Dec 3, 2008

1932

First of all, I'd like to thank Lisa from The Liberal Mormon That Could for bringing this Sunstone article to my attention. This is an address from Elder Stephen L. Richards at the 102nd Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 9, 1932. When you read it, it's actually quite surprising that it was a conference talk, since it's pretty bold in some ways. I dare say that some conservative Mormons may have gone away from it feeling offended.

I wish to just highlight some of the talk, add a bit of personal commentary, and then let you all comment on what you got out of it.

{"I want to say something to promote better understanding in the Church. In so doing, my chief fear is that I myself may be misunderstood. I have never felt more the need for the aid of our Father's Spirit and the faith and sympathy of my brethren and sisters. I pray that I may have them.

As a preface to the specific things I wish to mention, I desire to set forth some fundamental principles as I conceive them. I interpret the gospel in terms of life. It was brought to humanity; it is our duty to bring humanity to the Gospel. Election, not compulsion is the genius of Christian philosophy. Ridicule and ostracism often amount to compulsion. I deplore their existence. I fear arrogant dogmatism. It is a tyrant guilty of more havoc to human-kind than the despot ruling over many kingdoms. I have pity for the disobedient, not hatred. They deprive themselves of blessings. The disobedient punish themselves."}

"Ridicule and ostracism"... "arrogant dogmatism"... a guilty "tyrant"... these are pretty strong words. Since he was addressing members of the Church, I assume he was addressing problems that existed in the Church. What specific things do you think he was referring to?

{"I believe that the dignity of the Church should be maintained, and the purity of gospel truth preserved without dilution. But man, after all, is the object of God's work. "This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." The Church is God's established agency to this high purpose. No man lives or has lived whose judgment is perfect and not subject to error. To accept the doctrine of human infallibility is to betray gross ignorance of the divine plan of human life-the fall, mortal probation, repentance, and final election. There could be no election with perfect knowledge, omniscience. We walk by faith in mortality and by faith we exercise our agency.

{"In the absence of direct communication from heaven, however, the Church and its people must be guided by the revelations already given and the wisdom and inspiration of its leadership. I have great confidence in the wisdom of the presiding authorities in all departments of church service, first, because they hold the Holy Priesthood, and second, because I know them to be good men. There is virtue in the endowment of the Priesthood. It brings to men who receive
it and appreciate it an enlarged conception of life and and altruism that is Christlike in character. It brings spiritual knowledge and power, and the judgment of a presiding officer holding the Priesthood is generally an inspired judgment. It is the product of noble motive and fervent prayer."}

I think it's interesting that he points out the "absence of direct communication from heaven." I take that to mean that we still lack a lot of specifics, which is perhaps why I often feel like there has to be "more to the story" in some of the most perplexing parts of the Gospel. In that case, we simply have to rely on what we do have, because "the Church and its people must be guided by the revelations already given."

{"In matters of church government and discipline, and judgment of presiding officers is mandatory and controlling. In matters of individual guidance to members, their counsel is directory and persuasive only. In the interpretation of scripture and doctrine, they are dependent on their knowledge and experience and inspiration. I make this frank avowal of my own personal understanding of these fundamental principles as a premise to certain observations and conclusions I desire to present. Not that ultimate fact and law change, but our understanding varies with our education and experience."}

We're often told to not "lean unto (our) own understanding," to "trust the prophet in all things," etc, etc, but Elder Richards makes a pretty strong case here for varied "personal understanding" which is based on our individual "knowledge and experience and inspiration." Do you think that such a statement is contradictory?

{"First, I hold that it is entirely compatible with the genius of the Church to change its procedure and interpretations as changes in thought, education and environment of people from time to time seem to warrant, provided, of course, that no violence is done to the elemental concepts of truth which lie at the basis of our work. I would not discard a practice merely because it is old. Indeed, I believe that one of the tests of worth is the test of time. But on the other hand, I would not hang on to a practice or conception after it has outlived its usefulness in a new and ever-changing and better informed world. Old conceptions and traditional interpretations must be influenced by newly discovered evidence. Not that ultimate fact and law change, but our understanding varies with our education and experience."}

I've often heard people say how our Church doesn't change with the times. Usually, they mean it in a way that is flattering to our Church, pointing fingers at all the churches who "change with the times" and suddenly start allowing things such as female priests and gay marriage ceremonies. I don't like the thought of our Church being wishy-washy and changing things on a whim, but those Mormons who claim that we never change are wrong. In fact, as Elder Richards seems to say, we shouldn't be so resistant to change if it really is for the better. When he says, "I would not hang on to a practice or conception after it has outlived its usefulness in a new and ever-changing and better informed world," I think it's interesting that this statement is from 1932, which was before the world saw some of the most dramatic and sweeping changes politically, socially, scientifically, and technologically speaking. Would he have still dared to say it if he could have seen what was to come? I think about feminism and liberalism, both of which have their resistance in the LDS Church.

{"One man sees the meaning of a scripture so clearly and definitely that he exclaims with comtemptible deprecation of a contender's view, "
Why, it's as plain as the nose on your face," and the other replies, "It is silly and foolish." Both are sincere. Who is right? What position does the Church take? Generally, I think, the Church takes no official position and ought not to, in the large majority of mooted questions. Men are permitted to hold individual views and express them with freedom so long as they are not seditious to the basic doctrines, practices, and establishments of the Church. When men lose their regard for the Church, of course, they are no longer entitled to place and influence in it."}

That paragraph should be printed out, laminated, and hung on every wall of every RS and Priesthood wall in the Church.

{"I believe it to be a generally accepted proposition in our church that no man's standing is affected by the views which he may honestly hold with reference to the beginning of man's life on the earth and the organization of the universe, or the processes employed in the working of the miracles of the Bible. Personally, I find more peace of mind and comfort in what may seem a rather lazy disposition to attempt no explanation of these seemingly inexplicable matters. But if anyone holds views and gets satisfaction from them, I say let him have them, and for one I won't abuse him for them. I do think, however, that one who has real affection for the church and regard for its members will never urge views which may tend to undermine the faith of members, particularly the young, in the fundamentals."}

Can our "standing" be affected by the views we may "honestly hold" with reference to things other than "the beginning of man's life on the earth and the organization of the universe, or the processes employed in the working of the miracles of the Bible?"

{"But even more important than change of conception, form and procedure in our church as in any society, is change of attitude. How do we feel about things? Have more education, more knowledge, and wider experience broadened our sympathies or contracted them? In application of this question, I must mention some delicate matters. I call them delicate because I run a great hazard of being misunderstood when I discuss them. Take smoking for instance. Is there more or less tolerance for the user of tobacco by the Church, as represented by its officials and the faithful membership, than there was twenty-five or fifty years ago? I cannot say. I have no way of knowing. We feel that it is wrong and we inveigh against it. Men often construe the Word of Wisdom as a commandment against it and invest the practice of it with the stigma of sin. I think my own preaching against it may be so construed. Am I right? Are all of us right? Have not some of our people failed to distinguish between the offense and the offender? I do not mean to say that I doubt the wisdom of the Word of Wisdom. I know that it contains God's wishes and direction for the welfare of His children, and I am sure that those who fail to heed the teaching of it will lose blessings of great worth, but I am not sure that we have not estranged many from the Church or at least contributed to their estragement by attributing to violation of our standards of health, harmful as it may be, a moral turpitude and sinful magnitude out of proportion of the real seriousness of the offense. Maybe I am wrong. I do not claim that my analysis is correct, but I think it worthy of your attention. I am sure that many young people feel themselves ostracized from the Church by reason of the emphasis and the somewhat intolerant attitude some of us have shown toward the user, not the use, of tobacco. I believe there are some good people in the Church to whom the use of tobacco is so repugnant and who are so offended by those who use it that they may actually develop a feeling akin to hatred toward the smoker. This state of mind, to my thinking is regrettable and dangerous -- dangerous to the individual who harbors such thoughts because it tends to make him illiberal and intolerant, dangerous to the unfortunate who succumbs to a bad practice in that he instinctively sets up a resistance to the man who dislikes him, and dangerous to the church because such people characterize it with a reputation for dogmatic intolerance that weakens its influence with its members and in the world. "}

I like the example he gives of tobacco and the danger of cigarettes in themselves vs. how we react to it. I dare say that sometimes our reaction drives people into making unwise choices. It's true that the decision and consequences thereof are theirs alone, but when we're feeling frustrated with people, our rebellious natures have an easier time of persuading us into letting our guard down.

{"Now, some may see in the position I have taken an undue
liberality, a retraction of long-established rules, and a letting down of standards. I have no intention to lower standards. I want only better understandings. The more sympathy and mutual helpfulness; the more true spirit of the Gospel we have, the more we approach the attitude of the Master. Jesus in his ministry forgave transgressors even of the major sins-lying and unchastity. Shall we be intolerant of those guilty of infractions of our counsel?

I want us to continue to lay emphasis on good, clean, wholesome living, but not in such a way as to in any manner obscure the primary objective of our work, which is to open the doors of the Celestial Kingdom to the children of our Father. We do not know how manv will enter. We how for all. For my part I desire to deny none entrance for weaknesses of the flesh if the spirit is willing. Yet I do not believe in indulgences. I believe that the new and everlasting covenant is inclusive of all the laws of the Gospel and that no one can be broken with impunity. Everyone who does wrong in any degree will forfeit a blessing. But God is our judge, and as I expect mercy, I want to give it.

I have been filled with trepidation as I have delivered these words, fearing that I might be misunderstood, but my resolution has been fortified by my conviction that my heart and purpose are right. I believe I do not need to protest my fealty and love for this cause among my brethren and sisters here assembled. I have borne my humble testimony throughout the Church for many years. I believe that you know that I know that this is God's work and that Joseph Smith is his prophet, and that the governing priesthood is now held by worthy successors.

I have said these things because I fear dictatorial dogmatism, rigidity of procedure and intolerance even more than I fear cigarettes, cards, and other devices the adversary may use to nullify faith and kill religion. Fanaticism and bigotry have been the deadly enemies of true religion in the long past. They have made it forbidding, shut it up in cold grey walls of monastery and nunnery, out of the sunlight and fragrance of the growing world. They have garbed it in black and then in white, when in truth it is neither black nor white, any more than life is black or white, for religion is life abundant, glowing life, with all its shades, colors and hues, as the children of men reflect in the patterns of their lives the radiance of the Holy Spirit in varying degrees."}

I can't help but think of Bruce R. McConkie's "Mormon Doctrine" when he says, "I have said these things because I fear dictatorial dogmatism, rigidity of procedure and intolerance even more than I fear cigarettes, cards, and other devices the adversary may use to nullify faith and kill religion."

He uses strong words such as "fanaticism and bigotry" in what I interpret to be as a pretty blunt shot at the Catholic Church, referring to the "cold grey walls of monastery and nunnery." I personally don't like such condescending references to other churches, at least in a very public conference talk, because I think that they will inevitably come back to haunt us. One may ask what we were doing in a coalition in California in 2008 with a Church that is guilty of such "fanaticism and bigotry." It sort of reminds me of politics. Those who are rivals and enemies often find themselves kissing up to each other someday. I did, however, like what Elder Richards had to say about life being religion, and religion being anything but black and white.

Since Elder Richards admitted that he was "filled with trepidation... fearing that (I) might be misunderstood," I can only hope that I have managed to capture a bit of what he was saying in the spirit of how he was saying it without offending him. But alas, it is left up to my own understanding.

14 comments:

Lisa said...

I just wish more people would have the courage to say such things.

I'm really glad I found this talk, and darnitall I could've posted on this huh? haha, oh well. It made for a good quote. I'm a bit off my game lately.

It was a refreshing few pages to read. Honestly, he made so many amazing points. We shouldn't care about trivial things like drinking rather than how we treat people who do.

In the grander scheme of things, the person is more important than what is, comparitively, such a minute and often cultural detail. While it is important to care about your health, it shouldn't get in the way like it tends to.

I know so many who are so rigid in their thoughts and beliefs as to step on even their own feet sometimes.

Oh hell, maybe I'll blog on this anyway :)

Thanks for the plug!

The Faithful Dissident said...

Go for it, Lisa! The more varied commentary, the better. Can never have too many posts about a good thing. :)

derekstaff said...

Great Exploration of a great speech, FD.

It amazes me that LDS culture has adopted the concept of infallibility, which does indeed lead one to "dictatorial dogmatism," as well as "fanaticism and bigotry." Furthermore, it has been fascinating to me over the past few years, since we've moved to the new RS/Priesthood manuals, how many of the prophets have specifically opposed blind faith, and insisted that we are to follow the spirit rather than automatically obeying even their own words. I am considering writing a post on the topic at some point. Sad that we seem to have lost that part of the gospel.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Although no Mormon will ever really say that they believe in prophetic infallibility, in practice they do. I mean, if the prophet will "never lead you astray," then what is there to worry about?

But in their defence, how do we know when the prophet really is speaking on behalf of God and when he's just expressing his personal opinion. It's something we've talked and debated over and over, but it never seems to be quite clear to me. I've read what we're supposed to regard as "official doctrine" (that FARMS essay called "What Is Official Doctrine" is a good guide and simple enough to follow in theory), but it's not so clear-cut for me in practice. I've read plenty of teachings and quotes from prophets who talk a lot about the Lord and what He wants, etc, which certainly give the impression that he's speaking on behalf of the Lord, but I think that a lot of it is just personal opinion. But which is which is really hard to tell sometimes, and when we do disagree, then plenty of Mormons are ready to tell us how bad we are for not listening to the prophet.

I think that in some ways, we've gone forward as a Church, and in other ways backward. We can see where we've gone forward: most Mormon women work outside of the home and can use birth control without having to feel like they're going to Hell, we now seem to be able to agree (most of us) that same sex attraction is not a choice, my brother was able to marry an African American without having to worry about "mixing with the seed of Cain," and things like that. But maybe we've gone backwards in some ways, in that in 1932 Elder Richards was trying to tell us to look beyond something like cigarettes to see the person smoking them, and yet in 2008, some of us are still being "fanatical." I can't remember ever hearing about "fanaticism" or "dictatorial dogmatism" recently. In fact, using such words in church today might put you in the Mormon doghouse. :)

derekstaff said...

No one will say "infallibility," "dogma," or "fanaticism," but in many ways that is what they de facto support. And while there have been some progress on individual issues, there has been some overall slippage on the entire concept. Entirely too many people simply find it easier to lean on the arm of (a) man than to learn to think (and listen to the Spirit) for themselves.

Oy, don't remind me about the seed of Cain thing. My parents aren't conscious bigots, but I recall my shock the day that they told me that they would never support me if I dated a black girl, because of Pres. Kimball's discouragement of interracial dating. Not that it was a likely issue, seeing as I lived in suburban Utah. But to hear such sentiments in the late '80s was incredibly disappointing.

RAP08 said...

Faithful - thanks for sharing this talk, I liked it.

Regarding lack of direct revelation-
The lord will not command us in everything. We will only receive additional knowledge once we are utilizing what we have already received. Also we are all progressing, even the apostles and prophets they are not perfect, they do not know everything, they are not God. They still have to study it out in their minds and ask if it is correct. I have learned that at times there is neither strong confirmation nor a stupor of thought, then we are left to our own devices and must choose. There may come a time later when it is confirmed to us we made the/a correct choice and are on the right path, but then again we may not. I hope that makes sense.

A few thoughts on the part that starts “In matters of church government …

I think he is referring to the principles taught in D&C 121:41 while talking about individual guidance of members, and I also think he is speaking of all church authorities from the Bishop to the Prophet. The underlying principle is that of Agency, to force a person to be good is the plan of Satan, and no way for a priesthood leader to act. But then when you think about it there is nothing a church leader can do to force us to do anything. They may threaten us with excommunication but we can appeal to a higher authority if he is trying to “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness”. In all cases a leader only has power over people that the people grant them, I am referring to church leaders not political ones.

Each time we read the scripture a new facet might present it self. We learn line upon line. I think it is as he states that our experience draws us to certain passages that we then ponder and interpret. We then apply them the best we can, at a later date we will have had additional experience and learning and may gain new insights from the same scripture and change our behaviors to suit our new understanding. I do not think the underlying principles change, Doctrine is constant.

I think of “lean not unto our own understanding” in the context set forth in 2 Nephi 9:28-29:
O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

The trap lies in not consulting with God; we need to have the spirit with us as we make important decisions, while pondering principles of the gospel and in fact in all of our learning so we can discern truth from error.

As concerning change in the church I think he made it clear that the underlying truths do not change just the practices of the church. For instance the leaders of the church have the responsibility to insure the gospel is taught to the people. We used to have meeting all through the week and at different times on Sunday, now we have moved to the 3 hour block. I have even heard of a trial of dropping the Sunday school hour. So the practice of how the gospel is taught has changed and may continue to change as the times may demand. There used to be quorums of seventy in every stake, now they only exist at the church level. This is a change of practice. There used to be stake missionaries, now they are ward missionaries. The list of changes, as you point out, in application of the principles is numerous and bound to continue to grow, but the basic tenants of the gospel never change.

I think this may be the obvious answer to your question regarding our standing in the church based on our views is Yes. Now in truth you did leave it as a rather open question as you only excluded the few examples which Elder Richards listed. Obviously if we honestly hold an opinion that is contrary to the truth and publicly espouse it then we would be open to correction and if we do not accept the counsel may be view to be an apostate. Now I think the list of things we can disagree about are quite long and that is probably what you were really asking : ) It goes back to our not knowing all things and many times they are the things that are not pertinent to our salvation and are more a curiosity.

I also liked the comment regarding our perceptions and the example of smoking. I wonder when the saying “love the sinner but hate the sin” was introduced, seems like he is teaching along those same lines. I must admit though that as I have come to enjoy living in a place where smoking is quite limited by law that when I do have to walk through a cloud of smoke I am very sensitive to it and try to avoid the area and make motions to clear the air, which could be offensive to those smoking, and feel quite irritated.

I also really enjoyed his comments and think that he brought up some great points, don’t know what it was like in the 30’s that he would be so apprehensive about preaching them, but I think they would not seem out of place in a conference address today.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Rap08, thanks for your comments.

"As concerning change in the church I think he made it clear that the underlying truths do not change just the practices of the church."

I think you're probably right about this. I guess where most people get confused is on the definition of "truth" or "doctrine." Like if a prophet once said that birth control was evil, then many members interpret that to be "the truth." If birth control is "evil," then it always has been and always will be "evil." Or when it used to be taught that being gay was a choice, some still hold on to that theory because it was once taught, so therefore it's practically an eternal truth to some Mormons.

"Obviously if we honestly hold an opinion that is contrary to the truth and publicly espouse it then we would be open to correction and if we do not accept the counsel may be view to be an apostate."

I agree. Once again, though, that all-important "truth" is what matters. If I claim that God is a woman or that there is no Celestial Kingdom, then I'm asking for trouble. But other things aren't so obvious. Take the Prop 8 controversy, for example. Many members have flat-out stated in public (meaning on blogs or to their friends) that they disagree with the Church's stance. I don't look at the Church's position on Prop 8 as "official doctrine" or "truth." I look at it as policy, as I do the priesthood ban, and I assume that the Church agrees, otherwise it would have to excommunicate all the members who are publicly disagreeing with it. If Prop 8 was a fundamental truth or doctrine, then many of us would be guilty of apostasy, probably myself included, even though I'm still very much a fence sitter. :)

I admire your tolerance with smokers as to not offend them. :) I'm one to wave my hand, hold my nose, and cough and hope that they do see it, not because I think they're sinning but because I loathe smoking. :) But luckily the only place you're allowed to smoke in in Norway is in your own home or outside. Not even bars or restaurants.

RAP08 said...

Faithful – I agree the Brethren do not come out and say this is a policy that we will follow for now but may change in the future. It is only when the change comes that that they clarify why the change is made. For example when Christ came an fulfilled the law of Moses and taught the higher law. It still took some time for the ideas of ‘turn the other cheek’ to replace ‘an eye for an eye’. I wonder which of the laws we have been taught that we are still trying to conform to.

I do feel that we should support the brethren and to go against them in public is to open ourselves to further temptation to do so again in the future, perhaps in a slightly more public way and on a much more serious topic. I take care to remind myself that it is with silken threads that we are lead a stray, one at a time until we find it is a strong cord which binds us. I think I posted before that when the brethren asked us to do all we can it could be taken to mean a wide range of support down to merely not opposing it. I do think those that took a vocal stance and perhaps were instrumental in convincing others to stand in opposition with the Church on this subject may be on a path that could really lead to apostasy. These things have a way of festering and eating at a person; they do not feel comfortable in church or in associating with those that they view as having done the wrong thing and if it is not resolved the may remove themselves from the body of the church.

I do feel if a member opposed Prop 8 because they felt that homosexuality, the act not the inclination, is not a sin and promoted that view then they could find themselves in a disciplinary court. I do not think that those who opposed it for some other reason need fear disciplinary action. If they took a public stand and the bishop is made aware of it I would expect him to meet with the person and try to understand why they took the stand and to counsel with them. I think the primary focus of such counsel may be the danger of standing opposition to the prophets and especially making public statements to that effect. I do not think it wrong to have a personal struggle and to seek the help of friends and other leaders to resolve the issue. In my opinion you would fall more into the latter group as you have stated you are still on the fence.

I should clarify my statement regarding smokers, which now that I reread it is not really clear. I feel quite irritated around smokers, but try to limit my show of disgust. Here in California we have similar laws to those you list, I wish we had a limitation on smoking near entrances and this is where I find myself in the clouds of smoke. In Utah a smoker has to be 50 ft from the door, which if the wind is blowing the wrong way only helps a little.

I read the wikipedia entry about blacks and the church, as you return to this issue often in your posts. I personally do not know, ie have any testimony about why the priesthood was restricted. I do wonder if it was something like the word of wisdom which was only revealed because the prophet asked. Perhaps Joseph Smith never inquired on the subject and so had no direct revelation on the subject, he would naturally lead the church based on his experience and understanding. Brigham Young may have had reason to inquire of the lord and then did gain some direction. He did state he knew it was true but gave no explanation on how he came to the knowledge. He also spoke of a time when the restriction would be lifted. I would say I am more educated but have not really come to any conclusions. I wish the church website had some material on the subject as I always view wikipedia as a source, but not difinitive.

Mammamia said...

Interesting. Thank you for stopping by and adding me to your list. I'm flattered!

This post is something I've been thinking about a lot recently too. I actually have a half written post on blind faith waiting to finish up with a couple similar points. I'm sure I'll get it up in the next day or two.

As for my response to this talk I'm obviously new here, so I don't know what has been discussed in the past, but I think culture is the key word. I love the people, I love the gospel, but the culture often feels suffocating to me.

I've spent some time thinking about why our culture is the way it is. And in my opinion much of our current culture boils down mainly to insecurities. I'm going to make a very broad generalization here by way of illustration. Obviously it doesn't apply to everyone.

It's almost like when the church started, the people were babies or toddlers: hungry, accepting and ready to learn everything. A few temper tantrums to deal with, but overall a very open and accepting audience.

Now that the church has been around a little while it seems like perhaps we're kind of in more of a junior high school/high school like phase where insecurities reign supreme. We've gained some understanding and ability to think independently. There's a bit more talking back to our leaders. And we're all now painfully aware of our own spiritual shortcomings.

I think because of that many people are trying desperately to be just like everyone else so that their flaws are not outwardly obvious. It's this same frame of mind that makes it feel good to put someone else down or be condescending in order to make oneself feel better. When that kind of culture prevails as a whole, it stifles creativity, openness and love.

I don't know if that's right or not, but it makes sense to me and it makes it a whole lot easier for me to cut critical people some slack when I think about it that way.

Seth said...

This is a great blog. Keep up the good work! I'll be checking back and forth for updates! God bless!

The Faithful Dissident said...

Mammamia, I like your analogy. I wish I could say more now, but I'm at the library and my time is limted.

Seth, thanks for the compliment. Make sure to stop by again. :)

Karene said...

I'm visiting your blog for the first time today (linked through a comment you made on Soy Made Me Gay). I find this post and Elder Richards' talk to be very thought-provoking, and as a result I feel a lengthy reply coming on. I hope that's okay, and that I don't wear out my welcome as soon as I arrive on the scene!!

I'll preface my comment by saying that I feel pricked in my conscience by much of what Elder Richards had to say, as well as others' responses. I'm afraid I have spent more time than I'm happy about in the camp of those who rigidly cling to principles, doctrines, tenets--whatever they may be--of the Church and have been intolerant of those who do not adhere as strictly as I think they should. My intolerance has almost always been directed at members of the Church...at those I think should "know better", whereas I've cut a lot of slack to a nonmember.

Anyway, over the last few years to some degree and much more intensely over the last few months, I've begun to have a change of perspective and hopefully that means I'm also having a change of heart. It started when I moved from Utah to California, and intensified with the onset of Proposition 8. In the beginning, I supported the Church's stance on the issue because it seemed obvious to me that the Church would oppose gay marriage. I'll admit now with some chagrin that as recently as a few months ago I still didn't fully believe that homosexuality is not a choice (which now I absolutely do). This obviously changes the way I look at the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage. I'm also realizing that I have always believed in what derekstaff called "the concept of infallibility" of Church leaders. Perhaps not consciously, but all the same, that was at the basis of many of my actions and feelings about various Church issues. I'm starting to understand and accept the fact that all Church leaders are, in fact, human, and subject to error, bias, and everything that comes with it. And I'm finding myself okay with that...able to reconcile myself to the fact that the Church is still true, even though there have been mistakes made along the way.

That all being said, I find myself thinking again about the controversy within the church surrounding Prop 8. I like what RAP08 said about how doing all we can to support the measure likely meant very different things for different people. For my husband and I, we felt that it meant active involvement. We campaigned, made phone calls, posted signs...in essence did everything we could to see that Prop 8 passed. And I'll admit, again with some embarrassment, that I felt very critical at the time of those in my ward who refrained from active involvement. It wasn't until a few days before the election that I discovered Clint's blog, and many others. I spent a lot of time reading their blogs, stepping into their shoes, and realizing how narrow-minded I'd been.

So, looking back, was it wrong for me to have supported Prop 8 as fully as I did? If I had it to do over again, would I do it differently? Would I have voted No, or at least refrained from actively campaigning Yes?

I don't think so. I'm still trying to figure it all out in my mind, but I still believe that safety lies in following the counsel of Church leaders. Might they be wrong about this? Maybe. I'm willing to acknowledge that. But the fact is, I don't know. And even if they are, I feel confident that the Lord would not judge against me for obeying the advice (even if it was just that, advice) of his chosen leaders. All I know is that I have raised my hand to sustain these leaders, and human or no, I think I need to listen and obey when I'm counseled to do something like this.

I want to make it clear that I'm not saying that I think everyone should do as I think I would have done, even knowing what I do now. I hope to have left behind the part of me that assumed that what's right for me is right for everyone else. I think that had I been a different person, with different life experience, and a different set of circumstances, I may have made different choices. That's why I think this post resonated so much with me, considering the change of perspective I've been experiencing. The overarching principle I see emerging from Elder Richards' remarks is that of mercy and pure tolerance...the kind of tolerance that is preached but so rarely practiced. Within ourselves, we need to practice strict adherence to principles and do the best we can to hold ourselves to the high standards the Lord sets. However, the best thing we can do for those around us is extend mercy and understanding and acceptance and resist the urge to exercise unneeded judgment.

I also really like Mammamia's analogy. It rings very true. And again, like she said, when we look at it this way, we allow ourselves to be patient with those who are insecure and intolerant (sometimes ourselves!) as well.

Forgive me for this rambling post...I just had so many thoughts as a result of reading this that I had to put them down somewhere. I'm enjoying reading what you have to say, and I'm sure I'll be back.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Karene, no need to apologize for your long comment because I thoroughly enjoyed it.

When you said: "My intolerance has almost always been directed at members of the Church...at those I think should "know better", whereas I've cut a lot of slack to a nonmember," that sounded very familiar. Although I can cut a lot of slack to those outside and even inside the church, I haven't been as tolerant with some of my own family members, one of my brothers in particular. Stay tuned for that post, as soon as I get the internet at home next week.

Your comment also reminded me of yet another post that I've been thinking about since a certain episode of Oprah I saw a few days ago. :)

DeweyOlsen said...
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