Defending the White Family
6 hours ago
Cutting my own path...
I believe that all truth is faith-promoting, if we're talking about authentic faith. No authentic truth damages authentic faith. Truth, even difficult truths, will only deepen and give breadth of vision to authentic faith. Only brittle, oversimplified faith will break easily when confronted with difficult truths. When we face difficult truths, we should not sensationalize them, but we should deal with them straightforwardly and honestly, using historical context and sympathetic insight to put them into perspective. Sometimes, when we have had oversimplified faith, we will need to deepen and broaden our faith to include tragedy and contradiction and human limitation, but that is not a matter of giving up our faith -- it is a matter of developing our faith. I realize that this can be a painful process at times, but it is a process that gives our faith more solidity and more breadth. The eye of faith sees greater depth, perspectives, and gradations of color; the heart of faith responds more to the tragedies of our bygone brothers and sisters, who become more real and more sympathetic to us.
I believe that the gospel includes all truth, and all truth is part of the gospel.
I believe that the gospel is afraid of no truth. All truths, both the brightness of love and the shadows of tragedy, contribute to the infinite beauty of the gospel.
The gospel includes heights and depths. It includes shining, dazzling light, and darkest shadow -- and everything in between, all shades of gray. It includes knowledge of God, but it also includes knowledge of Satan. It includes knowledge of great and good men and women, and of deeply flawed men and women. It also includes men and women who have great goodness and serious flaws at the same time -- sometimes, seemingly, on alternate days. It includes aspects of reality that are supposedly "secular" -- science, economics, music, history. (See D&C 93:53.)
... For extreme conservatives, who believe in a view of the gospel in which all church leaders always make the right decision, and for whom church leaders never disagree among themselves, these issues conflict head-on with a fragile, impractical oversimplified gospel; therefore, their only option is to ignore these issues entirely -- both on an individual level (not researching and thinking about these issues in their own minds, hearts and spirits) and on an organizational level. You preserve an absolute silence, not admitting that any of these problem-issues happened. You discourage others from thinking about and researching these issues. And when they do, even if they are trying to deal with the issues within a context of faith, you try to change the playing field by labeling the historians as the problems, rather than grappling with the problem issues themselves.
However, the gospel is more complex, and more beautiful, and possessing more depth, than extreme conservatives give it credit for. When they create an oversimplified, narrow, sentimentally idealized, shallow view of the gospel, and orient their faith toward that oversimplified view, obviously the primary historical documents, and anyone who reflects those primary documents honestly, will undermine such shallow faith. The fault is not the historian who reflects that complexity of historical reality in line with the documents in the archives and the infinite complexity of true faith. The fault is the extreme conservatives who live by, and demand that others accept, an oversimplified view of the gospel.
Granted, many church members and leaders accept such oversimplified views of the gospel, and strive to make such views the "official," untouchable version. But to the extent they do, they are doing the church and their faith a disservice, because they are propounding a version of faith that is unworkable.
|Dick and Gene Poll|
One of my personal insights is support for the order the church has established about the relationship between stewardship and revelation. I have no problem with assigning responsibility for church-wide revelation to the men who hold the office of apostle and prophet, but I can’t describe the pain I feel that those who claim the privilege of revelation seem to refuse the responsibility to seek it. Our church claims continuous revelation, yet it punishes those who implore its leaders to seek it. Some of the most horrifying statements and silences to come out of Kate [Kelly’s] excommunication is the denial that there is anything to pray about or any point on which further revelation should be sought.
I feel such longing when I read calls from Steve Veazey (prophet and president of the Community of Christ) for the whole church to join in a discernment process. What if our leaders similarly ask its members to pray earnestly about ordaining women to priesthood? About supporting and celebrating our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who want to marry, have families, and participate in congregational life? What if our leaders really accepted Nephi’s assurance and invited us to join with him in the call: Christ "denieth none that come unto Him, black and white, bond and free, male and female...all are alike unto God.” (From Lavina's remarks at minute 10:35-12:16 of Session 324: "Life After Church Discipline.")Hers is a profound insight and something I too long for. But great is the letdown I feel when I contrast that with the way kangaroo "courts of love" have started popping up in our church like whack-a-mole. Tonight in Sacramento, California, Rock Waterman is being charged with "conduct unbecoming a member of the church" and thus an "apostate" who'll likely be excommunicated. Last month it was the Calderwoods, who perhaps believed too little; today it's Rock Waterman, who believes too much. Joseph Smith once said: “I never hear of a man being damned for believing too much; but they are damned for unbelief.” Go figure.
A few hours ago I was excommunicated from the church for apostasy.
"What sins am I guilty of?"
"No, apostasy is your judgment. What sins have I committed that make up this apostasy?"
"Apostasy is the sin."
One truth has come home to me with laser clarity: there are two religions operating side by side in the LDS church today, both vying for dominance. The first is the religion founded through Joseph Smith, which emphasizes dependence on Christ. The other religion requires allegiance to Church leaders above all else. If your devotion to Jesus is stronger than your fealty to the Church hierarchy, you are a threat to their system.
It doesn't matter how forcefully you bear testimony of Christ and His gospel; the Brethren-ite religion has but one focus: replace the organic religion with the counterfeit one, all the while convincing followers nothing has changed.You know what I think is truly "unbecoming"? Modern day witch hunts are unbecoming of the Church of Jesus Christ. Yet they're allowed to take place without much second-guessing, despite the fact we've been reminded the Church has and can make mistakes. One cannot "repent" of the truth, nor from the fact that some people with misguided loyalty/allegiance either don't want to hear the truth or see it as a threat. Our loyalty should be to the truth. Truth is truth, no matter who speaks it. Truth isn't any more "true" whether it's spoken by authorities or academics. We have to be able to discern the truth for ourselves.
Simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy. Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.
We believe that it is always our responsibility to confirm through our own study and prayer and responsiveness to the spirit, whether what we’re hearing, is the mind and will of the Lord or not. I think of Orson Pratt who alone of twelve apostles refused to consent to the false doctrine of Adam-God and only many years later was vindicated for his steadfast integrity. So it may be that in the short term we do find ourselves on the margins or ostracized but I think that our devotion always has to be first and foremost to our conscience, before to any institution. (Mormon Stories Podcast episode 496--part 2: Fiona and Terryl Givens and “The Crucible of Doubt”--1 hour 33 minute mark.)If I had a more sure hope in church leaders always doing the right thing (ie: if I ignored D&C 121:39), then perhaps I wouldn't feel compelled to speak up and voice the concerns of my conscience. But I must place loyalty to conscience over loyalty to any institution, and my conscience tells me something is seriously wrong with the way excommunications for "apostasy" are taking place. As Joseph Smith said:
I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like methodism and not like Latter day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels so good not to be tramelled. (Joseph Smith, WoJS, 183-84.)Most of us Latter-day Saints live in a state of privilege; because we ourselves don't feel trammelled we may conclude it's not really a problem for anyone else. But to "try" others because one has judged them as having "erred in doctrine" is trammeling. There are better ways to handle differences of belief than having someone in a position of "a little authority, as they suppose", press the ejector button. The scriptures teach us the "more excellent way" is to love the person and perhaps even seek to understand rather than be so quick to judge. As a matter of fact, judging them prevents us from fulfilling the greater commandment to love them. President Thomas S. Monson confirmed this:
Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who worked among the poor in India most of her life, spoke this profound truth: "If you judge people, you have no time to love them." The Savior has admonished, "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you." I ask: can we love one another, as the Savior has commanded, if we judge each other? And I answer—with Mother Teresa: no, we cannot.If this is true on an individual level, would not the same hold true on an institutional level? How are we to reconcile this with our current conception of "judges in Israel"? While I don't claim to know how to answer that, a wise stake president once said: "Being a judge in Israel does not exempt me from the commandment to love one another. It binds me to it. To be a judge in Israel is to help [people] come unto Christ and repent of their sins. It has nothing to do with assigning guilt. There is many a time I know of sin and do nothing. My responsibility kicks in when an individual desires to repent."
Meantime, those who judge, who accuse, who bully, who cut off sincere discussion, who silence honest questions, who cast the sufferers out of the community--they claim to speak in the name of God. They may be among those to whom Jesus will say: "Depart from me, I never knew you," or as the Joseph Smith Translation reads "Ye never knew me.” May we cling to Christ, be open to his grace, and have the blessing of being forgiven of our own trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Many of us that have taken the heterodox fork in the road soon realize that we don’t really know anything. Our religious experiences aren’t any more valid or profound or “real” than anyone else’s. Our answers to life’s big questions are just that—they are “our” answers and however wondrous those answers may be to us (and however useful), the fact that we have answered life’s big questions in a certain way doesn’t mean that everyone else’s answers are inferior.
We are not committed to secularism (or liberalism, or feminism, or progressivism) in the same way that orthodox Mormons are committed to “exact” obedience. We just realize that there is a lot we don’t know. If God speaks to humanity through spiritual experiences, then why does he communicate such radically different information to individuals based on their religious context? We don’t know. That’s it, really. We don’t know.
Many of us have gotten to the point of “I don’t know,” stared into the abyss, searched our souls for some reflection of deity, and then seen the same thing: We’ve seen each other. We’ve come away from the experience with the profound realization that we–as in all of humanity—are in this together. We are truly one. Until further notice, therefore, it seems obvious that the one thing we can do—the low-hanging fruit, so to speak—is to be nice to each other. We should treat each other fairly, and with dignity and respect.
Another common line of reasoning among those of us who don’t know much is this. If God created us with individual agency and the capacity for reason, then it makes sense that God expects us to use those capabilities...If forced into this false dichotomy [between “individual autonomy” and a “path of obedience to laws”], I suspect that what we do with our individual autonomy will matter more to God than how well we follow directions. For me it comes down to whether or not I believe God wants us to paint by the numbers or to paint our own pictures? As parents, what do we value more from our four-year-olds? A paint-by-the-numbers portrait identical to what’s on the box, or a free-spirited “Look, Mom, this is you and Dad in a rocket ship with a cow!” masterpiece?
The path of “I don’t know” is difficult. Taking responsibility for one’s own spiritual life is difficult. Being nice to people is difficult. It’s not easy—not nearly as easy as the “exact obedience” path can be at times. But there’s a reason why most adults have abandoned paint-by-the-numbers projects.
This Thursday, May 21st, we will be tried for apostasy in the Mormon church. We have been accused of apostasy because we have publicly discussed difficult, yet true issues about the church's history and changes in doctrine, which have caused us to not believe this is God's one true church. Although we are in a spiritual and emotional place that allows us to deal with excommunication, many people are not because of fear of rejection by family, friends and community. We are choosing to go to the disciplinary council instead of quietly resigning so that we can be a voice for them and point out the problems in excommunicating people for open public discourse and disbelief.
We've seen the cognitive dissonance in ourselves and others when facts that used to be considered anti-Mormon lies are now admitted by the church to be true. It was so painful for us that we want to have these conversations to help mitigate some of the heart ache for those who are suffering like we did. Also, other members look down on those having doubts as less faithful. We want to be vocal so that those who make these judgments can see that the issues are real and legitimate without easy answers. Furthermore, it's better to love and include rather than shame and ostracize. Although individuals are having these traumatic faith crises, the real problem is that the church is going through a truth crisis.
We believe that “the truth will set [us] free” and that “the truth has nothing to fear.” This search for truth isn't fully allowed or practiced in today's church. We understand the desire to keep many of the difficult issues out of the public sphere, but the church simply cannot expect that it's going to work any longer to maintain a whitewashed narrative and keep doubters quiet in the age of information and social media. Mormons believe that before we came to earth, we rejected Satan's plan and instead chose agency. In the church today, we have to allow members to know the complete history, to talk about it openly, and ultimately to decide for themselves what they believe is true.
Although our stake president understands and admires our motives, he feels that this is not how the Brethren want it to be done. From the little they have spoken on the issue, they appear to want members to work on these issues in private and not discuss them in public with others. He believes if God wanted it differently, He would change it from the top down. We disagree because almost all of the major policies and programs in the church started at the grassroots level. Some general authorities have even called for members to create initiatives like ours instead of waiting for the Brethren to tell them what to do (Elder Clayton Christensen, 2009 Boston LDS Education Conference).
During talks with our Stake President, who is a genuinely loving and caring man, he told us that he has not received any counsel from anyone above him on what to do with us. We've heard through mutual friends that he feels isolated and alone. He said this has been one of the most difficult things he's done as a Stake President. The general authorities are leaving Stake Presidents out to dry by not giving more correct guidelines on how to deal with members talking about difficult church subjects and doubts in public. They are also throwing truth-seeking members under the bus by not helping them deal with these issues in a different way. Finally, and most devastatingly, they are exacerbating emotional trauma by not speaking out more against the shaming of doubt and villainizing of doubters, or changing policies to actively include and accept everyone along their faith journey. Hopefully the church will see that good people who are doing the difficult work of dealing with this truth crisis and helping to alleviate the pain are worthy of praise instead of excommunication. Hopefully the general authorities will be more clear on these issues and how to deal with them in a healthy, public way that encourages love and understanding.
My remarks in this final section are directed mainly to those who would undertake to join the ranks of “alternate voices” as speakers, not just as listeners. These include, I hasten to add, not only academics or other professional intellectuals but anyone who would aspire to be efficacious in offering alternative ideas or counsel to the saints and their leaders at any level, whether in the pages of Dialogue and SUNSTONE, in ward council, priesthood quorums, Relief Society, or Sunday School.
I would like to share ten principles that I have learned, sometimes painfully in the breach, during the past twenty-five years from my own efforts to offer an effective “alternate voice” at various forums and occasions. As a rhetorical devise, I will use the imperative tone appropriate for a decalogue; I apologize in advance if the tone also seems imperious in places. Also, since my efforts have taken place in the context of an ultimate commitment to the LDS faith, some of the following principles will be less applicable to those who don’t share that commitment.
1. Seek constantly to build a strong personal relationship with the Lord as the main source and basis for your own confidence in the alternate voice you are offering. We often have to do without the Church’s approval, but we need the assurance of the Lord’s.
2. Do your homework before you speak up. We must be sure that our knowledge of the scriptures, of history, and of other relevant data on a given matter will bear up well under scrutiny and under efforts at rebuttal. Otherwise, our offerings will be exposed as unreliable, we will lose credibility as intellectual leaders or teachers, and we will be suspected even by our sympathizers as mere malcontents. No one expects infallibility, but we must know whereof we speak, especially if we espouse an unpopular or untraditional idea.
3. Relinquish any and all aspirations (or even expectations) for leadership callings in the Church. Actually, that is wonderfully liberating. In any case, stake and ward leaders, to say nothing of general authorities, rarely call people to powerful positions who are suspected of too much “independent thinking.” To be sure, the ranks of “alternate voices” have provided occasional examples of bishops, stake presidents, and Relief Society leaders, showing that there may be some happy exceptions to this generalization, but don’t count on that. If you have a career in C.E.S. or in any other Church bureaucracy, don’t expect approval or promotion to accompany your identification as an “alternate voice.”
4. Endure graciously the overt disapproval of “significant others,” including family members, but never respond in kind. Lifelong friends and old missionary companions may sever (or reduce) friendship ties when they learn that you are one of "those.” They simply cannot understand what your “problem” is. If such reactions prove especially crucial in your case (e.g., if your marriage is threatened), you will have some tough choices to make.
5. Pay your “dues” as a member of the Church. Pay your tithing, make clear your willingness to serve wherever called, and do your best to get your children on missions. Try as hard as anyone to “keep the commandments.” You still probably won’t get much Church recognition, but you will win over a few who once looked on you with suspicion. More important, you will make it difficult for your critics to dismiss you as an apostate, for all will see that “thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death” (D&C 121:44).
6. Be humble, generous, and good natured in tolerating ideas that you find aversive in other Church members, no matter how “reactionary.” As “alternate voices,” we cannot complain when we are ignored or misunderstood if we respond with contempt toward those whose ideas we deplore. Besides, if we have any hope of educating them, we have to start where they are and treat them with love and tolerance. No one is won over by being put down, especially in public. Whether in our writing or in our exchanges during Sunday School classes, we must try to be gracious as well as candid (difficult though it be on occasion) and always remember to show forth afterward “an increase of love toward him whom thou has reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy” (D&C 121:43).
7. Show some empathy and appreciation for Church leaders, male and female, from the general level down to the local ward and branch. Anyone who has ever held a responsible leadership position knows how heavy the burdens of office can be, especially in callings like bishop, Relief Society president, and stake president (to say nothing of apostle), in which the decisions made can affect countless numbers of people for good or ill. We may privately deplore the poor judgment, the unrighteous dominion, the insensitivity, and even the outright ignorance of some leaders. Yet, after all, they are, like us, simple mortals doing their best according to their lights. Some of them sacrifice a great deal for no apparent benefit, and all are entitled to our support, and occasionally our praise, whenever these can reasonably be given. When they do something outrageously wrong, they need our sympathy even more. “There but for the grace of God . . . ” etc.
8. Do not say or do anything to undermine the influence or legitimacy of Church leaders at any level. They have their callings and prerogatives, and we should not step forth to “steady the ark” by publicly offering our alternative leadership. Please don’t misunderstand: I am not advocating silent submission in the face of official stupidity. There is much that we can do without playing the role of usurper. When we write for publication, let us by all means criticize policies, practices, or interpretations of doctrine; but let us not personalize our criticisms with ad hominem attacks. They are not only discourteous and condescending, but quite unnecessary. (They can also get you “ex-ed.”)
We should feel free, though, to seek private interviews and/or correspondence with Church leaders, including our own bishops, in which we can offer, in a spirit of love and humility, our constructive criticisms and suggestions. If these are ignored, then at least we have exercised our callings as “alternate voices,” and we have done so without sowing seeds of contention. We are not responsible for how a given leader carries out his or her stewardship. Yet we are not powerless, which leads to the next principle.
9. Take advantage of legitimate opportunities to express your “alternate voices” and to exercise your free agency in “alternate” ways within the LDS church and culture. We must never lapse into a posture in which we just sit and gripe. If we find the correlated lesson manuals to be thin fare, it is up to us as teachers to enrich them with relevant supplementary material (including some “alternate voices”). If we are not teachers, then at least we are obligated as class members to speak up knowledgeably and enrich the class, not simply boycott it.
If we find a general intellectual famine at Church, then we are free to start study groups of our own to supplement the Church fare for those who feel the need. Some of our more conservative leaders may not like such unsponsored study groups, but they have no right to forbid them, and they seldom try (but don’t forget principles 2, 3, and 4). In short, even if we are not bishops or general authorities, and even if we are ignored by those who are, there is much constructive that we can do with our “alternate voices”: “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as they do good they shall in nowise lose their reward” (D&C 58:28).
10. Endure to the end. The calling of “alternate voice” is too important for us to allow ourselves either to be intimidated by the exercise of unrighteous dominion or to be silenced by our own fatigue. “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9; D&C 64:33). I have seen many a rich harvest in people’s lives from seeds planted by “alternate voices,” and I hope to live to see many more.
Though I have often failed to comply with all ten of these principles, I have learned from my failures as well as from my successes that the likelihood of influence and efficacy for “alternate voices” depends heavily upon compliance with those principles. They also add up to a personal philosophy that has yielded me a great deal of inner peace in my years of coping with the predicament so common among “alternate voices”: commitment to the religion but a feeling of marginality in the Church. That is my testimony.