On Zero-tolerance

January 6, 2005

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 Some of them may appear a little out-of-date in our society, but this does not detract from their validity nor diminish the virtue of their application.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.