Sunday, October 03, 2010

Attempting to handle Church leaders I disagree with....

A friend of mine emailed the following question to me tonight, knowing about my frustrations with this weekend's general conference.
 I wondered if you could share with me your feelings as you hear church leaders say things you may intellectually disagree with. Do you try to bend your mind to that way of thinking or do you find it easy to dismiss comments you don't immediately agree with? 
There are some things here that I should probably be keeping in the closet, but I'm in a bad mood, so it's all coming out now. Here was my reply:

I'll be honest. Sometimes I wonder why it is that I am still a member of the Church. I don't necessarily believe in many of the traditional metaphysical beliefs (e.g., I don't think that there exists a priesthood “power”), and I struggle with literally accepting some of the foundational claims—did Joseph literally see God the Father and Jesus, or did he just see them with his “spiritual” (mind’s) eye? How many of the accounts of angels literally happened? Or were they just remembered? I must admit though that I have a hard time seeing the Book of Mormon as purely fictional. For me it just seems too authentically historical, though I think that it certainly has 19th century influences and aspects. Regardless of whether these accounts were literally, I'm fine though. I don’t see them as lies or intentional deception. I love the narratives and adopt them into my own historical understanding, even if I might not accept them all literally.

Do I think that this is the “only true Church”? I’m not sure what that means. I believe that any Christian/Buddhist/Muslim/Atheist who actively seeks to help others and build a better world counts as sufficient in God’s eyes.

I have often told myself I am Mormon because I share the values of the Church, but with Prop 8 and all its baggage, this has been a real challenge for me. When I read the scriptures I see an emphasis on caring for the poor and oppressed. For the Israelites, Nephites, and Jesus-era Jews, the most condemned of sins was almost always in their neglect of the oppressed. A particular cry from the OT prophets was that they put their rituals and other “religious” practices on a pedestal and failed to do what God wanted them to do--help the poor.

Isaiah is a fine example, he cried out:
“Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment[economic justice], relieve the oppressed, judge[seek economic justice for] the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:10-17)

Isaiah’s criticism was not just that they were neglecting the poor, but that they had done so by emphasizing their worship and priesthood rites. God is rejecting their rites, saying that he will not accept them until they have taken care of the poor around them.

This, I believe, was Christ's motive of clearing out the money-changers from the temple. It wasn't a criticism of the money changers, they were a necessary function of the temple (just as the clothing rental in our temples is necessary). The temple had become a “den a thieves.” A den of thieves is not where thieves go to do their work, but where they go to hide and seek protection with their sins. By emphasizing temple worship the Jews had thought that temple rites were what made one righteous, and that it was all that what was required of them. Their emphasis on the temple and worship enabled them to ignore the poor. By cleansing the temple, Jesus was closing up shop and not allowing them to use the temple.

My point in this is that I sometimes doubt that the “morals” of the Church share my morals. I too often feel like that our emphasis on rites, worship, beliefs, priesthood, etc have turned our Church into a largely Pharisaic organization. The temple feels like a den of thieves where rich Mormons (who make up almost the entire leadership) can go to feel good about themselves and say to hell with the poor. What God cares about is not whether you helped your employees secure health care and an adequate wage, but whether you went to the temple this month. It is not about how you were a good Samaritan who reached outside your faith to help the downtrodden, but how often you read your scriptures and prayed. It is not about understanding and working with those who share different views, but how strongly you stood against them. That is not my God.

Even harder for me has been Prop 8. You know all my feelings there, so I don't have to elaborate.

Sorry for the rant. The question is how I go about dealing with this? For the longest time I would desperately try to hold onto talks by President Uchtdorf and occasionally President Monson, who seem to understand that God ultimately cares for how we treat and help others, and not on religious superiority or worthless fights against homosexuality and secularism. I would just have to ignore the rest, or try as hard as I could (and sometimes it would be very hard) to find something especially redeeming.

The problem with this is that in doing so, I feel more and more and more like the leadership has no special claim to inspiration or revelation. I have no reason to believe that they are any more inspired than those who give talks in my own ward. If I grasp at straws as much as I have to with general conference, I could probably find my home ward talks just as (or even more) inspired.

I love Uchtdorf's talks. His line last night that “Our team is the brotherhood of men” was so powerful. Was he able to be inspired in this way because he is an apostle in the first presidency? Or is he just an inspired individual (like so many others I see who have no special office or calling)? I'm starting to feel that he is more of just a special person, and not a normal person in a special calling.
I’m fine with accepting that these men (and they are just men) are just normal folks trying their best to be inspired and understand that inspiration. I’m fine with believing that they struggle with it just as much as any other person in or out of the Church. But if that is the case, they shouldn’t be pretending to be anything more than that.

So back to the question... How do I deal with it? I don't know. Maybe I can't.


  1. What God cares about is not whether you helped your employees secure health care and an adequate wage, but whether you went to the temple this month. It is not about how you were a good Samaritan who reached outside your faith to help the downtrodden, but how often you read your scriptures and prayed. It is not about understanding and working with those who share different views, but how strongly you stood against them. That is not my God.

    It's not my God either, but I do wonder if you're creating a bit of a false dilemma here. Can't we go to the Temple and help employees secure health care and adequate wages? Aren't we asked to be good Samaritans and to read the scriptures and pray? Aren't there some times when we should work for understanding and others that require us to stand strongly against those who oppose us?

    I don't want to overemphasize this, because I agree that there is disparity in the emphasis on these things, especially in the church curriculum/lessons. But, to be fair, I feel like when I go to the Temple I have increased desire to fight for social justice. When I read my scriptures and pray I want to help the downtrodden. When I work for understanding it becomes more clear which issues are so important to me that I cannot compromise them.

    It is disheartening that the correlation runs the opposite way for so many, but I am reminded of Mormon's words to Moroni (whether they be the actual words of an actual person named Mormon, or just the inspired words of an actual person named Joseph Smith):

    Moroni 9:6
    And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding [the] hardness [of the members], let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.

    -Formerly Soxy Pirate

  2. Loyd, your comments resonate with me. I think often of Isaiah 1, Jesus' relationship with the Pharisees, the rameumptom, etc. I'm glad you're in this with us.

  3. [My friend emailed me the following response to this post]


    I appreciate your honesty. My wife and I had this very discussion today (and countless other similar ones over the past five years). It is certainly difficult to listen to messages that often range from the mundane to the disturbing and pretend they are coming straight from God. Of course, someone like you takes a more nuanced understanding of the role of a prophet, apostle, or general authority. They are called of God, perhaps, but they are also human. For all his hubris in certain respects, Joseph Smith understood this.

    My question with the institutional church today is not whether it is "true," since, as you have noted, that question is practically beside the point; neither is it whether authority figures are inspired by God (to me, that tends to be self-evident); rather, I would ask whether being a member of the Mormon church is healthy. In other words, is it a good vehicle/community for people to grow and help each other and learn. For some people, at certain points in their lives, I think maybe it can be (see Gene England's essay).

    For me personally, however, it is not anymore. My ideal community is inclusive, creative, passionate, diverse, compassionate, forward-looking, open, willing to admit mistakes, willing to admit we don't have all the answers, willing to acknowledge the "least among us," challenging, humorous, exciting, vibrant, etc. etc.

    What I see and hear in conference is much different. I see generally older white men preaching in monotone, monochrome, messages without vitality or depth or much relevance to the real world. Most of the talks are generic and formulaic as if aimed at children (who would undoubtedly be bored out of their minds). Occasionally they are offensive (see Boyd Packer's anti-gay screed) or scary (see references to Ezra Taft Benson's "14 Fundamentals" in which we are essentially told to be mindless drones). Of course, occasionally someone will give something that feels genuine in its sentiments (Uchtdorf). But on the whole, if, "by their fruits ye shall know them," conference reveals a worldview of old conservative white men whose messages simply don't resonate with me on almost any level.

    So I think of it this way: Who would I want to be with in Heaven? What does my Utopia look and feel like? For me, it is not the corporate, conservative, exclusive model offered by contemporary Mormonism; rather, I'd like some artists in my Utopia; and some gays; and some people who are decent and kind, but lack "faith"; and some people who look and dress differently; and some people who aren't afraid to pursue questions no matter where they lead.

    Ironically, I find a lot of these people in the Mormon church; they are just on the fringes. Even if they wanted to, they would NEVER hold influential leadership positions, because their "difference" is a threat to the church. They will never find full acceptance, nor will their gifts be utilized. Because the Church wants one type of Mormon, and it is an obedient, docile, conforming member. That may sound harsh, but I challenge someone to show me otherwise.

    This is not to say there are not valuable things to be found in Mormonism. I still consider myself Mormon in certain ways and value many of its foundational teachings. But I reject the institutional church and see very little redeeming value in it for me personally. It excludes more than it loves. It constrains more than it liberates. It feels more like a straight-jacket than an ideology intended to facilitate eternal progression.

    And honestly, I think free spirits--people with open minds and hearts--will always tend to be at odds with it. Whether they stay inside or leave is a difficult, complicated choice, and can only be left to each individual to figure out.

  4. Very interesting comments. For anyone that knows me, which I think Loyd is the only one here that does, I obviously won't agree with most of the claims here.

    With that said, I read that exact scripture in Isaiah the other day. I thought some of the same things. I do wish there was a change on emphasis on certain virtues. I believe that we would all do better to consider what one should be doing and how to do it rather than what one should refrain from doing. Especially on the ward level. I believe in obedience, as anybody that reads any of the standard work should. Maybe we could emphasize the exactness of the first two great commandments more.

    One factor of consideration. The church is currently struggling with globalisation. Especially for many newcomers, an emphasis on what one should refrain from doing is an important part of living the good life. In my current ward, in Port au Prince, Haitians really benefit from understanding that God expects them not to engage in certain practices, even with exactness. And as far as doctrine goes, general writings such as the new gospel principles book, which I've heard many here disagree with, is easily adaptable to cultures and groups that can learn to teach these principles on their own terms. Thus, General Conference will remain general and not address the grayness and diversity that our culture and doctrine certainly is, at least for the time being.

    However, I think they could put some more qualifiers in their courageous claims. Just, at least, for us that don't let go of sloppy language very easily.

  5. [My friend Matt mailed me the following comment:]

    Matthew Pendleton October 4 at 4:18pm Report
    Loyd, in reference to this comment:
    "I'm starting to feel that he is more of just a special person, and not a normal person in a special calling.
    I’m fine with accepting that these men (and they are just men) are just normal folks trying their best to be inspired and understand that inspiration. I’m fine with believing that they struggle with it just as much as any other person in or out of the Church. But if that is the case, they shouldn’t be pretending to be anything more than that."

    It's true that they are men. They are men who are also Prophets, Seers, and Revelators. There is a key difference there. I know you know this already so I'm not trying to sound condescending. My point is that these "men" have been given priesthood keys. That's what makes them different. They hold the keys necessary to direct God's work on earth at this time. I don't know if you would care to hear a personal experience about keys. I was recently made an Elder's Quorum president. When I was set apart to this calling I was given priesthood keys to help me fulfill my responsibilities. It is the first time in my life that I have held Melchizedek Priesthood keys. As I am out serving those in need I can feel the difference. I am strengthened and guided as to what to do and say more so than at any other time in my life. I am more bold and have less fear. And it is having positive effects on those whom I serve. Not to any credit of myself but credit to the Lord and the Holy Spirit working through one who holds keys. I can literally feel and see a difference. These are prophets, seers and revelators that have the keys to act in the name of God for the entire world.

    We also know that God cannot lie or he would cease to be God. That fact allows me to have 100% confidence in what God says. And when God says that whether he speaks it or speaks it through his prophets it is the same, I will choose to believe God 100% of the time because of the fact that he cannot lie.

    Some might think that this creates drones or that the church only wants one type of member. You had a friend post here that said "Because the Church wants one type of Mormon, and it is an obedient, docile, conforming member. That may sound harsh, but I challenge someone to show me otherwise." I love to look at the example of Nephi. His very last words that he wrote in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 33:11, "For thus hath the Lord commanded me, and I must obey. Amen." I "must" obey. The very nature of God's laws that he has given us to follow means that those trying to live according to his commandments will behave in similar fashions. It's not the church trying to create drones. It's people trying to live as God would have them live.

    Loyd, you are my friend so I'm going to tell it how I see it. In the past I've tried to have conversations with you about various subjects and almost every response you have given to me has been sarcastic and condescending. From my experience, that is not a good way to persuade someone. Just sayin... anyway I don't care that we have different views on things. I like the back and forth comments and find it interesting but it would be more fun if we were both civil. I know sometimes it can be frustrating for you. :)

  6. Thanks for you comments, Matt. Here's what I would say in response to your thoughts on obedience.

    I think you are conflating obeying God with obeying human beings. See, I feel I am obeying God by standing up for those who are oppressed and marginalized (including gay members in the church). It's a direct connection. I feel something in my heart and mind and act accordingly. Whereas you put 100% trust in an authority figure (or many authority figures) who you believe have better access to God. So your relationship with God is mediated. Prophets and apostles, then, don't merely serve as servants or counselors or inspiration (which I believe is their real role), they tell you what to do. They take away your real agency. Because when it comes down to it, they are claiming to be infallible Gods; they can't ever be second-guessed as the mouth-pieces of God. God would never lead them astray. See what I mean?

    So if a church leader preaches blood atonement or racism or any other false idea, what do you do? You say, well, God can't lie and and speaking through his prophets is the same as God speaking so I guess black people are inferior. So whether its intentional or not, the church is creating drones, because members are taught not to think for themselves but to put 100% trust in someone else who they claim has more exclusive access to God.

  7. I'm glad I'm not the only one who is starting to see how, more and more, The Church and its members are becoming not unlike the Pharisees. The speak of Christ and teach of him, but hearts seem far removed. The culture has turned into a checklist culture. Home-teaching (check) Prayer (check) Be kind to people (check) go to the temple (check) and so on and so forth. And how quick everyone is to judge. Then when you argue people say... "no, no, no... we don't hate the sinner, we hate the sin" as if that is a fair statement.

    "love the sinner, hate the sin" puts the speaker on a pedestal above those who they speak of. "I love you, I just hate what you are doing." Well, news flash- we are ALL sinners. So stop pointing fingers saying, "oh, you are a sinner, but I love you- just not what you do." What we should say is "hate sin, love everyone." It is not our place to judge and so whether or not a person is sinning this way or that is NONE OF OUR BUSINESS. Our ONLY business as followers of Christ is to love and serve our fellow human beings.

    I believe in the principles of the gospel. I believe in the principles the church was founded upon. I also believe that the church has gone off course and is not on the track it was meant to be. I also know that my opinion doesn't matter and that I have no right to receive revelation for the church. I am simply sharing my observations and thank you for sharing yours.


Please provide a name or consistent pseudonym with your comments and avoid insults or personal attacks against anyone or any group. All anonymous comments will be immediately deleted. Other comments are subject to deletion at my discretion.