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Monday, March 19, 2007

Comfortable Vilification of Rebels

by Sharon

An interesting, ongoing discussion is currently underway at the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog site. Begun by blogger fMhLisa exploring rebellion as a virtue (e.g., civil disobedience toward racial discrimination), the ensuing comment discussion has evolved into a consideration of modern revelation and rebellion in the LDS Church, including the treatment of rebels within Mormon culture. Responding to a previous comment, fMhLisa wrote:
...really more to the point I was trying to make is just the general distrust and comfortable vilification of rebels that is practiced in Mormon culture. (comment #15)

This led to a comment by Quimby:
...I am hopeful...that this is one of my ward's many strange quirks, and it is not representative of the church as a whole; but in my ward, if you happen to disagree with any one of about four High Priests - even if you have scriptures and prophetic teaching to back you up - you are bullied either into submission or into tears. Blind obedience to these four men and their backwards ideas is enforced by the vocal majority, and of course they justify it by saying they know God's will better than you do, so if you disagree with them, you're rebelling against God. (#17)

A follow-up comment expressed a wish to be able to take concerns in the LDS Church to the writer's "hierarchal leader," but wisdom would dictate otherwise. Bored in Vernal wrote:
Quimby's ward is not so different from the ones I have attended. And I find it very sad to say that even in the cases when I have felt a spiritual prompting to push the envelope, I have not rebelled, because I value my Church membership and I am scared. (#33)

Other Latter-day Saints on the blog express their hopes that they, as individuals, would have the courage to stick with any convictions they might develop via personal revelation or conscience, though these principles may be contrary to pronouncements from Church leadership. Tom wrote, "...let the consequence follow, whether it be shunning or church discipline or whatever" (#28).

First quoting another comment (#21), Steve M. contributed this thoughtful observation:
You can call it "the party line" or "the official position of Church leadership" or "God's word" or whatever, but to embrace and celebrate individuals' claims to revelation that are incompatible with and contrary to official Church doctrine and policy would be to undermine the very foundation of the Church: revelation from Christ to prophets and apostles. There are churches that embrace each person's individualized truth. The Church of Jesus Christ isn't, and never has been, one of them.

But since that revelation is coming through humans, it is necessarily imperfect. This is evidenced by the fact that in the Church's short history, numerous apostles and prophets have contradicted one another.

To illustrate: It's now standard practice to teach that Adam and Heavenly Father are separate beings, but there was a time when that assertion contradicted what the President of the Church was teaching. Brigham Young taught that acceptance or rejection of the Adam-God doctrine "will either seal the damnation or salvation of [men]" (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, April 9, 1852). Men like Orson Pratt were vocal in their opposition to the doctrine, and Brigham Young responded that it would "destroy him if he does not repent & turn from his evil ways" (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, March 11, 1856). Yet, in a matter of decades, the Church had abandoned the doctrine that Orson Hyde was rebelling against.

So how do we view Orson Hyde? As a near-apostate? I mean, he directly contradicted the President of the Church, who was claiming revelation from God, right? But his view of Adam and God was more in line with what the modern Church teaches than Brigham's view. In the context of modern Mormonism, he would be considered more correct than President Young. While he was considered a rebel at the time, it seems that history has vindicated him.

So what are we to do if we find our conscience in opposition to what the present authorities are teaching about some issue? Force ourselves to accept something with which we disagree? I don't think that's the way to go. I mean, can we safely assume that, in another 25, 50, or 100 years, General Authorities will still be teaching the same thing? If Church history is any indication, then the answer is no. Today's heresies might be tomorrow's doctrines.

As for myself, I'll stick with my own intuition, spiritual experiences, and conscience. (#24)

This is the same thinking that has led to so many schisms in the LDS Church. Though Mormons are often quick to say that Mormonism has done away with spiritual confusion, this is not the case. In its relatively short history, the Restoration has produced hundreds of churches and groups based on "intuition, spiritual experiences, and conscience." Many are holding on to yesterday's doctrines, which today, according to the LDS Church, must be rejected as heresies.

It seems that Mormons are between a rock and a hard place. If a Mormon receives personal revelation (for which faithful Mormons have earned the right), if that revelation is contrary to "official" teaching, what is he to do? If he chooses his personal revelation ("intuition, spiritual experiences, and conscience"), he puts himself in a state of rebellion against God's chosen representatives. If he chooses the official teaching, he puts himself in a state of rebellion against what he understands to be God Himself. It's a tough call.

Late LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wasn't at all helpful in clarifying the proper course of action when he counseled,
We will be judged by what we believe among other things. If we believe false doctrine, we will be condemned. If that belief is on basic and fundamental things, it will lead us astray and we will lose our souls.

...those at the head of the Church have the obligation to teach that which is in harmony with the Standard Works. If they err, then be silent on the point and leave the event in the hands of the Lord. Some day all of us will stand before the judgment bar and be accountable for our teachings. And where there have been disagreements the Lord will judge between us. (Letter from Bruce McConkie to Eugene England, February 19, 1981, 7-9)

No wonder Bored in Vernal is scared.

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4 Comments:

  • At March 19, 2007 11:25 PM, Blogger Andrew said…

    Very well presented article. I did not know of the forum you referenced. I have never heard mormons wrestle through issues like that. I had always supposed it occured, at least on the inside. Like Walter Bruggerman says, "the contestation is there...in the night".

     
  • At March 20, 2007 10:47 AM, Blogger Neal said…

    I am not going to say that the observations here are untrue, but I would ask that you look in the mirror (This is not a personal comment to you, Sharon, but a general comment based on the recent conversations we have had collectively on different issues). I can imagine myself, for example, as a member of Rick B's congregation who starts to wonder if there are inconsistencies in the New Testament and if there is a need for new revelation in our time. Do you think I would be intimidated to bring that up in our next Bible Study class? How about if I were in Eric the Red's congrgation and began to feel in my heart that perhaps in the vast eternities there were room for a belief in eternal progression or some such heresy? Would he tolerate my "rebellion" or try to set me straight? I mention these two because I respect their knowledge, their passion and their desire for all to know the truth. I am sugesting that your criticism, while liekly valid in many LDS congregations, is not unique to the LDS Church. Now I know someone will follow with a post that talks about how the LDS culture provokes this especially because we believe in modern prophets and obedience etc. Well there are those in your own churhces who beleive in the infallibility of the New Testament AND IN THEIR INTERPRETATION of that scripture and people who are questioning, doubting or are in outright rebellion run the risk of being treated in the same way.

    Having said that, Let me offer a viewpoint from one who has been both a teacher and a leader in the LDS Church as to how it can be in such circumstances. As a teacher in SUnday School -- teaching both the Old and the New Testaments as well as the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants -- I have experienced many people who raise questions or have thoughts that are less than orthodox. You may know from my posts that it is my opinion that such thinking and questioning is not necessarily dangerous or bad, and in fact, is often the first step toward real understanding. I am far less comfortable with people who have NEVER questioned or reasoned or thought or pondered and simply accept. I don't believe our understanding gets any real depth unless it is challenged. It is one of the reasons I enjoy my association here. In my experience, while some are threatened or concerned by such "free thinking", most are tolerant but not encouraging or engaged in pursuing it further. There are those I have run across who are, as the Book of Mormon describe, "learned, so they think they are wise". They are quick to judge, quick to "correct", intolerant and to many, frightening. The observations in the post are correct, these people are intimidating. They are also the least Christ-like in their attitudes. Christ was and is a teacher -- a true shepherd and not a sheepherder. His sheep know his voice and follow him, not out of fear or intimidation, but out of love for him. We need to work with these kinds of people who are very much like the Pharisees of old -- knowledgeable of the law but incapable of understanding how to apply it in their lives. I am certain these people are not unique to the LDS Church.

    There are also those that are in open rebellion. These are also not unique to the LDS Church. While there is and should be a measure of tolerance and love for all who are seeking, questioning and even doubting, those who place themselves in a position of authority and teach for doctrine their personal beliefs that are intended to destroy and subvert. In those cases of apostacy, there is official action that is warranted. I have often wondered why such people fight to remain a member of a church they do not believe is true!? These actions are few and far between, but I believe necessary to maintain order in the kingdom. I believe most churches have similar rules.

    Now as to the so-called Adam-God Theory, Brigham Young and Orson Pratt (not Orson Hyde). In thousands of recorded sermons and discourses over many decades, Brigham Young MENTIONED this concept that has come to be known as the Adam-God theory only a handful of times. He never devoted an entire sermon to the concept. As the President of the Church he never required that understanding or acknowledgement of that "theory" be required for baptism or for entrance into the temple. No President of hte Church subsequently ever mentioned it, as far as I know, and only a handful of Church leaders ever talked about it one way or another. So how do we deal with it. My PERSONAL belief is this: In the early history of the church there was much that was new -- the church was new, the organization of the church was new, much of the revelation was new. man yof hte leaders of the church had very big personalities and there was much that was discussed -- even openly and recorded for all of us to follow. Brigham Young, I beleive was hyperbolic at times and spoke in a language reminiscent of his own Christian upbringing and forged in the crucible of persecution and survival. I beleive that there must be a greater tolerance from us for those brethren working these issues out in a public way. Over the years there has indeed been a settling of doctrinal issues. Orson Pratt and Brigham Young did indeed serve together in the leading councils of the church for decades, despite disagreeing from time to time.

    In honesty, I have heard many in my conversations on this site accuse me of being in jeopardy of losing my soul for believing in doctrine that they believe out of harmony. How can any of you, honestly, be critical of someone like Elder McConkie, say the same thing you have said? I swear the New Testament says something about a mote and a beam . . . I'd better go look that up.

     
  • At March 20, 2007 7:22 PM, Blogger Interested said…

    Neal said:
    How about if I were in Eric the Red's congrgation and began to feel in my heart that perhaps in the vast eternities there were room for a belief in eternal progression or some such heresy? Would he tolerate my "rebellion" or try to set me straight? I mention these two because I respect their knowledge, their passion and their desire for all to know the truth. I am sugesting that your criticism, while liekly valid in many LDS congregations, is not unique to the LDS Church.

    The unique thing about the LDS church is that the members are afraid to speak out. Fear of losing their positions in the community, the family and often their jobs keeps them from asking questions. Neal you may have experienced those who ask but I think that is the exception. Just based on the article and my visit to the original site, Feminist Mormon Housewives, I believe the fear is real.

     
  • At March 20, 2007 10:08 PM, Blogger Neal said…

    Interested,

    I don't disagree with you and feel it is especially true where there are large concentrations of LDS people in the same community. My only point is that in ANY place where there are concentrations of people of a faith, the same phenomenon can occur. If we were to look at close knit communities in the south where many people go to the same church, you will see people complaining of the same thing. I am not saying the LDS Church doesn't have a problem. I'm only saying they are not unique.

     

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