave K–can’t speak for anyone else, but I think I’d be *more* inclined to get on board with revelation presented humbly, as the product of struggle to (imperfectly) understand God’s will than declarations presented with a sort of certainty that I know is either unlikely or mistaken.

  34. Kristine, I’m with you. Leaders who exhibit some measure of humility and self-doubt usually win my allegiance. On the other hand, those who loudly proclaim, “This is what the Lord told me we must do,” frighten me.

  35. Of course, maybe the “between husband and wife and God” is supposed to result in the same number of children as “don’t restrict the number of children” did, and we’re all getting it wrong. Maybe what’s really happening is “between husband and wife and a dark glass through which we can’t really see, so we’ll call X good.”

  36. Just a few days ago, my faithful family members and friends would have been abhorred if I had posted a Facebook video showing images of temple clothing, but now they’re all linking to the church’s new video with gusto.

    A little authority goes a long way.

  37. Of course, maybe the “between husband and wife and God” is supposed to result in the same number of children as “don’t restrict the number of children” did, and we’re all getting it wrong.

    That occurred to me too. It seems, though, that the “work it out with the Lord” approach provides members a better opportunity to own their decisions, as it were.

  38. I doubt it’s merely a passive-aggressive restatement of the previous mandate, Mark B. With any luck, it actually implies trust in the members to contemplate this serious issue and work it out with the Lord.

  39. This post is a good example of why I have been inclined over the past few years to separate doctrine from tradition/culture. When we a church, and we as leaders, attempt to build up a hedge around the law that God has given us, at some point we aren’t able to distinguish law from tradition. I still get words of concern from unquestioning relatives, friends, and church members for my distinguishing between the two, but it’s not me who is scratching my head when something like this happens.
    For example, as far as the garments go, the ceremony states clearly what is not to be revealed. There is not a limitation on anything else, yet we put layers onto it in order to “stay as far from the edge as possible.”
    The church is definitely changing, in no small part due to the free and overabundance of information and communication on the internet. The Lamanites were led astray by the vain traditions of their fathers, so I am glad to see us shed our vain traditions in favor of truth and what is most effective.

  40. Very solid work, Peter!

  41. Now let’s see if you brave lefties can make the sacrifice of protecting “traditional marriage” — something that the saints have never been charged with in any previous age. Fun stuff! This is history in the making.

  42. So, that YouTube link is displaying “This video is private : \ ”
    Perhaps in retrospect it was deemed a step too far?

  43. Looks like the video was edited. The updated version is available on YouTube here.

    I’ll update the post accordingly.

  44. Thanks for that link on the edit. The reference to transparency is hopeful.

  45. “I doubt it’s merely a passive-aggressive restatement of the previous mandate, Mark B.”

    John, I didn’t mean to suggest that it was intended as a passive-aggressive restatement. What I was suggesting was that perhaps a large number of us are getting it wrong. It’s awfully easy for people writing on the blogs to discuss how the leaders of the church have erred in the past and are likely erring right now, but it seems that admissions that the non-leaders who write here might just be wrong are pretty rare.

  46. A Happy Hubby says:

    Mark B – it may not be common for the blogernacle to admit when it was wrong, but have you ever heard a high-up church leader admit they were wrong? Even when Pres. Uchtdorf said in “Come, join with us”, “There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.” Note MAY have been.

    I heard that the Givens received some pushback in their latest book on the “Crucible of Doubt” where they actually state something about a previous leader being wrong. Deseret book allegedly said, “You can’t say that!!!”

    I actually am finding it hard to swallow the fact that a REVELATION was needed in 1976 to change a POLICY. That does not make sense.

    And let me gratuitously add, “maybe I am wrong though”.

  47. it's a series of tubes says:

    but have you ever heard a high-up church leader admit they were wrong?

    How about this?

    http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1570

    “I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

    We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.”

  48. A Happy Hubby says:

    Thanks for the reply “it’s a series of tubes” (if that is your real name :-)

    OK, 36 years ago someone was forced to face up to the fact that what he had said was wrong – partially BECAUSE he was so sternly “THIS IS THE WAY IT IS” before. It was an elephant in the room that had to be addressed.

    But even this leaves me wondering reading it if he is saying to forget what he said about “Blacks won’t get the priesthood in this life” alone. Would have said that the reason why the previously had been denied the priesthood still was “the mark of Cain/less valiant in the premortal life). Would he have to say the same thing again if he was here when “Race and the Priesthood” was released on LDS.org?

    I am going to stop beating this as it is an issue I have to come to terms with. I don’t want to come off (any more than I already have) as an anti-Mormon looking to tear down the church. I am not interested in beating up past leaders. They were by and large wonderful people that sacrificed much for the church and for their God and I do think they tried to do their best.

    I would just like current leaders to be less black and white and so “firm” when it is possible they are not so right on some issues and will cause others to leave the church when they see this over time.

  49. it's a series of tubes says:

    OK, 36 years ago someone was forced to face up to the fact that what he had said was wrong – partially BECAUSE he was so sternly “THIS IS THE WAY IT IS” before. It was an elephant in the room that had to be addressed.

    Reading BRM’s description of the revelation in the linked speech, I think “forced to face up to the fact that what he had said was wrong” is a shameless mischaracterization of his response. Revelation hit all 13 present over the head in an undeniable way. Strongest he ever experienced, he said. In light of that, his language in the speech doesn’t seem to be “forced” or otherwise compelled or unwilling in any way. The answer was clear, and his comment was clear – he was fully onboard with the answer.

  50. Mark B.: “it seems that admissions that the non-leaders who write here might just be wrong are pretty rare.”

    Why would such an admission be necessary, when it is the standard presumption? Or did you forget, and start thinking that BCC is authoritative? I can’t blame you, really.

    Peter: very interesting thoughts, moreso because there is every chance that Church policies and practices may become more restrictive, not less.

  51. it’s a series of tubes — thank-you so much for posting the quote from BRM! I couldn’t understand why in the recent polygamy essays they kept going back to the “line upon line” scripture when covering questionable actions by past leadership. It kept striking me as a really odd application, but it makes a lot more sense seeing that BRM established a precedent for associating that scriptural concept to church leaders and revelation.

  52. BR, I don’t know when, but if you ask your matron about it she will tell you that how you wear it is up to you.

    I started wearing it that way (most of the time) so that I would hate garments a little less. Garments don’t work well under bras.

  53. It’s awfully easy for people writing on the blogs to discuss how the leaders of the church have erred in the past and are likely erring right now

    Indeed, every member an armchair general (authority). But in this post I was trying to look at how authoritative statements are received rather than comment on whether they reflect truth or error.

  54. A Happy Hubby says:

    I think you are seeing indirectly “how they are received” – at least after some earlier statements turn out to be not so authoritative after all. It generates quite a bit of mental angst.

  55. It only causes mental angst inasmuch as we continue to heap unrealistic expectations and hopes on general authorities, rather than taking complete ownership of our individual discipleship and knowledge.

  56. How would we respond to the hoped for modifiers to prophetic statements in other doctrinal statements?

    Monogamy is God’s standard, for now.

    I think the qualifiers would ultimately divorce people from any reliance on the church, and at best realign allegiances directly to Christ (bypassing his authorized servants). A fair hope, but one that you only need to go a step further to “reveal” the church isn’t necessary at all.

    “An Authoritative church is currently God’s standard.”

    So the end game is the destruction of the need for the church in the first place if we can’t rely on it as at least one of the cornerstones of a testimony. Certainly this overstates the case as I know now one is arguing for such wide swings in doctrinal flexibility in all statements, but at the same time the underlying thought is precisely what discomfits so many traditional members with how the bloggernacle views things.

  57. “how the bloggernacle views things.”

    Right. The great monolithic bloggernacle…

  58. A Happy Hubby says:

    DQ said, “I think the qualifiers would ultimately divorce people from any reliance on the church, and at best realign allegiances directly to Christ ”

    I do feel there is some truth in this. It is an area I struggle with. As I think about why I wish the brethren were not quite so “this is it” is I thinking (possibly erroneously) that doing so might allow others to not go though the faith crisis I have. Maybe I should stop being so worried about that. As I have worked through many issues – maybe I should have faith that others can do it also.

  59. Historically, though, this isn’t uncommon. The Jewish sects of Jesus’ day had wildly different interpretations about how conservative or how liberal to take certain doctrines, but they didn’t really have a centralized authority to decide on issues. Early Christianity had the Christian Jews who were typically more conservative and the secular Gentiles coming in with their Hellenistic philosophies — the church at that point also had to carefully plot a path based on revelation that made both sides, at times, pretty angry. Early Mormonism had more conservative members angry with the directions that Joseph seemed to be taking, but you also had people who took certain aspects of Joseph’s teachings and went overboard. Today we still have conservative groups breaking off because of a belief that the church has deviated too far from “original” 19th century doctrines, and we also have liberal groups breaking off because the church hasn’t moved quickly enough to gain “greater light and knowledge.” Based on history, we can never expect all members to be thrilled with the direction the church is taking. To believe in continuing revelation, as our church does, is to put ourselves in a position where direction from God *could* change at any given moment, but there’s no guarantee if or when it might happen. It can be incredibly unsettling at times, but Christ is the rock on which we’ve been instructed to build our testimonies, not the institutional church. With Christ as the base, we can still add to it testimonies of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and the Restoration, but we’ll also be able to weather the events from deity that completely overturn our expectations. I do think the general authorities are doing the best they can, but I definitely believe that even they are at times blindsided by revelations and instructions from deity (JS and polygamy, WW and the end of polygamy, SWK and the twelve apostles — including BRM — at the end of the priesthood ban). If our general authorities aren’t immune from having their perceptions of doctrine and expectations of the church overridden, then why in the world should we see ourselves as exempt?

    There are those that then wonder what the purpose is of the institutional church. Besides providing saving ordinances, there is definitely a precedent for having certain individuals being assigned to give instruction to others. Jesus instructed Peter to feed his sheep, and for the apostles to go to all the nations. Prophets are described as watchmen on the towers in the bible, not just preaching repentance but warning of dangers ahead that those on the ground aren’t able to see. In Helaman, both Nephi and Lehi are considered equally righteous, but Nephi is clearly described as the leader of the church. Same with Nephi and Sam at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. For whatever reason, certain people are charged with the responsibility to teach others, and they are held accountable for fulfilling that mission. Those who respond to the messages are blessed for being willing to follow without necessarily receiving the same insight and revelation that the original messenger was privy to (Lamoni’s wife is a great example). One of the first things that Jesus did during his appearance in the Book of Mormon was to validate Nephi as the leader and call 11 other disciples to teach the people. Clearly there is some importance to him about setting up a system of witnesses with proper authority that people can rely on and look to for guidance.

    (Apologies for the novel.)

  60. A Happy Hubby says:

    Mary Ann – No need to be an apologist :-)

    Thanks. I got something out of it and it was more than worth my time reading it.

  61. it's a series of tubes says:

    If our general authorities aren’t immune from having their perceptions of doctrine and expectations of the church overridden, then why in the world should we see ourselves as exempt?

    Great, great point. Thanks for this.

  62. Where does our belief in personal revelation fit in to all this? Which really is very different compared to a lot of other institutional churches. And it does color the lens through which we look at things. We do what the Spirit tells us, whether or not it seems in step with the teachings of the institutional church at that point in time.

    I have only recently come to appreciate the great courage that it took for Ardeth Kapp to decline motherhood because she felt the Lord did not want them to pursue adoption. They married long before Roe v. Wade, in an era when it was much easier to adopt a healthy baby in the U.S. But as they prayed, they felt that the Lord did not want them to become parents.

    She went on to be General YW president and set a marvelous example to the church that one does not have to fit a predominant mold in order to serve. But they were certainly going against the general counsel of their day, and her husband took a lot of grief when serving as bishop, that he couldn’t understand the concerns of families.

    And today, even though the decision on family size is up to individuals, some will be inspired to have a larger number and follow through on what the Lord would have THEM do, without the comfort of having others around them doing the same (hopefully not being judged by other church members).

  63. Where does our belief in personal revelation fit in to all this?

    An excellent question. I think there is an inherent tension between personal revelation and institutional authority, especially when personal revelation suggests a path other than the one outlined by current policy, teachings or practice. As your example underlines, personal revelation can require courage when it is at odds with institutional inertia but is, in my experience, the key to avoiding disappointment.

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