On Zero-tolerance

Last week I confessed on a thread over at T&S that in the last while I have exhibited a “zero-tolerance” policy to criticisms of the Church. I have always been faithful to the Church’s official doctrines and have always been eager to defend what I believe to be the Truth when it was appropriate to do so. But in the past, these tendencies have not translated into “zero-tolerance” for criticisms of the Church, as they seem to do now. Rather, I was at best apathetic to criticisms of the Church, particularly those from the inside–that is, growing up in Dallas I was more concerned with avoiding the accusation of belonging to a cult at school than with defending the Church against any ward members who, at that time unknown to me, were surely behind the scenes lobbying for some reform or another. After that exchange on T&S, I have been wondering what the reason is for the rise of this “zero-tolerance” policy within me. Thus, the ten minutes I spent in Priesthood meeting this Sunday (before the Primary came to get me to deal with my 3-year-old who was in Sunbeams for the first time) proved very valuable, since the topic was the January hometeaching message by President Hinckley.

President Hinckley writes about the standards that we choose to live by as Latter-day Saints. He says that

While standards generally may totter, we of the Church are without excuse if we drift in the same manner. We have standards—sure, tested, and effective. To the extent that we observe them, we shall go forward. To the extent that we neglect them, we shall hinder our own progress and bring embarrassment to the work of the Lord. These standards have come from Him. Some of them may appear a little out-of-date in our society, but this does not detract from their validity nor diminish the virtue of their application. The subtle reasoning of men, no matter how clever, no matter how plausible it may sound, cannot abridge the declared wisdom of God.

President Hinckley does not stop there; he goes on to address, in the context of this discussion of standards, something that resonated with me and my contemplation of this zero-tolerance policy:

“I once heard Hans Kindt, the wise stake patriarch of the Milwaukee Wisconsin North Stake, say: God is not a celestial politician seeking our vote. Rather, God is to be found, and God is to be obeyed.”

Upon reading this, I realized that this is a large source of my irritability with the highly critical attitude of many Latter-day Saints in the Bloggernacle (against whom I have absolutely nothing personally, and even greatly enjoyed the time I spent with those who chose to attend the gathering at my house in October)–that they seem to approach God as a politician in a democracy who is susceptible to lobbying on a social agenda inimical to fundamental eternal principles. I realize that part of this (but by no means characteristic of it) is often a more doubting or complex view of the nature of God’s relationship with the Prophet and Apostles. But that doesn’t lessen the fact that this notion of God as a politician is at the core, it seems, of what is causing my zero-tolerance policy that I fear is making my presence around the blogs somewhat onerous.

President Hinckley continues:

Our adherence to these divinely given standards need never be an offensive thing to those about us. We need not contend with them. But if we will pursue a steady course, our very example will become the most effective argument we could ever advance for the virtues of the cause with which we are associated.

The Lord has given us counsel and commandment on so many things that no member of this Church need ever equivocate. He has established our guidelines concerning personal virtue, neighborliness, obedience to law, loyalty to government, observance of the Sabbath day, sobriety and abstinence from liquor and tobacco, the payment of tithes and offerings, the care of the poor, the cultivation of home and family, the sharing of the gospel—to mention only a few.

There need be nothing of argument or contention in any of them. If we will pursue a steady course in the implementation of our religion in our own lives, we shall advance the cause more effectively than by any other means.

There may be those who will seek to tempt us away. There may be those who will try to bait us. We may be disparaged. We may be belittled. We may be inveighed against. We may be caricatured before the world.

There are those, both in the Church and out, who would compel us to change our position on some matters, as if it were our prerogative to usurp authority which belongs alone to God.

We have no desire to quarrel with others. We teach the gospel of peace. But we cannot forsake the word of the Lord as it has come to us through men whom we have sustained as prophets. We must stand and say, to quote again the words of affirmation recommended by Barbara Tuchman: ” This is what I believe. This I will do and that I will not do. This is my code of behavior and that is outside it.”

There may be times of discouragement and deep concern. There certainly will be days of decision in the lives of each of us. It was ever thus.

The bolded portion was particularly poignant to me as I sat pondering this problem. As I had already realized, this new zero-tolerance policy must stem from my view that God is not a politician to be lobbied; the corrollary to this is found in the bolded portion: some even within the Church will try to compel us to change our position on some matters “as if it were our prerogative to usurp the authority which belongs alone to God.” This seems like a fairly direct reference to lobbying for reform or change of an institution established by God and which God is running through his chosen servants; such behavior is even tantamount to usurping the authority which alone belongs to God.

What do the “lobbyists” among us think of these relatively harsh words of the prophet? When the prophet says something like this, does it tend to change the behavior at all of those who want to see God as a politician to be moved by a special interest lobby? Whatever the answer to those questions, it seems they have been lurking in my mind these last months as I have participated in discussions and arguments on numerous blogs and I believe must be the source of my zero-tolerance stance towards many whose discussions seem to lean towards lobbying for a change in standards, a change in which can come only from God.

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32 Responses to On Zero-tolerance

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read T&S because of the critical, cynical viewpoint I see over there. I don’t think the prophet’s words will change that viewpoint much. The viewpoint of someone who seeks to counsel God is one of extreme pride, and repentence and change takes a certain amount of humility.  

    Posted by Zach

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great post, John F. It’s hard to conduct online conversations (open to hundreds of diverse readers) without rubbing some people the wrong way, especially on a topic like religion. And (for what it’s worth) as one who has read dozens (hundreds?) of your comments over the last year, while it is clear you fall on the conservative side of the conservative/liberal religious spectrum, I don’t recall you ever slipping into the dreaded “offensive” category.

    As to the whole dissent/criticism issue, I think there are some people who read it way too broadly. I’m inclined to think it means no direct criticism of LDS officials over the pulpit, in a meeting or class, or in a publication. Personally, I don’t see the kind of informal conversation that goes on in the B’nacle to fall into that category: it’s discussion, not direct criticism; it’s conversation, not publishing; it’s informal, not an LDS forum. 

    Posted by Dave

  3. Anonymous says:

    I doubt any “lobbyists” would lobby God himself; but when the Brethren ask us to obey God they are in effect asking us to obey them. That they represent God is a matter of faith. For those people suspicious of the motives of men, this requires an *awful* lot of faith. You seem to have been blessed with that, John, and you should be grateful. Some haven’t, yet they struggle on nonetheless.

    My own view is that the Brethren are far more human than some conservatives would like to think. On the other hand, God is more active in the Church than skeptics imagine. I think the Brethren deserve our loyalty and respect, and ultimately the uber-skeptical Latter-day Saint is only ever going to be an unhappy Latter-day Saint.

    What interests me John, is that your “zero-tolerance” to dissent doesn’t translate to putting your head in the sand. Your interest in the blogs, in all their left-wing glory, is intriguing…

    [In other words, I'm wondering if you can explain why you haven't followed Zach above]

    Ah, John Fowles, how I wish we were in Oxford still, with you and Ally crammed in the back of our Vauxhall on the way to church! Then we could really thrash this out. 

    Posted by Ronan

  4. Anonymous says:

    John,
    thanks for posting this. I see your presence as far from onerous, and hope that you’ll continue on your present course. I also feel that there is too much ‘lobbying’ going on, but I don’t have the time or energy to try to deal with some of the more questioning blogs — i hardly have enough time to deal with my own.

    -pate 

    Posted by pat eyler

  5. Anonymous says:

    John,

    Amen. Thank you. There is a very fine line at work here, one I don’t pretend to know the exact position of. That said, I too have felt a mildly defiant position from the “intellectual” Church members that comprise much of the LDS bloggernacle. It’s very thin ice to walk on. Words so clear, direct, and decisive like those quoted above are so refreshing in context. The word of God is ever so. Sometimes our overactive minds (trained by hours of analysis and inspection in secular studies) kick into gear without realizing that all such bets are off when it comes to eternal truth. Abinadi’s words come to mind: “You have not applied your HEARTS to understanding. Therefore you have not been wise.” True wisdom comes from the Spirit by way of the heart.

    -CJ  

    Posted by CJ

  6. Anonymous says:

    John I continue to enjoy your thoughts and comments wherever they appear. I perceive you as conservative but that’s not a major problem to me. I like to see a diversity of opinions over at T&S and other places and your voice adds to that diversity.

    I also continue to enjoy memories of our blogfest over at your house (someday I will come pick up my scrabble pieces — I promise). I am hoping someday we can do some more fun things together … it just seems we never have much time these days. 

    Posted by danithew

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is totally off-topic and I may have already mentioned it before, but I just have to say that I think it’s totally cool that your uplifting quote is from a Front 242 song. 

    Posted by William Morris

  8. Anonymous says:

    Dave wrote, Personally, I don’t see the kind of informal conversation that goes on in the B’nacle to fall into that category: it’s discussion, not direct criticism; it’s conversation, not publishing; it’s informal, not an LDS forum.This is a good point. I understand this but still get the feeling that many of those participating in these discussions really do think it is possible to effect change in Church policy by lobbying the leaders or criticizing. Maybe some of my irritability also comes because much of the criticism seems gratuitous and sometimes useless–on the level of merely complaining. But deep down I know that the overwhelming majority of us in the Bloggernacle are engaging in these discussions in good faith. It is just my own personal problems with pride and impatience that lead to “zero-tolerance.”

    Ronan wrote My own view is that the Brethren are far more human than some conservatives would like to think. On the other hand, God is more active in the Church than skeptics imagine. I think the Brethren deserve our loyalty and respect, and ultimately the uber-skeptical Latter-day Saint is only ever going to be an unhappy Latter-day Saint.This is very insightful. I continue learning daily about what motivates and drives people with views of the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ that are different than my own. I actually really believe in what John H. has called big-tent Mormonism to the extent that it implies that the Church will embrace everyone with a desire to serve and believe. My own personal line is drawn with assertions that, e.g., the prophet has no access to the divine that any other religious leader doesn’t also have. These are issues that we have discussed in great detail, particularly at BCC. Ronan, I have always learned particularly from your perspective of many of these things, from our very first contacts in Oxford down to right now on Headlife and United Brethren. I happily participate in the Bloggernacle because I value the discussions with so many great people who share my faith (to a certain extent). But I have been making myself uncomfortable around the blogs lately because I am being so strict. Allison has complained about this too whenever she reads comments that I write.

    Danithew: we are still here and you know where we live. Come by anytime. We’ll give you a meal and have some fun. I miss Wump but am glad to see you around the blogs still.

    Zach, my wife got discouraged early on by the criticisms on T&S. She never really ventured over to BCC, but that would have saddened her greatly, so it’s best that she doesn’t read it. But I still participate because I feel like people are discussing these things in good faith and I want to be part of that discussion.

    Pat and CJ, thanks for the input. President Hinckley’s words were indeed refreshing, but I didn’t take them as a directive to avoid the debate. We do indeed see but through a glass darkly. 

    Posted by john fowles

  9. Anonymous says:

    William, thanks. I like a lot of Front 242′s old stuff. I never got into “Up Evil” or anything after that. Initially, I wanted to find a program that would allow that uplifting quote to circulate on a weekly basis among quotes from songs that I had chosen. I haven’t figured out a way to do that yet. When the blog first started I had a quote from Bad Religion’s “Modern Man” as the uplifting quote: “All of my neurons are functioning smoothly and still I’m a cyborg just like you.”  

    Posted by john fowles

  10. Anonymous says:

    Didn’t Moses lobby God? Don’t we all lobby God with petitionary prayer?  

    Posted by lyle

  11. Anonymous says:

    Yes, and JS lobbied God as well with regards to the 116 pages. I’m not sure that petitionary prayer is the same as viewing Church leaders as the object of special interest lobbying though. The leaders themselves might lobby God through petitionary prayer, as SWK did in 1978. But God is still in charge and is to be obeyed.  

    Posted by john fowles

  12. Anonymous says:

    The history of the church, ancient and modern, is full of people lobbying prophets, as well–the daughters of Zelophehad lobbying Moses, Barak asking Deborah to go with him, Emma asking Joseph if something could be done about the tobacco-stains on her floor, Sarah Melissa Kimball asking for Joseph’s blessing of the Relief Society, Aurelia Spencer Rogers and E.R.Snow asking for Brigham’s approval of Primary, people serving as mission presidents in Brazil begging for guidance about how to deal with mixed racial heritage there, a group of women writing to ask to be included in the sustaining of the prophet in Solemn Assemblies (the change happened between Hunter and Hinckley).

    I’m fairly certain that nobody at Times and Seasons or BCC thinks that the Brethren give a tinker’s dam about what we write there–I’m certainly not laboring under the delusion that I could lobby the Brethren (let alone God!) or compel them to do anything, even if I wanted to (and I don’t). I may be proud, but I’m not that stupid. Still, I’m not sure there’s grounds to think that everyone who ever thinks and dares to say aloud that some aspect of church practice or policy could be improved has fallen off the deep end of apostasy.

    Like everybody else, I’m trying to make sense of the world and of prophetic counsel and authority. I’m sorry that my style of expressing my search for God offends some people; it makes me sad to be perceived as unfaithful. More than anything, I’m interested in understanding the will of God, so that I can do it. That understanding doesn’t seem to come as easily to me as it does to you, John, or to other people. Still, I don’t have any trouble with the standards President Hinckley enumerates: “personal virtue, neighborliness, obedience to law, loyalty to government, observance of the Sabbath day, sobriety and abstinence from liquor and tobacco, the payment of tithes and offerings, the care of the poor, the cultivation of home and family, the sharing of the gospel.” It’s hard for me to understand why you think I am so very different from you, and so very much less worthy a citizen of the Kingdom. 

    Posted by Kristine

  13. Anonymous says:

    Kristine – I’m not terribly experienced in Bloggernacle circles, but I have a sense of the key players. When I read John’s post I didn’t think of you.

    ————
    Dave wrote, “Personally, I don’t see the kind of informal conversation that goes on in the B’nacle to fall into that category: it’s discussion, not direct criticism; it’s conversation, not publishing; it’s informal, not an LDS forum.”

    Is this right? On the one hand, I have always thought of the blog conversations as having roughly the same tone and scope as those in, say, an LDS-themed book group or a student group that meets to discuss LDS topics. I thrive in fora like that, and I occassionally toss out skeptical or critical musings. But the internet is different. People can browse or even google blogs. Criticism of the Church or praise for its supposedly loyal opposition are far more accessible here than in, say, the latest issue of Dialogue.

    Dissenting individuals of all stripes relish the fact that the internet gets potentially controversial info out to the sheltered masses. And my impression is that some people in the Bloggernacle – not so much on T&S – view their blogs as places of refuge for people with similar or potentially similar leanings. Some – I imagine, perhaps incorrectly – might even be flattered or pleased if other members took serious Gospel concerns to the Bloggernacle instead of to their Bishop or parents. We’re the type of folks who can debate such phenomena pro and con, but these possibilites in any case distinguish the bloggernacle from *private* informal conversations. To the extent that we worry about things like milk before meat and being a stumbling block to others on issues that we consider innocuous, that is a concern.

    PS Yeah, Mark is my middle name. Still looking for an explanation of what the “URL” box is for.

     

    Posted by Nathan Mark Smith

  14. Anonymous says:

    John, thanks for this excellent post! I linked to it from my own blog (By Study and Also By Faith) in my 8 January entry because I referred to President Hinckley’s article as a good read, but your comments were so much better than anything I could think of. Besides, the others who commented brought in some good thoughts, too. You expressed my feelings very well.  

    Posted by Mary Adams

  15. Anonymous says:

    John, you saya that you get “the feeling that many of those participating in these discussions really do think it is possible to effect change in Church policy by lobbying the leaders or criticizing.”

    I can’t argue with your feelings, of course, but I find this surprising since I have rarely seen this lobbying at T&S. I am curious, not just being obnoxious: can you give specific examples of it? They would help me understand better the complaint you make.

    Nathan Mark Smith: I don’t think Kristine is lobbying at T&S, or anywhere else. I think that readers often impute motives to her that aren’t hers. However, as I read John’s description of what bothers him, I don’t know how it could not be directed at her, among others. I don’t think it is an accurate complaint, but I don’t see how Kristine wouldn’t be one of the persons he is complaining about. (And the URL box is for you to record your URL if you have a home page or blog.)  

    Posted by Jim F.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Kristine, I wasn’t directly referring to you or to anyone else but rather to the tone of many discussions on T&S and BCC in which criticism after criticism is heaped on the Church. I was surprised that both you and Jim disagreed that what is said in many of those discussions is not really akin to lobbying for change. I think Jim said this more directly than you, Kristine. Your perspective actually makes more sense than Jim’s, to me, since you point out many circumstances in which people have lobbied the prophet or God and achieved change. I understand that point but also note that the method by which to achieve change, even in those cases, wasn’t really analogous to political special interest lobbying. I didn’t mean to rile up any harsh feelings or anger with this post but was hoping to provide those of you who get weary with me on the blogs an explanation as to what bothers me about hyper-critical discussions of Church policy (and the palpable feeling that much of what the Church does is genuinely absurd). You said I’m sorry that my style of expressing my search for God offends some people; it makes me sad to be perceived as unfaithful. For my part, I’m sorry that my post about my feelings has elicited this response from you, which is not what I wanted to happen. I don’t question your faithfulness or your search for God. I just thought you (among all the others that take strong issue with my point of view on the blogs) might like to see why I get irritable sometimes in some of the more critical discussions of Church policy. I think this mostly refers to discussions at BCC, Jim.

    Jim, one example of this is SSM. I actually think that this issue lies behind what President Hinckley is saying when he mentions firm standards and the fact that the world and even many within the Church will seek to change the Church’s stance on such standards. Much of the discussion around the blogs reflects the desire to lobby the brethren to ameliorate the Church’s stance on SSM. If that were to ever happen, it would be a directive that came from God, perhaps as a result of prophetic petition, as with the 1978 revelation and many other revelations, but that is not the same as special interest lobbying. You are right that T&S is perhaps not so much the lobbying forum that BCC seems to be sometimes. But many posts at T&S just seek to highlight some perceived absurdity in the Church’s way of doing things (which is completely not absurd to many in the Church) and then criticize it heavily. What makes me uncomfortable at times is the critical attitude and the feeling of lobbying for a change in policy. That said, I enjoy participation at T&S, BCC, Daves’ MI, and many others. I just thought you would be interested to have some insight (that I just only now gained myself) as to why I get combatitive on those forums sometimes. It is duly noted that you find it to be an inaccurate complaint. I can’t really offer much in response to that aside from a shrug of the shoulders, perhaps.

    Nathan, I think you understood the spirit of my post a little better. Thanks for your input. 

    Posted by john fowles

  17. Anonymous says:

    John, I appreciate your trying to articulate what bothers you, and the fact that, as usual, you are eminently civil about it. I’m not angered by anything you’ve written; I just still don’t understand. Like Jim, I would be interested in you pointing to a specific discussion or two that you think constitute “lobbying.”

    I think that being discontent with a church policy, or wondering about the reasons for it, is an entirely different exercise than lobbying for change. Again, anyone who has been a member of the church for any length of time knows that in the modern, correlated church, it’s utterly useless to protest in the ways one does in say, democratic (small d) political situations. President Packer gave a famous (bzw. infamous) talk to the Area Authorities in which he admonished them that their role was to hand down directives from above, never to represent the concerns of members to the hierarchy. It’s entirely clear that the church is currently a top-down organization and that lobbying would be a complete waste of time.

    Since you used the example of the 1978 revelation on priesthood, let’s examine that: I think there were *many* faithful members who longed for the change that came in 1978, and who quietly (and not so quietly) expressed their hopes for change, their sense that the current policy conflicted with doctrinal and scriptural understandings, and with their own strong spiritual impressions. Is that “lobbying”? What about the mission presidents who told President Kimball quite directly that something had to be done for missionary work to move forward in Brazil? Is that inappropriate lobbying? I think that God tends to answer the questions the leadership asks, and sometimes they ask questions because members are struggling in one way or another with them. If all of the members only ever say “I believe in the church, therefore I love policies x, y, and z,” the leadership really may not know what the problems are.

    What about the sister who wrote the letter to President Hinckley that he quoted in the last General Conference? Or the one from the new member that he read a few years back? Is *that* lobbying? It certainly seems much more like it than an internet discussion. Some of the concerns about new members have led directly to policy changes–is that “special interest politics”?

    Part of what I struggle to understand with you, John, is that it seems *any* discussion of any church policy or even Mormon cultural practice which contains anything but unadulterated praise tends to raise your hackles. I even recall that you felt compelled to raise a (mild, to be sure) defense of scrapbooking when I said on bcc that I don’t do it. I don’t know how productive discussion can take place if we all keep our Sunday smiles pasted on and use our Relief Society voices all the time. If stultifyingly dull, correlated praise of everything that proceedeth from 47 EST were intellectually satisfying, why would we be blogging? You’ve said that you enjoy participating–why? Do you think you’d find it as enjoyable if everyone posted only the things that don’t offend you? 

    Posted by Kristine

  18. Anonymous says:

    First, I just want to say that I am always energized by the diversity of throught that I read in the Bloggernacle. So many people that I encounter who know nothing about Mormons seems to assume that we are monolithic in our thinking. Clearly, we are not.

    John, I appreciate your thoughts on this question. By virtue of the position I hold in my ward, I find myself far more loyal to the institution of the Church than I was just a few years ago. I feel an obligation to be loyal. And yet, I am by nature skeptical and among those who would probably raise your hackles if we were to talk about any number of issues long enough.

    I have just finished reading Kathleen Flake’s excellent book on the Reed Smoot hearings, held 1901-1904. Flake does a wonderful job identifying the hearings as a key pivotal moment in the history of the Church. The seating of Smoot in the Senate and the accomodations the Church made to secular authority were a turning point for the church — both internally and in its relations to the state.

    That the Church has members who feel inclined to “lobby” for certain changes (and I should say that I don’t think “lobby” is necessarily the right word) is a sign of how far into the mainstream it has moved in the 100 years since Smoot was elected to and seated in the United States Senate. Lobbying for change is what good and loyal citizens do — and 100 years ago, the very state of being Mormon was cause for one’s loyalty to country to be viewed with suspicion. On the other hand, that the Church and a good portion of its membership continue to view such lobbying as inappropriate when directed toward the Church is a sign that accomodation born of the Smoot hearings has not killed Mormonism’s theocratic character.

    From my perspective, the Church needs both the “zero tolerance” loyalists and the unloved dissenters. It is a sign of our health as a community and people that we can accomodate both. 

    Posted by Chris Williams

  19. Anonymous says:

    I got my Smoot hearings dates wrong — 1904-1907. 

    Posted by Chris Wi

  20. Anonymous says:

    Kristine wrote I think that God tends to answer the questions the leadership asks, and sometimes they ask questions because members are struggling in one way or another with them.This is a nice formulation. Maybe my annoyance has stemmed from only my own false interpretation of what is going on as lobbying for change rather than mere venting. That I would conceded this does not, however, change my own personal approach, which is more or less a standard of non-criticism. But maybe I won’t feel so uncomfortable in discussions on BCC if you are right that noone over there is really lobbying Church leadership or God as if they were politicians seeking a vote.

    You’ve said that you enjoy participating–why?Good question. I think it is because, underneath any superficial irritability that gets me into trouble on our discussions, it is fun for me to discuss these things with all of you. I like all of the people around the blogs and respect their viewpoints. I also learn a lot from you all.

    Chris wrote From my perspective, the Church needs both the “zero tolerance” loyalists and the unloved dissenters. It is a sign of our health as a community and people that we can accomodate both.I think you are probably right about this. I would just point out, though, for the sake of clarity, that I firmly believe in notions of “staying with the mainstream of the Church.” After all, when Christ comes, how am I going to explain to him the fact that I am not with the mainstream of the Church? That some aspect of Church policy annoyed me, so I aligned myself with the “dissent”? 

    Posted by john fowles

  21. Anonymous says:

    Good post John. I appreciate your sensitivity in expressing your views and concerns. While “lobby” may not be the correct term to use, it still expresses a view from the outside. Not that you are on the outside John. Not at all. However your sensitivity may lean that direction. Say a random, non-member, comes along, reads a blog, sees the dis-harmony and interprets it that there is so much in-fighting in the church it could not warrant a full study. This is where concern becomes real. The first presidency sent a letter to be read over the pulpit (yesterday in our meetings) stating the only authorized webiste of the church was LDS.org. While the brethren may know they cannot suppress discussion their duty is to try to channel non-members to the correct information.

    I have read it argued by some that the bloggernacle is for members, not for inquiring non-members. While that ideal is good in thought, it is poor in practice. Until there is a way established to ensure only members partake in a discussion we need to be reminded of our audience. I am not saying we cannot discuss issues. I am not saying we cannot disagree with something. I am not saying we can’t question. What I am saying is the bloggernacle is like your living room. You can say anything you want, just remember who’s seated next to you, and consider how your words might be interpreted. 

    Posted by cooper

  22. Anonymous says:

    when Christ comes, how am I going to explain to him the fact that I am not with the mainstream of the Church?I’ve long had a nagging suspicion that the “mainstream of the Church” is going to have a surprise when Christ comes. I consider myself an orthodox/mainstream Mormon (with a few liberal tendencies), but I’ve yet to take much moral comfort in it because being intellectually mainstream is the easy position in the Church for me, but Christ’s “mainstream” (inasmuch as it revolves around the two great commandments) is a lot harder. In other words, if I got up in front of my quorum and said I thought women should have the priesthood I’d be lucky to get out alive, but if I confess I hardly go home teaching I would probably elicit much sympathy. Which would Christ prefer?

    Christ would have us follow the Prophet, for sure, but in deed not just word. It’s easy to say the right things and be considered in the mainstream. I am confident that when Christ comes he won’t be much interested in your politics or your intellectual positions. Whether you have loved your neighbour, your family, your God in *deed* will be of more interest to him (I imagine).

    Knowing you, I am confident that you also have “Zero-tolerance” for the un-Christlike life. Many others who trumpet their “loyalty to the church” don’t. In that sense, many of us are no better than the Pharisees of old: whitewashed tombs. 

    Posted by Ronan

  23. Anonymous says:

    Looks like I was wrong on Kristine’s position within the target audience of the post. I won’t try to salvage that one.

    A thought. Kristine’s conception of the place of lobbying in the Church seems to me to be reconcilable with John’s insistence that changes in policy and doctrine come all the way from the top, if one believes that the Church as a whole petitions God in roughly the manner described for individuals in the oft-quoted Bible Dictionary definition of “prayer” – that is, that part of the job of Church leaders is to petition God for certain blessings that he wishes to give the Church, but which are conditioned upon the Church collectively asking and being worthy. I’m not sure where one would start to establish doctrinally that this is the way things work, but it is in any case a conception that has helped me deal with troublesome issues like the old priesthood policy.  

    Posted by Nathan Mark Smith

  24. Anonymous says:

    One other thought:

    The family organisation, which we herald as the truest organisation on earth and in heaven, has plenty of room for lobbying. What else is a family council? Whilst the father leads his family, he does so through consultation. I can’t imagine that the Prophet can lead the church unless he knows how the Saints feel. They shouldn’t expect the Prophet to submit to their lobbying, but their honest voice should be heard. Or are Church government and family government run on different principles? 

    Posted by Ronan

  25. Anonymous says:

    Ronan, I agree with much of what you say but still feel that the idea of lobbying is somehow inappropriate in a system where God is calling the shots. What do we make of President Hinckley’s endorsement of the statement that God is not a celestial politician seeking our vote? And what of the admonition to be wary of those within the Church that wish to have us change our standards?

    I am on board with you, Kristine, and Nathan that there can be interaction between the body of the Church and its leadership and that the body of the Church doesn’t necessarily have to be quite about problems that are coming up. The idea of petitioning God individually and privately addressing issues to the leadership indeed seem to be in harmony with an institution that, I believe, is led in many of its particulars (though not in every minute detail) by Christ through inspiration to his prophet and apostles. If people petition the prophet, moving him to seek out God’s will on an issue, and then God speaks, as with the 1978 Revelation, then that is still a top-down mandate, a dictate from God who alone has the authority to give priesthood to whom he wills. 

    Posted by john fowles

  26. Anonymous says:

    “Looks like I was wrong on Kristine’s position within the target audience of the post. I won’t try to salvage that one.”

    It’s OK, Nathan–I appreciate your wrongness :) 

    Posted by Kristine

  27. Anonymous says:

    Kristine, you wrote, “I think that being discontent with a church policy, or wondering about the reasons for it, is an entirely different exercise than lobbying for change.”

    I am curious as to what distinction, if any, you draw between *publicly expressing* discontent with a church policy and questioning the reasons for it and “lobbying for change”–both as a theological matter and/or in your own personal view.  

    Posted by Pete

  28. Anonymous says:

    Maybe the essential difference here is the nature of the “lobbying” that goes on. In a family, children ask parents for something, and they understand that what the parents say typically goes. In secular organizations, the lobbyists don’t have to accept no as an answer. There isn’t the same kind of respect between supplicant and supplicated (sp?) in a secular organization that there is in the family.

    That respect, I think, comes from knowing who’s in charge, and trusting them. And the ideal supplicant would have that kind of trust and faith in the Lord, and in the prophet. That respect needs to be maintained. Once we cross the line from supplication, which I think we’re encouraged to do, to lobbying, with all the negative connotations that go with it (including the supposed superiority of the lobbyist and their position), that strikes me as a problem.

    P.S. Ronan, I hardly think that being selective in my blog reading, no matter the reason, constitutes “hiding my head in the sand“.  

    Posted by Zach

  29. Anonymous says:

    John Fowles,

    I agree with much of what you say but still feel that the idea of lobbying is somehow inappropriate in a system where God is calling the shots.What are we to make of Abraham’s “bargaining” with God over Sodom & Gomorrah, or Moses persuading God to change his mind about destroying the children of Israel? Or the servant in Jacob 5 who stays God’s hand when he wanted to destroy his vineyard? Sure, in any personal relationship where there is real give and take, there is room for error, as with the 116 pages. But I think one lesson to be learned there is that our relationship with God really is one of give and take, even if we have to learn of God’s superior wisdom the hard way sometimes.

    If lobbying God is absolutely inappropriate, then I don’t know how we are to interpret the scriptural stories I mentioned above, nor to understand a true relationship in which God respects us as independent intelligences. And if it is not absolutely inappropriate, then we should discuss how we learn to draw boundaries around what is appropriate and what is not.

    Reminds me of the old joke about the rabbis… 

    Posted by Grasshopper

  30. Anonymous says:

    Interesting post and comments. I’m not sure “lobbying” and loyalty are mutually incompatible- Given that I consider myself orthodox with a few quirks, but highly loyal, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to air my few grievances with the Church in a public forum- I limit them to private conversations with people I know well and closed email lists.
    I also think that “revelation” can and does come from the bottom, but not from someone perceived to be an outsider or disloyal, ie. a complainer. Orson Scott Card has a very good article on this, Walking the Tightrope which originally appeared in Sunstone (’89, I think) and was republished in A Storyteller in Zion (Deseret Book). I haven’t found it online anywhere, unfortunately…  

    Posted by Ben S.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Pete, I think one has to be really, really careful about publicly expressing disagreement. If there is a private avenue to be pursued, then I think that’s clearly both the right course and the most effective. I would never blog critically about a particular program my bishop was undertaking in our ward, because I can and should talk to my bishop. However, for policies at the general level, there simply isn’t any way for me to ask a question, make a suggestion, or otherwise be heard. That being the case, I think it’s alright to say “the shoe pinches” in a public forum, although I try to be respectful, and limit my critique to policies and practices, rather than criticizing people. I don’t think that’s the same as lobbying because I have no expectation that policy will be changed to accomodate my views, and I assume that, as a general rule, it is my responsibility to obey, even when I disagree. 

    Posted by Kristine

  32. Anonymous says:

    Kristine wrote I don’t think that’s the same as lobbying because I have no expectation that policy will be changed to accomodate my views, and I assume that, as a general rule, it is my responsibility to obey, even when I disagree.This is a very good point. It is particularly important that you note our obligation to obey, even if we disagree.  

    Posted by john fowles–>

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