Honest Criticism is not to be Feared

Not What One Says, but How One Says It.

Dissent as Advocating Change: Quotes and Thoughts

Apostle Dallin Oaks:
“My duty as a member of the Council of the Twelve is to protect what is most unique about the LDS church, namely the authority of priesthood, testimony regarding the restoration of the gospel, and the divine mission of the Savior. Everything may be sacrificed in order to maintain the integrity of those essential facts.
It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true.
Apostle Boyd K. Packer
You seminary teachers and some of you institute and BYU men will be teaching the history of the Church this school year. This is an unparalleled opportunity in the lives of your students to increase their faith and testimony of the divinity of this work. Your objective should be that they will see the hand of the Lord in every hour and every moment of the Church from its beginning till now.
Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer.
There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.
That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith. A destroyer of faith — particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith — places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. He is serving the wrong master, and unless he repents, he will not be among the faithful in the eternities. … Do not spread disease germs!”
Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland.
… Every institution has to define itself somehow. … As much as I admire it, this is not the Rotary Club. This is not an overly large scout troop, boy or girl. We are a church, and we have beliefs that define us, and that has to be for anything that would be a religion in the sense you and I talk about it.
We don’t discipline people in this church for very much. In a church of over 12 million people, I keep hearing about the September Six [six academics excommunicated or disfellowshipped in 1986]. … All I’m saying is I think this church has a history of being very, very generous. There are some lines — I’d probably say “lines,” plural. The chief among these is the issue of advocating against the church. Personal beliefs within the give-and-take of life and associations and whatever you choose — there are lots of people who carve out their life in the church all the way out to the edge and beyond. I guess that’s always the way it’s been, and that’s always the way it will be. But I think where the church will act is when there is an act so decisive or so glaring, and … so much cast in the spirit of advocacy, that the institution itself cannot retain its identity and still allow that.
Elder Marlin Keith Jensen
Where an intellectual, I think, can get into difficulty is when that intellectual person takes a position and begins either to attack the general leader or the local leaders of the church or begins to attack the basic doctrine of the church and does that publicly. … That’s, at least in my humble view of it, probably the definition of apostasy. At that point a person in that situation would be counseled and lovingly invited to become at least quiet — (laughs) — if not orthodox, and if they refuse and persist in their public opposition to leaders or to the doctrine of the church, at that point I think the church has no option but to take some disciplinary action toward them with the hope that they will humble themselves and change their hearts and become more contrite members of the church, which often happens, but not always.
Who are these dissenters and why are they saying mean things?

Doesn’t that make them apostates? Aren’t apostates of the devil? Doesn’t that mean that dissenters=apostates=devil=evil

Dissenters are evil?  Shouldn’t we despise and shun them?
“The most frequent causes of apostasy are failure to maintain strict standards of morality, taking personal offense (real or perceived), marrying someone who is of another faith or who is irreligious, neglecting to pray and maintain spirituality, or misunderstanding of the teachings of the Church.”  Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Harold B. Lee Library, BYU
4. Do not contend or debate over points of doctrine. The Master warned that “the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil.” (3 Ne. 11:29.) We are inconsistent if we resort to Satanic tactics in attempting to achieve righteous ends. Such inconsistency results only in frustration, loss of the Spirit, and ultimate defeat. Remember, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege.” (Eleventh Article of Faith.) – Carlos E. Asay, “Opposition to the Work of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 67
All dissenters from the true church of God are sinners

According to our modern dictionaries, a dissenter is “one that dissents”, and since we know what it means to religiously dissent, that means that a religious dissenter is one that does not religiously conform. But in the time of Joseph Smith, a dissenter was “one who separates from the service and worship of any established church.” Doctrine Against Dissent
Assumptions … assumptions … assumptions.

Dissent as loving and faithful participation driven by an attitude of love.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we who can’t sit quietly and idly by and who dissent with the LDS Church would admit that we get up every morning and ask ourselves what can we do this day to attack the church and do the devil’s work?

Would that not relieve believers from any obligation to trust or refrain from doubting our sincerity?

But such is not the case, at least within my own circle of dissenters.

If in fact dissenters->apostates->evil->devil are the bad guys, what should be done about them socially?

Call them names? Equate doubts and dissent to sinfulness and unworthiness?

Perhaps shunning might be the best thing when all is said and done.

Let’s assume dissenters are evil=unworthy. Better yet, let’s doubt their sincerity.  After all, what ABOUT the Mormon way of life?

What ABOUT the – you know – the one true way to see everything?  Isn’t that kind of the Church-approved way to see … to be?

Can we just talk?

It seems that for most Mormons committed to the LDS Church perceptually there is no difference between the Church and the Religion. The Church IS the religion.

A famous exchange between Brigham Young and Bishop Edwin Wooley above reflects that perception in its fullest literalist degree. In essence, most Mormons see Church authority  theologically established as the divine will of Jesus Christ over all matters connected to the religion of the culture.

Brigham, from his authoritative position and calling, anticipated that  a disagreement with Wooley in which he (Brigham) as President was acting with authority and Wooley as the object of his correction was in error. In beating up Edwin Wooley Brigham thought Wolley might let being offended be a reason to apostatize.

After one of many heated exchanges with Wooley, Brigham told him caustically,
“Well, I suppose you are going to go off and apostatize.”
To which Wooley retorted,
“If this were your church I might, but it’s just as much mine as it is yours.”
I agree with Bishop Wooley and would express similar sentiments … but not about the procedures, actions and conformity-driven Church busy-ness.

Churchiness is not spirituality. I would assert to contemporary LDS leadership and active Latter Day Saints that Mormonism as a religion and way of life is just as much mine as it is yours.

Non-Mormons normally usually accept dissent as a good thing; healthy even. However, in the LDS loaded-language reality where folks are excommunicated for encouraging disagreement or beliefs in conflict with the true way of being and believing, there seems to exist the notion that those who criticize the Church are in reality persecuting the church … which implies that they are truly enemies of the Church, enemies of the truth and enemies of goodness.

Goodness, in Mormonese, is often psychologically equated to conformity and blind adherence to authority. Mormonese includes words and phrases that are loaded with ideas based on judgment and worthiness. In truth, such words and phrases as mental concepts essentially make it impossible to use them without passing judgment in a moral manner on a person or activity.

Who are LDS good? It appears that they are the righteous, the spiritual and the worthy … but not the stiff-necked, inactive, immodest or dissenters. Those who “rebel” choose against the commandments. Obviously then the following equation only works inside the context of Mormonese:

Obedience + worthiness = LDS Spirituality (which leads to blessings from a God who is pleased by non-dissenting conformity.)

A reality lost on most members in conversation one with another but not perhaps lost on non-Mormons who don’t speak Mormonese is the idea that believers almost naively gravitate more often to and enjoy the company of more of their own kind who understand this unique language.

One aspect of this unique Mormonese is that during our meetings we are allowed to make offensive and outrageous declarations about other human beings. Within the circled wagons of an LDS Fast and Testimony Meeting, for example, one can naively and aggressively assert pity and smugness in the self-righteous expression of “feeling sorry for those outside the Church who don’t have the truth we have.”

I was sitting next to my (at that time) “investigator” spouse in an Fast and Testimony meeting the first time the awful offensiveness  of that arrogant statement (a statement I had heard countless times in my life but only then did it hit home with me.)

Critical spiritual thinking

One of the aspects of our theology is our agreement to assume, if you will, command and control of a mortal life – namely, our own. Within the Church we share unfolding interactions with other people who have also assumed command and control of their own lives and according to the theology have come to mortality also in our time.

Along with that assumption – and in line with Joseph’s attitude regarding God’s glory (intelligence) and our mortal lives being defined by the need to learn good principles and govern ourselves – is the obtaining of knowledge in a process that includes critical thinking.

It is indisputable that God WANTS that we think critically for ourselves, avoiding any temptation to hand our thinking over to someone else’s magic (particularly magic masquerading as divinely appointed/called authority.)

Were our ability to think critically sufficiently and personally developed to its fullest, that thinking would include awareness (SENSITIVITY-based awareness) of the implications of our convictions. We must acknowledge the impact of how we express our convictions when we refuse to think critically about how others hear the messages we each proclaim.

Is it possible then that dissenters are not Church haters, rebels, apostates or generally evil/mislead/misguided human beings who fall short on the worthiness scale because they disagree with the Church?

Perhaps the better Mormonese  phrasing would be to forget about insisting on all the legalistic procedural and faith-enforcing gobbledygook?

Might not honest dissent be honorable, worthy and faith-promoting?

Is that not what it means to worship where, when and how we may?

Can we not then supplicate the prophets, seers and revelators to inquire of the Lord regarding our concerns … and expect them to return and report the response rather than keep quiet and non-communicative?

Would that not go a long way toward avoiding harm to the Church by responding in some other form than that which encourages hostile relationships in communities and families?

When Joseph was in Liberty Jail – anguished, suffering and in need of comfort – God was not silent, non-communicative and overly worried about conformity or Joseph’s potential for apostasy.

The Lord responded with Section 122 which included this wonderful passage:
2 While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous, shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand.
3 And thy people shall never be turned against thee by the testimony of traitors.
Ought we not go and do likewise?

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Arthur Ruger

Married and in a wonderful relationship. Retired Social Worker, Veteran, writer, author, blogger, musician,. Lives in Coeur D' Alene, Idaho

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