Please stay Mormon…because we’re right
Earlier this month, over at Millennial Star (trigger warning: Millennial Star post), ldsphilosopher wrote a post about responding to heresy and apostasy. Because ldsphilosopher’s post addressed President Uchtdorf’s Come, Join With Us talk from General Conference, I subconsciously related it with my own earlier post asking religious people: why do you go to church? If you recall, I didn’t address much of believing in the orthodoxy, because I was speaking out to the marginalized and fringe of 21st century Mormonism. Instead, I talked about the sense that where many see their churches as a place where one can be vulnerable and open, I don’t really see this a lot in Mormonism. Mormonism for fringe Mormons is more of a place to learn to bear things silently…which if that’s something you can find value in, then great, but understandably, if you’re looking for more openness, personal authenticity, and self-disclosure, then you might make different choice.
So, I was interested in hearing what ldsphilosopher had to say.
The basic tension ldsphilosopher is seeking to discuss in his post is the tension of having diversity of thought and belief in the church, while also having positions on orthodoxy. To snip from the post:
How do we respond to those who don’t just see things differently, but see things differently in a way that clearly contradicts established, core Church teachings? Is this diversity that we should celebrate and encourage? Or is this heresy that should be discouraged? Note: I’m not talking about being a Democrat. I’m not talking about believing that the lost tribes of Israel were abducted by aliens. I’m talking about central issues like the law of chastity, the Proclamation on the Family, the immorality of elective abortion, etc., and I’m defining these as “central” issues because they are what prophets and apostles have recently expressed concern about in recent conferences. Are they core doctrines in the same sense that the Atonement of Christ is? Maybe, maybe not — but when Elder Oaks and Elder Nelson explicitly say that Latter-day Saints cannot condone same-sex relationships, I feel like they are sending a clear message.
The basic way that ldsphilosopher answers this question is to distinguish between “heresy” and “apostasy”. Heresy is personal — he refers to it as “ideas that directly contradict core teachings of the Church, and in ways that are potentially dangerous to the soul,” and as these ideas themselves are not yet expressed, they aren’t necessarily dealbreakers. As he writes:
…You can believe whatever you want and claim membership in this Church. You can, for example, believe that the Book of Mormon is “inspired fiction,” and be a member of the Church. You can, for example, believe that two men having sex really isn’t a sin, and be a member of the Church. You can believe that abortion is just fine and dandy. You can think that the modern prophets and apostles are kind of behind the times with the whole marriage and family thing. Whatever your favorite heresy, you can certainly still believe it, and come worship God with us in our meetings and find fellowship in our congregations. We want you to feel like you have friends here. We want you to serve with us, minister with us, and experience the joys of Gospel service, despite your eccentric and at times errant beliefs. Believing wrongly should never warrant mistreatment from others. We as Latter-day Saints should ensure that no one feels alienated for mere heresy alone.
I actually like what he offers after this, as more exposition on why heresy alone does not warrant alienation:
After all, sometimes — not always, but sometimes — we’re the ones who are wrong and they are right. This can certainly happen when the heresy they commit is to disbelieve some favorite folk doctrine that actually isn’t revealed or official doctrine of the Church. But even if we’re dealing with genuine heresy, let’s open our arms and embrace our fellow saints anyways. We are all at different points in our personal progression.
I think that this opens up some questions on times when the supposedly orthodox member is actually wrong (and is probably the crux of the liberal/progressive hope within the church). I also think that once LDS truth claims are problematized, destabilized, and deconstructed, then ideas about orthodoxy, folk doctrine, heresy, and the like become much messier than the average apostate (LDS church claims = false, fraudulent) or the average believer (LDS church claims = true, clearly and simply) believe. But here, my point is not to perform the task of problematizing, destabilizing, or deconstructing…just to point out that even ldsphilosopher has a conceptual theological out and that’s pretty neat.
But pretty quickly, ldsphilosopher does state something interesting (which I didn’t quite capture the first time I read his post and was titling mine…but it definitely captures the spirit I was getting at:
Why, after all, should we chase people from the fountain of Truth for not yet having the truth? I firmly believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one place in this world where the doctrines are pure. I believe that this Church and its ordinances are a wellspring of revelation, a fountian of light and knowledge from the True and Living God. Why chase anyone from that fountain — even if inadvertently — because they haven’t been fully persuaded of those doctrines yet?
(Note: truth claims: unproblematized. Stable. Well constructed. LDS church claims = fountain of light and knowledge from the True and Living God.)
This gem is the main takeaway of the point: the reason to appreciate diversity in the church is because the church is right.
Let’s contrast with other reasons you might want diversity. A business might want diversity because the diversity of thought produces better teams and better decisions. A university might want diversity to challenge its student body into experiencing new things and new people. In these instances, diversity is desired because of the traits of that diversity — universities aren’t necessarily trying to turn a diverse student body into one image. Firms aren’t necessarily trying to turn a diverse workforce into one mold.
But I think it’s fair to say that the church is not similar to these secular institutions. Diversity isn’t appreciated for its own sake. Rather, I’ll change just a couple of words from ldsphilosopher:
This Church is the place where [a diverse range of incorrect people] can and will learn true doctrine through the Spirit, and we must therefore ensure that our meetings are full of the Spirit of love, not the spirit of contention. If we can find ways to teach true doctrine without putting others on the defensive, we will be much better instruments in the Lord’s hands, and much less likely to alienate those who need Spiritual instruction from the one place where they are most likely to receive it. Let’s be meticulous about this. We should embrace heretics with love, fellowship, and friendship — and perhaps by so doing, we’ll be the instruments through which God sends His correcting, testifying Spirit.
Everything changes with apostasy, though. Apostasy differs from heresy in that apostasy is public. It is advocative.
Still, ldsphilosopher points out that apostates should be treated similarly to heretics. Pointing out that “the Church is really patient and awfully reluctant to even excommunicate these sorts of people“, he raises that apostates should be taught and corrected, and “public agitation” is fair game for criticism. He writes:
There are some who, taking their opinions public and trying to persuade others to join their dissent, argue that compassion and good will requires that the rest of us remain silent. If we speak out and say, “Actually, you are currently in open contradiction to the Church’s teachings,” and warn others to steer clear of your public advocacy, they respond, “They are trying to create a hostile environment in the Church for those with diverse opinions!” When their perspectives are publicly denounced by members as heresy, and their actions as apostasy, they sometimes cry, “Don’t we want diversity in the Church? Why are you trying to silence me for merely disagreeing or having doubts or questions about the Church’s positions?”
No — we are not trying to chase you out of the Church for believing differently. We’re not trying to chase you out of the Church at all. But we can and will respond with clarity when you contradict the teachings of the Church’s leaders and try to confuse our fellow saints into thinking that you are not (or that this is ok). Having doubts and questions is fine.Teaching others to doubt and question is not. Publicly spreading heretical perspectives using argument, persuasion, public advocacy, is not just “having a different perspective,” it is open rebellion against the Church and its teachings, and this will elicit a strong response from faithful Latter-day Saints. To think that it shouldn’t is rather silly.
This is where the distinction between heresy and apostasy comes especially clear. People aren’t silenced merely for disagreeing or merely for having doubts and questions. Rather, people are silenced for speaking out in a public manner. If you are already silent (as you should be…or at least just quiet), then you cannot be silenced.
At some point, someone could write an article about the value of speaking out, agitating (even “agitating faithfully”), advocacy and so on to seek changes within the church. But that wouldn’t be me…and for whoever does write that article, they will have to destabilize and deconstruct more than what has been destabilized so far.
Back to ldsphilosopher’s post though…in his conclusion, ldsphilosopher offers four invitations for heretics and apostates…I’ll summarize and translate them:
1) Consider acknowledging your wrongness
2) Be quiet about your wrongness
3) If you aren’t quiet about your wrongness, expect someone to point out your wrongness.
4) Don’t be chased away by points 1-3! Please stay Mormon, because we’re right!
…for the most part, I do like seeing liberal and fringe Mormons stick it out. I think the orthodox vs exmormon coin-flip dichotomy is far too black and white (and I am aware of the problems of the radicalization of the factions that occurs when moderate folks bolt). Yet, reading ldsphilosopher’s four invitations, I just want to LOL, throw my hands up and tell everyone who has disagreements with the status quo in the church that you should abandon this ship.
(Actually, I do say — and I have said for a long time…don’t stay just to try to change the church. I think that liberal/progressive/unorthodox/fringe folks who are most successful at staying do so because they have a testimony — however liberal, progressive, unorthodox, or fringey — that sustains them despite the rhetoric around them. This may inspire them to change, but it is the hope that sustains them if things don’t work out.)