"We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may"
According to the 11th Article of Faith, it seems to me that Latter-day Saints are typically quite generous (or at least ought to be) in our allowance (or tolerance) of the religious beliefs of those not of our faith. But must letting "them worship" differently only refer to people in other faiths? Or can "them" also refer to fellow Mormons in terms of how they worship? My question isn't original (see "Should we apply the 11th article of faith internally?"), but it's nonetheless a question I've had on my mind lately.
There may have been a time when I read this particular article of faith only in the direction of "us" and "them"--Mormon and non-Mormon. Now I read it and apply it in all directions, including within Mormonism. How tolerant are we with "allowing" variances within our own faith as opposed to simply being tolerant with "others"? How generous are we with each other in recognizing that we must each individually follow "the dictates of our own conscience"? What should be said (if at all) about the limits to divergence of our personal choices of worship (or lack thereof) inside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
"Let them worship how, where, or what they may"
Posted by Clean Cut at Tuesday, January 11, 2011
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I didn't necessarily have specific examples in mind while writing this, but in my mind I'm including theological differences (e.x.: beliefs about God, etc.) as well as church-related activities (e.x.: What about if one's "conscience" is just fine with not participating in home teaching, etc.?)
I have said for a long time that we are MUCH harder on "our own" than on "others". I also have said that perhaps the best measure of our charity is how we treat those of "our own" (whether biological or church) who differ from us in regard to your central question. So, in answer to your question, absolutely I believe the 11th Article of Faith applies to all, outside or inside the Church.
I think that message is being preached much more vocally and explicitly by the apostles recently than it used to be. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least four General Conference talks that included something along those lines. The best, imo, is Elder Wirthlin's "Concern for the One" from 2008 - in which he describes some reasons why people leave the Church or become inactive and then puts the responsibility for their return on how we treat them, NOT on them changing radically.
I wrote the following in July 2009:
"According to the Dictates of Their Own Conscience"
This is an interesting point. The church does have a responsibility to define itself, so we do need to have some behaviors, etc which we are thus intolerant of. For example, if we tolerant of everything,do we become tolerant of others being intolerant (the lady in my ward who said the lord was pretty clear that you couldn't be a good lds member and a democrat comes to mind) and we don't want to be tolerant of dangerous behavior (like the guy I home teach who thinks he has super strength and can read minds through faith). We don't want to be too tolerant of alternative practices (like the guy on my mission who was excommunicated for sacrificing animals) or dissident behavior (The guy that uses pulpit time to run for mayor, or uses it to actively berate a teenager). The Church does need to set boundaries of what is and is not acceptable.
With that established, the question is, where do those boundaries go and who gets to set them.
Papa D, I should have known that you would have also blogged on the topic. I didn't remember that particular post. And yes, again, it's so true that we are much harder on "our own" than on "others" (both in the family and in church). Yet even though I'm aware of this, I still see it in myself and I recognize room for improvement.
I don't think I'll ever tire of "Concern for the One". In my opinion, that talk just can't be emphasized enough. Particularly this:
"[Some] may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed. Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole."
Matt W, those are excellent points. I especially appreciate the thought of not becoming tolerant of intolerance. And of course we don't want accept dangerous and extreme practices such as the examples you shared. As you said, "the Church does need to set boundaries of what is and is not acceptable. With that established, the question is, where do those boundaries go and who gets to set them."
Those are the exact questions I have--"where do those boundaries go and who gets to set them". While I'd certainly agree with drawing a boundary on your examples, there are other areas where boundaries were/are drawn that I don't particularly agree with (the excommunication of Janice Allred comes to mind).
Clean Cut, it's a great question. Certainly each member has his agency to believe what he will and to act as he will. What he may not do, however, is demand that the church sanction or agree with him.
If God lives and if He is the source of absolute truth, then we ought to seek Him. If He has a living prophet and a living church, then one might assume that will be the vehicle by which He will reveal Himself (so suggest the scriptures and the modern prophets).
Of course at the "retail" level we are in no position to judge. I can't judge how Brother Jones or Brother Smith believes or behaves. All I can do is offer my love and friendship.
"Certainly each member has his agency to believe what he will and to act as he will. What he may not do, however, is demand that the church sanction or agree with him."
Agreed, Paul. One problem I see, however, is that since most disciplinary actions are made at the local level, there can be a wide latitude of tolerance from one bishop/stake president on one topic/person whereas in another ward or stake there might be much less tolerance from a different bishop/stake president for the very same issue.
"If [God] has a living prophet and a living church, then one might assume that will be the vehicle by which He will reveal Himself"
I used to assume that. Now my views are more nuanced on that, not to mention more accepting of multiple vehicles.
"Of course at the "retail" level we are in no position to judge. I can't judge how Brother Jones or Brother Smith believes or behaves. All I can do is offer my love and friendship."
CC, agree that there certainly is variability on the matter of church discipline. And I'm sure in high-concentration areas, especially, those differences are more noticable.
As for accepting different points of view -- I'm ok with that, too. But we shouldn't assume that the church as an institution would necessarily be.
"As for accepting different points of view -- I'm ok with that, too. But we shouldn't assume that the church as an institution would necessarily be."
That's an interesting point, as well, Paul. Because how much variance in "point of view" is allowable? While the modern church does it's best to show "unity", church history shows there is hardly one right "church point of view" on most things. See, for example, Wide Latitude of Possible Beliefs In Mormonism.
Fair point. And again, I think even from the pulpit in recent time there's been a fair amount of latitude in personal worship.
But standards are clear, for example, for temple worthiness. I'm not talking about cultural issues of beards and white shirts and number of ear rings.
And in any missionary church with new converts, you're bound to get some variety even in doctrine taught in sacrament meeting (no matter how many conference talks you assign), just because levels of understanding will be different.
To your question in your original comment below the OP...
If my belief in god is different than the standard (eg, God the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; God the Father and Jesus are separate beings), then I should not be surprised to find some opposition if I share my view as gospel truth.
As for one's conscience in home teaching -- I'd say that desribes a lot of priesthood holders, if I consider home teaching statistics in my own ward.
But again, men who don't want to home teach should not be surprised by encouragement to home teach from their Elders Quorum presidency.
In an earlier comment you mentioned disciplinary action. I'm not aware in a huge upsurge in disciplinary action around non-conformative behavior unless it's really sinful (as in sexual behavior) or dangerous (as in abuse) or harmful to the church (as in public pronouncements / teachings opposing the church). There are guidelines for local leaders and bishops should confer with stake presidents who should confer with their "file leaders" (area presidencies outside the US and members of the presidency of the 70 inside the US, I think), as well.
Clean Cut, I made a similar appeal to the 11th article of faith within the Mormon community, as I have in the context of interfaith dialogue.
I'm glad to see the specific examples given here because I think that helps us communicate our ideas better and avoid talking past each other.
Obviously, there will always be rules and polices in place that prescribe or circumscribe our behaviors. Someone who wants to worship in Sacrament Meeting by playing an electric guitar during the musical number or who wants to worship by using red wine rather than water for the Sacrament on Sunday probably isn't going to be allowed to worship that way. The original context of the 11th article of faith seems to be speaking of religious liberty or religious freedom. In other words, we have the freedom to believe but allow others the same freedom.
However, certainly we can speak of the spirit of the 11th article of faith, applied it to the Mormon community, as recognizing that people from various backgrounds embracing a spectrum of political and social views make up the body of Christ. It is reasonable to assume that those within the community are bound by a shared worldview and a shared set of religious values and beliefs, else they wouldn't be much of a community. Yet, my sense is that the reason we appeal for tolerance is that at times we can doubt that the benefits of uniformity or conformity outweigh the costs of alienation and exclusion of some from the body of Christ.
One could criticize the gentleman or young man for wearing a red dress shirt on Sunday rather than a white dress shirt, or they could be glad that he made the decision to come to church. We might be upset at the brother or sister who dogmatically dominates the discussion and persistently pontificates during Sunday School but we might also realize that underneath his or her comments is a personal struggle and talking it out helps them, even if they lack tact, and perhaps even if they are unaware of the pain they inadvertently cause. We might be bothered by the brother who believes life is black and white and the Gospel has all answers to all questions and consistently appeals to authority, and interpret any question as either a sign of ignorance or disbelief. Yet, we might feel differently if we knew his life story, as perhaps the Savior does, and we may decide we are less bothered with how they choose to worship. This isn't to say we do not have legitimate concerns and it isn't to say that people should never be confronted, but it does mean that perhaps a spirit of fellowship and discipleship should dictate our attitude towards others.
THANKYOU!!! I needed this.
Here are some more specifics that I have observed in wards and branches where I have lived:
In Pittsburgh a woman who converted from a pentacostal background was fond of her customary phraseology in her testimony ("Thank you, Jesus!"). People were so thrilled to have her there, no one worried about the unconventional (from a Western-US Mormon viewpoint) language.
In Taiwan, we had many expats from different countries in our English ward. It was not uncommon to have unique Filipino culture manifestations, particularly in musical numbers and even in their talks.
In Michigan, I'm aware of one bishop who is very big on interfaith activities and sponsors an interfaith worship service in his chapel each November. That meeting is in addition to, not in place of, a normal sacrament meeting.
In a Chicago ward we visited (this was years ago, so maybe things have changed), they had a unique Sunday School class in addition to the normal Gospel Doctrine class. This one was much more like a protestant scripture study, where they read the Book of Mormon one verse at a time and discussed it, in the style of the Baptist scripture study sessions I attended from time to time on my mission.
None of these is earth shattering, but each in its own way shows some tolerance for a different approach which allows folks access to the gospel in a way they might not find in my suburban ward.
I recently found myself doing just that--judging someone for not worshiping the same way that I think is important. And then during testimony meeting, a ward member shared an analogy given by Chieko Okazaki that the gospel is a prism. We are all traveling through it and our light comes out a different color than our neighbors--but they are both good. It helped me realize that someone who doesn't read their scriptures as dutifully as I think they should are way better at finding meaningful ways to serve others, or have compassion above what I can muster. There is so much good in all of us, we focus too much on judging the bad.
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