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Is the LDS Church even the body of Christ?

October 18, 2014

Adam Miller has an interesting post at Times and Seasons that discusses moving away from the question “Is the church true?” to a question like “Is the church the body of Christ”.

I like that Adam is addressing how the sort of question like “Is the church true?” creates the all-or-nothing mentality that so often drives people out of it. As he says:

In this respect, it doesn’t have the feel of a question that’s meant to be used as a question. It feels, instead, like the kind of question you’re meant to ask when you already know the answer. It feels inherently rhetorical. It feels like the kind of question a missionary is supposed to ask Mr. Brown, a Boolean question meant to force a binary response.

The problem with these vast institutional machines of deduction and inference is that they tend to be super fragile. One cog comes loose, the whole thing groans and grinds to a halt. The wagered “all” of its “all or nothing!” risks, without further consideration, simply returning “nothing.”

It’s in this sense especially that the question seems to me to be much too thin to dependably accomplish real religious work.

Instead, he advocates a different set of questions that are thick enough to accomplish said “real religious work”:

Ask the thick question: “Is this the body of Christ?” Is Christ manifest here? Is this thing alive? Does it bleed?

This is a load-bearing question. This is a question properly fitted, by Christ himself, to address the existential burn that compels its asking.

This is a question that is big enough to not only address issues of veridicality, but the whole of the head and the whole of the heart. And not just these, but the arms, legs, feet, fingers, toes, spleen, bowels, and loins. The body of Christ includes them all. It includes the beautiful and the ugly, the public and the private, the desirable and the foul, the lost and the found.

Inquire into the body of Christ itself.

And then say:

“Though I may not even know what it means to ask if the church is true, I’d stake my life (and the lives of my children) on the fact that Christ’s body is manifest here and that we are its members.”

Very well, Mr. Miller. The only problem is…what does it even mean for the church to be the body of Christ?

I could write this post simply about how I don’t think that anything Adam Miller says (or anything that someone like Terryl and Fiona Givens say, or any other folks who have stepped into this new space folks like Seth Payne are calling “pastoral apologetics“) can overcome the lived, day-to-day experience of Mormonism. Quite simply, it would be too easy to end this post by saying, “Adam, this is great, but the missionary absolutely *will* ask if the convert believes the church is true. If you have a meeting with your bishop or stake president, they will absolutely inquire about your testimony of the truth of the church.”

But that’s low hanging fruit. As for folks like Miller and the Givens (hmm, I should maybe write a post about the Crucible of Doubt, but then I’d have to read it or read articles about it and then flail around summaries), I actually like what they are aiming to do, even if I think they lack the institutional chops to make it stick. And to be candid, I would like for them to have these chops, but they don’t.

But here, I just wonder what it all even means.

Conceptually, Adam’s comments ring like things that Dan Wotherspoon has said frequently in Mormon Matters podcasts — and I think Dan also fits a similar pastoral apologetic space, except instead of writing books, he does the podcasts. Basically, I read Adam’s criticism that the main problem with the question, “Is the church true?” is that it’s too much of a head game. Notwithstanding traditional apologetics’ attempts to try to make a head case (pun not intended) for Mormonism — to make a case for why we can intellectually assent to claims that the church is true — I think that folks like Wotherspoon and Miller are aiming to say that this is not the path that we should take. (As an aside, I suspect that some of these persons are either agnostic on or perhaps maybe even concede that such a defense could not be done.)

So instead, what they do is talk about the role of the heart. This is where discussions of faith as loyalty (as opposed to faith as belief) come in. This is where pragmatism and action and activity come in.

And that’s what it seems like Adam is saying as well.

But really?

Split between heart and brain

What does it mean for the LDS church to be the body of Christ to people who don’t even experience anything moving about the concept of the Atonement — whether in the head or in the heart?

What does it mean for Christ to manifest within the LDS church?

What does it mean for the church to be alive in Christ? To bleed in Christ?

And what do you do about the person who doesn’t feel comfortable staking their lives (and those of their children) on the fact that Christ’s body is manifest within the LDS church? What do you do about the person whose crisis of faith is not merely intellectual, not merely a crisis of assent, but whose crisis is a crisis of trust and loyalty?

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