On Earning the Right to Complain

April 11, 2006 | 133 comments
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“If you don’t pay your tithing and serve in the Church, you give up your right to bitch,” my father once told me. It was back when we lived in the old Liberty Stake in Salt Lake City, so I can’t have been more than nine years old. Mainly because it is the first time that I remember hearing my father cuss, it has stuck with me. Also, at some deep level I think that he was right. Figuring out why is a bit more tricky.

Clearly the right at issue here isn’t simply the legal or political right to voice one’s opinion. All citizens in a liberal society have that right, and denying it or making it contingent on Church service strikes me as deeply wrong. It also can’t mean that criticisms voiced by those who don’t serve in the Church or pay their tithing are invalid. With a few exceptions, the truth or falsehood of a statement does not turn on the identity of the speaker.

Rather, I think that an explanation lies in my father’s verb choice. I think that my father was referring to a particular kind of complaining about the Church. It is not simply the voicing of criticisms. It involves a real sense of ongoing grievance and wrong. It involves carping and complaining about that which you are involved in. For example, employees at a company can complain about the company in a way that mere observers never can.

There is more going on, however, than a simple definition. It is not just that insider-complaining by definition consists of complaints and criticisms by those who pay their tithing, and serve in the Church. Insider-complaining by one who doesn’t do such things is not non-sensical in the way that a married bachelor is non-sensical. The kind of complaining my father was talking about is something that the non-tithe paying and non-serving in the Church person can aspire to do. Indeed, it is something that many seek to do on the basis of heritage or past service. To be sure, the now lapsed but formerly faithful RM has a greater ability to be legitimately aggrieved than does a mere Gentile observer. Yet he doesn’t quite have the same entitlement to complain that someone who is fully engaged hase. He is no longer a participant, and whatever his past service he is now much more like the Gentile observer than his formerly faithful self.

I actually think that this matters. The reason is that listening is not simply a matter of understanding and evaluating reasons. It is also relational. When I listen to someone I adopt a particular attitude toward them, acknowledging that they have a claim on me. This is why when it comes to carping about the church, activity matters. Normally criticisms are entitled only to the respect of their reasons. Some complaining, however, has additional claims. The person who pays the present price to really carp is entitled to a hearing not simply because he or she might be right, but because he or she is a fellow laborer in the cause. It is a moral and rhetorical entitlement that the mere critic cannot claim.

133 Responses to On Earning the Right to Complain

  1. Randy B. on April 11, 2006 at 9:51 am

    So . . . if you are going to bitch here, please let us know whether or not you pay your tithing and if you are fulfilling your calling. Thanks.

    T&S Admin.

  2. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 9:58 am

    No, Randy, that was not the point of the post. Keep digging…

  3. Equality on April 11, 2006 at 10:13 am

    Of course, sometimes the people who are faithfully serving and paying tithing offer legitimate criticisms and are then booted out. ;-)

  4. Frank McIntyre on April 11, 2006 at 10:17 am

    Being active certainly gives you standing to discuss grievances or problems to the relevant individuals or leaders, but I am not sure there is anything besides authority from God that gives one the prerogative to publicly complain against the Church or its leaders.

    At that point, it is difficult to separate one’s actions from murmuring.

  5. norm on April 11, 2006 at 10:20 am

    “that was not the point of the post. Keep digging…”

    wow. you sound like a law professor already. :)

  6. Randy B. on April 11, 2006 at 10:25 am

    What Nate, no sense of humor this morning?

  7. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 10:30 am

    “What Nate, no sense of humor this morning?”

    Some mornings are better than others. It is tax season…

    FWIW, I was just didn’t want the thread immediately sidetracked into a discussion about comment policies, etc. at T&S.

  8. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 10:32 am

    “wow. you sound like a law professor already.”

    ouch…

  9. Kimball Hunt on April 11, 2006 at 10:34 am

    I opologize about my misusing Times & Seasons as a vehicle to sidetrack its main bloggers main lines of “thrust” or what have you and address my own “issues.” That said, I’ve greatly enjoyed this privilege or rather forebearance.

  10. Kimball Hunt on April 11, 2006 at 10:37 am

    Uh apologize [stet.].

  11. a random John on April 11, 2006 at 10:38 am

    Nate,

    I agree that standing matters. My complaining in a thread that need not be mentioned would have to be taken in a different light if I had left the Church. One assumes that because I haven’t left the Church that there might be some constructive aspect to my complaints, since I care enough about the organization to be an active member of it.

    I suppose that what I’m trying to say is that the position from which a critique is launched has some bearing on (but does not determine) whether it is an attack or has potential to be constructive.

  12. Bookslinger on April 11, 2006 at 10:39 am

    Okay, okay. Mea culpa, mea culpa.

  13. manaen on April 11, 2006 at 10:44 am

    I like your thoughts. Here’s my take:

    * People busy serving are more aware of one of the deeper purposes of the Church: to keep keep us at the edge of our development so that we’ll continue to grow. These people are aware of their own shortcomings in the service they give, which is at their limits, so they have more patience with their brothers’ and sisters’ shortcomings. They’re more likely to offer assistance to help a fellow servant than to carp.

    * People busy serving (vs. posing or seeking recognition for their callings) focus their attention on improving their assistance in changing hearts and natures of their brothers and sisters rather than on the shortcomings of those brothers and sisters.

    When a person busy serving gets to the point of voicing a complaint, it would be given serious attention because it’s grounded in a hinderance to charitable service or to true spiritual development instead of jousting or seeking squeaky-wheel attention.

    Full-time rowers rarely are who rock the boat.

  14. Eric on April 11, 2006 at 10:46 am

    I also wonder about complaining against God. Why are my prayers not answered? Why has God forsaken me? The Lord is bound when we do what he says, when we don’t we have no pomise, and not much right to complain against Him.

  15. Dave on April 11, 2006 at 10:54 am

    Great post, Nate. It explains why Palmer’s “complaints” about LDS culture in An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins were given fair and friendly consideration. I mean, if he had been branded a heretic by the FARMS Review and called in for a six-hour grilling by his local leaders you would have had to modify your thesis about earning a right to complain.

  16. Randy B. on April 11, 2006 at 10:54 am

    Nate, I realize it’s tax season and all, but you are in Williamsburg. That’s good stuff, every morning.

    I see your concern now though, particularly in light of the latest developments from last night/this morning on “that other thread” (which I just now caught up on).

    But that said, at the end of your post, you talk about how status actually matters. “The reason is that listening is not simply a matter of understanding and evaluating reasons. It is also relational. When I listen to someone I adopt a particular attitude toward them, acknowledging that they have a claim on me.”

    If this is true, then our ability to have meaningful discussion of such issues in the bloggernacle is somewhat handicapped (barring, of course, some type of disclaimer from those who post/comment). This does not mean, as your post makes clear, that reasoned discussions cannot happen at some level; just that they happen on a different level than the one you describe at the end of your post.

  17. Mike Parker on April 11, 2006 at 10:59 am

    Dave #15: Palmer’s ecclesiastical problems have nothing to do with “complaining about LDS culture” and everything to do with rejecting the fundamental events of the restoration in a very public way, one that has damaged testimonies and caused people to leave the Church because they believe the Church has been lying to them.

    IMO, Palmer got off easy.

  18. Frank McIntyre on April 11, 2006 at 11:02 am

    Dave,

    See #4 above. There is a difference between the public and the private.

  19. Dave on April 11, 2006 at 11:08 am

    Yeah, Mike, I’m sure you would have thrown the first brick. And if he really did damage testimonies and cause people to leave the Church, then what exactly is your explanation for why he “got off so easy”? Something about your argument just doesn’t add up. Unless the local leaders phoned Nate for advice, considered the fact that Palmer had put in years of faithful service and paid his tithing, and decided he had in fact earned his right to complain?

  20. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 11:16 am

    “you are in Williamsburg”

    Alas, not yet…

    “If this is true, then our ability to have meaningful discussion of such issues in the bloggernacle is somewhat handicapped (barring, of course, some type of disclaimer from those who post/comment). This does not mean, as your post makes clear, that reasoned discussions cannot happen at some level; just that they happen on a different level than the one you describe at the end of your post…”

    I think that is right. A while back Richard Bushman suggested that the bloggernalce represents a kind of public space within Mormonism in the Habermasian sense. He is both right and wrong. I don’t suggest that a failure to pay your tithing and serve in the Church means that one cannot voice valid criticisms of the Church in the sense of making claims supported by good reasons. A public space of the kind that Bushman mentioned is a space where only reason giving matters and where — in a sense — identity becomes irrelevent. In some ways, online discussions facilitate this kind of space particularlly well. (See generally Michael Froomkin, “Habermas@Discourse.net,” 116 Harv. L. Rev. 749 (2003)) The possiblity of a very thin identity means that a person in the bloggernacle can be nothing more than a reason giver.

    Yet it seems to be that we want more than simply a public space at times. We want our identity to matter, and at that point what sort of a life we live is important. Frankly, I simply care more about a currently faithful member complaining about their Bishop than I do about some one who has left the church and voices the same abstract claims.

    I think it would be a bad idea to get rid of the public space aspect of the bloggernacle. It is a healthy thing to have a public space, I think. On the other hand, public space is not the only thing that matters, and to the extent that we need to have certain norms to protect the public space aspect of the bloggernacel (eg do not accuse others of personal unrighteousness, etc.) we ought to have them. On the other hand, it does mean that there will be certain kinds of complaints that I will always take more seriously than others.

  21. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 11:22 am

    Dave: It seems to me that Palmer’s basic rhetorical stance in some sense traded on precisely what I am talking about. He did, after all, subtitle his book “An insiders view…” which was clearly meant to suggest that his critiques were more valid precisely because he was an active member. Certainly, Signature in its marketing of the book played up this fact.

    And in a sense, I think that Palmer’s attitude is completely correct. We ought to take him more seriously because he has served in the Church and continues to do so. This doesn’t mean, of course, that I have to agree with him or even think that everything that he wrote is true and good and benign. The right to complain is not the right to be agreed with.

  22. hurricane on April 11, 2006 at 11:59 am

    Sometimes the best way to complain is to stop paying your tithing and refuse callings. Of course, then you immediately lose standing. Gets attention though, particularly if you’ve been active for a long time.

  23. Costanza on April 11, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    I’m just amazed that you were 9 years old before you heard your father swear.

  24. Stephen M (Ethesis) on April 11, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    t is not simply the voicing of criticisms. It involves a real sense of ongoing grievance and wrong. It involves carping and complaining about that which you are involved in. For example, employees at a company can complain about the company in a way that mere observers never can.

    Yet it seems to be that we want more than simply a public space at times. We want our identity to matter, and at that point what sort of a life we live is important. Frankly, I simply care more about a currently faithful member complaining about their Bishop than I do about some one who has left the church and voices the same abstract claims.

    Nicely said. Random grieved attacks on institutions one is not a part of seem more like kvetching and such than a real analysis or justified complaint.

  25. Kevin Barney on April 11, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    When I bitch and moan, and I do on occasion, it is usually out of a sense of *ownership*. As in, this is *my* church, and I wish the very best for it and its people. I hope that when I complain I am doing so out of love and in a constructive fashion. Realistically, though, I’m sure sometimes I’m just venting about things I have no control over and can’t do anything about.

    For instance, I think the Church would be better off if it weren’t so fixated on short-term baptism statistics, and I am not shy about expressing that opinion. But the leadership so far has made the policy decision to be very fixated on short-term baptism statistics. I can’t do anything about it; it’s a decision made way above my “pay grade.” But I see the damage it does in flooding the rolls with people who never come to church after their baptisms, with massive overburdening of the home and visiting teaching systems, with the costs of unfair guilt placed upon the quorums to rectify situations not of their making. So I bitch and moan about it. Now, I think there has been movement to ameliorate the past overreliance on naked baptism statistics. So the bitching and moaning on this issue seems to be having an effect on the people upstairs, even if the change is not as dramatic as I would like it to be.

  26. Starfoxy on April 11, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    This is behind some of the critisism of LDS feminists ‘voting with their feet.’ If they choose to stay, pay tithing and serve well in their callings then the leadership will be more prone to listen to their concerns. Often what makes a concern legitimate or not is the legitimacy of the person voicing it.

  27. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    That is just the first time that I remember. I don’t have a particularlly good memory, and have very few memories from my early childhood.

    hurricane: It gets you attention once. Then you lose much of your claim…

  28. Bookslinger on April 11, 2006 at 12:52 pm

    ARJ: I think Nate was making oblique reference to Kimball Hunt and I, both currently ex-members, in his comment about who has standing or juice to complain.

    Part of my personal philosophy is to make paths easier for the people who follow. I had no big-brother type mentors to help prepare me for the trials I faced. As I’ve pondered why I wrote what I did, I hope that more wards/stakes better prepare their 18/19 year olds for the various personality types and management styles (good and bad) that they’ll find out there.

    Sometimes, it does take one “falling on his sword” as they say in the military, in order to improve conditions for the rest. Not just one rower, but if a bunch of rowers stand up and complain about the same thing, the coxswain takes notice. However, there always has to be a first to stand up and speak before others chime in with “me too.”

    The public nature of the ‘nacle goes against the scriptural method of privately voicing complaints against offenses (Matt 18:15-17, DC 42:88-89), but if the private voicing of complaints doesn’t work, those same scriptures talk about taking it up the chain of command, and then before the whole church if needed.

    As far as a personal internal resolving of offenses, the thread in question has been reassuring on a couple fronts: 1) some others did have the same problems, so us complainers are not delusional, overly-sensitive, or merely disgruntled sinners; and 2) some others did not have the same problems, so the situation is not entirely bad.

    President Hinckley’s talks in Gen Conference, referencing letters he’s received, indicate that GA’s do read and react to letters from the rank-and-file. In the past, I’ve written non-complaining type letters to GA’s and received pleasant repsonses both times.

  29. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 12:56 pm

    “I think Nate was making oblique reference to Kimball Hunt and I, both currently ex-members, in his comment about who has standing or juice to complain.”

    Nope.

  30. hurricane on April 11, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    27–

    True. And sometimes that’s all you can do.

  31. Equality on April 11, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    Ethesis: “Nicely said. Random grieved attacks on institutions one is not a part of seem more like kvetching and such than a real analysis or justified complaint.”

    So, folks who don’t have callings or pay tithing are now not part of the church? Hmmm, interesting.

  32. mark smith on April 11, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    I disagree with the whole premise of earning a right to complain. You always have a right to complain. And you always have the right to offer comments. Of course others have the right to not take you seriously either. In my opinion, the statement “earning a right to complain” is very often an attempt to stifle debate.

  33. Wendy on April 11, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    Though somewhat different, this topic reminds me of our last ward Halloween party. A member was irritated that non-members and less actives were attending the party, because they didn’t regularly come to church and didn’t pay any tithing. I about choked on my cider!

  34. DKL on April 11, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    When I was in college, me and my friends used to get drunk and watch that TV show “COPS!” (It’s practically unwatchable sober–like a lowbrow version of CSPAN). Invariably, the cops end up at a domestic dispute where a drunk guy in his skivvies is arguing with a chick in a bikini–or even better, a chick that’s altogether naked and censored with big blurry spots. It’s usually the woman that calls the police on the man, and in funniest shows (well, funniest for college-aged drunks), it’s the woman who called who gets taken away. The participants are like gladiators, only the disputes are not with ferocious animals or warriors–it’s like domestic violence as a sport.

    Anyway, one one episode, a woman’s brother called the cops about a dispute that had turned violent between his sister and her boyfriend. They carried took the boyfriend away in handcuffs. The parting shot showed the brother sitting out on the porch drinking Maddog or malt liquor or something, boasting, “Nobody hits my sister unless they’s married to ‘er!”

    I guess you had to earn the right to complain about her.

  35. Jed on April 11, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    “You always have a right to complain. And you always have the right to offer comments. ”

    What do you mean by “right”? Are the natural or legal rights held by individuals in a liberal society the same as those held by individuals in a church? Complaint or comment may be welcome in a church, but I do not know the basis of a right to offer such. It seems to me that we ought not to confuse membership in a voluntary or covenant religious society for citizenship in a nation state. I doubt the rights are the same. Mormons get into trouble when they assume they are the same.

  36. Katie P. on April 11, 2006 at 3:22 pm

    I agree with the post.

    It’s a matter of taking responsibility and building something. If someone has taken upon themselves to help build the kingdom, then there’s an added weight because they are proving that they care about the result.

    Someone who is not willing to work but only to unmake or criticize or observe has taken themselves out of the endeavor. They would less of a say in how the structure should be built.

  37. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 3:31 pm

    mark smith: Did you actually read anything in my post other than the title?

  38. Beijing on April 11, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    The sad thing is, many of “the least of these” may be in a place in life where they are not capable of paying tithing (no income) and not capable of fulfilling a calling or even of attending church (e.g., too sick). And yet those are precisely the people whose needs and concerns Jesus calls us to listen to the most closely. They are precisely the ones toward whom Jesus’ followers should adopt a relational attitude of acknowledging the claim on themselves.

  39. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    Beijing: True enough. On the other hand, I don’t think that the cries of the poor are quite what my father had in mind when he said “bitching about the Church.”

  40. Beijing on April 11, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    Oh, really? He had the New Order Mormon board foremost in mind? Someone should remind him that approximately half the posters there are current tithe-paying members of the church serving in callings.

    And perhaps he should craft a narrower rule, one that would exclude the cries of the poor from the definition.

  41. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    But isn’t the point that if you are serving in a calling and paying your tithing, you DO have the right in question….

  42. Frank McIntyre on April 11, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    Beijing,

    Those with no income are full tithe payers.

  43. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 11, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    My feeling is that, the more involved one is, the more committed one is, the less one would want to claim a “right” to complain. I think this is something counter-intuitive to a lot of people, but I have seen it bear out in practice. Those whom I know personally who like to complain are a lot less happy with the Church in general, and miss a lot of the simple beauty and blessings associated with it. Some have even lost their testimonies. It’s those who are humble and submissive who are my heroes. Personally, I think it might be useful to think in a reverse way…that I’m not a member of the Church to find the “beams” in the structure (which sometimes are there) or in individuals around me (which nearly always are there!), but to find ways to let those weaknesses inherent in the people (and sometimes in the processes) be a springboard for my personal growth — to work with the Lord on my motes. This is not natural for me, as my personality and professional training are all about looking for ways to improve and change the systems around me! In the mote and beam parable, however, the Lord didn’t deny there was a beam, but He invited us to focus instead on ourselves.

    I think it’s important to think about the consequences associated with the “right” to complain. Jed makes a really good point. Membership in the Church is, at its core, a choice, and it’s not a typical organization. In a sense, we make the choice to comply, not to complain, when we choose to make covenants. What I have found is that, almost without fail, even if my desire to complain is completely justified, it damages ME because I remove myself from the Spirit and spend energy complaining and criticizing instead of doing something more constructive and spiritually “building.” I think sometimes there is a place for constructive criticism and complaining. But really, how often are we really in a position or a state of heart to do that? At least for me, I find it very difficult to complain or criticize with the Spirit.

    One who focuses on faults, though they be true, tears down a brother or a sister. The virtues of patience, brotherly kindness, mutual respect, loyalty, and good manners all rest to some degree on the principle that even though something is true, we are not necessarily justified in communicating it to any and all persons at any and all times.

    The use of truth should also be constrained by the principle of unity. One who focuses on faults, though they be true, fosters dissensions and divisions among fellow Church members in the body of Christ. The Savior taught: “The spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, [who] stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.â€? (3 Ne. 11:29.) Paul taught the Romans: “Mark them which cause divisions … and avoid them.â€? (Rom. 16:17.) In this dispensation, the Lord commanded that “Every man [should] esteem his brother as himself,â€? and declared that “If ye are not one ye are not mine.â€? (D&C 38:25, 27.)….
    The counsel to avoid destructive personal criticism does not mean that Latter-day Saints need to be docile or indifferent to defective policies, deficient practices, or wrongful conduct in government or in private organizations in which we have an interest. Our religious philosophy poses no obstacle to constructive criticism of such conditions. The gospel message is a continuing constructive criticism of all that is wretched or sordid in society. But Christians who are commanded to be charitable and to “[speak] the truth in love� (Eph. 4:15) should avoid personal attacks and shrill denunciations. Our public communications—even those protesting against deficiencies—should be reasoned in content and positive in spirit.

    Does the commandment to avoid faultfinding and evil speaking apply to Church members’ destructive personal criticism of Church leaders? Of course it does. It applies to criticism of all Church leaders—local or general, male or female. In our relations with all of our Church leaders, we should follow the Apostle Paul’s direction: “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father.� (1 Tim. 5:1.)

    Church leaders need this consideration, since the responsibilities of Church leadership include the correction of others. That function is not popular. As the Lamanite prophet Samuel taught, when a prophet comes among us and speaks of our iniquities, we are made angry. We call him a false prophet and “cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him.� (See Hel. 13:26.) But if a man comes among us and speaks flattering words about our behavior and tells us that it is all right to “walk after the pride of [our] own hearts … and do whatsoever [our] heart desire[s],� “we will not find fault with him.� (See Hel. 13:27, 28.) We will call him a prophet and reward him.

    I have given the following counsel to Church members—those who have committed themselves by upraised hands to sustain their church leaders:

    “Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities, general or local. Jude condemns those who ‘speak evil of dignities.’ (Jude 1:8.) Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true. As Elder George F. Richards, President of the Council of the Twelve, said in a conference address in April 1947,

    “ ‘When we say anything bad about the leaders of the Church, whether true or false, we tend to impair their influence and their usefulness and are thus working against the Lord and his cause.’ (In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p. 24.)� (Address to Church Educational System teachers, Aug. 16, 1985.)

    There is nothing new about this counsel. Even though King Saul sought to kill him, David would not allow his companion to strike the king, saying, “for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless?� (1 Sam. 26:9.) The prophet Isaiah denounced those who “make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate� (Isa. 29:21; see also 2 Ne. 27:32.) (Those who reproved in the gate in Isaiah’s time were the religious leaders.) This modern revelation from the Doctrine and Covenants is to the same effect:

    “Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.� (D&C 121:16.)

    The counsel against speaking evil of Church leaders is not so much for the benefit of the leaders as it is for the spiritual well-being of members who are prone to murmur and find fault. ….

    President David O. McKay said this about what he called “murmurers� and “faultfinders�:
    “ ‘Speak not against the authorities.’ What does it mean? Be not a murmurer; that is what it means. It is one of the most poisonous things that can be introduced into the home of a Latter-day Saint—this murmuring against presidents of stakes, high councilors, Sunday School superintendents, etc. …

    “Better stop murmuring and build. Remember that one of the worst means of tearing down an individual is slander. It is one of the most poisonous weapons that the evil one uses. Backbiting and evil speaking throw us into the class of malefactors rather than the class of benefactors.� (Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 142–43.)

    President McKay’s teaching against speaking evil of others is a principle of Christian behavior that applies to all people. But his companion counsel against “murmuring� is a teaching that applies uniquely to Church members and Church leaders.

    Government or corporate officials, who are elected directly or indirectly or appointed by majority vote, must expect that their performance will be subject to critical and public evaluations by their constituents. That is part of the process of informing those who have the right and power of selection or removal. The same is true of popularly elected officers in professional, community, and other private organizations. I suppose that the same is true even of church leaders who are selected by popular vote of members or their representative bodies. Consistent with gospel standards, these evaluations—though critical and public—should be constructive.

    A different principle applies in our Church, where the selection of leaders is based on revelation, subject to the sustaining vote of the membership. In our system of Church government, evil speaking and criticism of leaders by members is always negative. Whether the criticism is true or not, as Elder George F. Richards explained, it tends to impair the leaders’ influence and usefulness, thus working against the Lord and his cause. (In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p. 24, quoted above.)

    The prophet Moses expressed another reason we should refrain from criticizing Church leaders. On one occasion, the whole congregation of the children of Israel became dissatisfied and “murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.� (Ex. 16:2.)

    “What are we, that ye murmur against us?� Moses asked them. “The Lord heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord.� (Ex. 16:7–8.) Similarly, when the children of Israel ignored the prophet Samuel’s inspired warnings and begged him to appoint a king to rule over them, the Lord directed him to do as they asked, explaining: “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me.� (1 Sam. 8:7.)

    In these two instances, the Bible teaches that rejection of or murmuring against the counsel of the Lord’s servants amounts to actions against the Lord himself. How could it be otherwise? The Lord acts through his servants. That is the pattern he has established to safeguard our agency in mortality. His servants are not perfect, which is another consequence of mortality. But if we murmur against the Lord’s servants, we are working against the Lord and his cause and will soon find ourselves without the companionship of his Spirit.

    Dallin H. Oaks, “Criticism,� Ensign, Feb. 1987, 68

    Sorry for the long quote, but I think Elder Oaks presents some very important things to ponder. The “rights” of members are not similar to other systems and institutions. As tithe-paying, covenant-making members of the Church, we perhaps have less “right” to complain (or at least more responsibility not to complain (even if what we say is true!)) than anyone. Our covenants demand better behavior of us — for the benefit of others and for our own benefit as well.

  44. Randy B. on April 11, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    Beijing, the issue, technically speaking, is not whether or not someone actually pays tithing (particularly if they don’t have an income). Nor is it necessarily about whether they actually make it to church each Sunday (think of Wilfried’s coffee post) or are sufficiently healthy to hold a calling.

    The issue, if I understand Nate right, is this — what gives you standing as a Mormon to complain as an insider. The answer, of course, will vary, perhaps significantly, on who you ask. For some, tithing may be the yardstick, while for others, perhaps it is a belief in the historicity of the BoM.

    I actually think Nate’s dad’s standard is not necessarily a bad one. There is something to be said about looking to sacrifice in the name of the church (whether it be time, talents, money, etc.) as a rough barometer of insider Mormon status.

    Perhaps, though, the standard depends on the gripe in question. For example, perhaps those who pay tithing have a somewhat different standing when discussing how tithing funds are spent than those who do not. Similarly, perhaps those who actually do their hometeaching are in a different position to offer recommendations for improving the program (regardless of whether they actually pay their tithing) than those who never go.

  45. Randy B. on April 11, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    Whoops. I said Wilfried’s coffee post, but what I meant is his post about Martha’s Sacrament (so many good ones by Wilfried that I confuse them!).

  46. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 11, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    oops…forgot to end the italics after Elder Oaks’ quote. I also erased the sentence introducing the quote. Sorry for any confusion that caused….

  47. Beijing on April 11, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    Well, some of them are, Frank, and some of them aren’t. Sometimes it can be kind of hard to tell because the amount paid is zero in both cases. :)

    I saw your point, Nate. I still don’t like seeing my online community being linked to via a four-letter (five-letter?) word, leaving those unfamiliar with it to guess which of us do or don’t have the right in question. Something about your link disappearing all of a sudden is fishy, too. I feel like I’m being played.

  48. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    m&m: There is a lot of truth to what you say, although I don’t think that there is any sort of a perfect correlation between complaining and its absence and commitment and its absence. Consider, however, the follow three cases:

    1. A completely atheistic journalist who observes, “Gee, sometimes Mormon bishops misbehave.”
    2. A formerly active Latter-day Saint who has ceased to pay tithing, serve in callings, or otherwise participate in the Church who observes, “Gee, sometimes Mormon bishops misbehave.”
    3. A fully active member of your word who accepts callings and pays tithing who observes, “Gee, sometimes Mormon bishops misbehave.”

    All three of them are making precisely the same statement. The truth of falsity of the statement does not hinge on the identity of the speaker. One may evaluate the truth and import of the statement differently than does the speaker. However, which of the three do you feel has the greatest claim on your attention for his particular complaint?

  49. Frank McIntyre on April 11, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    Mathematically yes. Institutionally, those with no income are recorded at tithing settlement as full tithe payers, although I’m sure that one could protest and demand one’s right to be a non-tithe payer!

  50. Beijing on April 11, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    48. Oh, I know, pick me, professor! All are alike unto God. The worth of every soul is equally great.

  51. mark smith on April 11, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Yes Nate, I read the whole post, and I commented broadly on the topic earning a right to complain.

  52. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    Beijing: All are alike unto God and the worth of every soul is equally great, on the other hand, relationships matter. One has greater obligations to one’s family than to strangers, although we have a duty to make even the stranger our neighbor. As it happens, I am not God — or anything like him — so rather than kidding myself into thinking that I am capable of universal love, I start by making sense of the duties that I have to those closest to me and the work out from there.

  53. Nate Oman on April 11, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    Frank: I remember living off of student loans in law school, having virtually no income, and still feeling sheepish when asked if I was a full tithepayer. It felt fishy to be spending money but not be paying tithing.

  54. Mark IV on April 11, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    On Monday mornings, everybody has an opinion about what the coach or the quarterback should have done the day before.

    It’s pretty easy to kvetch about things we don’t actually have to do ourselves, and point out the errors of those who are trying. My experience has been that lots of things are harder than they appear at first. Actually doing something – running youth programs, teaching seminary, helping a family you home teach through their difficulties – is often hard, because there aren’t any easy answers. Those who are involved and engaged might still complain, but often their complaints are tempered with humility, and gratitude for the efforts of those who are actually in the ring, throwing leather. This is how I understand Nate’s dad’s point.

  55. jimbob on April 11, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    “…like a lowbrow version of CSPAN.”

    Isn’t CSPAN the lowbrow version of CSPAN?

  56. Mark IV on April 11, 2006 at 5:13 pm

    This thread also brings to mind my all-time favorite thought from Paul H. Dunn.

    He said that the solution to the problems of inactivity and delinquency among our youth is that we should all trade kids with the neighbors. While our own teenagers puzzle us and frustrate us, we all know for sure what ought to be done with the neighbor’s kids!

  57. Mark B. on April 11, 2006 at 5:37 pm

    Nate,

    I invite you to pay one-tenth of your mortgage loan as income! Good luck!

  58. Bookslinger on April 11, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    M&M, thanks for the quotes. I needed to be reminded of those.

    Those selections appear to leave out a related point in the scriptures. That there is a pattern for resolving offenses, even those by a superior against a subordinate in the church, as outlined in Matt 18:15-17, and DC 42:88-89.

    88 And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.

    89 And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world.

    Perhaps the reason some feel the need to publicly discuss abusive or brow-beating attitudes on the part of a superior is that the nature of those offenses, plus the citations you offer, convince the subordinate that there is no hope to work them out within church channels.

    I would point out that your quotes speak against public complaints and not those done privately within proper channels.

    Part of the frustration I continue to feel is that I used that material you quoted (or similar material of the day) to not say anything at all at the time, even in private, and to accept the shoddy treatment, and not report it within proper channels.

    I believe that the material you quoted is true about public complaining. However, it should never be used as reasoning to cover up abuse, or to not report problems privately within proper channels by going up the “chain of command”.

  59. DavidH on April 11, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    Bookslinger,

    You are exactly right. Elder Oaks makes the same point in a different part of his address:

    “So what do we do when we feel that our Relief Society president or our bishop or another authority is transgressing or pursuing a policy of which we disapprove? Is there no remedy? Are our critics correct when they charge that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are “sheepâ€? without remedy against the whims of a heedless or even an evil shepherd?

    “There are remedies, but they are not the same remedies or procedures that are used with leaders in other organizations.

    “Our Father in Heaven has not compelled us to think the same way on every subject or procedure. As we seek to accomplish our life’s purposes, we will inevitably have differences with those around us—including some of those we sustain as our leaders. The question is not whether we have such differences, but how we manage them. What the Lord has said on another subject is also true of the management of differences with his leaders: “It must needs be done in mine own way.â€? (D&C 104:16.) We should conduct ourselves in such a way that our thoughts and actions do not cause us to lose the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord.

    “The first principle in the gospel procedure for managing differences is to keep our personal differences private. In this we have worthy examples to follow. Every student of Church history knows that there have been differences of opinion among Church leaders since the Church was organized. Each of us has experienced such differences in our work in auxiliaries, quorums, wards, stakes, and missions of the Church. We know that such differences are discussed, but not in public. Counselors acquiesce in the decisions of their president. Teachers follow the direction of their presidency. Members are loyal to the counsel of their bishop. All of this is done quietly and loyally—even by members who would have done differently if they had been in the position of authority.

    “Why aren’t these differences discussed in public? Public debate—the means of resolving differences in a democratic government—is not appropriate in our Church government. We are all subject to the authority of the called and sustained servants of the Lord. They and we are all governed by the direction of the Spirit of the Lord, and that Spirit only functions in an atmosphere of unity. That is why personal differences about Church doctrine or procedure need to be worked out privately. There is nothing inappropriate about private communications concerning such differences, provided they are carried on in a spirit of love.

    “There are at least five different procedures a Church member can follow in addressing differences with Church leaders—general or local, male or female.

    “The first—and most benign—of the procedures is to overlook the difference. President Brigham Young described his own application of this method in a circumstance in which he felt “a want of confidenceâ€? in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s financial management. After entertaining such thoughts for a short time, President Young saw that they could cause him to lose confidence in the Prophet and ultimately to question God as well. President Young concluded:

    “Though I admitted in my feelings and knew all the time that Joseph was a human being and subject to err, still it was none of my business to look after his faults. … He was called of God; God dictated him, and if He had a mind to leave him to himself and let him commit an error, that was no business of mine. … He was God’s servant, and not mine.� (Journal of Discourses, 4:297.)

    “Elder Lorenzo Snow also observed some “imperfectionsâ€? in Joseph Smith, but he also reached a positive conclusion about the Prophet:

    “I thanked God that He would put upon a man who had those imperfections the power and authority He placed upon him … for I knew that I myself had weakness, and I thought there was a chance for me.� (Quoted by Elder Neal A. Maxwell in Ensign, Nov. 1984, p. 10.)

    “A second option is to reserve judgment and postpone any action on the difference. In many instances, the actions we are tempted to criticize may be based on confidences that preclude the leader from explaining his or her actions publicly. In such instances there is wisdom in a strategy of patience and trust.

    “The third procedure, which should be familiar to every student of the Bible, is to take up our differences privately with the leader involved. The Savior taught: “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.â€? (Matt. 18:15.)

    “This course of action may be pursued in a private meeting, if possible, or it may be done through a letter or other indirect communication. How many differences could be resolved if we would only communicate privately about them! Some would disappear as they were identified as mere misunderstandings. Others would be postponed with an agreement to disagree for the present. But in many instances, private communications about differences would remove obstacles to individual growth and correction.

    “A fourth option is to communicate with the Church officer who has the power to correct or release the person thought to be in error or transgression. The Bible calls this “tell[ing] it unto the church.â€? (Matt. 18:17.) Modern scripture, in the revelation we call “the law of the Church,â€? describes this procedure:

    “And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world.� (D&C 42:89.)

    “Note the caution that this remedy is to be private—“not before the world.â€? This is not done in order to hide the facts, but rather to increase the chance that the correction will improve the life of a brother or sister.

    “President John Taylor described these last two remedies when he taught how we should sustain a leader:

    “But supposing he should … be found lying or cheating, or defrauding somebody; or stealing or anything else, or even become impure in his habits, would you still sustain him? It would be my duty then to talk with him as I would with anybody else, and tell him that I had understood that things were thus and so, and that under these circumstances I could not sustain him; and if I found that I had been misinformed I would withdraw the charge; but if not it would then be my duty to see that justice was administered to him, that he was brought before the proper tribunal to answer for the things he had done; and in the absence of that I would have no business to talk about him.� (Journal of Discourses, 21:207–8.)

    “There is a fifth remedy. We can pray for the resolution of the problem. We should pray for the leader whom we think to be in error, asking the Lord to correct the circumstance if it needs correction. At the same time, we should pray for ourselves, asking the Lord to correct us if we are in error.

    “A person who approaches a difference with a Church leader by praying about it keeps himself or herself in tune with the Spirit of the Lord. That person also goes directly to the One who can resolve the problem. It may be resolved by inspiration to the leader or by communication of added understanding, strength, or patience to the person who prays.

    “All five of these are appropriate options for Church members who differ with their leaders. The preferred course depends upon the circumstances and the inspiration that guides those who prayerfully seek.

    “By following these procedures, Church members can work for correction of a leader or for change of a policy. Members who do so in the correct spirit will not grieve the Spirit of the Lord. They will not alienate themselves from their leaders or their brothers and sisters in the Church.”

  60. Beijing on April 11, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    49. I’m not asking you to be superhuman, Nate. I think putting your family first is perfectly appropriate. If your kid says “play catch with me” and some random apostate says “stop the church from whitewashing history,” I would fully support playing catch with your kid till the cows come home and never addressing the other concern.

    But what you’re talking about is people asserting the same concern; asking the same things of you and of the church. It’s like when I was in middle school, and my mama asks me to tuck in my shirt and I just pout, and then the schoolteacher asks me to tuck in my shirt and I just pout, but then when the kids on the playground ask me why my shirt tail is out…I tuck it right in. So, yeah, it’s a fact. We listen to people we feel are “one of us.” But *should* it be that way? I don’t think so. I think we should try to accept the truth from whatever source, rather than ignore people who aren’t “one of us” or tell people who aren’t “one of us” that they have no right to tell us what to do. I should have tucked my shirt in the minute I realized it was out, rather than waiting on someone I liked to deliver an engraved invitation. Sometimes the church has its shirt tail untucked, but many of the insiders may be too close to the inside to see it for quite a while.

  61. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 11, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Thanks, DavidH., for adding those quotes as well. When I hear “complaining” I think of public complaint, so that was more the focus of my comments.

    Nate:
    I understand completely what you are saying. Of course, the one with the closest relationship to the situation or the person will have the most credibility. However, I don’t really see the concept of complaining really being the same thing as making general comments such as the one in your example. I think, more often than not, it’s better to keep our mouths shut — EXCEPT, of course, in cases of abuse as Bookslinger pointed out.

    That said, even in cases of abuse, there is still the responsibility on the head of the abused to figure out what to do with whatever has happened, and whatever the response is. Reporting an action is a good thing. However, continuing to keep the wound open through complaints, criticism and such then puts the abused at fault at well. (Bookslinger, this is not directed at you…just a general comment.) But all of the counsel to forgive, etc. is so the person can find peace. Perhpaps that is a different topic altogether, however…..

  62. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 11, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    Bejing (#57):
    I think on some points this may be true — for example, how non-members might feel in a highly-populated-with-Mormons area. So, getting the point of view from a “non-insider” might be helpful. But I think your shirt tail analogy breaks down because there are many things about the Church that are often targeted by non-members (and by members who don’t like the way things are) that are misunderstood as “the shirt tail being out” when that’s not actually true at all. I think non-members can give the perspective of how the Church affects non-members, but that’s about as far as the shirt-tucking ability can go…which still upholds my understanding of Nate’s original idea that “insiders” (of any particular group, really) have more credibility.

  63. Ben H on April 11, 2006 at 6:42 pm

    Beijing, I think your example looks simpler than it really is. You seem to be suggesting that what is happening is:
    -You know something is wrong.
    -You don’t fix it when A tells you to.
    -You do fix it when B tells you to.

    But in some cases of complaining it is not clear that there is something wrong, just because A says something is wrong. If I am a grad student working in a chemistry lab and one of the undergrads tells me, “You’re doing that experiment wrong”, I might ignore him, as I would not ignore a professor telling me the same thing. The professor is more credible. Similarly, insiders are more credible. And where their word alone doesn’t settle things, still, it is more likely to be worth looking into the validity of a complaint where the person is more credible.

  64. Beijing on April 11, 2006 at 6:43 pm

    62. “there are many things about the Church that are often targeted by non-members (and by members who don’t like the way things are) that are misunderstood as “the shirt tail being outâ€? when that’s not actually true at all”

    I understood comment 48 to mean that Nate was not talking about those situations.

  65. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 11, 2006 at 6:46 pm

    64…ok, but 48 is an example of more credibility coming from insiders. Your shirt tail example was trying to argue that there are situations in which outsiders might be more credible cuz insiders are too close to the issues. I’m a little confused as to your point, then…sorry.

  66. Beijing on April 11, 2006 at 7:02 pm

    63. I wasn’t positing “knowing something is wrong” first. I was actually suggesting that you listen to the undergrad, without necessarily knowing whether she is right or wrong, at least just barely long enough to see if she’s a young Einstein who might be giving you brilliant advice. Or even if she misunderstands, to reach out and gently point out something she’s missing, as a teaching moment. I realize that the fact is most of us would ignore the undergrad and wait for the professor to say something; these are the ways of the world. But it seems over the top to not only ignore her suggestion, but then seek to justify that choice by publicly posting a notice informing her and all other undergrads that they have no right to complain about how graduate students do experiments.

    I think an even more apt example would be if you were experimenting on people, say, giving them an experimental drug. The drug works for some, it seems to work less well for others, and some people claim to have gotten really sick because of the drug and they choose to drop out of the study. Do you tweak the formula based on their complaints, or do they have to keep taking the drug that is making them sick in order to have any credibility when claiming the formula needs tweaking?

  67. DKL on April 11, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    M&M, Elder Oaks’ statements simply fail to cut mustard for standards of accountability for public figures in the post-Watergate world.

    Nate: formerly faithful RM has a greater ability to be legitimately aggrieved than does a mere Gentile observer. Yet he doesn’t quite have the same entitlement to complain that someone who is fully engaged hase.

    Perhaps this gives too much power to the institution in sanctioning complaints. Doesn’t it allows the church to silence dissent (or at least reduce its value) by using church discipline?

  68. Adam Greenwood on April 11, 2006 at 7:20 pm

    “M&M, Elder Oaks’ statements simply fail to cut mustard for standards of accountability for public figures in the post-Watergate world.”

    Well, gosh, if you say so.

  69. Adam Greenwood on April 11, 2006 at 7:26 pm

    Not a good example, Beijing. In the drug study everyone has the same commitment to health but no one has a significant commitment to the success of the drug qua drug or some a priori reason to believe in its efficacy. If I knew the drug worked I would be more likely to listen to a user as to side effects and needful changes in the way it was administered than someone who only used to use it or someone who doesn’t use it at all. But this is in some way different from Nate’s point, which is not about truth and credibility but about relationships. Its about attending more seriously to the concerns of someone who was in your drug trial than the complaints of someone who wasn’t (even, say, if in another drug trial), because you *owe* it to the person in your trial to take them seriously.

  70. Beijing on April 11, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    65. I wasn’t saying outsiders are more credible; they do make some points that aren’t valid, probably more often than insiders do. But I’m not talking about those situations. I understand Nate to be talking about situations where everyone (both insiders and outsiders) is making equally valid criticisms; in fact, the same criticisms. My point is that sometimes an outsider may be the *first* to make a valid criticism; the first to notice it, the first to pipe up about it. (Not more credible, just earlier.) Would you consider their suggestion at least long enough to make an informed decision about whether it’s valid or not–and if it’s valid, take action? Or would you consider it a tinkling cymbal of no concern whatsoever, and never even glance at the issue until an insider notices the problem and decides to pipe up about it?

  71. DKL on April 11, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    Adam: Well, gosh, if you say so.

    I’ll take this as dissent from my statement, “Elder Oaks’ statements simply fail to cut mustard for standards of accountability for public figures in the post-Watergate world.” But I won’t take it as a sign of your wickedness. I will, however, request a more substantive objection: Please explain a situation outside of cult religions where dissent, as such, is evil (aside from social security and public school funding).

  72. Beijing on April 11, 2006 at 7:30 pm

    69. Actually, Adam, I agree with everything you said in #69 except “not a good example.” So if you think we are disagreeing, you must be misunderstanding me!

  73. Mark IV on April 11, 2006 at 7:44 pm

    Please explain a situation outside of cult religions where dissent, as such, is evil

    DKL, I have publicly expressed my admiration for the entire oeuvre of the producers of COPS. In this thread you dissent fron that view and hold their work up to public ridicule. I think you are evil.

  74. Adam Greenwood on April 11, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    I don’t understand Elder Oaks to be arguing that any form of disagreement is evil, do you?
    When he suggests going to the person you disagree with, or going to those in authority over that person, he probably did not have in mind going to them solely to express that you have changed your mind and accepted their opinions and actions.

  75. DKL on April 11, 2006 at 8:07 pm

    Mark IV: DKL, I have publicly expressed my admiration for the entire oeuvre of the producers of COPS. In this thread you dissent fron that view and hold their work up to public ridicule. I think you are evil.

    LOL! Touche. Honestly, I used to think that it was odd that they always ended up at white trash domestic disputes where both parties were drunk and practically (or completely) naked. But my brother-in-law who is a sheriff has assured me that the participants in white trash domestic disputes are almost always drunk and naked. It’s uncanny.

  76. Mark Butler on April 11, 2006 at 8:21 pm

    Some Bishops have different theories of how one should account for ones increase. I know one who taught that one should pay a tithe on ones consumption in years where there is no net income (e.g. farmers who suffer losses, students living on credit), etc.

    Perhaps someone might start a new thread where we could discuss the merits of “consumption tithing” vs “income tithing”, and the various flavors of the two. I suspect in practice most people with relatively complicated finances let federal tax rules determine their “titheable income”, in one form or another.

  77. Mark Butler on April 11, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    Pretty much anybody has an abstract “right to complain”. The real issue is who has a right to be taken seriously and by whom. It is natural and inevitable that an organization is going to take properly channelled complaints of a faithful, active insider more seriously than those of an outsider. To paraphrase a common example, which affects you more directly – an infected toe or ten thousand starving in a distant land? The toe, of course. Even if when one would wish it were otherwise, in practice one has more ability to heal the toe than to satiate the ten thousand. Likewise social responsibility operates most effectively when it concerns those nearest at hand, a fact that is socially ingrained in the degree of attention given to complaints according to source, and properly so.

  78. Ben H on April 11, 2006 at 8:42 pm

    Beijing, yes, in an ideal world everyone would have time to listen to everyone. But we don’t. With good reason, we make pragmatic decisions about whose gripes to listen to.

    Hence differences in relative credibility matter. In a world of limited time and knowledge, there are a number of good reasons why the complaints of insiders should carry more weight than complaints of those who have already divested. And if those who are divested, or never were invested to begin with, don’t acknowledge this, they are being unreasonable.

  79. DKL on April 11, 2006 at 8:59 pm

    Adam: When he suggests going to the person you disagree with, or going to those in authority over that person, he probably did not have in mind going to them solely to express that you have changed your mind and accepted their opinions and actions.

    Yes. And there are times that this is effective–in the experiences that I have been privy to in the past few years, it has always been effective. But (and this is the key element) in the event that it’s not, there’s no righteous mechanism for voicing dissent outside of this structure of reporting to those from whom one dissents. This is a super-fine brand of dissent which merely guarantees the freedom to obey those from whom we dissent.

    In effect, feedback is fine, even if it involves offering feedback to people further and further up the authority chain. But genuine dissent is evil, because it interferes with activities of those from whom the dissent is taken (odd, I think, since one perfectly legitimate goal of dissent is to interfere with the activities of those from whom the dissent is taken).

    M&M has Elder Oaks’ remarks dated 1987. It’s tempting to view them as a quaint, pre-internet expression of iron-grip that church leaders tried to kept on orthodoxy prior to democratization of heresy effected by the internet (e.g., Heavenly Mother is now discussed openly on mainstream Mormon blogs). But Oaks re-iterated them in 2002 (“I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go,â€? Ensign, Nov. 2002, 67). I suppose I should take that up directly with him?

  80. Bookslinger on April 11, 2006 at 9:03 pm

    DKL, I think Elder Oaks made the exact distinction you wanted. As I read it, he stated that the church’s procedure is starkly different than that of government or civic officials or people in elected positions in other organizations.

    For example, I think the church would have no problem with you pamphleteering against the Grand Poobah of your local MOOSE lodge, and distributing VHS copies of the COPS episode in which he appeared drunk and half-nekkid.

    (Note: this is not to imply that Grand Poobahs or any other officials of MOOSE or any other lodges have a propensity to appear on COPS, drunk, nekkid or otherwise.)

  81. APJ on April 11, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    I wonder if this concept is why gays get offended when mormons talk to them about their ‘gender confusion.’ Just kidding, I know it’s more complicated than that, and don’t mean to threadjack…it’s just the first thought that popped into my head.

    Anyways, I feel like Nate (and his dad) have a perfectly acceptable way of deciding whose criticisms they will listen to. I think everyone just kind of makes their own credibility decisions based on what they know about who is ‘bitching.’ SInce Nate pointed out that he was sort of referring to ‘carping’ and ‘complaining,’ it seems especially logical that one would only heed those who were contributing to the kingdom.

    Obviously, I would hope not to ignore valid, constructive criticism just because someone doesn’t live up to my ideal of a faithful member, but again, I thought Nate was more implying those who chronically carp about their pet issue.

    But, of course, how we respond to people is our own choice, and to some extent just a natural reaction because of our personality. Some people may tend to take into account the opinion of non-members because they aim to please; others may think it is a waste of time; an infinity of possible reactions to criticism exist.

  82. Stephen M (Ethesis) on April 11, 2006 at 9:18 pm

    Ethesis: “Nicely said. Random grieved attacks on institutions one is not a part of seem more like kvetching and such than a real analysis or justified complaint.�

    So, folks who don’t have callings or pay tithing are now not part of the church? Hmmm, interesting.

    You’ve missed the point.

    “grieved” is the point, it is not the observation or the complaint, but the voice it is made in. Lots of folks without callings are part of the church, as are those who do not pay tithing. But, I remember a dear brother who was complaining about the bishop and I noted that the calling was due to be rotated … the question was whether or not he was willing to serve or just complain. He quit complaining. He got called anyway.

  83. Jim F. on April 11, 2006 at 11:18 pm

    DKL (#79) In effect, feedback is fine, even if it involves offering feedback to people further and further up the authority chain. But genuine dissent is evil, because it interferes with activities of those from whom the dissent is taken (odd, I think, since one perfectly legitimate goal of dissent is to interfere with the activities of those from whom the dissent is taken).

    I think you’re right, genuine dissent is genuinely evil. And you’re also right about the reason: it interferes with the activities of those from whom the dissent is taken. In a democratic institution, that wouldn’t be the case. But if I believe that the Church is ultimately led by God, though often roughly because of the human agents through whom he acts, then I believe that the institution of the Church is different from that of a democratic institution, and I am unwilling to interfere with its activities. It may be that, even having gone as far up the ladder as I can go with my complaint or difficulty, I find no satisfaction. It may be that I still think I’m right. It may be that I am, in fact, right. But at that point I don’t think it is up to me to do anything more. I have to be willing to suffer unrighteousness willingly if I am to imitate Christ, and sometimes that is as true within the Church as otherwise.

  84. Beijing on April 12, 2006 at 7:08 am

    Ben H, “Hence differences in relative credibility matter.”

    You misunderstand me, Ben H. I’m not disagreeing with you on the issue of differences in credibility; I’m not addressing that issue. And the reason I’m not addressing it is because Nate has defined the question such that that’s not part of it. Please look back at where the post says “not simply a matter of understanding and evaluating reasons” and “not simply because he or she might be right.”

    I’m saying if someone goes to the trouble to bring a valid, sincere concern to your attention (and that’s what we’re assuming based on Nate’s hypothetical in #48), if you’re a follower of Christ, you owe them something more than “you have no right to bitch about how we do things here; you have no claim on my attention” (even if phrased more politely than that) as a response. You’re welcome to disagree.

  85. Jed on April 12, 2006 at 7:32 am

    Jim F. “It may be that I am, in fact, right. But at that point I don’t think it is up to me to do anything more. I have to be willing to suffer unrighteousness willingly if I am to imitate Christ, and sometimes that is as true within the Church as otherwise.”

    This is one reason why public denunciation of church leaders is not a good idea.

  86. Adam Greenwood on April 12, 2006 at 8:09 am

    “if someone goes to the trouble to bring a valid, sincere concern to your attention (and that’s what we’re assuming based on Nate’s hypothetical in #48), if you’re a follower of Christ, you owe them something more than “you have no right to bitch about how we do things here; you have no claim on my attentionâ€? (even if phrased more politely than that) as a response”

    1) I think Nate Oman is correctly questioning how valid a concern can be if brought by someone not involved (I’m understanding validity as something other than “true” or “credible,” because that’s something that can probably only be determined after giving the concern attention, if at all).

    2) A follower of Christ owes some duties to everyone. Nate Oman’s point here is that we owe greater duties of attention to insiders. My corollary is that in a fallen world where each Christian has finite time and resources, duties to listen to the sincere complaints of strangers are the sorts of duties that will and ought to give way to other duties.

  87. Robert C. on April 12, 2006 at 8:26 am

    If you haven’t seen Seinfeld’s take on this issue, but from a Jewish perspective (and with a twist), allow me to whet your appetite: Tim is a dentist who has just converted to Judaism; Jerry suspects he did so just so he would have the right to tell Jewish jokes.

    Tim: Father Curtis told me about your little joke.

    Jerry: What about all your Jewish jokes?

    Tim: I’m Jewish, you’re not a dentist. You have no idea what my people have been through.

    Jerry: The Jews?

    Tim: No, the dentists. You know, we have the highest suicide rate of any profession?

    Jerry: Is that why it’s so hard to get an appointment?

  88. Nate Oman on April 12, 2006 at 8:52 am

    Beijing: You ought to reread my original post. You will notice that nowhere do I argue that those who do not “pay their dues” cannot make valid points. Indeed, I explicitly stated that such complaints are entitled to the validity of their reasons. You seem to be arguing against a position that I do not take. Furthermore, subject to the contraints of limited time etc., I think that it makes sense to listen to the complaints of at least some people who have not paid their dues. This commitment, however, will be based entirely upon how compelling the reasons are that they offer.

    What I am suggesting, however, is that when one hears the complaints of one who does pay their tithing and serve in the Church the situation is different. This doesn’t mean that one only listens to the complaints and arguments made by those in this category, but it does mean that one listens to their complaints in a different way. For example, I think that such complaints are entitled to some respect even when they are mistaken. If an outsider claims X on the basis of reasons ABC, it so happens that ABC does not support X and X is false, then I might point this fact out but would probably let it drop at that. On the other hand, if an insider made the same claims my concern will extend beyond the mere evaluation of the truth of the claims to a deeper concern about the relationship between that person and the community.

    “I won’t take it as a sign of your wickedness.”

    Good show DKL.

  89. Nate Oman on April 12, 2006 at 9:48 am

    Robert C.: Thanks. A thing of genius. I love…

    Jerry: So you won’t believe what happened with Whatley today. It got back to hime that I made this little dentist joke and he got all offended. Those people can be so touchy.

    Kramer: Those people, listen to yourself.

    Jerry: What?

    Kramer: You think that dentists are so different from me and you? They came to this country just like everybody else, in search of a dream.

    Jerry: Kramer, he’s just a dentist.

    Kramer: Yeah, and you’re an anti-dentite.

    Jerry: I am not an anti-dentite!

    Kramer: You’re a rabid anti-dentite! Oh, it starts with a few jokes and some slurs. “Hey, denty!” Next thing you know you’re saying they should have their own schools.

    Jerry: They do have their own schools!

  90. DKL on April 12, 2006 at 10:11 am

    Jed: This is one reason why public denunciation of church leaders is not a good idea.

    Yeah. A few decades ago, I think that it might have been possible that I’d have been disciplined for the kinds of things that I said in Nate’s mission, but not so much nowadays. Just as Grant Palmer was disfellowshipped for doing more than any of the September 6 were excommunicated for. I view that as progress. Even so, the Kingdom of God, it seems, is fickle. Not so with me–I’m unwavering.

    Adam: Back to your question: Have I satisfied you that Oaks is saying that dissent is evil? If so, I’m interested to hear you explain a situation outside of cult religions where dissent, as such, is evil. If I have not satisfied you, then please elaborate on why not.

  91. Hiram Page on April 12, 2006 at 10:26 am

    There is the “right to bitch” and the question of the practical value of different kinds of criticisms.

    Those who are fully engaged in Church programs know intimately the workings of certain aspects of the institution. They bring that perspective to the table when it is time to air criticisms. If the issue at hand is how to tweak the system to make it function better according to particular local circumstances, the perspective of the engaged is invaluable.

    Those who have ceased to participate have another valuable critical perspective to add. They can offer some indication of how people perceive the Church has failed them. In some ways the opinions of the latter are as or more valuable than those of the former in certain respects. If their issues can be addressed without compromising the divine mission of the Church, and assuming that the goal of the Church is to bring people to Christ, figuring out how to bring them back to activity should entail listening to their criticisms too.

    The question of the “right to bitch” seems to me to be a matter of personal concern. In considering whether one has a right to complain, or in weighing the value of the criticisms of others, the consideration of standing is important. In the quest to strengthen myself in the Spirit, it is vital for me to be discerning in the matter of how I judge ideas and other people. From the institutional perspective, I should think the question of the right to complain is far less useful. All perspectives ought to be weighed, to the degree possible, toward the end of fulfilling the divine mandate of the Church.

  92. DKL on April 12, 2006 at 10:41 am

    Jim F: It may be that I am, in fact, right. But at that point I don’t think it is up to me to do anything more. I have to be willing to suffer unrighteousness willingly if I am to imitate Christ, and sometimes that is as true within the Church as otherwise.

    Yes, the standard argument against the value of dissent is that it interferes and impedes, and everyone believes that the instance in which they want to squelch dissent is the one true, necessary instance.. Athenians used this argument to squelch dissent during the Peloponnesian War. Catholics used this to suppress heresy, astronomical or otherwise. People–educated people of means–objected to freedom of the press in the Weimar Republic on these very same grounds. The Soviet Union made people pay dearly for interfering with the progress of their workers’ paradise.

    It’s not just that this is a morally objectionable position (though, of course, it is). It’s also that this is an altogether futile approach. We can all understand the motivation behind John Adams’ anti-sedition law, but we also view it as ultimately ineffectual. As Bertrand Russell said, “the Crotonians burnt the Pythagorean school. But burning schools, or men for that matter, has always been singularly unhelpful in stamping out unorthodoxy.” So it is with all authoritarian efforts to squelch dissent.

    Imagine going back in time 20 years and trying to explain to someone the kinds of things that we discuss here in blogs, how often heretical ideas are debated and advocated without fear of official reprisal, or how readily available anti-Mormon literature would become thanks to the internet. 20 years ago, a lot of Mormons would have found such possibilities quite alarming. But here we are, and the church is stronger than ever. This is why we laugh every time the press says that such-and-such a book will “blow the lid off of Mormonism.” Information is our friend, and Mormonism has benefitted greatly from its participation in the marketplace of ideas.

    In short, Jim, the ideas expressed in Oaks’ statement have been relegated to the ash-heap of history. One wonders whether the church learned anything at all from the destruction of Nauvoo Expositor.

    It always sounds good in writing to say, “be like Christ.” But dissent isn’t always straightforward like that. I’m grateful to Juanita Brooks for her expression of dissent. I’m grateful for the general reaction that saints have when people are disciplined for dissent, which has resulted in a decreased likelihood of such discipline in the future.

  93. Adam Greenwood on April 12, 2006 at 10:47 am

    DKL,

    I don’t find your riposte to Jim convincing. You seem to be arguing that (1) public attacks always make the attacked institution or person stronger (I disagree), (2) public attacks are ok so long as they don’t weaken the attacked institution or person stronger (I disagree), and (3) the fact that some institutions have wrongly tried to suppress dissent means its always moral to dissent (I disagree. In fact, I think this is a non-sequitur).

    What if Joseph Smith, for example, had responded to the First Vision by informing folks what an idiot God was to say such hurtful things about other churches?

  94. Seth R. on April 12, 2006 at 11:30 am

    Haven’t read the discussion following the original post. But responding to Nate,

    When a person who isn’t supportive of the local church, who doesn’t contribute anything starts criticizing something about church and suggesting ways it needs to change, my reaction is:

    That’s well and fine for you. You don’t have to live with the results of your reforms. I do. How do I know you aren’t intentionally trying to undermine the church for your own amusement value? How do I know you don’t have some sort of irrational vendetta against my faith? How do I know you really seriously thought this suggestion of yours through? Especially in light of the fact that you have very little real investment in the results.

    In short, if you aren’t a player, I don’t trust you to reform the game.

    This is why whenever there’s talk of reforming the 3-hour meeting block, I tend to ignore or minimalize the opinions of those who claim they’d attend church more if it were shorter.

    Sure you would… Sure you would.

  95. Beijing on April 12, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    86. “2) A follower of Christ owes some duties to everyone. Nate Oman’s point here is that we owe greater duties of attention to insiders. My corollary is that in a fallen world where each Christian has finite time and resources, duties to listen to the sincere complaints of strangers are the sorts of duties that will and ought to give way to other duties.”

    That sounds to me like, “Yes, the publicans and harlots make some valid points. Yes, the man by the side of the road is genuinely in pain. But with my finite time and resources, my duties to my fellow pharisees and priests and levites are more pressing.”

    88. “Beijing: You ought to reread my original post. You will notice that nowhere do I argue that those who do not “pay their duesâ€? cannot make valid points. Indeed, I explicitly stated that such complaints are entitled to the validity of their reasons.”

    Nate, you ought to reread my comments. You will notice that I understood you’re allowing for the validity of the non-dues-paying complainers’ points, and that in fact, I have pointed that fact out to others, even quoting your language about the validity of the complainers’ reasons. Perhaps this discussion is vain, since my lapsed RM status means that you believe you have no duty to listen to me.

  96. Travis on April 12, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    Jim F. (#89) wrote: “I think you’re right, genuine dissent is genuinely evil. And you’re also right about the reason: it interferes with the activities of those from whom the dissent is taken. In a democratic institution, that wouldn’t be the case. But if I believe that the Church is ultimately led by God, though often roughly because of the human agents through whom he acts, then I believe that the institution of the Church is different from that of a democratic institution, and I am unwilling to interfere with its activities. It may be that, even having gone as far up the ladder as I can go with my complaint or difficulty, I find no satisfaction. It may be that I still think I’m right. It may be that I am, in fact, right. But at that point I don’t think it is up to me to do anything more. I have to be willing to suffer unrighteousness willingly if I am to imitate Christ, and sometimes that is as true within the Church as otherwise.”

    Very well said, Jim.

    Here’s my take: I believe that criticism from a person who is committed to the Gospel and the Church will likely be different in terms of content and method of delivery from the person who is not committed. The differences may be subtle, but they’ll still be material. As a thought experiment, it’s nice to assume that the message from the committed and the not-committed is identical, but I suspect that this is rarely the case in reality.

    The credibility of the person issuing the complaint is not the only important thing here. In my view, forcing yourself to raise your concerns in the context of a card-carrying, testimony-holding, trying-to-be-humble disciple of Christ will heavily shape what you say, to whom you say it, and how you react to those who don’t agree with what you say. When we have a concern or feel the need to criticize I think it imposes a very helpful discipline and attitude of care to explicitly think about how to express the concerns/criticism from a position of faith, obedience, and humility. In my mind the greatest example of this is Gene England. He had a wonderful way of raising concerns–sometimes very pointedly–while still maintaining a positive, faithful position.

  97. Kimball Hunt on April 12, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    I enjoyed Nate’s original — “blogging” very much — along with the resultant discussion fleshing out various facets of his perception and sentiment.

    Any enterprise benefits from support and can be harmed by censure and to gage the type and amount of vested interest in the goals of this enterprise is only reasonable and proper. That said, certain enterprises are by nature more regimented and heirarchical than others: maneuvers of the U.S. Marine Corps vis a vis spontaneous eruption of civil strife. Yet the more top-down “coordination of actions” type of structure has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is the narrow concentrations of the power to conceive of goals and to then aquiring the means and effecting the exucution thereof; and the disadvantage is the narrow concentration of the power to conceive of goals and then aquiring the means and effecting exucution thereof.

    And in each particular instance the individual chooses whether to join into concerted action with some aggregate enterprise or to be an anarchist; and people actively involved in the enterprise at hand must gage which status the people they are dealing with hold.

  98. Kimball Hunt on April 12, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    Then there’s yet another dichotomy or duality with regard to organizations. One pole has to do with forms and appearances, the other has to do with changes and essences. Both must be paid attention to, so while someone, yes, must attend to the discerning of friends versus foes, another is about the business of turning foes into friends and guarding against friends turning into foes.

    Altruistically “loving your enemy” doesn’t mean you give someone who hates you the power and means to kill you — as this is not loving yourselves; loving your enemies is to love them like yourselves, to want what to reasonably accomodate what you believe would be in their interest, balancing your perceptions of this against what you discern to be theirs perceptions of it.

  99. Mike B on April 12, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    Comment by Seth R #94: “This is why whenever there’s talk of reforming the 3-hour meeting block, I tend to ignore or minimalize the opinions of those who claim they’d attend church more if it were shorter. Sure you would… Sure you would.”

    I found this to be true of ward temple night. Those who complain that they would go if it were not on Friday night are also not found there on Thursday or Saturday when it’s occasionally changed to those days.

  100. Jim F. on April 12, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    DKL (#92) I’m grateful to Juanita Brooks for her expression of dissent. I’m not a historian and, so, may well be wrong, but my recollection is that Brooks did not engage in public rebuke of the leadership. If I’m right, then she is one for my side.

    Juanita Brooks’ response to the Church aside, however, I don’t find your argument convincing because it consistently assumes that I should deal with all organizations in the same way. I believe that I’ve covenanted not to do that. Can you justify your assumption?

    Is my position a dangerous one? From an objective point of view, absolutely. If God isn’t leading the Church (which I do not think means that every decision made by our leaders is the right one, only that, in the aggregate, their decisions tend in the direction God wants), then my willingness to give my leaders a pass on public criticism when I would not give others a pass is dangerous. It could easily lead to totalitarianism. However, because I believe that God is leading the Church, I don’t worry about the danger. (By the way, for logicians only, the previous argument isn’t invalid, isn’t a case of denying the antecedent, because I take the first assumption to be a bi-conditional, though I’ve put it in ordinary language as a conditional.)

  101. DKL on April 12, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    Adam, I still don’t understand two things. First, do you still question whether Oak is saying that dissent is evil? And if not, what situation outside of cult religions where dissent, as such, evil? (I’ll still grand an exception for public school funding, but upon further consideration, I’m inclined to think that belief in the current regime of social security funding is, indeed, a cult religion).

  102. DKL on April 12, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    Jim, there’s a lot that I don’t understand about the church and about temple covenants. But it seems to me that either most Temple covenants aren’t really important, or they’re open to a broad range of interpretations. Anyone worrying about whether they spend too much time with loud laughter or light-mindedness has issues. Well adjusted couples know that the Law of the Obedience does not make the husband a wife’s judge, jury, and executioner. And the Law of Consecration notwithstanding, I would never advise anyone to leave their entire estate to the LDS church. And what exactly does “every other unholy and impure practice” refer to?

    As far as evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed goes, I do not agree with the statement that it is evil speaking if it’s true. Here in Boston, with the Catholic Priest pedophile scandal on everybody’s minds, Mitt Romney would be irreparably damaged if he adopted Oaks’ position about remaining quiet–and rightly so. When apostles claim that dissent is bad because they acts on behalf of a deity, they are using the influence of their position to escape accountability. That’s why I say that his statements “simply fail to cut mustard for standards of accountability for public figures.”

    As far as Juanita Brooks, dissent and public displays of disobedience intersect somewhere. I’d place her scholarship squarely within that area of intersection.

  103. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 12, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    DKL: When apostles claim that dissent is bad because they acts on behalf of a deity, they are using the influence of their position to escape accountability. That’s why I say that his statements “simply fail to cut mustard for standards of accountability for public figures.�

    I disagree with you. First of all, the Mitt Romney example has nothing to do with what Elder Oaks said, because the authorities in question are not called of God as the apostles and other leaders are. He was speaking specifically about public denouncements of Church leaders. Also, I don’t think that Elder Oaks would expect someone to “keep quiet” on clear issues of illegal abuse.

    I think you might be missing the point of what he is saying, and I think it’s important to consider the reasons for his denouncement of denounement of leaders.

    1. If we publicly speak evil of leaders, we undermine their ability to do what they need to do — the Lord’s work. Such slandering is not productive, and, indeed, usually harmful. Imagine someone who reads about some leader whose name is being slandered in the bloggernacle, and that person then finds him/herself in a ward where this person is a leader…and the only image that person has of the leader is negative. That person is already in the hole and fighting the forces of negativism before even getting a chance to know the leader. Just a simple example, but you get the idea. This could also be the case with verbal backbiting. (I was actually the victim of such behavior when in a leadership position, and it took months for those working with me to figure out that what had been said about me was false. What a waste of time (and what a horrible experience that was for me! They also undermined the position I held, which could make it harder for the next person as well.) In short, would any of us want want to be responsible for someone’s spiritual progress to be hindered by something negative that we say about a leader?

    2. If we speak negatively about our leaders (or really, about anyone), we risk losing the Spirit. I don’t believe for a second that our leaders encourage us to avoid dissent to escape accountability. They do it because they know it is best for us and for those around us. They are also preaching doctrine that has been taught throughout the ages about sustaining and following prophets.

    A couple of other thoughts:
    - Our leaders could never “escape accountability” — they are accountable to God! As Jim said, we can have confidence in the system because God is ultimately the One in charge.
    - Remember, when something doesn’t seem to be working, there are channels to use to make suggestions or to “file complaints.” I can’t think of any kind of situation where a public complaint is ever warranted, or ever positive.

  104. Ben H on April 12, 2006 at 6:41 pm

    DKL, the first paragraph in #102 does not help your case. It seems to express little more than a generalized grouchiness about the temple. That’s a conversation for another time and place.

    Back to the point:
    a) No one is suggesting that church members should keep quiet regarding crimes, recognizable straightforwardly under the laws of the land, such as the sexual abuse cases you mention.

    b)As far as evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed goes, I do not agree with the statement that it is evil speaking if it’s true. So, are you saying that it doesn’t matter how you say something (or where or when or to whom) as long as it’s true in some narrowly construed sense of truth? Well, that just seems obviously false. If my doctor walks into my workplace and delivers a diagnosis in the earshot of all my coworkers, he has done something highly improper, and the accuracy of the diagnosis is neither here nor there. Certain statements about a woman’s figure would be appropriate for her husband to make, but would be very rude coming from a mere coworker. Analogous norms of appropriate expression apply to all human relationships, don’t they? E.g. there are criticisms on issues that matter which one shouldn’t make publicly.

  105. Jim F. on April 12, 2006 at 7:02 pm

    Ben (#104): I think that DKL was responding to my invocation of the covenant not to speak evil of the Lord’s anointed and not just being generally grumpy about the temple.

    DKL (#102): I think the only thing we can say at this point is that we disagree. I think that if the covenant has any meaning–and I think it does–then it means I will refrain from public criticism or disparagment of those who lead the Church, as leaders. It doesn’t mean I won’t complain or criticize. It doesn’t mean I’ll believe that everything they say came directly from God’s mouth to their ears. It means I’m willing to refrain from impeding the work by criticizing them publicly. It is the impediment that the speech creates that is evil, not its truth value. That’s how I understand that covenant, though–of course–I may be wrong. Have you got a better interpretation of it?

  106. Jim F. on April 12, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    DKL (#104): I don’t see Brooks’ book as either dissent or a public display of disobedience. Is there something I don’t know (quite possible)? I know that people didn’t want her to write the book or publish it, that people didn’t like it. But if that not-wanting wasn’t public, how was the publication itself a public display of dissent or disobedience?

  107. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 12, 2006 at 7:14 pm

    I wanted to add something to this whole concept of “evil speaking.” Someone once pointed out in a class that we should consider what the word “anointed” means. Are only those who lead the Church anointed? It could be argued that we are under covenant to not speak negatively about any of our brothers and sisters. Indeed, that is something else Elder Oaks says. (Which reminds me of how I felt after Elder Wood’s talk. Because of the internet and more ease in communicating, paraphrasing Elder Eyring’s words from his talk, it is becoming harder, not easier, to keep our covenants! The increase in communication and media does not change what is right in the eyes of God. We have to be that much more vigilant in striving to be truly Christlike and truly obedient.

    Back to Elder Oaks:
    Faultfinding, evil speaking, and backbiting are obviously unchristian. The Bible commands us to avoid “evil speakings.� (See 1 Pet. 2:1.) It tells us to “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you.� (Eph. 4:31.) Modern revelations direct us to avoid “backbiting,� “evil speaking,� and “find[ing] fault one with another.� (See D&C 20:53–54; D&C 42:27; D&C 88:124; and D&C 136:23.)

    We are given these commandments for a reason. The Apostle Paul advised the Saints to “grieve not the holy Spirit of God� (Eph. 4:30) by evil speaking. Of faultfinders, President Brigham Young said, “The Spirit of God has no place in [such] persons.� (Journal of Discourses, 8:13.) The primary reason we are commanded to avoid criticism is to preserve our own spiritual well-being, not to protect the person whom we would criticize. (emphasis mine)

  108. Kimball Hunt on April 12, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    Heartfelt pleading about specialness, although essential for espirit de corps, is problematic if it’s swallowed whole. For example, it would be best for the officers and enlisted
    of the Marines to feel a faith in specialness of the Corps equal to true believers’ to their religion or I daresay cult, but it’d be scary to hear them say the interests of the Corps must trump all other factors in any circumstances and also an effective commandant would never allow his faith in the “honor of the Corps” blind him to human foibles, would ensure the means for bottom-up information to percolate.

  109. Kimball Hunt on April 12, 2006 at 8:07 pm

    postscript! Hey people, I’m so very proud that Juanita’s my like 2nd cous but I’ve only read two of her books and not Meadows. However I’ve read that Juanita did publish the fact that David O. McKay was planning to reinstate the membership of John D. Lee despite McKay’s asking her not to do so — McKay’s even saying he’d indefinately postpone the ecclesiastic action should Juanita publish mention of it. Even though she did so, the Church subsequently reinstated Lee’s (who’s a progenitor of former U.S. Solicitor General Rex D. Lee, by the way) membership anyway. However it turned out ironically that if the Church ended up being widely praised in most quarters for this action.

  110. Kimball Hunt on April 12, 2006 at 8:12 pm

    I only met Juanita once in 1979 after she was already suffering from Alzheimers but I felt very fortunate to have “met” her (she’d taken my dad under her wing when he attended Dixie College in the 1930s).

  111. Adam Greenwood on April 12, 2006 at 8:59 pm

    ““2) A follower of Christ owes some duties to everyone. Nate Oman’s point here is that we owe greater duties of attention to insiders. My corollary is that in a fallen world where each Christian has finite time and resources, duties to listen to the sincere complaints of strangers are the sorts of duties that will and ought to give way to other duties.â€?

    That sounds to me like, “Yes, the publicans and harlots make some valid points. Yes, the man by the side of the road is genuinely in pain. But with my finite time and resources, my duties to my fellow pharisees and priests and levites are more pressing.â€?”

    It may sound like that to you, but it isn’t. Unless you think that complaining is the moral equivalent of bleeding to death on the side of the road.

  112. Adam Greenwood on April 12, 2006 at 9:06 pm

    Kimball Hunt,
    #97 and #98 are profound. Thank you.

  113. Kimball Hunt on April 12, 2006 at 9:18 pm

    Thankyou Adam.

    [erratum -- #110: 1977]

  114. DKL on April 12, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    Adam: You seem to be arguing that (1) public attacks always make the attacked institution or person stronger (I disagree), (2) public attacks are ok so long as they don’t weaken the attacked institution or person stronger (I disagree), and (3) the fact that some institutions have wrongly tried to suppress dissent means its always moral to dissent (I disagree. In fact, I think this is a non-sequitur).

    I’m not arguing any of these, Adam.

    Ben, Jim F. is right. I love the temple, and I have since I first received my endowment, on October 31, 1990 in the Salt Lake Temple. I’m just making a point about the nature of the covenants that we make there in response to Jim’s question about the one dealing with evil speaking.

    As far as the lies we say to grease the gears of our personal relationships, these are to avoid being rude on a personal level. Imagine Boyd Packer trying to justify his alleged involvement in excommunicating people by using the example of his wife’s ugly red dress. I don’t see what that has to do with the accountability that inevitably comes from participating in the control of large amounts of assets (especially when they are privileged assets, in the sense that they are tax exempt and completely unaccountable to public scrutiny) and from having influence over the opinions of large numbers of people. It may be rude or inappropriate to joke about Oaks belonging to the “Magnificent Twelve” or dancing around in “The Apostle and I” because he bears a striking resemblance to Yul Brynner, but it can’t possibly be evil speaking.

    Jim F, you’re probably right that we’ll have to agree to disagree. In any case, history just doesn’t bear out the notion that environments that allow dissent impede progress–but it sure does take care of most things that were a bad ideas in the first place.

  115. Adam Greenwood on April 12, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    See #93 for an example of evil public dissent.

  116. Jim F. on April 12, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    DKL: history just doesn’t bear out the notion that environments that allow dissent impede progress.

    Agreed. But history also doesn’t bear out the notion that the dead are resurrrected. In the religious part of my life, I often find myself voting against history. Because of my religious belief, I don’t think that the general truth you espouse applies in this particular case, though I recognize that it applies in most, perhaps all, other cases.

  117. DKL on April 12, 2006 at 9:45 pm

    Adam, Re #93. I get the feeling that John Stuart Mill would have said exactly that.

  118. Ben H on April 12, 2006 at 10:02 pm

    Okay, DKL, I see what you meant in that paragraph. Certainly the temple covenants leave a lot of room for judgment and/or interpretation, relying on the spirit etc, to translate them into specific behaviors.

    You’re right that it matters a great deal whether church leaders do their jobs well or not (managing how to spend all that tithing, etc.). That doesn’t mean that there aren’t better and worse ways to approach the matter if one has doubts about whether they are doing their jobs well.

    JS Mill, of course, specifically said (in On Liberty) that the reason lots of free public speech and debate is necessary for finding the truth and the best ways of acting is the finitude of human reason. God’s reason doesn’t seem to suffer from the same problem. Hence if God is leading the church, Mill’s principles are of doubtful relevance, by his own reasoning.

  119. Clark on April 12, 2006 at 10:11 pm

    Perhaps, or perhaps not Ben. I could see some arguing that the finitude of human understanding of God entails that we need lots of free speech to discern it. Of course the problem with that line of logic is that assumption that everyone has equal access to God in the same way.

  120. Kimball Hunt on April 12, 2006 at 10:33 pm

    I think what Travis says in 96 about how

    “. . . It imposes a very helpful discipline and attitude of care to explicitly think about how to express the concerns/criticism from a position of faith, obedience, and humility. In my mind the greatest example of this is Eugene England”

    – is utterly true, though I can but abstractly apply it — feeling the shame of the “born anarchist” who’d yet be discerning philosophical notions applying to military science; yet an outside (versus an inside) view of the forest, if it provides a much more superficial view of the forest itself nonetheless is the absolute best view possible of the forest’s interface with the surrounding landscape.

  121. Robert C. on April 12, 2006 at 11:49 pm

    Nate (#89): Although I don’t generally regret my decision against going to law school, I wonder sometimes if that means I should feel guilty telling lawyer jokes to my students….

    DKL (#114): I would genuinely be interested in hearing how you understand the evil-speaking temple covenant (echoing Jim F.’s question in #105; sorry if you’ve explained this above and I missed it…). It seems to me that if it simply means not spreading untruths, it is a bit redundnant to specify “the Lord’s annointed” rather than just saying “don’t speak evil of others” or something (this means I’m not convinced by m&m’s this point m&m raises in #107).

    Perhaps your view is that this covenant is significant in that we should be especially careful in terms spreading untruths about leaders who have a higher profile than common church members (and untrue rumors are more apt to be spread regarding those with a high profile)?

    Alternatively, perhaps your understanding of this covenant is in regard to the intention of the speaking. That is, if you believe you are coming to the defense of someone and standing up to a church leaders abuse, this does not constitute evil-speaking because your motivation is to defend the abused (or correct the false teaching), not to criticize the leader personally. To my mind, this is part of the connotation suggested by the quotes m&m provided in #107 where the term “fault-finding” is used in relation to “evil-speaking.” That is, I think fault-finding has a strong connotation regarding the intention of the speaker.

  122. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 12, 2006 at 11:57 pm

    I think fault-finding has a strong connotation regarding the intention of the speaker.

    This is an excellent point.

    As a clarification of #107, I didn’t mean to ignore the very specific commandments we have to follow and sustain our leaders. We have a special responsibility to do so. But I do think it is interesting to ponder the potentially expanded view of what “evil speaking” we should avoid. After all, that is something we are counseled about a lot, too. I don’t think we will be justified in saying, “Well, since this person is not my leader, I can say all the awful things I want and still be in line with my covenants” because that violates even the most basic commandments to love our neighbor and our enemy. Granted, maybe temple covenants are only leader-focused, but I have a hard time believing that somehow our covenants there don’t cover our behavior toward those not in leadership positions as well. Doesn’t make sense to me. But maybe that just falls under the “obedience” umbrella. :)

  123. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 13, 2006 at 12:03 am

    OK, Robert, I think I’m going to agree with you more than I agree with myself. :) Just started thinking about how the progression of covenants corresponds to the progression of “glory” as it were in the temple. (If that seems obscure, it probably is, but I don’t really want to use specifics, so that’s all I’ll say.) With that in mind, I think you are probably more right than I am about the specific concern about evil speaking.

    (Being nice to everyone else is more a baptismal level covenant anyway. )

  124. Richard on April 13, 2006 at 11:31 pm

    Perhaps I can provide a little context for my comment made to Nate when he was nine years old.
    At the time, I was a little put off by some of those in the Eastern media who decided that they needed to write a quick story about Mormons. Those stories frequently missed the mark. I think that part of the problem were the sources they used. The reporters would come out to S.L.C. (or sometimes just made a few phone calls and didn’t even bother to come out) and talk to the same old lapsed Mormon war horses to get the “real scoop” on Mormons.
    The problem was that those sources were frequently folks who hadn’t darkened the door of the Church in years. At best the information they imparted was terribily out of date. At worst, it was often mean spirited.
    Serving tends to soften our hearts. We are more likely to care about those that we serve. We are also much more likely to realize our own short comings. This is important because we are more likely to be more forgiving of how others (Church leaders?) fulfill their callings when we realize that we ourselves are in need of forgiveness in how we fulfill our callings.
    Much of what passes for “the Church” is very experiential. It is a grand dance of millions of people doing their callings. Without the commitment that comes from fulfilling a calling and being a tithepayer the observer is likely to miss the soul of the Church and hence may not be the most insightful information source.

  125. Kimball Hunt on April 13, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    You and your son I believe to be truly exceptional people, Richard, and Times & Seasons a phenomenal site.

    I’m one who has literally hated the Mormon Church for about twenty-five years. Hated it. Because I felt I wasn’t good enough for it despite my best efforts. But through this site I’ve been able to forgive the Church, despite the arrogance such a statement supplies, and also forgive all those in it — which is actually what I’ve long considered the Church: the people in it. The people on this site have assisted me to do this just by being themselves: Utterly sincere, utterly serious about what matters most to them, utterly conscientious, selfless — oh and smart and all that worldly stuff too. Anyway: thanks.

    Kimball Leigh Hunt

  126. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 14, 2006 at 1:59 am

    Kimball,
    You might enjoy the following article….

    http://www.ldsmag.com/myth/060412universe.html

  127. Robert C. on April 14, 2006 at 9:07 am

    RIchard (#124), I think you’re on to a pretty deep issue, one that I think we’ve only touched on in this thread and others. It’s something I think all of us intellectuals (using the term liberally to include anyone with enough interest to read this blog) have a tendency to forget. I think we often discuss things from a distant, objective, neutral point of view without realizing that in the process of distancing ourselves from what we’re trying to discuss, we lose something crucial to the understanding thereof. I’ll use the excuse of not wanting to threadjack to stop here (the truth is I don’t think I understand this very well, but I sense its profundity).

    Kimball (#125), I’ve really enjoyed your posts, and I relate to the arrogance you mention. I’ve had a few poignant experiences that made me realize that in order to forgive someone, you have to—by the very definition of forgiveness—admit that they’ve done you wrong. In this sense, I think false humility can be very damaging. So I like to joke that it’s easy to forgive everyone when you know they’re all wrong and only you are right….

  128. Nate Oman on April 14, 2006 at 9:42 am

    Dad: Thanks for the clarification and comments.

  129. DKL on April 15, 2006 at 10:21 am

    Ben H, I don’t want to bind my argument to JS Mill’s theory of liberty. I made my comment about John Stuart Mill thinking something more along the lines of his statement about God’s goodness:

    I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures; and if such a creature can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.

    This is true on some level for all of us.

    That said, Clark is right about finitism. Claiming too direct of a link for church leaders with God runs afoul of what Arrington called, “The marionette fallacy.”

    Robert C, it’s easier to say what the covenant isn’t than what it is. And here are two things that it is not: (a) a get out of jail free card for behaving badly, and (b) a club to beet dissenting members over the head with. Christ is portrayed putting down dissenters with comments of fury such as “Ye serpents, ye brood of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell,” and I consider this approach to be one of the more glaring problem with the moral philosophy that Christ is portrayed as teaching. I think that Socrates’ approach to those who hated him (which was rather bland) is much more indicative of moral perfection.

    When church leaders say harmful things, I believe that all church members have a moral obligation to object (and they sure can’t excommunicate every one of us). Take as an example Elder Nelson’s recent comments counseling against lewd talk between a husband and wife. I’ve commented elsewhere that this is just plain silly, but I do think that this kind of proscription concerning private intimacy contributes to the accumulation of misconceptions about sex on the part of Mormons. (I am, by the way, shocked that more hasn’t been said about this.)

  130. DKL on April 15, 2006 at 10:31 am

    Adam, I only just now realized that you intended #93 as a “a situation outside of cult religions where dissent, as such, is evil.” It honestly hadn’t occurred to me that you intended it as an example, because it so obviously begs the question of whether God is really telling him something. Even Joseph Smith received false revelations.

    Throughout history (to speak as Bushman does), Jesus has appeared to a lot of people. Back in Joseph Smith’s day, Jesus was quite making appearances. And in these appearances, he often said things that were quite different from what he told Joseph Smith. Nowadays, Jesus’s dance card isn’t nearly as full as it once was (not to worry, UFO abductions and black helicopters have more than made up the slack), but he still appears to a great many more people than you’d expect. Ever fundamentalist polygamist leaders purport to have seen Jesus.

  131. Kimball Hunt on April 15, 2006 at 10:52 am

    DKL: Such observations (Jesus vis a vis Aristotle, various people claiming authority due to visions of Jesus) began to trouble me from puberty nonetheless I was certain I’d eventually find my way back to my childlike position of all faith — a step you’ve apparently made: well, if not rather an internal setpoint retained? What’s troubling about such doubts however is the tendency for the Church (qua “The” Church — as She capitalizes Herself . . . lol) to spew the lukewarm out of Her mouth — leaving the once-spewed tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and in all other ways flighty and airy.

  132. Kimball Hunt on April 15, 2006 at 10:55 am

    Erratum: vis a vis Socrates as per your example.

  133. DKL on April 23, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    I just re-read Lavina Fielding Anderson’s essay on ecclesiastical abuse in the church (published in Dialogue, 26(1) [Spring 1993], its pages 7-64, entitled “The LDS intellectual community and church leadership: A contemporary chronology”). Of course, she was excommunicated for writing it–she names names and points fingers. Her article is a great reminder of why we have every moral obligation to vocally dissent from the harmful behavior of leaders of a church that we help to build through our tithing and our labor.

    It also reminds me that Eugene England, Armand Mauss, and Lowell Bennion (saying in response to criticism of symposia, “It is a poor religion that can’t stand the test of thinking”) all vocally dissented from General Authorities.

    Reading it this time, I also made a mental connection that I hadn’t before. She discusses Omar Kader in it (p 46-47), and I now remember that he was in my ward (the Oakton Ward in the Oakton, Virginia Stake) when I was a teenager–he was a really great guy. In a ward that transient, I don’t remember many adults that weren’t YM leaders or Sunday school teachers when I was a kid, but I remember him for good reason.

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