Apologia of a critical believer

March 18, 2004 | 35 comments
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In the long comments thread on Karen’s post on women’s issues, Brent has done the inevitable: accused those who criticize the “revealed structure” of the church of faithlessness. Brent gets kudos for stating his opinion forthrightly and eloquently. His is a criticism that gets to the heart of many divisive discussions between Mormons of different temperaments and ideological persuasions, so I am hijacking the comments thread to address the issue separately.

Brent said “I don’t see how one can say he or she is a ‘faithful member’ of the church while attacking the revealed structure of the church.” He was kind enough not to attach my name to this critique, but since I’ve been vocally critical of the current structure of the church, I want to explain why I can also still claim to be a faithful member.

First, I don’t believe that the structure of the church is “revealed,” in the sense that the Handbook of Instructions dropped out of the sky in its present form. I’ve lived through enough bureaucratic changes (take women’s prayers in Sacrament Meeting, for instance) to know that there’s a fair amount of experimentation going on. In fact, Bulletins that correct/modify/amplify the Handbook are sent out on a fairly regular basis. If you’re not female or don’t think it matters whether women get to pray in Sacrament Mtg., we could broaden the list of significant changes that have been made: the abolition of ward Seventies, the addition of several quorums of Seventy at the general level, the inclusion of the Relief Society as a separate group of votes in the sustaining of the prophet in the General Assembly, the change from Regional Representatives to Area Authorities and then Area Authority Seventies, etc., and that’s just in my just-over-three-decade lifetime. Lest anyone argue that these are just tinkering around the edges of administrative issues, let’s not forget the revelation on blacks and the priesthood. If we allow a longer historical period for consideration, there’s the gradual abandonment of the practice of women giving blessings and setting each other apart, the change in the budget structure of the auxiliaries, several correlation movements with varying bureaucracies, some very thorny issues around prophetic succession and seniority in the Quorum of the 12… It’s a long list.

It is not denying the hand of God in these changes to suggest that human beings are very much involved in them, and that those human beings ask the wrong questions sometimes, are on occasion blinded by their own prejudices and misperceptions, and sometimes misinterpret inspiration. The remarkable and faith-promoting part of this story is that God does sometimes (astonishingly often, really) manage to work with flawed human beings to accomplish his work. Faith lies in acting according to the commandments of God and being dedicated to the work of building the Kingdom, not in twisting one’s reasoning faculties into a knot to believe that manifestations of human weakness are somehow divinely sanctioned. The Church is a human institution charged with the task of preparing to usher in the Kingdom of God; it is not yet that Kingdom, and until it is, faithful members have the obligation of trying to envision the Kingdom through the approximation provided by the Church. The fact that we are unified in pursuing that vision does not mean that we won’t each glimpse different facets of it and articulate our perceptions in different voices.

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35 Responses to Apologia of a critical believer

  1. Steve Evans on March 18, 2004 at 11:56 am

    Kristine,

    way to steal my thunder. I had been planning an exegesis of this over at the _other_blog…

  2. Kim Siever on March 18, 2004 at 12:00 pm

    You and your “other blog” fanaticism. ;-)

    You’ve been around less than other liberal blogs. How can you call yourself the “other blog”? what gives you the authority? Is this revealed structure?

  3. Steve Evans on March 18, 2004 at 12:03 pm

    T&S’s structure may not be questioned. Nothing is ever wrong with this blog.

    Whereas, on the “reorganized” blogs…

  4. Kaimi on March 18, 2004 at 12:10 pm

    Kris,

    Definitely. The church is the truth, filtered through the imperfect vessels of human leaders. And God allows those leaders to find their own way around problems.

    That said, while it is certainly possible to be faithful and acknowledge the human failings of church leadership, there is a real potential danger that an overly critical attitude will lead to apostasy. I’m not a fan of slippery-slope arguments myself, but they seem inevitable here. So, let me ask you (if you have an opinion), how does one engage in critical belief without moving towards apostasy?

  5. Adam Greenwood on March 18, 2004 at 12:35 pm

    I’m interested in your answer to Kaimi’s question. I sometimes too feel like I would do things differently if I were running the Church (a more forthright and explicitly political stance on gay marriage and abortion, and some re-emphasizing of our pioneer past are instances that come to mind) and it really makes sense that leaders can’t usually receive revelation until they ask questions, and that members can help to spur the asking of those questions. On the other hand, I feel that I more than the Church am undergoing a process of revelation and change, and i wonder how much the Church can serve as a vehicle to change me if i see myself as a vehicle to change it. I feel that I need a stumbling block. If I can write off difficulties as error then I don’t stumble, simple as that.

    I’m no genius, and I have yet to see the face of God. I feel that for a person such as myself trying to take some perspective outside the flawed culture of the Saints is likely to replace it only with a flawed culture from the world. Either way I know I’m going wrong; I’d rather do it with the Saints.

    Ruth said to Naomi: thy people shall be my people, thy God my God . . .

  6. Julie in Austin on March 18, 2004 at 12:49 pm

    Kaimi–

    The answer to avoiding apostasy is to stay in the trenches. One example: let’s say, just hypothetically, that the policy requiring a priesthood holder in the building any time women meet annoys the living daylights out of you. Fine. But you still go to Enrichment Night, and you don’t scowl at the poor EQ guy in the hallway.

  7. Gary Cooper on March 18, 2004 at 1:50 pm

    Julie in Austin,

    The policy of always having a priestholder in the building whenever the sisters meet doesn’t bother me, and let me share with you why. Last night, for the first time in years, I attended a ward choir practice. (I like singing in the choir, but had convinced myself I was too busy, so the bishop extended a calling to me to be on the choir, hence I had no choice.) I was the only man present, thanks to some time conflicts and illnesses. After the practice, as I was walking to my car, I noticed something interesting. The huge streetlight that normally dominates our stake center’s parking lot for some reason was off, making the lot extremely dark, so much so that I had to press the unlock button on my keychain to see where my car was. As I did so, and saw the sisters in the choir walking to their vehicles, it occured to me that I hadn’t been there, these sisters, not one of them over 5′ 4″ in height, would have been completely vulnerable if some person of a criminal bent were to be lurking in the parking lot. Worse, what would prevent such a person from walking in to the unlocked building during the choir practice? On one occasion I was present in a student institute building when a mentally ill man entered and caused a ruckus, so I can only imagine how a group of sisters would feel if something like that happened to them, with no priesthood holder around. So, this policy seems rooted in a very practical concern for the physical safety of the sisters, and please don’t bring up the point that a priesthood holder has to be present even in a daytime meeting, because crimes can happen in broad daylight, too.

    This brings me to the points that Kristine and Kaimi have made. I believe, Kristine, that your points are very well made. I, too, have seen things in the nearly twenty-three years since my baptism, that I also would have done differently, and I agree that bringing up these issues in an appropriate way can help alleviate problems, errors, misunderstandings, etc. Still, Kaimi’s point is well taken that the danger arises when our focusing on the problems leads to emotions that can lead to apostasy, and of course not solve the original problem, either. Satan never sleeps, of course, and the New Testament statement that “Satan is an accuser of the brethren”, comes to mind. At what point does our desire and efforts to address what we see as errors degenerate into an attitude of “I’m right, they’re wrong”, and then apostasy? In my own experience I’ve seen a number of members that I’ve known personally fall into this trap. The key questions that I believe we should ask ourselves when we see a policy or procedure that we don’t like should be:

    1. Why so I think this policy is wrong? Are my reasons rational, or emotional in nature?

    2. Why do I wish to express my displeasure publicly? Is it because I sincerely want to help others, or is their some other reason?

    3. Will my bringing this issue up with others work to solve this, or could it have the opposite effect?

    4. Is this issue as important as I think it is? Will making this an issue somehow get in the way of more important issues?

    5. Do I love the people I am disagreeing with? Will I love them still, even if they don’t heed my concerns? Will I continue to love them, and pray for them, even if I feel their response is inadequate, or even just plain wrong?

    6. Do I love God? Will I remain true to His Church, even if this issue never gets resolved in my lifetime? Will I continue to sustain my leaders, even if I really don’t like them and their ways?

    7. Is it possible that my concerns are based on my own misunderstandings? COULD I BE THE ONE THAT IS WRONG? WILL I REMAIN FAITHFUL TO THE CHURCH EVEN IF I KNOW I’M RIGHT, AND MY LEADERS ARE WRONG?

    I have found myself in situations where a high councilman deliberately lied to me on an important matter; where a bishop gave doctrinal advice that, had I followed it, would have proved disastrous for me; where a journalistic investigation I was involved in turned up indisputable evidence that a former member of my stake presidency, while in the presidency, engaged in horrible criminal misconduct. Likewise, I am member of the only true and living church on this earth, even though it’s policy in the past concerning blacks was problematic (to say the least), and some of whose early leaders said things about Adam that I simply can’t agree with. The little question test I’ve shown above has always helped me, because it helps to me to focus on whether my opening my mouth to voice an objection is rooted in my concern for God anf His children, or if it’s all about just ME.

  8. Gordon Smith on March 18, 2004 at 2:04 pm

    Kristine, Your post has prompted me to ponder the question: what is the essence of LDS belief? Now that you know where I am headed, I hope you will indulge a short detour before I get back to that question …

    I don’t like the image of a “critical believer.” Criticism in its most detached sense might imply something like judgment or evaluation — which could be consistent with a belief in the thing being judged — but it usually connotes fault finding. In this instance, you find fault with the current structure of the Church. In short, you are not a believer in that structure. Thus, you are critical and you are a believer, but your criticism and your belief are directed at different targets.

    The implied assumption here is that the essential beliefs of a faithful Latter-day Saint are not tied to the current structure of the Church. Instead, a faithful Latter-day Saint believes in a set of doctrines that do not change as the structure changes: God lives, Jesus is the Christ, the Bible and the Book of Mormon are the word of God (with appropriate qualifications), etc.

    The tension here has its locus in another belief that I think is just as central to being a Latter-day Saint as the doctrines just mentioned, namely, the belief in continuing revelation. If I read Brent and other correctly, their belief in continuing revelation requires an attendant belief in the current structure. After all, if something were fundamentally amiss, the prophet would have fixed it already. In my view, this is roughly the equivalent to the old joke about the economist who denies that a $20 bill is lying on the sidewalk because someone would have picked it up already.

    Blacks and the priesthood, 18-month missions, prayer by women, etc. amply illustrate the need to recognize that many elements of the current structure are contingent — by which I mean “not eternal.” But the challenge is deeper than simply sorting “eternal” and “non-eternal” (which is, of course, not simple at all). You seem to be suggesting that we sort “inspired” from “uninspired” — or in some cases, “still inspired” from “no longer inspired.” If these are the right issues, it is perfectly predictable that we would reach consensus only over time.

    But I would take this a step further and suggest that much of what happens in Church government is not inspired by design. My belief in continuing revelation does not require a belief that all aspects of Church governance — from the items listed on tithing slips to the layout of modern temples — be equally inspired. In my view, God allows us to work a lot of stuff out for ourselves, using a combination of reason, experience, and faith. In the end, most of the decisions we make in the Church do not affect anyone’s eternal salvation, but the process by which we make them — and the relationships we develop and nurture in that process — are profoundly important.

  9. Randy on March 18, 2004 at 2:19 pm

    After reading these comments, I feel like I am in a bit of a quandry. I absolutely agree with Kristine that “faithful members have the obligation of trying to envision the Kingdom through the approximation provided by the Church.” At the same time, I completely identify with Adam’s statement that “I feel that I, more than the Church, am undergoing a process of revelation and change.” I’m not sure how we balance these two truths.

    To take the most obviously example: Were black men (before 1978) obligated to believe–to qualify as “faithful members”–that they: (1) were not entitled to receive the priesthood, (2) that they never would be entitled to receive the priesthood, and (3) that this limitation was divinely inspired? Or was it okay for them to believe (silently) they would someday receive the priesthood, provided that they kept that belief to themselves and did nothing to help move the church in that direction. Or was it okay for them to not only believe that this racial restriction was inconsistent with Christ’s teachings but to actually talk about why they felt that way with other members in a spirit of love and concern.

    I, like Adam, feel that I need to change more than the church does, but I sure hope that I can at least talk about my personal challenges and questions, even if they happen to run up against current practices/doctrine. (I also hope I don’t have to run Gary’s 7-part gauntlet before I even make semi-annonymous comments on a blog. Otherwise I’ll never make my way into the T&S top 10 commenters. ;) Alas, it is hopeless anyway.)

  10. Steve Evans on March 18, 2004 at 2:22 pm

    Gordon,

    Thanks for that post. I identify strongly with the ideas you’ve expressed. The element of your ideas that I find the most problematic is in correctly identifying aspects of the current structure that are contingent. Members who adamantly believe that a certain aspect of the church is temporary and contingent, and who turn out to be wrong, are bound for apostasy.

    Brent and others (though I wouldn’t speak for him) seem to be taking a very safe road, in that they don’t make any claims as to which elements of the church would be eternal/non-eternal. There is definite safety in that kind of conservatism. Perhaps a great deal of the friction among us on this vein results from where we draw the prenumbra of revelation in the church?

    Historically, however, hasn’t this Church shown us that almost ANY element of the structure is subject to change, no matter how fundamental the doctrine? Take for instance the marriage covenant prior to the revelation on polygamy. I believe, like you, that not all aspects of Church governance are equally inspired. How do you fit that in with the idea that the Lord could step in at any time and pre-empt a field? In this context, can an analogy be drawn to Federal/State interactions?

  11. Gary Cooper on March 18, 2004 at 2:27 pm

    Randy,

    I, too, am trying to get into the top 10 commentators, and find my test so…limiting. Okay, here’s point 8:

    8. If I choose to bring up my issues on a blog, it must always be T&S (or at least it should first go there), and I should always write interstingly, as well as charitably (no, “the G.A.’s just don’t care about world peace, and I’ll slaughter anyone who says otherwise!!”,…)

    also,

    9. I will search diligently for a way to get my spell check to work when I comment on T&S!

  12. Randy on March 18, 2004 at 2:54 pm

    Gordon/Steve,

    I suppose you are right that there is a real problem in identifying contingent structures. I think it is possible, though, to reach some _tentative_ conclusions about what these might be, while keeping in mind that God is in charge and that none of us (or at least none of us on this blog) have a full understanding of his plan.

    Thus, I think it possible for a faithful member to believe that, at some point, women will receive the priesthood. That person may ultimately be proven wrong . . . . whose to say. But where’s the crime in hoping. Of course, if one were to place a higher priority on women receiving the priesthood than on following the Lord’s plan, then serious problems seem inevitable. But I think there is a difference between hoping for a better future and holding your vision of that future in higher regard than God’s plan.

    I would express my own opinions on the subject of women in the priesthood, but I am still taking Gary’s, now extended, test. (My apologies for any misspellings.)

  13. Steve Evans on March 18, 2004 at 3:06 pm

    Randy: “But where’s the crime in hoping.”

    Ah, there’s the rub! In our Church, hoping for the wrong things too loudly gets you in a lot of hot water.

  14. Randy on March 18, 2004 at 3:16 pm

    I don’t advocate “hoping” in Sacrament Meeting, in Sunday School, or on a split with the missionaries, but what about hoping on a blog? What about hoping in a private conversation with your Bishop or your spouse? What about hoping in your journal? Are we really required to eradicate these types of thoughts from our minds completely in order to qualify as “faithful” members? Is that what we expected of black members 25 years ago?

  15. Dave on March 18, 2004 at 3:21 pm

    Kristine,

    I like the term “critical believer.” Obviously some read it to mean critical non-believer or even simply mudslinger. I would read it more generously to mean someone who doesn’t shrink from challenging and interesting doctrinal and historical questions (the kind that get talked about here regularly). And if it’s okay to think about them, it’s okay to discuss them.

    The fact that many leaders equate dissent with disloyalty, then further equate discussion with dissent, is unfortunate. That attitude fosters the kind of anti-intellectualism that is too visible in Mormon culture.

    As for structure, it’s interesting how unconcerned Protestants are about church structure. They see the Church Universal as a sort of mystical source of unity in the Christian Church, and view diversity of earthly churches, between denominations and over time, as no particular concern. For Mormons, the visible, institutional church is The Church, the Kingdom of God. The Church as an institution is venerated as a sort of earthly incarnation of God’s purposes. It leads many to get way too hung up on the details of church structure.

  16. Clark Goble on March 18, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    I personally don’t think they equate discussion to dissent. I do think they equate discussion that is *critical* of the leaders to dissent. It is one thing to point out what the structure is. It is quite an other I think to make the value judgment that the leaders are *wrong* to let the current structure persist. It is the difference between analysis and advocacy.

  17. Steve Evans on March 18, 2004 at 4:01 pm

    Clark, let me ask: does advocacy for structural change necessarily involve the positive assertion that “leaders are *wrong* to let the current structure persist”? That’s a possible inference whenever you suggest ANY change — and it’s certainly the way a lot of comments around here can be read — but it should be possible to want a different structure without calling the leaders into question, no?

    Wait, your comments were directed toward Protestantism’s views of dissent, I think. Never mind.

  18. Clark Goble on March 18, 2004 at 4:17 pm

    I think that “leaders of wrong” can follow naturally unless one is *very* careful about how one advocates structural change. This is what I think is missed by advocates and which leads them to accusations of anti-intellectualism, anti-free thought and so forth. Yet I think others looking at the issues who may even agree with much of the analysis look at the *how* of the discussion and see that as the problem.

    For instance I think this is clearly the case with the Toscanos. Further I think this can been seen historically through the entire history of the church. The “how” is much more important than it is in say academics.

  19. Randy on March 18, 2004 at 4:55 pm

    I don’t think anyone would deny that the “how” is important, even uniquely important, in discussing possible structural change in the church. Seems to me though that Kristine’s comments in response to Brent raise a more basic question–whether we can have those discussions (or even thoughts) at all. I am happy to move on to the question of how members ought to go about this, but I think many are still stuck on the more fundamental question of whether we can go there in the first place. Frankly, this preliminary question seems to be a recurring point of discussion around here. I think it would be helpful (at least to me) to thrash this out a bit.

  20. Clark Goble on March 18, 2004 at 5:01 pm

    I think the discussions are possible and indeed quite common.

    My point is more that those who think that the discussions are repressed or the like merely are not acknowledging the problem of the “how.” As I said, I think the events around church courts and the Toscanos are a great example.

  21. Randy on March 18, 2004 at 5:23 pm

    Clark,

    I suppose that’s true, but I think some believe you’ve broken the unwritten rules regarding “how” as soon as unorthodox words of any nature cross your lips, regardless of the context, tone, or sincerity of what’s said. I suppose I would be more sympathetic to the concerns of folks like Brent if their concerns were couched in terms of “how”. I’m happy to acknowledge the problem of how, if those on the other side will do more than simply ask me to be quiet.

  22. Julie in Austin on March 18, 2004 at 5:29 pm

    Gray Cooper–

    My hypothetical was, um, hypothetical, and I don’t really care about this issue.

    But now that you brought it up (grin), I have to ask: is there something inherent about the priesthood that creates the ability for you to physically protect those women? What if you were an octegenarian and the women meeting at the building were practicing tae kwon do?

    I would be suspicious of anyone claiming that we need one (any) priesthood holder to physically protect a (large?) group of women. I think the reason must be something other . . .

    Julie

  23. Clark Goble on March 18, 2004 at 5:35 pm

    But Randy, the fact *some* find something problematic seems different from saying it is generally considered dissident. If it takes but one objector to make something objectionable then clearly nearly everything is objectionable.

    What I fear is that some see some complaints as somehow being representative of the typical position or the position of those in authority. I don’t think that fair, which is why I tend to see charges of anti-intellectualism or related comments by some as so problematic.

  24. Matt J on March 18, 2004 at 5:40 pm

    To touch on someone’s earlier comment. Is it always inappropriate to think the leaders of the church may be wrong? Can we still sustain them as being called of God and yet think they are wrong on some point?

    There is a joke, “Catholics teach that the Pope is infallible, but most of them don’t believe he is. Mormons teach that their prophets are fallible, but most members believe that they’re not.” The general fallibility of our leaders is often mentioned, but it seems we’re not supposed to talk about what any specific fallicies may be.

    Don’t speak evil of the Lord’s anointed. What does it mean to speak evil of someone? Who is the Lord’s anointed other than Christ? Should we really be speaking evil of anyone?

    I’d add that I believe it’s possible to be a ‘critical believer’, but I would underscore the warnings others have given about rigorously checking our motives and conscience in such cases.

  25. Randy on March 18, 2004 at 6:08 pm

    Clark,

    I see where you are coming from (I think). Let me re-state what I think your point is in the event I’m missing something: The fact that Bro. Soandso has called Sis. Suchandsuch a dissident does not mean that she is in fact a dissident or that the church sees her as a dissident. Assuming that is your point, I agree. But let’s face it–it’s not very fun to be accused of being unfaithful, even if the person doing it does not speak on behalf of the church. Further, I think it goes without saying that there are, in fact, members who are use the charge of “dissident!” to squelch discussion of views they oppose. The fact that the church does not take that position doesn’t make it any less annoying to face the accusation. Moreover, unless I have missed something, no one in this thread (as near as I can tell) has charged The Church with “anti-intellectualism.” As such, your comments seem to me to be a diversion from the real issue.

  26. Gary Cooper on March 18, 2004 at 6:15 pm

    Jane in Austin,

    Actually, (grin) the octogenarian priestholder you refer to in your example would actually prove my point about defending the sisters. Because he would be elderly, a criminal entering the church building would perceive him as an easier target than the sisters in the Tae Kwan Do class, so he would attack the octogenarian. In this way the sisters would be protected by the priesthood. (Grin) Okay, so maybe the way this policy gets implemented from stake to stake may not be very consistent, or what the brethren had in mind, but I think this particular policy is still practical, and a good one. Now, as for sending the Aaronic Priesthood holders out door-to-door to shake even the inactive members down for fast offerings…Oh, sorry, thinking out loud there, hope that passes by 7-8-9 point “gauntlet” in my earlier thread!

  27. clark on March 18, 2004 at 6:24 pm

    I confess I don’t see how I’m missing the key point. Perhaps I am. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. But now I’m left with a question in my mind of what the point is. Can we have these discussions? Obviously I think we can. (Indeed aren’t we right now?) Can we have these kinds of discussions without some people overreacting? Probably not. It’s part of the way humans are. My answer is to not worry about silly radicals of any stripe. No matter what you do you’ll offend someone. Heaven knows I do without intending it. I’ve been accused of being condescending more than once, for instance. I think it typically is a misunderstanding. But its not like I let it bother me.

    I guess my question is, why do you care what some minority think of you? And do you really think you can ever have everyone praise your questioning?

  28. Dave on March 18, 2004 at 6:38 pm

    Two or three people have tried the “yes, it’s okay to think and discuss, but if you come to a non-orthodox conclusion you need to rigorously check your motives and conscience” argument. That’s just infallibility restated, suggesting the Church is always right so you can either agree or be wrong. So why think and reason? It can only lead to trouble. Infallibility leads quickly to anti-intellectualism. That’s an odd position to advocate in an open discussion forum.

    As for checking motives and self-examination, that is incumbent upon us all, whether under the rubric “know thyself” or “there just might be a beam in mine own eye, too.” Try these contexts for examination of motives: Check carefully the motives of those seeking to join the Church. Check carefully the motives of those accepting leadership callings. Check carefully the motives of those having seven kids and wanting an eighth. See? Looking critically and ungenerously on another’s motives is just a not-so-clever way to cast unwarranted suspicion on another person or unwelcome ideas.

    Seeking enlightenment or knowledge is generally what motivates thinking and discussion. On the scale of motivational purity, it stacks up pretty well against other activities. It cuts in favor of, not against, reasoned discussion.

  29. Randy on March 18, 2004 at 7:35 pm

    Clark,

    I should have been more clear. The diversion I was referencing concerned your suggestion that charges of anti-intellectualism against an individual are often held out as evidence of anti-intellectualism on behalf of the church. While perhaps true of others, I don’t think that is true of anyone on this blog. Indeed, it seems to me that the better argument (often made on this blog) is the exactly the reverse: “The church tolerates and even encourages sincere questioning [provided you comply with the “how” rules], so why don’t you?”

  30. Clark Goble on March 18, 2004 at 8:21 pm

    Randy, you are right that I was speaking more broadly than just here on this blog. (But then I thought the topic was our encounters in the church at large and not here — I certainly use a far different rhetoric while at church)

    The problem is that there are few formal “how” rules. (I think that was what you were getting at) Such “how” issues are more a social phenomena which one must learn as one engages ones particular audience. Clearly the “how” appropriate here is different from the “how” appropriate at Sunday School.

    But perhaps I truly am lost and have missed the point of the discussion. Could you state in a short couple of sentences what you think the issue at hand is?

    Dave, I’m not convinced that the motive for thinking and discussion is just knowledge. I think power is a much more frequent motive – even if we are sometimes unaware of it. Heavens, I suspect we’ve all been engaged in discussions where “winning” becomes the important goal even if we aren’t aware that this is what we’re doing. Looking back at some discussions I’ve had in the past, I see that in myself. It is something I try and be aware of and avoid.

    I think that when politics enters in then power definitely becomes more of an issue than knowledge. Advocacy rarely is concerned with knowledge but most times with power and its exercise. So when we move from inquiry (knowledge) to advocacy (power) we must truly be careful about our motives.

    And yes, I recognize that sometimes the distinction is unclear even among the most pure in heart.

  31. Dave on March 18, 2004 at 9:06 pm

    Clark,

    I think this is the wrong forum to argue that mere advocacy undermines the search for truth. Legal process, really quite concerned with particular truth in specific factual contexts, finds that advocacy is the essential ingredient to establishing facts and pragmatically just outcomes. Science employs a different vocabulary and is less willing to recognize the existence of advocacy in the academy, but plainly scientists defend their own theories and criticize others. That’s what happens at conferences and with the peer review process for journal publication. That’s latent advocacy, thousands of pro se scientists arguing their individual cases to their peers.

    Any organization that energetically supresses discussion, debate, dissent, and advocacy will lose its ability to root out false ideas and theories. Energetic discussion and even harsh dissent play a more positive role than is generally recognized.

    I’m no harsh dissenter. A gentle discussant, perhaps. And I’m pretty sure we actually think the same way on this issue because we are close neighbors on the Political Compass quiz so I know you are no authoritarian leftie.

  32. Clark Goble on March 18, 2004 at 10:42 pm

    I don’t think I was arguing that advocacy *undermines* the search for truth. Rather that the motivation for advocacy is not the search for truth. Subtle, but important distinction. Indeed if advocacy/power are considered, they become an important part of the makeup of truth.

    What I reject is the idea that somehow the quest for truth is *independent* of the quest for power. Yet it is the issue of power and influence that is, I think, the fundamental issue of conflict.

    The problem is that some say they are only searching for knowledge when that clearly is never the case. It is always a complex interplay and conflict of power.

    As you say, science is a great example of power and truth. The inherent debate style of learning in science entails that “truth” take place on a stage of power and the competition inherent within different actors each exercising power.

    The problem is, of course, that power never is solely “for truth.” It always has other plays, other interactions. And thus *those* can always affect the overall interactions. Yet it is just those battles of power that are overlooked or even repressed in these discussions.

    Energetic discussion and harsh dissent to play a positive role. But if we are to embrace those then we can not *exclude* the other side of those plays. i.e. harsh dissent leads to harsh reaction. If we are to analyze in terms of power then we can not simultaneously ignore the fact that power can not be limited to mere discourse. Even in Universities, politics arise because of power relations. The search for truth always entails alliances, battles, and “sides.” Yet in a religious avenue how will such matters be manifest?

    If knowledge is power, then perhaps paraphrasing Clauswitz, we are faced with a war of power which is diplomacy by other means?

    I don’t want to tie this into practical applications. Merely to acknowledge that those who attempt to hide these aspects of power hide what is *always* part of the quest for knowledge.

  33. Adam Greenwood on March 19, 2004 at 4:40 pm

    Dave,
    If we’re to no more second guess ourselves when we disagree with Church leaders or with the consensus of the Saints then we do when we disagree with our friend Parley, then why have an organization at all? What’s the point? You seem reduced to the antinomianism of the protestant Levelers.

  34. Stephen on March 21, 2004 at 10:31 pm

    I actually wrote an essay on this, a long time ago, before I really understood html.

    It is at http://adrr.com/living/ss_5.htm

    Sheesh, it was written in 1996.

    Anyway, nice to see how blogging makes everything old new again.

    I need to visit more often.

  35. David on January 7, 2005 at 8:01 pm

    I see the last post in this thread was made more than 10 months ago. I only just two days ago discovered Times and Seasons and, though I’m really just a country boy who, because of the stupidy and ignorance that are universal characteristics of country boys, voted for George Bush, I do feel compelled to add my own two cents to this thread.

    First as to:

    “The remarkable and faith-promoting part of this story is that God does sometimes (astonishingly often, really) manage to work with flawed human beings to accomplish his work.”

    “ASTONISHINGLY often”??? “Astonishingly OFTEN”??? I am astonished that you are astonished by this. How ’bout always. Well, almost always. ‘Cept when the Savior hisself takes a direct hand in the administration of the Church, he ALWAYS works through flawed individuals. This is because, I think anyhow, ALL of Heavenly Father’s spirit children currently walking the earth are flawed, probably even includin’ , General and other Priesthood Authorities. It’s my understandin’ that it also includes the women of the Church, though as a group I am convinced that they are less flawed than the men. I recall a young missionary assigned to our ward several years ago. He once told me that he had recently been in a debate with a Sister missionary. She explained to him that the reason men have the Priesthood and women don’t is because women don’t need it. The Elder said that what hurt the most was that when she said this, the Spirit testified to him that it was true.

    It’s curious that you include the 1978 revelation regarding the Priesthood in your examples of “bureaucratic changes” in the Church. I know I could be very wrong and I apologize if I am misreading you, but you seem to be implying that this was a correction of a previously flawed policy that wasn’t really based on revelation.

    When I moved into my current ward way back in 1974, (note that this was 4 years before the 1978 revelation) I was assigned a Home Teaching companion that had served a mission in Brazil in the 1960s. The issue of blacks and the Priesthood once came up in one of our conversations. He told me that he knew a black man in Brazil who was a member of the Church, and that he (my HT companion) was present when then ELDER Spencer W. Kimball informed the man that within his own lifetime he would receive the Priesthood. I remember this clearly because when I was a student at Arizona State University in the late 1960s, the Black Student Union boycotted and picketed all athletic events that included BYU, and I had a black roommate with whom I was good friends. So the issue of blacks and the Priesthood was very important to me.

    This qoute from The Official Declaration 2 at the end of the D&C
    is worthy of note:

    “Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood, and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.”

    Sounds to me as if this change was long expected and therefore probably doesn’t fall into the category of bureaucratic change. And it seems clear that the policy of excluding African Blacks from the Priesthood was part of Heavenly Father’s divine plan, to be changed when Heavenly Father saw fit to change it. Of course your belief in this statement depends upon whether or not you accept Spencer W. Kimball as a Prophet of God.

    Though a lifelong member of the Church I had never heard about women giving blessings (except in extraordinary circumstances) and setting each other apart. Could you point me to some sources so I can learn about that? (I already know how things are done in the Temple so you can disregard that as a source).

    Some of the changes you mentioned, such as the creation of Assistants to the Twelve, and the reorganization of the Seventies, I think have more to do with the growth of the Church than with some sort of tinkering.

    But, alas, you are right, the General Authorities are undoubtedly flawed, and just as soon as I eliminate all of my own flaws (some of which are quite severe) I’m going to go up there to SLC, the Holy City as some call it, and explain to them the right way to run the Church. BTW, one of my more minor flaws is a strong tendency towards sarcasm. I hope y’all can cut me some slack on that.

    In post #5 Adam uses the phrase:
    “(a more forthright and explicitly political stance on gay marriage and abortion…).
    Adam, as I said, I’m just a country boy who is so dense that “nuance” is often lost on me (probably why I voted for Dubya, we’re so much alike) but it seems to me yore bein’ sarcastic. I caint really see how much more forthright ‘n explicit those boys up there in the Holy City can get on these subjects. This here notion of re-emphasizin our Pioneer heritage, well, I jes don’t know ’bout that. I get MY Country Boy credentials from Luziana and East Texas, Cajun country.

    David (but you can call me Dave, or Big Daddy, that’s what most people call me…has somethin’ to do with my body mass to body surface ratio.)