All Apologies

During an interview following yesterday’s press conference about the need to balance the protection of religious freedoms and gay rights, Elder Dallin H. Oaks addressed the issue of apologies. When asked specifically about whether church leaders saw a need to apologize for past language on homosexuality he broadened the discussion somewhat. From the Salt Lake Tribune:

But Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, wasn’t sure apologizing for past language on homosexuality would be advisable.

“I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them,” Oaks said in an interview. “We sometimes look back on issues and say, ‘Maybe that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve,’ but we look forward and not backward.”

The church doesn’t “seek apologies,” he said, “and we don’t give them.”

I’d like to talk a little about apologies, Elder Oaks’ remarks, offer some suggested context and address the nature of apologies. As always, I encourage people to remember that Elder Oaks is an apostle, a special witness of Christ, and that we should afford him the respect that his position deserves.

As to the first point: You can hardly turn around and spit without hitting an public apology in the eye. Just this week Benedict Cumberbatch apologized for using outdated racist terminology during a PBS interview. Target apologizes for a security breach, Honda apologizes for an offensive narcolepsy commercial, apparently a furniture company apologizes for a misleading chair description.

Dov Seidman, founder of a firm that advises companies on such matters, has written of the modern advent of “apology theater.” Insincere and sincere apologies have flooded the market, calling into question the reliability of public apologies. Mitt Romney’s book No Apologies hits on this skepticism, suggesting that there is something weak, inauthentic, or wrong about governments (or people) apologizing depending on the circumstances. Romney, like Seidman, might say that apologies are just as necessary today as they ever were, but would insist that you should not apologize for something you don’t regret. (Romney apparently apologized to New Jersey governor Chris Christie for an embarrassing information leak by his campaign.) Seidman says authentic public apologies, followed up on with concrete action to rectify damages, can increase the competency of a company and the public’s trust in it.

Has the Church ever apologized? In the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith and other church leaders are called on to repent several times (for instance, D&C 3:10). Another section declares the entire church is “under condemnation” until it repents and remembers the Book of Mormon (D&C 84:54-58). The publication of such divine reprimands to the highest church leaders and to the body of the church suggests that the need to repent is not limited to individual members, but can be exercised by church leaders, perhaps in their capacity as such. There is no scripture describing the need for institutional apologies.

Other religious bodies have issued apologies. There’s an entire Wikipedia entry on apologies made by Pope John Paul II. Pope Francis apologized for sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests. As for us: we’ve come close. For example, Pastor Cecil Murray received a personal apology from President Gordon B. Hinckley for the church’s participation in slavery and racism. In 2007, Elder Henry B. Eyring offered words of apology on behalf of church members at a memorial service for victims of the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre. The church also issued a public apology for performing baptisms for the dead on behalf of victims of the Holocaust.

Elder Eyring’s remarks didn’t include the words “apology” or “we’re sorry.” But in a follow-up interview church historian Richard Turley said the statement was intended as an apology and that the church “is deeply, deeply sorry” for what happened. On the Holocaust issue, a church spokesman said that the church “sincerely regret[s] that the actions of an individual member of the church led to the inappropriate submission of these names.” The church’s newspaper reported the statement as a “public apology.” We can pick apart the details, but the church has apologized, as evidenced by the other actions taken by the church—the dedication of monuments, the clarifying of church policies, and so forth. But it would be correct to say that apologies have been rare in our history.

What did Elder Oaks mean with his statement? Elder Oaks has participated in many recent discussions on religion in the public square. These discussions have taken place in general conference, local conferences and other meetings. He is very cognizant of the necessity for robust protection of religious freedoms and speaks very often in this mode. He’s thinking about the larger role of our religion in the public square, every day. I believe this context is vital in understanding his position. Stating the position of the Church on these matters requires clear, decisive statements. The Church doesn’t apologize for its doctrines. The doctrines come from God, they don’t change and we do not make excuses for them. But everything else is human. We are all fallible. I think we can apologize, and have apologized, for messing things up and figuring things out as we go, and we do that once in a while. But on doctrinal points, the Church does not apologize for taking a strong position on controversial issues. We’re just not interested in public mea culpas for PR purposes.

I am not sure what Elder Oaks meant when he said that we don’t seek apologies. This is true as a formal matter; I cannot think of a time that the Church has requested an apology from an individual or another institution. But we require apologies as part of the repentance and restitution process, at least from those members who have caused harm to the Church. Perhaps it was directed to LGBT activists or to groups who would limit religious freedom. It was an interesting turn of phrase and I hope he clarifies it at some point.

Getting back to the Church, maybe we don’t apologize much in part because to the modern apology saturation identified by Dov Seidman, but that is a recent phenomenon. It’s also the result of church leaders trying their best to advance the mission of the church. Jesus called his disciples to be “the light of the world” so that others can see the good works and glorify God (Matt. 5:14-16), to be an ensign to the nations (Isaiah 5:26). Alma reprimands Corianton for setting a bad example, thereby preventing the Zoramites from heeding Alma’s call to repentance (Alma 39:11). If we read these scriptures as injunctions to be perfect, it makes sense that we would worry about possibly turning people away—members and non-members—through behavior that would require an apology.

Understanding these scriptures as calling for present perfection on the part of the church might make apologies seem inappropriate at best and damaging to the mission of the church and the salvation of souls at worst. But sometimes there are reasons to apologize. We might also consider that the principle of repentance itself is part of the light we are called to shine forth. Apologizing in a repentant spirit and acting further on that apology reflects some of the most cherished values the church seeks to inculcate in its membership and in the world. Apologies are part of the “civil discourse” that Elder Oaks and other church leaders have called for. Church leaders speak on behalf of the church for doctrine and policy. They are also in the position to offer apologies on behalf of the church, and I’m sure they will do so if the Spirit should so direct them in the future. Perhaps this is part of what it means to keep looking forward.

Comments

  1. I thought you might add in Uchtdorf’s now-famous admission that “leaders have made mistakes in the past.” Does that count as an apology? An admission of guilt/confession sounds like one to me

  2. Not really an apology so much as a factual statement. Elder Uchtdorf walked a careful line between emphasizing the fallibility of Church leaders while not turning his talk into a confessional. I thought that was a good call on his part. If we’re expecting a stream of public apologies from our leaders – well, get used to disappointment.

  3. Great thoughts Steve. In a world of full of empty apologies, any apology would be likely be rejected in the eyes of the church’s critics on this issue anyway. As Steve pointed out, the church won’t apologize for doctrine. And I don’t know why they would apologize for taking a stand on that doctrine in the public square (Prop 8). Any sincere “apology” from the church on this issue would probably just echo Elder Oaks’ statement: “maybe that was counterproductive to what we wanted to achieve.”

    Though the church does not seek apologies, I believe that President Hinckley received an apology from the State of Missouri during his tenure as President for what happened there in the 1830’s. And as I recall, President Hinckley was very emotional about it.

  4. Sorry, Pete, I don’t see an admission of mistakes as a public apology.

  5. Also I know if quite a few black members of the church who have expressed hurt that the race and priesthood essay did not include an apology, so it’s not just critics of the church hoping for fuller reconciliation. It’s active believing members.

  6. Kristine, that’s quite right. There is a long line of people who wouldn’t mind receiving a formal apology from the church. I just don’t think that’s a realistic expectation, though. So we’re left with the issue of what to make of it all.

  7. I think most church leaders honestly don’t feel the church as an institution has ever done, or can ever do, anything wrong. It would not be in the program, and you don’t rise up the ranks of church leadership unless you’re a company man who believes exactly that.

    That probably reads as slightly more cynical than I intend. But maybe just slightly.

  8. Intriguing thoughts. Didn’t Elder Jensen issue an apology in Oakland after Prop 8? The reports indicated that he never apologized for doctrine, but, rather, for broken hearts. I never remember anyone complaining that Elder Jensen’s words weren’t enough or that they were mere apology theater. But an apology it was.

    I suspect Elder Oaks will be asked for clarification in the Trib Talk tomorrow.

  9. Casey, most church leaders I’ve ever talked to have said quite the opposite, that the Church makes mistakes all the time, that it’s a bureaucracy with lots of inefficiency, that there are goofballs in the COB just like anywhere else. But if you asked them if the church ever did anything wrong in the sense of big ticket items, I think you’d get an answer like you describe. But I’m guessing. OR AM I???

  10. Perhaps, Hunter, he’ll read this post on the air! Or maybe not.

  11. I dunno. I’ve been in some positions as a college instructor in which starting to apologize just led to an endless morass of appeasement and dissatisfaction–it never helped get the class back on track.

  12. But I have changed the direction of a course successfully before, even acknowledging that the changes were happening. But as soon as noting changes turns to apologies, things seem to go off the rails for some reason. The armchair psychologist in me thinks its because many students feel aggrieved about having to participate in education at all, so any outlet for that magnifies whatever emotions they’re dealing with.

    So by analogy, it might be good for some people for the church to apologize for this or that, but maybe it would be a net evil.

  13. I have complicated feelings about the Church’s lack of apologies past mistakes.

    I think that a big part of why there will never be an apology for Prop 8 is because of the sacrifices asked of the members. There is no doubt in my mind that the church leadership looks back at everything that happened with regret. Ultimately, the efforts to stop gay marriage in California were expensive, not just in dollar terms, but in goodwill lost. Prop 8 did nothing to stop gay marriage for very long, and may have actually sped up the process nationwide. The church cemented a reputation for bigotry against the LGBT population at a time when attitudes, and particularly attitudes of the young, were changing very rapidly. It was, even if you think that gay marriage is wrong and contrary to the will of God, a total fiasco.

    But if the church apologizes for it, and admits that it was a mistake, it undermines the sacrifices of so many members who really thought that they were doing the right thing. There are many people who sacraficed great deals of time and money, not to mention relationships, in order to get Prop 8 to pass. While I’m really glad that I didn’t and that I was never asked to, I feel for those people who really did think that they were doing the right thing and now have to face the reality that they probably were not. I think that the testimonies of a lot of these people would not survive an apology, and because of that, I don’t see the chuch ever apologizing.

    While I still don’t think it’s right to not apologize for something when the church knows it was wrong – I do understand it. For people who put their faith in whatever was wrong, and had to sacrfice for it, to then hear that the sacrafice was not only uncessesary but a result of a mistake would be very difficult. I don’t think the church wants to deal with the cognative dissonance that will create.

  14. Peter Yates says:

    On the heels of a press conference at least in part given to encourage Christ-like love for a portion of our brothers and sisters heretofore afforded very little, Elder Oaks’ hubris is so insulting to many of us trying to justify a connection to Mormonism.

    Steve, I’m not looking for an apology, but for the record, with Gospel being true and all, I’d take 9 or 10.

  15. Peter Yates says:

    “the” Gospel

  16. It sounds like something Dick Cheney would say. Macho wing of the GOP speak.

  17. Ronan, yes it sounded that way to me as well.

  18. Which is not an easy thing.

  19. No.

  20. I am sympathetic to the idea that the church can’t be expected to apologize for everything. Yes it can be taken too far and certainly certain people’s cries for apologies must go unheeded. There seems to be a fear that there is some sort of apologia slippery slope down which the church must NOT slide.

    However, that said a categorical denial that the church will not or can not apologize feels….off in so many ways. There are mistakes and errors and then there are MISTAKES like widespread, organizationally orchestrated cover-up and ultimately facilitation of predator priests (Catholic church not us) or systematically teaching dehumanizing doctrine about a really large portion of God’s children and unnecessarily depriving generations of them saving eternal ordinances in the name of God (us and a bunch of others). There has to be some class of error that deserves an organizational apology. The thing is I think we would find that people of good will both in and out of the church would actually be quick to forgive with a heartfelt apology and substantive efforts to address the issue. People can be awfully cool like that. Apologies can also have another really important effect of signaling to members that things have really changed or need to change. Without straightforward apologies we leave this sort of morass of coded, veiled speech that can be quite puzzling for people to figure out. Sadly, I think this is now the case in the area of LGBT issues. I think it is clear that the church really does want us to deeply examine throughout the church how we treat our LGBT brothers and sisters. Yet, clearly that message is not clear for ever so many. Apologies, especially if they are rare and special get significant attention and have serious symbolic weight.

    Finally, while Elder Oaks has stated that “we don’t ask for apologies” the whole other half of the news conference had a theme of definitely asking for victim status in the perceived persecution of the religious. While not directly asking for the legitimization of aggrieved status. They made heavy rhetorical plays trying to parallel fairly directly the discrimination faced by LBGT individuals and those faced by people of faith. Previously he famously use similar direct parallels between what the church faced during the Prop 8 backlash and the civil rights movement. That is pretty strong stuff and probably something that should be laid off in the future especially if we continue to take a strong stand against our own need to apologize for our part in victimizing others.

  21. “[The doctrines] don’t change and we do not make excuses for them.”

    I’m sorry – did I read this correctly? I just about choked with incredulity. Polygamy anyone? Blood atonement? Blacks and the priesthood? Oh, I see, none of these things are “doctrines” anymore (even though they were called as such at the time – see 1949 First Presidency message on the “Negroes”).

  22. Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have said “as an institution.” Maybe I meant “as a cosmic entity charged with delivering God’s will to mankind.” Or maybe that’s a silly distinction. But yeah, on the big ticket stuff, the church seems to be viewed as practically infallible. Personally, I like to imagine the church offices being run like a cross between Veep and Parks and Rec.

  23. The church’s errors are not of the magnitude of those of the Church of England historically, but when the Archbishop of Canterbury recently apologised for the Church’s involvement in slavery he reminded us that churches are made up of people, and people can apologise, and that the body of Christ is not temporally-bound, meaning that we can and should repent for the church’s past sins because in some way they are still *our* sins. I like that idea.

  24. And so I find Elder Oak’s comments here baffling and disturbing in equal measure. Hopefully they represent an off-the-cuff error, like the Pope’s ridiculous comment about free speech. Perhaps he will clarify things.

  25. (Also, Steve, your title has me singing another line in that song: “What else can I say? Everyone is gay!”)

  26. I’m with Blake on the doctrine thing. The doctrines of the church DO change. Or at least what we call doctrine changes, which is tantamount to the same thing, and that brings into question whether all doctrines, past or present, come from God.

    When the church recognizes that a particular practice is not doctrine, and that practice was very harmful and unjust, then yes, I think they ought to apologize sincerely, whatever the cost. I honestly don’t believe that a church too proud to apologize meets with God’s approval anymore than a person too proud to apologize would. The church had an opportunity to demonstrate humility and charity and be a good example for its members. All the excuses for not doing so ring hollow to me – basically just excuses.

  27. Ronan, my title has had its intended effect!

  28. Last Monday (MLK day in the states) I sat with my wife and children for Family Home Evening. I taught my children that they are descendants of slavers. I explained that our individual and family salvation is tied up with those ancestors. We discussed how to reconcile our family’s past with our belief in racial equality. We listened to a sermon from Dr. King. We sang our favorite negro spirituals.

    More than this, we discussed how we can work for our ancestor’s salvation – not only by performing ordinances in the temple but by confessing our family’s sins, working to rectify the legacy harms from those sins, and completely forsaking the beliefs that led to those sins. I explained to my children that we take these actions in faith that our ancestors’ hearts have changed and a hope that they would take these same actions if still alive. I believe that such proxy work is received with as much joy by those on the other side of the veil, and that it works just as much for salvation, as any proxy temple ordinance.

    This same principle applies in equal measure to our church family. Collectively, we cannot claim an inheritance on the sacred grove and Kirtland Temple, without also accepting our inheritance from mountain meadows and the racial ban. Let us do for our ancestors what they no longer can, but which we believe they would do if standing with us today. Let us completely confess and forsake our family’s sins. Let it not be said that we lack authority to speak for the dead. A church that claims an unbroken chain of priesthood authority from prior leaders necessarily has the ability and responsibility to confess and forsake the mistakes committed under that authority.

    The Savior taught that full repentance comes only through confessing and forsaking. The two are inseparably intertwined. Skipping straight to ‘forsaking’ does not work. Not for individuals. Not for families. Not for the church. So long as one fails to confess, he will never fully forsake. That is the lesson from Professor Bott. It is a lesson we will continue see until we take the necessary step of confession.

  29. Dave K, We believe we are responsible for our own sins and not for Adam’s transgressions. I thinks both admirable and tragic that you’d actually feel the need to repent of the wrongs committed by someone in your ancestry, but do not expect or preach it of others. I have confidence in the blessing that I am clean from the sins imparted to me through my generation and free of any burdens of generational guilt through the priesthood I can focus my efforts on personal acts of discipleship.

    Along with the Appstles, I feel it a mistake to “look back” at wrongs and fixate on them in a way the precludes any further progress until we or others do so. We know we what ought to do and an excessive focus on the wrongs of the past actually hinders repentance. I realize opinions vary on this subject and there are certainly lessons to be learned from the past, but it would be a mistake to heed the advice of those who push the church to fess up to various wrongs in their eyes.

  30. Thanks for your insights and historical perspectives- and especially giving Elder Oaks his due respect as a special witness of our Savior.

  31. whizzbang says:

    I wonder if there is a transcript or video of Elder Oaks saying this or are we just supposed to rely on the what the journalist said that he said

  32. Deborah Christensen says:

    There is one view that hasn’t been presented in the comment section. That is the concepts of free and open debate/the national discussion or whatever you want to call it. These concepts value having all view points aired; even if they are unpopular. No one should apologize for taking a position unless they use violence to promote that position. The church and it’s members participated the national discussion. They exercises their right to vote and promote good government as they see it. An apology would be saying “we’re sorry for our right as citizens to participate in government.”
    In saying the above I am not saying that this issue can’t be viewed from several different aspects. Or that church’s should not apologize for serous moral crime such as sexual abuse and/or slavery.

  33. To clarify, I’m okay with the church leaders expressing their particular beliefs or viewpoints in the realm of community discussion. I just think it’s a bad idea to state categorically that we don’t give apologies. But I actually think this may be Elder Oaks’s opinion, or how he sees things, rather than a statement representative of the official church’s stance or practice.

    Because obviously other church leaders have apologized (even if the word apology wasn’t used, which I don’t think it has to be; there are many ways to say I’m sorry) – such as in the Mountain Meadows case that Steve mentions. I see both President Eyring and Rick Turley as having apologized in a very respectful and humble manner to those who were so deeply injured, and I think it was a good thing. Basically, I just think giving apologies should never be off the table entirely because if we want to do what’s right as a church, apologies will sometimes be necessary. And I don’t think it diminishes us a church to give them; instead, it generally increases trust, forgiveness, and communication, just as it does with individuals.

  34. Mountain Meadows, which has come up a couple of times, is an interesting example. How appropriate was it really for the church to apologize in any way for that, or was it just a PR stunt to appease people looking for a reason to be offended? Some isolated frontiersmen led by a few local nutjobs during a very tense, difficult time–just surviving where they lived was hard, let alone the fresh memories of Missouri–did something very bad. I’ve never understood how any of it was the church’s responsibility. Perhaps if dozens of wagon trains had been raided, but when it’s such a stunningly isolated incident, the collective blame approach has always seemed searingly ahistorical to me.

  35. Adjunct, you should read Ronald Walker’s book, then report back. Your characterization is quite mistaken.

  36. The way Elder Oak’s statement reads to me is that the church will never apologize for anything, ever. I don’t know that an apology is necessary every time doctrine and/or culture changes, but can he really imagine no instance in where the church might apologize? EVER? That’s a pretty bold claim considering the church in run by imperfect people.

  37. DaveK., I am very moved by your experience and your perspective. Thank you for sharing that. DQ, it is true that we are responsible for our own sins and not for Adam’s transgression. But we are also our brother’s keeper. We are the leading, bleeding edge of history. When we learn to see ourselves as part of the human drama, bound up together in networks of filiation and adoption that encompass all time, then the very Mormon notion that we can influence by our actions the eternal prospects of preceding generations gains deep significance. My Mormon dream is of a resurrection morning when forgiveness and repentance are given and received in full plenitude among all the generations, and our hearts at last are knit together in one.

  38. Perhaps the people who would benefit most from an apology on MM are the descendants of the Missourians killed in the massacre. They are the people who would be “looking for a reason to be offended”. Except, of course, due to actions of church members, they were never born.

    We talk about how a single missionary can affect generations of members. We should also take responsibility for statements and policies that drive people from the church, and affect their descendants.

  39. Mark, if you follow the link in the OP about Mountain Meadows, you will see that descendants of the few survivors of the massacre were present when Pres. Eyring offered the Church’s statement of regret, and the monuments that are there now were erected in consultation and cooperation with them.

  40. Whatever your opinion on whether apologies should be forthcoming, one thing seems clear from Elder Oaks’ statement: He does not view “the church” as being a body of believers. Instead, he appears to view it as the hierarchical organization, primarily consisting of the leaders of that organization – in other words, “the Church”.

    In the course of our conversations we often do not distinguish between the two, but I believe there is significant distinction to be made, as there is a nontrivial number within “the church” who would prefer a more conciliatory tone – less hubris, if you will. But Elder Oaks appears to be emphasizing, intentionally or not, that the only church that matters is “the Church”. It is another point in the growing list of evidences to me of the emphasis on a creedal, hierarchical organization run from the top down as the primary face of Mormonism.

    Does anybody else catch that distinction?

  41. Morgan, I was not talking about the descendants of the survivors. Those survivors suffered at our hands, but weren’t subjected to the greater injustice of being killed and being denied the chance of offspring that now, would number in the thousands. Those erased generations are the people who cannot speak out in offense or forgiveness. They do not exist.

    When a gay teenager commits suicide because we, as individuals and as a church, tell them that they have no place in this world, we bear responsibility. Not just to the young man or woman, but to the children and grandchildren that will never be born or raised in the gospel.

  42. Mark, there’s something to that. But you’re left with a situation that is forever irreparable, so why bother making any efforts? Better to take what we can get at every step.

  43. Isn’t the higher moral ground to not ‘seek apologies’ but to offer them freely nonetheless? The church would rather save face than openly admit its wrongs? That’s pride.

    I don’t think they understand how uncomfortable it feels to be a member of an institution whose leadership (seems to) perpetuate(s) an infallible image. Isn’t it high time people who blindly and resolutely believe this (doctrine never changes, doctrine is perfect) become disillusioned (disillusionment being a good thing – we don’t really want to operate under illusions, do we?)? It would sure go a long way toward ameliorating cognitive dissonance. It would also take a lot of steam out of the rampant criticism that goes on online regardless.

    I wish our church welcomed open discussion, debate, and disagreement – to be afraid of such points to being in the wrong or having something to hide. The membership should be made of stronger stuff than that — censoring weakens members. I don’t believe the church is a cult, but it’s easy to see why some people do, when you hear leadership squelching criticism, telling its followers it’s wrong to criticize even if the criticism is true, and blatantly stating a “we don’t do apologies’ policy.

  44. Jenny, I agree.

  45. Mark – I agree. It underscores the point that a strong leadership in its own eyes (unmovable, unquestionable) makes for very weak members. I think they’re operating under the false assumption that strong leadership = strong members, but I think it works, ironically, the opposite way.

  46. Mistake in my previous comment – I was addressing my comment to Cody Hatch (the church vs. the Church). My apologies.

  47. According to the quoted comments, the only thing Oaks was asked about was “past language on homosexuality.” Whatever might be said about not apologizing for “doctrine,” that really wasn’t the question posed. The truth is, there has been some inaccurate (and arguably mean and nasty) “language” used in the past on this topic, and so I’m surprised that Oaks isn’t open to the idea of a little apology about that.

  48. My hope is that an apology, even for irreparable damages, recognizes my responsibility for past actions in an effort to not repeat them and cause even more damage. Saying sorry may not restore what has been destroyed, but it can stand as a call to remembrance the consequences of failing to treat our brothers and sisters as children of God.

  49. LDS_Aussie says:

    If Elder Oaks won’t apologise on behalf of the church then, unfortunately it falls on us to do what we can individually to repair the relationship. There is much we can do. Speak up. But it makes it so much harder to share the gospel and have constructive discussions with anyone on this topic.

  50. Jenny, I forgive you. My great-great-great-grandchildren forgive you.

  51. Mark, what are you talking about? OK, *maybe* it was counterproductive but that’s ancient history, I’m looking forward, not backward.

  52. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    “it falls on us to do what we can individually to repair the relationship. There is much we can do”

    Thank you for this. I try to live that philosophy. While I don’t live in a location where I am faced day to day with Prop 8 fallout, I was just at a non-LDS scout troop committee meeting and heard one woman’s account of trying to have her son be a part of an LDS scout troop in Idaho. Her account was laced with anger and bitterness. Whether she was subjected to uncharitable behavior or just had unmet expectations stemming from the rigid and peculiar way LDS troops are managed, I don’t know, but I hope to be a positive force in repairing her relationship with the LDS community as it exists in this non-Idaho, non-LDS dominant community.

  53. Kevin Barney says:

    This was a very useful framing of the issue, Steve.

    Blacks and the priesthood is an interesting case. Someone above mentioned that some were really bothered by a lack of any apology, but I know blacks who really didn’t care much at all about an apology. What they wanted instead was a clear DISAVOWAL. As if to say, “yeah, we know people were racist back in the day, and we don’t really need an apology for that, but it would be really swell if you would stop being racist in the here and now.”

  54. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Also on the MMM,
    I have an ancestor that was questionably involved–he stated he wasn’t, but one of the surviving children later identified him as being there that day. That accusation arose from an observation of a 5 year-old who later in life gave a recollection of seeing my ancestor’s wife’s dress and thinking it was one of his own mother’s dresses that had been raided from the scene. Lots of feelings about that. If the child’s accusation is true, it is shameful. If not, then the ancestor who provided food and shelter for the child after the atrocities was horribly maligned after showing kindness to a victim and a conflict he possibly didn’t support (but maybe?? had an opportunity to prevent???)

  55. I wonder if one reason for the lack of apologies is concern for legal liability, at least in some cases. Any satisfying apology includes the idea that the party was wrong, mistaken, etc. But admissions of wrongdoing might increase the frequency of lawsuits against the Church, and the probability that those suits would be successful. I can well imagine at trial that such statements would be replayed over and over as proof that the Church had committed wrongdoing. To be mores specific…

    Would an apology for blacks and the priesthood coupled with an admission that it was not inspired of God increase the chance of a successful civil rights/discrimination suits against the Church? (Probably not – damages are too remote, statute of limitations, etc.)

    However, an apology to gays and lesbians might be seen as an admission of wrongdoing. Perhaps statements saying that past discrimination against LGBT wasn’t inspired of God would make it more difficult to raise the defense of a religious exemption? And here, the damages are not remote, and statute of limitations probably haven’t expired. If the Church apologized and admitted wrongdoing, would it be sued by a family whose teenager committed suicide over the guilt of being LGBT?

    If legal liability is actually a concern for the Church, I would predict that apologies from the Church would come long after the wrongdoing. Yet, this seems to be how things have shaken out – apologies for mountain meadows 100+ years after the fact, etc.

    Although “do[ing] what is right and let[ting] the consequences follow” may sound great, there might be financial and legal reasons why the Church doesn’t.

  56. When I was a teenager, a family of investigators visited my ward. Their oldest daughter came to my Sunday school class where we (the member kids) abused the teacher and each other. We found out later that this girl was so horrified by our behavior that the family never returned. I don’t remember the family’s name so I don’t know if they every considered Mormonism again.

    It would be easy to say that kids can be horrid. It would be easy to say that I wasn’t the meanest kid in the class. It would be easy to say that it was so long ago, it’s no longer relevant. I can’t go back in time and fix my actions. I don’t know the girl so I can’t apologize to her. What I can do is admit that I was in the wrong. And use that to never knowingly let my actions chase anyone from the gospel again.

    As Kevin Barney pointed out, what is needed is improvement in the present and future. We can’t really do that without examining our past and admitting mistakes. Otherwise we are just asking for our children to excuse us in a press conference 20 years from now. We need not only an admission of wrongdoing, but also an expression of sorrow for the part we (individuals or the church) played.

  57. Seems relevant on apologies, both for abstract wrongs done by a group and on behalf of the specific ancestors or predecessors who perpetrated the wrongs:

    “A South Carolina judge vacated the convictions of the Friendship 9, nine black college students who dared sit at a whites-only lunch counter in 1961. . . . ‘We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history,’ Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III told the courtroom to high applause as he threw out the cases⎯a poignant flourish given that Hayes’ uncle had originally sentenced the men in 1961.”

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/01/Friendship-9-Convictions-Overturned-south-carolina/384928/

  58. Clark Goble says:

    I agree with the principle and I think the Mountain Meadows Massacre example in particular shows the principle at play. That said I think there’s a real danger when one starts into apologies. Not everyone will agree upon the boundaries where apologies are appropriate. While it may be a a bit of a dodge by generally avoiding apologies and instead appealing to more vague “counterproductive” or “wrong” it avoids dealing with these boundary issues.

    All that said, I do think it would be helpful for the Church to apologize for helping promulgate ideas on say blacks worthiness in the pre-existence. For one it’d help end the promulgation of such ideas by some who still hold on to outdated ideas. This despite clear comments by Elder McConkie and Pres Hinkley.

    That said I can also understand why the Church tries to avoid such matters. It can quickly spiral into needing to police every statement by a GA over the past century or so. That’s not a productive path and is frought with problems.

    It’s at times like this I’m very glad I’m not a GA and don’t have to balance these things. All that said I suspect society is changing fast enough that we’ll see the Church rethink its strategies a bit on this.

  59. The “prophets seers and revelators” are simply doing God’s will, right? So how can they possibly apologize for an act (such as Proposition 8) if they were simply following divine instructions? Apologies would undermine the infallibility narrative that seems to be taking shape these days.

    I’m not endorsing this approach, just giving what i believe to be the rationale for the statement Elder Oaks made.

  60. This sounded like a political soundbite to me, no more, no less. But in the context of a religious leader saying it, I think we call that a gaffe.

  61. I’m fine with the Church not issuing apologies. Wherever an apology is needed, the person who offended should apologize. If he or she is dead, then there can be no apology, and we should forgive (well, we should forgive regardless).

    A child need not apologize for his or her parent’s offense. A bishop need not apologize for his predecessor bishop’s offense. A president of the church need not apologize for his predecessor’s offense.

    Anyone who has been unkind to his or her neighbor should apologize upon recognizing the offense. Whether or not an apology is forthcoming, we should still forgive.

  62. MikeInWeHo says:

    Interesting conservation, Steve. I feel like this boils down to one question, which has never been clearly answered by the Church:

    To what extent does the LDS church claim to be an infallible organization?

    The Catholic church has defined what infallible means. Other churches make no institutional claim of infallibility, but profess the Bible to be infallible (which opens up a whole other can o’ worms, needless to say….). Mainstream Protestants reject the notion altogether, but are there any of them left? Not for long. We crave certainty. I know I do. I’d love for some organization to convince me it had all the important answers.

    Lacking clarity on the question, Mormons land all over the place but mostly seem to conclude that the Church leadership is de facto infallible. Given the messaging from SLC over the years, and the way most members testify of their faith, this should come as no surprise. Problematic?

  63. Problematic, Mikey, for sure.

  64. Clark Goble says:

    The Church explicitly doesn’t claim to be infallible. I think people confuse “infallibility” for what’s really more a “burden of proof” type situation. i.e. the burden of proof for most believers is on those claiming the Church is wrong in some instance.

    However I’ve certainly heard major GAs state no infallibility and it’s not hard to find statements saying the same thing. I tend to see the “de facto infallibility” issue as a bit of a red herring and straw man.

  65. Clark, is there an instance of institutional fallibility that you could think of?

  66. Clark Goble says:

    Not sure what you mean by that. I was more referring to what GAs frequently say.

    As for institutional fallibility I always thought building chapels in Alberta with the same insulation and design used in Utah was a great example. But maybe I’m missing what you mean.

  67. GAs frequently speak of fallibility but there isn’t any. I know that quote as well, but as a practical matter we act as if the church can do no wrong. That’s why I asked whether you could identify an instance of when the church did wrong. We just don’t think that way.

  68. Clark Goble says:

    That’s just what I don’t buy. I can think of lots of time the church has made mistakes. I just gave one with regards to buildings. I think Bruce R. McConkie’s point about being wrong about blacks and the priesthood fits too although there you can do the quibble between what we assign to the institution versus the members or leaders. (Which I actually think is a fair point)

    So I’m not trying to be argumentative. It’s just that your question seems to presuppose a certain meaning to “wrong” I’m not quite grasping. Apparently being wrong about how to design a chapel doesn’t rise to the level of being wrong in this sense. Likewise presumably you’d not take the Church’s statement of regret on the Mountain Meadow Massacre to count. But that leaves me unsure of what would count for you.

    I think the point I’m getting at is that the real dispute isn’t whether the Church is fallible but a semantic issue of when we get to apply the word. To me all the above seem clearly to be examples of fallibility but I guess that’s just me.

  69. Clark, just today Elder Oaks said we don’t apologize, that we never use that word. So who’s right?

  70. The Other Clark says:

    Way upthread Megan commented regarding Prop 8 ” For people who put their faith in whatever was wrong, and had to sacrfice for it, to then hear that the sacrafice was not only uncessesary but a result of a mistake would be very difficult.”

    This is exactly why the Church will never apologize for polygamy.

    Also, Dave K.’s comment regarding an institution’s need to “confess and forsake” as part of the repentance process rings true. John Wayne famously said, “Never apologize; it’s a sign of weakness.” I think that gets to the heart of why Elder Oaks said what he did, and also why he’s mistaken. A little humility and meekness would go a long way.

  71. Clark Goble says:

    Steve, I’m really confused as to what you are arguing for. If Oaks said no apologies less than 10 years after an apology isn’t that an example of the fallibilism you said doesn’t happen? Maybe I’m just completely confused as to what you are arguing for as it really seems a semantic point. Could you clarify and delineate your position?

  72. Clark Goble says:

    To be clear, I think Oaks isn’t arguing for an universal case but a typical case. In which case the issue resolves itself.

  73. Clark Goble says:

    Clark, don’t you think it’s possible to be humble and meek yet not offer formal apologies ala Mountain Meadows Massacre. Polygamy is a trickier issue as it’s simply the case the practice hasn’t been clarified theologically. I don’t think most members and certainly not the 12 take a view akin to what the RLDS used to back in the day.

  74. “The Church doesn’t apologize for its doctrines. The doctrines come from God, they don’t change and we do not make excuses for them.”

    Blake got it right—the notion that the doctrines taught by the church don’t change is an apologist’s myth; it is nonsense. Our doctrines have changed with great frequency, and will likely change more in the future.

    Even something as fundamental as the doctrine of the nature of the Godhead was frequently revised and refined by Joseph Smith and his successors. The Lectures on Faith state that the Godhead consists of only God the Father and the Son; the Holy Ghost is not mentioned. Also, the early editions of the Book of Mormon frequently conflated the Father and the Son, reflecting the Trinitarian view that was popular in Joseph’s day. Many of these references were subsequently edited, but several still remain. See 2 Nephi 31:21 and Alma 11:44.

    The doctrines taught at the end of the Old Testament differ materially from those found in the Pentateuch. And Pauline Christianity varies considerably from what is found in the Four Gospels. So, why should we be surprised that our doctrines also undergo change? We see through the glass darkly, struggling to understand the will of the Father, just like all other dispensations.

    Perhaps once we mature enough to realize that ours isn’t the only church that matters and that our church is not perfect and that our leaders make mistakes, we will be able to acknowledge that, yes, what we teach today as doctrine is not the same as what we taught 100 years ago. And it’s likely to change again in the future.

    If you really want to understand the evolution of our doctrines, read “This is My Doctrine,” by Professor Harrell.

  75. Clark Goble says:

    FarSide, I suspect most of those saying that are aware of teachings that have changed but make a distinction between teachings and doctrines based upon whether they really come from God. The problem with this is that there’s no clear way at a given time to tell the difference between a doctrine and teaching. At best we can say something is more apt to be a doctrine if it’s taught continually over time, has strong scriptural support, and we have a good feeling about it. However since we are all fallen fallible beings we can still be mistaken.

    However for people in this camp (and I’d probably put myself there) the real issue is over what we consider a doctrine versus a teaching. For instance I’d put many things in the “sure doctrine” camp that perhaps others would not.

    Admittedly this is a bit semantically fuzzy. So we have say the Word of Wisdom as practiced today. Is it a teaching or a doctrine? I think it’s revealed by God and so is a doctrine in that sense. However clearly it hasn’t applied at all times. Likewise the Old Testament dietary laws were probably largely revealed by God but don’t apply to us.

    The language is just a bit inexact.

  76. The Other Clark says:

    @ Clark Goble–What I was trying to say, and evidently didn’t make clear, is that when true doctrine is politically incorrect, there’s no need to apologize. There’s nothing to apologize for. As Pres. Kimball famously said, one can be bold and meek at the same time.

    But when a mistake is made, when feelings are hurt, when member’s lives are damaged from following incorrect or false “official church doctrine/policy/procedure,” I do believe repentance–including confession and apology–is needed. This repentance/confession/apology needs to come from whoever made the mistake.

  77. Clark Goble, I understand what you’re trying to say, but I can’t embrace it entirely because I reject the notion that ANY doctrine that has ever been articulated from the pulpit is “pure,” “immutable,” “perfect,” or “100% true.” This is because all doctrines, from the beginning of time through the present day, are communicated to us in imperfect languages, by imperfect human beings, whose understanding of what God is trying to teach us is imperfect.

    Instead of perpetuating the myth that the Mormon Church’s doctrines are unchanging and eternal, we should embrace the reality: our understanding of what the Lord is trying to teach us is imperfect and always will be during this lifetime. We hope that such understanding will evolve and improve over time, but during this mortal existence all we can see, to borrow from Plato, is the imperfect shadow cast on the wall of the cave by the Lord’s pure doctrine. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have doctrines; rather, we are simply acknowledging the simple truth that those doctrines may change someday.

    I much prefer an honest approach instead of one where we disingenuously relabel something a “policy” that was previously taught as “true doctrine” (e.g., blacks and the priesthood).

  78. Clark Goble says:

    Clark, yes, I fully agree with you on Kimball’s point. I think how we explain ourselves has to be both bold and sure yet meek. Honestly that’s really hard to pull off. I struggle with it in conversations and always have. Look at Jesus. We see him as the paradigm of this, yet at times he took up a nasty whip and flung over tables. It’s why I’m really glad I’m not a GA as I *know* I’d not do half as good as job as Elder Oaks.

    FarSide, on the one hand I agree since it’s hard to communicate truths, especially the typical doctrines which are complex and which we’re only getting a small part of. Our understanding of doctrines certainly will change and expand. Look at the evolution of priesthood from 1830 through today. Yet in an other sense there are some clear cores I think we can understand.

    I don’t think relabeling things is disingenuous though. I think it gets at an important distinction. It’s not disingenuous as I think we can earnestly be in error as to what is on what side of that distinction. I think that’s clearly true of the blacks and the priesthood issue. I think most people in the early to mid 20th century were just plain wrong on the issue. Yet I think typically they were sincere and well intentioned trying to reconcile statements they thought were right but were wrong.

  79. “Blake got it right—the notion that the doctrines taught by the church don’t change is a… myth.”

    Which is exactly why I think apologies are a good idea (even if it isn’t “I’m sorry” could it at least be “We were wrong.”?).

    I think it’s pretty clear we’re talking about mistakes in doctrine & teachings, not building mistakes. A Prop 8 apology might be awful for people who put their heart, soul, time, and money into supporting it – but what about how awful it was for LGBT’s? The church overwhelmingly favors its blind followers (it certainly seems to promote & encourage them.). I thought admitting mistakes and working to make sure they don’t happen again would be all the more reason to nip it (unthinking obedience) in the bud.

    This black and white no-apology-stonewalling-facade is driving people out of the church left and right (Or rather, it’s the “It’s all true!” belief capsizing that destroys testimonies.). Why not teach the liberating truth about personal revelation, independent conviction & critical thinking (without the counterproductive “You’ll know it’s right if it aligns with what the Brethren say”)? Maybe the Brethren don’t want to encourage rampant independent thought, but if we really want what’s best for all of us (not just what’s best for the corporation or hierarchy) we’d encourage it. Otherwise, we’ll just keep repeating this painful cycle over and over again.

    It may seem unwise to certain leaders to be completely honest and transparent with us (or to explicitly disavow the culture of blind following), but I think it’s the only way to heal and move forward.

  80. Clark Goble says:

    Right, but my point is that it’s unclear where the dividing line is. To me the issue is far more about burden of proof than infallibility. As for Prop 8, I don’t think the Apostles think they were wrong on the issue. Why would they apologize for something they think was correct?

    I tend to agree apologies are good. But I also think one has to be careful as they can be fraught with danger at times. I personally think mistakes were made during the Prop 8 advocacy but clarifying what was a mistake and what wasn’t (from Oaks perspective) probably is difficult to do.

    But I do think there are things that it’d be helpful to apologize for. As I said I think Mountain Meadows Massacre was a great thing to apologize for.

  81. I think they could resolve a massive amount of pain if they just spoke generally about changes in doctrine, admitting they’re wrong sometimes, and apologize for the pain & misunderstanding it’s caused people (basically apologize for being an accomplice to – or promoting – the infallible cultural mindset). Then members individually could search, ponder, and pray for themselves to seek out what is truth or not. Wanting a clear demarcation just perpetuates the problem of relying on apostles to TELL us exactly what or what not to believe. That’s exactly where our dysfunction lies.

  82. Clark Goble, I’m afraid I’m with Jenny B. on this one: “sometimes wrong, but never in doubt” just doesn’t cut it any more. If it ever did.

    I am generally inclined to follow a leader who candidly admits: “Hey, we thought we were doing the right thing at the time but we now realize we were mistaken; we’re sorry and we’re taking the steps necessary to correct our error.” A man who openly concedes that he is fallible, admits his mistakes, and does not seek to ostracize those who questioned his actions is a man I can respect and trust. An ecclesiastical official, however, who assures me that he will never lead me astray and accordingly expects me to conform, frightens me to death. His words, ideas and promises I will scrutinize more closely than those of anyone else.

  83. I had an interesting email exchange with a staunch Catholic. He’s familiar with Mormon theology and current events. Here’s what he said that I can’t refute:

    “If I ever found myself considering any idea in terms of approval of the leaders or founder, rather than the merits of the viewpoint itself, then I’d drop it immediately as false, if not highly dangerous. But that’s just me.”

  84. Clark Goble says:

    Jenny B & FarSaide, I think the issue is as I mention what is or isn’t doctrine. I think if we stick to what all the First Presidency and Twelve in unison say, then things are much clearer. I think the Apostles have said what you want in regard to individuals such as a few conferences ago. I think they have been pretty open about their fallibility. However what I think people are wanting is much more than that.

    As for telling us what to believe, isn’t that the whole point of a prophet? Maybe I’m missing something in what you’re saying. Certainly they don’t want us to believe just because they say it. They want us to find out from the Lord. And they pretty frequently say to find out on our own. It’s quite clear they don’t want blind obedience.

  85. God never apologizes. The church speaks for God. Oaks speaks for the church. Therefore oaks and the church never apologize. End of story people.

  86. Clark Goble – ” I think if we stick to what all the First Presidency and Twelve in unison say, then things are much clearer.” Sure, I buy that things are “much clearer,” but it’s still not perfectly clear, and comes with costs.

    First, a united voice of 15 apostles may still be able to get it wrong. You will note, of course, that in 1949, the First Presidency wrote a letter saying it was a matter of “doctrine,” rather than “policy,” that blacks didn’t receive the priesthood. Now, 65 years later, we deny it was ever doctrine or from God. So at the very least, the First Presidency, collectively, can get it wrong.

    Second, the First Presidency and Twelve rarely speak as a whole! Most “doctrine” from General Conference comes from the talks of a single apostle, or the prophet, or at most a few of them. Rarely do they all speak at once and sign a declaration. If we only taught these united declarations, it would consist of reading the “Proclamation on the Family” and “The Living Christ” every week (not bad, but perhaps repetitious).

    Third, although revelation in unison like this will drastically reduce the frequency of rogue ideas from individual apostles, perhaps it also reduces the frequency of genuine revelations. How many revelations in the Bible involved an entire First Presidency and Twelve apostles? How many in the Book of Mormon? How many in the Doctrine in Covenants? In the past, God usually acted without 15 people all agreeing. Why the change just now?

    In practice, the Church seeks the best of both worlds. It generally holds us accountable to things taught be a single prophet or apostle, through its “Teachings of our Times,” “Presidents of the Church,” and sacrament talks. Our primary songs say “Follow the Prophet…Don’t go astray!” – NOT “Follow the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve – don’t go astray!” Yet when some doctrine needs to be discarded, we quickly find out it was only taught by a single apostle, or perhaps a few misguided ones.

    Technically speaking, the church teaches that prophets and apostles can be fallible. But there are strong, strong cultural pressures to simply accept them as infallible. It’s not cool to disagree openly in church with something an apostle said. Since no vocal opposition to their ideas can easily be expressed in Church, it always seems like pretty much everyone agrees with their ideas. Also, how many times have you heard a speaker say they disagree with a teaching of an apostle? Instead, they say “follow the prophet” and always quote apostles with approval…

  87. Clark G. – that’s an excellent talk of Elder Andersen’s. I like that he stresses following the Savior and God. That rings true to me.

    My concern is that he does not really address (real, actual, truthful) problems in church history and doctrine waffling – one example he gave was a trial of faith due to anti-Mormon material that turned out to be fraudulent. That’s not the problem I see happening today.

    Many previous all-or-nothing, no doubts-no-questioning Mormons come upon the truth (sometimes slanted negatively, sometimes not, but not fraudulent) about our past doctrines or policies and it turns their world upside-down. We’re not properly addressing THEIR problem* – and it’s a huge one (if you’d like references or want to hear some gut-wrenching stories, look up Hans and Birgitta Mattsson – a Swedish General Authority, or Kenn & RuthAnn Sullivan, or Brooke and John McLay – all extremely faithful people, over-zealous for sure – but I think the culture rewarded that – and they were hit with painful reckonings.)

    I agree with Blake – the cultural expectation to conform, to not rock the boat, to keep your mouth shut if your opinion is not in line with the Brethren, is extremely strong (and the whole “we don’t apologize” feeds into this harmful suppression.).

    I just don’t see or hear any warnings about the dangers of over-zealousness, or believing too much or unquestioningly. These people leaving the church (who were previously all in) are not chess pieces in some game. To scream “Stay in the boat! Whatever you do, DON’T leave the church!” is not addressing or helping them. They’re not looking for trouble, or to be offended – they are real people with families torn apart and sides taken because what they find does not jive with whitewashed history – and most people are afraid to have anything to do with such discussions, we’ve been so conditioned to recoil at criticism and dissent (I realize we can’t ever believe we have accurate accounts of history – 2 people witnessing the same event in the same room could write 2 completely different accounts and both would believe they were truthful.) But the toll and feelings of betrayal that come when an overzealous church member starts asking honest questions is HUGE. It’s painful and real and if you’re in a family going through this you know exactly how ugly and difficult it is. Not renouncing this mindless outlook, in my view, continues to harm people. (Even if that person remains in the church with their eyes shut – I think we’re short-changing them too.)

    I’m not saying DON’T follow the prophet. I’m saying we need to be more open, transparent, and willing to be wrong.

    *the new essays, I think, are trying to address this.

  88. Jenny B, further to your point, Ben S. over at Times & Seasons recently posted this excerpt from Madsen’s biography of B.H. Roberts:

    “After BH Roberts edited The Comprehensive History of the Church, he received some criticism for omitting what were called the “Martyrdom Miracles”, such as attempted beheading of Joseph Smith at Carthage and a shaft of lightning preventing it.”

    Roberts responded to one critique as follows.

    “Suppose your youth receive their impressions of church history from ‘pictures and stories’ and build their faith upon these alleged miracles [and] shall someday come face to face with the fact that their belief rests on falsehoods, what then will be the result? Will they not say that since these things are myth and our Church has permitted them to be perpetuated… might not the other fundamentals to the actual story of the Church, the things in which it had its origin, might they not all be lies and nothing but lies?

    Some felt there was no harm in circulating such stories, since many people believed them. But Roberts sternly replied: “because one repudiates the false he stands in danger of weakening, perhaps losing the truth. I have no fear of such results. I find my own heart strengthened in the truth by getting rid of the untruth, the spectacular, the bizarre, as soon as I learn that it is based upon worthless testimony.”

    It’s a shame that Brother Roberts’ successors have failed to learn this lesson.

  89. Clark Goble says:

    Blake, totally agree. I’m a “fallibilist all the way down” kind of guy. At best it gives a better strength but it’s not infallible. As I said I think the distinction is between what we think is or isn’t doctrine versus what actually is. Again while I think there are strong cultural pressures I think it’s better viewed as an issue of burden of proof rather than infallibility. Maybe that’s just semantics but “de facto infallibility when one doesn’t believe infallibility” probably shouldn’t be called infallibility in my book. I think most people when you question them are open to the possibility of fallibility it’s just that in this case they don’t think they are wrong.

    You are right that the Church tries to have it both ways at times. I rather liked Elder McConkie’s frankness of just saying, “we were wrong.” That said, I think some of this is understandable when one starts considering the epistemology. When you think you’re right you give reasons why you think you were right. When they think someone was wrong they give reasons as to why they think they were wrong and how that doesn’t mean they are wrong on other points.

    Jenny B, I’m totally with you on dealing frankly with our history. And clearly the more you know history (or the more you know GAs) the more open you are to them being fallible. I think one problem we have today is that few of us encounter GAs enough. So we can turn them into an idealized facade, much like many do with scriptural figures. I also think that we should emphasize the dangers (on a personal level) of misguided revelation, confusing emotion for revelation, and the like. However overall it seems the brethren think the biggest problem isn’t worrying about failure but people not taking seriously enough the things they should be. (Including not paying enough attention to personal revelation) It’s hard, if not impossible, for me to know what the Church’s problems are in aggregate. So I usually defer to the brethren on this since I’m glad I don’t have their job to have to balance these sorts of things.

    Put an other way, I completely agree with you. I just think that the real issue is balancing the completely real concerns you raise with all the other problems in the church.

    BTW – for a while overzealousness was a constant theme in Conference. The “don’t look beyond the mark” was something I heard a lot including at conference. Might have been the spirit of the times then though.

  90. Thanks FarSide. I’m a huge B.H. Roberts fan – great quote.

    Clark G. – you might be right – it may just be in my own sights, but not the Brethren’s.

    Otoh, as an active, believing member, I hear what people say about inactive and no-longer members. Some are convinced that all ex-believers are in Satan’s power. No one seems to wonder aloud (from my view) if the culture of the Church or a narrow-minded upbringing has anything to do with it. Sometimes the knee-jerk reaction is to clamp down harder – squelch agency even more. The language used to describe some of these people is often judgmental & not true when you really know someone’s story.

    Lord, is it I? Can the Church ask this question as a whole? I think we should.

  91. “The doctrines come from God, they don’t change and we do not make excuses for them.”

    Doctrine may not change but our understanding and practice of those doctrine changes significantly over time.

    And why not?!

    As we gain further further light and understanding (revelation), our understanding expands, we see things (including doctrine) in a new light.

  92. Clark G. – the ‘looking beyond the mark’ link seems to reinforce my point, not yours. It’s essentially saying, “Don’t go searching for further truth on your own – that’s just too dangerous! Don’t leave the circle!”

    How is this not (at least in some ways) persuading people to be overzealous automatons? (and perhaps my choice of the word overzealous was poor – I intended it to mean “automatic, unthinking obedience to whatever the brethren say – going overboard by doing nothing BUT following whatever the brethren preach, about what to believe, what to feel, what to follow, what to reject, and so on.)

    I’m not saying DON’T listen to and consider very seriously apostle’s and prophet’s counsel – and I certainly hope to convey that I believe we should give their counsel extra weight because of who they are.

    But I have this radical idea that agency (not obedience) is the first law of heaven. I also have this radical idea that truth has absolutely nothing to fear – it’s the strongest, sturdiest thing in the world – it cannot be harmed (If it cannot bear to be investigated, it deserves to be harmed’ – I think that’s a hybrid of George Albert Smith and J. Reuben Clark quotes.)

    So I think attempts to save people from going astray by suppressing their agency, or issuing warnings or threats that instill fear, or making announcements that give the message “we’re never wrong”, and trying to protect people with extra layers of insulation (as sincere as they may be) are counterproductive. That’s not how anyone I know gains a real, thriving testimony. The kind of testimonies I’ve seen resulting from exclusively following whatever the Church says seem brittle & superficial to me. It’s just parroted-back rote that can’t withstand rigorous logic or questioning. These one-dimensional testimonies collapse at the first hint of honest, independent thought and inquiry – and that’s a catastrophe.

    “Running into a pole is a drag, but never being allowed to run into a pole is a disaster.” (Daniel Kish on NPR’s Invisibilia)

  93. Clark Goble says:

    Jenny, maybe one had to live through the era. It was more a time when you had some going beyond Church teaching and being dogmatic from reading McConkie works, then you had people going beyond Church teaching and secretly sneaking into the Manti temple to do polygamous marriages, to highly speculative works like Stranger in Paradox. It’s not saying not to seek after truth but to do so humbling and not get too caught up in things with over-fervor. Dare I say it as a gen-Xer? To have some ironic distance? (All apologies to Nirvana and Richard Rorty)

  94. I just want to thank Elder Oaks and the Church of P.R. for clearing up the repentance issue Ive had over the past few months. You see, Ive made some mistakes that my Bishop might have wanted me to see him about. I think he would have required me to make an apology for those actions. However, now that Elder Oaks has clarified the principle of not seeking apologies or giving them, I can now look forward to the future like all those public figures accused of bad acts wish to do. I will not look at the past any more, except to change counterproductive behavior. So, thank you.

  95. Hook 'em Horns says:

    Yeah yeah yeah, the Church is led by men who are fallible. They’ve been pounding this into us over the past few General Conferences. Then they turn around and say that the Church is led by divine revelation. Follow the Prophet! So, are the Church’s policies divinely inspired of God, or are they policies instituted by fallible men?

    If you are Elder Oaks, you get to have it both ways. He’s fallible, but not the Church, of which he is one of the leaders.

    It’s no wonder so many members are scratching their heads and experiencing a crisis of faith.

  96. The LDS Church did not apologize for the Mountain Meadows Massacre. As Oaks now boastfully proclaims, the church doesn’t “seek apologies,” he said, “and we don’t give them.”

  97. Sighhhhh thanks for reading the OP, folks.

  98. I’m sorry.

  99. Lol

  100. Last week when I first read your post Steve, I disagreed with it. I thought Oaks was way off and we should be in the business of apologizing. Since then I’m leaning back your way with one caveat: I’m going to wait and see how the http://www.mormonsandgays.com website is redone and rolled out. Are they going to bury it into oblivion again? Or are we going to have a 5th Sunday lesson on the topic? I’d rather us walk the walk than talk the talk; so if what we have in a few months is legit progress? Then forget official apologies, I say. Put all your eggs in the progress basket, that’s what we’d all rather have, anyways.

  101. By their fruits, eh? Yes, I think it will be interesting to see how seriously that initiative is carried forward.