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All or Nothing

December 26, 2008

However it happened, somehow, there has been this black and white or all or nothing mentality that has surfaced within the church. Things must be absolutely one way, or the other. What’s an example? Well…let’s read:

To hear someone so remarkable say something so tremendously bold, so overwhelming in its implications, that everything in the Church—everything—rises or falls on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and, by implication, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of how it came forth, can be a little breathtaking. It sounds like a “sudden death” proposition to me. Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is or this Church and its founder are false, fraudulent, a deception from the first instance onward.

That’s not from just some random guy off the street. That’s from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and in actuality, he’s going back even further back to an even more legitimate source: that “someone” who is saying something “so tremendously bold” is President Ezra Taft Benson.

What’s interesting is how in the very next line Elder Holland says “not everything in life is so black and white,” but then he affirms that this is one issue that decidedly is.

This kind of thinking seems reasonable. Either the church is true or it isn’t. And the Mormon church has some pressure points that can easily be pressed as a test of falsity: the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s accounts, etc.,

At the same time, this very thinking will be one of the first thing that is criticized by faithful members when people consider leaving the church. They will say, “How could you have been so foolish as to look at things all or nothing? Clearly, everything isn’t doctrine.” or “You have to read between the lines of what the Brethren say.” Black and white thinking is seen as a copout character flaw of those who leave the church, usually.

And when members attempt to explain how one can reconcile doubts about certain issues of the church, the first thing they usually do is dispel black and white thinking. They will say, “So, Joseph Smith was a man; let’s realize that. It’s ok.” or they might even go so far as to say, “We don’t know about this doctrine or that. These unpalatable doctrines were a product of their time, so don’t throw the baby with the bathwater.”

I could probably talk a lot about that one issue, but I was reading Soy Made Me Gay, and I had a slightly different tangent. I actually think I just merged some thoughts from that topic with thoughts that arose from another of his entries, lamenting that he’d be fine with celibacy if it weren’t for the lack of sex.

In the former post, he raises how members of the church lament losing their children to the “gay community” — and of course, the quotations are purposeful — the church’s idea of the “gay community” is a construct of Sodom and Gomorrah reincarnated, replete with drugs, tattoos, and the emblems of pure concentrated sin.

Not to say that you couldn’t find those places, but to reduce a community to that..? The black and white thinking strikes again!

And in the latter entry, he raises the church’s…I’ll say it… draconian policies toward gays. It’s very clever — certainly homosexuality itself isn’t a sin, but all extra-marital sexual relations are, as you should know, fornication. And of course the church doesn’t support gay marriage, so gays by this web ought be celibate or get with the straight train* (*the church does not officially condone straight marriage as a “fix” for SSA).

With these two ideas, is it any wonder why the faithful should fear gay members leaving the church? And with an education of black and white that the church has given them, is it a stretch to say that some gay members, after leaving, would feel that to fit in with the caricature gay community the church has pushed, that they must engage in the whole package deal?

I know the church doesn’t care for my ideas or anything, and they most certainly are about accommodating the fringes of the membership, but it seems to me that the church would want to do at least a teensy bit of damage control. What if it could create a safe zone for gay members? What if it could tear down the black/white dichotomy of “faithful, perpetually celibate” or “sexually active, immorally apostate”?

No, no, I don’t need to hear it: I already know what people will say. The church isn’t going to compromise for sin. The simple matter is that the church is completely fine with making its ultimatum: be in, and endure to the end, or be out, and be far out.

EDIT: I was reading a blog entry from Slacktivist about how “All Or Nothing” as a theological concept seems to drive many fundamentalist Christians to flatly reject evolution for creationism.

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9 Comments
  1. James permalink

    Great post Andrew

    To hear someone so remarkable say something so tremendously bold, so overwhelming in its implications, that everything in the Church—everything—rises or falls on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and, by implication, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of how it came forth, can be a little breathtaking. It sounds like a “sudden death” proposition to me. Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is or this Church and its founder are false, fraudulent, a deception from the first instance onward.

    I think things have changed since this quote was given back in 95 (now thier is a 3rd way)

    Thanks for your commments on MM temperance movement as well. You should write one there some time

  2. What you don’t understand, is that the Church isn’t going to compr…oops…sorry. Started writing before I finished reading.

    I (as an unapologetically-straight-shooting Mormon boy) agree–there needs to be some kind of progress made. I don’t know if there is a difference between homosexual sexual sin and heterosexual sexual sin in God’s eyes. I don’t think anyone else sounding off on this issue knows, either.

    However, I do think that any current policies which result in treating them differently certainly are influenced by generations of cultural norms and need to be seriously rethunk.

  3. To James:

    I think there’s always been a third way; it’s just whether this third way is publicized sufficiently within the church. I still hear a significant amount of people who caution members on the fringe, “You just have to ignore certain excessive parts of church culture — it’s not doctrine” which leads me to believe that the church quite isn’t where it needs to be to make all of its members feel at ease.

    To Dead Seriously:

    Yeah, every time I make one of these kinds of posts with compromises, I realize that it’s not really going to happen (or, not on the time scales that I’d like). And really, I can see to an extent why it shouldn’t necessarily happen. The church’s stance on same-sex attraction (or whatever they are referring to homosexuality is) really must stand, however unpalatable and uncompromising it may be, because it strengthens the doctrinal foundation (e.g., eternal gender, proclamation on the family, etc.,).

    I would say the core difference between homosexual sexual sin and heterosexual sin (as far as the church’s treatment goes) is that heterosexual sex can potentially be resolved with doctrine. To solve the problem of heterosexual premarital sex, straight members can just get married. That’s an oversimplification (people shouldn’t get married *just* to have sex), but that’s one option.

    But there is no such fix for homosexual members. They could potentially get married to a woman (church doesn’t condone this process anymore, thankfully), but the fact is that they can never act on their attraction and be worthy as heterosexual members can. It is a position tied to long-standing doctrines about eternal gender, so it can’t really change with the church losing a lot of credibility.

  4. I hear it all the time from faithful Mormons and anti-Mormons alike – and even the occasional General Authority.

    “Book of Mormon true book = Joseph Smith true prophet = Modern LDS Church true church.”

    It’s just dumb logic. The connection could be invalid at any one of those junctions. What if God was simply using a deluded person to channel true scripture?

    What if Joseph Smith started out as a true prophet, but fell off the wagon with Nauvoo polygamy?

    What if Joseph was always a true prophet, but Brigham Young was the unauthorized upstart that Emma Smith always thought he was?

    What if Brigham Young and his successors were all true prophets, but the Church “apostatized” when it ditched polygamy (like the FLDS claim)?

    What if, what if, what if…

    People are intellectually lazy. They don’t want to do the legwork. They want shortcuts.

    “If only I can prove this ONE element – I won’t have to bother with working out the rest of the equation.”

    Hope springs eternal.

    But it’s just wishful thinking. You have to gain a testimony of every last point in this Church. Joseph Smith himself never put forth a single doctrine without insisting that every member gain their own personal assurance that it was true.

    I’ve taken him at his word. I don’t take for granted that anything in the LDS Church is true until I have my own assurance that I feel comfortable with.

    It’s a lot of bother, of course. But I think it is what is required of discipleship in this church.

  5. A few questions, Seth. As you say:

    People are intellectually lazy. They don’t want to do the legwork. They want shortcuts.

    …I don’t take for granted that anything in the LDS Church is true until I have my own assurance that I feel comfortable with.

    Does this mean that you only believe in the things that you have your own assurance/comfortability in? What role, then, is faith in this system? Does it bridge the gap for you to believe in things you don’t have an assurance in? How is this not a shortcut then?

    It just seemed like an interesting way to phrase things…

  6. I never said that a factual basis was the only one I’d “feel comfortable with.” Spiritual witness works too.

    It’s a good point though, that bears more thought.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Eternal Marriage, or, Singles Suck XD, sorry « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  2. How Liberal can religion be? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  3. All or Nothing Part 2 — Switching Dogmas « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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