Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Holy Hope For Holy Leadership

I have very modest expectations for LDS ecclesiastical leaders. This keeps me from going insane whenever I hear of so many boneheaded policies, statements, and disciplinary decisions that cause so many to express concern about leadership rouletteI love and sustain my leaders, but to quote J. Golden Kimball, "I love some a hell of a lot more than I do others."

Recently I've written about my belief that most priesthood leaders read Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42 and sincerely desire to lead in their calling "by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile." However, the scripture also tells us it is "the nature and disposition" of almost all of them to be easily prone to "unrighteous dominion", therefore, I have a healthy respect for the fact that "many are called, but few are chosen."

Krister Stendahl was one leader, not of our faith, who naturally understood that this is how the Lord himself leads--through genuine kindness, unfeigned love, and persuasion. He reportedly offered his Three Rules of Religious Understanding at a 1985 press conference in Stockholm, Sweden in response to opposition to the building of a temple there by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His rules are as follows:

(1) When trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.

(2) Don't compare your best to their worst.

(3) Leave room for “holy envy.”

His comments were particularly timely for the Latter-day Saints then, but I find rule #3 particularly relevant for Latter-day Saints today after observing Pope Francis these past two years. My "holy envy" for Pope Francis means I admire him and wish leaders like him would find greater scope and influence within Mormonism. The Lord revealed to the Latter-day Saints that there were other "holy men that ye know not of" (D&C 49:8). In light of this scripture and Stendahl's rule #3, I think that all Latter-day Saints should want to get to know Pope Francis better.

I'd like to start by recommending "Who Is the Pope?" by Eamon Duffy.

This excerpt especially captures not only what I love about Pope Francis, but confirms why I love my local stake president, who leads with love and understanding and isn't blinded by his own authority:
In a series of interviews and speeches, Francis has deplored clergy who “play Tarzan”—church leaders too confident of their own importance, moral strength, or superior insight. The best religious leaders in his view are those who leave “room for doubt.” The bad leader is “excessively normative because of his self-assurance.” The priest who “nullifies the decision-making” of his people is not a good priest, “he is a good dictator.”  
Bergoglio has even said that the very fact that someone thinks he has all the answers “is proof that God is not with him.” Those who look always “for disciplinarian solutions,…long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists” have “a static and inward-directed view of things,” and have turned faith into ideology. And so the experience of failure, of reaching one’s own limits, is the truest and best school of leadership. He has declared himself drawn to “the theology of failure” and a style of authority that has learned through failure to consult others, and to “travel in patience.”


Anonymous said...

I appreciate very much the tone and content of your post. I agree wholeheartedly. However, I can't help but wonder what causes the post? In your opinion, is Pope Francis' behavior significantly better than most church leaders you encounter?

I wonder simply because in my church experience, the vast majortiy of all church leaders have earned from me the same admiration you afford your stake president.

It seems that sometimes we're guilty of comparing apples and oranges when it comes to leaders. It makes all the sense in the world to me that an elderly individual who has dedicated his/her entire life to serving God comes off pretty nice compared to the youngish bishop who is just a regular dude, works full time, cares for a family and somehow finds the time to make the concerns and anguish of 300 people his own.

Similarly, it's all too easy (and quite unfair) to label something ecclesiastical abuse simply because we disagree with the outcome or the underlying doctrinal issue. I'm not asserting that's what you've done in the post, but my observation on-line is that the genesis of most (certainly not all) percieved "leader roulette" is nothing more than sour grapes.

Frankly, I wish we'd write more posts supporting and thanking our various church leaders for the load they bear and the difficulty of the decisions they make. I think that'd do more good than implying 50% of them let everyone down.

Clean Cut said...

Thanks for the comment, as well as the question. If you must know what inspired this particular post, it was a combination of things. Honestly I find Pope Francis refreshing. It's remarkable how he has revitalized the Catholic faith and mixed things up. Like the Savior, he strikes me as one who isn't afraid to make waves or to go against established tradition to do what he feels is right, and not out of pride but humility. He's not desensitized by power, position, or caught up in his authority, but cares more about "the least of these" and ultimately his message is love. Compassion over dogma. I recognize Christ in all of that.

He's made it a point to be out and about with all kinds of people, ministering in public rather than letting the PR department handle public relations. He's not above apologizing for past wrongs and like Jesus, ministers to the most marginalized in society.

He boldly and constructively criticizes the institutional Church and corruption in the bureaucracy. He may be the most transparent and candid of any major religious leader in my lifetime, and those are qualities I put personally value.

I also absolutely love the leadership philosophy he is quoted as expressing in the excerpt below and feel that it is worth remembering and spotlighting. ("if there's anything virtuous, praiseworthy, or of good report, we seek after these things")

Concurrently I re-read that excerpt while reflecting on the Van Allen's situation (see my previous post) and also after having received this disturbing report out of Utah County just days ago:

"So at a Stake PH session, our SP went full bore calling us to 'ferret out' the doubters among us. He said that there is a difference between a 'doubter' and a 'questioner.' He said doubters-suspend their commitment while awaiting answers while questioners-continue to be obedient while searching for answers. Went on to say that these doubters are among, in our wards and quorums. Added, and I'm not joking here, that sometimes the 'doubters among us may be in our OWN HOMES.' He was so emphatic, and so animated. Angry almost."

The contrast with Pope Francis's words was too big to ignore, and my aspiration was to share it far and wide so that it might do some good in the world and even in our own Church. I didn't intend to point fingers at any particular leader or harp on what I *don't* like but emphasize what I *do like* and embrace whatever lessons we can since I presume we all want to try and do and be better.

Clean Cut said...

Some leaders seem to motivate by fear rather than love. Also compare and contrast the disturbing report from the local leader above with this message from President Dieter Uchtdorf: "The Church is a home for all to come together, regardless of the depth or the height of our testimony. I know of no sign on the doors of our meetinghouses that says, “Your testimony must be this tall to enter.”

Clean Cut said...

I honestly think anyone who takes on a calling like a bishop or stake president for all the time and energy it takes and without any kind of stipend, is for all intents and purposes a superstar. I just think many are in over their head with how to deal with questioners and folks like me who don't defer to authority for authorities sake. For folks like me, being misunderstood and dealing with the rush to use their power to do harm is real. It's not just paranoia, it's based on real experiences.

I respect the keys and the office, but my heart is softened towards them and my love increased for them only when leaders themselves follow righteous principles such as those listed in D&C 121.

Which is why I have such love and respect for former Church Historian Marlin K. Jensen. Elder Jensen held a Q&A session with a group at Utah State University a few years back. He spoke of church leaders needing to provide an “atmosphere of safety and a welcoming place”. He went on to say:

“If we really are truly Christian, it has to start there. Being less judgmental. Being more open and welcoming and inclusive…so, if that environment can be created, and it should be, but often in the church, when someone comes with a bit of a prickly question, he’ll be met with a bishop who number one, doesn’t know the answer. Number two, he snaps and says, ‘Get in line and don’t question the prophet, and get back and do your home teaching.’ And that isn’t helpful in most cases. So, we need to educate our leaders better, I think, to be sympathetic and empathetic and to draw out of these people where they are coming from and what’s brought them to the point they are at. What have they read, what their thinking is, and try to understand them. Sometimes that alone is enough to help someone through a hard time. But beyond that, I think we really need to figure out a way to live a little bit with people who may never get completely settled.”

Anonymous said...

Thanks for added insight. As usual, your perspectives are refreshing well thought out. I agree that we should be celebrating those in the world (regardless of thier religious affiliation) who exemplify the Savior's teachings.

I guess we just happen to have a difference of opinion regarding how many LDS church leaders actually act in a way unbecoming thier calling. As a rule, I discount very heavily second-hand, internet-spread stories regarding local church leadership. I've been around the block a few times, and I realize things like that can and do happen. With that said, literally 100% of my personal experience with those kinds of reports can be traced back to the individual embelishing and/or slanting what was actually said to fit thier narrative. In fact, most church leaders go about thier work in a humble, Christ-like manner that both Pope Francis and President Uchtdorf would be proud of.

To your original point, however, individuals, like Pope Francis, who act and lead as the Savior would deserve our attention and respect.

Clean Cut said...

I appreciate that feedback.

For the record I love hearing feedback and comments from all kinds of commenters, though I'd like to invite commenters to choose "Name/URL" rather than "Anonymous" before publishing a comment. You don't even need to include your real name OR a URL. I'd just like to feel like I can put a name to the comment rather than being lost in anonymity.

Clean Cut said...

The latest evidence to add to my concerns:

528: Carson Calderwood – Enduring a Disciplinary Council as a Matter of Conscience.

Carson Calderwood is an LDS dentist and father of four living in Maple Valley, Washington. He served an LDS mission in Argentina, married his wife, Marisa, in an LDS temple, recently served as an LDS seminary teacher in Maple valley for two years, and served faithfully in the LDS church for almost two decades. After experiencing significant questions and doubts a few years go, Carson realized how many local LDS church members were struggling over matters of faith, and began trying to help local members of his ward and stake find joy and healing amidst their LDS faith crises.

After showing public support for Ordain Women, and after publicly expressing his doubts about several LDS church truth claims (e.g., polygamy, polyandry, Book of Mormon and Abraham historicity), Carson is now being charged with apostasy by the LDS Church, and by his Maple Valley, Washington stake president. A disciplinary council for Carson is set to be scheduled within the next few days or weeks.

This is Carson’s story, wherein he explains why he objects to LDS disciplinary councils for apostasy, and why he would prefer to be excommunicated than to resign his LDS membership and walk away quietly.


Anonymous said...

Clean Cut

I'll try to respond briefly to Carson's story without coming off as judgmental. That's not my intent. I can understand and appreciate how he and his wife felt regarding "...trying to create a middle ground in Mormonism and help people understand the historical facts eventually became too frustrating..."

I totally get that. I'm very close to people who have described this exact same feeling. I believe I understand (to some degree) the frustration, the pressure, and other emotions people in the Calderwood family's position experience. With that noted, Marisa explicitly states, "...Carson became thoroughly convinced that the church isn't true...". Carson states, "That gave us the courage to continue to do what we thought was right and what God wanted instead of what the church told us we should think and do."

Those are declarative statements putting themselves squarely outside church doctrine. The bit I read didn't describe if/how they attempted to persuade others to agree with them and not the church, so I won't make assumptions. I think we both understand that is the essence of apostasy. From what you described of their situation, it sounds to me that the phase of questioning, struggling, etc. has long passed. My observation is that the disciplinary council has been called not for what they believe, but for how they are acting out on it.

FWIW, I appreciate immensely that they are now living in a way that they be believe pleases God. We should all do that. However, when what we do and say falls squarely outside church doctrine, no one should be surprised by a disciplinary council. I'm not, and you shouldn't be either. And I don't mean in the sense that "prieshood leaders are abusing thier power, so a council is inevitable". I mean that in instances where individuals consistently act in a manner to draw others away from the church, a disciplinary council should be held.

To you, this may appear as abuse or at least reason to question the institutional process. To me, it's kinda 180 degrees different. I wish he could have received more love and support during his journey; we need to improve that. Even through the disciplinary process, we should be showing love and support. Nonetheless, once one turns from questioning to consistently advocating against church doctrine and attempting to persuade it's members likewise, really no choice is left to church leadership.

This was hasty, and I apologize if the tone is off, but I simply wanted to reply in a straightforward manner. I'll also work on coming up with a name to distinguish myself from the other anonymous folks :)

Clean Cut said...

"However, when what we do and say falls squarely outside church doctrine, no one should be surprised by a disciplinary council"

There are a couple problems with this. One is that church doctrine changes--read "This Is My Doctrine" by Charles Harrell. The other problem is that "the church" hasn't always taught true doctrine, or at least the authorities leading the church haven't always taught true doctrine. Check back for my very next post (will be published tomorrow afternoon) to see what I mean.

Moreover, is it church doctrine that the church cannot teach false doctrine?

I like the quote from Henry Eyring:
“In this Church, you only have to believe the truth. Find out what the truth is!”

I personally value truth more than tradition. Some things I personally believe go against current church teachings. That doesn't make me an apostate any more than Galileo was an apostate. It just means that religious institutions sometimes stake out truth claims that are indefensible.

My loyalty is to truth over tradition. Sometimes the institutional church punishes people for pointing out truth that doesn't fit comfortably with traditional narratives. That's unfortunate because it elevates suppression of truth and punishes authentic expression of one's conscience, as though hurting one truth-seeker is worth the cost of the hurt or pain that others might have to go through by being exposed to ideas that *might* influence one's currently tidy and comfortable faith paradigm.

From personal experience I can say that I once based my faith on false narratives that needed to be shaken in order to allow me to rebuild my faith on a stronger foundation. For faith to truly be faith it must be based on truth, and to find truth one must doubt. President Hugh B. Brown once said:

"Some say that the open-minded leave room for doubt. But I believe we should doubt some of the things we hear. Doubt has a place if it can stir in one an interest to go out and find the truth for one's self. I should like to awaken in everyone a desire to investigate, to make an independent study of religion, and to know for themselves whether or not the teachings of the Mormon church are true."

Now I completely and emphatically reject the notion that it's either all true or all false. I don't think it absolutes. (Even absolute Truth is always evaluated subjectively.) Those who were raised to believe it's all true or all false or all good or all bad and don't adjust their black and white paradigms to embrace a complex reality frustrate me as much as I frustrate them. It's not a healthy paradigm, whether it comes from those inside the church or outside the church. Life and reality is truly more complex, regardless of what the church correlation committee says.

One can find many truths and many false teachings in all religions--Mormonism is no exception. Each individual must discern for themselves what is true, or what is at least good and worth embracing, and what is harmful and should be set aside. I don't even think it's the best question to ask "is the church true?" Far better to ask "what truths can I find in Mormonism?"

Clean Cut said...

As the wise and loving Darius Gray said: "false teachings are still very much with us and that it is required of us to seek truth — and to speak truth."


I agree with him that we still have false teachings among us and I believe we *should* doubt those until we get to the truth, even if it makes some uncomfortable.

I admire those who take seriously the quest to more consciously evaluate their faith, who are true to their conscience as they try to sort through things that really are true from the false narratives others (including those in positions of authority) have long assumed are true. Doubt is part of that process. It's tempting to just trust a church to tell us what God expects us to do, but that's not God's plan. We are allowed and even obligated to seek individual discernment and a spiritual confirmation to the truth as we understand it.

Mormon scholar Terryl Givens put it this way: “We want a standard that is infallible because it relieves us of the burden of continually exerting ourselves to use discernment. The way that Dostoyevsky put it so beautifully is that 'We want some person to be a keeper of our conscience'. The hard lesson is that there is never a moment when you can delegate your own volition to another individual.”

I transcribed the quote from Mormon Matters episode 225: "Wrestling with Prophets and Scripture"


I also totally agree with the thoughtful and faithful Curtis Henderson:

"I do not look at doubt as the opposite of faith. I think the opposite of faith is abandoning truth. And you can't find truth without exercising doubt. It's a real critical piece though it's a dichotomy. [the Book of Mormon teaches "Faith is to hope for things that are not seen, which are true."] When it's not true, it's not faith. When you discover something is not true and you had faith in it, it wasn't faith that you had in it, it was mere credulity, which is the lack of doubt. In other words, you got caught in being gullible and you've been calling it faith and transitioning out of it is a difficult thing."

I transcribed that quote from "A Thoughtful Faith" podcast episode 82: "Curtis Henderson – The Errant Nature of Polygamy, Fallible Prophets, and Seeking for Truth"


Clean Cut said...

Disciplining an unorthodox minority who have dealt with doubt and problems (without institutional support and love, I might add) is a cowardly way to avoid confronting the actual problems. Those in authority should ask themselves what Jesus would do. He was all about ministering to the individual--not enforcing orthodoxy. And He did not hesitate to publicly criticize the pharisaical religious institutions that placed more emphasis on enforcing legalism than on Christian love.

Even today individuals are not safe from institutional legalism, nor are they shown Christian love, when they are cut off from among us as though they were a cancer, in order to save the face of the institution. It's like putting a band-aid over a hemorrhage thinking that will solve the problem. And that approach will only cause more problems in the long run. Amputation works as a last resort when it's the ONLY way the save the whole body, but we're not living in Civil War times! This is 2015 and we still have leaders who think that amputation of a member of the body of Christ is the only acceptable tool at their disposal!

Silencing those who express uncomfortable truths publicly is something you would expect from the regime of North Korea, not the Church of Jesus Christ. It's as though some in the church think discipline can be used like revenge. "You made me feel upset and not completely secure in my faith and so I'm going to punish you." How ridiculous! Is it really the Christlike thing to excommunicate someone for not being 100% orthodox?

Who is closer to the truth--the person who happily goes along in life, never questioning the culture or their beliefs, from the time they had their testimony whispered in their ears by like-minded parents on Fast Sunday--or the person who readily questions, desires true knowledge and then tries to reconcile what they learn? What is *really* communicated (whether intentional or unintentional) when we have a track record of excommunicating people who point out inconvenient truth, or even those who pledge their loyalty Christ and his gospel over deference to authority and the institution?

Anonymous said...

Clean Cut
I realize you and I are simply going to fundamentally disagree on some of this stuff; that’s OK with me.

I’m familiar with “This Is My Doctrine”, and I believe I’m familiar with your related concerns; you’ve made those clear over time. I realize you, like others, have valid concerns related to the church’s history and doctrine. I’m not here to minimize or dispute that. After reading the same materials, I simply don’t share your concerns. I don’t think that makes me better or you worse. It just makes us different.

Also, I don’t have much of a problem with doctrine evolving over time as we gain additional insight and experience. Frankly, I don’t see how that is different from your own perspective in your most immediate comments. You admit to seeing things differently in your youth and evolving over time. You spend a lot words indicting church doctrine and those who lead the church, then you cherry pick quotes from historical church leaders that fit your paradigm and ask a question that could be answered a thousand ways depending on the circumstances, “What would Jesus do?”. You assert that your version of the truth is more accurate than the church’s, and you reference the Savior as if he would obviously agree with you. How is that any different than what you accuse the institutional church of doing?

My last thought relates to disciplinary councils. I’ve been a part of many. Lots of them. For various reasons. Many related to apostasy. Admittedly, I don’t like the term “disciplinary council”. It sets an unfortunate tone. The reality is, however, that the primary reason for a disciplinary council is to “save the soul of the sinner”. It is a mechanism to assist in the repentance process when the individual has not proactively attempted to repent and/or when the sin is so serious that it requires elevated attention. Most councils do not end in excommunication. They are spiritual meetings where the individual and his/her priesthood leadership discuss repentance and moving forward. Even excommunication is an act intended to help the individual repent and eventually return to full fellowship in the church. The notion that a disciplinary council is a negative, heavy-handed event is simply untrue. Even in event of an excommunication, the individual is invited to attend church meetings, participate in a meaningful way, participate in the atoning sacrifice of the Savior, and eventually have previous covenants restored. Being “cut off” and all the related rhetoric (North Korea?) is simply stoking the flames of contention and disharmony. 99.9% of all my experience in disciplinary councils is that of priesthood leadership humbly and lovingly supporting and advocating for the individual.

This is your blog, and I hope to not be argumentative. As I’ve attempted to express in the past, my observation is that your thought process and opinions are helpful to people; me included. It’s my simple observation that you and others tend to conflate the separate issues of how we treat one another with doctrinal positions. To that end, and on the topic of our recent conversation regarding the Calderwood family, whether you love the way the church has arrived at its current doctrinal positions or not, the fact that someone openly and aggressively seeks to teach messages contradicting church doctrine will likely result in a disciplinary council if they do not stop the behavior. I believe this is wholly consistent with the Savior’s ministry and leaving the 99 to minister to the one. My experience in these councils has taught me that first hand. To your point, hopefully we can do so in a way that emphasizes love and understanding and reduces the feelings of “us vs. them”.

Clean Cut said...

Anonymous, thank you for those clarifying remarks. I did indeed get carried away on a few separate thoughts. I appreciate your respect and willingness to discuss these things, and perhaps even disagree without being disagreeable. That's refreshing to me. I appreciate that your intention is not to argue--I share that intention. I also appreciate that you're willing to try and help me tease these thoughts out better and clarify some of my own blind spots.

I'm very happy to hear that the vast majority of your experience "in disciplinary councils is that of priesthood leadership humbly and lovingly supporting and advocating for the individual." That's wonderful. I'm curious about your thoughts on the difference of disciplinary councils where sin has indeed occurred and repentance necessary/desired versus councils for "apostasy". Have you had much experience with the latter? That's really the only one I have concerns with. And I take these things very personally because I consider all of these people friends. It's hard to remain neutral when I try to sympathize and empathize as much as possible and put myself in their shoes.

"It’s my simple observation that you and others tend to conflate the separate issues of how we treat one another with doctrinal positions."

Could you elaborate a little more on what you mean by this? I want to understand you better.
I do, indeed, have more concerns with how we treat each other than with doctrinal positions.That is true. Perhaps you're right that I'm conflating them a bit too much here, but I think that's because they often occur together in cases of "apostasy". I want there to be much more room for unorthodox folks to participate as much or as little as they personally desire without feeling the need to take disciplinary action. But you're also right that behavior is different than belief, so I want to address that too, but even with behavior I sense that there is far too much latitude between what one leader deems as "excommunicable" behavior or “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church." Isn't it possible that ecclesiastical leaders themselves are conflating these?

"the fact that someone openly and aggressively seeks to teach messages contradicting church doctrine will likely result in a disciplinary council if they do not stop the behavior."

I don't have any qualms with that statement. I agree that there is a difference between someone who sincerely and openly follows the dictates of their own conscience (and can't repent of their own conscience) versus those who set themselves up to fight against the church. Motivation matters. One's heart matters.

I feel like I can understand Carson's heart because I've met him in person and because I've interacted with him in various forums online. In no way does he desire to harm the church. But I fear the church is going to harm him and his family by taking action against him because of his non-belief. That's what feels wrong to me.

Clean Cut said...

I think Katie L.'s thoughts are valuable here as well:

"I’ll say right up front that I believe there are instances where excommunication makes sense. I’ve seen lots of comments to the contrary, that no one should ever be kicked out of church for any reason. That’s simply not possible, or even advisable. There are dangerous people in this world: people who abuse trust and power, who exploit the most vulnerable. It is important to protect the community from those who would cause intentional harm.

"The question is, who should be considered “dangerous” enough to be expelled? And why? I’ve pondered this question a lot over the past few weeks. (It’s really been the past few months, ever since Kate Kelly was excommunicated.) Not surprisingly, in my reflections it all came back to grace, as I suppose it always does for me. I’ll try to explain what I mean.

Excommunication on grounds of “apostasy” is tricky business. Are there times when it might be appropriate? I’m not willing to say, unequivocally, that there are not. But I will say that as if we are going to do something as drastic as cut off fellowship, we had better have a darn good reason for it.

"*And someone pointing out the problems in our community is not that reason.*

"The church made it clear that the reason they excommunicated Kate and John [Dehlin] isn’t their ideas. It’s that they expressed their ideas publicly, and other people agreed with those ideas.

"But Kate and John didn’t invent the problems they spoke out about. There really is gender inequality in the church. John isn’t lying when he talks about peep stones, polyandry, and the fact that the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham have nothing to do with Abraham. These are facts. The things Kate and John have been saying, the discourse for which they were excommunicated, resonated with so many people because these problems exist in actual reality. They didn’t make up the messiness. The messiness was already there, and has been all along.

"This should not be surprising, by the way. Central to the Christian message is the idea that we are all sinners, every single last one of us. Things will always be difficult and messy, because that is the human condition. It’s not about avoiding messes. It’s about working through our differences with as much care and compassion as we can. This is grace…

And this is my fundamental objection to these prominent excommunications. They have occurred in a context where the leadership will not even consider their part in neglecting people in faith crisis or refusing to create viable feedback mechanisms to bring honest concerns to decision makers. They will not consider that these alternative communities have gained traction because decades of secrecy and denial have left people with literally nowhere else to go. They will not consider their own role in creating what is apparently such problematic behavior that it deserves excommunication, because they will not admit that they have made mistakes…

"The Apostle Paul taught that the path to unity is to honor the least desirable parts of the Body of Christ and give equal concern to one another. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (see 1 Corinthians 12:22-26). If the rise of resources like Mormon Stories and Ordain Women should teach us anything, it’s that there is a lot of neglected suffering in the Body of Christ. The answer is not to excommunicate those who call attention to our problems. It’s to bring those aspects to the forefront, address them, and correct them."


Clean Cut said...

By the way, I think I take all this so personally because I know I too have been misunderstood in real life.

Because I put truth seeking over tradition, people may get the feeling that I'm being respectful to them or to the tradition(s) they hold dear.

My intentions are never to be disrespectful of individuals or of good leaders and members of this church. I have no desire to cause harm, unless it's to harm ideas or policies that *themselves* are harmful. Too often I think people let the institutional church off the hook by blaming the victim rather than looking at what the church itself could systematically do better. And then you have a subset of Mormons who think that suggesting any change in the church is seeking to counsel God or influence Him. That to me is a more serious conflation than the one you seem to think I'm doing. Because so often people expect that we're to wait on the Lord and His timing (in other words, be okay with the status quo) when in reality I think it's more likely that the Lord is waiting on us.

I'm not content with the status quo and when I say so (and publicly!) I don't think the church should have a problem with that if I'm doing it out of love and a desire for things to be better (as opposed to trying to destroy the church). But that's very subjective. Some bishops might think I'm destroying the church just by pointing out things that go against his traditional beliefs! :) And I'm also tired of members telling other members that if they're not content with the status quo then they should just LEAVE the church.

I love this perspective:

"Criticism is a useful part of any religion. It doesn’t have to be destructive.

"When I get a letter from my editor that shows me her view of my manuscript, that doesn’t mean that everything I’ve done is wrong. She’s not saying I’m a bad writer. It means that she cares enough and believes enough in my project to bother to put her time into helping me make it better. I often disagree with my editor. Sometimes I think she is completely wrong. Other times I think she is wrong, but realize that she is pointing at a problem that needs to be fixed for a different reason and in a different way than she thinks.

"I hope that there is still a place for me in the LDS Church, as this kind of editor who has the best intentions."

"If you don’t like Mormonism, why don’t you leave?"

Carson Calderwood said...

The kind hearted Spencer notified me that there was some discussion here and I could chime in if I wanted to.

The one thing I'd like to clarify further beyond the good job that Spencer did is response to the following, "openly and aggressively seeks to teach messages contradicting church doctrine will likely result in a disciplinary council if they do not stop the behavior"

I think you anonymous, are conflating two different positions and furthermore, the church hasn't taken a clear position on this issue.

Let's lay out two ends of the spectrum. I propose that one side has a new convert, faithfully trying to gain a testimony of several things but isn't sure about something. They say, "I'm not sure God loves me because I have sinned too much." The church says God does, they state a public opinion that is against the church's policy. Should the be excommunicated for the potential error in their understanding? Of course not, no one would.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have a member that has decided the church isn't true and is a terrible institution in every way. They find the very worst facts about the church and even some blatantly incorrect statements, all with an intent to hurt and harm the church. They go out of their way to publicize these as much as possible to de-convert and prevent as many conversions as possible.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the former and 10 being the latter, I'd say I'm around a 3. Why?

Because out of the 1000's (I'm serious here) of things I could post publicly about the church that proves in my mind it isn't true, I've only said a handful. The purpose of those handful has been to show those that demonize doubters that the doubters have LEGITIMATE concerns and therefore should not be demonized or ostracized. I have not told anyone they should leave the church, in fact I've told and helped many stay, even encouraged it. Even if I don't think the church is true, so what?

The point is are we going to excommunicate people for lack of belief? If so, let's ex 90% of the membership. There are things the church teaches that I believe in still, I just don't see it as God's one, single path. I've even admitted I could be wrong.

The problem is not me, its the members that feel a desire to ex people like me, to ostracize, to isolate, IOW to not love or be Christ-like. The problem is also members that feel like saying anything publicly against the church means you should be exed. Most of the programs in the church were started on the grass roots, not via revelation from God to the prophet. What I'm requesting about doubts and doubters is contrary to many of the statements of many of the leaders and therefore will have to be a grass roots change. Instead of thinking the leaders are perfect and excusing whatever they do, we should join and request they reconsider their position and be more Christ-like.

Anonymous said...

Clean Cut

Your passion is admirable, and I’ve read enough of your work over the years to understand where you’re coming from. I understand we’re talking about your friends or acquaintances here, so I try to watch what I say and how I say it. Admittedly I tend to focus on the doctrinal issues, but clearly people matter just as much. I don’t know what the right equation is or all the perfect ingredients, but all the perspectives are important. I’ll try to address some of your questions.

Apostasy councils. I’ve participated in some of these. I can’t necessarily say a clear difference exists between a council convened for this purpose or another. So much depends on the individual and the circumstances, which I agree, include variables related to the priesthood leaders, not just the individual. I will reaffirm, however, that my experience related to those conducting the council is the same across the board.

Conflating issues. First off, I do this with regularity. It’s not intentional, but it’s our nature, particularly for folks like me who aren’t gifted writers. I think you mostly described this as you articulated your thoughts. We are human. We care for others around us, and when they hurt we hurt. Using our current conversation track as an example, a disciplinary council is a tricky thing. We want to support and advocate for our friends. What they actually did isn’t nearly as important as what they mean to us. That’s how I feel about my friends; I suspect that’s how you feel about yours. Unfortunately, we sometimes have a difficult time decoupling ourselves from the fact that our friends may have indeed done something wrong. As much as we love them and support them no matter what the potential issue or outcome, they may need to repent. Our focus on defending them from unwarranted and inappropriate comments may overshadow the reality that a repentance process needs to occur, and that process is not inherently bad.

I agree wholeheartedly with your efforts to create more room in the gospel for question and doubt. This is an effort we should all be engaged in. Maybe your comment “…I fear the church is going to harm him and his family by taking action against him because of his nonbelief” summarizes our overall difference of opinion. My observation is that Carson has made his intentions clear, and he has engaged in efforts to convince others likewise. The stage of questioning or doubting has passed; he has moved on to publicly encouraging others to do the same. I’m not asserting he’s doing it with malice. To the contrary, all his statements imply his intention is to help them. My brother went through this exact same process, council and all. These particular actions, however, seem to me to be much more apostasy than they are questioning.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you can clarify what harm the church will be doing to him. Personally, I don’t believe the social ramifications are something we should consider at all. We’re all big kids, and even if some want to act immaturely and say stupid things, I’d expect someone who professes to have been extremely thoughtful about his choices to be mature enough to separate the religious consequences of his decisions from the social ramifications. Certainly, as I’ve noted before, I expect, and have seen, reverence and professionalism from the involved priesthood leaders.

I do not deny that forms of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. issues exist in the church. These issues have a genesis in many places, including as you suggest, our own personal biases. I understand that, and thanks to blogs like yours, I try to be aware of how my actions impact those dealing with these issues. My personal experience does not include a lot of evidence of “discrimination” relating to these issues, but I realize that my experience is not representative of everyone else’s. As you might guess, though, my doctrinal position on these issues is separate from how I attempt to interact with those dealing with these issues. Broadly speaking, I don’t mind stating that my opinion is that these questions have been asked and answered. That’s a blanket statement, and one day maybe we’ll have the time to discuss them much deeper, but my point is that I do not believe continued “lobbying” for female ordination in the church or for the church to “modernize” the law of chastity to exempt homosexual behavior is fruitful behavior. My personal study of the scriptures and prophetic guidance leads me to that conclusion; I realize others feel differently, and I’m OK with that.

I’m as interested as anyone to see if we can explore changes within the applied administration of the gospel within doctrinal bounds. A female Sunday School president, why not? Church manuals that address doctrine and history more clearly, absolutely! Helping our youth more effectively navigate modesty, sexuality, doctrine, etc., maybe the most important of all. I don’t recall off hand who it was in the last General Conference that made the comment, but someone eluded to the fact that we, as individuals, spend a lot of time labeling ourselves and creating subgroups: straight/gay, TBM/unorthodox, active/inactive. I sincerely believe that if we worried less about compartmentalizing ourselves in a gospel context and focused much more on being children of God, much of the negativity and misunderstanding we experience on all sides would fade to the background.

Anonymous said...

Finally, I’ll address your reference to Katie L.’s comments. I don’t know who she is, but her comments underscore, in my opinion, one source of some of the negativity we are all experiencing. Implicit in her comments is the tone of disciplinary councils being bad (“dangerous”, “expelled”, “vulnerable”, “kicked out”). According to her, apparently only pedophiles should be excommunicated. At no point does she recognize the intended good the council is convened to serve, nor the fact that many people’s lives are changed for the better as a result. Similarly, she speaks for the church saying, “…the church made it clear that the reason they excommunicated Kate and John…”. To me, her credibility is greatly diminished with those kinds of statements. The church (if we can broadly use that term in this context) did nothing more than hold itself accountable to its own doctrine. To finish Katie L.’s thought I just quoted, she implies the church meted out excommunication merely because Kate and John had “ideas” and people happened to agree with those ideas. In all honesty, I find this kind of whitewashing lazy and disingenuous. The reality is both individuals consistently and publicly made statements explicitly contradicting church doctrine, and both individuals consistently and publicly solicited others to believe the way they do, contrary to counsel provided privately and professionally over time by concerned church leaders. To boot, they publicly vilified the very church leaders attempting help them. I have never met Kate nor John. I pass no judgment on their personal character. My observation, however, is that excommunication was likely inevitable based on a comparison of their public actions to church doctrine.

An honest question: when you are discussing a church topic with someone and they apply the same level of factual slurring that Katie L. did, are you satisfied, or do you hold them to a higher level of civil engagement?

Anonymous said...


Thank you for joining the conversation and lending your first-hand experience. I appreciate it greatly. Above all, I am sincerely sorry if friends or family or anonymous folks like me on the internet have been judgmental or made misleading statements about you and your family. I can only imagine how hurtful that may be. As I mentioned to Spencer, I’ve tried to be mindful that we’re talking about real people with real experiences, and though I may hold different opinions from him (or you), I hope to present those opinions in an amicable and respectful fashion. If I’ve done otherwise, feel free to point it out for my future interactions with folks on-line.

As you’ve likely read my interaction with Spencer, the over-arching issue of discussion (for me at least) is the seeming inability of the on-line community to separate the feelings of love and compassion for someone going through a faith transition from the reality that the “church” is allowed to determine when an individual has transitioned from honest doubts and questions to apostasy and therefore accelerate the repentance process through a disciplinary council. Spencer referenced your story in that conversation. I read the links provided and his comments of, “After showing public support for Ordain Women, and after publicly expressing his doubts about several LDS church truth claims (e.g., polygamy, polyandry, Book of Mormon and Abraham historicity), Carson is now being charged with apostasy by the LDS Church”. Using that available information, we continued our conversation, and I think in a respectful manner.

Since you joined the discussion, you posed a question that I take at face value as being sincere: “Even if I don’t think the church is true, so what?” My most sincere and honest answer is that, whether you care anymore or not, you entered into sacred covenants. To the extent you disavow or outright break those covenants, your priesthood leaders have a responsibility to help you repent. To the extent you are encouraging others to disavow or outright break those covenants, the issue is compounded. I say that by way of explanation, not as an accusation.

To your and Spencer’s point, a discussion regarding “what is apostasy” is likely much harder than, say, “did the individual commit adultery?”. I understand and agree. I have no interest in publicly passing judgment on you or anyone else in your position. I may have opinions as to what constitutes apostasy, but ultimately that’s a discussion for you and your stake president. For the record, I have expressed many times to Spencer (and others) my agreement that more room can and should exist in the church for those with questions or doubts. I believe it’s obvious our church leaders are attempting to communicate the same message. With that noted, I don’t observe that the church is excommunicating members for beliefs. In the most recent public examples, it appears the excommunications have been the result of public and consistent teachings and practices inconsistent with church doctrine.

Regarding church doctrine, it’s likely you I and simply won’t agree on most of what you’ve personally concluded. I’m guessing I’m familiar with most (if not all) of what you’ve read, yet I’ve come to a different conclusion. That’s OK. It’s unfortunate to me when such things divide friends and family. This is personal to my family also. My brother has been through all that you have and more; he has been excommunicated for apostasy among other things.

Carson Calderwood said...

Good points anon and thanks for your candid yet kind responses. You hit at what I see is the crux of my situation. What constitutes apostasy and how much unbelief/sin requires excommunication.

When people who do terrible things like huge extortion or embezzlement schemes or physical/sexual abuse don't excommunicated, yet others do for unbelief, something seems off to me. That would be a good thing to get dialed in, equalized and explained.

Thanks :-)

Clean Cut said...

"When people who do terrible things like huge extortion or embezzlement schemes or physical/sexual abuse don't excommunicated, yet others do for unbelief, something seems off to me."

EXACTLY! Well said, Carson. This injustice of it all drives me crazy.