Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Confessions Part 2: What's Been Bothering Me

Okay, okay, okay. I suppose I can't just come out with "thinking of leaving the church" and then get back to business as usual.

I value and revere honesty so much in other people when they're able to say scary things. What I said in my post may well be read by members of my family (I really don't know) and perhaps a member or two of my stake.

It's taken me some years to get here, where I can find the courage for even a little frankness and honesty. I'll admit much indifference anymore rather than courage. It’s taken some time, some acceptance, and confidence of self to get to this point. Though I do fear verbalizing my beliefs and rationale thereof, when I’m alone and unafraid, I know exactly where I stand. There’s a reason I write. My emotions get the better of me and at least here I can edit and think before I speak.

That said, there’s a fear of confessing here as well: I know there are some who visit my blog who believe in the Church but for some reason find some worth in my words. I fear that my “coming out” will take away any clout I had. I hope that’s not true, but if it is: so be it.

My missionaries called me their "golden convert." I had a set of senior missionaries, and they were sweet, but boy am I glad I had even then a level head. Dad, if you're reading this, I know you didn't think so, but I did. I knew at the second discussion they'd ask me to commit in some degree to baptism, so I was ready to tell them to wait. When they tried to convince me of the divinity of the Book of Mormon by pointing out that a prophecy foretold in 1 Nephi was fulfilled in 3rd Nephi, I recognized right away the fallacy in such an argument. When they suggested I have my family watch the video Families Can Be Together Forever I knew I couldn't. I'd seen the video. Baaaad video, and besides, my family already believed that. My mom found great offense in the idea that we thought she couldn’t be with us in the afterlife.

Sometime after baptism - and I wish I knew the place exactly - I noticed a few times a footnote in the Book of Mormon which offers a Joseph Smith Translation. Anyone have a good explanation for that? I still find that weird.

I don't recall each time something struck me odd, but they came and went. I gave them no voice because I believed and that stuff didn't matter, or so I told myself. I appreciated having friends who accepted me for who I was. I appreciated being in a new place where I could be a new person. Back at home there were people who had known me since preschool and others since my awkward tomboy stage. Kids can be unforgiving, so the renewed chance with genuine friendship was nice. I was eighteen years old and in college in a new city. My new friends were fun, and I liked church. I believe I even wrote "Sunday is my favorite day" in my journal.

The Church has been good to me. I've grown as a person, met the most amazing man. I’ve been blessed because of this church. I don’t deny that. I couldn’t.

But the more I learn the more I feel unsettled. We're told to not quote "unauthorized" sources in our lessons, yet Church leaders often quote Bruce R. McConkie's patently unauthorized Mormon Doctrine. Are we to? No. Apparently we can't tell when McConkie spoke truth and when he was speaking out of his ass, but our leaders can.

Then there’s fun stuff like this quote from Elder Mark E. Peterson of the Quorum of the Twelve circa 1954:

Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood…. This negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin, and possibly being born in darkest Africa—if that negro is willing when he hears the gospel to accept it, he may have many of the blessings of the gospel. In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory.

- Race Problems—As They Affect The Church, Address by Mark E. Petersen at the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, delivered at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954.

If anyone knows BYU, and I'll admit my knowledge is wanting, we can agree BYU to be very strict in what it allows and what it doesn't. See the Honor Code if you don't believe me. When a General Authority visits gives a talk at BYU, we can assume BYU's blessing of the words. We can assume the teachers at said convention took his words as truth and passed it along through the years until the Church became more "enlightened."

There are many more quotes, such as that the blacks will never receive the priesthood. When such things are brought up in conversation, the inevitable answers include "new revelation trumps old," "this isn't doctrine, just some member of the Quorum giving a talk," or "those leaders spoke from limited understanding." I can accept the last excuse, it's on the right track, but the teaching was still wrong. Why can't we just admit to being wrong?

I want someone to say that we could be working on limited revelation now. I want us to stop talking in absolutes, because we don't know everything. Perhaps we're working on limited revelation regarding homosexuality. I think it's entirely possible, but you won't find many who will agree.

I don't believe this church is the only "true" church. I refuse to give testimony in which I lie in proclaiming my knowledge of that which I have no knowledge of so I can gain faith in it, and yet we are asked to do so. I have no issue with saying "I believe...." But "I know" both sounds rote and impassionate. We say it so often the power within it is gone. I feel the same about our rote prayers.

We are not a perfect church, can't we just say it? Or are we too concerned with image and numbers? Are we too concerned that we've touted ourselves as such for so long that we'll lose members? How will we look to the outside world if we concede something? Perhaps for some it will never matter. I'd just like some dialogue.

Not that I'm anyone to speak, but we seem awfully prideful sometimes.

Onto other things:
I don't believe a tank top (a clothing garment I can't pull off, btw) is immodest. I don't believe having a cup of tea or coffee (both of which I'm not a fan of, though I used to be a huge fan of iced mochas) will make me unworthy to be in God's presence. Yes, I know: sometimes we're asked to do simple things in the name of faith. The scripture regarding Christ telling a follower to wash in the Jordan River comes to mind. All of it is in my brain, I just happen to think there are other things we could focus on rather than a friggin' coffee bean and tea leaf.

I’m tired of listing the health benefits thereof and having people say “eh, the WoW isn’t necessarily about health” when ten seconds before we were talking about the health code that is the WoW. Or that it's about addiction when we're all addicted to something. While I may not be addicted to coffee, I'll admit a huge addiction to sugar. Am I unworthy? If I drank coffee but gave up sugar, would I be worthy?

I'm tired of condescending leaders (especially for the youth, holy crap. anyone seen A Brand New Year? Watch the videos. WOW - frightening). I'm tired of people telling me to study the scriptures but ignore the inconsistencies and hard things. I want to stay because of family and my kids, but much as I like putting them in primary (they love it), I worry about the mixed messages they'll receive at home. I don't want them becoming so much a part of it and then having their mom and dad say they don't believe everything. Talk about counter-productive. I want them to have a spiritual background but not just this one. I like the social aspect of Church as well. My husband and I are rather anti-social, so church provides our children with friends to interact with. As they start school this part gets better, though. I’m getting better.

I don't want to be called a fence sitter, but I guess that’s what I am, what I've been. Call me lukewarm, something God will spit out as spoken in Revelation, fine. I guarantee you I’m guilting myself far better than anyone else ever could.

I'll go through the pains I went through joining ten times before I'll want to go through the pains of leaving. In joining I acquired a unique set of beliefs without rejecting fundamental beliefs such as the existence of God. In leaving, however, I’ll have those who tell me I am stepping into the fiery pits of hell and am bound to be an enemy of the Church (don’t believe me? Read Chapter 27 of “Teachings of the Prophets: Joseph Smith.” It’s called The Bitter Fruits of Apostasy. Or just come to church next week, I think. I’m not sure I’ll be there.)

It will be strange to be in the same place my mom was when the remainder of my husband's siblings marry - in the foyer, waiting, because I can't say I have a testimony anymore, that I find great difficulty in sustaining my leaders, or because while I may keep the word of wisdom, I don't believe in some of it. I’ll sit in the foyer because I take issue with the idea of the priesthood, that God would deny my non-member sister some blessings simply because our father doesn't hold the priesthood. Is a blessing surely that much more powerful than a non-member's prayer for healing? I’ll sit because I don’t sustain our leaders when it comes to their recent actions. Because I do sympathize with some so-called “apostates;” I get where they’re coming from but do reject their venom. I will sit outside because there’s something about the endowment ceremony which doesn’t sit right with me. Because I can’t say I believe just so I can attend a wedding or keep up appearances with friends or family who may invite us along soon.

There are some whose reaction I fear worse than others. Those who I’ve held close to my heart for so many years who are on the other end of the spectrum, a person I don’t want to scare but will. I hold no desire to talk people down from their testimony, only a desire to have others understand my disaffection and respect it. I get the fear; I’ve felt it too and not just with myself. I know the inevitability of this fear. I know time will heal that wound too, but never entirely.

I’ve no desire to take my name off the rolls, but I don’t want to be an active, all-believing part of something which preaches only black and white, bad or good, worthy or unworthy. It's just not as cut and dry as many of us want to believe. I still want to attend church, but I don’t want to be held to some ridiculous standard or have doctrines and ideas taught to my children which I don’t believe. Right now they’re taught to “choose the right.” Good. But my daughter will be eight years old in two years. I do think that’s a little young for the huge decision that is baptism.

The culture and doctrine of all or nothing serves me little purpose and stunts my spiritual and personal growth. It isn’t that way anywhere else – at least not in mainstream Christianity, but again that’s not a place I want to be necessarily either. I suppose in that way I’m being forced out. I know in my heart and in my head the choice has been made already, but the idea of never or at least rarely attending church saddens me. I don’t care for that. I’ve made some new friends over the last few months; granted they’re little more than acquaintances but people I’d like to get to know better nevertheless. Will they reject me? Where will I find new friends? Though I’m fairly introverted, I do need good friends. They can come in any form though: LDS or not.

I think I know where I’m headed, the peace is coming slowly but surely.

Apostasy? Call it whatever you will. God knows me. Perhaps I’ll want to come back sometime in the future, but if I did I would want to do it without pulling the wool over my own eyes. I leave nothing out of the realm of possibility. I do so love the smell of the chapel and the sound of the hymns. Sigh.

I just happen to think my personal relationship with God and Christ matters more than my relationship with the Church, and right now I feel it’s too much about the Church and not enough about God. Too much about coffee and tea and less about garnering a pure love of Christ in my heart. Too much about fear and less about unconditional love.

That’s all.


Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

Sometimes when I am reading your blog I have the thought that maybe the issues you have with the church aren't related to doctrine so much as general ideas like authority, gender, and happiness. I'm just curious about the root of all your distaste for the LDS church? Is it doctrinal or personality? You seem like a very thoughtful person, and if you were my friend I would love to engage in conversation with you to discuss all of these issues to discover what is really going on here and how you might find happiness.

Lisa said...

I'm assuming this is Annalee?

I really appreciate the tone of the last few of your comments. Really. It's a breath of fresh air, so thank you.

I would hesitate to call it a "distaste" for the church. I take issue with some doctrine that the Church deems of vital importance. The gender thing, honestly, I'm sure I could...hm. To some extent I could get over that.

The thought that the church has changed over the last 100 years and will continue to change has brought me pause.

But this is a church that loves to remain stagnant. I don't know. It's hard.

I'm really in no hurry to make rash decisions. The last four years have been an exercise in thought and faith, but Prop 8 brought me to a doctrine that it's the Prophet's way or the highway that bothered me much and allowed me to reconsider other things that have always rubbed me wrong.

I would love to remain part of the church, but I'm afraid the church won't have me. I also have to consider my kids and what they're being taught versus what their parents believe and/or do, you know?

Are you on facebook?

Anonymous said...

Lisa, I honestly feel like you could be writing my thoughts!

A lot of your issues are the same I've had for years. But the fear must be stronger in me. Maybe it's because I've been a member longer. I don't know. I wish my relationship with God and Jesus could be simple and without stuff surrounding it so. In fact, I feel like so much in the Church literally squeezes the very center of our beliefs out of the room. If I could just work on that relationship with God without the small stuff...the Do this and don't do that.

I was sitting in Sacrament meeting this week and a past bishop was speaking and he was quoting scripture in his talk and he was opening up his scriptures but told us not to worry about opening ours to follow along "because we're not supposed to ask you to do that". WHAT the HECK?!?! Since when is opening scriptures in sacrament a bad or discouraged thing? I'm sure many members would say that it came from the First Presidency and why bother even worrying about it. But I can't help it. It's CHURCH...we USE the SCRIPTURES!!! I wish there was more discussion involved in our "worship". I know we have Sunday School and RS/Preisthood to "discuss" but even then, it's very much lacking. I'm talking about REAL discussion.

Ah well. I wish you luck in your journey...wherever it might take you.

Lisa said...

Maren: every time I've been approached to give a talk, I've been warned against props and asking ward members to look up a scripture with me. Oof.

I always just assumed it was because people can't see the prop and this isn't a class. It's a lecture.

That said, I'm totally with you. I used to hear speakers asking members to open their scriptures and I'd silently chastise them and pat myself on the back for knowing better. Then I'd watch as everyone opened their scriptures.

But...what's the harm in this? I don't get it either. Call me nitpicky, but we could just as easily call that nitpicky as well.

(btw: I don't want to use props. That requires more work, hahahahahaha) :)

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

I am not on facebook because I'm actually rather shy and private. But I have an intense interest in other people and you seem open to discussion. I don't want to dominate the comments here, but I think the church will have you. And, if you cannot say you have a testimony, than bear witness of what you do know or believe is true.

Steve M. said...

I wish there was more discussion involved in our "worship". I know we have Sunday School and RS/Preisthood to "discuss" but even then, it's very much lacking. I'm talking about REAL discussion.

This is a real issue for me as well. In Sunday School, I feel like I can anticipate what everyone is going to say. Why? Because we have the same lesson every four years. Because the instructor's questions are always leading rather than open-ended. Because after spending a lifetime in the Church, I feel like I know the standard, orthodox answer to every question, and the standard, orthodox interpretation of every scripture. "Discussions" typically boil down to a handful of people saying what they are expected to say, while the rest of the class sits their in a stupor.

In these settings, we won't touch controversy with a ten-foot pole. Hell, we refuse to even touch nuance with a ten-foot pole.

What's come to bother me about this lately is that I just can't detect any connection between what's being said and real life. The world of Sunday School is infinitely simpler, infinitely more black-and-white, than the world in which each of us live. And so often, we get caught up in discussing the Mormon equivalents of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Additionally, all too frequently Sunday School lessons degenerate into lamentations about how "the world" is increasing in wickedness, and celebrations that we are a "chosen and a holy people," and that God has "elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, . . . which doth lead their hearts to wander far from . . . God."

The thick and thin of the matter is that church couldn't be a less uplifting, less mind-numbing experience for me. 90% of the time, I have to bring a book from home just to keep myself sane for the duration of the 3-hour block.

I needed to get that off my chest.

Steve M. said...

Er, that second-to-last paragraph should start out, "The thick and thin of the matter is that church couldn't be a less uplifting, more mind-numbing experience for me."

It's late.

Joseph said...

I guess I'm lucky because I've spent a lot of time in student wards and I feel like there is a fair amount of in-depth discussion where people feel free to express doubts and look beyond the things you expect to hear. The thing that is hard for me to deal with is how it seems as if there's something going on almost every single day. If I tell someone that I just don't feel like going to the fireside tonight even though I've already gone to a 3-hour block, choir practice, a PPI meeting and a home-teaching visit, people will look as if they're about to cry or they think I'm nuts.

Every week this sign-up list goes around for people to go to the cannery or baby-sit for the ward temple trip or bring bread for Sacrament meeting or give a ride to that investigator that doesn't have a car or clean the chapel.
Many times I've tried to devote a serious amount of time to either a band or a political club or a gaming group and there's no way you can do that kind of stuff and still go on splits with the missionaries every week AND take an institute class plus hold an actual calling and read your scriptures every day. Heck I lived in the woods in Santa Cruz for a couple of month and the biggest worry my mother had about it was that my home-teachers wouldn't be able to visit. Then if one of your friends becomes interested you feel like you have to drop everything to have missionary discussions at your house and invite them to each and every one of these activities that you don't have time to go to yourself.

However, I do believe that we are blessed for all the good things we do rather than being punished for each and every one of our shortcomings. I am convinced that progression is eternal, individual, and that a step backward one day can help you gain the perspective that you ultimately need to continue forward.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I'm totally a fence sitter on a lot of issues. Sometimes I'm in downright disagreement.

Some assume that you can't be a fence sitter. I'm sure you've heard people say that if you're not on the Lord's side, then you're on Satan's side. You and I disagree with a lot of things in the Church. Some things we're just not able to embrace as being "from the Lord." Does that mean we're on Satan's side by default?

The problem for me is distinguishing between God and Satan. If we want to make everything black and white, then everything that is good is from God and everything that is bad is from Satan. If that's the definition that we have to hold ourselves to, then that means that quotes such as the one you included about "negroes" are from Satan. Not only did they "speak without light and understanding," but it was downright bad, in my opinion. The things they said convinced members to falsely believe that black people did something wrong in order to deserve being black. Such a false, offensive, ignorant statement couldn't have come from God, right? So it must be Satan, right? That doesn't mean that the GA's were evil. It simply means they were deceived by Satan, who I think would delight in Mormons finding justification for looking down on their fellow brothers and sisters of another race, if you want to break it down so simply.

I think the problem you and I have is not that we don't want to follow God, but rather that we don't always know what's really from God or not. And when members oversimplify things and make it sound like the slightest variation or disagreement on anything a GA ever said puts us into the Satan category by default -- since we're certainly "not on the Lord's side" -- we're left with 2 options:

a) accept everything, as inherently wrong as certain things may seem, trusting that the prophet will never lead us astray, comforting ourselves with the notion that we're "on the Lord's side"


b) don't accept things that feel utterly wrong to us personally, risking being labelled as an apostate or being deceived by Satan, but just do the best we can, using our conscience (aka The Light of Christ) as a guide, being humble enough to acknowledge that we may be wrong.

I can't do A and feel OK about it. It would require me to go on blind faith. And besides that, I think that the Church has contradicted itself too much -- the negro quote being a perfect example -- for me to make A feasible for me.

So I'm left with B. It's hard, but it feels more right than A.

The Faithful Dissident said...

One more thought. Maybe both A and B are OK in the Lord's eyes?

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

About the boredom that is Sunday School: my dad uses similar reasoning to dismiss himself from church each week. He has an incredible testimony and developed insight that could be shared to help someone attending. My point is that maybe Sunday School isn't always about you (insert your own name here). Maybe you could share something valuable to someone else.

Also, just because a particular issue isn't discussed readily, if at all, in Sunday School doesn't mean it's taboo. What about getting on our knees and posing questions to our Heavenly Father? Definitely more work/patience involved, but perhaps a better place.

Lisa said...

Annalee: I can understand the shy and private thing. I'm a *lot* more open online, though I'm getting better. ;)

I'm going to assume FD's actions here and say those of us who do need to talk and discuss itchier topics do get down on our knees. Often. And often the answers to our prayers don't come while we're saying prayer. Sometimes they do, but other times it can come in the form of discussion.

I've attended some really great Sunday School classes. I understand that SS isn't always...well, no. I go to church to find spiritual edification for me. I would love to add to the conversation, but I'm completely afraid to do so sometimes. The times I have, either as a teacher or student, I get the askance glances and wide eyes as if horns just popped from my head.

I love a class with a prepared teacher, a teacher who loves what they're doing. It totally helps to have prepared students as well. Of course we're not going to run into this often, and it's a blessing when we do. I don't necessarily fault anyone for giving a boring lesson, but...well, we don't generally have much of a choice unless we've time and/or interest.

I don't know. I'm more exhausted at the cleaned up "approved" versions of everything. I know the answers to virtually every question: Like Steve said, the discussion questions are leading and hardly open-ended. Someone not too long ago said her father (?) would fall asleep at church, and if someone nudged him awake he knew to answer "Prayer. Scriptures."

That teaches me nothing. It's empty.

I know i can help others there. We're not only there to receive edification but to edify one another. I don't feel it, though. And I've tried. I'll sit next to someone who's sitting alone; I'll try to participate in classes. Prop 8, though, taught me I couldn't say a damn thing.

I apologize for bringing it up so often, but it really was the straw that broke this camel's back. I learned much about the church during that time.

Steve, I echo all you said.

Joseph: Oy, you lucky. While I never attended a student ward, I do remember the busy schedule of YSAs - holy crap! Fortunately, my Institute director, of which I was part of the council, knew we needed to calm down on the activities, so we did. As a new member, I didn't get why then, but I do now.

Laura said...

A few thoughts:

“My mom found great offense in the idea that we thought she couldn’t be with us in the afterlife.”

This is such a difficult concept for non-members (especially family) to understand. But the thing I LOVE about the gospel and the church is the teaching that ALL families can be together forever. Even if we don’t know about it or perform temple ordinances for ourselves in this lifetime, the work can be done after death and that person will have the opportunity to accept or reject it. So if the gospel is true, your mom would have an opportunity to be sealed to you and your family. And if it turned out to be a big lie, it wouldn’t matter in the end. The point is, the opportunity is there for everyone – in this life and the next. Not many churches teach that concept.

"I don't believe this church is the only "true" church."

I’ll agree with you here. I think there are aspects of truth in many faiths. But I think I can say with a clear conscience that the LDS church contains MORE truth than any other form of organized religion. That is a statement I am comfortable making. Since I believe J.S. to be a prophet who restored the gospel, it only makes since that the church would be more true than others. But it is annoying to hear 6 year olds get up in testimony meeting and say “this is the only true church.” The statement is overused and is moot to me.

“I don't believe a tank top (a clothing garment I can't pull off, btw) is immodest. I don't believe having a cup of tea or coffee (both of which I'm not a fan of) will make me unworthy to be in God's presence.”

No, and you’re probably right. The point is, we’ve been asked by a prophet not to do it. The quote from Elder Ballard comes to mind: “Wearing two pair of earrings may or may not have eternal consequences for this young woman, but her willingness to obey the prophet will.” Doing “small” things like this also sets us apart and makes us a “peculiar” people. It makes people ask questions and sparks an interest. One of the reasons my mother joined the church was because of the WOW. Now to see her life compared to the lives of her family members is like night and day. How grateful I am for the WOW, that she didn’t think it was ok to have an occasional beer with her sisters. Yes it may be a bit much, but I think the blessings of just obeying far outweigh the joy you may receive from an occasional cup of coffee or tea. You tend to focus on the “why not’s?” instead of the “whys”. And sometimes the “why” makes a great deal of sense. When I look at my extended family and how their lives have been affected by drinking, smoking, etc…, no one can convince me that the WOW is not inspired.

“I take issue with the idea of the priesthood, that God would deny my non-member sister some blessings simply because our father doesn't hold the priesthood.”

Again, I would say that this life is but a small part of our existence. I also have non-member family members, but I take comfort in the fact that they will have the opportunity to receive every blessing that has been extended to me.

I enjoy reading your posts but can’t help sensing your overwhelming negativity about everything. Yes the church is imperfect. Yes there are skeletons in our closet which church leaders would rather keep under wraps – what church doesn’t have those things? Yes, sometimes we get a bit prideful, and yes we sometimes tend to think we know everything. But those things are not really important compared to the essential message of the gospel. The idea that families are intended to be forever. The idea that we can actually become like our H.F. and Jesus Christ. (I also like the idea that “hell” isn’t all fire and brimstone – that there are different degrees of glory and even the bottom one is pretty darn nice.)

I tend to agree with Faithful Dissident’s scenario. I would rather just agree to disagree on certain issues instead of rejecting the church completely.

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

Of course, of course. I never assumed no prayer was involved. And, BTW, I rarely get answers on my knees either. Geez, wouldn't that make it easy! I think you should keep bringing up sticky questions despite your fears, though. It tests spiritual fitness in you and those in hearing. I actually like those awkward moments.

Thanks for humoring me, I'm home with sick kids.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Lisa, just wanted to tip you off about a post found here at MormonMatters that I think you may be able to relate to.

Steve M. said...

Re: Chris/Annalee,

My point is that maybe Sunday School isn't always about you (insert your own name here). Maybe you could share something valuable to someone else.

For a while, I really felt motivated in this regard. I felt like I needed to speak out more, to represent an alternative view. My motivations were twofold: (1) a belief that Mormon society could benefit from some exposure to less orthodox ideas; and (2) the hope that someone else in the class might "need" to hear what I said.

So one week, I raised my hand, and presented an alternative interpretation of a scripture we were discussing. Immediately, the teacher got defensive, as if I were trying to challenge him. Of course that wasn't my intention. After class, I went up and apologized to the teacher and tried to clarify my intentions.

The following week, I again felt inclined to contribute. When I raised my hand, the teacher simply did not call on me. At one point, he posed a question to the class, and when I was the only person with his hand in the air, he still declined to call on me. It was frustrating.

I am aware that most teachers would not be this tactless, but I do feel that the teacher's conduct was nonetheless symptomatic of a more prevalent problem in Mormon culture--namely, the inability to cope with dissent.

On another occasion, I made a remark in Elders Quorum that it is understandable why those not of our faith might be skeptical of Mormonism's truth claims. I thought it was a fairly innocuous comment, but almost immediately, other members of the Quorum jumped on me and my apparent sympathy for the faithless.

A final illustration: Recently, a member of my ward's Elders Quorum presidency came across my blog. Almost immediately, I began getting requests for home visits by the EQ presidency and missionaries. The missionaries called me five times within a 36-hour period between Christmas and New Year's. They were clearly "concerned" about my views on the Church. They weren't so much interested in understanding or tolerating my views as they were in persuading me to conform.

I do believe that unorthodox Mormons have something to contribute, but it's often difficult to shake the thought that our co-religionists are uncomfortable with our views and would rather that we either toe the line or keep to ourselves.

Re: Laura,

I think there are aspects of truth in many faiths. But I think I can say with a clear conscience that the LDS church contains MORE truth than any other form of organized religion.

With all due respect, how do you know this? On what do you base this belief? How extensively have you investigated or tried to learn from other religions? How do you measure truth, and how do you know that we have "MORE" of it?

Brigham Young taught that Mormonism embraces all truth, no matter its source. But I don't think that is the same thing as originating all truth (or more of it than other religions).

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

Steve, go! Mormon culture and mormon doctrine are often at odds with one another. In the instances you described, I would say mormon culture trumped mormon doctrine. But, don't throw out the baby with the bath water.

Laura said...

"With all due respect, how do you know this? On what do you base this belief? How extensively have you investigated or tried to learn from other religions? How do you measure truth, and how do you know that we have "MORE" of it?"

Ok, I guess I had that one coming.

Let me rephrase. I have faith that Joseph Smith restored the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a result, I think mormonism contains more of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ than any other faith because J.S. had a direct line to communicate with H.F. just as prophets do today.

Doesn't mean I don't respect other faiths. But as LDS's we recognize that the prophet is the mouuthpiece of the Lord.

I believe that God is truth and light. His prophets speak the truth for Him. That is the difference between our church and all others. If we beleive the prophet has the ability to communicate with God, and God emanates truth - then, in my mind, it makes sense that the church would contain more truth as it pertains to the the Savior's plan for us. Because we have a prophet.

I'm not making this stuff up here. Is this not what mormons believe?

Steve M. said...

Mormon culture and mormon doctrine are often at odds with one another. In the instances you described, I would say mormon culture trumped mormon doctrine.

The interplay between LDS culture and doctrine is interesting. It's also complex, because "doctrine" is not clearly delineated. On the one hand, there is very little that can conclusively be considered "official" doctrine, but on the other hand, nearly every single pronouncement by a church authority is given a presumption of validity.

While some aspects of culture and doctrine are easily distinguishable, there seems to be a lot of overlap between the categories. For instance, is the injunction against excessive caffeine consumption cultural or doctrinal? What about the idea that women are inherently "nurturers" and are to stay at home?

On the issue of dissent, there are some fairly strong General Authority statements that suggest that, doctrinally, conformity (or at least silence) is a greater virtue than dissent or criticism. In the anecdotes I shared in my last comment, the Sunday School teacher, Elders Quorum members, and missionaries were arguably acting just as much out of loyalty to such teachings as they were to Mormon cultural norms.

What I'm getting at is that Mormonism is not easily divisible into culture and doctrine (with the former being fallible and occasionally offensive, and the latter presumptively divine). Or to borrow Chris/Annalee's expression, there seems to be a lot of overlap and interplay between "baby" and "bathwater."

A second thought (and one that might be more to the point) is that perhaps culture, as much as doctrine, is a valid reason for choosing to (dis)associate oneself with a faith community.

I don't mean to argue; my only intention is to discuss. I think these are important issues that deserve some attention.

Katie said...

I agree that it is often hard to distinguish between Mormon culture and doctrine. For instance, why is it that in some countries, "off-limits" teas only include black and red teas (i.e., green and white are ok), but in the US, all teas except strictly herbal ones are ok? Its confusing - is the doctrine different in two parts of the world?

I'm in a really good place right now, because although I have made some decisions that are out of harmony with Utah culture (i.e., I am a mom of a young son who works, and we actively use birth control), I am in a ward that is probably a little more "liberal" than some. I have Mormon friends who are also working moms, and the leadership in my ward has never questioned my decisions. In fact, they have been the ones to give my priesthood blessings that have encouraged me to do what I am doing.

When I was in my last ward (the same one as Analee is in now, in fact), it was quite another story. I felt like I was always pushing against someone or something even though I felt good inside about what I was doing. I got a lot of slack from other ward members b/c of my decisions. Its just not like that in my current ward, which is part of the reason we moved into it.

I've struggled with the whole Mormon doctrine/culture thing for a long time, but have just decided that if I feel the Spirit when I pray about something, be it working and being a mom (for me) or Prop 8 (for Lisa), then that is the answer for me. It doesn't make it the answer for anyone else in my ward/stake. Others around me can certainly make it difficult to live according to the light that I have been given. In such cases, I have found it best to either be less social or to just attend a different ward. Although not suggested, it is my opinion that it is better to attend a different ward than to let your testimony be eaten away by gossipy ward members.

This blog has really caused me to think alot about the things I believe in, and sometimes to question them. There have been times that I have declared a moratorium on reading it b/c I felt my testimony to have suffered. Last night, after reading those comments from Mark Peterson, for instance, I really was troubled. How could God allow his chosen prophets to be bigoted? So I prayed about it.

What came to my mind was the scripture, "We talk of Christ, we we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, and we write according to our prophesies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." A profound peace came over me, and I realized that that is the crux of it - the Savior. The little things, they don't matter so much. My personal testimony in Christ does.

Lisa, I would say that if you believe the BOM to contain the Gospel, then I wouldn't walk away from the church. No other church believes the BOM to contain truth. It may be that your faith is just not sufficient to deal with the gossipers and those that question your decisions, particularly with regards to Prop 8.

I know how it feels, I felt like that in my old ward. I had an experience where I really felt anymosity towards me from the ward leadership, particularly my bishop. I really felt like he didn't get me at all. My mom had just been diagnosed with cancer, I was working on finishing up my PhD thesis, and we were getting these ridiculous callings that took my husband away from the home 40+ hours a week. We prayed about it, long and hard. We never got a confirmation of the calling he was in, and I couldn't understand why in all my entreaties with our bishop, I felt like I wasn't being understood at all. I felt like I was completely secondary to my husband's calling, and to the ward. I felt like I really was a nonentity. I struggled with this alot. Was this how all women felt? Was I just a prop or a piece of furniture to this man?

At some point, I came to understand spiritually that the bishop wasn't really that called for my sake, but for another subset of the ward. My own trials were very different from those he was "called" to handle. He was a terrific bishop for the subset of the ward he was working with, and I have profound respect and admiration now for all he has done for them. It was hard for me at the time, though, and that was really not the answer I wanted. However, just getting an answer made a huge difference to me. I felt more at peace, and it enabled my husband and I to make decisions that felt right for our family, including a release from the calling. The bishop really didn't have a sense of all that was going on in our lives and that time, and that was ok - he really was called for another purpose entirely. There were several weeks in there that I attended a different ward on Sunday, just so I could still take the Sacrament and so that I could avoid the anger (that I knew was not from God) I felt on seeing our bishop. Was it wrong that I was attending a different ward? Absolutely, but it my opinion it was better than 1) feeling angry at church and bring a spirit of contention to our meetings, or 2) not attending church at all. When we moved, we purposely looked at homes in a different ward, one where there were more students in our position and where I could get more personal attention. By that point, my mom had died, and I really felt that rather than being the one who could serve and give and teach, I needed to be served and taught and preached to. It was self-preservation.

Part of the reason that I share this story is to illustrate one of those instances where the overlap between Mormon culture and doctrine gets really fuzzy. Here was my bishop; he was called of God; I sustained this man; then how was it possible that he could receive revelation that my husband should have a calling that was destroying me, and how was it I could never get an answer to my prayers that he was supposed to be in that calling? I never really got an answer to alot of these concerns, but I did get a strong feeling of the Spirit telling me that it was ok, I was understood by the Lord, and as long as I was trying my best and trusting in God the Father and Jesus Christ, it would be ok. So, I let it go. The bishop was a good man - he really wasn't trying to hurt me or our family - and I did have a testimony that he was called of God. So, I let my questions go because, as I said before, my personal testimony needs to be founded in my Savior Jesus Christ, and not in whether or not a bishop's choice of my calling is part of the Gospel plan. I knew some of the decisions I had made were not the ones that were the best (ie, attending a different ward, being released from a calling, feeling anger towards my bishop), but they were the best ones I knew how to make at the time.

I learned alot from this experience, the most important being that my personal testimony is a million times more important that anything else. I think that whatever you decide to do, Lisa- let it be the decision that gives you peace, and helps you to know that you are closer to Christ. Honestly, no one, even in the church, can fault you for doing what you feel the Spirit prompting you to do. And I know that God is a loving Father who understands us and our best-made decisions, even when they differ from what we understand to be the perfect way.

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

Re: Katie

I really liked what you wrote (many shared feelings there)! I agree completely too, the decisions we make should be based on communication with the Lord and the Spirit comforting us when we've reached the right decision for our family. Families endure in the eternities, church callings do not.

(p.s. We moved to NYC last June)

Re: Steve

The interplay between doctrine and culture is perplexing at times and the only clear way to make sense of it all is through the Spirit. Yes! This is exactly what we should be doing: you and God working this out. To have it all spelled out by scriptures and prophets would negate the purpose of faith. The reactions and disagreements of others are peripheral. Keep on keeping on.

Steve M. said...


Thank you for your comments.

The reactions and disagreements of others are peripheral. Keep on keeping on.

I should probably clarify that my objections to the Church/Mormon culture don't simply have to do with a lack of acceptance or the tactless actions by others. It's much deeper, much more fundamental than that.

Were it simply an issue of putting up with others' imperfections, then I wouldn't have much to complain about. Rather, as I hinted at in my last comment, I see many of Mormons' cultural idiosyncrasies as manifestations of deeper institutional failings, which are often tied to the pronouncements of leaders who are revered as prophets. When I find myself objecting to such pronouncements and policies, as well as the social and cultural phenomena that they produce, I'm afraid that I'm not merely dealing with "peripheral" issues, but the core of our religion.

But there is much that I love about Mormonism. And there are other factors that mitigate toward staying rather than leaving. It's complex, and I'm not sure where my path will ultimately lead.

The interplay between doctrine and culture is perplexing at times and the only clear way to make sense of it all is through the Spirit.

With regard to the culture/doctrine question, perhaps I should have made myself more clear. I don't think it's simply a matter of sorting out one from the other (although that is certainly part of it). I believe that LDS doctrine and culture are truly interwoven, such that to some extent, the culture is the doctrine, and vice-versa.

Lisa said...

Katie: First, thank you. I wish more people would open up like that, I want you to know how helpful that is. It really brought me pause.

I want you (and others) to know that one of my worries about this blog is that I'll cause someone to lose their testimony. That's really not my intent, though I can't hold myself at fault should it happen. I have to talk. There's no one here to talk to. It’s incredibly lonely and scary.

There are a lot of things within the doctrine that bother me, and if the core is as easy as Christ than why should I have to endure the bullshit? Like Steve has alluded to, the baby has become the bathwater in too many places. I’ve tried for some years now to separate them.

I read today after Katie’s confession of being a working mom on birth control that, despite my beliefs, the Church has taught against birth control. It wouldn't surprise me if it still holds that stance (the article I read was from 1971 Realities of the Population Explosion)

The Miracle of Forgiveness, now an authorized book, has many things within it that bother me (the idea that masturbation often leads to homosexuality. Seriously? see pages 77-78). Could this be considered doctrine? Why not. It’s authorized.

I don't know what the hell doctrine is anymore. Do I believe in Christ? Yeah. God? Yeah. Do I believe everything in the BoM? Not necessarily, and certainly not necessarily as taught. The D&C really bugs me sometimes, and the PoGP…I don’t know about that one. Our interpretations of the BoM bother me as much as some Protestant interpretation of the Bible. I’ve always believed infant baptism to be wrong. Always believed in the Godhead as opposed to the Trinity. I reject the idea that if someone never hears of Christ they will be damned without further question.

We call it, as Laura said, all inclusive. We want all to have the opportunity. It sounds good, but in the end we will be separated to some degree. Perhaps my mom won't be with me. That's a possibility based in reality for all families, temple bound or not.

I sit in church and consistently bite my tongue for the very reasons Steve has mentioned. It's a wonder some Sundays I come out with hair left. Are there Sundays I leave feeling edified? Sure! But most of the time, I just want to scream. Everyone seems to be a robot, and if they're not, they're playing the part for fear of others knowing.

The Church talks about how it remains constant, but as you can see through quotations it changes. I don't know how to reconcile the changes with the constancy. Sometimes it just seems impossible.

I don't agree, Katie, that taking a sabbatical from your ward was a horrible thing to do. I don't know why we think so - it was good for you. :) I'm really glad. We gotta do what we gotta do sometimes, and screw what the church thinks. This is about you and preserving your faith in Christ.

But I do have core doctrinal issues. Again, I don't believe in the Word of Wisdom, but I believe in taking care of our bodies. I know I keep bringing it up, but this *is* a temple recommend question. That makes it of utter importance. This is not something that, in the eyes of my leaders, I can just agree to disagree on.

I used to have the faith of frickin’ Noah, you know? I did whatever I was asked to, however I was asked to. I could’ve done better in my callings (it’s a weakness. I’m rather unmotivated and easily distracted), but I was obedient. I think now I was too obedient.

Btw, Katie, this sentence:

“Lisa- let it be the decision that gives you peace, and helps you to know that you are closer to Christ.”

Thank you. You’ve no idea what that one little sentence meant to me. Really.

Lisa said...

btw, sorry if that last comment sounded a bit...angry. i'm tired of feeling this way :(

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

Steve, alright. It seemed from your examples though that the thing that bothered you most was how you were treated when you made comments in SS and EQ. My mistake. But I think doctrine and culture are two separate things. Maybe sometimes they agree, maybe they don't, but they are rooted in different things, ya?

Katie said...

Well, I do think it all comes back to Christ, but only because my search for a testimony of the Savior is strengthened by the doctrines of the Mormon church. If I were a member of another faith I would still feel that it came back to Christ. I'm a convert, too; I spend many years attending various churches, praying, and asking God where I should be. All the churches I attended had some degree of light to them, a degree of goodness. They were also all Christian, since I had a belief in Jesus Christ even before my "conversion". It was the Book of Mormon, however, that brought me to be baptized. As I started to read it, I felt a warmth spread over me that reminded me of spiritual experiences I had had long ago, as a young child. I knew that it was the word of God. Whenever I read it now, or remember those experiences, I feel the Spirit again as I did then.

That said, if you don't have a testimony of the book of Mormon, then I can't see how you can really consider yourself Mormon. (That wasn't intended to be said in rude manner - its just how I would see someone defined as Mormon or not).

I remember when I was first baptized, and I met people who were Mormon by "birth," and on the records of the church, but not active or working on their testimonies - I would say to myself, "Why do this to yourself?" Seriously, if you don't have that testimony that the Book of Mormon contains the Gospel, then this is an awfully difficult church to try to stick with. If you do have a firm testimony of it - well, then it makes up for a multitude of discomforts.

I wish you wouldn't beat yourself up over this question, Lisa. No one can make it for you - its between you and God. Remember - we are only judged by God according to the light we are given. I think that if you don't have that strong conviction that the Book of Mormon is God's word, then it is virtually impossible to put up with all the rules and regulations, and it is extremely easy to get sidetracked by what I called the "branches" in your last post.

Maybe I am overly simplistic about these things, and I probably am, but I can only speak from my own experiences. I want you to know also that I would not think very highly of any friend of yours who decides not to be your friend strictly because you are questioning your beliefs or decide to change religions. Its an intensely personal decision, IMHO.

Katie said...

Sorry, after talking this post over with Hubby I had some more thoughts.

I do believe that the core doctrines taught by our church are true, including the BOM, idea of the Godhead, eternal nature of families, current prophet on the earth, relationship between the body and spirit (i.e., word of wisdom), etc. I think some of those teachings are unique to our church (specifically as pertains to the Trinity, and the active teaching of premortal existence). I also think there are some perpetuating understandings of some of these things that are more cultural than doctrinal, and I can understand where the confusion about culture/doctrine comes from (for example, not drinking green tea, but being gluttonous and being generally unhealthy).

I also believe that there are many churches in the world that people are very happy in, and where they derive great satisfaction and a feeling that God hears them. I believe that some people would not be happy in our church. I don't, however, think that makes the doctrines of our church more or less "true" - rather, I just think not everyone would be happy in the celestial kingdom. There are going to be a heck of a lot of rules there, just as there are here. Maybe even polygamy. Part of the Gospel is self-sacrifice - think about the Savior, he was literally the living manifestation of God the Father. All that he did and said was in God's name. Can you imagine the amount of self-sacrifice involved in that? That's what we are all aiming for, when we aim for the celestial kingdom. Complete obedience and unity with God. Holiness. Its not surprising that the things required overshadow the benefits for many people.

From what I understand from the Doctrine and Covenants, even the telestial kingdom is beyond description wonderful. I don't think God made the other kingdoms as punishment for those who couldn't make it to the celestial realm. I think that some of his kids just couldn't live with all of the rules he wants in his house - and as He lives there, He can set the rules - so, he made some other, beautiful, wonderful mansions so that all of his children could be happy and could be near him and progress to their own ability.

I have thought about this alot recently with the thought of having children "beyond number". Wow, I can't even handle the one I have. Right now, I don't even WANT more. Like, I really, really don't. But my desire to be with God the Father is intense, and so I am willing to work on my feelings in this matter. But, I can understand why someone else would not.

Anyway, I guess my point is that while its a very important decision what to believe in, what not to, what rules to keep, etc., its still very personal, and you have to do what is right for you. For my part, I think that as long as someone is finding happiness and is drawing closer to Christ in their faith, then I am happy for them, whatever faith they are in. That doesn't threaten my faith, and I hope that my faith in Mormon doctrine doesn't threaten theirs.

Lisa said...

Katie: Again, sweetie, I so appreciate your respect for me making my own decisions, for what's right for me.

I hadn't heard that before, though, that some believe that some of us just don't have sufficient faith for the Celestial Kingdom so that's why God made the lower kingdoms. Sounds good, sure, but I don't know. With all due respect - and you do have it - it's condescending.

If that's how the Celestial Kingdom is going to be, I don't want it. I don't want to be forced into polygamy (and yes, some people were forced into it. If they said they wouldn't do it, they were excommunicated). I don't know. It wouldn't be for me.

I do believe the BoM contains some, if not many, truths. That doesn't mean I believe the gospel as taught contains as many truths. We say it's simple, but we've really complicated it.

See, I know you spoke with much love and understanding and I want you to know how appreciated that is, but I take issue when people suggest my faith is less than their faith. I don't know that it's a matter of better versus lacking.

As for self-sacrifice, I don't know that...oy. When you said

" Complete obedience and unity with God. Holiness. Its not surprising that the things required overshadow the benefits for many people. "

I only have to think that other people believe different things equate complete obedience with God. Everyone's got a different idea. The idea of the church is that it all should be worth it. "I never said it would be easy, only that it would be worth it" (though he never said that, haha).

It's just different. Just different.

I find myself focusing on comparitively small things and ignoring and not working on the larger things, and I don't feel the Church is helping me grow in the way I want and need to grow.

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

I am truly disturbed by suggestions that polygamy will exist in heaven. I just cannot see polygamy as just or merciful if one takes the position that men and women are equal heirs to the kingdom. My two cents...

Lisa said...

Annalee: The Church teaches a Celestial polygamy though...or were you aware? (I really don't want to sound condescending).

In case not, or if there's someone else who doesn't, if I were to die today and my husband remarried in the temple, he would, in the Celestial Kingdom, be married to the both of us.

So, Katie's right. It could happen per Church teachings. I don't like it either, I never did but for years resigned myself to it under the hope I'd never have to deal with it. But the teaching...like you said: how can it then be equal? It doesn't feel equal.

If you read D&C 132 or even speak with your bishop, you'll find this is a doctrine we need to accept regardless of whether we're ever required to live it. It may not bother some, but it bugs the crap out of me. Maybe it shouldn't, but it does.

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

Do we even know what it means to be sealed? There is something significant about the priesthood and access to it's power. I resign myself to thinking that "marriage" has something to do with access to this power and doesn't necessarily mean the relationship is all inclusive (i.e. romantic/sexual). J.S. didn't consummate every "marriage" he entered into. Why should we believe marriage necessitates sexual relationship? I cannot understand why we let men be sealed to another woman if his wife dies. What difference does it make if she's alive or dead since we believe we are eternal beings. If it's not ok when she's alive, then why is it ok when she's dead? Do you see my question? Anyway, I do have peace about this issue as I have prayed, read, and discussed it (particularly helpful when talking to my dad). The understanding is just not there. It's a matter of faith for me. Faith that Heavenly Father's plan would not make me unhappy.

Lisa said...

I totally understand where you're coming from. I just can't...I just can't anymore. I can see why you would, though. Part of me wants to, but the whole idea is just so wrong to me.

Glad you've found peace within it, though :)

Katie said...

Well, for the record - and, I think you know this, Lisa, but just in case - I wasn't trying to be condescending. I wish you success in determining what's right for your sanity and happiness :) How is your hubby handling all this?

On a completely unrelated note, they've discovered a new way to identify and harass those who donated money for or against Prop. 8: www.eightmaps.com. Now you can determine for yourself who in your town, stake, and state donated to Prop 8, the amount, and where they live!

Ah, the sweet taste of democracy.

Lisa said...

I know, Katie :)

Ahahahaha, yeah I already knew about that, except the site I knew of was mormonsfor8.org or something to that effect.

I don't know. It's public info, but seemed a little off to me.

As for hubby, he's in exactly the same boat I am. He just keeps it all to himself, feels absolutely no need to talk about it. I covet that as much as it drives me up the wall :)

Steve M. said...

I only have to think that other people believe different things equate complete obedience with God. Everyone's got a different idea.

In addition to people having different interpretations of what "obedience to God" consists of, some believe that Deity just isn't all that interested in having people strictly abide by a series of arbitrarily-imposed rules.

Take, for instance, the story of Adam and Eve (which most Mormons consider to be historical fact). God gave them two contradictory commandments--not to partake of the fruit of the forbidden true, and to multiply and replenish the earth. Mortal progression required that they break one of those commandments.

Obedience, in and of itself, is overrated.

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

"Obedience, in and of itself, is overrated."

This is a premature statement. If life is a probationary state (and I believe it is), then we have not fully experienced the effects of obedience or disobedience. It would be, then, impossible to make this conclusion..., if indeed it is a conclusion about obedience.

But, I like what Abraham Lincoln said about religion and I think it applies here, "When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, that is my religion."

Steve M. said...


(Be forewarned, this answer is WAAAAY too long.)

My view (and my point) is that obedience per se is not a virtue. In taking an action, the moral value of that action is neither heightened by the element of obedience nor diminished by the lack thereof.

For instance, if my Bishop instructs me to perform Good Deed X, and I comply, does the fact that I performed Good Deed X out of obedience make it any more moral? In my view, the answer is No. The morality of the Good Deed X depends upon a number of criteria (such as its effect upon others), but I do not see how it is any better because it was performed out of obedience. Does the element of obedience somehow enhance the positive effects of Good Deed X? Would Good Deed X be less moral if performed by someone who was not acting out of obedience? At the very least, Good Deed X seems to be equally moral, whether performed out of obedience or not. And arguably, Good Deed X would be more moral if I chose to perform it on my own accord, without the instruction of my Bishop (i.e., without the element of obedience).

Now let's postulate that my Bishop instructs me to perform Bad Deed Y. (For the purposes of this hypothetical, let's assume that Bad Deed Y is, by all objective accounts, clearly immoral). If I choose to comply, and thereby commit Bad Deed Y, does the fact that I performed it out of obedience make it any less immoral? No; if I have my freedom, yet choose to take an action that I believe to be (and that by all accounts is) immoral, I become complicit in the immorality. Indeed, whereas I was in a position to prevent the occurrence of Bad Deed Y, by choosing to obey my Bishop I become the instrument by which immorality is wrought. In this example, the element of obedience does nothing to salvage my morality. In fact, disobedience would have probably been the most moral action I could have taken under the circumstances.

As these two simple examples illustrate, obedience does not necessarily carry any independent moral weight.

The Doctrine & Covenants suggests so much. In the oft-quoted Section 58, which states,

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart . . . the same is damned.
(Verses 26-29)

This scripture contemplates the ideal described by Joseph Smith: "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves." As these quotes indicate, it is preferable that we make good, moral decisions on our own, in the absence of specific commands.

I am not saying that there is no value in obedience. Under certain circumstances, it is desirable. For instance, obedience to superiors ensures order and efficiency in military situations. Children's obedience to parents often ensures their health and safety.

It's tempting to draw an analogy between the child-parent example and our relationship to the Church (or to God, through the Church) and argue that obedience to church leaders ensures our own spiritual and/or physical health and safety. But I personally think such an analogy is misplaced.

I don't believe that God desires us to have the same relationship to either Him or the Church that small children have to their parents. And I think Mormon doctrine backs me up in this regard.

Mormon doctrine posits that God is an exalted man, and that man's (and woman's!) ultimate destiny is to become like Him, possessing the same knowledge, powers, and judgment. This suggests that it is vital for us to develop those capabilities not through unthinking obedience to authority, but through thoughtful decisionmaking. This is the principle that underlies both Section 58 and Joseph Smith's teaching about self-governance--making independent moral judgments on the basis of general principles is preferable to simply acting in obedience to a series of specific rules.

This is likewise implicit in the Book of Mormon's description of the children of Israel in Mosiah 13. That chapter states--

And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God;

Therefore there was a law given them, yea, a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him.
(Verses 29-30)

In Mormon parlance, the children of Israel were given a "lower law," which was superseded by the less rules-oriented, more principles-oriented "higher law" that Christ introduced.

To summarize, I don't believe that God would require His children to subject themselves to a paternalistic organization in which obedience takes precedence over other virtues. Rather, if we are to take LDS scriptures and doctrine seriously, it seems to me that God would be more concerned about our ability to think for ourselves, correctly apply moral principles, and make sound moral judgments, than He would our ability to strictly obey a checklist of specific (and sometimes arbitrary, and sometimes erroneous) instructions.

Anyway, I apologize for the length of this reply. I recognize that you may disagree with me, but these are my thoughts on the issue of obedience.

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

"God would be more concerned about our ability to think for ourselves, correctly apply moral principles, and make sound moral judgments, than He would our ability to strictly obey a checklist of specific (and sometimes arbitrary, and sometimes erroneous) instructions."

Most assuredly! It is this precise desire of God's, and our own, that put us here in the first place. Freedom v. compulsion, it continues here and freedom is the only way to progress!!! I don't see how obeying our, bishops for example, diminishes our intelligence or agency when our action is the result of our own decision. There is a continuum of motivation behind obedience, to be sure, but the consistent thing is that it is always our choice and that requires intelligence not a list.

Cool discussion!

ardelorme said...

I find these discussions on this and FD's blog fascinating. I was an active LDS person for 10 years after being baptized at 19 yrs old and serving a mission. I felt like I was the only one in the world who felt like Lisa, Steve, and FD. I'm so glad to have found you guys, still, after having left the church 5 years ago. There are things about it that I miss that I've been reminded of in these readings and my personal reflections. There are things about it that I had deep frustrations with that you have also reminded me of in your posts. The priesthood, the temple, the pull of the three-fold mission of the church to "perfect the saints", which often made me feel like my best was never good enough. I couldn't fit in no matter how hard I tried b/c I am a convert married to a non-mormon who will never have children by choice. Plus my thinking just can't conform as easily as it seems that others' in the church seem to. I'm not sure that I could ever sit through another SS class where they show a video that I wonder if any of you have seen: an older man talks with a young man as they survey a flock of sheep. They pick and choose the sheep that would not suffice as the best sacrifice in similitude of the Savior and His sacrifice. The older man tells the young man that the perfect sacrifce must be made by a male lamb and this lamb must not be lame or have any physical imperfections. From my stomach to my throat I felt the frustration almost explode inside of me when my abstract mind assumed that through the process of elimination the perfect and sufficient sacrifice or "gift" to God could not be female, sick, or disabled. I sat in that class embarrassed to be a woman in this church and felt more oppressed than ever. Across the room sat a middle aged mother and father with their teenaged downs syndrome child and I wondered if they, too, were offended at what was implied. Women, people who are sick, and those who are disabled might as well be invisible and are not valued. I realize that this is meant to be an illustration of how perfect the Savior is and only He could be the perfect atoning one but over the years I came to learn to listen to what was not said and taught as much as I did to what was said and taught. That SS class was five years ago. About three months ago I felt a strong urge to go to church and I got dressed up and ventured out into the cold, snowy morning. I drove to church. Walked in to the front door as the first speaker was sharing her talk. The words I heard were about how we should all be working to do our work in the Temple. I stood in the foyer for a couple of minutes, turned around and walked back out. I also have issues with the temple ceremony; it couldn't get anymore exclusive in my opinion. No one ever knew I went to church that day and I was glad for that. I was reminded that the temple has always been one of my biggest challenges in the LDS church. I do miss some things about church though and maybe this blog will help me if I return. I've definately gotten alot of food for thought over the past several days. Thanks to everyone who posts. They are all interesting thoughts and it's wonderful have have the opportunity to share here.