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Quietism vs. Justice in the church and in life

August 11, 2012

This post at Zelophehad’s Daughters is a few days old (which is years in internet time, right?), but I just got through reading it, and I thought it was really incredible.

The post is pretty long, but I expect that you will take the moment today to go and read it all…but here, I would just like to quote just a part:

But inevitably the self-censorship becomes so severe I begin to feel as if at church I’m no one at all. I begin to feel as if I’m going crazy with so much suppression of difference, so much saying nothing. It’s a dangerous place to be, this place of extreme self-stifling. It’s the place where people snap and hijack the pulpit with a list of personal grievances too long suppressed. And it’s the place where people simply walk out and never come back because they’ve concluded, often rightly, that there’s just no place for them, that the only person they’re permitted to be is intolerably constrained.

Many times, I feel like my experience growing up in Mormonism was supposed to be in practicing this quietism…this self-stifling or self-suppression. It was supposed to be practice for me to learn to endure ridiculous things being said or done in silence. Isn’t that what “patience” and “long-suffering” and all of that is all about?

I went through a phase when I was so tired of that that I did “walk out and never come back.” And I thought that the only reason I would come back would be if I were able to speak up and speak out, and to try to change things.

Then, I went through a phase of thinking that maybe the point isn’t to try to change things at all…maybe the point is to try to change yourself so that you don’t expect as much stuff for yourself…so that while you are constrained, you won’t see it as being intolerably so, because you have removed your expectations of what is tolerable and what you “deserve.” Think of that whole Buddhist “desire is suffering” concept. Think of the concept of “ego death” — the idea being that some of these things that we expect and desire may be sources of our pain…

The very thought scares me. It seems to me that a person who is so resigned has lost something essential and human about them. What can we say about a person who doesn’t expect to be treated with respect, equality and decency? Do we admire them for not being “attached” to these “illusory” desires, or do we pity them for not having a fire within them that craves these things and demands that others not deprive them of it?

Of course, I’ve read a very different view. I’ve read people talk about church as a place that they can feel open. They view it as a refuge where they can be honest and vulnerable. To them, the outside world is where they feel “intolerably constrained,” and within the church is where they can share their pain.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the church could actually be like that for more folks? Or if, at the very least, the church leaders could realize that the church isn’t that kind of place for everyone, and thus recognize that the church isn’t for everyone?


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  1. Seth R. permalink

    I don’t think it’s accurate to describe Mormon church meetings as “a place where you can be who you honestly are.” Even from a fully believing perspective I think that would be an inaccurate description.

    After all, the “natural man” is an “honest and genuine” expression of who we are as well. But there is no use in honestly expressing it. Sometimes who I honestly am, quite frankly, sucks. And the worst advice you could give me is to “be myself” – if my genuine self is a total dick.

    Church is a place were people can safely express a spiritual side of themselves that, frankly, isn’t tolerated in the rest of society. It’s not about authentic self-expression.

    It’s about self-cultivation.

  2. Seth,

    I guess your first line of both your first and second paragraphs are really problematic, given much of the church discourse is about saying that who you honestly are is NOT the natural man.

    But even you yourself admit the following:

    Church is a place were people can safely express a spiritual side of themselves that, frankly, isn’t tolerated in the rest of society.

    This supposes that people have a spiritual side of themselves to express and cultivate, and that all spiritual sides are “safely expressible” in church.

    I would say the main point to consider is that “true believers” (loaded term ahoy) or “orthodox” believers in Mormonism are those for whom their spiritual side most closely aligns with the paradigms of spirit that are taught and preached within Mormonism. Everyone else (e.g., they interact with spirituality via different channels, metaphors, whatever…or they do not find themselves as having spiritual sides) will have to stifle themselves in critical ways that make your statement about the purpose of church incorrect. Church is a place where people who have certain expressions or manifestations of spirituality can safely express a spiritual side of themselves that, frankly, isn’t tolerated in the rest of society. If you have some other manifestation or expression of spirituality, you will not find a safe place to express that in the church.

    So, I mean, I know that you are all against honesty and authenticity and individuality and all that jazz, because so many people take it in such a non-nuanced way. But I think there’s a big problem in implicitly conflating everyone’s experience with feeling silenced or feeling unsafe in the church environment as being a part of the class of things about which “there is no use in honestly expressing it.”

  3. I am not sure it actually comes down to an either or situation, but I do see the danger in saying this is the only true church AND this is the only true way to express your spiritual experiences, of lack thereof.

    I do find more acceptance and tolerance for the promptings (insights might be the description with a Christian perspective) that I receive and follow. Within the language of the LDS religion, explaining why you made a decision can be easily summed up as, “I studied my alternatives, felt one was right for me, prayed about it and had a confirmation from the Holy Ghost, and I am glad I made the choice.” Even if my choice is fairly unorthodox, most people won’t question my method, or a decision made by that method. Outside of the church I would be expected to share the research part, explain in logical processes how I came to that conclusion, and then my logic would be up for question. Saying I am at peace with myself and the decision would not be enough to stop the logical discussion/debate.

    There are other things that I consider to be spiritual gifts, that within the mainstream might be categorized as delusions or mental illness. We don’t have a good way to distinguish between real and supernatural as a society in general. Even promptings about fairly mundane things can be misinterpreted if they go against societal norms, and have no particular basis without an insight beyond God speaking to a person.

    The new show Perception is a good example of this. Are the hallucinations mental illness? The shows obvious answer is that they are useful hallucinations, but mental illness is behind them. What is the difference behind that and calling them angelic visions that are gifts from God to a man of great spiritual gifts that help others? The demarcation line, for people whose faith includes a belief in the ongoing ministering of angels, may not fall at the same place as a psychologist or neurologist.

    The 5th or 6th episode in which Joan of Arc is the hallucination addresses the idea head on. I gained a lot of insight into my skepticism and faith while watching it. Joan is sure God talked to her. The main character, whose name is eluding me, is sure Joan must have had a tumor. His belief that the tumor was there, even though no one examined her body to find one is a faith on its own.

    I don’t see church as a place to share all of my spiritual experiences, or all of my doubts. I see it as a place to learn a framework that helps me interpret my experiences as a human being. Sometimes I find greater meaning in those experiences and other times I find other sources give me better insights.


  4. Second line of the second paragraph should read:

    Insights might be the description WITHOUT a Christian perspective.

  5. Seth R. permalink

    You’re right about the last sentence of my paragraph being problematic Andrew – because I don’t think it’s fair to say that “putting off the natural man” and “becoming a saint” is somehow “inauthentic” as well.

    I should qualify by saying that I think both out natural baser sides and our spiritual sides are “authentic” in the sense that they represent what we truly are. What I mean is that the goal shouldn’t be authenticity to whatever we happen to be, but rather cultivating a personal character worth being authentic to.

    I wouldn’t say there’s no value in being authentic, but would point out it’s only one part of the equation.

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