Were I Ever to Leave the Church…

The recent explosion of commentary on the new Handbook policies at some point put me in a reflective mood, in which I pondered, in a fairly abstract way, what it would be like to actually leave the Church. Let me hasten to clarify that such pondering did not crystallize into an actual resolution to that end; rather, it led to some personal musings on the subject. Although I’m not actually leaving any time soon, even to engage in abstract pondering about such a matter was a completely unprecedented  experience for me.

After thinking about it quite a bit, I decided that the conclusion to the sentence I began in the title to this post was as follows: “Were I ever to leave the Church, it would (very likely) be over social issues.”

There’s kind of a stereotype of the young person who gets blindsided by something in Church history, scripture, or doctrine, does some internet research, learns all kinds of crazy stuff from the Mormon past, and decides to chuck it all. And that simply is not me. For one thing, I’m not all that young anymore; I’ve been around the block a time or two. And all of that CES Letter type stuff simply doesn’t resonate with me; it involves things I’ve known about for years and years and years.  I’ve read the journals, I’ve attended the conferences. I feel I know as much as any non-specialist Mormon about those things, and I’m simply not ever going to leave over something like say, the Kinderhook plates. I just don’t see that happening.

For me, social issues are an entirely different kettle of fish. I’ve got plenty of Mormon background cred (to keep it short, I’m descended from polygamist pioneers on both sides, and both my parents grew up in southern Idaho, for pete’s sake!). But there’s an entirely different side to me, as well. I didn’t grow up in the Great Basin of Mormonism; I grew up in northern Illinois and was very much a (religious) minority in school. My dad was a college professor [of education]. By most standards I’m pretty highly educated myself, and I work in a sophisticated finance legal practice in Chicago, a major urban center in the midwestern north. And just as my Mormonism has had an influence on me, those kinds of things have also had an influence on me. It was a long, gradual process, but over time I became a liberal-minded, egalitarian, progressive sort of guy (well, by Mormon standards, at least). That is my self-perception; that is how I relate to the world around me. And increasingly that side of my being is coming into serious conflict with the mores advocated by the Church. And it’s not a comfortable place to be. People throw around the expression “cognitive dissonance” all the time; well, welcome to my own personal sense of cog dis.

It has been 37 years since the 1978 revelation. The decision not to give blacks the priesthood or access to the temples was a very human mistake. God had nothing to do with it. Organizationally, the way forward could have been a clear disavowal of it. But as an institution we still can’t quite bring ourselves to do it, because we worry that that would be tantamount to throwing Brother Brigham and other high leaders under the bus. Well, if that’s what it takes, throw them under the bus already. Don’t pretend God must have really sanctioned that practice and we mortals simply don’t understand why. That’s ridiculous. We were racists, like pretty much everyone else at the time, and we adopted Protestant apologiae for slavery and made it part of our doctrine. And the whole thing was nothing but human culture; we were wrong about that with a capital W.

Having seen how that whole episode played out, I’ve become cynical about claims of revelation for positions that just happen to align with the cultural inheritance of our top leaders. We can’t give women the priesthood because there’s no record of them getting the priesthood in the scriptures (a debatable point in itself), and our leaders simply assume that that reflects the clear will of almighty God, without ever pausing to consider the possibility that it might reflect the cultural assumptions and preferences of ancient male elites who wrote those scriptures, and that God had had nothing to do with it.

This whole war on gay marriage for me has been the icing on that particular banana split. Our Church’s position just happens to align with the received wisdom of, say, 60 years ago, when our top leaders just happened to be growing up and forming their own cultural understanding of the subject. That doesn’t assure that this is all culturally based, but it at least raises that as a significant possibility, and frankly that is how I see it.

I think I took the policy changes so hard because it seemed to me that the Church had been signaling a greater rapprochement with its gay members, as if it were struggling to find ways to make it work. And to my mind, gay marriage could have been a godsend toward that end, as it would have provided a vehicle by which a gay couple could be legally and lawfully married and thus able to participate without restriction in the life of the Church. They could hold callings and move families and bring pumpkin bread to the linger longer and babysit your kids and do everything that any other happily married family does in church. And that’s what hurts about this policy, as it now seems clear that that kind of normalization of gay families was exactly what the Church was scared of and wanted to avoid at all costs.

To my mind, in terms of strategic thinking for the future, this policy change is a terrible idea, as it locks the Church in to a position that is a cultural loser, and anyone paying attention can easily see that. In ten years, maybe 20, we’ll be the Westboro Baptist Church of Latter-day Saints, and our future leaders will have very little room to try to maneuver their way out of it. (Yes, I realize this is only a policy, and policies change all the time, but not usually accompanied by this kind of publicity. The Church hates to appear to be caving in to social pressure, so even though this is only a policy it is one that will be very hard to overturn in the future.)

Our vision of social issues reflects the conservatism and provincialism of our Great Basin leaders. It is not a social world that I share (any longer). For now I can make that observation disinterestedly, academically, dryly. But for the first time in my entire Church life I can envision a time when my different social world view will so conflict with the positioning of the Church that I feel the need to disaffiliate. I hope and pray that that day never comes.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. A Happy Hubby says:

    Amen. Your post resonates with me. After a few years I was getting to where the history was not driving me away. Now it is possible that the present church leaders will drive me away.

  2. Yup.

  3. Yes this is absolutely how I feel as well. It’s a curious place to be

  4. Icing? What kind of gross banana splits are you eating??

  5. “Our vision of social issues reflects the conservatism and provincialism of our Great Basin leaders.”

    I don’t think that’s *all* there is to it. We really do seem to have a heterosexual theology of exaltation, and parts of the canon seem to have a reading that forbids homosexual practice. And if we ever do give the off-stage implied female deity her own lines, we are arguably doubling down on the heterosexual and gender essentialist cosmology.

    This isn’t necessarily a defense of the status quo, but as far as I can tell, it’s a reasonable description.

    So while we have a history of change — perhaps revelatory, perhaps simply coming when the tensions that exist are big enough that top leadership are absorbed in the relevant questions, perhaps both — I don’t think it follows that all our motivations or obstacles are in the social grounding of our leaders.

  6. Who is our Pope Francis?

  7. Careful there! You’re going to create a stereotype for us Mormon-heritage midwestern-grown Chicago lawyers. (We should meet someday.)
    Seriously, “leaving” is a multi-dimensional proposition and in some important ways I ‘left’ years ago for an entirely different category of reasons, and in other important ways I will never leave. But these social issues make me think about affiliation in a public, labeled, recognition sense. I so much want to say “not me, no, no, that isn’t me.” In fact I have felt it necessary to apologize to several of my close gay friends (whose response, by the way, was pleasant surprise that there were others like me who were troubled; they said they had thought I was a lone outlier.)

  8. alone in Zion says:

    It troubles me that Church leaders continue to lie about the history, share misinformation about the misogyny and racism that inspired polygamy, polyandry, and the priesthood ban for blacks. Living in a city in near Salt Lake City, I observe extraordinary amounts of depression among active LDS women, the exclusion of non-LDS from the LDS social groups, and the demeaning of those who espouse liberal political views, of gays, and of intellectuals and feminists.
    Blind obedience is required to both hold a temple recommend and sustain the brethren. The cognitive dissonance I experience to continue attending Church and the temple require an almost superhuman effort at times.
    I have observed that those who speak up about ecclesiastical abuse which is rampant in this part of Zion are either excommunicated or disfellowed. I choose to remain silent and to hold onto the vestiges of testimony that burned so brightly in my youth.
    Whether or not homosexuality is a heinous sin (Paul also said women should not speak in Church, and although I love many of his writings, I question his infallibility) and in the Old Testament, eating pork and having sex with a menstruating woman,among a long list of “sins” merited the death penalty.
    With the recent policy decisions regarding gays, the Church seems to be moving towards a pharisaical mindset that creates a culture of fear and exclusion which is antithetical to the commandment to love others as we love ourselves.
    I feel alone, exhausted, and discouraged.

  9. I worked closely with Kevin Barney a number of years ago on Scripture-L. I was always impressed by his honesty, rigor, and depth of scholarship. If I were asked for a model for a good approach to apologetics, he’d be right on the top the list, and this article is a perfect example of why. He doesn’t try to do what do many others have and try to find ways of arguing that the obviously racist polices (and let’s be frank and call them what they are: teachings) of the church for so many years were somehow justifiable and even God’s will. He does correctly point out that we were not the only ones to espouse these ideas, and that they were part of our contemporary Protestant heritage. But somehow, other Christian denominations have tended to recognize these ideas for the very human error they were and eschewed them. But we’ve continued to cling to them, and even now can’t seem to let them go.

    I remember the day in 1978 that the policy change was announced (I was 15 at the time.) I even remember where I was sitting in the overflow room during stake conference. I was astounded. I was overjoyed. As wrong as I thought this policy was, I never expected to see it change. But it did change and, as a church, we’re still trying to find ways of coming to terms with how wrong we were. Why not do the obvious: frankly admit our error and put it behind us? Some years ago, I attended a Lutheran (ELCA) church. Outside the sanctuary, in what we’d call the foyer, there were a number of pamphlets available, including one on Martin Luther’s anti-semitism. That really got my attention. They didn’t try to pretend that he didn’t say and teach certain things they probably would rather he hadn’t. They didn’t try to sugar coat them, or explain them away. They didn’t try to argue he was somehow right. They may have argued that he was a product of his time, but in no way did they justify the anti-semitism. Why can we not do the same?

    I’ve generally hesitated to share this story because I’m not that familiar with the writings of Martin Luther, and I am not able cite chapter and verse, so to speak. I’m just not familiar enough with what he actually said to be able to discuss it intelligently. I’m also not one to throw stones. But I was impressed by the approach the authors of this pamphlet took to a difficult historical issue. It is our shame that we cannot do the same when we look back at our own history.

  10. Kevin, as a very active member who has struggled considerably with this new policy, I appreciate your post immensely. Thank you for articulating my feelings. BCC has been a lifeline for me during this whole issue.

  11. Kevin, I have a lot of sympathy for what you are saying here, but…

    …it seems just as easy to say that my discomfort with the Church policy is a result of the fact that I am immersed in a cultural milieu — affluent, highly educated, academic, largely secular, etc. — in which the inevitability and rightness of same sex marriage is taken as self-evident. It seems to me that the cultural conditioning is a sword that cuts two ways.

    Also, while I would very much like to see a better way of accommodating gay members of the Church, and I think that it is a grave mistake to see opposition to same-sex marriage within the Church as a homophobic crochet born of generational ignorance. The heteronormativity of marriage is central to LDS notions of salvation and has been since Nauvoo. Our temple rituals are structured around it. The only person I have seen that has seriously tried to address this issue in a systematic way is Taylor Petrey, and frankly I think that his “Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology” is theologically unpersuasive.

    To pretend that the same-sex marriage is only a problem for Mormonism because of a bunch of homophobic old men in Salt Lake City with outdated and theologically vacuous ideas about sexuality offers no way forward because it is a fundamental misdiagnosis of the problem.

  12. Sometimes the Church is it’s own worst enemy. There are, simply put, dumb policies in the Church. For instance, a divorced man can never be a YSA Bishop and a divorced man has to wait 20 years before he can be a Bishop of a ward. Yet, that same man if he remarries can be exalted, a God but not a Bishop. In the Temple you have to wear long sleeves in the endowment room but you don’t for the baptistry, why is that? Why can’t women serve as ward clerks? my stake clerk bro. calls some church helpline all the time and sometimes gets a woman….I honestly wonder what next general conference will bring in terms of protestors and even people voting no in the Conference Centre. The Church is like Polka Music, you love it but it’s hard to defend it

  13. “The heteronormativity of marriage is central to LDS notions of salvation”
    I think this is correct (and have written about it elsewhere). As a result, a serious way forward requires reconsideration of Mormon doctrine at a fundamental level and I’m not at all sure it is possible. In the meantime, cultural homophobia shows up in efforts and failures to accommodate. There is much that could be done to accommodate, and while I might or might not find it satisfactory or even comforting, just trying or not trying says a lot.

  14. Let’s accept a priori that the heteronormativity described above is in fact central (something I’d want to probably qualify and defined very precisely before moving too far forward}. That still doesn’t mean that this policy was necessary or advisable.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks all for the overnight comments.

    Steve, I was trying to be cheeky by that mixed metaphor, and am glad to see that I hit my mark!

    Nate, to a certain extent I agree with you. I fully acknowledge that I inhabit a cultural milieu that takes LGBT rights as a given, and I fully acknowledge that I have been just as influenced by my cultural milieu as our leaders have apparently been influenced by theirs. We’re all social creatures, influenced to some extent at least by the dominant culture in which we live and breathe. But even as I can recognize the point intellectually, it’s not like I can climb into my brain and turn off the cultural conditioning switch. For me that conditioning is very real and by now has become an inextricable part of me.

    And I also acknowledge your point that heteronormativity may actually be hardwired into our theology. For me, that actually makes it worse, not better. I remember an old Grondahl cartoon that showed a man and woman in a celestial fine dining restaurant, very white glove kind of place. Floating near them is their waiter, who says “My name is Chad, and I’ll be your ministering angel for the evening.” I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that God somehow didn’t know or forgot that there were going to be gay people in this creation, and didn’t think to establish a meaningful path to exaltation for them just as is available for all the other children of this world. And to me lifelong celibacy is not such a meaningful path. Why does a sealed couple have to be a man and a woman? Why not a man and a man or a woman and a woman? Is the concern that they couldn’t naturally sire and bear spirits to populate their own worlds? Viviparous spirit birth was never taught by Joseph Smith and, in the words of our own J. Stapley, is a wildly popular folk belief, but not an essential to our doctrine. Whatever it is about our theology that requires heterosexual pairs only is something I simply don’t buy.

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    Just to be clear, I love the Church and wish nothing but the best for it. My hope is that comments will be specifically tailored to this particular issue or set of issues. I for instance am very interested in the theological issues; what exactly is it about homosexuality that simply is not countenanced by our theology as presently constituted and understood? Are there creative paths to accommodate those difficulties in a way that faithful members might be willing to countenance? What am I missing?

    (Note: with the holiday coming up my appetite for contention ls limited. If the comments begin to veer off this specific set of issues towards generalized griping against the church I’ll just close comments and have another slice of pie. So thanks in advance for playing nicely.)

  17. Nate,

    I’m not sure Kevin has written anything here which disagrees with your first point. You wrote:

    …it seems just as easy to say that my discomfort with the Church policy is a result of the fact that I am immersed in a cultural milieu — affluent, highly educated, academic, largely secular, etc. — in which the inevitability and rightness of same sex marriage is taken as self-evident.

    But what Kevin had said was:

    I grew up in northern Illinois and was very much a (religious) minority in school. My dad was a college professor [of education]. By most standards I’m pretty highly educated myself, and I work in a sophisticated finance legal practice in Chicago, a major urban center in the midwestern north. And just as my Mormonism has had an influence on me, those kinds of things have also had an influence on me. It was a long, gradual process, but over time I became a liberal-minded, egalitarian, progressive sort of guy (well, by Mormon standards, at least). That is my self-perception; that is how I relate to the world around me.

    Isn’t he, therefore, simply acknowledging the point that you made: that the dissonance which he is feeling with church teachings is a product of his (at least partially) culturally shaped perception of the world? Unless you want to connect a defense of the church’s new policies to a larger framework which presents itself as a necessary (divine?) response to secular individualism–which surely some people have tried to do, though I personally find those efforts which I’ve read flawed from the get-go–then I think you’re stuck with: some people respond to their cultural milieus one way, others respond to them a different way. Which isn’t anything different from saying: gosh, managing a top-down doctrinal structure in the midst of geographically and culturally diverse ecclesiastical contexts is hard.

  18. And…Kevin already made my point!

  19. Hook 'em Horns says:

    Kevin, you captured a lot of the angst that is being felt in the church right now. I love the church, warts and all, but there are times when the church and the gospel seem to be at odds. Thank you for articulating my views about this! It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my angst!

  20. Anonymous this time says:

    Thanks for the post, Kevin. I’ve never seriously contemplated leaving the church, and I’m not doing so now, but I’ll admit this policy change has saddened me and caused me to review my membership in ways that I didn’t think were possible.

    It isn’t so much my social liberalism that is behind this, because I’m not so culturally liberal. And while I can’t pinpoint my discomfort these days, it has something to do with the way so many people in the church seem happy to go along with an absurd policy simply because that’s what the high leadership wants. I have heard quite a few people say something to the effect of “I was shocked at this policy and thought it was a joke at first, but God is leading this church, and now I think it’s a great idea, because God wouldn’t steer us wrong.” The idea that there is any explanation for the policy other than that God directed it just doesn’t seem to occur to many people.

    And I wonder where my place is in a church that thinks that way. I love the expansiveness of Mormonism, and I admire the way that Joseph Smith, flawed as he was, was able to give new meaning to old symbols. And now I see the church narrowing its focus rather than broadening. It simply doesn’t sit right with me.

  21. This is not only very well written but I think it reflects the view point of a large portion of my non-Utah congregation of about 300 active/participating members. What this new policy has done is made people rethink their view of the brethren. It has weakened member’s views of them and their callings as seers/revelators. No one has left the church yet in my congregation but people feel detached from the leadership in SLC and I think there is even a little bit of distrust now that wasn’t present a month ago.

  22. SteveDensleyJr says:

    Kevin wrote: “I for instance am very interested in the theological issues; what exactly is it about homosexuality that simply is not countenanced by our theology as presently constituted and understood? Are there creative paths to accommodate those difficulties in a way that faithful members might be willing to countenance? What am I missing?”

    It seems to me that you much set aside much of what is being taught now, and what has been taught anciently, to accept the idea that homosexuality can be countenanced by our theology as a permanent condition of exalted beings. I’m sure you can think of many examples of what I am saying (and perhaps simply set them all aside as being culturally influenced, and not revelation from God). But to take just one: “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 11:11.)

    The question then becomes, at what point do we put aside our personal biases and accept that scripture and the modern prophets are speaking for God?

  23. “Icing on the cake” or “whip cream on the banana split”?

  24. Regarding the theological issues:
    a. I missed Taylor Petrey’s “Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology”. Is it available on-line or can anybody provide a citation or reference?
    b. My own theological wanderings take me back to the godhead. Once I get there I despair of ever finding a systematic theology that fully embraces homosexuality AND looks recognizable as Mormon.
    c. A suggestion for a way forward is to explore and develop a doctrine of variety and exceptions. We have a tendency to take a rule that clearly applies most of the time and make of it an idealized form that applies all the time. But that’s not a necessary move. In the alternative, might we develop a doctrine that defines the 95% case but allows for variety and exceptions on the edges?

  25. Like Kevin, I haven’t left the Church because of the craziness in its past, errors, sins, colossal mistakes among its members and its leaders (its leaders, after all, are just a subset of its members). Churches, including ours (which I accept as the “only true” church, however one defines it), are organizations of people, hopefully who are openhearted and openminded and susceptible to being led by God. Church history shows that sometimes we succeeded amazingly well, sometimes we fail catastrophically.

    In my lifetime and now, I have and do continue to witness the “craziness” of church history unfold, as leaders and members strive to discern and follow God’s will in good faith and as best we can, sometimes succeeding brilliantly and sometimes failing miserably. Hopefully over time we will do a little better than in the past, having learned some lessons from it (“learning from our own experience the good from the not so good”).

    Someone (Dr. Phil?) said the best predictor of a person’s or entity’s future behavior is the past. The past is a real mix in our church, there is no reason to believe the present or the future should magically become a utopia.

    Even if, one day, as I hope, we as a people and leaders get our practices and policies with respect to men and women to be more equitable, fair or even equal, and even if, one day, the church becomes a safe place for LGBTQ, there will still be more craziness ahead (who knows what kind). There will be tensions between the worldviews of the subset of members who are charged with leading it, and the worldviews of many of the members at large, and the worldviews of those in other faith and nonfaith traditions.

    That being said, it is so much easier to accept the craziness of the past than the apparent craziness of the present. From today’s vantage point, I can understand and not reject the church because of its past racism. But it was extremely difficult for me to deal with it at the time. Had the practice not ended in 1978, I wonder how many more years or decades I could have lasted in the church before concluding that the racism so contradicted its claim to be the true church that I should find a different spiritual home (or none at all). I have relatives and friends who reached that conclusion–that the church couldn’t possibly be true because of prophetically dictated racism–and left before 1978. None has returned, and to my knowledge, all are happy with their choice. I am glad I stayed. But it wasn’t easy.

    Just as individuals can make colossal errors and sins, and with God’s help get back on the right path and be healed, so can organizations (organizations, even, that are unable or unwilling to issue apologies). I see the world much as Kevin does. If we are right, I have the faith that the church (with God’s help and nudging) will change, just as it did on race and other things. If we are wrong, I hope I will have the strength to admit it.

    In the meantime, I am still along for the ride. And trying to live life the best I can, and to love my brothers and sisters who chose to stay for the ride or those who have or will decide that it is time to get off for a while or for good.

    May God bless us all, every one.

  26. SteveDensleyJr,

    The question then becomes, at what point do we put aside our personal biases and accept that scripture and the modern prophets are speaking for God?

    At what point do we put aside scripture and prophets when what they say about women contradicts our modern practices?
    1 Corinthians 14:34-35 – “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

    Or 95% of what Brigham Young said about women and polygamy.

  27. Changing celestial marriage to include gay marriage wouldn’t necessarily even be a huge deal. What would be required to change “exaltation is the union of two souls (one male and one female)” to “exaltation is the union of two souls”?

    First, you’d have to discard the idea that celestial marriage is about making spirit babies in the same way that physical babies are made. But frankly, the idea of spirit babies and spirit birth freaks out most Mormons anyway, so no big loss.

    Second, you’d have to concede that the inherent, eternal differences between men and women are less significant than the inherent, eternal differences between any two people–that is, you’d have to back off gender essentialism.

    But gender essentialism is already largely discredited. Gender is, by and large, a social construct, and different cultures have such very different definitions of “masculine” and “feminine” traits that trying to claim that gender as defined by 1950s America is somehow eternal doesn’t pass the laugh test.

    So, I’m not sure that hetereonormativity actually presents a huge problem, theologically speaking. Practically speaking, of course, its a huge problem–many Mormons, including the leadership, just don’t want gays in the Church. It’ll be interesting to see, in a century or so, once the Church leadership is made up of people who grew up in a country where gay marriage was legal, whether the policies will change.

  28. Scriptural or prophetic citations could be used to indicate support for either side of the argument. I think we can say that our understanding of homosexuality in general is greater than it has ever been and yet its place in God’s plan has yet to be fully understood. I think we can see that giving our gay brothers and sisters a place to participate inside society without being marginalized has been positive. I like Kevin wish the church could likewise provid a place for them. Truly, I hope bishops and leaders who know these people and have already accepted couples etc in their individual communities refuse to abide the policy.

    JS MANUAL
    “Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth: consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck; and his eyes are opened to see the truth, and truth greatly prevails over priestcraft. …

  29. Kristine A says:

    Amen and amen.

    My position is that our understanding of the Plan of Salvation is obviously incomplete. And our church has mashed this “stay celibate” position in to our current understanding to make it work and convicted nice ourselves we have a fullness and nothing more is needed.

    I hear these lessons at church all of the time. That what we have right now is full and complete with nothing more needed. We absolutely ignore AoF 9 in favor of running around shouting “a bible, a bible; we already have a bible!”

  30. Silver Rain says:

    I have seen many people actually strengthened in their testimonies of the brethren and God’s relationship to the Church.

    I think that there is no way to know what will happen in twenty years. But I also think we’re not asked to deal with what happens in twenty years, we’re asked to deal with now, in all it’s ignorance and ambiguity.

    I grew up in the military culture, which is a strange culture as an American to be a part of. It is almost caste-based. Rigid and authoritarian (because it quite literally means your life if you do not obey certain rules.) When living overseas, it is isolating as a small pond of Americans in a sea of completely different culture. I’ve lived with a form of noblesse oblige. I’ve lived as a barely-tolerated invader. As an adult, I’ve experienced cognitive dissonance between my actual background and the one everyone assumes is mine.

    Perhaps because of that, I see that cultural bias cannot be avoided. The only choice is to reach past political opinions, past assumptions, past judgment, and humble ourselves before God. I, personally, have found that He has a great deal more patience than any of us. He is willing to let evil dwell with good so that we can learn by our own experience to distinguish between the two.

    The brethren of the Church are His anointed leaders. Whatever their biases, whatever their supposed mistakes, they are His. Those who struggle with the policies of the Church are His children. He loves them. The mistakes, biases, political leanings, policies, all fade into meaninglessness in the face of the ultimate characteristic of each of us: we are the children of God, free to choose according to the dictates of our consciences, and answerable ultimately to only Him.

    At the risk of getting preachy, I think everyone who relies on any ideology, conservative or liberal, is going to be pretty well flummoxed when they finally stand before the bar of their Father.

  31. Eve of Destruction says:

    I’m sorry you’re going through this, Kevin. I know a lot of people who “left over historical issues” who actually went through social cognitive dissonance of the kind you describe for years and years while remaining active and believing. Different people experience things in a different order sometimes. For me, I both have strong Mormon cred (4 generations) and I felt strong discord between my values and the church’s values from at least age 9. I did not like the idea of my primary class being split between boys and girls the next year, because what’s so different about what the boys are doing to prepare for the priesthood that I don’t get to learn it, too? I started being told by anti-intellectual adults at church that I better be careful or I’ll think my way out of the church. I started asking my parents about all my favorite adults at church, who didn’t ever say such things, and gradually discovered they were either adult converts or had gone through long periods of inactivity. And I realized that the non-LDS culture that influenced them before they joined or while they were inactive, was what made me feel like they were kindred spirits. Of course I knew I couldn’t leave. But that was when my social cog dis started. At nine.

  32. Just a side note – Can we *please* put a stop to the concept that “n generations of successive church membership” means that one has LDS street cred? (Similarly – what callings your parents or ancestors had has no bearing on your LDS street cred.)

  33. Nate O’s point about cultural biases in the eye of the beholder is a good one. I wonder however if the type of skepticism regarding church policy expressed in the original post isn’t warranted when nearly all church policies seem to fit pretty darn closely with the views of the dominant political party in the Intermountain West. (There are some exceptions to this, I know, but not many that I can think of right off the top of my head. In any case, the “political affiliation” variable in our regression equation is most certainly statistically and practically significant.) Maybe it would be easier to accept claims of revelation on these matters if it seemed that the church was ruffling feathers on all points along the political spectrum. This doesn’t mean that it’s all politics all the way down. But it does raise questions I think about one’s moral obligations regarding following church policy. At the very least, it destabilizes the “divine command” ethic that seems to permeate the way many Mormons talk about obedience.

  34. Thanks for this, Kevin. It’s interesting at times to try to disentangle one’s personal politics and religious dispositions. Which came first? What was the source?

    I find that many of my best spiritual instincts flowed from the waters of Mormonism (e.g. “suffer the children”, “God is no respecter of persons”), and when something happens in the church that contradicts my best spiritual instincts, I feel that simply handing my free agency over to the arm of flesh is a slap in the face of the God who gave me such a precious gift.

  35. (*) “The decision not to give blacks the priesthood or access to the temples was a very human mistake. God had nothing to do with it.”

    We all know that (*) is obviously true. And we need to shout it from the rooftops. Embracing (*) allows us to move beyond the pointless and offensive search for tidy two-sentence “reasons” for this to be somehow God’s will. It allows us to fully acknowledge that much of what the leaders said about this subject was simply and completely Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Full stop.

    On the other hand we all know that (*) is obviously false. God didn’t have “nothing” to do with it. “CEO saw and didn’t stop” implies “CEO culpable.” Simple as that. You can say “CEO frequently chooses to be a fairly hands off CEO because…” but then you’re back in the reasons game.

    Maybe a better way forward is to embrace paradox. One thing we learn from the temple video is the impossibility of separating “God caused” from “God allowed” or “God was disappointed” from “God set the whole thing up” even in a twenty minute allegory with only four major actors and four major decisions (Satan tempts, Eve eats, Eve persuades, Adam eats). Maybe it’s time to stop pretending that we can tease apart “God’s will” from “not God’s will” on a grand global scale and just accept that anything we do and say is an approximation and a guess.

    Perhaps “What am I supposed to learn from this?” or “How can we make the best of this situation moving forward?” or “What can I personally change?” are more productive questions than “Why did God let this happen?” or “Was this God’s will?” We know next to nothing about the mechanism by which God influences the movement of 10^50 atoms on planet Earth, or the process by which God and humanity together pick out a path in His giant decision tree. Simplified fictions like “God caused X but only allowed Y” are useful in helping us cope but they are also brittle. They fall apart easily.

    I realize that I am not directly addressing the big question: “Should I stay in a church that seems to be making poor social policy decisions?” That’s a complex personal question. But I think that once we accept that the divine and the man-made are inseparably intertwined, and that we simply cannot put things neatly into one box or another (this applies both to social policy and Mormon history) we can be more realistic and charitable in our expectations. And we have a better shot at reaching a stable and mature decision.

  36. Lew Scannon says:

    Thanks, Kevin, for your honesty.

    “Well, if that’s what it takes, throw them under the bus already.” Couldn’t have been said better.

    Personally, I think the day will soon come when the Church is going to have to tackle the extremely messy issue of polygamy that the leaders have been avoiding (the Gospel Topics essays just kicked that particular can down the road). And at the same time, they will have to address the perceived infallibility of Joseph Smith that we have cultivated over the decades since his untimely demise. This isn’t going to be pretty, because we’ve rather effectively painted ourselves into a corner on this one. There are simply not very many convincing arguments that polygamy was inspired.

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    I personally am hesitant to prooftext Paul on marriage issues. He’s hard to read on that subject, and sometimes I get the impression that he views celibacy as the highest state with marriage an ok lesser option for those who can’t handle such rigors.

    I agree with a couple of commenters who noted the difference between broad general policies and specific exceptions. Elder Oaks has made this point vis-a-vis General Conference; what they say in that setting is intended for the broad audience of the Church, and if you are not in the set that they are talking about then the statement is not meant for you and you can responsibly ignore it; it is your responsibility to make that call. So broad statements about hetero marriage in the scriptures are not necessarily exhaustive of all possibilities.

    queuno, I quite agree with you about the subject of Mormon background cred. It shouldn’t matter in the least whether my ancestors go back to Nauvoo or the missionaries tracted me out last month. I only included that little snippet for strategic purposes in the post, but in the real world it shouldn’t matter at all

  38. Kevin Barney says:

    T, interesting point about “CEO culpability.” I admit to having certain Deistic tendencies, so my impulse is to put whatever happens on human leaders more than on God himself, but that may not be very satisfying for one who envisions God as heavily involved in the day-to-day details of this mortality.

  39. I hate to say it, but I guess I’m at the cog dis point where I’m more than willing to take my chances with waiting to enter the spirit world (if it even exists) and have God (if He even exists) start my re-education process as to the whole point of the universe (if there even is one). What I do know is that a lot of what I hear other people in Church say, on a monthly or even weekly basis, sounds an awful lot like false witness to me. Some abominations as defined in the OT we’re more than happy to discard as being mere silliness, others we cling to as if our supposed eternal lives desperately depend on our clinging to them. Well, it’s ALL starting to look awfully dang silly to me.

  40. Some thoughts/questions on the theology that seems related to SSM.
    1) In the background material that went out with the Q15’s response to the SCOTUS decision this summer, it is stated that “Homosexual behavior (a) violates the commandments of God, (b) is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, and (c) deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and (d) in the saving ordinances of the gospel.”
    (a) This seems to be a prophetic type statement, though we can compare it with the standard works. Where in scripture do we believe is an irrefutable declaration that SSM is “apostasy”? In seeking our own testimonies of such a prophetic statement, what does it mean if one does not get such a spiritual witness?
    (d) Similarly, it is the prerogative of the only man on earth who exercises all priesthood keys to decide who is eligible to receive ordinances and who is not. Again, this feels like an “either you accept it/have a testimony of it or you don’t”.
    (c) I do not know what is meant by “blessings found in family life”. Temporal blessings should be measurable by other means, but the literature of those who study such things seems mixed. Some find blessings in heterosexual families that are not present in other family situations. Though many suggest that the negatives apply to single parent families and not necessarily to families headed by a same-sex couple. Those that claim to distinguish between single parent families and same-sex couples and opposite sex couples often find that same-sex and opposite-sex families are similar in “blessings”. Perhaps there are obscure “spiritual” blessings that cannot be readily measured.
    (b) This, for me, is the biggest question here. I cannot recall anywhere in my time in the church where anyone laid out “the purposes of human sexuality.” Or maybe it is because the “purposes of human sexuality” that I have learned are procreation and “strengthening bonds of love between husband and wife”. Obviously homosexual behavior contributes nothing towards procreation, but, it could easily be argued that a lot of heterosexual behavior doesn’t either (with modern birth control and post-menopausal sexual activity, for example). Is there more to the purposes of human sexuality or how does this one violation really justify “apostasy” in this one case?

  41. Dave, your comment numbering system is on point.

  42. Yes, I noticed that after I submitted. I thought there would be more I wanted to say, but decided to end it where I did and neglected to go back and remove the references to multiple thoughts. Not very professional or logical or anything, but there it is.

  43. Since a good deal of this discussion relates to discerning between cultural and doctrinal beliefs, describing one’s background as a nth generation Mormon may be useful. Ideas handed down from g-g-grandparents aren’t necessarily credentials of authenticity, but anchors to tradition. It takes effort to recognize that ideas you held since childhood might not be correct, especially if you learned them at the knee of the family patriarch.

    But as far as bragging rights go – “my ancestor baptized your ancestor” doesn’t mean squat.

  44. Kevin: “Why does a sealed couple have to be a man and a woman? Why not a man and a man or a woman and a woman?”

    We might just as well ask why there are men and women in the first place.

  45. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Mark, you articulated that better than I did.

  46. “First, you’d have to discard the idea that celestial marriage is about making spirit babies in the same way that physical babies are made. But frankly, the idea of spirit babies and spirit birth freaks out most Mormons anyway, so no big loss.”

    Welp, there goes “I am a child of God.” At least, in the literal-ish sense most Mormons mean it, whether freaked out by exalted sex and spirit-babies or not.

    And like I said earlier, to some extent with it the idea of Heavenly Mother. No feminine deity required for spirit children? Truth as reason, truth eternal suddenly tells us… maybe we have a mother there, maybe we don’t. Which I suppose would provide another explanation for why we don’t hear from/about her. But then again, let’s be honest: as long as we want to pretend we’re just mainstream Christianity but with the right authority, we were going to keep her in the attic anyway.

  47. Clark Goble says:

    Jack (10:46) this seems the key issue that people are avoiding. If something akin to sexual difference is an essential feature of pre-mortal spirits and resurrected beings that has to be dealt with in questions of sealing. The issues of mortality seem different precisely because our bodies are products of evolution and our biology tied to the particular chemistry of DNA and how it produces our brain. Neglecting that in our analysis seems problematic.

    I should add that I think we’ll see more analysis like Kevin’s or last week Steve’s. And I don’t find them outside of the mainstream in the least. At least Steven noted some of the implications when he said he didn’t think we really know much of anything about the afterlife. While I might disagree with him, I think it undeniable that the social changes people want requires pretty deep and significant theological revision that neither the cessation of polygamy nor ending racial discrimination on the priesthood entailed. (Indeed on the priesthood issue even the most virulent racist acknowledged that blacks would eventually have the priesthood)

  48. D. Fletcher says:

    Blacks werent forbidden blessings or baptism or called apostates. I think gay couples would be happy to raise their children in the church, even if denied the Priesthood and exaltation. Why doesn’t anyone mention this?

  49. I feel much the same — thank you for expressing it so well. “I’ve become cynical about claims of revelation for positions that just happen to align with the cultural inheritance of our top leaders” reminded me of things I used to hear about the great apostasy. As a matter of getting along with other Christians, I appreciate that we don’t talk about that much anymore, other than to say that a restoration was necessary. The story I grew up with, though, is that the councils of historical Christianity (particularly those of Nicaea and Constantinople) got the truth all mixed up with Greek philosophy by preferring man-made theology to divine revelation.

    Of course, those councils had only bishops, and we have apostles and prophets, right? Well, those bishops had as good reason to think that they were the successors to the Apostles as our Quorum of the Twelve does. I believe that in both cases, the people most entitled to revelation for the Church are/were doing their best to act according to God’s will.

    When it comes to our own councils’ teachings on women or LGBT people (and former teachings on race), it sure looks an awful lot like we, also, prefer human philosophy to divine revelation. We have gender essentialism and heteronormativity instead of Gnosticism and Platonism, but we’re still teaching the cultural inheritance of top church leaders as revealed doctrine. Of course, it’s possible for revelation to confirm what we already know, and to say we had it right all along — I’m not saying that modern church leaders are in a state of apostasy. It’s suspicious, though, that all our teachings on the matter mirror what most Christians believed several decades ago (and what Evangelicals and other socially conservative denominations still teach), and look like post hoc rationalizations for why women can’t be ordained to priesthood offices, and why same-sex couples aren’t to be married.

    However, what’s the point of saying we’re uniquely led by revelation if we don’t know any more than the Evangelicals do? It seems to me that a *revelation* on the matter, from the God who plans to yet reveal many great and important things, would teach us something new. It might or might not change our practices, but if it doesn’t, it should at least give us a better understanding of what God’s plan is, and why. We do have a bit about married couples being exalted together, but that still really fails to explain anything about why it’s so important that those be opposite-sex couples, or even what it means to be an exalted woman: Mother in Heaven exists, but what does she do? There is plenty of room for revelation, but we only assert that God wants us to keep doing what we’ve already done — if this *is* revelation, it looks an awful lot like not-revelation.

  50. Great post. An unfair but instructive question is whether you would join the church in 2015 if you weren’t born into the church. I would guess that 90% of the commenters and bloggers here were raised in the church. And perhaps a fair majority of you all would not have affirmatively chosen to join the church – especially after this most recent policy change. The transaction costs to leaving the church of our birth and our religious community are prohibitively high for most of us – uniquely so as compared to many other religions. I liked Elder Uchdorf’s admonition to lift where you stand, but it can be an alienating proposition in practice. Maybe the transaction costs should be reassessed.

  51. Very refreshing view!

  52. “I admit to having certain Deistic tendencies, so my impulse is to put whatever happens on human leaders more than on God himself, but that may not be very satisfying for one who envisions God as heavily involved in the day-to-day details of this mortality.”

    Kevin, I agree, but I think this arises also pretty much anywhere on the Deism spectrum. “God only gets involved to this extent” automatically raises the “Why not more?” question and once again we are back to (unsatisfying) speculation about reasons.

    The solution I am proposing is that we stop expecting satisfaction, stop trying to divide things neatly into “fallible human” and “ordained of God” boxes, and just accept that whatever gift God has given us has good, bad, human, and divine all inseparably mixed together, and that this is part of the essence of the gift. I am aware that this solution is itself not especially satisfying.

  53. appreciate this post, Kevin. I feel very much the same way. Historical issues make me question stuff, but it’s current practices–social issues–where there’s pain being inflicted on people right in front of me to satisfy Church leaders’ view of what the Church should be, that really feels like a kick in the gut.

    I also like zig’s point:

    “I wonder however if the type of skepticism regarding church policy expressed in the original post isn’t warranted when nearly all church policies seem to fit pretty darn closely with the views of the dominant political party in the Intermountain West. (There are some exceptions to this, I know, but not many that I can think of right off the top of my head. In any case, the “political affiliation” variable in our regression equation is most certainly statistically and practically significant.) Maybe it would be easier to accept claims of revelation on these matters if it seemed that the church was ruffling feathers on all points along the political spectrum. ”

    Extending the idea of a statistical model just a little bit, I feel like there’s *so much* in what comes out of Salt Lake that can be accounted for by the age, gender, sexual orientation, race, political leanings, etc. of who is saying it that I struggle to find any variance that I could attribute to inspiration, even if I took the most charitable reading and counted all the residual as inspiration.

    And Mark N., you put it so well too:

    “Some abominations as defined in the OT we’re more than happy to discard as being mere silliness, others we cling to as if our supposed eternal lives desperately depend on our clinging to them. Well, it’s ALL starting to look awfully dang silly to me.”

    Amen.

  54. Kevin Barney says:

    Anon2, interesting question, but sort of useless in my case, for this reason: I have long felt that were I not born into the faith that I simply cannot imagine joining it as a convert. Probably more out of a sense of inertia than anything else, I suppose. But if two random dudes in short sleeved white shirts and too short ties knocked on my door in this alternate universe, I simply cannot fathom the circumstances under which I would have let them in. Maybe if I had a friend who was Mormon and introduced me to the Church, but in that case it would be more a matter of friendship and trust, at least initially, than some sort of analysis of truth claims on my part. Which is why I view converts to the Church as sort of superheroes, as I cannot fathom doing what they have done, and I find it very impressive.

    T, a very interesting thought experiment, but I confess that if I try to follow it too far it overheats my brain and gives me a headache. I fear I just don’t have the capacity for abstract thought on that level.

  55. Kevin Barney says:

    Ziff, I think you hit on what at least part of the difference is. I kind of like our historical oddities; they’re unusual and pique my curiosity, and I find them interesting to think about. But policies that adversely affect flesh and blood people in the here and now are not an antiseptic thought exercise; real people, real families are being hurt by these policies.

  56. Kevin Barney says:

    I like it, john f.

  57. lastlemming says:

    I think gay couples would be happy to raise their children in the church, even if denied the Priesthood and exaltation.

    If D. Fletcher says this is true, I suppose I have to believe him.

    But seriously. If instead of the new policy, the Church had announced that it was welcoming gays as a distinct class of second-class citizen, how many of you would have considered that praiseworthy?

  58. Clark Goble says:

    Mike (11:23) Wasn’t the issue with the apostasy and the creeds what was new? While it’s true Augustine injected a lot of platonism from his background into Christianity the real issue was something novel – creation ex nihilo. I think had he stuck to platonism he’d have created far less problem. Even ignoring that though the fundamental issue was a change in how God was viewed towards the absolute of Greek philosophy. Admittedly that change was taking place during Christ’s lifetime in Judaism. But it was that notion of novelty that seemed the biggest problem from a modern Mormon view.

    In this case the fundamental issue isn’t the culture of leaders but new novel ideas being injected into Mormonism. Now of course both Joseph and Brigham had novel ideas. But they most emphatically weren’t cultural-normative ones. Today the issue seems to be more than the culture of the leaders is out of step with rapid cultural-normative change in society at large.

    Again I’m not saying what’s right or wrong in this. But we really are asking for pretty significant theological revision because of that rapid cultural change in society. Maybe it’s right. But I think those advocating it should realize just how much they are asking the church to jettison. I don’t there there are any parallels.

    I also think we have to be careful assuming the Brethren aren’t praying about this simply because we see it not dealing with all the injustices. I’m sure they are. And certainly they are far more in tune with the spirit than I am. Again I think those who think the church should make a change are neglecting to think through all the implications of change.

    Anon2 (11:27) I think transaction costs are an interesting way of looking at it. While I don’t think our retention is necessarily as high as all other faiths in certain other ways the costs of being Mormon are much higher. However as others have noted faiths which ask too little seem to be dying fastest of all movements. The question of what attracts converts, especially outside of the US, Canada and Europe, is an interesting one. I’m sure the church has done studies on this but I’m not aware of public data on this.

    D. Fletcher (11:17) I think that’s a good point. I don’t quite understand this change for kids myself. I also think that for most of the consternation the issue is what’s perceived to be an injustice. So just living with it probably isn’t sufficient to most people writing on the issue. But I think it’s an important point to be raised.

  59. john f., I agree that the policy itself isn’t explicitly held forth as a revelation. But there’s a problem where everything is treated as revelation, that seems to make it difficult or impossible to get anything new. The reason our councils are supposedly not like the apostasy-causing councils of old is supposedly that ours are led by revelation. They teach that when they all agree, the will of God is known. Based on that teaching, the new policy, having been approved by the First Presidency and the Twelve, is put forth as the will of God. Beyond the policy itself, gender-essentialist teachings are often asserted to have been revealed: even if Elder Packer softened that language in his published description of the Family Proclamation, I believe he said what he meant the first time. Also, Elder Oaks asserts that the Lord has directed that women are not to be ordained — without pointing to to any scripture where the Lord directed that, he can only mean that the Lord directed the Apostles in some other way (possibly by their own unanimous agreement).

    I am less certain that when they all agree, the will of God is known. Sometimes, maybe they all agree for other reasons. I love the idea of praying, privately and publicly, for God to give direct revelation on the matter. I also believe, though, that we will need to change some ideas about how much has already been revealed, if our hearts and minds are actually going to be open to receive more.

  60. On Sunday I attended the re-dedication of the Montreal temple. Speakers included L. Whitney Clayton and Gerald Causse. Can you think of two GA’s more different in their social perspectives? Elder Clayton spoke about protecting the church from the influences of the world. Elder Causse spoke about how the gospel is a refuge and how it can bring peace to our lives regardless of outside circumstances. (I found this particularly poignant considering recent events in his homeland.)

    I’m sure each man sees himself as doing what is right. I prefer Elder Causse’s perspective. It feels more restful to me to rely on the Lord rather than to take on the world. My LDS cred: my grandparents joined the church in Europe before my mother was born. I was raised in Canada by my inactive LDS mother and my Catholic father. I ALWAYS had cog dis. When I left the Catholic church in my teens to join the LDS church we were right in the middle of all the ERA politics of the 1970’s. The LDS church always seemed to be a mixture of American politics mingled with scripture. (Still is today, unfortunately.) But I joined anyway because of the core doctrines. Somewhere underneath all of the cultural trappings was a testimony of the restoration.

    So for me there has always been a difference between the gospel and the institutional church. This has been a lonely place at times, especially when surrounded by peers for whom the LDS culture is paramount. (I am reminded of my time at BYU — although parts of that experience were great.)

    What helped me was an understanding of free agency. I think free agency is the most important thing there is to our Heavenly Parents. I mean we fought a war over it! Free agency is so important that God allows all manner of evil in the world. I don’t claim to understand why, only that it must be that important. I believe that mistakes are built into the program. And that goes for the church too. Even with just a cursory reading of the Old Testament one is forced to acknowledge major screw up after major screw up on the part of kings and prophets. Same goes for The Book of Mormon. The New Testament is filled with doctrinal discussion. Peter and Paul did not get along. So why should out current era be any different? Conflict and human frailty are part of the program. It amazes me that the Lord even entrusts his church to us at all when he knows that we aren’t always going to get it right.

    For me personally the answer is to focus on the Lord to whom I am ultimately accountable. I cannot influence church policy one iota. I can only control how I treat the people in my immediate circle. If a church policy is not in harmony with the teachings of the Saviour, then I feel free to ignore it. No one in Salt Lake can force me to give up my gay friends. That simply is not in their power. I try to be an influence for good in the world. I keep my focus on the Saviour. He is my true north.

    Of course if I support the institutional church with my tithing, and the church institutes un-Christlike policies, then I am also part of the problem. That is something we each have to weigh for ourselves. But I try to do that in a context of understanding that the earthly church never has been and never will be perfect.

  61. N. W. Clerk says:

    If ever I would leave the Church, it wouldn’t be in summer . . .

  62. Kevin Barney says:

    Thank you all for participating in the discussion\. I have found it enlightening, and I appreciate you being on such good behavior for so charged a subject. As it is Thanksgiving Eve I would like to go out to a movie, and I can’t very well ask my blogmates to babysit this thread for me on such a day, so I’m going to go ahead and close comments at this time. We had a good 16 hours worth, and I want to thank you for the many enlightening thoughts, I very much appreciate it.