The duty of those who disagree

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you disagree with a given policy of the Church. I’m picking a policy, but this hypothetical isn’t necessarily about THAT policy, it could be lots of different policies. I’m also deliberately sidestepping the policy vs doctrine vs revelation tempest, though of course in this Church you can never fully avoid that tack. Anyways: you disagree with an articulated policy of the Church. What is your duty? What should you do? Let’s run through the permutations.

First, you can say nothing/do nothing. Just keep going to Church as usual, keep your opinions to yourself. If the policy doesn’t affect you directly, no action from you.

Second, you can be vocal in your opposition to the policy, but do nothing. You continue with your Church membership as usual, but you might blog or something about your disagreement. But you still do what the Church asks.

Third, you can both be vocal and take affirmative steps of some sort. Obviously, if the policy affects you directly, you can refuse to comply. If you’re not directly affected, you could refuse to pay tithing or stop attending or any number of other courses of action.

Fourth, you could adopt some sort of middle road, where you grumble a little, maybe leave some sort of grumpy Facebook wall remark, and slacken off at Church.

Church members have a number of duties, some of which can come into conflict with each other. A partial list: duty of loyalty to the Church, a general duty as followers of Christ to do His will, a civic duty of liberty and freedom, a duty of honesty and candor, a duty to avoid evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed, a duty of humility, a duty of loving one’s family, a duty to love your neighbor. Ideally these duties are all harmonious with each other. If they aren’t harmonious, then the question arises of a hierarchy among them. That hierarchical question can be answered a few different ways, depending on the source. Some people will place the duty of family above all others. Some will place the duty towards the Church first. Fundamentally, the Holy Ghost must teach us our primary duties. The Scriptures are a valuable resource, but even they may not be perfect (for example, the Old Testament is MESSED UP). Further, the content of these duties is open to debate. For example, if you are truly loyal to the Church, can you never criticize it? Or does your duty of loyalty to the Church actually require you to work towards improving the institution? Again, the answer to those questions is highly fact-specific, and it’s imperative that each member of the Church pray and receive guidance from the Holy Ghost.

However: even if we assume that a given policy of the Church puts our priorities into conflict, that conflict does not result in the elimination of the trumped duty. Rather, we remain responsible to carry out that duty to the extent we can. If you believe, for example, that you cannot fully fulfill your duty to your family and be loyal to the Church as an institution, the appropriate solution is not complete abandonment of one or the other, but rather to fulfill the primary duty, AND to fulfill the secondary duty as much as possible. I am not convinced that a hierarchy of duty necessitates the elimination of secondary duties.

Ultimately, if I disagree with a policy (or if I disagree with a rationale for a policy, or I disagree with a General Conference talk, etc.), I’m going to pray about it, think about it, #ponderize, talk with friends and leaders, and try my best to do what I feel is right. But ultimately, my disagreement does not necessarily negate my duty. If I think a policy is bogus and that the articulated rationales for it are inaccurate or whitewashing, that does not necessarily mean that I no longer need to be loyal to the Church or that suddenly I should feel free to talk smack about the Brethren. Conversely, mindlessly — and spirit-lessly — advocating a policy that hurts your family may be inappropriately neglecting an important duty.

Are there times when conflicts between priorities requires us to negate one of them as a duty? Potentially, yes. Whether or not you are living in one of those times is up to you to determine in accordance with the inspiration given to you. In the meantime, the juggling act between our various duties as Latter-day Saints means doing the best we can with respect to all of our individual obligations.


  1. SilverRain also wrote an interesting post about our duties today wherein she said “It is my job as a baptized member of the Church to display the compassion and inclusion that the Church cannot display in its policies.”

    Still mulling it over.

  2. Yes, I think she’s right.

  3. “However: even if we assume that a given policy of the Church puts our priorities into conflict, that conflict does not result in the elimination of the trumped duty. Rather, we remain responsible to carry out that duty to the extent we can. If you believe, for example, that you cannot fully fulfill your duty to your family and be loyal to the Church as an institution, the appropriate solution is not complete abandonment of one or the other, but rather to fulfill the primary duty, AND to fulfill the secondary duty as much as possible. I am not convinced that a hierarchy of duty necessitates the elimination of secondary duties.”

    Best thing I’ve ever read in the B’nacle.

  4. All this talk of duties makes me wonder if there wasn’t a profound gospel parable that I have missed out on while watching Nacho Libre this whole time. I can say recent policies have left me actually wonder at the idea of becoming a Lucha Libre wrestler for the first time in my life, or at least wearing stretchy pants in my room once in awhile (proverbially-speaking). At this point, the orphans are helping me stick with my burlap robes, cooking duty, dead guy duty, etc. Even if the leftover beans are giving me indigestion, I know that I wouldn’t wear recreation clothes all that well anyway.

  5. I believe you misused the “word” ponderize. I believe there is a component of memorization in it. Would you memorize a conference talk you disagreed with? My request is that you not use the “word” at all. It is the worst example of marketing-all-things-Church that anyone has come up with. I certainly would not memorize Elder Whats-His-name’s talk concerning it. There I spoke up on something I disagree with. Please deep six the use of that awful term.

  6. How about following the words of Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount! Seems to me that just about covers everything if we are Christians, doesn’t it?

  7. Well stated, Steve.

  8. This sounds good in theory Steve, but is exhausting in practice. As a parent, I am constantly trying to mitigate the negative influence of the church on my children. I know what is most important to me, and it turns out not to be my loyalty to the Brethren. This costs me dearly – peace of mind, trust of family, respect of community, a feeling of belonging in my spiritual home. At what point do you decide that your children deserve better? I am not talking about throwing the baby out with the bathwater; I am talking about being able to testifying to my posterity that true discipleship transcends sexism, racism, bigotry, and pride? I am weary of feeling mired down by these issues within my faith.

  9. christiankimball says:

    “the appropriate solution is not complete abandonment of one or the other, but rather to fulfill the primary duty, AND to fulfill the secondary duty as much as possible”
    I agree with this key point and appreciate it being said. However, I don’t think it’s particularly radical or novel; I think most people most of the time feel and live that way, even if they can’t say it so clearly. The difficulty is more that other people may not accept my priorities or my “as much as possible.” The rest of the world (church, family, employer, etc.) often wants to set my priorities for me.

  10. The rule of priorities can be rearranged when you are employed by the institution. Even if you have another job as an option.

  11. At the risk of sounding terribly braggart, I will say that I had a profound disagreement with the Church on the priesthood restriction, something that began when I was fourteen and remains with me at age sixty. I was absolutely serious about my fidelity to the church, and prayed in 1998 for some assignment which would use my talents in a way that wouldn’t be for my own vanity but which would make a difference. I did not know what that assignment would be. I did not imagine that I would be returned to the issue which had so disturbed me in the 1960s. But that’s what it was–and yes, it was an assignment from the Lord and I was given a companion who would help me understand things better: Darius Gray. I would not have imagined in 1998 that Darius and I would end up writing three historical novels, make two documentaries, become fireside speakers on the issue, and have an impact on the essay which the Church put out disavowing the Curse of Cain garbage and other common folklore. I did not seek it. I simply asked that a door be opened to a place where I could do some good.

  12. The Other Clark says:

    Great post.
    As one of the more conservative readers of this blog, I know many conservative members who struggle with (1) the Church’s continued support of scouting (2) The ban on concealed carry in meetinghouses, (3) Welcoming refugees to the U.S despite the lack of vetting, etc. I’m convinced that active members on both sides of the political aisle struggle with church policy.

    One additional suggestion: Pray for the policy to change. (h/t “How to Dissent Like A General Authority”

  13. Well said Steve. Ultimately we are on the hook for our own salvation. I don’t think we get a pass on the necessary ordinances, church attendance, and service because we disagree with a policy.

  14. bwmwhitney says:

    What I’ve concluded is that it all comes down to whether I am willing to live the practices of Mormonism, perhaps even despite grievances that I may have with the social/cultural/political climate within the church’s leadership. Where do I find my meaning, ultimately?

  15. True Blue says:

    What a shame that one of the options is not to convey your concern to the leaders, and get an honest explanation of their justification, with opportunities for follow up questions?

    Prophets used to do questions and answers, with modern technology it should be easier, why is it not.

    The more the leaders continue to (in my judgement) teach their culture as if it is Gospel, and now claim it is revelation, the less credibility they have.

  16. Does anyone ever consult Jesus? Didn’t he say what was most important in the Sermon on the Mount?

  17. Brother Sky says:

    I think conscience plays a big part in this. I can’t speak for anyone else re their responses to any policy change, revelation, whatever. I do know that I trust my conscience more than I trust my leaders, and I’m okay with that. If my conscience tells me something is wrong, I usually feel compelled to pursue a course of action. That action can be relatively simple, such as talking to my bishop about it, or it can be something more complex/larger, such as writing letters, speaking out in my testimony, etc. if I feel that my conscience dictates that I do that. In my experience, it is my conscience that most enables me to navigate between the scylla of my duty to my internal moral sense and the charybdis of my duty as a Mormon.

  18. And how do you define ‘conscience’? Jesus said that the ‘kingdom of God is within’ (not a piece of real estate). Do you read the sermons of Jesus and listen to that ‘voice within’?

  19. Elayne, you’ve made several comments but your overall point is unclear to me. Where are you going with your remarks?

  20. Brother Sky says:

    Hi Elayne. Thanks for your question. Actually, the word “within” in that quote is probably mistranslated and Jesus meant something more like “among”. What most people call the conscience is what the church calls “the light of Christ” and I suppose I take that meaning relatively literally. I certainly read the words of Jesus and pray and reflect when considering any action that might run afoul of the church’s way of doing things. I feel that my moral sense, such as it is, is one thing Christ provides in order to help me live a moral life, to follow his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and other places more closely. When that moral sense conflicts with what my church leaders tell me, I always follow the dictates of that moral sense rather than my leaders. Doing so has enabled me to stay a (relatively) faithful member. YMMV.

  21. Brother Sky says:

    Steve, I tried to answer Elayne’s question the best way I could. Hope I didn’t make things more muddled.

  22. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I was praying about turning in my recommend with the non-clarified policy–as I felt, as a non-sustainer, it was, perhaps, the most honest action. Then the clarified policy came out and, though my concern remained, the need to take that drastic action abated. I just last week listened to the talk and tone of Elder Nelson’s description of the events (as he spoke about them in the BYU-H devotional) and did feel that whatever the various scenarios and permutations discussed in the apostolic counsels, the actions were not dealt from lack of love–as unloving as, individually, they might seem.

    “Please deep six the use of that awful term.” Agree with that. I wish had deep sixed the talk altogether.

  23. #ponderize

  24. I can sympathize with JB–sometimes the exhaustion is overwhelming.

    Similar to True Blue, but not exactly the same, I think it may actually be our “duty” to write our own letters to our leaders to explain our thoughts. In order to hold the leaders accountable for their decisions and teachings, perhaps we need to put in writing to them, in “closed letters” our feelings on the subject. At least then we have done our part. I am not suggesting that we seek to counsel the Lord, but that we take responsibility and accountability for our share of the burden. Perhaps nothing comes of it. But, at least it can not be said that we were silent in the face of something we felt was wrong.

  25. Brother Sky: You ‘got’ what I’d hoped. And I really ‘feel with’ your answer. But I’m a bit troubled by your writing: “Actually, the word “within” in that quote is probably mistranslated and Jesus meant something more like “among”. Among means something entirely different. ISN’T THAT A BIT ‘PRESUMPTIVE’ ON YOUR PART? Church leaders have always admired Tolstoy. Have you ever read him on this subject?

  26. Move along, Elayne.

  27. Mephibosheth says:

    I LOL’d at the #ponderize. Both times.

    Margaret, we watched Nobody Knows for FHE yesterday, it being MLK, Jr. Day and all. I really appreciate your thoughts here.

    Great post, and great comments.

  28. Steve, I love this line so much: “But ultimately, my disagreement does not necessarily negate my duty.” I think this sentence has been missing from much of my thought process as I’ve worked through things over the past years, and in particular since November. I feel like maybe I’ve been functioning with this notion, but had not been able to put words to it. I do still feel a duty to the people in my ward, and often, surprisingly so to myself, when I talk with friends about the gospel. Thanks for this post, lots of useful things to think over as we all move forward.

  29. BREAKING NEWS – The “Duty to God” award has been updated – now called “Duty to Brethren” – will post more news as it becomes available.

  30. UPDATE – Apparently the rationale for the newest policy is that millenials were getting confused with all the different messages they were hearing…”Follow the Prophet,” “Duty to God” etc. To make it really clearer, correlation kicked in – gave God the boot (who needs God when you have the Brethren, after all).

  31. I’m not sure how you define duty. I prefer to couch my reactions to doctrine, policy, teachings, and procedure in terms of covenants. “How can I keep my covenants in responses to (insert issue.)” That helps me internalize the issue and think about what I might do. Many of the responses I’ve seen mentioned on the internet (turn in temple recommend, slack off of calling, quit attending sacrament meeting, quit paying tithing, etc) don’t strike me as being conducive to covenant keeping, but everyone has to make their own decisions.

  32. I have been wrestling with this issue for nigh onto 6 years now (as I know many have). I still don’t have an answer better than “follow your conscious” but thanks Steve for a though provoking post. What complicates this for me is the situation where it feels like there is immediate, observable, active harm AND a glacially slow feedback cycle. If there were *viable*, *legitimate* avenues of feedback (ok dissent) and there was some confidence that there was at least the hope of fixing the system causing active harm on some reasonable time scale then I would find it much more possible to feel that a hierarchical ordering of my duties would make things more easily reconcilable. However, as those paths are not only shut off but actively discouraged and the time scale elongates to one that would appear to encompass the rest of my mortal life and through the adulthood of my own children, it makes it harder and harder to reconcile the competing priorities. This is, of course, just my thoughts and feelings. Others don’t feel the disconnect so profoundly or can simply better reconcile the disconnect.

    In the end I think (but am open to reconsidering) that for me, giving resources in terms of time, energy and money to the institution is something I don’t think I can do. And while I don’t for one minute think that my and my family’s absence alone will do anything and even make the church poorer, after years and years of working to help affect change this seems like the only thing in aggregate that might constitute an effective feedback cycle. So I have decided maybe that is my very small role to play in what will be a generation long struggle to keep the institution from imploding. I admire others who can and assuredly will continue to play a more involved and active role like Margaret and Darius have done in their sphere.

    Thanks for a great post.

  33. Steve Evans, don’t be a brat, #ponderize, indeed.

  34. Ann: [smiley emoji]

    IDIAT: What you might be missing in your comment is that not all of our duties arise from explicit covenants. Our duties to our families, for example, are innate and independent of religious oaths. Covenant is a useful framework when such oaths have been taken, but it’s not sufficient to describe the entire realm of who we are and what we are to be doing.

    Rah: I feel you.

  35. This topic is mostly approached as an intellectual exercise, and “disagree” is certainly a set up for rational discourse. But that’s not all there is. Worth throwing into the pot is my experience with finding myself physically unable to take the sacrament. (It’s only happened twice.) And unwilling, unable, shaking at the thought of, sitting for a temple recommend interview or any other kind of worthiness interview. (Ongoing.) And sitting in sacrament meeting seeing red (anger red, like everything in the room is splashed with a warning sign). And thinking about my children, their lives and experience, with a passion that does not leave space for analyzed and dissected prioritization. The little guy sitting in the frontal lobe isn’t completely in charge.

  36. A Happy Hubby says:

    Steve – you described my frame of reference to a T. I need to leave space for those that feel God giving them a different answer, but MY direction being given to me by what I think is the Holy Ghost is just as valid. In the end I will have to stand before my Savior and be asked if I did what HE told me, not fallible humans. Now I do need to listen to my leaders, but then I must get MY direction from God if that message is from God for ME.

  37. I know from my own experience that if I find peace with a particular policy that my spiritual life grows because ive drawn my perverbial “line in the sand” in the past amd all it did was delay my progress. Oh yes I learned something that could only be learned in the situation I had drawn for myself but it came with a need to repent that was very painful. Now there are things ive learned about repentance and sacrifice that have strenthgten my commitment to the church, the priesthood, and most importantly Jesus’ s gift to me as my savior.

    The lord wants us to be a living sacrifice in both body and will and that means submitting our will and actions to the cause He is supporting named as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

  38. I don’t see the mention of disciplinary action here in terms of disagreeing. The church is not a safe space to disagree. I have spoken up my disagreement in Relief Society and Sunday school and what I got from that is being “tattled on” and brought into the bishops office for one of the most awkward and inappropriate discussions I have ever had. There are consequences for respectfully disagreeing : loss of community, loss of callings, loss of temple recommendations and a loss of feeling like your church is safe.

  39. Steve,
    I know this comment is late in the game but I couldn’t help thinking, as I was reading your post, doesn’t the church (as in the capital C Church) also have a duty to it’s members? What are your thoughts on that?

  40. Kristen, yes, absolutely it does. Maybe that’s a topic for another post.