To X or not to X . . .

January 3, 2005 | 38 comments
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Yesterday, a new policy for our ward was announced. Let’s call it policy X. It was made clear that X came from the stake president, directly from training by a member of the seventy. I think X is a bad idea.

I’m not telling you what X is (and if Ivan Wolfe or any other Austinite knows, they need to keep it to themselves). I am not interested in debating the merits of X. I want to talk about how I should approach this issue.

–Do not support X, since I can give you a half dozen reasons why it is a bad policy and will have a detrimental impact on the ward.

–Do support X, because our file leaders support it, despite my own thoughts.

The struggle between obedience and reason is an age-old one. Would I have been one of the gourds (oops, sorry, too many VeggieTales around here) Hebrews telling Joshua what a foolish notion it was to march around the city walls and blow horns? Would I have been Peter crinkling my nose at Mary’s foolish, illogical tale of a moved stone? Maybe much, much good will come of this policy, things I can’t even imagine. Have a little faith, Sister Smith.

On the other hand, I believe our leaders are fallible. Perhaps this policy really isn’t a good idea, isn’t inspired, and won’t ‘all work out in the end.’ If that’s the case, should I follow it? Does God want us to act contrary to our reason? If “the thought makes reason stare,” should we pursue it?

38 Responses to To X or not to X . . .

  1. danithew on January 3, 2005 at 2:57 pm

    I don’t think I could express support or lack of support for a random policy, solely on the basis of whether or not it was issued by a church leader or group of church leaders. In general, I think church leaders are good people who are nevertheless fallible. The content of the policy does matter. If I had a church leader state a policy I found questionable, I’d want to pray about it.

  2. Kaimi on January 3, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    Julie,

    I don’t think you were yet around when Greg examined the meaning of “makes reason stare.” The post is worth checking out — it’s at http://www.timesandseasons.org/wp/index.php?p=95

  3. Rosalynde Welch on January 3, 2005 at 3:04 pm

    This is an interesting exercise, Julie, without the specifics in which to mire oneself. In my view, God occasionally does require action contrary to reason–or contrary to our own reason, at least; if God delivered the edict to you in person, I expect you wouldn’t have much trouble with it. The question, as you point out, is whether the policy really does have its origins in the divine will.

    Much depends on issues of stewardship and jurisdiction, I think: if the policy requires merely personal behavior, then I think you are clearly entitled, in that jurisdiction, to seek your own answer. But if the policy requires you to change the way you perform your calling, or the way you participate in group worship–that is, if the matter falls under the jurisdiction of public worship, over which local leaders have authority–then I think your duty is first to obedience. But it need not be blind or unqualified obedience: if, after discussion with your bishop and others, your objections remain, I think it could be appropriate indicate to your bishop that you will not abide by the policy, but that you will not attempt to incite insurrection among the congregation.

  4. a random John on January 3, 2005 at 3:11 pm

    It was common practice on my mission for the APs and Zone Leaders to announce a policy and claim that it came from the President who got it from training from the Area Presidency. As it turned out, the APs were just making stuff up and it make it harder to argue with them when they claimed that the idea was the president’s. I am not saying that your bishop is doing this, but things of this nature do happen. Also misinterpretation occurs as well as an idea gets transmitted.

    I hope that the policy is revealed at some point.

  5. greenfrog on January 3, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    Does the question boil down to: Does the harm associated with disrupting the community outweigh the harm resulting from cooperating in a bad idea? If it does, I don’t think it can reasonably be answered without the specific weightings associated with the specific facts.

  6. Kevin Barney on January 3, 2005 at 3:14 pm

    I don’t think it’s possible to effectively answer the question in the abstract without knowledge of what the specific policy is. Knowing that the policy was instituted by the SP at the behest of 70 training, and that you think it is a bad idea, are simply not enough facts. I might support policy Y, even though I thought it was a bad idea, and I might not support policy Z that I thought was a bad idea. It would depend on how innocuous the bad idea is, what the perceived danger of the policy is to the ward, how it would affect me and my family, all sorts of factors.

  7. lyle on January 3, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    Julie: I like your approach. As a few point out, w/o specifics…they won’t opine. Yet, that is the point. Only the individual (in this case you) needs the specifics. For everyone else, this is an abstract question unless we fill it in with our own “X” (if such exists). Or is your post a double entendre on how we’ve been askednot to/some folks think it disloyal to, openly criticize church policies?

  8. LoneWriter on January 3, 2005 at 3:22 pm

    I always refer to the scriptures in a case like this. Does the policy violate a specific scripture? Does it enhance the meaning of a scripture, or support the goals of the Church (proclaim the gospel, perfect the saints, redeem the dead.)

    I’ve been known to talk personally with a bishop if I think a policy is un-inspired. This hasn’t happened often, but when it has I feel better at the end of the discussion no matter what the final decision is.

    I have been on our Ward Council for the last two years. I can’t imagine any policy being implemented without being run past the Priesthood Executive Committee and the Ward Council first. I don’t know about your ward, but our Ward Council is very vocal and frequently remind the bishop (who is very young) how a particular policy may impact the ward members.

  9. Charles on January 3, 2005 at 3:22 pm

    One of the things I’ve learned about leadership, in and out of the church, is that whoever is in charge, Bishop, President, Captain, etc makes the decision based on their best information (hopefully). If a counselor or someone disagrees the in charge should listen to counsel and then decide but once the decision is made, they should provide thier best support.

    Dissent in some cases should be kept private and a unified front given.

    With that being said, I can testify of my own leaders asking for things that didn’t make sense at the time. Later we found how those actions really helped to bring others to Christ.

    The last insight I can offer is this, if you don’t support X, will it fail because you didn’t support it, or will it fail even if everyone gives it a good show?

  10. Ethesis (Stephen M) on January 3, 2005 at 3:25 pm

    Last time I saw one of those policies, everyone got disciplined when Salt Lake found out about it.

    Of course they had dressed it up as a “First Presidency statement on X” so ….

  11. danithew on January 3, 2005 at 3:26 pm

    Part of my feelings with specifics is that it would give us a sense of how reasonable or quirky the policy might be. It is interesting that there is a partial isnad (chain of transmitters) here — that is, we hear that the policy was handed down from one of the seventies to the stake presidency to your ward’s bishopbric. Is it assumed that the chain of transmitters continues onwards and upwards through the Quorum of the Twelve, the First Presidency and the Lord?

  12. Stephen Hardy on January 3, 2005 at 3:37 pm

    A few years ago my ward started having “huddles”. These huddles refered to a very brief meeting right after PEC/Welfare meeting, or whatever meeting occured just before church started. A huddle was a ten minute meeting where missionary work was discussed. The huddles were attended by one member of every quorum or auxiliary, and were an opporunity to discuss missionary work. For example, the missionaries would say: “We are bringing an investigator family today” The primary would ask whether there were primary-aged children involved. If so, some quick assignments would be made. The EQ president would learn something about the father…etc. These meetings were called huddles because they “had” to take place standing up. The theory is that this would be a highly efficient and brief (because we were standing) missionary coordination meeting. These meetings were called for by our mission president who told us that he was requiring it based on a discussion with general authorities.. blah blah blah.

    We did these for about a month, and I watched as everyone involved talked about what a great idea the meeting was, how efficient it was, how exciting it was to do this new “inspired” thing. I missed church one week, and the next week, after PEC I watched everyone leaving the room. “What about the huddle?” I asked. Following this question was one of those awkward silences and I was pulled aside by our ward mission leader and was told that we don’t do huddles anymore. Our area presidency didn’t like them. “Anyways”, the mission leader told me, “we all hated those huddles. They didn’t accomplish anything.”

    This is a short but “true” (it really happened) example of how policies get kicked around. The very people who bore witness to its inspired nature were quick to run it down once it became forbidden. (For me, such micro-management by our authorities always annoys me, whether the ideas are good or not. How dare they tell us to have another meeting… and how dare they tell us not to!)

    I have been asked to follow and at time help implement policies/ideas that really rub me wrong. I usually do one of the following:

    (1) I go ahead and do it. We are all programed to understand that we are spiritual peons and that when we do something “blindly” we may learn from it. “I know not… save the Lord commanded me…” And of course it works… I often have found value in doing something that I didn’t want to do. This doesn’t mean that the ideas is necessarily inspired, it speaks more to our willingness and determination to find meaning even when it may not be there.

    (2) I quietly don’t do it. When a program/idea rubs me wrong, it isn’t hard to find others who feel similarly. I have seen many ideas wither and die simply because nobody (expect the Stake President) thought that the ideas had merit. I can think of lots of ideas that I was asked to help implement, but which never got off the ground. Just do some good home teaching or something, and no-one will ever notice that you aren’t doing some other thing.

    (3) On rare, rare, rare, occasions I will openly contest the idea. I will usually do this individually with the bishop. I am non-confrontational to a fault, and I would never openly contest a lousy idea in a meeting. I would try to make my point privately, but early on, before a bunch of people start bearing witness to its truth.

    I can think of examples on all of these, but I think this reponse is long enough.

  13. The Only True and Living Nathan on January 3, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    Julie,

    Bits and pieces of my forthcoming comment can be seen in several preceding ones, but you should read mine too because I’m cute.

    Given the dearth of information on the actual Policy X, here are some questions that run through my mind before I can say what I’d do:

    – Is this a policy that oversteps the bounds of authority? (E.g., is someone instituting a “policy” that every member should pray before taking a bath or a shower?)

    – Is this a policy relating to organizational behavior, or individual behavior? (E.g., are we all getting together in the cultural hall to build an ark, or are all home teachers instructed to deliver at least one call to repentance at every home?)

    – Is your objection to it one of doctrinal/moral opposition, or a perception of the policy as ineffecient or wasteful of time and resources?

    – Have you spoken to the Bishop or the Stake President, voicing your concerns?

    – Have you prayed?

  14. Ivan Wolfe on January 3, 2005 at 4:09 pm

    Julie –

    I am in the same dilemma. I think I can guess what X is, but per your request, I’ll keep quiet on the specifics.

    My own natural instinct is to rebel against this type of thing, especially if seems like a really bad idea. However, I try to practice humility and realize that my natural instinct might be an aspect of my “natural man” which is an enemy to God.

    So, in the end, unless I am “totally 100% absolutely no doubt whatsoever” sure this will damage my spirituality and harm my family, I try to give the leaders the benefit of the doubt and at least try the program being proffered.

  15. Lisa F. on January 3, 2005 at 4:14 pm

    Amen, amen to Stephen Hardy’s comment above. Those are my three alternatives as well. I almost always just try it out and pray for my heart to be right and in tune. But sometimes, you just have to quietly do your own thing.

  16. Ebenezer on January 3, 2005 at 5:23 pm

    “What the hell is Moses thinking! This brazen serpent policy is not just inane, it’s dangerous. These people need medical help, and he just keeps telling them to look toward his stupid bronze snake! I mean, people are dying here! I’m all for following inspired programs from our prophet, but Moses is fallible after all–actually I heard he once murdered some Egyptian guy…oh and what about that whole thing with his wife having to circumcising their son!. Actually I think his brother is really running the show, after all he does all he talking. And what about his father-in-law and the whole hierarchical leadership system–I mean, it’s a good system, but is it inspired?” :-)

    Isaiah 50:10 Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that
    obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and
    hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay
    upon his God.

    Isaiah 50:11 Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass
    yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and
    in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine
    hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.

  17. danithew on January 3, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    Ebenezer,

    I liked that rejoinder. It’s realistic and funny at the same time. Nice work. :)

  18. danithew on January 3, 2005 at 5:40 pm

    Ebenezer,

    The only addendum I’d add to your point is that its concerning Moses, who was a prophet. To question a policy presented by a ward leader is a bit different from questioning a directive from the prophet. There’s more of a possibility that a ward leader could/would steer you wrong, in my estimation.

  19. J. Stout on January 3, 2005 at 5:41 pm

    Ebby!

    Moses was not a Stake President. ;)

  20. Nate Oman on January 3, 2005 at 6:07 pm

    Depending on the policy, it seems to me that the answer to Julie’s question may be, “It doesn’t matter much.” The reason I say this is that the word “support” is pretty ambigious. What does this mean in operational terms? Now obviously, if the policy requires you to do something then there is real substance to the question of whether or not you should support it. On the other hand, if the policy is merely something implimented by others that you observe, then support really has three potential meanings: (1) refraining from active opposition to policy X; (2) mentally assenting to the idea that policy X is a good idea; or, (3) actively working to convince others that policy X is a good idea.

    If we assume that policy X makes no direct demands on your behavior, then I would suggest that you are not required to do (3). I would also suggest that (1) is a bad idea. There are two reasons. First, as a practical matter those who actively oppose Church policies when they are not called to a decision making position almost always lose. Second, such opposition creates real questions of obedience and loyalty.

    So really this leaves (2). I tend to think that whether we do or don’t do (2) doesn’t really matter all that much. Generally speaking, if I think that some Church policy with which I am not involved and over which I have no legitimate influence is a bad idea, I tend to continue to think that it is a bad idea. Hence, I think that if you believe policy X is a bad idea, by all means you should “not support” policy X if by “not support” you mean “believe that policy X is a bad idea.” The question then becomes, how much time and effort do you want to put into not supporting policy X in this sense. I tend to confine my non-support to caustic remarks muttered to my wife under my breath in Sunday school. Then I go back to reading my book…

  21. Ebenezer on January 3, 2005 at 6:09 pm

    I’ve had this discussion before, so I won’t rehash the whole thing. I’ll just quote from my thoughts after the last iteration of this discussion:

    There is an appropriate process for responding to such a situation. Depending on the degree of incorrectness, you may want to approach the Bishop in private and present your disagreement directly to him. Most bishops will be more than ready to consider your concerns and work with you to address them.

    If the Bishop continues to insist that you comply with him you can respond in one of two ways. You can either comply with the bishop’s requirements or you can appeal to higher church authority. Whether you decide to comply or appeal depends on the degree of incorrectness. If the bishop has instituted a ward program that you feel will be counter productive, you may be more inclined to comply, and let the Bishop take the responsibility before the Lord for the mismanagement of his stewardship. If, on the other hand, the Bishop makes your temple worthiness dependent on compliance, or if he is preaching false doctrine &ct., you should definitely appeal to higher authority.

    When you appeal to the Stake President, he will either uphold the Bishop or correct him. If the Stake President upholds the Bishop, you can either comply or continue to appeal to higher church authorities. At some point either a compromise will be made by the higher church authorities, the bishop will be corrected, or you will decide that he has been upheld by a high enough authority to comply.

    This system of appeal to higher church authority provides significant protection against human weakness in local leadership.

    The system of appeal to higher church authority translates every instance of disagreement with local authorities into a potential disagreement with general authorities, and possibly even with the apostles or prophet. When we appeal to higher church authority, all conflicts with local authorities are either resolved by correction from above, or become disagreements with the authorities that must then be appealed to even higher authorities.

    With that in mind, avoiding appeal to higher church authority and advocating, instead, disobedience to local leaders appears to be a way to mask this disagreement with, or at least lack of faith in, the general authorities of the Church. Why ignore appeal to authority unless you doubt that the higher authorities will be inspired in the matter? If you do not have faith in the general leadership of the church, then it is logical to turn instead to disobedience. And besides, defying your bishop is far more acceptable in church culture than is defying the general authorities.

  22. Nate Oman on January 3, 2005 at 6:12 pm

    BTW, I apologize if my last comment came across as dismissive. That is not my intention. My only point is that operationally these questions are frequently less important than we think they are. That is all.

  23. John H on January 3, 2005 at 6:18 pm

    Whenever the “obedience vs. agency” thread appears, I immediately think of an exercise teachers were asked to do at the MTC in the early 80s. One teacher told his story: He was instructed in Gospel Doctrine to tell the missionaries that because of a policy change, friends and family would no longer be allowed to say goodbye at the airport as they left for the field. After informing the missionaries, one elder asked if an exception could be made, since his non-member parents had already flown into town to see him leave later that week. The teacher said there would be no exceptions. He was met with anger and grief; many missionaries cried. He announced the rest of the exercise – that it was just a test of the missionaries’ obedience. The missionaries didn’t think it was much of a test. After a few teachers complained, the exercise was done away with very shortly after it appeared.

    It seems that antecdotes like this, coupled with plenty of examples from Church history of dissent and division among the Brethren and members, leave plenty of room for doubt about how “inspired” a policy is. Therefore, it seems that any arguments in favor of “obedience always” must be done by taking a “lesser evils” approach or utilitarian approach. Just as it would be foolish to argue that history proves that nothing is inspired and never works out, I think it is equally naive to ignore those times when things don’t work out.

    I say this because these posts always seem to go in the same direction. Someone invariably posts an antecdote about how horrible an idea was and how it didn’t work out in the end, despite the good faith of others. Then there’s the inevitable retort, filled with stories about people doing something they didn’t understand but it later turning out to be a great thing. (Or you can reverse the order – good antecdote is followed by bad antecdote.)

    Then there’s the tug of war about whether we’ll be blessed for following our leaders or looked down on by the Almighty for not using the agency He gave us. This is all well and good, but it seems that those arguing for “obedience only” tend to do so by trying to prove that everything is inspired, and if it doesn’t go right, we’re just not doing it right or aren’t following instructions or some other convenient excuse for why a policy in the Church failed.

  24. John H on January 3, 2005 at 6:26 pm

    FWIW, I also tend to agree with Nate. Many a time I’ve worked myself up over something that really didn’t affect me. Emily (my lovely wife) would say, “Why does this bother you? Nobody’s said anything to you, and it doesn’t even impact you!” I’m reduced to stammering something like, “Well, it’s…it’s just the principle of the thing!”

    Sometimes the principle of the thing is worth getting worked up over; most of the time, we just need to pick our battles better.

  25. Ebenezer on January 3, 2005 at 6:34 pm

    “it seems that those arguing for “obedience onlyâ€? tend to do so by trying to prove that everything is inspired, and if it doesn’t go right, we’re just not doing it right or aren’t following instructions or some other convenient excuse for why a policy in the Church failed.”

    I don’t think that those of us who advocate obedience are under any illusion that all church policies are “inspired.” I head Elder Ballard say that the “commitment pattern” was not an inspired program with my own ears.

    Additionally, with our limited view of things, and lack of stewardship, I don’t think that we are either qualified, or authorized to judge whether or not a program has failed. That determination presupposes that we know of all of the long and sort term consequences of the action. It also assumes that we know what end result God has in mind when he offers a spiritual prompting.

    While, at times, members and leaders mistake uninspired feelings or thoughts for promptings, it is not for us to serve judgment by our own evaluation of their success or failure. Perhaps their so-called promptings are not. But it is equally possible that our so-called failure is not.

    Again from my past thoughts on this subject:

    I have a very close friend who was called to do a specific task in his ward. He prayed that the Lord would inspire him and followed the promptings of the spirit as best as he was able. In the end, the assignment he was given ended up, in his own evaluation, a complete mess. Nothing went right. He had failed. He prayed and asked the Lord why, if he had followed the spirit and done his best, everything had turned out so terribly.

    A night or two later he had a dream. In this dream he was called into the office of the prophet to be interviewed and to give an account of his stewardship. He sat across the desk from the prophet, who looked him sharply in the eye and asked him about the assignment he had received. My friend hung his head in shame and reported to the prophet that he had been a complete failure and that he had not fulfilled what he had been called to do.

    The prophet then admonished him. He told him that he was incorrect to suppose he knew the Lord’s purpose in extending that calling to him and in supposing that he knew what result the Lord expected. The Lord defines success and failure, not us. My friend awoke. This dream had a profound effect upon him for the rest of his life.

    By worldly standards, it would have been easy to judge the ministry of Jesus Christ a catastrophe: He followed the so-called spirit and submitted to God’s so-called will and what happened? A good portion of his followers deserted him. He was taken, beaten, and killed like a common thief. His church broke into factions and its leaders were all killed.

  26. Katherine on January 3, 2005 at 6:50 pm

    I second comment #3. Rosalynde defined my opinion better than I could have.

  27. David King Landrith on January 3, 2005 at 7:10 pm

    In my experience, most people object to policies more out of pride than out of compassion or concern—they simply think that they know best. (Geeze, if I had my way, I’d excommunicate at least 2 or 3 hundred of the Mormons I’ve met in the last 20 years, but you won’t hear me complaining.)

    That said, chances are you’re making a big deal out of nothing. The fellowship that exists between members of a ward is durable enough to make it through all but the very worst policy.

    If the policy is so very bad, then the consequences will bear that out. But perhaps you’ll be surprised. In the meantime, you won’t score any brownie points in heaven for “civil disobedience.”

  28. John H on January 3, 2005 at 7:18 pm

    Ebenezer:

    I appreciate your comments. I wasn’t suggesting that anyone who advocates obedience automatically assumes everything in Mormonism is inspired (though I realize I came across that way). But I do think there’s a lot of hedging that goes on, and this statement from you seems to do just that:

    “Additionally, with our limited view of things, and lack of stewardship, I don’t think that we are either qualified, or authorized to judge whether or not a program has failed.”

    On the one hand, I absolutely agree. We’re too quick to judge in all things (not just the Church) when we have a limited understanding. But on the other hand, it seems like there’s plenty of times when we can judge whether a policy is a success or a failure. Most people afraid to do it in terms of our government or even our employment – why are we afraid to do it with the Church? For example, I think we have enough information and evidence at our disposal to determine that the brief policy change resulting in 18 month missions was a failure. It didn’t work and so they switched it back.

  29. Bryce I on January 3, 2005 at 9:54 pm

    Seeing the words “policy” and “inspired” in the same sentence always makes me giggle a bit. In my experience, inspiration doesn’t often manifest itself directly on the level of policy. That’s why the church play-tests a lot of its policies — you hear rumors of the ward where they’re experimenting with doing away with the Sunday School hour of the block, for example. If we had inspired leaders, why wouldn’t they just do away with it if they thought it was a good idea?

    Of course (at least in my view) we do have inspired leaders. That doesn’t mean they can’t produce have bad policies.

    Setting aside the issue of faith and inspiration, there’s a strong argument for supporting your local leadership and actively working to implement their policies and to make them as successful as possible. In an all-volunteer organization, the leadership has relatively little leverage over the rest of the group. Without more or less unqualified support, it can be difficult to get anything done. If everyone in the organization picks and chooses what policies they will support and implement, not much will happen.

    That’s one reason I really like the fact that we get to affirmatively offer our sustaining vote on callings in the church — everyone’s success depends crucially on the support of everyone else. Sure, we’ll make mistakes. There’s a deliberative process designed to weed out the worst ideas, and that’s the time to make most dissenting opinions heard. Not everyone is a party to these discussions, I understand, but at some point at least three people have heard the idea and have checked off on it.

    When a policy comes to the implementation phase, if the policy doesn’t grossly violate some principle of Church doctrine, you have a choice to help it succeed or help it fail. Why would anyone choose to help a policy fail? Give it a chance, and have faith that the leadership will be inspired enough to recognize a bad policy even when it is implemented by well-meaning people. We should be honest enough to offer our leaders the opportunity to evaluate their policies based on the good-faith efforts of the membership, however, and not on some half-hearted or even oppositional effort.

  30. Martin James on January 4, 2005 at 12:22 am

    You have set this up solely as a choice between your own thoughts and opinions and the direction of church leaders.

    If one only did what one thought was right, what would be the point of belonging to a church with a hierarchy?

  31. Pink Floyd on January 4, 2005 at 10:59 am

    Or raising your hand to sustain them?

  32. Jim Richins on January 4, 2005 at 11:51 am

    Without knowing the specifics of X and how far into the left field of apostasy it falls, I would have to default to the “blind-obedience-and-have-faith” side of the equation. If the policy really is flawed, it will die off on its own, anyway. If it is some wild conception dreamed up by a local leader, and is only justifiable by claiming the authority of the Seventy, then let natural selection take it’s course. If it is a bad idea, but takes hold and looks like it is going to spread to neighboring wards, and eventually stakes, then maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

    As a side note, with the dissolution of Area Presidencies, Stake Presidencies now have increased responsibility and authority. Thus, in the future, the act of claiming the authority of a Seventy as someone superior to a Stake President might begin to carry less weight.

    I recognize that my qualified position for obedience as opposed to agency is itself an expression of agency. If I knew that X was so terrible, then maybe I would be arguing the opposite side of the question. So, ultimately, it comes down to individual choice and accountability. As with all things in the Church, we *choose* to support or not. As for myself, I have chosen long ago to support all decisions, receive all counsel, and obey all instructions of my Priesthood leaders. So, being ignorant of the specifics of X or any other hypothetical local policy, this is why I default to obedience vs. some other alternative (silent non-support, concientious objector, open rebellion)?

    For the sake of brevity, I’ll spare the recitations of my own obedience vs. agency experiences. I will only say that 1) I try to give my leaders the benefit of the doubt, 2) I know the intrinsic value of obedience itself, 3) I remember that I don’t have a perfect understanding, and 4) even if a policy or decision is flawed, I don’t want to be the one who caused it’s failure due to my lack of support.

    If the policy is bad, it will fail on its own, despite the support or effort you put into it – assuming it is a policy or practice that is implemented at the ward level, or even at the auxiliary level. If it is a policy that affects just you, your family, or a small circle of families where you hold some influence, then the situation is different, and I would make a beeline to the Bishop to express my concerns.

  33. Ebenezer on January 4, 2005 at 4:42 pm

    (This issue was discussed during the last iteration of the discussion over here)

    In comment #23 John Hatch characterized the recurring discussion of obedience to local leaders as “Obedience vs Agency.” In #32, Jim Richins recognizes that obedience involves agency and choice, but then goes on to describe his experiences as “obedience vs. agency” as well.

    Agency is the condition of being an agent. An agent is one who has the power to choose how to act and to act on that choice. While it is not widely known, the antonym of “agent� (one who acts) is “patient� (one who is acted upon).

    The idea that obedience can somehow be in opposition to agency is an impossibility. Agency is the prerequisite of obedience as well as disobedience. If we remove agency we remove obedience as well. Obedience is the act of using our agency to choose to obey. Disobedience is the act of using our agency to choose to not obey. The very fact that the so many discuss whether or not they should obey is evidence by itself that we have agency in the matter.

    Lehi discusses the concepts of agency vs patiency in 2 Nephi 2, verses 13-14, 26:

    2 Nephi 2:13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also
    say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall
    also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no
    righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no
    righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery.
    And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no
    God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no
    creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon;
    wherefore, all things must have vanished away.

    2 Nephi 2:14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for
    your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created
    all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that
    in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

    2 Nephi 2:26 And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of time, that
    he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that
    they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever,
    knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted
    upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and
    last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

    John Milton discussed the interrelationship between agency and obedience in his essay Areopagitica:

    Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned. . . It was from out the rind of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into the world. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is to say of knowing good by evil.

    If every action, which is good or evil in man at ripe years, were to be under pittance and prescription and Compulsion, what were virtue but a name, what praise could be then due to well-doing, what gramercy to be sober, just, or continent? Many there be that complain of divine Providence for suffering Adam to transgress; foolish tongues! When God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing; he had been else a mere artificial Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions. We ourselves esteem not of that obedience, or love, or gift, which is of force: God therefore left him free, set before him a provoking object, ever almost in his eyes; herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of his abstinence. Wherefore did he create passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these rightly tempered are the very ingredients of virtue?

    Did God restrict the agency of Adam and Eve by giving them instructions? Do our leaders restrict our agency by asking us to do, or not to do, something?

    As both Lehi and Milton discuss, in the story of the fall it is only when God offers a commandment not to eat the fruit that Adam and Eve can use their agency. It is only after a law, or instruction, is given that agency is possible.

    I think that Obedience vs. Agency is a misnomer, and I hope we will stop using it.

    I do think that Milton’s equation of Reason with Choice, and therefore with Agency, is interesting.
    Agency = the ability to reason.

  34. Jim Richins on January 4, 2005 at 5:14 pm

    You’re right, Ebenezer. I recognized the misnomer, but was lazy and used the term “agency” with it’s colloquial construction, not it’s true definition.

    So, to restate,

    “For the sake of brevity, I’ll spare the recitations of my own obedience vs. apparent common sense experiences.”

  35. Walt Nicholes on January 5, 2005 at 5:20 pm

    Part of my response to sustaining votes (on this site):

    George A. Smith, counselor in the First Presidency taught “…Unless we can govern ourselves, we are unprepared to be governed in the way that the kingdom of God is to be ruled and directed, which is to be upon the principle of common consent. It is not that a majority shall rule, but that the people shall be agreed; and when all the people are agreed as touching any one thing in the kingdom of God, no power can resist it.

    The world look upon us a though we are tyrannized over because they do not know the principles upon which we act. In all our Conferences and Councils, this people should act as a unit, and have done so to a greater extent than any other people that have existed on the earth for a great many centuries. This has astonished even republicans.�

    (Journal of Discourses: Volume 6, George A. Smith, 3 Jan 1858)

    Orson Pratt further elaborated: “That was the way Joseph ordained in the Temple; each Council voting separately, by standing upon their feet in order that their votes might be better known than they could be by keeping their seats. After one Quorum had voted for the highest authority of the Church, then another Quorum or Council would be called upon to give their vote, and so on, until all had voted for the different authorities, and then it was presented to all the Church, male and female. Why? It is because God ordained, on the 6th day of April, 1830, as you can read in the Doctrine and Covenants, that all things in this Church should be done by common consent. This is the reason for the voting. Although the Lord may give a revelation upon the subject, although He might say, Let my servant Hyrum Smith be Patriareh [sic]; or Let my servant Brigham Young be President of the Twelve Apostles; notwithstanding the Lord may give this by revelation, yet He himself was anxious to carry out the principle he had revealed a long time before that; namely, that all this I have named may be brought before the General Conference to be sanctioned and approved, or not to be sanctioned. What! the people have a right to reject those whom the Lord names? Yes, they have this right, He gave it to them. “Let them be approved of or not approved of;� showing that He had respect to the people themselves, that they should vote and give their general voice to eith r [sic] sustain or not to sustain. I do not know why, only in the latter days the kingdom is in a little different circumstances upon the face of the earth, than it has been in during any former dispensation. We are living in a free Republican Government, wherein the people vote, and the Lord established this great American Government and gave the Constitution, and He wished the people to have a voice in the officers named; He wished the people to exercise their agency; you may call it a democratic principle. Notwithstanding He himself may point out the persons, and call them by name, yet you may approve of them or disapprove of them at my General Conference.�

    (Journal of Discourses: Volume 19, Orson Pratt 5 Oct 1877)

  36. Sheri Lynn on January 6, 2005 at 2:52 am

    Two weeks before my youngest turned 18 months old, my previous bishop finally got around to calling a nursery leader. We hadn’t had one in quite some time, despite having several children of the right age…whose parents (surprise surprise) quit attending. I was so happy he was finally going to call someone, right in time for my daughter. BUT: The leader he called was a woman newly pregnant with her third child in four years. Each and every previous pregnancy she had had, she had spent mainly on doctor-ordered bedrest. Sure enough, she managed to make it to exactly two Sundays. Then she was back on bedrest. (Think God didn’t know that would happen?) After that, those of us with nursery age children would discover no one in the nursery, not a substitute, nothing. Nobody there. The toys locked up.

    Most of us know well the feeling of trying to keep a busy toddler quiet during meetings. This particular child of mine was so determined to get to the piano that I’m not sure the National Guard could have kept her from banging on it. I am disabled. It wasn’t worth it–I wasn’t getting anything out of it and she wasn’t old enough to sit still for 3 hours no matter what I did. I actually had people tell me that if I were raising her properly, she’d be able to sit still and be quiet at 18 months! Yeah, if “properly” involves sedatives, maybe! She does fine now, of course.

    I’ll never forget the time she pulled the tablecloth hard enough to pull the floral arrangement down on herself. She almost caught the lecturn in the face, too. She was my third, but so much more random than the other two….I never saw it coming till she’d done it.

    At least four families went inactive because of this situation and other problems I won’t go into now. We were one of them. We never lost our testimony. But we became well aware of the wide gulf between what a loving Heavenly Father would want and what humans do in His name.

    POLICY is not DOCTRINE. If Policy X seems to you to be destructive of the principle goals of every Mormon and the Church (to perfect the Saints and proclaim the Gospel) then you are obligated to oppose it.

    (But in the immortal words of Shel Silverstein….”I will wait *here* for you.”)

  37. Eric on January 7, 2005 at 8:27 pm

    I know this is late to the topic, but we recently had one of those in our little branch. My wife has an emotional disorder, and as a result, we said and did somethings that asked a lot of our newly-called branch president. He decreed that nobody in the branch was to serve us other than the branch presidency, who promptly and efficiently shunned us. I begged the relief society president to visit my wife in the hospital. She refused, because the branch president had forbidden it.

    We have since had our records transferred to another branch.

  38. Sheri Lynn on January 8, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    Eric, we’ve been there. I have panic attacks and many physical problems, and our previous ward treated my children and me so badly we’ve moved to a branch where we don’t even speak the language, but we’re orders of magnitude happier. I felt I was attending the wrong church, before. I can’t believe how long we stayed in a place we were so miserable. It took the RS President chewing me out after I had surgery and wanted help to wake me up to the fact that the Lord would NOT want that kind of informal disfellowshipping for our family.

    My children will learn another language. We feel LOVED where we are now. I really don’t see a downside to any of this. I wish I could talk to your wife somehow. I shrink from providing an email address publically though.