Sunday, August 23, 2015

Brené Brown on Faith

"Faith minus vulnerability and mystery equals extremism. If you've got all the answers, then don't call what you do 'faith'."

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fabulous Insights From A Gay Mormon

The ever insightful Mitch Mayne gave a truly fabulous interview at Wheat and Tares. Some highlights:

*Just because my fellows are hurling angry, hostile words my way doesn’t mean I’m exempt from my Savior’s commandment to love others as myself. I don’t get to practice this commandment only when it’s convenient for me. In fact, I think the true test of my capacity to offer unconditional love to my fellows is if I can do it when it’s most inconvenient.


*Abandon the “love the sinner, hate the sin” philosophy. And not just for LGBT individuals who cross your path—with everyone. I don’t think we as humans ever do a really good job of separating actions from personalities. Meaning, we aren’t particularly successful at “hating” parts of people—invariably, we end up just not liking them based on the parts we don’t care for. More important, “love the sinner, hate the sin” puts us in the judgement seat—that’s not our job. In fact, our Savior was pretty adamant about not judging others.

A much better philosophy would be something like, “love the sinner, because you’re one too.” Then remember we do a lot better as disciples of our Savior when we focus a little more on our own salvation, and a little bit less on everyone else’s sins.


*Supporting our Mormon LGBT children doesn’t require we change or abandon our doctrine. It simply requires that we live it.


Monday, July 20, 2015

On Authentic Truth and Authentic Faith



In 2001, Todd Compton wrote the following response to negative reviews about his book "In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith." I find his insights extremely relevant and endorse his comments, excerpted below:
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.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Advocate For Mormon Intellectuals

Dick and Gene Poll
A month ago I mentioned how I consider Richard "Dick" Poll one of my most significant Mormon mentors, as well as my primary example of what it means to be both committed to history and to faith, particularly as a Liahona Latter-day Saint. Historian Thomas G. Alexander wrote a wonderful tribute to him after he passed, giving a glimpse into Poll's special contributions. Because it is so insightful in and of itself, I wanted to share the full text here. I would love to hear your responses/feedback in the comments below:


RICHARD DOUGLAS POLL: ADVOCATE FOR MORMON INTELLECTUALS

By Thomas G. Alexander


On 27 APRIL 1994 when Richard D. Poll passed away in his Provo home, the historical profession, the Church, and public philanthropy all lost an an active participant. As John Donne might have said, with the loss of Dick Poll the community lost a part of itself.

I first met Dick in 1965 when I joined the history faculty at Brigham Young University. During five years of working together, we developed a life-long friendship. He provided a model that helped many of us younger teachers mold our careers. A dedicated and inspiring teacher, he inaugurated the American Heritage course on television, which students affectionately called "The Dick Poll Show."

In 1970, Dick and his wife Emogene (Gene) left for Western Illinois University. His friend John Bernhard, who had served as dean of our college, accepted the position of university president, and he enticed Dick away by offering him the job of vice president for administration. In 1975, Dick declined Bernhard's invitation to follow him again, and remained as a history professor at Western Illinois until his retirement in 1983.

Needless to say, we maintained our contact--you did that with Dick and Gene because they always made you feel at home wherever you met. In 1970-71, Marilyn and I took our family to Carbondale for a sabbatical at Southern Illinois University. Dick and Gene invited us to drive north to Macomb for Thanksgiving. Our oldest children remember that experience with fondness.

After retirement, Dick and Gene returned to their Provo roots and settled down on Grandview Hill. There he continued his research and community service, and occasionally taught a history class at BYU.

Dick was utterly devoted to Gene and their three daughters--Marilyn, Nanette, and Jennifer. Last November, when the daughters and their husbands Gary Bell, Teny Allen, and Clayton Crawford honored Dick and Gene with a fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration, no one expected that within six months both Gene and Dick would be gone. Gene passed away early this year, and in a short time Dick followed. 

Born in 1918 during World War I and nurtured during the turbulent 1920s, Dick belonged to that generation of scholars whose youth had been severed by economic depression and violent war. Serving as a missionary during the late 1930s, Dick transferred from Germany to Denmark and finally to Canada as the horror of World War II began to engulf western Europe. Like others of his generation (Gene Campbell, Leonard Arrington, George Ellsworth, Everett Cooley, and Brigham Madsen), Dick served in the armed forces. Like the latter three, he returned from the war to earn a Ph.D. in history at the University of California at Berkeley. A brilliant scholar, Dick held the Thompson fellowship and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

As a child of the Progressive Era and a youth of the Depression, battered by conflicts between scholarly secularism and an active faith, Dick sought to integrate his religious and intellectual lives. Throughout his career he sought to understand Mormonism as a personal experience as he probed the relationship of the Latter-day Saints to the larger American society. In his master's thesis at Texas Christian and his Ph.D. dissertation, he investigated the subject that formed the core of his scholarly output, both the thesis and the dissertation examined the nineteenth-century relationship between Mormons and other Americans. Continuing those themes, in the last years of his life, he researched long hours on the Utah War--that misguided but fortunately bloodless conflict between the Mormon people and the American nation.

Before his death, he had already begun to sketch the outlines of that study in a Dello G. Dayton Memorial Lecture at Weber State University on Thomas L. Kane and in an article in BYU Studies on the massive exodus to Provo, generally called "the move south."

It is no negative reflection on Dick to observe that he placed his role as public intellectual and teacher before his role as scholar. Dick's service to the university and the community reveals his commitment to teaching and service. At BYU, he labored as associate director and as a teacher and mentor in the honors program. The students named him honors professor of the year in 1969. As a public intellectual, he championed at BYU the somewhat unpopular causes of the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Association of University Professors. Later, after he returned to Provo, he immersed himself in the campaign to save the Brigham Young Academy buildings. At the same time, he committed himself to the Provo Library adult literacy program.

Most important, perhaps, as part of his full career he tried to define a role for the intellectual in the Church. As Richard Hofstadter in his seminal book Anti-intellectualism in American Life pointed out, genuine intellectuals are uncomfortable with certainty. They prefer to turn answers into questions. This attribute distinguishes intellectuals from apologists who seek to reconcile and defend.

What place, Dick asked, do intellectuals who commit their lives to inquiry and questioning have in the LDS church? For him, the answer was quite clear: Intellectuals must continue to serve, to believe, and to remain faithful, while continuing to question and search. As an intellectual and a committed Church member, Dick served among other callings in the Oak Hills Second Ward bishopric, on a number of high councils, as president of the Macomb Branch, and as a teacher in the high priests group.

As a service to himself and the community of Mormon intellectuals, he defined a place in the Church for the faithful questioner in a sermon he delivered in the Palo Alto Ward in August 1967, which Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought published in the Winter 1967 issue. For those of us who remain firmly committed both to the Church and to the life of the mind, Dick's "What the Church Means to People Like Me" came as a revelation. He helped us to define ourselves.

His was no mean task. Intellectuals of every generation--Dick's included--have concluded that the soul-wrenching struggle to remain both actively committed to religious faith and to the questioning demanded of true scholars was not worth the cost. Some have taken one of two easy roads out. On the one side, many have chosen to become apologists, deciding that questioning will pay no dividends in the Church. These people decide not to research the hard questions. Committed to authority and central direction, they conform and in doing so ignore or gloss over problems.

On the other side, not a few conclude that commitment to the Church is not worth the struggle and embarrassment. For them, as for the apologists, questioning and commitment to religion becomes ultimately too hard. Certain questions prove too difficult. How do you respond to questions about the Church's previous policy on African-Americans and the priesthood or the practice of polygamy? How do you answer questions about dictation in politics or opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment? What answer do you give when friends quiz you on such matters as public dissent, feminism, or authority? Many intellectuals, uncomfortable about such problems, decide either to slip into inactivity or to sever their connection with the Church.

Clearly, Dick observed, within the Church those who question and those who do not have difficulty living with each other. This happens, he argued, not on the level of intellectual acceptance, but "at the level of personal communion, of empathy."

Nevertheless, Dick argued, although those who decline to question are uncomfortable around questioners, people who question have a firm place in the Church. He developed this argument by defining two ideal types of committed members. The first he labeled "Iron Rods." These are members for whom "each step of the journey to the tree of life was plainly defined." The second, he called "Liahonas." These are members for whom "the clarity of . . . directions varied with the circumstances of the user." For them there "was no infallible delineator of their course." Where the Iron Rod found answers, the Liahona found questions.

"To the Iron Rod a questioning attitude suggests an imperfect faith; to the Liahona an unquestioning spirit betokens a closed mind." For the Iron Rod, answers to virtually all questions appear in "Scripture, Prophetic Authority, and the Holy Spirit." The Liahona, on the other hand, accepts the concepts "that God lives, that He loves His children, that His knowledge and power are efficacious for salvation, and that He does reveal himself." Nevertheless, the Liahona believes that God's will is mediated by "the arm of flesh." Liahonas find problems in such matters as biblical descriptions of Eve's creation from Adam's rib and in the chronology that places the creation at 4,000 B.C. They are uncomfortable with the selective literalism of the Iron Rods that question the one proposition and testify to the other. As they search Church history, instead of unvarying sweetness and harmony, Liahonas find disagreement among prophets over such matters as the League of Nations, the process of creation, and politics.

Dick placed himself squarely with the Liahonas. He denied that the Liahona type was simply another name for the faithless, the apostate, or the cultural Mormon. Rather, he argued that faith in the Atonement, salvation, and exaltation were true principles as were agency, freedom, compassion, and love. Moreover, he felt a sense of commitment to the Latter-day Saints as a people, and exercised faith in a set of principles promising a better life here and in the hereafter.

Undoubtedly if questioned, Dick would say that faithless, apostate, or cultural Mormons are people who have taken the road into inactivity or out of the Church. Although they might identify themselves with the Mormon people, they have little faith in the Atonement, salvation, or revelation. Liahonas, on the other hand, are committed Latter-day Saints who have declined to reject the active life of the mind as a price of active membership.

After Dick's death, in reflecting on the Iron Rod/Liahona model, one of my colleagues, Ted Warner, reminded me of the controversy Dick's article had generated at BYU. The pages of the Daily Universe, the student newspaper, was filled with letters arguing about Dick's proposition. Some Iron Rods condemned the article as the rantings of an apostate. On the other hand, Henry Nicholes--often a glorious thorn in BYU President Ernest Wilkinson's side--argued that Iron Rods and Liahonas probably constituted only two of a large number of types of faithful members within the Church.

I'm not comfortable labeling myself as either an Iron Rod or a Liahona. Nevertheless, I find in Dick's recognition that the Church offers a place for the faithful, questioning intellectual a modicum of comfort in the otherwise uncomfortable world peopled only sparsely by Mormon intellectuals like myself.

Dick Poll would have found most unperceptive Bill Mulder's suggestion--citing his wife's quip--that the phrase "Mormon intellectual" is an oxymoron. Richard Hofstadter suggested that the hallmark of the intellectual is discomfort with certainties. Dick Poll would have heartily agreed, and he would have added that whether you call Latter-day Saints who search and question "Mormon intellectuals" or "Liahonas," they are faithful subjects in God's Kingdom. If, as I firmly believe, the celestial kingdom has room for all faithful people, Dick Poll will surely find his seat near God's right hand raising questions, for which the loving Father of us all will express his profound gratitude.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

If you could ask the First Presidency a question--any question--what would you ask?



"If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed."
-J. Reuben Clark

I'm genuinely baffled when I see fellow Latter-day Saints dismiss any effort to ask hard questions, especially when those questions are an honest attempt to find out what "the truth" is. In a church that only requires us to believe "truth", why is the default setting to view such attempts that dig deep to find out "the truth" perceived as "negativity" and a threat?

If one uses a jackhammer to try and separate fact/truth/ideal from the concrete of reality, tradition, and even current teachings assumed to be truth, I think we should be thankful for such work, not marginalize the worker because of the temporary noise.

Assuming we could ask in that spirit and receive a loving answer (as opposed to being given a stone for bread), I'm wondering what you would ask the First Presidency if you had the opportunity to ask any question you wanted?

I have several questions I'd like answered. For example:

*Why are only men ordained to the priesthood?
*When will you be reforming the excommunication process?
*Why in the world did you uphold Kate Kelly's excommunication anyway?  What was learned, if anything, when the Church botched that "sad experience"?

I'm in complete agreement with Lavina Fielding Anderson (who herself was wrongfully excommunicated), who last summer at Sunstone shared the following:
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.

***Update 6/4/15: Rock posted the following update to this blog a few hours ago:
A few hours ago I was excommunicated from the church for apostasy.
"What sins am I guilty of?"
"Apostasy."
"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.

Rock Waterman is a "threat" in the same way Dorothy pulling back the curtain was a threat to the Wizard of Oz. The question is do we want to see the truth and see reality as it actually is or as we wish it to be? Truth can defend itself--it's not a fragile thing. If people have faith in the truth there is nothing to fear. But if expectations of faith are placed upon a false narrative or on idols, then image must be preserved at all costs. Despite these unjust, unfair, and unChristlike witch hunts, leadership typically remains silent, unless media attention becomes great. It was a rare and welcome exception when the First Presidency issued this statement last summer:
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.
I, for one, don't oppose the church or its leaders. In fact, I sustain them. But since sustaining them doesn't require that I always agree, I do oppose the harmful messages and teachings that sometimes come out of the church and its faithful leaders. Harmful teachings deserve to be harmed. (If you're not prepared to go down the rabbit hole, don't ask me for specific examples. There are plenty, both in the past and in the present.)

To be clear, don't believe we should ever criticize the leaders themselves. Personal attacks are certainly unbecoming a member of the church. As L. Jackson Newell wrote: "Personal attacks always diminish the dignity of individual and community life and are never appropriate in government, business, or religion. On the other hand, the respectful and constructive criticism of a leader's ideas or judgments is not only acceptable but necessary for healthy organizational life." Thus, I draw an important distinction between the person and the ideas. We should constructively criticize ideas and teachings that are harmful. I'm with Bill Reel on speaking out against harmful and damaging teachings--especially when lives are at stake or the atonement is denied. (Better to come home dead from your mission than to have committed sexual sin?! What about the atonement?!)

I dislike false doctrine as much as the next guy. I especially dislike it when it comes from authorities of my church. Thus, I support the church when it corrects its own false doctrines and false teachings, however long it takes. (Example: Race and the priesthood.) Since the church itself can eventually come around and correct its mistakes (with or without apologies) and receive grace, perhaps we ought to be willing to extend the same hope and grace to individuals to likewise come around eventually and not be so swift to judge them as apostates and excommunicate them.

In light of the First Presidency's reminder that "simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy," I posed my original question ("If you could ask the First Presidency a question--any question--what would you ask?") to fellow Latter-day Saints online. I quickly received many responses, and you'll see from their questions below that they are not afraid to think for themselves and question the status quo. It's quite a sampling:
  • "If the gospel is truly for everyone, what is the church willing to do to change the culture of Mormonism so that everyone will feel they truly have a place here regardless of color, sexual orientation, political affiliation, gender, marital status, social class, etc.. ?"
  • "Why can't we let Jesus be enough? If it's His gospel, why don't teach that more?" 
  • "Why do we need to constantly add in things to the gospel plan? Isn't the atonement good enough?" 
  • "Why are you directing people not to follow the Savior's commandment to ASK, SEEK, KNOCK? Regarding female ordination, what are you afraid of?"
  • "Why can't we be okay as a church admitting there have been lies, white washing, and deliberate half truths in the name of building a church?"
  • "If the Book of Mormon holds the fullness of the gospel, why do we have a very different church now? I am comfortable with modern revelation but we have departed so much from the church described in the Book of Mormon."
  • "What do you mean, 'you KNOW'?"
  • "What do you honestly think about polygamy? Why not just abolish section 132?"
  • "Can we have that long awaited two hour block? Pleaseandthankyou."
  • "Why do you allow yourselves to be put up on pedestals? (I personally think the deification of members of the church serving in "high callings" is a root problem to a lot of the ill's of the church. A hierarchy invalidates a lot of voices.)"
  • "Why is it that in some cases putting leaders on pedestals is actually encouraged or even demanded, and why are general authorities allowed to do it to each other? (The 14 Fundamentals and its inclusion in manuals and reiteration in conference makes top leadership complicit in fostering the idolatrous culture.)"
  • "Why have the 15 apparently decided they should not apologize for wrongs done in the past or today?"
  • "What are we to do with 2 Nephi 5, Alma 3, Abraham 1, Moses 7, and other scriptures in relation to the church's statement: 'Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse'?"
  • "When is the church going to be honest about its history? Why can't we apologize for what happened in the past? Our church clearly hasn't been Christlike in how we treat the LGBT community. And why is the church excommunicating people based on belief, not actions that are detrimental to the gospel?"
Of course, last summers clarification that simply asking questions is not apostasy wasn't necessarily a new definition of apostasy, since the following has long been in the handbook:
Yet the handbook can raise more questions than it answers: Is excommunication truly warranted in cases where one man judges another as "apostate" for believing too much or too little? How can one repent of something that was never sin to begin with?

I would whole-heartedly support the Church in making progressive changes to this definition and/or process. In light of the ninth article of faith, I wish the Church would not be so collectively resistant to change. Recently on Radio West, Greg Prince summed it up like this: "We feel very strong about how things are until they change, and then we feel very strong about how they’ve become." And later: "We feel very strongly that we do things the way we do them because we do them that way until we do them differently."

Should we not hope that Seers could see a better way forward in cases where deep and serious sin has not occurred? Is excommunication truly the best solution for these kinds of cases? Do we not see how foolish it is to continue to use excommunication as the red "ejector" button, rather than exclusively for repentance in serious moral and ethical cases? Moreover, isn't it troubling how "conduct unbecoming of church members" is subjective in the extreme, how there's no impartial jury, and that no women are allowed to be part of the council?

No amount of faith will change the stubborn fact that some members are not as lucky as others in the unfortunate reality of ecclesiastical roulette. Perhaps to create more calm and uniformity the First Presidency could require that they themselves must sign off on these kinds of cases rather than let local leaders fumble around and inflict pain on the worldwide church body.

Another question: What of those who hold up a mirror on ecclesiastical abuses in the institutional Church? If we don't like what we see, do we punish the messenger for the message? Are we okay with casting out those who speak out publicly while injustice is swept under the rug to save the reputation of the Church? Are we okay with "disciplining" those who follow the dictates of their conscience? Do we really expect all such displays of ecclesiastical "power" to be automatically and divinely ratified? If the Church is concerned about its reputation, shouldn't it allow people of conscience to become whistle-blowers in order to uncover unrighteous dominion? Does it not create an unsafe environment when the default is to squelch public dissent?

If our ultimate responsibility is to truth, do we not have the right and the responsibility to respectfully oppose teachings we've individually discerned do not represent the mind and will of God? How much faith do we actually have in J. Reuben Clark's statement: "If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed"? Does confirming the truth for one's self only apply to sincere investigators before they're baptized or all throughout their lives? Are we expected to turn a blind eye to history and believe the myth of infallibility, that authorities called of God always speak the truth?

I believe Terryl Givens spoke truth when he said the following:
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."

Precisely because no one single mortal can know all the details of ones heart, wouldn't it be better to leave the judgement up to Christ? Last June in her Sunstone presentation, Lavina Fielding Anderson quoted Pope Francis, who just days before had given a homily based on the parable of the mote and the beam and had renounced those who judge others, calling them hypocrites and even comparing them to Satan. He pointed out the scriptural fact that the title of Satan is “the accuser.”

He who judges another puts himself in the role of God, the only judge--and is that not a form of blasphemy? Even with an exclusive claim to priesthood authority, if we see no difference between mortal leaders and God himself, that is idolatry. A man so certain he knows the will of God can be dangerous.
That danger should give us pause, cause us to think deeply, and to be very careful, for whichever judgment we dole out will be the judgement we too will receive. What happens to the brother who judges, as Pope Francis said, is that he ends up "a victim of his own lack of mercy." Speaking on mercy, the Pope went on to say that Jesus "never accuses" but actually does the opposite--he defends. “Jesus will judge, yes, at the end of the world, but in the meantime He intercedes and defends."

God is "the sole judge" and ultimately, said Pope Francis, men who judge “imitate the prince of this world," who waits in the background, ready to accuse. “May the Lord give us the grace to imitate Jesus, the intercessor, advocate, lawyer,” for ourselves and others. We're to imitate Him, not imitate others who judge, for “in the end, it will destroy us." After quoting the Pope, Lavina went on to say:
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.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Beauty Of Owning Our Own Post-Certain Religious Life


Brent Beal shared some profound insights about those of us who no longer claim to "know" truth with certainty and yet have rebuilt a life of faith. That transition from certainty to uncertainty is often accompanied from a transition of perceived orthodoxy to heterodoxy as one places higher priority on individual autonomy over simply following directions:
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.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Calderwood's Concerns Should Be The Church's Collective Concerns


"When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser." -Elder Dallin H. Oaks

I fully agree with the above statement by Elder Oaks. Likewise, our Church is the loser when church leaders retaliate and force out church members who voice concerns in public. Despite my holy hope for holy leadership, it would be an egregious error to assume that even good, but fallible LDS leaders, cannot get things "wrong." Too often, despite the great inclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Church excludes people and sends the sad message: "You do not belong here." I believe the Church should be strong enough to allow healthy public dissent. Make no mistake, there is an unjust wrong being done to my friends Marisa Pond Calderwood and Carson Calderwood.

With permission, here are their own words:
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.

***Update to include the result from last night (and Carson's blog update here):

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Truth: ALL Families Deserve To Be Strengthened

The thirteenth Article of Faith states "we believe in doing good to all [mankind]." I've wondered lately how many Mormons really believe that. I can speak only for my own beliefs, but I believe in doing good to all--men, women, children, regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation. I believe Mormons should likewise believe in doing good to families--all families.

As a matter of fact, four years ago on this blog I posted "ALL Families Are Valuable" to spread the hope that the "value of the traditional family" would be replaced with "the value of all families." Yet four years later we continue to idolize the "traditional" family while causing great pain and unnecessary harm to many other families and individuals. The Church that prides itself on families still has not collectively recognized the value of all families. And it makes me sick. Latter-day Saints continue to teach fear-based philosophies of men/women mingled with scripture as "truth", but here's the real truth: ALL families deserve to be strengthened.


The truth is that families come in all shapes and sizes. Some families consist of a mom and a dad, two dads, two moms, single parents, and some families have no children at all. I believe in strengthening them all, especially because I believe it's true that "we are all likely working towards the same goals--namely an environment where those we care for, including ourselves, can grow and learn in love, happiness and safety." I believe the truth is that the Lord is most pleased when we all work to love and uplift each other and help each other to stay dedicated to our familial commitments, whatever those may look like.

As Jana Riess wrote yesterday, "every time my church does something that appears to diminish the humanity of LGBT persons, our reputation as a religion takes a hit. And when we act with greater love and less condemnation, people respond in kind." However, as she went on to say, "when we point to some families as 'counterfeit' and claim there is only one right way to love – and, gee, it happens to be ours! — we’re preaching fear, not truth. And when we ally ourselves with a group that stands accused of denying basic rights to gay people when we have recently helped to pass legislation that gives them those rights, we are sending a very mixed message."

It also sends mixed messages anytime the ridiculous and (mostly negative) phrase "love the sinner, hate the sin" is perpetuated. PLEASE let us stop using this worthless phrase. 


I think Jesus made it pretty clear we're to love, period. To condemn sin in others was a sin "in and of itself." In fact, "the only time we should openly condemn sin is when we find it within ourselves." In other words, we're to focus on loving others, not worrying about their personal life. If we make it our business to judge others business, we're simply not able to love them well at all. And then where is the greater sin?

In my open letter to Elder Christofferson, I wrote: "Today, in this new Civil Rights era for the LGBT community, I'm afraid that my conscience and the position of officials currently leading the church might also be at odds. So I'm in a bit of a precarious position. I wait patiently, though not passively, and encourage progress in areas that I can, while trying to be anxiously engaged in good causes and follow my conscience without causing harm to the church." The harder question for me, however, is what should I do when it's my church that's causing harm to others?

It's amazing how much harm we can cause in the name of "defending the family". To "defend" means to "resist an attack, to protect from harm or danger." It doesn't mean to go on offense. Let me be clear, I'll defend my traditional marriage if ever someone tried to strip me of that right, but so far so good--no attacks. I do see marriage equality under attack, so I'm gonna defend that too, cause marriage for all is better than marriage for some, and same-sex marriage doesn't undermine my traditional marriage in the least. My marriage is respected and I respect everyone else's freedom to marry whoever they choose.  It's the golden rule. Does our church still believe in that?

The wise Roni Jo Draper once said: "I'm pretty sure the purpose of the gospel is to improve myself and love others. Not to love myself and improve others." Whenever we use religion as a means to control others, we're doing it wrong. "The purpose of religion," said the Dalai Lama, "is to control yourself, not to criticize others." Scripture provides plenty of examples of people using religion to harm others. Scripture also has plenty of examples of using religion to be a blessing to others. We should learn from the past to be more wise than those who used religion as a weapon. We ought to do more to actively be a blessing to others. I agree with Vicky Beeching: "No one should have to choose between their religious faith and their gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation. We are all God's children, created to love and be loved."

The conversation lately about the Family Proclamation has to do with the fact that its origins had to do with political/legal reasons rather than doctrinal/revelatory reasons. But there is still much of good there that can be expanded and repurposed with an enlarged vision. One example: "We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society."

All families deserve to be strengthened. ALL families. Not just the modern Mormon monogamous ideal. Attacking gay marriage/marriage equality does nothing to strengthen families. Only the opposite, ironically. An expansion to the definition of marriage does not hurt/harm/weaken ones existing "traditional" marriage. We do that to ourselves by the way we act in our own marriages.  If we really want to prevent further disintegration of families, if we truly wish to strengthen families, the FMH community have come up with some very practical ways: "Strengthening the Family: a response from the fMh community".

Do you want to know my plan for strengthening families? Teach love and respect and inclusiveness of all, regardless of whether ones family has a mother and a father, two fathers, two mothers, only one parent, and regardless of whether they are able to raise children or not. Teach the Gospel and Faith in Jesus Christ, not the traditional Mormon culture that so many mistake for the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ would not be throwing stones at people's families. He'd be putting his arms around all good and sincere human beings, regardless of culture, gender, or orientation, and telling us to "go and do thou likewise".

In 1947 the First Presidency was completely wrong about racism and ethnocentrism in the 1900's--projecting those views onto God, while brother Lowry Nelson--a liberal--was right. History has vindicated brother Nelson. If they could be that wrong then, they could very well be wrong now in filing amicus briefs against marriage equality. I personally think God is much bigger and more loving and more inclusive than most Latter-day Saints currently give Him credit for.

If I'm wrong, I would far rather err on the side of charity and inclusiveness than to be a stumbling block in the path of my neighbor--including my LGBT neighbor. I want to be a blessing to all of God's children, including my LGBT neighbors. As the hymn says, doing good [to ALL] is a "pleasure", a "joy beyond measure, a blessing of duty and love."

I believe our true duty is to help strengthen ALL families without diminishing any particular family in the least. But even more importantly, I think the only family I need to really worry about is not my neighbor's, but the one living within the walls of my own home. 



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Decalogue for Dissenters

The first Sunstone piece I may have ever read was likely Armand Mauss's "Alternate Voices: The Calling and its Implications," though I first encountered it at Times and Season's reposted as "Alternate Voices". I remember being particularly impressed by the final section, "Decalogue for Dissenters", and apparently Elder Dallin H. Oaks (who himself was a founding member of the editorial board of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought) saw value in it too, for he sent a short letter (three lines) to compliment Brother Mauss on his piece and express approval of it’s interpretation of his conference address. Those of us today who at times feel called to dissent, whether in person or even on Facebook or through blogging, will likewise find value in Armand Mauss's words:

Image result for dissenters

Decalogue for Dissenters
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.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Liahona Latter-day Saint

I never knew Dr. Poll (pronounced Paul--the name was English) in person, but through his writing and recorded work, he has influenced me enough that I can affirm what Thomas G. Alexander said "In Memoriam:" Poll was a "dedicated and inspiring teacher," and his legacy deeply and personally influences me today. I consider him, even now, as one of my most significant Mormon "maverick" mentors, and my primary example of what it means to be both committed to history and to faith, especially as a Liahona Latter-day Saint. His calm, reasoned, and compassionate voice resonated with me when I listened to this talk in audio format years ago, and it continues to inspire me today. In an effort to share it with others and to make the text easier for me to reference in the future, I include it below in its entirety:

RICHARD D. POLL was a professor emeritus of history at BYU. This paper was originally presented at the 1993 "Pillars of My Faith" session of the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City on 13 August. He died 27 April 1994.

My life and my study of history have made me optimistic. Things can be better than they are, and they will be if we rise more resolutely and joyously to the faithful proposition: "I am a child of God." Because I believe that God has an interest in the outcome, I confidently anticipate that this church-my church-will continue to change, repenting and improving in response to continuing revelation.




By Richard D. Poll

For me, faith is what an earlier Paul said it is: "The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1.) It transcends empirical knowledge, and because what humanity learns by reason and experience is both finite and fallible, it may even contradict such "knowledge." Where a faith proposition and a knowledge proposition seem contradictory, l feel no compulsion to choose between them unless it becomes necessary to act upon one or the other. Many issues that strain relations between some good Latter-day Saints who are present tonight and some good Latter-day Saints who are not here do not require resolution. For pragmatic and doctrinal reasons, I believe in sus­pending judgment in such cases.

I am, in short, a Latter-day Saint who believes that the gospel is true, but has an imperfect and evolving under­ standing of what the gospel is. My testimony will, I suppose, be of most interest to "people like me"--people for whom neither dogmatic fundamentalism nor dogmatic humanism pro­vides convincing answers to lifes most basic questions.

The pillars of my faith are two of the Articles of Faith defined by the Prophet-Founder of my church and an interpretive principle provided by a Founding Father of my country.

The first article of faith affirms: "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost."

The ninth article of faith affirms: "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."

James Madison cautioned: "When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated."1  Because I believe with Madison that everyone, including Paul and other prophets, sees eternity "through a glass darkly" (l Cor. 13:12), prophetic infallibility, scriptural inerrancy and unquestioning obedience are not elements of my faith.

I believe in Heavenly Parents who care about me but who will not, perhaps cannot, compel me to obey. I have hope in Christ, and I have drawn strength from the Comforter of whom he spoke. I see history in terms of human strivings to discover divine realities and follow divine principles. Flashes of prophetic insight have elevated those efforts, and Jesus of Nazareth, in his life, death, and resurrection, uniquely embodied those realities. Joseph Smith, a prophet like Moses, Peter, and Alma, gave inspiration and momentum to the gospel dispensation in which, as I have written earlier, I find answers to "enough important questions to live purposefully without answers to the rest."

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I have found ideas, opportunities, and challenges around which I have organized my life. Next to my family, my church is the most important component of that life. I am proud of its contributions to bettering the human condition and grateful for its contributions to my own. If I were in charge of the Church, I would make some changes. Since I am not, I must be patient, but I need not be passive. As a historian, I know that changes have occurred, and the ninth article of faith assures me that they will yet occur. As I reflect tonight upon the building and testing of my faith, I will offer a few suggestions.

Pivotal in the evolution of my personal testimony was my family's move from Salt Lake City to Texas in 1929, when I was ten years old. In consequence, I had no close Mormon friends, except my younger brother and sister, in junior and senior high school and five years at Texas Christian University. I found many non-smoking, non-drinking friends and in the process lost any categorical "we-they" perception of the world that I might have brought with me from Utah. At eighteen I was both superintendent of the Fort Worth Branch Sunday School and president of the TCU Student Christian Association. My two closest male friends were a Bible fundamentalist and a liberal Campbellite, neither of whom was more persuaded by my testimony than I was by theirs. I decided then, and subsequent experience has not changed my mind, that people convert to Mormonism and open them­selves to the witness of the Spirit when they are dissatisfied with some important aspect of their tangible or intangible condition, and they remain converted when they find in the Church a sufficient and enduring response to that need.

I was confident that I would marry a bright young woman who would be already Mormon or ready to join the Church, either for the gospel's sake or for mine. As it turned out, the lovely and intelligent Nebraska Methodist whom I left behind in 1939 for a mission to Germany sent me a "Dear John." The war that caused me to be transferred to the Canadian mission later brought me, as an Army/Air Force instructor in Miami Beach in 1943, together with a lovely and intelligent Mormon from Utah. Seven weeks later we were married in the Salt Lake Temple by the same Joseph Fielding Smith who had united my parents in 1916. I am reluctant to attribute World War II to a providential design to bring Gene and me together, but now at our golden anniversary we do think that finding each other was some kind of miracle.

Texas Christian University had a profound influence on my life and faith. It made me a political liberal, a teacher, historian, football fan, and lover of peace. As a senior I was chosen student body president in an uncontested election because I was the only student council member still on speaking terms with all factions in the controversy that forced my predecessor to resign. Throughout my life I have aspired to be a mediating, moderating, and motivating influence.

At TCU I learned Burke's warning against apathy: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing," and Goethe's warning against zeal without knowledge: "There is nothing so terrible as ignorance in action." I have quoted both in hundreds of history classes. A course in the New Testament introduced me to another epigram that has influenced my deportment in Church classes, both as teacher and student: "The function of religon is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." If I were ever asked to speak in general conference, that would be my text.

The primary activities to which I have devoted the last fifty years have all helped to shape and test my faith:

1. My relations with Gene, our three daughters, their partners, and our seven grandchildren have been central to my life. Had I experienced "consciousness raising" earlier, I would probably have been a better husband and father, but Gene and I worked hard at building a traditional LDS home and family and both the effort and the outcomes have brought us happiness. We have faith in the proposition "Families Are Forever," and we recently watched a grandson sing the lead in Saturday's Warrior without letting theological questions mar our enjoyment of the occasion.

2. My relations with the Church have included attending meetings regularly, going to the temple occasionally, and accepting callings ranging from branch president, bishop's counselor, and high council member, to officer and teacher in every organization for which I am gender-qualified. Currently I teach the high priests along with a sweet-spirited and knowledgeable retiree from the BYU religion faculty. The class members seem to find his scripture-based answers and my scripture-based questions equally engaging. If the hours devoted to teaching preparation, informal gospel conversations, and unofficial Church-related gatherings are added to the hours in scheduled meetings, both my income and my time have been tithed, and I begrudge neither offering.

3. Except for the appointment as administrative vice president that took me to Western Illinois University after twenty-two years at BYU, my professional life has been closely linked to Mormonism. As a teacher and writer, I have observed how encountering history affects religious perspectives. It nudges some people toward disbelief and drives others into denial, but it provides more questions than answers. History is hard on myths and traditions that are contradicted by non-Hofmannesque evidence, but it neither proves nor disproves the central faith propositions of the gospel.

My own life with history, including the history of my own life, leads me to these observations about my church and my personal testimony:

I belong to a church whose past and present leaders, with a few exceptions, have been men and women of ability, integrity, and devotion. I occasionally differ with their collective decisions or think uncharitably about individuals among them, but I believe that they seek to serve God and that, taken as a whole, the fruits of their labors are good. As my brothers and sisters, they are entitled to my sympathy, support, and suggestions.

I sustain fifteen of my church leaders as prophets, although history tells me that leading any organized religion is primarily a priestly rather than a prophetic function. As voices crying in the wilderness, prophets like John the Baptist and Joseph Smith challenged the ecclesiastical status quo. Among recipients of each new dispensation of divine truth, however, there quickly arises concern for preserving and protecting what has been received. Among today's prophet/high priests, there seems to be intense preoccupation with what may happen if unauthorized hands touch the ark of the covenant. There is reluctance to consider any unsolicited suggestion even if "it seems so reasonable and right." I pray that these understandable concerns do not produce insensitivity to changing needs among the Saints and to new possibilities.



I believe that revelation may come through visions, dreams, and visitations, as God wills, but my Madisonian skepticism rejects the notion that the mind of a prophet--any prophet--is a fax machine linked to a divine transmitter. The history and scriptures of the Restoration testify that almost every revelation is confirmatory. It responds to a proposed answer to a pressing question, and the timing and substance of both question and tentative answer are shaped by the character, experiences, and needs of the questioner. I believe this is true even if the petitioner for divine guidance is a prophet. I believe it is my right to help shape the context and content of future prophetic inquiries, even as I have tried to do in the past, and I pray for wisdom and patience in asserting that right.

I see merit in the apostolic commitment to support decisions once collectively made, but a wonderful range of personal contacts has convinced me that those who wear the prophetic mantle do not all think alike and that they certainly do not always subscribe to the dictum, "When the prophet speaks the thinking has been done." For me, their humanness as individuals makes their collective accomplishments more remarkable. I sustain them in their difficult callings with the realization that, taken as a group, they are neither more nor less singleminded, devoted, and inspired than their predecessors.

Let me illustrate this component of my testimony with three personal experiences:

1.When BYU was recruiting students over forty years ago, John A. and Leah D. Widstoe rode to California with Gene and me in our Model A Ford. It was a great opportunity to get to know the man whose book A Rational Theology, helped shape my own beliefs and the woman primarily responsible for expanding the Word of Wisdom into a comprehensive health code. Sensitive to the situation, Gene and I ordered whole wheat toast with our breakfast. When the Widstoes joined us, they ordered white.

2. In consequence of my publicly criticizing Joseph Fielding Smith's book Man, His Origin and Destiny, Gene and I had the remarkable opportunity to meet privately with Church President David 0. McKay and immediately thereafter with President Smith, and to hear them give flatly contradictory answers to the question, "Is the concept of evolution compatible with the gospel?" We remain to this day thankful that the ninth article of faith sheltered us from having to decide which of these venerable prophets was expressing inspired truth.

3. On more than one occasion I heard President Hugh B. Brown speak of the difficult predicament of the counselor in the First Presidency who has "responsibility without authority." Both he and President Henry D. Moyle, his strong-minded predecessor as first counselor to President McKay, were ultimately defeated by it. It is true that the Church has developed a "back-up system" that insures continuity in operations, but it is historically demonstrable that the internal dynamics of the apostolic councils change when the one person who is doctrinally authorized to speak for God to the whole church is unable to lead effectively. I pray, I hope, and I believe that options for accomplishing for the Church what the twenty-fifth Amendment has achieved in the national government are under consideration among our prophet-leaders, and that an appropriate solution will in due course receive divine confirmation.

I belong to a church whose structure, programs, policies, and doctrinal interpretations are in constant flux, as the concept of continuing revelation requires that they be. My testimony has been strengthened by most of the changes that have occurred since I was required to hold my left hand behind my back while passing the sacrament, and I expect to agree with most of the changes that will yet occur. On the premise that recording them here puts them into the context for continuing revelation, I offer two prayerfully considered suggestions:

1. The Sunday meeting schedule should be redesigned to address at least these three shortcomings of the present block plan: The strain on the attention and patience spans of little children and those who teach them; the difficulties inherent in trying to produce two short, safe, significant classes in quick succession; and the insufficiently met need for informal social interaction among ward members.

2. The "woman question," clearly a subject of profound concern among our prophet-leaders today, should be carried beyond the present laudable focus on curbing abuse of women and children to a consideration of the full implications of gender equality in the kingdom of God. Changes requiring only policy modifications might include admitting women to the ritual blessings of babies, enhancing the opportunities and recognition given for teen-age girls, encouraging female children to consider missions, and including active LDS women in decision making--as distinct from decision implementation--at the ward and stake levels.

This is an issue no less fundamental than the plural marriage question that produced a revolutionary revelation a century ago and the racial problem, the revealed solution to which is revolutionizing the Church today. What does the future hold? Surely this is one of the great and important things on which we can anticipate further light and knowledge.

It is exciting and faith promoting to belong to a church in which many, many men and women of ability and commitment face challenges as great as any earlier generation. While our prophet-leaders confront the daunting task of separating traditions and customs from gospel universals, they remodel organizations, policies, programs, even priesthood quorums in ways that suggest both flexibility and inspiration. It seems clear to me that they are asking many of the right questions and receiving many excellent answers. Most of their public and private counsel focuses on Christ's precepts for living.

When things are said and done that suggest the thirty-ninth verse of Doctrine and Covenants 121 ("We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion"), or the fable of the king's new clothes, we may still choose, aware of our own spiritual nakedness, to help create a better royal wardrobe rather than abandon the court and the kingdom. Reinforcing my resolve to carry on is my conviction that among our dedicated and prayerful prophet-leaders there must be a growing awareness that the present bureaucratic approach to us Mormon mavericks is not only counterproductive but morally questionable. As we anxiously discuss what to do about the Brethren, we should derive encouragement, I think, from the clear signs that they are anxiously concerned over what to do about us.

My life and my study of history have made me optimistic. Things can be better than they are, and they will be if we rise more resolutely and joyously to the faithful proposition: "I am a child of God." They can and will be when those who must "prove all things" (1 Thes. 5:21) and those who steadfastly "hold fast that which is good" realize that they are defending two sides of the same divine formula. Because I believe that God has an interest in the outcome, I confidently anticipate that this church--my church--will continue to change, repenting and improving in response to continuing revelation. In this expectation I close with an adaptation of my remarks at last year's symposium:

Encouraged by the apostle Paul's observation, "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (Gal. 5:9), I aspire to live out my life as a Liahona Latter-day Saint whose questioning testimony perplexes some and comforts others of his brothers and sisters. I intend to frame my questions, make my suggestions, and bear my witness with charity, humility, and persistence. Thus I hope to help produce a Mormon chorus in which almost all the singers hear the dissonant sounds of the alternate voices as polyphonic enrichment of the message of the gospel music.

NOTE
1. Quoted in Alpheus T. Mason,"Free Government's Balance Wheel," Wilson Quarterly (Spring 1972): 97.