Nov 16, 2008

Make Some Room!

This post is currently being featured on Feminist Mormon Housewives. If you're interested, you can follow the discussion here:

I mentioned in my intro last week on Feminist Mormon Housewives that I consider myself to be a social democrat. I have been through several rounds of “the socialism question” around the Bloggernacle and it has been exhausting. Although this is a non-issue to most of us Mormons who live in social democracies, such as I do here in Norway, I have come to realize that it is a different story among American Mormons. It seems that I represent a small minority in the Church, at least among those I have corresponded with online, and I have felt on several occasions that there is no room for my belief. Comments have varied between support and downright disdain, with “communist” and “Satan’s plan” sometimes surfacing. The purpose of this post, however, is not to begin another round of the socialism debate, but to discuss being able to claim the place in the Church that is legitimately ours.

I was chatting to a good friend recently about how difficult it is to claim your place in a church where you feel so outnumbered. He commented how confusing it can be when different scriptures seem to contradict each other. The same can be said from teaching and quotes from General Authorities. The reality is that in many cases, I can read a scripture and receive a totally different answer or impression than another person who reads the same scripture. Is there really only one truth to everything? This of course doesn’t give us a license to rationalize things that we know are right or wrong, but could it be that there is singular “truth” than we believe? Could it be that finding “truth” in something does not require us to automatically exclude other possible “truths?” In other words, that we can have differing views on the same thing and both be right, depending on the time, place, and circumstances? Perhaps there is more leeway in our personal beliefs on a lot of issues than many assume.

I know that many will disagree with me, but I have a hunch that Joseph Smith was, in many ways, a liberal. Although some of his actions trouble me, I find more liberty and openness in many of his teachings than I do in other prophets. Ironically, some of his most fascinating teachings are to be found among his teachings of polygamy, but I think there is wisdom to be found in them in regards to other circumstances that we find ourselves in today. In a letter to Miss Nancy Rigdon from 11 April 1842, he writes:

“Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received. That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another.

“God said, “Thou shalt not kill;” at another time He said “Thou shalt utterly destroy.” This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added.”

Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and, at the same time, is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be. He will be inquired of by His children. He says: “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find;” but, if you will take that which is not your own, or which I have not given you, you shall be rewarded according to your deeds; but no good thing will I withhold from them who walk uprightly before me, and do my will in all things—who will listen to my voice and to the voice of my servant whom I have sent; for I delight in those who seek diligently to know my precepts, and abide by the law of my kingdom; for all things shall be made known unto them in mine own due time, and in the end they shall have joy.” ( Official History of the Church, Vol. 5, p.134-136, See also “The Letter of the Prophet, Joseph Smith to Miss Nancy Rigdon,” Joseph Smith Collection, LDS archives)

One of the reasons why I enjoy blogging so much is that in the Bloggernacle, I get the liberal Mormon perspective that would be very hard to get in church. A non-Mormon whose only exposure to Mormonism is the Bloggernacle could be led to believe that the majority of us are fairly liberal, but I think that this is actually very disproportionate to reality. Let’s face it, liberal Mormons are grossly outnumbered in the church. I think that conservatives sometimes feel threatened by liberals and want to quash liberal thinking and ideas, perhaps going as far as to practically chase them out of the Church, while liberals sometimes feel they’re at war with their own fellow members and then end up leaving the Church when they conclude that it has no room for them and they start feeling sorry for themselves.

What I’m about to say may be a hard pill to swallow for both liberals and conservatives.

I believe that we need each other. That’s right, all of you conservatives out there who sometimes drive me nuts with your ideas need to be there for me. And yes, perhaps to your chagrin, that means that you need me too.

I believe that God created us liberal and conservative for much the same reason that He created us male and female. We need each other to survive, to maintain balance and to draw from the strengths of each other. Although our levels of liberalness vs. conservativeness may fluctuate over the course of our lives (mine certainly have), I don’t believe that leaning more towards one side has to come at the expense of the other. In fact, it shouldn’t.

I’m now going to take the liberty of over-generalizing what it means to be liberal or conservative. Of course, there are many, many grey areas, so please don’t accuse me of not seeing them. Most of us (hopefully) maintain a healthy balance of the two. However, as a general rule of thumb, liberals bring the following assets to the table of Mormonism:

  • Open-mindedness and willingness to accept multi-interpretations of the same Gospel.
  • Compassion and understanding for those who don’t fit the mold.
  • Willingness and sometimes even eagerness to change when change is needed.

On the other side of things, conservatives are generally stronger in the following areas:

  • Dedication and loyalty to the faith.
  • Unwavering testimony even during times of intense doubt.
  • Protecting the Church from undue or negative change and influence.

Some of these strengths can also be weaknesses, depending on how we apply them. For example, conservatives may be so concerned about tradition and literal interpretation, that they fail to see the need for change when it’s needed. Were it not so, the priesthood ban would have either never happened or would have probably ended much sooner. On the other hand, the unwavering faith and loyalty to the prophets on the part of conservative members was the glue that kept the Church together during incredibly difficult times in our history such as polygamy and the pioneer journey west. Bottom line: liberals give wings to the Church when it needs to fly, while conservatives keep it grounded when the skies are too stormy to make it safe.

What I’m not asking for is for the Church or the prophet to sanction my personal ideas and opinions. What I am asking for is for fellow members to acknowledge that I can legitimately maintain my beliefs without necessarily being guilty of apostasy, heresy, or spreading false doctrine. I may even be correct in my seemingly wacky views. No one is required to agree with me, but I am required to follow my personal truths as I believe that God has revealed them to me. And when this is done within the frame of reason and acceptability that the Church has deemed appropriate – which allows for more dispute and variation than most members even realize – then I think we need to respect the liberal views of our fellow brothers and sisters: views that may be too liberal for us, but perhaps not so for our Heavenly Father.

So, my conservative brothers and sisters, make some room for us on the teeter totter.

And to my fellow liberals: don’t get off or it’s just going to come crashing down on all of us.


Clint said...

I'm only a semi-regular a regular reader of FMH, so I didn't realize until this post that you had started blogging over there. Congrats!

S. Logan said...

I enjoyed your post. I was not aware you were from outside the United States; my previous comments would have taken a different tone had I known. Within the United States, an intellectual, religious, and philosophical thought/movement is evolving that rejects many fundamental premises of what the LDS Church leadership (for many generations) has counseled against. There is a mentality within members of the Church in the United States (both liberal and conservative) that is beginning to accept much of the doctrines and philosophies of men by justifying such beliefs through quoting a few carefully selected scriptures.

The political usage of the word "liberal" in the United States has changed within the last 80 years, let alone since the inception of the country. As political lines are drawn, we see that the "liberal" founding fathers actually adhered to a more modern US "conservative" tone; ironic enough, classical liberalism is today's current US conservatism. So, I don't think Joseph Smith's usage of "liberal" can have any possible associations to the current political definition (albeit, I don't think Joseph Smith really fits the US' "conservative" ticket either). I do, however, agree with your quotes of Joseph Smith; the Lord will use many tools to bring about righteousness.

The Church has taught that the greatest thing we can protect in this life is our agency; the war in heaven is still raging on today more furiously than it did in the pre-existence. It was the issue of agency that divided us from our brothers and sisters before we came to this life, and we are told that this principle that will divide us when we leave it. The Lord, it says in the D&C, made the rich AND the poor -- each for his own purpose. The Lord has designated HIS way of providing for the poor and has warned us of the adversary's counterfeits. We must remember that Lucifer's plan in the pre-existence was not to bring about evil, but to use coercion to exact absolute righteousness. The Church has taught that anything that bears a semblance to these same tactics in this life is merely the adversary continuing his battle in our world today and should be avoided.

If all that the adversary tempted us to do ended in instant catastrophe, mayhem, persecution, slavery, destruction, pain, coercion, misery, etc. then we'd certainly never do it; however, he sustains individuals and societies that follow his plans through prosperity long enough wherein he can eventually chain them indefinitely (the whole "flaxen cord" parable).

In our jealousy for liberty, we must make sure that we do not infringe upon personal agency in our question to create a Zion-type people. Yes, "the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart, and of one mind, and they dwelt in righteousness, and there was no poor among them," but how exactly did the Lord do this? Our hymnal includes a song that reads "God will force no man to heaven," nor do I believe he will force a man to obey the commandments in providing for the poor. Mankind is born equal, and it is our duty to maintain that equality within a Zion type setting while keeping vouchsafe everyone else "privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience". Our quest for equality and providing for the poor must never revert to compelling man to take care of his brother.

I cannot see the Lord smiling on forceful compliance to his commandments -- even if it is his children's duty to provide for the poor.

Maraiya said...

Fabulous! Very true, I believe strongly in the need for both sides; I was talking with a friend today who has gone inactive because of such things. I told her that we very much need her voice in the ward.

You discussed the idea of "truth" being more than one thing. I think truth is very singular but I think how we live truth can differ greatly. Chieko Okasaki gave a talk regarding principles and practices; principles (truth) are the same for everyone but our practices can very greatly. She used the example of the principle of safety when driving a car; in the United States, we translate that to driving on the right hand side of the road; in England, they drive on the left. If I try to keep the principle of safety in England by using a United States rule, I end up violating the very principle I'm trying to maintain.

I loved this example and find this throughout the scriptures and in my own life. The Anti-Nephi-Lehi refused to take up arms and died rather than kill their brethren. Tremendous faith. Capt Moroni rallied the Nephite armies, fortified the cities and fought brilliantly in war. Again, tremendous faith.

I think, in the church and out, that we need to stop being so worried about how someone is living their life and just trust that they are doing the best they can just as we are doing the best we can and leave the rest where it belongs - with God.

Alesia said...

S.Logan-I understand the connections you are making between the war in heaven and politics, but it is my opinion that you are just as guilty of misusing scripture to justify your political opinions as anyone else. I fully support your right to do so, but it bothers me that you are accusing others of doing exactly what you are doing. I don't always agree with everything Faithful or any other Liberal member says, and I really do see how many of us aren't appropriately reconciling philosophies of men 'mingled' with scripture. I get that. I get how people are pushing the line and I'm constantly watching out for that. So, in that regard, I agree with you. But, from my perspective, you're doing the same thing. And I question your intentions. They do not feel very pure when I read what you wrote. It doesn't feel like I reading something inspired by God. I'm not saying I always feel that when I read what many liberals are saying either, but I'm pretty good at 'feeling' truth when I hear it. It's a pretty big jump to go from paying taxes to Satan's whole original plan. It feels to me that you're taking politics WAY of of context. Just something to think about.

Fifthgen said...
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Fifthgen said...
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Fifthgen said...

Whew! I have got to learn to type. It will reduce the need for me to delete my own comments!

s. logan: The logical extension of what you are saying is, well, kinda crazy. Should we have no taxes whatsoever for social programs? No laws restricting any behavior? Murder? Abortion? Um . . . gay marriage?

Living in a society is always about giving up some individual liberty for the benefit of the whole. Unless you are going to live in anarchy, there are going restrictions on what you can and cannot do without consequences from the state. I choose to use my free agency to promote a society that is reasonably just, fair and equal. I think the argument could easily be made that grinding poverty is at least as limiting to free agency as a Social Security or a progressive income tax.

Faithful: For me, self-censorship is a big issue in finding my place at church. What implications do you see when liberals sometimes choose not to say what they think, because they do not want to be seen as boat-rockers, apostates, or crack-pots? If more liberals spoke up, maybe we would make more room for each other. But not very many do it.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Fifthgen, good questions.

I guess I can only speak from personal experience. It may surprise some of you, but I am actually a pretty quiet person that keeps her thoughts mostly to herself (except through blogging :) and this is especially true at church. Sometimes I sit at church during a RS or Sunday School class and am just dying to speak up but almost never do. Here's why I usually don't:

a) I'm definitely afraid of being labelled an apostate or "bad" Mormon. If I wasn't, I'd tell everyone about my blog. There's a reason why I feel I have to be anonymous. I guess I'm afraid of being misunderstood and the potential repercussions from fellow members and perhaps even leaders for "speaking my mind."

b) I suppose I also feel a lack of confidence in myself and so I'm afraid of looking foolish. As well, it can be hard to suddenly speak my view when everyone else believes in something else. Like if I were to speak up in class and say, "I don't believe the priesthood ban was divine revelation, but rather a policy based on misinterpretations of Church leaders who were influenced by their own racist views," I can just picture the looks on their faces. :) And then again, perhaps I would be pleasantly surprised and someone would actually agree with me.

c) I assume that most members here are only familiar with the official version of Church history, which is limited to the Quad and official church manuals. There are hardly any Mormon-related books translated into Norwegian, so their knowledge of the Church is probably pretty limited to the official publications (unless they can read English -- which most of them do -- and take enough interest in it to order books from the US and have them sent to Norway). When we have lessons about celestial marriage, I'd love to be able to discuss details of polygamy, or discuss figures in Mormon history such as Fanny Alger, but I'm sure they don't know the half of it -- just like I didn't even know just a couple years ago. I guess I feel it would be a bit unfair (and maybe even inappropriate) to be more open about these things at church. I could present my views on certain things, but I just don't think they would "get" it. I also have to keep in mind that there are a few members that are new or have recently been reactivated. I don't want to scare them off and I'm afraid of causing contention at church.

d) This is just a personal thing, but I have a hard time expressing myself verbally. I need time to collect my thoughts and then express them, which is why I'm better at writing than speaking. Many times I have come up with a great thought after the fact, and think to myself, "Oh, why didn't I think of that!" I'm not a very good debater in person. Just as an example, I remember when I mentioned to a sister in my branch that I had decided to quit eating meat, that I felt it was the ethical and moral thing to do, and she shot me down by quoting that D&C scripture about "he who says to abstain from meat is not of me." Silly me said nothing to stick up for myself and my views. It's something that I regret every time I think about it.

You asked: "What implications do you see when liberals sometimes choose not to say what they think, because they do not want to be seen as boat-rockers, apostates, or crack-pots?"

Although conservatives need to "make some room," I think that liberals need to be better at letting them know that they feel that they're taking up all the space. I think we need to be better at this, but how do we do it? I'm not sure I have all the answers myself. We have to do it very carefully so that we make sure that we don't just look like apostates and crack-pots, but that we don't really become those things.

And as for implications of liberals staying silent, I think there are two main ones:

a) We get a very lop-sided view of Mormonism, limited to conservative thinking.

b) Liberals, by failing to express their different views in a constructive manner, turn bitter and angry, leave the Church, and perhaps even become its enemies.

pb said...

"We have to do it very carefully so that we make sure that we don't just look like apostates and crack-pots, but that we don't really become those things."

I would agree. You should be very very careful. Next thing you know, you may become ... like me. God forbid.

Joking aside. Question for you all: What is with the concept of this war in heaven raging on forever, more furiously now than ever? Isn't it tiring to be forever in combat? Isn't it possible to just exist, being at war with no one, "Lucifer" being simply irrelevant?

Lisa said...

"This is just a personal thing, but I have a hard time expressing myself verbally. I need time to collect my thoughts and then express them, which is why I'm better at writing than speaking."

Exactly why I write. When people engage me face to face, I get flustered.


Anyway, I try to think about this, that I'm needed in the church, etc. It gets so hard sometimes, though. There are days I'm confident in my membership (er, more confident) and others where I wonder what the hell I'm doing here at all.

I know maybe that's better suited for your "Why am I still here"? post, but it came to mind while reading this.

On that same thread, I don't know why I'm here anymore. I agree with most of the doctrine, but not all, and as much as I'd like to believe the church is not "all or nothing" it's hard to sit back, listen to everything, and still think it isn't.

I hope that our blogs and others like ours will help pave the way for some "room" - otherwise they're just going to push us out, and I don't think that's the Savior's idea at all.

I often spend my Sundays biting my tongue as well. Perhaps some day soon I'll join the ranks of the more "weird ladies" of the ward who says shocking things. I'd actually like that - if I was respected in doing so.


The Faithful Dissident said...

Lisa, you may not have as much trouble believing all the "doctrine" as you think you do. I think one of our greatest challenges is distinguishing "official doctrine" from "teaching" or "speculation." There is a good guide put out by FARMS that you can read here.

PB, you asked: "What is with the concept of this war in heaven raging on forever, more furiously now than ever? Isn't it tiring to be forever in combat? Isn't it possible to just exist, being at war with no one, "Lucifer" being simply irrelevant?"

First of all, yes, it's definitely tiring to be "forever in combat." Personally, I think we need to be neither be over-dramatic nor complacent. I don't buy into the notion that everything is either "good or evil" and that you're either with the Lord's side or against Him. If we think this way, then it forces us to think and act in a very black and white way, which I think is dangerous. However, at the same time, we have to resist the urge to become complacent. Overall, I don't think that we should "simply exist." We're forced to make choices in life and sometimes we really do have to take sides. And as for Satan, although I probably don't think that he has an influence on absolutely every decision that I make (i.e. that my choice options are always either from God or from Satan, I think it would be a mistake for me to regard him as "irrelevant." Lucifer is a very real figure to Mormonism, as real as God Himself, and he would probably want nothing more than for us to think that he has become irrelevant to us.

pb said...

I agree that we have to make choices in life. I also agree that complacency can be problematic. But maybe not. Isn't complacency, stated differently, simply happiness? If we are happy, truly happy -- content, at peace -- might we not be "complacent?" I often think that "Lucifer" (what I would call something more like the darker forces of our nature) has so much more of an inroad when we are "at war," i.e., dissatisfied, unhappy and fighting something.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"(Lucifer) has so much more of an inroad when we are "at war," i.e., dissatisfied, unhappy and fighting something."

This can definitely be the case.

I think, though, that complacency is different that simply being "happy, at peace." And I think the key is pride. When we let our pride get the better of us, we become complacent about who we are, what we have, how we got it, and we tend to forget that our world can fall apart in a split second. Once we get complacent about the source of our successes and the fact that our very existence is at the mercy of God, then Satan has found his entrance.

Lula O said...

A lady in my ward recently took her child out of my nursery class because of the Obama sign in my window. She thinks I'm going to Hell apparently. But you know what, that's her problem not mine. I say me and President Faust then, because he was a registered Democrat, as was Spencer Kimball, Hugh B. Brown, and countless other general authorities.

There is a two party system for a reason, so one line of thinking cannot dominate the other. I will not be brow-beaten by scripture that can be interpreted many ways, and believe me, people have tried.

I'm a fourth generation Democrat who happens to live in Idaho, which next to Utah is probably the most conservative state in the Union. I rejoice is my uniqueness, in this red state and this red church. Bring it on I say. I will let my voice me heard. I will not be stifled.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Lula O, I would have dressed my kids in Obama shirts just to tick her off. :D

"Bring it on I say. I will let my voice me heard. I will not be stifled."


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Karene said...

This post is brilliant. I really appreciate your thoughtful approach to so many different issues. By nature I find myself solidly in the "conservative" bracket; however, I believe (hope) I'm evolving a bit toward the middle. Like everything else in life, it would be wonderful if I could somehow discover the elusive balance here...but I'm reassured by your thought that we need each other, and that opposing voices create the necessary balance. Having been one of those who shies away from the dissenting voice, I wonder now why I was/am afraid of a different point of view? I do fear personal apostasy...I often have avoided considering the more liberal point of view because I'm afraid of going astray. Recently I've come to trust myself more and thus allow myself to consider things more open-mindedly, but I must admit I still worry that more open-mindedness will lead me away from the Church. When I consider it rationally I realize it won't. But that certainly is one of the many issues at the heart of the conservative Mormon.

That being said, I'm certainly glad you've found a way to have your voice be heard, and I'm glad I found it. I'm really enjoying your blog. You've probably noticed I'm slowly working backwards, so you'll probably see more comments of mine coming from older posts.

EMS said...

I have read with great interest this post and all the comments. I am LDS, but have had a difficult time going to church the past few years because I have accepted things that other church members have frowned upon.

The sometime opposition I have felt from other church members because of my accepting things they cannot accept, has made me feel very uncomfortable sitting in church listening to the "perfect" and "ideal" Mormon life style that in my opinion sometimes is narrow minded and short sighted; just a few hours ago, my youngest daughter and I talked about this same topic. I have taught my children to love their father, my ex-husband who was homosexual (he passed away a few months ago) and his partner, something I have been (gently) chided for by some of my fellow LDS church members.

God gave us the power to accept others *if we want to* - using our free agency to open our hearts to those who believe and live differently than we think they *should*. My life has been enriched by the people I have been around who have been outside of the LDS *norm*.

For years I have thought of myself as a moderate - *conservative* in regard to some topics, yet *liberal* on those same topics as far as what I will allow/accept that others are doing even if I don't want to do those same things; yet, *moderate* does not fit me either.

The label *liberal Mormon* is one I am not comfortable with either, yet, if I were to be completely honest with myself, I am more of a *liberal Mormon* than anything else, if being a *liberal Mormon* means thinking outside of the seemingly accepted United States Mormon philosophy.

In many ways I am a rebel, yet I am 100 % Mormon because of the faith I have in the basic teachings of our church.

Confusing, but now I will follow some of the blogs I have discovered tonight and see if I can make more sense of it all...

Thank you for the post and all the comments - good food for thought :-)