The line

I hear a bit of talk of late regarding the line: the event that would be sufficient to push someone out of the church. As in, what would cross the line for you? Where do we draw the lines? Sometimes also referred to as a camel-back-breaking straw, the line is supposed to be some objective standard. Once the line has been invoked in real life, then it will mean [the church is false; Joseph Smith was a very, very bad man; my tithing was wasted; or some other such]. I think the existence of the line should be taken for granted; it is relatively easy to imagine circumstances where your faith in the church would be sufficiently shaken to question its nature or to go further and decide that you were mistaken about it. The harder question is what does the existence of the line mean?

Perhaps the first thing it should mean is that we should all have a bit more patience with and compassion toward those folks whose line has been crossed. Once you acknowledge that your continued faith may not be the result of superior faith or resilience in the face of trials, but rather the reality that your line simply hasn’t been crossed yet, then deriving some sense of self-worth from the mere existence of continued faith should falter. Consider the precariousness of your existence, much less your faith; how much control do you really have over your life? How much of your sense of control is delusion in the face of circumstances that reason dictates are uncomfortably random? I’m not denying the existence of God or his ability to intervene in human life; I am saying that knowing when God has actually intervened and when God hasn’t is difficult and how you crop that picture is affected by what you wish to see. So my continued faith and another’s lack thereof has just as much to do with the filters applied to the world around us as it does to the events, thoughts, and emotions of our lives.

At the same time, it should also mean that those whose line has been crossed should have a bit more patience and compassion toward the faithful. Some discussion of the line appears like self-justification. “My definition of the line is not unreasonable; anyone who was really thinking or truly empathetic would agree with me that the line has now been crossed.” Since it is thought that the line is somehow objective, then it seems crazy that there are people, for whom you would think the line had been crossed, who are still faithful. You might think them liars or profiteers; you might assume that they simply aren’t as smart as you. I’m told of members who’ve been told that there was no way that they believed in the church really, because they seemed like smart people; they must pretend for family or community reasons.

Other more-sophisticated thinkers will acknowledge that the line isn’t really objective, but then they’ll argue that the subjectivity of the line is what makes it objectively untrue. “Do you want to live in a community where many people think they’d kill their firstborn son if they fervently believed God was asking them to do so? Do you want to live in a community with a history of women being treated similarly to the way that they are treated in the FLDS community? In a community where arguably some are still treated like women among the FLDS? Do you want to live in a community that is actively hostile to LGBTI folk?” How one chooses a community isn’t always conscious and isn’t always rational; but deciding whether you stay is, right? If the community crosses your line, doesn’t staying mean you’ve crossed it right along with them?

Sometimes former believers espouse this with the same missionary zeal that they once used to persuade people to join the faith. They ask you about your line and then they search for circumstances, hypothetical or otherwise, that might push you over your line. In this, they are motivated by the same love that motivated Lehi to think of his family when he tasted the fruit of the tree of life. You find something good, something that makes the world make sense to you, you want to share it with the people you love, especially if you see them following paths similar to the paths that led to your line crossing. It’s not that you need them to cross the line per se (although that would probably make some communication easier, less fraught); it is that you want to spare them the pain of what you considered to be a painful line crossing or, worse, a painful continued faithful existence.

When Solzhenitsyn wrote that the line between good and evil cuts through every human heart, I don’t think he was just saying that all people carry good and evil within them (although we all do). I think he was also acknowledging that we all draw that line for ourselves. What would push me over the line is not what would push you over the line. Nor, truth be told, is there really a line. There is just us, people who have to make decisions regarding how to understand the world. Pretending that some set of circumstances solely drives our decision-making, even if in only a linguistic sense, separates us from our responsibility, our agency. Just as membership in a community doesn’t absolve you for making bad moral choices that are popular or considered necessary within the community.

So all of us will encounter some line and react in the way that best suits us. Some will support the status-quo, finding peace in acknowledging their limitations. Some will speak out but not leave, finding peace in doing what they can. Some will find no peace in the church, walking away and hoping to spare others the pain they’ve felt. Finally some will just fade away, avoiding both conflict and complicity, their decisions unregistered anywhere but in their own hearts. When I consider all these choices (and there are, of course, more), I’m not sufficient to judge who is right and who is wrong. They all make a kind of sense to me. That my line inclines me a certain way does not mean that I find other lines inferior; they are just not for me.

My friend Jacob noted on facebook that Rilke said “Fundamentally and precisely in the deepest and most important things, we are unspeakably alone.” Our being, our hope, our divinity, and our line are not really open to persuasion or really capable of persuading others. There are limits on what we can really communicate (even outside of social media). For now, I’m trying to assume that you all are just doing your best to understand the world, like we all do, and that you’re justifying your dreams, your hopes, and your lines, like we all do. I just hope that you extend to me the same courtesy. Otherwise…


  1. romanticmind says:

    This policy change was my line, though I’m still not sure what that means for my membership in the church. I wish I did know.

  2. Peter had no line, when asked if he too would leave. If the Priesthood power to perform essential saving ordinances is found in this Church (and it is), then there is no line.

  3. A lot of meaty thoughts here, John; thanks for putting them together. I think Rilke was wrong, though; no one conceives of their line without the input of others, and no one maintains it without a constant engagement and re-negotiation with others. That we are, as a species, intensely solipsistic I don’t deny, but alone, in a metaphysical or even just existential sense? No, we’re never that, I think.

  4. Jonathan,
    That way leads to madness. Lafferty-type stuff. Really think about it and you’ll find your line.

  5. martha my love says:

    When the church and its leaders are in opposition to the words of Heavenly Father that are provided by Jesus Christ the line has been crossed for me. When Jesus says to “suffer the little children” and “love others as you love me” and “judge not” those are very clear directives. When the church says exclude children because of the sins of the parents (as though we don’t sin) and set some sins apart as more heinous than murder and rape it is clear to me that the church is giving counsel that does not come from Heavenly Father anymore.

    Just like the Jews were once God’s chosen people but went astray, the church has been lead by men in the direction of their prejudices rather than the ways of Heavenly Father.

  6. “Our being, our hope, our divinity, and our line are not really open to persuasion or really capable of persuading others.”

    I don’t think I agree. The line can be open to persuasion. As Zig Ziglar said, “I didn’t change my mind; I made a new decision based on new information.” Saul did. I did. Our natures persuade us to limit the sides we see on any issue. If someone comes back to me with, “How can you say that? There is no other side!” they will have made my case for me.

  7. John,

    I recognize that it appears that way. But Abraham, Peter, Nephi, Noah, David, Elijah, Joseph, and on and on walked the pathway of discipleship in a manner that allows for no line.

    Look to the Savior – where was His line? He literally descended below all, and as an innocent suffered every indignation conceivable (including the full measure of what every other mortal considers their line to be). And yet though He experienced the line for absolutely everyone, He never reached His line because He had none.

    As for the Lafferty brothers, that falls on them. Seeking to equate a position of discipleship to what they did is dirty pool. I have no doubt you can create an argument for the equivalence – but that argument is not a fair characterization of my position. I think the fundamental variance in our beliefs is that I take serious the promise that the majority of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve will not be allowed to lead us astray.

    The underlying assumption in your comment is that the Brethren are not suffering the little children. Is the policy prohibiting baptism of certain Muslims (for their protection) also not suffering the children? Should the Church baptize these children, would you not also be critical of them the first time a child was turned out of their home? As for judge not, there is some pretty extensive language in the Doctrine and Covenants about the roles of various individuals (including the First Presidency) to act as judges.

  8. “Jonathan,
    That way leads to madness. Lafferty-type stuff. Really think about it and you’ll find your line.”

    If our prophets and leaders asked us to kill innocent people then….sure. But if they are really called of God they probably won’t.

    And, if they have the keys to salvation, there really is no where else to go. I love people who have left the church. Some of my best friends and family have left. I know the Lord is more compassionate than we can imagine. But I really don’t think He will be convinced when we try and justify our leaving by saying our line was crossed.

  9. To further distinguish the Lafferty brothers (and to show why the comparison is unfair), as fundamentalist polygamy-supporters, they had already left the safe harbor of the majority of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency.

  10. Russell,
    Well, I’m sure I’m wrenching Rilke from context. I guess I’m trying to say that people shouldn’t be ashamed of their failure to communicate something deeply held because some things seem beyond our ability to adequately or rationally express. Certainly where you draw the line is informed by your community. However living in a community doesn’t inherently lessen the sense of isolation that having a line out of skew with community standards brings. So while how we engage and negotiate with our environment is significant, how we fare in the judgment of our own conscience, informed but not entirely determined by our surroundings, is equally important. At least, I think so.

    Everyone else, so far,
    I’m far more interested in the line itself and what its existence means for communication than what the line is for you (or will be never be for Jonathan, I guess). If you’ve decided that it’s time to move on, Godspeed to your journey, but this isn’t the forum to discuss the nitty-gritty of your decision.

  11. Jonathan,
    If the whole of your position is that it is different because you happen to be right, well then I guess my response is to say that I certainly hope you are because otherwise you’d be crazy. Good luck with your powers of discernment superior to mine.

    Hrm. Perhaps I think man is too much like an island. I think we are just as likely to be dismissive of new information that fails to support our view (there are some studies that indicate we are very inclined to do this). I’d like to think that I’m open to anything new and ready to adjust my beliefs based on new information, but there is little in my life or experience with others to support that. When it happens, it seems to me to be a fairly rare occurance.

    If God is who I think God is, I don’t think we’ll have to convince God of anything.

  12. “Marc,
    If God is who I think God is, I don’t think we’ll have to convince God of anything.”

    I agree with this.

  13. Silver Rain says:

    “But if they are really called of God they probably won’t.”

    I think that’s a dangerous assumption, assuming what God will and won’t do. Plenty of scriptural precedent for killing at God’s command.

    I agree with Jonathan. There is no “line” of sufficiently shaken faith, because my church membership is not based on faith in the Church, but on faith in God. The more I learn, the more I realize that God cannot be limited. His wisdom, knowledge, and power so far outclasses my own, that it leaves me only with the choice whether or not to trust Him and His nature.

    For me, the only thing that would cause me to leave the Church is if God by revelation told me it was no longer of Him. Based on my past experience, it would take knowing beyond doubt that such a revelation was from God.

  14. SilverRain says:

    And…my faith in God has been severely shaken…but my relationship is with Him, not with mortal man. The leaders of the church are fellow disciples, and as such I can give them plenty of room to learn, grow, and become His. I know Who is truly in charge.

  15. “Plenty of scriptural precedent for killing at God’s command.”
    Or, at least, plenty of scriptural precedent for people claiming to have killed in the name of God. Don’t forget the hand of man in the writings of God.

  16. John,

    “If the whole of your position is that it is different because you happen to be right, well then I guess my response is to say that I certainly hope you are because otherwise you’d be crazy.”

    Really, now. You very effectively annihilated that straw man you created and managed to throw in a touch of ad hominem (“crazy”) as the cherry on top. My position is as follows:

    Premise 1: The Priesthood of God (including the saving ordinances necessary for Exaltation) are found in this Church and no other.

    Premise 2: We have received a promise, canonized in the Official Declaration, that the majority of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency will never lead us astray.

    Conclusion: As there is no where else to go for the saving ordinances and safety to be found in staying close to the Brethren, there is no line. There is no point where the rational action, in light of those two premises, is to walk away from the Church.

    And what is missed constantly in these discussions is the role of the Savior. Let’s accept the premise that the Church makes a horrific mistake and countless people are hurt by following it. Let’s say I choose to follow, based upon my understanding of the two premises above – it is hard and painful, but I express my trust in the Lord and His promises (including His statements about what the Church is and how we are to interact with it). Do you believe that He will carry me past the hurt? That He will make up all the difference, whatever it is? Because, in my experience, He always has in my life.

    “Good luck with your powers of discernment superior to mine.”

    Snark for the win. Of course, I never presented myself as having superior powers of discernment. The argument stands on its merits whether I am a saint or the wrist person that ever lived. It even stands if I’m not strong enough to follow the conclusion – I don’t dispute it is a difficult one, I merely argue is it the necessary conclusion.

  17. Johnathan: “Should the Church baptize these children, would you not also be critical of them the first time a child was turned out of their home?” This is a straw man argument. Parental consent is still, as it always has been, required for minors. The policy change doesn’t mean that we can no longer baptize children against their parents’ will (we never could), just that we don’t acknowledge that gay parents have the right to consent to baptism, even if they are (lapsed) believers and otherwise supportive of their child’s participation. Because homosexuality is not a choice, we are further punishing gay people for their inability to suppress their nature. As one mental health professional put it, trying to suppress your sexual orientation is like trying to suppress your vomit.

    And among all the noble sentiment of protecting the children, I have yet to hear anyone talk about protecting the gay children coming of age in the hostile environment created by this policy. Crickets chirping.

  18. Thanks for this, John. Having felt that a line was crossed has been disorienting and has also given me sympathy for other people whose line was crossed on other issues.

    No doubt the Abrahamic test opens up the possibility of God asking us to do the near impossible, but for me, crossing the line is about the possibility of a disconnect between God’s will the the church’s policies.

  19. “I think that’s a dangerous assumption, assuming what God will and won’t do. Plenty of scriptural precedent for killing at God’s command.”

    And yet I think it is a safe assumption that the Bishop, Stake President, or Prophet will not call me into their office and ask me to take someone out.

  20. Angela,
    There are two ways your comment can be interpreted, and I don’t want to be unfair to you, so I will respond to both, knowing it is possible that one or the other could be irrelevant.

    If you are talking about protecting gay children while not being permissive of homosexual sex, I think there are plenty of examples. Talks have been given, instructions to show greater live and understand have been communicated, and so forth. Perhaps more can be done (there is always more that each of us can do to show love to those around us), but I don’t think you can say crickets have been chirping.

    If, on the other hand, you are talking about protecting gay children by encouraging or condoning homosexual sex, then again there have been no crickets. Instead there has been a strong stance that homosexual sex is a sin, and what could be considered a hostile environment in that context is rather a position of love with the understanding that wickedness never was happiness. If this is your view, your problem isn’t with the policy (a natural conclusion based upon the doctrine), but rather a problem with the doctrine that homosexual sex is a sin.

  21. martha my love says:

    The underlying assumption in your comment is that the Brethren are not suffering the little children.

    Yes, precisely. And I do believe they are excluding children and, in the process, teaching the children they do bless that some children don’t belong. Furthermore, I think, given that the present generation of 16-20 are not inclined to judge either their gay contemporaries or their straight contemporaries’ gay parents harshly, they want to carefully re-insert that prejudice at a tender age when children will not evaluate how righteous it is or where it comes from.

    In addition, I think the Brethren are not willing to love their gay brothers as they love Heavenly Father and don’t want us to either. And they are not only willing as Judges in Israel, to find their gay fellow man more sinful than anyone else committing adultery but anxious that the rest of us do that as well in direct contradiction of Jesus’ admonition to judge not.

  22. I don’t really disagree with the OP at a descriptive level: looking at any given person, you can probably construct a hypothetical in which that person would leave the church. If the church were to ask you to rape and murder your own children and then after you did told you that you failed the test and you really shouldn’t have–and now continue adding wrinkles–you’d leave the church. Even the criminally insane would eventually leave the church after being betrayed frequently enough.

    But that’s a low bar and doesn’t necessarily make the OP a beneficial line of reasoning.

    The language we use shapes our thoughts and actions, and my sense is that the person who thinks in terms of this “line” you describe, is much more likely than someone who doesn’t to eventually leave the church. Once you set the line, even hypothetically, even far out in the realm of madness, you’re likely to change it, influenced by other people’s adjectives (ie. this “horrific” policy) and the simple fact that life and life in the church are hard. Entropy will end you up sitting at home on the couch eating potato chips rather than sitting in the pews grappling with the fact that the Church doesn’t just attract people like you.

    For those leaving now, was their line crossed or did their line move? Is there anything about recent events that is actually any different from previous events that this should be so different? Despite all the adjectives, there are charitable readings of the new policy, but some choose not even to entertain them seriously. Why does a person go from reading critically to accepting manipulative reporting that paints things in the worst light possible? Why reject the Fox News propaganda approach to conservative issues but accept the same tactics employed by others now? Not that everyone does, but certainly you see that there are many for whom the line-crossing you describe also involves a sudden acceptance of all sorts of echo-chamber stuff they previously would have rejected. And the same actually goes for many on the church’s side–emotions and fear run high, so previously rejected dirty tricks become acceptable.

    Like the OP, I’m in no position to judge anyone else’s decisions about how to enact their faith. I am, however, very uncomfortable with the introduction of patterns of language (which are also patterns of thought) tailor made, even if unwittingly, to destroy faith. New language (not that this particular “line” phrasing is new, but prevalence also matters) can enable new thoughts, but “new” is not always better. Sometimes the balance of cost and benefit doesn’t come out on the side of giving anything a try once. Every political strategist knows that great power lies in setting the language of the debate. Many will have had the experience of listening to someone who has left the church and thinking, “the way he/she is talking just doesn’t sound like the way we talk about these things”. Exhibit number 1, the recent rise of “authenticity” as a virtue of greater weight than obedience. Than charity?

  23. To be clear that I’m not mocking others: I would prefer to be at home on the couch eating potato chips than sitting in High Priests group listening to nonsensical comments about the founding fathers, who always seem to come up in every lesson with this particular cadre of gray hairs.

  24. And did anyone else think this was going to be a post about Johnny Cash?

  25. Jonathan,
    You’ve stated your point. Repeatedly. Without adding anything new. We get it. There is literally nothing the church could do that could cause you to lose faith in it. Your zeal is notable. Move along.

    I’m sorry but I’m not following. Are you saying that admitting that a set of circumstances exists wherein you might lose faith is just the first step to losing faith? I feel like I’m seeing a slippery slope argument where none may be intended.

  26. “We have received a promise, canonized in the Official Declaration, that the majority of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency will never lead us astray.”

    President Woodruff’s comment that the Lord would not permit him or any other President of the Church to lead the members of the church astray is not canonized. It may be true, but it is not canonized.

  27. I just read (reread) this today:

    As for me, personally, I have a REALLY hard time with “church”. I feel like I have a pretty rock solid testimony of the gospel, but in so many ways, I would leave the church in order to hold more tightly to my testimony, if it came to that. The culture is hard. I have struggled with it for decades. I can see how the church (letter of the law) does help us to find the spirit of the law for many things. Some days I just can’t stand church. Thankfully, I am in Primary and I feel like that lets me hold tightly to the gospel and teaching basic gospel principles each Sunday and out of the “church” culture that seems to permeate every aspect of the Sunday meetings…..

  28. In response to comments about protecting gay children/youths:

    How about recognising that we all sin, teaching that living with people who are gay will not rub extra sinliness off on us, and encouraging everyone to reach out in love to those we know who are gay, regardless of their living arrangements? How about affirming that God and Jesus love and are there for those who are gay?

    This is all possible while teaching that gay people should not have sex, and especially should not get married. This is even possible while excommunicating gay people who get married. This might even be possible when teaching that those who live with a married gay person might not be able to access saving ordinances – but it will probably require a lot of emphasis about how the married part is worse than the gay part alone.

    In response to the post:

    I don’t know exactly where my line is. I feel that my relationship with God is separate from my membership in the church (and I got here because I can’t believe that the church teachings about women in the temple are true, so maybe that was my line – my personhood), and so the question remaining is not “has my line been crossed?” but “is this a place I experience communion with God?”, “can I do good here?”, “am I called to be here?” – and when unkindness is the more faithful, accepted response, the answer feels a lot more negative than hopeful.

  29. My experience with self, family, and friends is that the line isn’t a logical one or a policy one or even an action-based one. It’s 100% emotional. How far can I be pushed emotionally by issues, decisions, etc., before I say no more to hurting and/or dissonance? And I haven’t found that anyone I knew was aware of the place they could no longer handle until it hit them.

    Jonathan – You’ve done a good job of explaining how your faith and relationship with Jesus Christ works. I am happy for you. Truly. I don’t relate to how your faith works, but I can see it is foundational for you. Could I ask you to consider that my faith and relationship with Jesus Christ (while totally different from yours) is just as powerful and fullfiling to me as yours is to you?

  30. If a line is more than a philosophical possibility, I cannot imagine what it would be – at least not in advance; it would have to take me by surprise. It would have to be not only X, but X plus the obliteration of all previous witnesses, plus the certainty that X wasn’t merely an aberration but fundamental and unchangeable bedrock, plus time and study to be certain my limited perspective couldn’t be enlarged or corrected, plus either the positive conviction through the spirit that the church/priesthood/prophecy/faith had utterly failed or such an utter absence of the spirit that I became convinced that the failure was in me. I cannot conceive that learning any fact or hearing any sermon or reading any policy or observing any action would constitute a line so final that it would overwhelm all that has gone before, as well as bar the possibility of future understanding and acceptance.

    Please don’t misread this as an assertion that I am any less susceptible to a line than anyone else, only as a statement that I can’t possibly imagine what such a line might actually be, nor, if I am honest, can I truly understand other people’s lines — a recognition, maybe, and a charitable acknowledgement, but not a real understanding.

  31. John C.,

    Thank you for posting this thoughtful post. Just a couple thoughts:

    My wife and I had the most meaningful conversation about this last night. Not this exact language, but very close. Briefly, my heart has not been LDS for 15 years now. Within the last month, I went ahead and told all family and friends that I was publicly parting ways with the faith.

    My wife is a believing member of the church. We’re both fairly accommodating folk and we’ve made it work with gentleness and humor. Last night we moved beyond accommodating each other into some better territory for both of us.

    As we spoke about our beliefs, we began to realize that the narratives we’d been using to talk about these types of issues were flawed, inadequate. For those who part with the LDS faith, they are “inactives” or worse, “apostates.” There isn’t a courageous narrative for those who transition from being LDS to something they personally find more fulfilling or healthier. For those who stay, the narrative is the sheep and the shepherd. The hapless follower who continues to squirrel away contradictions on a figurative “shelf,” seemingly until death removes the person and his shelf/storage shed from the world.

    There are emotional and psychological reasons why we buy in to these narratives, or commit ourselves to these narratives. Last night my wife and I took some serious steps in moving past these narratives. I feel in my heart that the relationship that is most important in this world will go beyond “accommodation” and into respect and love for each other’s sometimes divergent paths. To those of you out there struggling, it is possible. It is a 5- or 10- or 15-year process sometimes, but it is possible.

    John C., I would buy you lunch today and pick your brain if I could. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

  32. oleablossom, I really appreciated your comment. I think that “am I called to be here?” is the most important question of all on this topic. Each individual needs to ask this prayerfully and contemplatively.

  33. john f.,

    I think that “am I called to be here?” is the most important question of all on this topic. Each individual needs to ask this prayerfully and contemplatively.

    … And we must acknowledge that different people are going to have different answers to this question, especially those we love most dear. This isn’t a “choose the right” question. The answer will be different for each of us. A paradox.

  34. I like quoting Rush lyrics, so here is another one – ‘the way out is the way in’. By this I mean the for many what brought them in, would likely be the same thing that would drive them out. So if you felt you were brought in by personal revelation,it would likely be personal revelation that would drive you to leave. If you joined because people were so nice, then coming across enough evidence of meanness would drive you out. If you joined because the church seemed to match your political opinions, then a policy or teaching that violated your politics would drive you out. The way out is the way in, probably.

  35. There isn’t always a line. Peter didn’t have a line even though he did deny knowing Jesus. He recognized and matured in his testimony and ultimately paid the ultimate price for his loyalty. He struggled with doctrine and he struggled with culture and he sometimes had to be chastised by the Lord in order to move forward as was needed for the sake of the Church.

    I’ve struggled with this question of decisions made by those in charge but ultimately like SliverRain I do not have a line. I do not state that to sound presumptuous or more righteous but instead simply to acknowledge a specific blessing I received at God’s hand in response to prayer. As it states in D&C 46:

    To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

    To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

    Not all are given the same gifts nor are they given the same strengths or weaknesses nor do we face the same trials. So I feel deep sorrow and mourn with those around me who continue to struggle or who simply cannot go farther within this Faith. As they determine that the organization of the Church or the culture of the Church is too much for them I recognize that each of us must do what we feel is best for us.

    But for me I have to recognize honestly that there is no line because what the Holy Ghost revealed to me concerning Joseph Smith establishes a foundation from which I cannot move. If I move from it then I am being false to what has been indelibly burned within my soul. That foundation has been reinforced at different times in subtle means concerning the calling of Prophets as a mouthpiece for God that keep my feet planted solidly on that foundation.

    Like Peter, I may puzzle at how decisions are made and whether God really knows what He, She, They are doing and whether certain actions are really necessary. But I cannot deny, as Peter proclaimed, that the words of eternal life are here. The strength of my activity may ebb and flow but like Joseph, I know what I know. He speaks of this with regards to Paul in comparison to his own circumstances:

    He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.

    I have seen no visions. I’ve had no earth shattering revelations. But I cannot deny what the still small voice revealed to me. And as such, as a result, there is no line. That is not insanity. That does not drive me to strident evangelism but instead a humble realization that I was given a gift and I must help others find whatever theirs might be.

  36. And we must acknowledge that different people are going to have different answers to this question, especially those we love most dear.

    I agree JLS. At some point as a culture we must begin trusting people to receive direction for their own lives, even if that differs from the direction we’ve personally received. And respect the direction they’ve received and keep them in our lives even if their direction was different.

  37. Eve of Destruction says:

    True story: I had a boyfriend who in the early phase of falling in love initiated a serious conversation about hypothetically what my line would be, what would cause me to leave an otherwise good relationship. It seemed so bizarre and out of keeping with the mood, that I simply said I would for sure leave someone if he hit me, why are we even talking about this? He played it off as simply a getting to know each other deeply kind of conversation and agreed that he would also leave if he were ever hit. Things immediately went back to being great, he was so kind and attentive and amazingly perfect-for-me, did lots of little thoughtful things all the time, but every now and then he would step out of character and betray me in some unpredictable, seemingly random way, like talk really bad about me behind my back to mutual friends, or invade my privacy, or ruin some of my stuff. It was confusing because I would think, okay he has done seventeen really wonderful things for me that immediately come to mind, and one awful thing, I guess that ratio is good? And I would talk to him about the thing, and he would reassure me somehow. But that ratio gradually kept getting worse. Eventually, after a friend whose day job was at a domestic abuse shelter said to me for the third or fourth time “you know you can stay over at my house whenever you want” and I finally *got* what she meant by that, I remembered that earlier conversation. I realized that he was getting as close as he could to what I had defined the line; admittedly he never hit me. So I was the one who ended up drawing the line in a different place that where I had thought my line was, and I broke up with him before it got any worse.

    Because of this experience, any time someone asks where the line is, I wonder who is driving whom as close as possible to the line. Why would anyone want to be anywhere near the line? Finding yourself in the vicinity of the line is soul-destroying, whether you are just to the “inside” or just to the “outside” of the line, if you’re near it, you’re either on the verge of or have just been through a wrenching grief-inducing experience, roughly the equivalent of a divorce. I expect anyone in a profoundly troubled marriage or who is recently divorced to hold it together around the kids, but I also expect that they need someone who they can spill it all to, messy, angry, sad emotions and everything. Same with people who are thinking of leaving the church or have just left. If you can be that ear for someone, bless you.

  38. John C, I don’t mean it as a slippery slope argument, but as a probability argument. Language enables thought. If you don’t have words for something in your language, you’re unlikely to think about that thing or be able to understand it. This is basic Sapir-Whorf. So developing language goes hand in hand with developing new thoughts. Often, perhaps usually, this is a good thing, opening and expanding our minds. But by the same token, the words used to frame a discussion often predetermine the possible outcomes for the discussion. Thus the struggle between pro-life and pro-choice language. Or calling ISIS ISIL or DAESH or dumb jerks or whatever. My central point is that engaging in the “line” discussion in these terms, perhaps most importantly in one’s own head, may make the line being crossed more likely than for someone who never thought of losing one’s faith in those terms. The simple fact that you’re using a physical metaphor (stepping across a line drawn on the ground) for something spiritual/emotional/intellectual introduces a western intellectual bias that would be unfamiliar to e.g. some Native American linguistic traditions. I’m saying that our belief or non-belief can be significantly programmed by the language we use whether by choice or birth. I recognize that this argument can be parodied by saying that I’m suggesting the faithful should limit their language and thought if they wish to remain faithful, but I think that’s dismissing this fundamental power that language has over our thoughts and actions. There isn’t any neutral ground–you’re going to be influenced, it’s just a matter of by whom.

  39. Conducting the thought experiment to create a line is beneficial! I believe Abraham had a line – and it was child sacrifice. Imagine his horror when the command came from Jehovah.

    Put differently, I don’t think creating a mental line is a bad exercise – its more important what we do when we (inevitably) have to cross that line.

  40. I often find myself wondering where the line is before I give on the Bloggernacle.

  41. it's a series of tubes says:

    But for me I have to recognize honestly that there is no line because what the Holy Ghost revealed to me concerning Joseph Smith establishes a foundation from which I cannot move. If I move from it then I am being false to what has been indelibly burned within my soul. That foundation has been reinforced at different times in subtle means concerning the calling of Prophets as a mouthpiece for God that keep my feet planted solidly on that foundation.

    eponymous, thanks for sharing. I feel similarly, but you said it better.

  42. I think there’s a certain danger in assuming that all of us are rational actors when it comes to our religious choices. What I mean by that is: I don’t think most of us are ready to bolt even if/after our personal lines are crossed. Most of our big choices (and a lot of our small ones) aren’t based on a reckoning of morality and logic, but on the decisions’ possible effects on our personal identity, and the effects of THAT on our day-to-day lives. In this case, if I leave the church, I’m not Mormon anymore. That’s a big change: it means that my social circles change, my weekly routines change, my daily routines probably change too. Certainly I have to buy new undies. When people do this, they often call it a journey. Because it is. You move from one social space to another. You have new relationships with new people. Relationships with the people you rely on every day change.

    So, you have to take your pick of rational decisions, and it may be a social rationalism that provides the best chance of happiness, rather than a moral, a logical, a historical one. I mean, if we’re really being honest here, none of us (or, well, not many of us) support the idea that innocent kids should be slaughtered en masse. And yet, if we believe the Old Testament to be a literal historical account, God commanded Saul through Samuel to do just that (1 Sam. 15:2-3). Clearly that crosses nearly everyone’s bright moral line. If everyone acted morally, the only people left in the Church (or indeed ANY church that takes that passage as both historically accurate and morally correct, and believes in the innocence of children) should be those who either disagree with one of those priors (historicity, morality, or the innocence of children) or for whom the Line, shockingly, includes the possibility of murdering children. Or who haven’t read it or heard about it. A small group, one can assume.

    And to be sure SOME do leave and have left over that (probably that very passage, even). But the rest of us have found good logical, moral, or spiritual justification sufficient for the socially rational choice of staying in. Not everyone stays for the “truth claims”.

  43. I know this is mainly a philosophical exercise in this post, but it is chilling to read statements like the heinous acts committed by the Lafferty brothers were wrong because they weren’t following the proper religious authority. The “proper” religious authorities in this world encourage good people to commit atrocities. If people on this thread truly believe that they would follow directions from proper religious authorities to kill others – that there is no line- then we’re in the territory of ISIS.

    Take it down a few hundred notches and we have people defending this divisive and cruel policy towards gay children because the church leaders will never lead them astray. This is scary stuff, folks.

  44. I personally don’t find it helpful to have “lines” for anything, as they seem to encourage (as EoD pointed out) a feeling of “how bad can I be”, trying to get as close to the line as possible.

    I’m at the point where there isn’t a line, much like some of the other commenters, but I can’t think of any time in my life, even when I was less faithful or believing, where I had a line of “if they cross this I’m done”. To me, it’s like saying I’ll give up on science if someone disproves dark matter. It just is; my opinions on it don’t really matter.

  45. yes, good points, Frank

  46. The notion that church leaders are incapable of leading us astray is nonsense. The Lord has never, ever given that assurance, in this dispensation or any other. Wiford Woodruff never claimed he had received such a promise from the Lord. Rather, all he was doing was trying to prevent a schism within the church: he was hoping to convince those who had embraced polygamy, based on the unqualified assurances of his predecessors that it would never be taken from the earth, that they would now have to give it up.

    Brigham Young unequivocally, on numerous occasions, rejected the idea that he or any other church leader was incapable of leading the membership astray. For example, he once said: “Live so that you will know whether I teach you truth or not.” Suppose you are careless and unconcerned, and give way to the spirit of the world, and I am led, likewise, to preach the things of this world and to accept things that are not of God, how easy it would be for me to lead you astray! But I say to you, live so that you will know for yourselves whether I tell the truth or not. That is the way we want all Saints to live. Will you do it? Yes, I hope you will, every one of you.” (Journal of Discourses 18:72.)

    And George Q. Cannon expressly warned: “Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop, and apostle or a president, if you do so, they will fail you at some time or place….” (Millennial Star 53:674).

    To believe otherwise, is to embrace the equally dubious proposition (also frequently propounded from the pulpit) that we and our leaders are somehow different—better, exceptional—than those in biblical or Book of Mormon times. “Latter-day Exceptionalism” is the best way to describe it. If that is isn’t the epitome of false pride, I don’t know what is.

    Those who preach their inability to lead us astray are, more often than not, looking for blind obedience, trying to encourage those with doubts and questions to keep them to themselves. Those who embrace it, have forfeited their agency.

  47. Also, on the subject of lines, I think there might be more than just one. For example, some may have sufficient difference of opinion regarding certain church teachings and beliefs (e.g., scriptural literalism; the historicity of the Book of Mormon; the accuracy of the Book of Abraham; the inability of church officials to lead us astray) that they would not be willing to serve a mission but would be willing to accept other callings in the church.

  48. queuno,
    I hope I’m not adding to the negative side of that line. I like having you around. You seem relatively sane.

    Yeah. Nothing to add really.

    I feel a bit like you, hence my still being around. I guess I’m just less-confident in long-term certainty. But I’m glad it works for you. Tubes too, I suppose.

    Next year in Jerusalem or something.

    I agree. If you can be that ear, bless you. And if you can’t, help them find someone who can and do what you can as well.

    I believe in very weak Sapir-Whorf, so that might explain the disconnect. But feel free to exchange lines for whatever metaphor works best for you.

    “Imagine his horror when the command came from Jehovah.”
    See, I don’t understand why we have to imagine God is like Ashton Kucher. Why do we need to believe he is just lurking around the corner looking to punk us with our greatest fears?

    Ben C,
    I agree. But, of course, not all lines have to do with truth claims or rational decision-marking. Like someone else said above (and you acknowledge), lines can be gut feelings as well.

    john f.
    Yeah. It’s an ugly mess indeed.

    I don’t get it either.

  49. Drawing the line is an act of narcissism. It sets one up as judge of God, church leaders and, even worse, judge of self. Never, ever draw lines. We do not know what demands God will place on us. We do not know the reasons church leaders do what they do. We do not know ourselves well enough to know how much we can take… how much we NEED to take, to forge our discipleship.

  50. @Anon3 says “The “proper” religious authorities in this world encourage good people to commit atrocities.”

    Isn’t this a bit overblown? There are literally billions of people around the world whose religious authorities teach them kindness and charity towards all their fellow beings, even those with whom they disagree. Bad guys just get more press.

  51. It seems to me like there is some general disagreement over whether or not Church leaders would ever do or require something that is not from God. It seems to me that if you believe Church leaders could require you to do something that is not of God, then you have a line (whether you know where that line is or not is a whole different question). If you believe it is impossible for Church leaders to require you to do something that is not of God, then there is no line. There seems to be a conflation of the line being crossed due to the Church or due to God.

  52. Thanks for this, John. It makes me think of the New Testament passage in Phillipians 2:12, about working out one’s own salvation with fear and trembling before God.

  53. I’m sure “the line” is a useful construct for some. I hear it discussed that way. And I am certainly in favor of and support the point of empathizing with those who stay, and with those who go.
    But a line is not a good way for me to think about these things. It’s both binary and linear, and that’s not how I experience life or the Church. With respect to binary and the Church, there’s never been a “stay or go” decision point and I don’t believe there ever will. Rather, do I choose to take the sacrament? Am I silent or do I speak? If I speak, about what? Do I choose to ask for a temple recommend? Do I attend Sacrament Meeting this week? Do I accept a calling? Do I ask for one? Do I stop going to church? Do I resign my membership? Do i call myself Mormon? Where am I called to be? And so on. Yes, it is true that you can posit the binary of “all of the above” or “none of the above.’ But that isn’t how my life experience has run.
    Also, I don’t experience it as something I know in advance. Rather, I experience life as a journey and (in Mary Oliver’s words):
    One day you finally knew
    what you had to do, and began,
    though the voices around you
    kept shouting.

  54. “Because homosexuality is not a choice, we are further punishing gay people for their inability to suppress their nature.”

    Hmmmn. Being an alcoholic is not my choice. My nature is to be drunk or high. I really do not feel quite like myself when I am forced to be sober.

    Yet for me, sobriety is part of the “broken heart and contrite spirit” that the Lord demands.

    Just because I have managed to put a few decades behind me does not mean that it is no longer something I struggle with, sometimes daily. Sometimes hourly. Sometimes trying to get through an hour at a time.

    Every medical procedure is a new temptation. I find myself preparing a playlist and practicing relaxing breathing so that I can have a colonoscopy without sedation, because once I get a taste of that lovely feeling of being high, I will yearn for it and try to find excuses for taking drugs again….and even as I am preparing to do it without sedation, I am also hoping that my blood pressure will spike and they will have to sedate me….and then I can (legally, wonderfully) enjoy the high without feeling guilty because after all I did try to avoid it. And then being desperately disappointed if I am successful in making it through without the drugs.

    Not to mention out-of-town social events where it would be so easy to accept that glass of wine….

    So please save some sympathy for those of us who don’t suffer from progressive or fashionable temptations. I have been impressed with the outpouring of sympathy on the blogs for gay parents, but it has left me wondering why I had to go through so much alone, without support and acknowledgement or excuse for my nature.

  55. Naismith, I think you’ll find here, if you look, some extended discussion at BCC about the nature of chemical addictions such as alcoholism. You definitely have our support and sympathy. I don’t think the comparison to homosexuality is accurate or helpful — but you are definitely welcome as you are in your own struggles.

    Christian: right on.

  56. I cross back and forth over that line about 6am every weekday morning as I face about a dozen teenagers in early morning seminary. There are too many mornings like today, where none of them had read the day’s chapters, so we were forced to listen to me while most of them just stared at their phones, rather than to have a discussion. Mornings like today feel like my Abrahamic trial. But they are good kids, and most of those kids are there every day, and on the days they are prepared they share things that inspire me and give me hope for humanity and for the future.

    Nobody really cares whether I have a line, or where it is. What matters is whether I am willing to serve in my obscure little corner of the world. And the only Church that matters to me is local–my family and my ward. I can’t have any effect on what happens in Salt Lake, but I can influence what happens here.

  57. Owen – I believe Steven Weinberg captured this concept best. With or without religion good people do good things and evil people do evil things, but for good people to do evil it takes religion.

  58. Clark Goble says:

    Good people do evil all the time – it takes ideology and in group dynamics. One needn’t look far in the great 20th century evils to see many done without religion. (Unless one defines down religion to the point it becomes meaningless) The banality of evil rarely requires religion.

  59. I think the line is my conscience. The question now on this new policy is where does my conscience come into play. I’m not being asked to justify, sustain or implement the policy since I’m a complete nobody with no authority whatsoever in the church. So is it a violation of my conscience to stay? That’s still a valid question I have to ask.

    For me there is no question that the policy is unconscionable. My only question is how complicit I am if I don’t leave. YMMV.

  60. Clark Goble says:

    Regarding the OP, even if someone says what a line is when push comes to shove it rarely is their line. Lots of people leave before reaching their line and lots of people pass their line and never leave. Abstract rationalist judgments about how we would behave in the future are rarely made in an informed manner. (We’re often the worst judges of our own character)

    If lines really were lines there would be tons of Democrats and Republicans who would have moved to Canada due to elections by now.

  61. Clark, ideology + group dynamics = religion. Let’s not define religion so narrowly.

  62. Naismith, you deserve sympathy too. I can see why sympathy for substance issues may be tougher to find in LDS circles (at least from people BIC members like me) because, frankly, we’ve had a lot of success implementing the WOW. The closest I can relate to you is from hearing stories from my grandfather about how giving up smoking was the hardest thing he’s ever been through. So I can imagine your situation, but I really can’t understand.

    If I may say so, I think your example is different from LGBT issues in one key respect (at least in my experience). Most LGBT people that I know say they find greater happiness and meaning when they embrace their nature than when they suppress it. The opposite is true for most people I know who struggle with substances – they say they are less happy and have less meaning in their lives during the periods when they are using.

    In short, I would proffer that judging a choice based on its fruit is a better method than judging a choice based on whether it is “natural” or difficult.

  63. I don’t think that the line is so much a specific act or anything. It is moreso the thing where it all becomes too much. Maybe it is a specific thing; maybe it is twenty years of non-specific but bad for you things. Saying that “the line” makes things all or nothing is kind of missing the point. While I think there are things that could combine to push me out of the church, that doesn’t mean that I think I’m capable of not being Mormon. I’m always going to be Mormon. It’s marrow-deep.

    I’m going to agree with Clark on this. Religion can be a vehicle (for good and ill) but it is not the vehicle (for good or ill).

  64. “If lines really were lines there would be tons of Democrats and Republicans who would have moved to Canada due to elections by now.”
    I hereby declare this the wisest thing ever written by Clark Goble. Not actually true, I’m sure, but the statement is still deserving of widest possible distribution and highest possible praise. I’m not kidding at all.

  65. Angela C.,
    Yes. That.

  66. Eve of Destruction says:

    “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:68) It’s odd to see this being used to mean, “to whom shall we go, other than to the authorized religious authority?” In the context of the surrounding verses, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, declaring himself the Messiah and saying that only He was the way. This was hard for many people to hear because they perceived Jesus as just one rabbi; they didn’t think He had the proper authority to declare Himself the Messiah. At the start of the next chapter, the authorized religious authorities start plotting to kill Jesus for that reason. Meanwhile Peter followed Jesus all around Galilee *instead* of following the authorized leaders of the Jews.

  67. Freeman Dyson says:

    “Weinberg’s statement is true as far as it goes, but it is not the whole truth. To make it the whole truth, we must add an additional clause: “And for bad people to do good things—that [also] takes religion.” The main point of Christianity is that it is a religion for sinners. Jesus made that very clear. When the Pharisees asked his disciples, “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” he said, “I come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Only a small fraction of sinners repent and do good things but only a small fraction of good people are led by their religion to do bad things.”

  68. Eve,
    I think john f’s point is that if you genuinely feel called to Mormonism (or any particular religion), it is hard to imagine you finding the divine outside of it. It isn’t intended as a slight to other movements; john would be quick to describe moments when he’s encountered the divine in other traditions. He’s just saying (and I’m just saying) that for some reason you feel called to seek God in a particular one. I can’t tell if that is an appeal to an authority other than the individual’s apprehension of God or not. But I don’t find it too out of line with Peter’s presumed original intent.

    If only a small fraction of sinners repent, we are all screwed.

  69. Thanks for adding the context to the quote. I also like his challenge that maybe God is not benevolent and kind after all. It would certainly be consistent with this new policy.

    “I don’t need to argue here that the evil in the world proves that the universe is not designed, but only that there are no signs of benevolence that might have shown the hand of a designer. But in fact the perception that God cannot be benevolent is very old. Plays by Aeschylus and Euripides make a quite explicit statement that the gods are selfish and cruel, though they expect better behavior from humans. God in the Old Testament tells us to bash the heads of infidels and demands of us that we be willing to sacrifice our children’s lives at His orders, and the God of traditional Christianity and Islam damns us for eternity if we do not worship him in the right manner. Is this a nice way to behave? I know, I know, we are not supposed to judge God according to human standards, but you see the problem here: If we are not yet convinced of His existence, and are looking for signs of His benevolence, then what other standards can we use? “

  70. Thanks Angela C. you said that so well.

  71. I wonder – does having a line relate to having a shelf? I’ve lots I don’t know, but I don’t believe I have a “shelf” of things I don’t want to think about.

  72. RE the benevolence or malevolence of God, I think CS Lewis put it best: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

  73. The existence of the line is more important to me than defining where it falls. The Laffertys have been mentioned several times in this thread. For me, reading Under the Banner of Heaven made me see the importance of the question of the existence of a line. Yes, there are issues with that book, and I won’t claim that the history is all reliable, but what the book did for me was ask the question: if you believe in a God that can and sometimes does command his followers to do things that are (but for the fact that God commands it) evil, then how can you be sure that your religion is not like that of the Laffertys (to name just one example)?

    And it is too easy to just say “well, they were following the wrong church, and I’m not,” because unless you refuse to acknowledge the possibility that you could be deceived, that answer will never be satisfying. And further, the conundrum is that any answer that I can come up with to distinguish my belief in a God who is real, personal, and sovereign, from the belief of those whose commit evil in God’s name, only sacrifices the immediacy of my belief and puts limits on God. Maybe that’s okay, because maybe those are only the limits that God puts on himself. But I can’t help feel that by believing in such limits, I am sacrificing part of the immediacy of my faith in a God that can and does intervene in our lives and is sovereign in a way that he can sometimes ask us to do very confusing things.

    The only answer that I can come up with is to acknowledge that my belief in a real, personal God, while unlocking spiritual possibilities of unspeakable joy and comfort, holds within it also the potential for unspeakable evil. This is uncomfortable. But maybe that’s just the price of believing in a God that can do *all* things. I don’t believe God is capricious or a trickster, but I also don’t believe that we can understand his purposes. Is there a line? I think there must be, bot for the life of me I can’t draw it without sacrificing a part of my belief, or feeling that I am limiting God.

    Maybe it’s due to a lack of faith on my part, but I just can’t imagine God telling me to go kill someone (for example); it’s not just that I find it distasteful, it’s that I don’t even know what that would look like. That’s why I have a hard time with the Nephi story and the Abraham story (the genocide stories I have no problem dismissing as human fabrications); If I experienced what Nephi describes I would probably dismiss the thought as nonsense, and if I did become convinced that God were speaking to me in that way, I hope that someone would have me committed. But even though my natural inclination is to dismiss such notions as nonsense, I think it is a cop-out, that it is too easy to say that God *can’t* command this or that. So the only thing I am left with is trust. All I can do is trust God that he will not lead me into temptation. I condemn evil committed in his name, but at the same time I can’t help but think that, if am going to take seriously my belief in a personal God that intervenes in human affairs, there but for the grace of God go I.

  74. Eve of Destruction says:

    John C., I’m just providing context for an out-of-context quote. Just my own reading of it. I don’t think “to whom shall we go?” has anything at all to do with whether the divine exists in other traditions. The context wasn’t Peter following Jesus into other religious traditions.

    Peter was very much convinced that Judaism was where he was called. When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, Peter was certainly able to follow both Judaism and Jesus, without a conflict. But when Jesus declared Himself the Messiah and the religious authorities declared Jesus apostate, Peter picked a side. And I guess that was Peter’s line: if you kick Jesus out, I’m not staying.

    Peter didn’t stop being Jewish by any means. He still believed in the Jewish dietary laws at that point because he hadn’t had his vision yet. Following Jesus at that point just meant following someone whom the religious authorities believed to be seriously out of line. “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” is asking, “What is left for us here in the authorized place of religious authority, if you’re not here? I’m not going to stay here listening to talk about the scriptures and prophets while you’re out feeding the hungry and healing the sick. I’m going to be with you, and help the poor and sick, because that’s what will achieve eternal life.”

  75. JKC, what bothers me about the Nephi story is that God could have relied on other, less violent means, to accomplish the same purpose. For instance, he could have simply said, “Nephi, I’ve made this drunk guy so that he will sleep the next 24 hours. Take his clothes, pretend to be him, get the plates, and get out of town.” There, problem solved. The Nephites get their record. And Laban doesn’t have his mortal probation cut short.

  76. God could also have given Laban a little blood clot. It’s really not hard to kill a person. So, if you take Nephi’s word for it, there must have been a reason for Nephi to do it.

    (sorry for chasing the tangent)

  77. JKC,
    It is always hard to discern what is human and what is divine in revelation. I don’t think God wants it another way. Nor do I think God necessarily will refrain from asking us to do things that are conventionally considered bad. But I do think he will understand if we say thanks, but no thanks.

    Tomato, tomahto. :)

  78. Angela, not only has God created man in his own image, but man has created God in man’s image or, rather, in the image of his particular tribe, culture and/or religion.

  79. The difference between the Nephi/Abraham examples (even if you accept them as is) and modern examples? Well, for one, it wasn’t a man who told Nephi and Abraham to kill.

    A more modern example is Mountain Meadow Massacre. Did the many men who committed that atrocity have a line? Their bishops and stake president were encouraging the massacre. Had the individuals had an appropriate line, they wouldn’t have become involved with that massacre. They would have decided that their stake president was encouraging evil behavior.

    Granted, a stake president or bishop isn’t the prophet. But church members often give them way too much deference–one of the commenters above stated “And yet I think it is a safe assumption that the Bishop, Stake President, or Prophet will not call me into their office and ask me to take someone out.” And yet that has, in fact, happened.

  80. I feel like we are taught that we should have no line if we want to be true disciples. That is consecration.
    I realized I had a line, and what’s worse I secretly wanted the church to cross it.
    I examined myself and decided I didn’t believe the church was any more true than any other religion, and that I had been flogging myself (metaphorically) for not believing for years. I decided I would stop pretending to believe. My wife and I talked and she felt the same way. We stopped wearing the covenant underclothes and continued to worship God and even attend church, but without taking it as the ONLY TRUE CHURCH. It was like dropping a huge weight off our backs.
    Then the new policy came out. We shrugged to each other and focused on comforting our friends. We had to decide whether to leave altogether and whether to tell our parents, but we were not heart broken. Just sad for those who were.

  81. John C.
    Tomayto, tomato.

    Couldn’t resist. ;-)

  82. Dave K., I agree. D&C 93 is, to me, perhaps the most damning indictment of Nephi’s story.

    John C., I agree. Like I said, I don’t believe in a capricious God or a trickster God. But I do believe in a God that gives conflicting commandments. Adam and Eve, of course, but Abraham and maybe Nephi could also fall into that category. In such cases, I think the point is not to pass some test of obedience, but to force us to struggle with competing commands to see which one we will choose, and perhaps the struggle is more important that the ultimate choice, even. Most LDS believe that Abraham passed his test because he was willing to hold back nothing from God, and that God blessed him for it be not requiring what he said he would require, and that if he had just refused to sacrifice Isaac he would have failed. But maybe Abraham would have failed the test just as miserably if he simply said “you got it, Lord, where’s the knife?”

  83. Interesting an thoughtful post. I think you do a good job of highlighting the principles that Haidt talks about, how certain people place different weight on different values. For the people that dislike this policy they tend to value compassion highly. Other people value authority and community more. Not that one way is necessarily right or wrong, but I think we talk past each other because we have different lines that reflect different values.

    I have some questions about the line though. Is it possible that, as you learn more, your line actually changes? Or do you have a firm line and are just waiting for the church to cross it?

    Also, is the line solely in the realm of church history, doctrine, and social issues? What if the line becomes epistemology itself, the very method of how we come to know the things we claim to know?

  84. Eric,
    I don’t think the line has to be some one thing or one type of thing. It can be anything. It is whatever is the amount of whatever that pushes you past your limit. It could certainly be epistomology. I also don’t believe it has to be stable or stay in one place. And I think that the people in the thread who say that our ability to identify our own lines is flawed are probably correct. So, most of the reason I’m not defending the OP too thoroughly in the comments is that I agree with many of the criticisms. Except for the strident “no-line” folk who think nothing will ever again shake their faith. I don’t understand them at all.

  85. John,
    Thanks for the reply. I think you’re right that the line is fuzzy. We’d like to think it’s some mathematically precise value, once something passes the 95% threshold we’re out. But these are somewhat subjective issues. I can’t remember the full story, but it reminds me of the philosophy problem of deciding at what point a man has a beard. If I just shaved I don’t have a beard. If I look like Santa Clause I definitely have a beard. But at what point between shaving and having a full grown beard am I a bearded man? A few days stubble? A week? A month? Likewise it seems like it’s the most painful when we’re in the gray area of wondering if our line has been crossed. It’s an uncomfortable spot.

  86. Basically Jonathan Cavender’s position is that even if Thomas S. Monson smoked a cigar and drank a cup of brandy at the pulpit in conference and then declared that the Word of Wisdom was no longer a commandment, that it wouldn’t matter for him. That even if Thomas S. Monson performed a sealing of two people of the same gender in the temple, fully knowing that he was so doing, and then announcing that he had done so before the press, that he would continue to follow Thomas S. Monson. He is saying that even if it were exposed beyond any reasonable doubt that all of the members of the First Presidency and the Apostles were complicit in the murder of a critic of the LDS church (I don’t know, someone like Steve Benson), and were found guilty by a jury in a court of law and all given life sentences that it wouldn’t matter. He wouldn’t leave the church or stop supporting it. Jonathan Cavender is saying that even if the First Presidency made a public announcement that they no longer supported Joseph Smith’s claim to be a prophet and denounced him as a fraud who made up the Book of Mormon and never restored the priesthood, that he would continue to support the leaders. He has that kind of faith in the leaders, people. May he be praised.

  87. I find that I do not know where my line is or what it looks like. But like obscenity I suppose, I will know it when I see it. I’m sure it’s out there. I can feel it. And it feels closer than it used to be.

  88. I know some are just waiting for one of the “no line” people to engage on your hypotheticals, so they can continue to denounce people who would accept some horrendous thing or go “aha! so you -do- have a line after all!”, but for me at least, that’s not how it works.

    I don’t worry about the hypotheticals because they just aren’t likely to happen. It’s like asking if I know where the guardrail is that’s keeping me from falling into the Grand Canyon, at least 500 miles away. It’s extremely improbable that the Grand Canyon will move close enough for me to have to worry about it.

    I absolutely do not want to infer that anyone who has a line is somehow “less enlightened” than I, as it is wholly possible that I will develop a line in the future or that someone will lose their line in their future. Being in different places does not make one or the other of us wrong; just in a different place. I will still mourn with you and hope you will mourn with me when I have the need.

  89. Eve of Destruction says:

    Being in a different place makes one uninjured and another severely hurt. How does saying “it doesn’t matter to me where the guardrail is, and it will never matter to me, I’m 500 miles away” help mourn with someone who lost a loved one in a guardrail related accident in that spot? I think what Jesus showed us is that wherever there is someone is hurting, He is there with them, and we need to be right there with them, too, loving them not as if they are 500 miles away but as if they were ourselves.

  90. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    The news of this policy came at a bad time for me. I was already feeling the pain of grieving and hearing accounts of the pain that faithful members were facing regarding their righteous children and carefully negotiated co-parenting arrangements with ex-spouses brought me down to a state of deep depression. After contemplation of what I should do, I began to pray as to whether or not I should turn in my temple recommend as a ‘non-sustainer’. Later that day, I saw that one of my facebook friends had ‘liked’ an announcement that the church had received a clarification. I read that and though I could not ‘like’ it on facebook and am not exactly liking it in practice, it did give me pause on the action I was contemplating taking, though I am still dismayed about the unnecessary pain and unnecessary cancelling of baptisms and ordinations occurred prior to the clarification.

    I get the idea the brethren are going with related to an immediate administration action for those who enter a same sex marriage. I am not saying that I like it, but it is not illogical for their long-standing view. There are those who cry foul because there is no automatic administrative action for rapists, murderers, and child molesters and that this relegates SSM to a sin more serious than those. I don’t see that as being clear. If there was not a burden of legal proof to convict someone with a plea of ‘not guilty’ for those heinous crimes, then a policy could reckon with that. There should be a policy in place for anyone who pleads guilty of such a crime, but I am not sure whether the brethren have ever felt the need to state that obvious concept in policy before.

    I have also seen a number of children baptized who’s parents were not supportive and in some cases opposed to the baptism and those children often end up being brought to church with another LDs family for a time when they are the only ones in their own family desiring to attend. Then the non-supportive parents move–taking the child with them and they lose contact with the family that took them to church and they become one of those records that membership clerks have to track down. No, I don’t think it was wrong to encourage them to attend, but perhaps a more mature decision about baptism would have been better for that individual child. That is just one situation that comes to mind. We also had 2 children schedule to be baptized in our ward. Their mother also wanted to be baptized, but couldn’t because she was not married to their father and he had a legal situation where he couldn’t marry her. The mother was offended that her relationship was not deemed as acceptable as a legal marriage and that was a stumbling block that eventually led to the withdrawal of parental approval for the children to be baptized. They no longer attend, even though they could. Their spark of friendship with members in our ward faded. They still interact with our children in the community and are good kids, but they were not scheduled for baptism because of testimony, and were not in the ideal situation to have one nurtured.

    I know some people will jump on me for that paragraph above, and I am not saying that I totally support the new policy for children of same sex couples even with clarification. I think a better option would have been to caution against baptism unless a family are unitedly supportive and if the discretion of the local Bishop or Mission President is favorable to baptism being an appropriate action for the child. So I am yet not a full sustainer, but neither am I a full opposer.

    I definitely don’t like the idea of children doing anything that could be described as a ‘disavowal’. My own personal bias may have sided with the church in the case of children disavowing their parent’s polygamy, but this experience has even caused me to shift opinion on that practice. I’m not at the point where I will leave the church. I do wonder if we would ever have had to deal with this situation if Gordon B. Hinckley was still in office and still in his prime.

  91. EoD, you’re severely misconstrued what I said. You have no insight into the injuries I have suffered, much less the injuries of anyone else who believes themselves to not have a line. You’ve placed a people as being in the distance, which is so completely missing the point it boggles the mind.

  92. Eve of Destruction:
    “Being in a different place makes one uninjured and another severely hurt.”

    No, my being 500 miles away (philosophically speaking) has no ill effect on the person leaping over various guardrails. They get hurt by leaping over the guardrails of church doctrine and policy. I guess there are those leaders who attempt to discern and warn in advance of the disaster, but they have to be careful about this, because if they tell people that physical homosexual relations bring the judgement of heaven, they will be called haters and bigots.

    And even if harm comes to those who ignore guardrails, I do not celebrate any harm or damage that comes. I think what Jesus showed us is that wherever there is someone in danger of being harmed, he warned against such actions. Even now he is still with them, pleading them to turn their lives around, return to the path and stay on the other side of the guardrails. And if we truly want to help Christ, we would be there too, warning people about the guardrails of doctrine and policy, assisting them to remain on the truly safe path, while remaining on the higher ground on the safe side of the guardrails as we pull our brothers and sisters to safety.

  93. I’m late to the party here, but just wanted to add that I thought this was an excellent post (followed by some insightful commentary).

    Also, JLS, I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your encouragement that it can work, even if it can take – as you put it – 5, 10, or 15 years. It’s been only a year since, at least privately, my line was crossed, my shelf crumbled, I fell off the good ship Zion (pick your metaphor), and now I’m trying to keep my marriage together. I appreciate the reminder to take the long view.

  94. J. Crown,

    Absolutely. There are also some excellent online communities for folks transitioning out of Mormonism. Many, many people are also working on mixed-faith marriages and making an excellent go of it. I’m not sure if we’re allowed to do promotions here but “A Thoughtful Transition” is a level-headed Facebook group of post-Mormons working out healthy living while transitioning out. “A Thoughtful Faith” is a neat community for those still participating in the faith for some reason or another, those trying to make constructive compromises. Mormon Spectrum has guided me to a couple of in-person groups in my local area. We drink coffee on Sunday mornings, “Sunday School.” Not much anger. Mostly laughs. And people who genuinely want to move forward with their lives in healthy ways.

    In 2015 we have the tools to make a graceful transition out, and there are plenty of others to share the journey. Best of luck.

  95. Although everyone must do what they feel is best for them, I prefer to help people transition into the faith! J. Crown, I would hope that content at BCC would inspire you and uplift you spiritually (it does for me) and help you to keep that faith alive. At the very least, if the material here does not succeed in helping you to work through concerns about your relationship with the Church, my prayer is that everything I’ve written here (and I believe this also counts for everything else posted here) will persuade you “to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God” (Jacob 1:7; see also Moroni 7:16), even if you end up concluding that you need to do that outside of the Church.

    But my personal preference is not to promote ex- or former-Mormon venues at BCC, including “transitioning out” venues, because I personally am working to keep people in the Church, if possible, subject of course to trusting their own intuition about what is best for them.

    (The Church desperately needs you, especially if you have differences of opinion from the majority of Mormons — the body of Christ needs all its members who all perform different functions. The Church will definitely be worse for the wear without you and JLS and others who feel that they must leave.)

  96. That makes sense, john f. BCC isn’t a forum to help people transition out of the faith. I’m a guest here, and I’m not interested in being a rude guest.

    This is a post about “the line.” I’m just pointing out that If one has crossed over “the line,” you don’t have to do it by yourself. There are others who have crossed and are crossing. There are some ways of crossing lines that are healthier on your relationships than other ways of crossing lines.

    Again, I realize I’m a guest and I won’t post elsewhere on your blog. However, I do think it’s appropriate to tell people on a post like this one that there are others out there, there are other communities, and that you don’t have to be an “apostate.” There are healthy ways to move on. There are ways to move on and maintain your relationships.

    Obviously there are ways to remain LDS. That’s why we have the three-hour block. And conference.

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