Alternate Voices

May 5, 2006 | 45 comments
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One of the more interesting pieces that I have read on Mormon intellectual life is Armand Mauss’s essay “Alternate Voices,”Sunstone April 1990. The article was written in response to a General Conference sermon by Elder Oaks of the same name. (Also worth reading here.) Brother Mauss’s article in its entirety is reproduced here with the kind permission of Sustone and Brother Mauss.

“Alternate Voices: The Calling and its Implications”

By Armand L. Mauss

In recent Sunstone symposia and LDS discussion groups, much attention has focused on Elder Dallin Oaks’s remarks about “alternate voices” in general conference last year. I would guess that most of the Saints had no idea who or what he was referring to. Even among the participants in the “unsponsored” literature and discussion groups, there has been no clear consensus about the meaning or the implications of what Elder Oaks said. Some have found it ominous or at least condescending; some have seen it as a harmless, matter-of-fact clarification of leadership attitudes. Some have even taken encouragement from the fact that it was not more specific and constraining. For me the conference address and ensuing discussion have provided the occasion for reflection upon the past twenty-five years of my own intellectual activity in the Mormon arena.

Historical Perspective

To begin with, an historical perspective seems helpful. We have always had “alternate voices” in the Church. I am not referring to apostates (nor was Elder Oaks, I believe) but to certain loyal and thoughtful saints of independent mind who would occasionally question conventional doctrine or policy–and do so publicly. Before about 1940, such public discussions frequently took place in official Church magazines and even among the general authorities themselves. For evidence of this contention, one has only to consult early issues of the Improvement Era, Contributor, and Juvenile Instructor, or to review the careers of figures like B.H. Roberts. Even the LDS Institute program once provided a forum for discussion and sometimes honest disagreement among the devout and intellectually cultivated scholars so often found in the ranks of the Institute faculty in those early days.

In many ways, the Church was like one big family during its first century or so. This was especially true of the general authorities, who constituted a rather small circle of relatives and boyhood friends. Their families shared impeccable pioneer credentials and intimate knowledge of each other. When Orson Pratt disagreed publicly with Brigham Young about doctrine, they had been through too much together for Brother Brigham, even as president, to question basic loyalty and commitment of Brother Orson. When B.H. Roberts and the young Joseph Fielding Smith disagreed publicly about evolution, neither risked suspicions of heresy, apostasy, or disloyalty to the Brethren. When Heber J. Grant as president of the Church disagreed publicly with Apostle Reed Smoot over the League of Nations, it probably never occurred to President Grant to question Elder Smoot’s loyalty after their shared travail in 1903. Even when J. Golden Kimball regularly embarrassed some of his colleagues, they knew, after all, that he was “Hber’s boy.” His rock-solid Mormon heritage was more important than his idiosyncrasies in assessing his reliability.

It is a different church today for reasons that are quite understandable. As in any organization, rapid growth and complexity have brought increasing reliance on centralization and standardization (now called “correlation”). Some of the general authorities might still be related to each other, but not nearly so many and certainly not so closely. Recruitment to their ranks comes increasingly from outside the founding families and even from outside North America. Some of the recruits to general authority rank have come up through the Church civil service bureaucracy (especially the Church Education System, C.E.S.) where they have had opportunities to demonstrate their loyalty, but not by questioning “the Brethren,” to be sure.

The fact is that the presiding brethren are simply not in a position to know each other (especially the Seventy) as intimately as they once did, so they cannot afford to be as tolerant of disagreements, especially open disagreements, even among themselves, as they once were. Their relationships (except the few that are lifelong) are less familial in nature and more bureaucratic. They cannot predict or control as confidently as they once could where such disagreements will end or what the implications will be. The George P. Lee case is a particularly painful illustration of the difficulty that the Church leaders face today in truly knowing and understanding each other’s thoughts and feelings intimately. Nor can they know the ordinary Saints as well as their predecessors could; they cannot visit the wards and stakes with any appreciable frequency.

In such a situation, disagreements and serious questions within the ranks (either of the leadership or of the Church as a whole) can no longer be readily contained or managed by resort to family bonds, shared biographies, or mutual reliance on well-known ultimate commitments. Nor can the leadership enjoy the luxury of indulging their individual opinions and disagreements in public. The confidence of the membership and of the local leadership in the general authorities can no longer depend even partly upon a personal awareness of the hearts, minds, backgrounds, or individual charisma of those brethren. That confidence must now rely upon their formal ecclesiastical roles and callings as “prophets, seers, and revelators.”

The spectacle of public disagreements among these distant prophets, on any subject, carries the risk of undermining grassroots confidence in their instructions on any other subject. Thus, such disagreements as they have (which, I do not doubt, are many and vigorous) must be carried out entirely behind closed doors and settled ultimately by top-down directives. Necessary as all that might be in a modern church so “correlated” and so conscious of public relations, it gives the largely false appearance of a monolithic and intellectually homogeneous leadership. To the extent that such homogeneity seems necessary, we cannot expect today’s Church leadership to recruit ( at any level) the independent intellectuals and scholars of the kind we once saw in Elders B.H. Roberts, John A. Widtsoe, James E. Talmage, or Joseph F. Merrill. Different skills, talents, and training are needed for today’s corporate Church leadership.

The Modern Division of Labor

Today’s “alternate voices” are found no longer among the general authorities but instead among an amorphous and informal body of independent scholars and intellectuals. While sometimes called a “community,” and including many close friends of long standing, this body is probably too large, too dispersed, and too diverse to qualify as a real community. It is tied together mainly through the reading and writing of a common literature published in various “unsponsored” books and articles, and through participation in such gatherings as those of the Mormon History Association and the Sunstone Symposium. The religious beliefs and intellectual commitments of its members cover a broad spectrum. Its numbers include LDS and RLDS members, non-members, devout believers, doubters, and apostates; but in my experience the great majority are active, loyal, and committed Latter-day Saints who are willing to tolerate diversity and ambiguity in the quest for truth, intellectual integrity, and fuller understanding.

This collection of “alternate voices” has an important part to play in the life of the Church and of each ward, even when it is worrisome to leaders. Many feel direct spiritual calls to offer their “alternate voices” on occasion. Such calls are clearly implied in Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28, especially in the passage about being “anxiously engaged in a good cause . . . of their own free will.” It is important to emphasize, though, that these are not Church calls, which can come only through priesthood leadership. We must never confuse our personal spiritual gifts, talents, and calls (whether of an intellectual or any other kind) with callings in Church leadership. We should feel free, in a candid but respectful and constructive spirit, to offer our ideas and suggestions to Church leaders from the greatest to the least, whether they ask us for them or not, for that is what we are called to do. Yet we must never aspire to displace those leaders, to undermine their influence and authority, or in any wa to interfere with the exercise of their callings and responsibilities as they understand them.

Such a de facto and tacit separation of responsibilities between Church leaders and “alternate voices” actually works out quite well in practice, as long as there are not excesses on either side (as there sometimes are). The leaders of the Church, including the prophet and president, neither seek nor receive revelation in a vacuum. It is implicit in Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 that divine inspiration and revelation come primarily in response to well-considered proposals that we take to the Lord. I think that this is as true for the prophet as for the rest of us. I have always appreciated the care and precision in President Kimball’s announcement of the dramatic 1978 revelation on extending the priesthood, where he explicitly spoke of having received confirmation of a policy decision.

Where do Church leaders get the ideas for the proposals that they take to the Lord in search of their revelatory confirmations? We must assume that they get their ideas from many sources, both within and without the Church. Some ideas no doubt come to them from the Saints and leaders in the rank and file; some from “pilot projects” started on local initiative; some from sponsored research; some perhaps from the business world; some even from their wives and children. The “alternate voices” of LDS intellectuals simply add, in a unique way, to the supply of ideas available to Church leaders as they undertake to formulate proposals to take to the Lord. That is an important function for these “alternate voices” and is perhaps the main mission to which they are called. I have had plenty of reasons to believe that our leaders often consider these “alternate voices,” and that their proposals to the Lord are sometimes informed by what they read and hear from these sources as well as from others.

I, for one, appreciate this de facto “division of labor” between Church leaders and “alternate voices.” Such a distinction is blurred in some of our sister Christian churches which maintain “house intellectuals” hired and salaried primarily to insure that official Church doctrines, policies, and pronouncements are based on extensive scholarly research and made intellectually palatable to the world. To the extent that “alternate voices” depend for their livelihood and professional recognition primarily on Church largesse, they run a constant risk of being muted, moderated, and compromised by organizational imperatives and internal political pressures. (I hasten to add that they do not always succumb to such pressures, as we can see from the number of outstanding “alternate voices” that somehow manage to maintain distinguished and independent careers at BYU; but they are often uncomfortable). While many Mormon intellectuals might enjoy the luxury of basking a little more often in the celestial warmth of offcial approbation, they are far better off maintaining their separate callings and their intellectual independence.

The Church leaders, for their part, also benefit from this separation. For one thing, they need not feel obliged to evaluate and respond to every idea, proposal, or criticism coming from among the “alternate voices.” These are not products that they have paid for, and they need not make “use” of them in order to get their “money’s worth” from an investment in professional services (as they might feel obliged to do, say, in the case of the professional consultants whom they occasionally hire). Second, the Church leaders cannot be held accountable for any of the public writings or speeches of “alternate voices” as they might be for the public utterances of “house intellectuals” (and as they once were for the dissident voices publicly expressed from their own ranks).

In sum, Church leaders can get on with the daily business of running a large and complex world organization, with all the pragmatic compromises and adjustments implied in that enterprise, but without having to deal with constant interruptions from internal intellectuals intensely concerned with ideas but lacking either experience or responsibility in practical affairs. My experience in academia convinces me that (with occasional sterling exceptions) intellectuals as a class suffer from a trained incapacity for successful administration. I know exactly what William F. Buckley means when he says that he would rather be governed by the first 500 people in the Boston telephone book than by the Harvard faculty! By all means, let us foster complete freedom of expression, even in the Church, for all kinds of “alternate voices” (academics or not); but let “idea-people” do what they do best–offer creative ideas and informed critiques of the status quo–and leave the practical affairs of Church governance to thosewho bear the awesome responsibility for it!

Those of us who would take seriously and conscientiously the calling of “alternate voices,” however, must be prepared to accept the implications of so doing, whether we would be listeners or speakers in such a challenging enterprise. Even as listeners we are responsible for the evaluation of what we hear. Intelligent evaluation, especially in spiritual matters, is not possible without a considerable personal investment in studying, both widely and deeply, in prayer and in meditation. The hearer (or reader) of “alternative voices” who is not willing to do all this is only a dabbler and is far better off sticking with the Standard Works and the correlated lesson manuals.

People who read Sunstone and other “alternate” sources mainly to make mischief (and I know a few) are intellectual adolescents. They are searching less for understanding than for cheap shots at traditional shibboleths, or for juicy and scandalous tidbits about Church leaders past and present. I have one more caveat (with apologies to Dante!) for those who would be conscientious listeners of “alternate voices”: Abandon certainty all ye who enter herein! Never again will you enjoy the immunity to doubt and ambiguity that went with your previous life. But then the ability to live with perpetual ambiguity is also a trait that distinguishes adults from adolescents.

Decalogue for Dissenters

My remarks in this final section are directed mainly to those who would undertake to join the ranks of “alternate voices” as speakers, not just as listeners. These include, I hasten to add, not only academics or other professional intellectuals but anyone who would aspire to be efficacious in offering alternative ideas or counsel to the saints and their leaders at any level, whether in the pages of Dialogue and SUNSTONE, in ward council, priesthood quorums, Relief Society, or Sunday School.

I would like to share ten principles that I have learned, sometimes painfully in the breach, during the past twenty-five years from my own efforts to offer an effective “alternate voice” at various forums and occasions. As a rhetorical devise, I will use the imperative tone appropriate for a decalogue; I apologize in advance if the tone also seems imperious in places. Also, since my efforts have taken place in the context of an ultimate commitment to the LDS faith, some of the following principles will be less applicable to those who don’t share that commitment.

1. Seek constantly to build a strong personal relationship with the Lord as the main source and basis for your own confidence in the alternate voice you are offering. We often have to do without the Church’s approval, but we need the assurance of the Lord’s.

2. Do your homework before you speak up. We must be sure that our knowledge of the scriptures, of history, and of other relevant data on a given matter will bear up well under scrutiny and under efforts at rebuttal. Otherwise, our offerings will be exposed as unreliable, we will lose credibility as intellectual leaders or teachers, and we will be suspected even by our sympathizers as mere malcontents. No one expects infallibility, but we must know whereof we speak, especially if we espouse an unpopular or untraditional idea.

3. Relinquish any and all aspirations (or even expectations) for leadership callings in the Church. Actually, that is wonderfully liberating. In any case, stake and ward leaders, to say nothing of general authorities, rarely call people to powerful positions who are suspected of too much “independent thinking.” To be sure, the ranks of “alternate voices” have provided occasional examples of bishops, stake presidents, and Relief Society leaders, showing that there may be some happy exceptions to this generalization, but don’t count on that. If you have a career in C.E.S. or in any other Church bureaucracy, don’t expect approval or promotion to accompany your identification as an “alternate voice.”

4. Endure graciously the overt disapproval of “significant others,” including family members, but never respond in kind. Lifelong friends and old missionary companions may sever (or reduce) friendship ties when they learn that you are one of”those.” They simply cannot understand what your “problem” is. If such reactions prove especially crucial in your case (e.g., if your marriage is threatened), you will have some tough choices to make.

5. Pay your “dues” as a member of the Church. Pay your tithing, make clear your willingness to serve wherever called, and do your best to get your children on missions. Try as hard as anyone to “keep the commandments.” You still probably won’t get much Church recognition, but you will win over a few who once looked on you with suspicion. More important, you will make it difficult for your critics to dismiss you as an apostate, for all will see that “thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death” (D&C 121:44).

6. Be humble, generous, and good natured in tolerating ideas that you find aversive in other Church members, no matter how “reactionary.” As “alternate voices,” we cannot complain when we are ignored or misunderstood if we respond with contempt toward those whose ideas we deplore. Besides, if we have any hope of educating them, we have to start where they are and treat them with love and tolerance. No one is won over by being put down, especially in public. Whether in our writing or in our exchanges during Sunday School classes, we must try to be gracious as well as candid (difficult though it be on occasion) and always remember to show forth afterward “an increase of love toward him whom thou has reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy” (D&C 121:43).

7. Show some empathy and appreciation for Church leaders, male and female, from the general level down to the local ward and branch. Anyone who has ever held a responsible leadership position knows how heavy the burdens of office can be, especially in callings like bishop, Relief Society president, and stake president (to say nothing of apostle), in which the decisions made can affect countless numbers of people for good or ill. We may privately deplore the poor judgment, the unrighteous dominion, the insensitivity, and even the outright ignorance of some leaders. Yet, after all, they are, like us, simple mortals doing their best according to their lights. Some of them sacrifice a great deal for no apparent benefit, and all are entitled to our support, and occasionally our praise, whenever these can reasonably be given. When they do something outrageously wrong, they need our sympathy even more. “There but for the grace of God . . . ” etc.

8. Do not say or do anything to undermine the influence or legitimacy of Church leaders at any level. They have their callings and prerogatives, and we should not step forth to “steady the ark” by publicly offering our alternative leadership. Please don’t misunderstand: I am not advocating silent submission in the face of official stupidity. There is much that we can do without playing the role of usurper. When we write for publication, let us by all means criticize policies, practices, or interpretations of doctrine; but let us not personalize our criticisms with ad hominem attacks. They are not only discourteous and condescending, but quite unnecessary. (They can also get you “ex-ed.”)

We should feel free, though, to seek private interviews and/or correspondence with Church leaders, including our own bishops, in which we can offer, in a spirit of love and humility, our constructive criticisms and suggestions. If these are ignored, then at least we have exercised our callings as “alternate voices,” and we have done so without sowing seeds of contention. We are not responsible for how a given leader carries out his or her stewardship. Yet we are not powerless, which leads to the next principle.

9. Take advantage of legitimate opportunities to express your “alternate voices” and to exercise your free agency in “alternate” ways within the LDS church and culture. We must never lapse into a posture in which we just sit and gripe. If we find the correlated lesson manuals to be thin fare, it is up to us as teachers to enrich them with relevant supplementary material (including some “alternate voices”). If we are not teachers, then at least we are obligated as class members to speak up knowledgeably and enrich the class, not simply boycott it.

If we find a general intellectual famine at Church, then we are free to start study groups of our own to supplement the Church fare for those who feel the need. Some of our more conservative leaders may not like such unsponsored study groups, but they have no right to forbid them, and they seldom try (but don’t forget principles 2, 3, and 4). In short, even if we are not bishops or general authorities, and even if we are ignored by those who are, there is much constructive that we can do with our “alternate voices”: “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as they do good they shall in nowise lose their reward” (D&C 58:28).

10. Endure to the end. The calling of “alternate voice” is too important for us to allow ourselves either to be intimidated by the exercise of unrighteous dominion or to be silenced by our own fatigue. “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9; D&C 64:33). I have seen many a rich harvest in people’s lives from seeds planted by “alternate voices,” and I hope to live to see many more.

Though I have often failed to comply with all ten of these principles, I have learned from my failures as well as from my successes that the likelihood of influence and efficacy for “alternate voices” depends heavily upon compliance with those principles. They also add up to a personal philosophy that has yielded me a great deal of inner peace in my years of coping with the predicament so common among “alternate voices”: commitment to the religion but a feeling of marginality in the Church. That is my testimony.

An Epilogue: According to Brother Mauss, shortly after this article appeared in April 1990, he recieved an short unsolicited letter from Elder Oaks. The letter was extremely short — three lines — but it complimented Brother Mauss on his piece and approved of it’s interpretation of Elder Oaks’s conference address. The original of the letter is now housed in the correspondence file for 1990 of the Armand Mauss Papers deposited in the Utah State Historical Society.

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45 Responses to Alternate Voices

  1. Sideshow on May 5, 2006 at 2:04 am

    I’m glad you posted that article — it was edifying to read. I would suggest that those who feel called by the Lord to be alternate voices question themselves at least twice as much as any leaders, to ensure their motives and voices are truly where the Lord wants.

    Elder Oaks said, “Members who listen to the voice of the Church need not be on guard against being misled.” This may well be true about General Conference (although someone in General Conference within the last few years said something about members needing to realize for themselves what the exceptions are to things said in conference), but I believe people ought to seek the confirmation of the Spirit on almost everything they here, from the Church or not.

  2. DKL on May 5, 2006 at 2:40 am

    This is an interesting article for several reasons. One reason is that it reflects a time when being an alternative voice was akin to being a member of a club. It’s no longer possible to speak of a division of labor relating to alternative voices, because the number alternative voices has multiplied and the group of voices has become diverse enough to make the entire category of alternative voices increasingly amorphous. And the increasing flow of what were once considered ideas that stem from “alternative voices” into the mainstream has also diminished the amount of suspicion that people feel. Rather than merely playing an important functional role within Mormon culture, as Mauss describes, alternative voices are now a significant part of LDS culture as such.

    Elder Oaks identifies 3 types of alternative voices: The blind, the apostate, and the faithful. And Mauss deals nicely with the faithful. But there is now a 4th type of alternative voice; viz., those who were excommunicated for things that they would not longer be excommunicated for today. It doesn’t seem quite right to call them apostate, because they lost their membership primarily due to the mistake’s of church leaders rather than their own. I think that brethren would classify them as apostates, but this can’t possibly be correct since people advocating similar positions are not. How is this fourth group to be greeted by members?

  3. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 5, 2006 at 7:48 am

    How is this fourth group to be greeted by members?

    With kindness and an encouragement to rejoin the Church.

  4. A Nonny Mouse on May 5, 2006 at 10:23 am

    DKL: It doesn’t seem quite right to call them apostate, because they lost their membership primarily due to the mistake’s of church leaders rather than their own. I think that brethren would classify them as apostates, but this can’t possibly be correct since people advocating similar positions are not. How is this fourth group to be greeted by members?

    DKL, would you mind providing a concrete example of this kind of person? Are you talking about somebody who in the past would have been excommunicated for homosexual tendencies, but not behavior? Are you talking about somebody who in the past would have been ex-ed for something else, perhaps a more “intellectual” offense?

  5. sue on May 5, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    What a depressing list. According to this, having more knowledge about the church, and associated questions and doubts, means that you can never really be a true participant again – never really be able to honestly discuss beliefs and questions, except with carefully laid out parameters, so that you don’t scare folks off. (I know that’s an oversimplification, it’s just my gut reaction.)

    I don’t pretend to be an intellectual or an academic. But I have a lot more knowledge about the church than I used to have, and I think probably a great deal more than the “typical” member. This makes attending and participating in church meetings difficult. Problematic. I hear so many things said at church that are just flat out false, said in ignorance, or said out of misunderstanding. I never say anything. I don’t know what it is appropriate to say. I also have far too many doubts and questions to set myself up as an authority on any point of doctrine. I also can’t ask real questions, because for most of the class they would be totally out of left field – a threadjack, if you will.

    So how should I behave at church? Is there a point in attending church if you are not really speaking and participating from an honest spiritual place – if you are masking your real thoughts and questions and feelings in order to create a perception in others that everything is fine? Knowing that I have so many questions, and some views that don’t exactly square with most of the people in my ward, how do I present myself to others in my ward? I could care less about what calling I have, or even if I have one at all, but I don’t want my children to be ostracized because I’m the lady who asks all of the strange questions. I don’t want people steering clear of me because they feel I must have unresolved sin if I have questions and doubts. And in my little part of the world, this is a typical viewpoint. I don’t think we have a single non-member or inactive family within our two block ward boundaries – we would be the family to steer clear of, objects of suspicion.

    When I’m at church, I’m constantly trying to figure out how I fit in, how I should behave, what I should say, what I should question, what I should object to – how I can participate. Trying to figure out how to remain a member. Being at church is not a spiritual time. It’s a confusing, contentious time. Real spiritual communion for me only takes place at home, during prayer, if at all.

    Somehow church participation has become all about avoiding creating a perception that will harm my family, and not about worship.

    I apologize if this is a total threadjack, I just had a really strong personal reaction to it. My feeling after reading through it was that even if/after I resolve my doubts, I will still never really belong in the way that I used to. Depressing.

  6. rtswen on May 5, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    Great article, Nate, thanks for posting it.

    Too often those who find inspiration or participate in the “alternate voices” forums are labeled and viewed with distrust by the more mainstream practitioners. Granted, this labeling and distrust is a two-way street, but Mauss is a good example of a sincere, striving member who is both faithful and willing (or cursed?) to wrestle with the ambiguities and uncertainties.

    As Sue in #5 demonstrates, the path through the complexities can be a lonely one, while the commonly proffered answers and advice oftentimes seems lacking or glib. These forums and venues offer a place to explore, to examine, to grow, and to see how others have approached these changes in life.

    These forums and venues have their share of bitter, angry, or hurt voices. But it would be folly to label the entire organization or movement based on those voices. Forums such as the Mormon History Association, Sunstone, Dialogue, and others are much bigger than the loud malcontents, they are about faithful exploration and personal wrestling with eternal truths, and those who do so are largely sincere and have pure intentions. They are a place for those, like Sue, who have questions and who seek a safe and supportive forum to explore those questions and work out their own spirituality.

    Without these venues, without these alternative voices, many individuals would be forced to choose between silently conforming or leaving. That’s a loss, either way.

  7. J. Stapley on May 5, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    Perhaps I have been living an exceptional case, but my exerience as a “faithful and devoted” member (though, no doubt, I need to be better) , is that my voice isn’t particularly “alternate.” It is simply a voice. Perhaps times have changed.

  8. MikeInWeHo on May 5, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Sue,

    Presumably you are in Utah(?). That environment sounds stiffling. Bummer you can’t move to a more religiously diverse area. You can be sure that there are other people in those two blocks who share your struggles and doubts, and may well be “New Order Mormons” (non-believers who choose to stay active in the church for social/cultural reasons). Check out: http://www.newordermormon.org

    Does participating in the Bloggernacle help reduce your feelings of isolation and depression?

  9. Christian Y. Cardall on May 5, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    Shame on me for commenting before even reading beyond the first section past the introductory paragraph, but I already have two comments on the “Historical Perspective,” one general and one specific. First, Nephi’s lament in Hel 7:7 comes to mind. That is, I suspect Bro. Mauss may suffer from a myopic vicarious nostalgia. Second, my sense is that virtually all the ‘dispute’ between B. H. Roberts and Joseph Fielding Smith took place in private, and in the context of a review committee for a proposed manual; and more interestingly (but less relevant here), that it was not about evolution, which B. H. Roberts did not believe in (he believed instead that Adam’s physical body was begotten elsewhere and brought here on a spaceship).

  10. sue on May 5, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    Hi Mike – I don’t want to turn this into a thread about me… I will say that my bloggernaccle participation goes in waves but I’ve found much here that gives me hope and helps me just hang on, white knuckled. While I very much appreciate the topics discussed here, the educated religious support that can be found here, the alternate ideas and generally extremely supportive environment – I also find that the more I dwell on things, the more confused I generally am.

    I try to avoid the DAMU, including NOM, because I’ve found that most of those folks have already made up their minds against the church, with a few notable exceptions.

    Sorry for the threadjack Nate – back to your regularly scheduled topic…

  11. M.J. Pritchett on May 5, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    Sue:

    A couple of suggestions for how to behave at church (our wards and situations are different, so they may not work for you in your ward, but they have been of help to me):

    Try to figure out how to say what you honestly want to say, in a way that is likely to be uplifting to the others in the class. In my experience, it doesn’t matter how unorthodox your position is, if it is presented in the context of a statement that is uplifting to others it will usually be ok. This is often a challenge when you are feeling pushed down rather than uplifted by the class discussion around you, but sometimes it can be done, and it feels empowering when it works.

    A related point is to talk about the things that you do believe. Even if your beliefs are unorthodox, your unorthodox beliefs will find more acceptance than your unorthodox doubts and questions.

    And remember, God is a God of truth. God does not require you to believe anything that is not true. If it is not true, you don’t have to believe it, God doesn’t want you to belive it, and your salvation doesn’t require that you belive it. You don’t need to tell others this (especially if you are in the process of disagreeing with them), but it helps to remind yourself of it occasionally.

  12. Dave on May 5, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    Nate, thanks for doing the legwork to post the Mauss article. It is nice to see a balanced consideration of the points made by Elder Oaks. I’m particularly pleased that the Mauss article carves out a positive role for LDS “alternate voices.” I believe those LDS commentators who use Oaks’ article as a basis for demonizing “alternate voices” have gone well beyond what was intended. Likewise, those who use Oaks’ article to impute that sort of extreme slant to Oaks himself would benefit from the Mauss article.

  13. Nate Oman on May 5, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    Sue: I think that one should participate in church the same way that everyone else particpates in church, namely that you speak up when you have something to say that will contribute positively to the discussion that is happening. There is nothing about this that precludes you from saying something that other members haven’t heard before. It doesn’t even preclude you from disagreeing with certain things that someone might say. Just avoid being combative, pedantic, or arrogant, I think that intelligent comments are generally appreciated. That said, church meetings are always going to be devotional. Their purpose is to uplift others, teach the doctrines of the church, and motivate people to greater faith and good works. They are never going to sound like graduate courses in religious studies, nor would we want them to. My suggestion is that you go to church meetings to worship and to participate in devotional discussions with your fellow saints. As for their ignorance or misunderstandings, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. It is not our job to educate the world, but it is our job to bear with one another’s weaknesses, whatever they may be.

    Then I suggest that you read what you find to be intellectually interesting and find a group of friends interested in talking about intellectual issues outside of a devotional context. This doesn’t mean that your friends have to be part of the DAMU or NOM or whatever. It is simply not true that the only people who know or think about issues of Church doctrine or Church history are post-Mormons of one stripe or another. If you are more ambitious, do some research, write an article, and try to get it published someplace. Rinse and repeat.

  14. Nate Oman on May 5, 2006 at 3:10 pm

    Christian: If I recall correctly the disagreements about evolution were fairly public. Joseph Fielding Smith was giving sermons denouncing it, and I believe that both B.H. Roberts and James E. Talmage gave public sermons defending it. It is not as though even then they were getting up in meetings and saying “I think that Elder Smith is just flat wrong about this.” There were, however, fairly public disagreements.

    (BTW, my favorites public clash of the apostles was between John Henry Smith and Moses Thatcher. Smith, as an apostle, was going around boosting various GOP candidates. At the same time Thatcher, as an apostle, was giving fiery political speeches in which he denounced the the GOP as being a party founded by Satan for his purposes…)

  15. Nate T. on May 5, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    My initial reaction is that this wants to present a good framework about how to express differences in the church. I do find problems with some things, ie pay tithing and get your kids to go on missions because it will help you persuade people, not because its the right thing to do, but that might be because I am reading too much into it. And, in the interests of full disclosure, since my graduate training, I tend to look at claims like this from so called “Intellectuals” with a more critical view.

    Generally it sufferers from snippets of a kind of intellectual arrogance that sometimes crop up in the “alternative voices.” Namely it is because one knows more about Church History, Doctrine, etc. one’s faith is better than that poor dolt sitting in the pew in front of you, who never doubted, who never read the the things one has. Thinking one needs to “educate” people like that guy is a further example of arrogance. Most often, it is not what an “alternative voice” says, but how and when he/she says it that will determine the kind of reaction one has, and to that extent some of his suggestions might be helpful.

  16. Rosalynde Welch on May 5, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    Sue, I recently had a crown put on a back molar. For a few days afterward, my bite felt unfamiliar and out-of-joint: I felt like I couldn’t bring my teeth together propertly, that my jaws were askew. I was acutely conscious of the sensation all the time; it made eating less pleasurable, and I worried that I’d get chronic headaches. Then after a few days, everything felt normal again.

    There’s a point to this. From what I understand, your struggles are fairly recent, within the last few years. Things feel different at church, out-of-joint, and you feel acutely self-conscious of your new relationship to the church and its members. But I predict that if you choose to maintain fullly active membership, eventually, whether or not you are able to resolve every issue to your satisfaction, you’ll feel normal again at church. Not the way it was before, to be sure, but you’ll find a new way of forming relationships, a new normal, a comfortable spot on the pew. From what I’ve observed of you around the ‘nacle, I’m confident that the new normal won’t be consdescending or arrogant—as it could be—but compassionate and other-focused. Time is on your side, I think.

  17. Razorfish on May 5, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    Exceptional post Nate.

    Fair and balanced perspectives that are equally thought provoking. I also like the advice shared in #13 in terms of how best to assimiliate a viewpoint that may non-orthodox or non-conventional.

    I’m curious as to your opinion as to whether these “alternate voices”, specifically the subset of faithful LDS members (but perhaps non-orthodox / non-correlated), are gaining or waning in influence on the mainstream church?

    Also what accomplishments or influence has this group had on the Church in terms of influencing policy, dogma, or lexicon of thought in recent history (if any)?

    For example, do you find it helpful that Bushman’s penetrating compilation of the Prophet in “Rough Stone Rolling” advances the clout of non-offical “alternate voices” and their influence on the corpus of the Church? And is this exercise beneficial in terms of perhaps helping to resolve some of the concerns as described and articulated by “Sue” and others with similiar views?

  18. Christian Y. Cardall on May 5, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    Nate, if the term “evolution” encompasses the notion that humans’ physical bodies are linked by common descent with other species, I’m pretty sure you will search in vain for evidence that either Roberts or Talmage supported this idea. In fact, Roberts explicitly denied it, as I said above, and he also held that there could be only limited plasticity within the Biblically listed “kinds” (as with humans, he believed representatives of these “kinds” were transplanted to Earth from another sphere).

    To be sure, Roberts and Talmage were open to an earth of standard geologic age and death before the fall, and in this they differed with Smith. (Talmage publicly, not sure about Roberts. The epicenter, however—the debate over his proposed manual The Truth, The Way, The Life—was private.) Great age and death before the fall are of course necessary preconditions for evolution, but support of these alone does not logically entail support of the common descent of all biota including humans.

    Hence, despite of the ubiquity of the notion, it is definitely erroneous to say Roberts supported evolution. At least concerning humans, I strongly suspect the same is also true of Talmage (I’m not aware of any evidence to the contrary).

  19. Gary on May 5, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    Christian, you and Jared are both well educated LDS evolutionists who have concluded that the 1931 Roberts/Smith affair was not about evolution (readers should see also Jared’s articles, B.H. Roberts on Evolution and The B.H. Roberts Episode, at the Mormons and Evolution blog).

    Regarding the views of James E. Talmage on evolution, Richard Sherlock (Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University), concluded that although he was sympathetic to science, “his religious convictions prevented him from becoming an unqualified supporter of evolution. Ultimately he retreated into the world view of Bishop Ussher and the coming of Adam at 4004 B.C.E.

  20. Christian Y. Cardall on May 5, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    Okay, now I’ve read the whole thing. I think Mauss’ approach is likely futile, and not only in direct practical terms.

    Gary, I appreciate the role you played in enlightening me on the episodes of the 1930s.

  21. Clair on May 5, 2006 at 9:45 pm

    From dictionary.com, here are some definitions. Of which might Elder Oaks and Brother Mauss be thinking?

    al·ter·nate
    adj. 1. Happening or following in turns; succeeding each other continuously: alternate seasons of the year.
    adj. 3. Serving or used in place of another; substitute: an alternate plan.
    noun 1. A person acting in the place of another; a substitute.
    noun 2. An alternative.

    al·ter·na·tive
    noun 1. The choice between two mutually exclusive possibilities.
    adj. 2. Existing outside traditional or established institutions or systems: an alternative lifestyle.

  22. Kimball L. Hunt on May 5, 2006 at 10:51 pm

    Half a century ago the Canadian guv’mint airlifted the not-yet-famous naturalist Farley Mowat up to the tundra to do mainly botanical research. So, Farley– who eventually achieves faim writing about Eskimo and wolves, et cetera — as soon as he arrives, goes and randomly throws this big hoop thing and counts the precise number of plants ‘n’ stuff he happen to find within it. Then he generalizes from many such sample to the whole.

    Therefore, an understanding of the sampled verse or two in Genesis specifically dealing with the creation of humanity can be helped along by taking yet another test sample and looking at nearby verses dealing with the creation of stars. And this ancient and inspired document indeed says that stars were created during a certain period, on a certain day. That’s all it says. Indeed the very model of brief exposition. But what do we know about stars from our observations in the heavens? Well, there are these gases that form into stars which then eventually explode again. But wait! Scripture says they were created on a certain day. Is this a contradiction? To me not at all!

    Whom-we-take-to-be-Moses compiled an account giving an ordered accounting of creation in which, quite naturally, stars are enumerated; and subsequent, careful observations discern additional information about how this takes place. Right? Shrugs. So anyway as for my position on evolution I simply move over my Farley Mowat’s ring a verse or two of scripture or over and generalize from: stars to: humanity. Where I also discern not an event but a process.

    Should this lead me to say, “Why are there ‘dumb’ Church of Jesus Christ authorities who CAN get it when the D&C felicitously talks about Doctrines’ being not about events but about processes yet need to take a chill pill when this same type of reasoning is applied to areas NOT specifically dealing with mystical eschatologies”? Well, maybe it did, in my case (well at least in an extremely round about way). But it doesn’t have to; and I’m fascinated by those who reconcile such issues as this and a myriad of others in a different way.

  23. Wacky Hermit on May 5, 2006 at 11:05 pm

    I will share my own “alternative voices” experience; hopefully it will help Sue and others feel more comfortable expressing themselves.

    About five years ago, as I was searching for information, I came across a group of LDS people who were what you might call “millenarians,” or as close as LDS get to “millenarians” (they believed the Second Coming was more or less imminent, within the next 10 years or so). They faithfully combed over every prophecy relating to the Second Coming, even those of dubious origin. They stockpiled not only a year’s supply of food, but sometimes even a two years’ supply of food, and also ammunition, supplies, and other things that would prepare them to live by themselves and/or travel to a tent city or refugee camp, which they believed we might be sent to based on certain scriptures. They even had some interesting theories as to exactly how the destruction that is to precede the Second Coming was to come about. Some awaited the appearance of a planet that in 2003 was supposed to pass near the Earth; others thought that the Second Coming would occur when the Mayan calendar cycle runs out in 2012. We had many scriptural discussions, and there were many different viewpoints expressed (one that comes to mind right away is the belief that Jesus was married to Mary and Martha, which was why he was so intimate with the family at the funeral of their brother Lazarus). They were all good, faithful LDS who attended church meetings etc. and they were a group of extraordinary people. They put the lie to the stereotype that hard right-wingers (which most of them were) are ungenerous to the poor.

    Since my interest was primarily in the how-to of food storage (which I knew next to nothing about), I started a group called the Food Storage Support Group, where we met every month to give a presentation on some aspect of food storage, taste-test foods made with stored stuff, and distribute recipes. One month we did our meeting on the topic of what you could make with just the foodstuffs in the church’s one-month kits that you could get at the cannery; other meetings focused on beans, dried milk, etc. People from this “millenarian” community attended the meetings, but also people from my ward who, like me, just wanted to know how they could store food, and non-members were also welcome. The co-founder and I requested of my bishop (the co-founder was in another ward) that we be allowed to use the RS room for our meetings, and permission was granted. We sent a notice into the local radio station announcing our meeting, which they read as a public service announcement.

    A member of the stake presidency happened to work for that radio station, though, and after we’d been meeting for a few months he noticed our announcement, and he immediately told my bishop that we were not to be allowed to meet in the meetinghouse. The bishop passed that along to me. I subsequently spoke with the member of the stake presidency and told him what our group did and invited him to attend. He told me he had been afraid that we were promulgating the imminent demise of the world, but in fact we were just helping people to be prepared, so he reinstated us at the meetinghouse on the condition that we put in a disclaimer in our PSA and on our flyers saying we were not affiliated with the church. Which we did, and we were never bothered again.

    I could see why the member of the Stake Presidency was concerned; some of this end-of-the-world stuff was being promulgated as “stuff the Church knows but doesn’t want you to know” and some of it was in direct contradiction of other commandments and revelations. He didn’t want to have that sort of thing mistaken for official church doctrine. And I don’t blame him. I could have gone off and petulantly left the church, or seen it as a conspiracy by the bureaucracy against the true religion. But I addressed his issues, and we were able to work it out like adults. It’s all right to have your own opinions, and you should feel free to express them. But if your opinions are in opposition to church doctrine, that’s where “alternative voices” cross the line.

  24. Kimball L. Hunt on May 6, 2006 at 1:28 am

    SPEAKING OF WOLVES, the mythical children who founded the city of Rome were raised by some type of wolves. WHICH CHILDREN AS have been studied are known, unsurprisingly, not to have developed human language. While those of us who have been raised by our regular humans-near-baboons HAVE.

    …Well, which complex process of obtaining language & conceptions — of mystical beliefs modeling the participation of the individual in a contract with the established-authority-of-culture — The Ancient Scripture encapsulate into an archetypal imperative to HONOR these parents — and by extention: cultural authority — with the promise to gain from these gained teachings, wisdom on how to stay alive. To wit, perhaps both of (A) the cultural survival strategies developed from countless generations and (B) avoidance of taboos to avoid being cast out or even executed (/ritually sacrificed)?

    Fact is, though, perhaps the very process whereby somebody’s parents’-parents’-parents or another had developed advances in said cultural wisdom was through their engaging in INNOVATION — such innovation that indeed caries with it the risk of failure, of being stupid, dumb, foolhardy. So, the archetypal imperative we’re here describing will tend to look something like this:
    – - -
    RULE # 1 — To fully benefit from “divinely received” wisdom (Read: accumulated?) and to avoid folly, please don’t innovate.

    RULE # 2 — If you wanna innovate, please refer to Rule # 1 (In other words: screw you!) — well that is unless in your craziness you once in a blue moon generates some experience that’s actually useful as an POSITIVE example of an innovation. In which case our society’s gonna know by its fruits (Read: claim?) that it in actuality isn’t any kind of innovation at all but will instead will adopt into divinely received wisdom.

  25. sue on May 6, 2006 at 3:57 am

    Just wanted to pipe back up to say thanks to Nate and Rosalynde and MJ for their thoughtful posts. I appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. I do need to focus more on trying to worship, and not strain at gnats, if I ever hope to get something more out of it. I’m looking for differences, which refocuses me on my confusion. I suppose at the heart of this is, well, fence sitting gets to be quite uncomfortable after a while, and I suppose I will not be able to feel truly comfortable or worshipful (is that a word?) until I land on one side or the other. I appreciate your compassion.

  26. Ben H on May 6, 2006 at 9:21 am

    Hi sue, I’ll toss in a couple of thoughts, too, about how to think about your participation at church, when you don’t feel you can voice all your thoughts. Suppose you were a graduate student sitting in on an undergraduate class. The professor might say things that really get you thinking, or raise questions in your mind, that you would really like to talk to her about. But you would need to be very selective about what questions to ask. You could probably ask one or two questions that are quite different questions from those the other students would have on their minds, but not all your questions or comments would be appropriate to make, and even the appropriate ones would have to be kept brief, because the class isn’t mainly aimed at you. You need to stay out of the way of the purposes of the course. That isn’t dishonest; it is just courtesy. Just by virtue of being a human being, or an invited guest, you have a certain right to participate probably. But you need to exercise some restraint so as to avoid derailing the purpose of the class for the rest of the students, who are on a different page. Most of the discussion you might be interested in having you would need to save for a private time when you can talk with the professor, either after class or another time, in her office.

    Now, I’m not sure that your participation in Sunday School is very much like a graduate student sitting in on an undergraduate class at all. But what is on your mind is not on everyone else’s mind, and generally meetings are designed to serve the majority of members, or some mix. And we are all at different points in the life of faith, and coming from different walks of life, and so we just can’t expect things to be aimed directly at us very much of the time. But learning to worship together, to worship in a way that is valuable to all, and serve and understand each other is half of what we are supposed to learn at church, I’m convinced.

    We go to church primarily for our own enlightenment for only a very short time. As soon as we know a little more than the first-year convert, or the sixteen-year-old lifers, a significant part of what we are called to do at church is to serve others. That means a good deal of our own enlightenment has to be pursued in other ways than at regular church meetings, through study and prayer and discussion with other saints on our own time. And at church we start a different mode of enlightenment that is not merely “our own”, but is found precisely in serving and loving and coming to understand our fellow saints.

  27. Juliann on May 6, 2006 at 1:12 pm

    I can’t agree more with Ben. In my opinon the very essence of “godhood”, whatever it may be in completed form, is service. It is an act of humility and concern for others to act on behalf of the group regardless of where you are on the spectrum of knowledge. The person who has a few weeks in the gospel is just as important as I am with my different set of wants and needs. However, once you step outside of the group you do have to, as Mauss said, “Abandon certainty all ye who enter herein! Never again will you enjoy the immunity to doubt and ambiguity that went with your previous life.” For me that means that I can’t stop what I started…I have to perpetually be searching and finding new information or I will be left with nothing *but* the doubt that is stirred by ambiguity. There is no turning back and you must now CHOOSE faith over doubt in a much more active way. My observation has also been that those who “read Sunstone and other “alternateâ€? sources mainly to make mischief. . .are intellectual adolescents.” They will reject the source of the ambiguity rather than their demand for certainty and reassure themselves that life is really unambiguous after all by making a career of Mormon bashing.

  28. Kimball L. Hunt on May 6, 2006 at 1:12 pm

    Ecclesiastes says there’s a time and a place for everything under the sun — each pole of every duality. E.g., within the purely academic STUDY of command and control stucture and a host of military science issues at the U.S. war college (where an endless war of ideas is most ultimately the rule of the day, despite Ecclesiastes’ pointing out its futility) is essentially only a “hierarchical structure where only the most felicitous ideas truly reign supreme”! But how would this truly be determined — as only ideas actually espoused by command and control officers will come to see the light of day of true life experiences, won’t they! So — Say somebody from a military family who’s thought a lot about war joins the French Foreign Legion. What demeanor will he instinctively take there towards his drill sergeant there? There’s a time to speak, a time to listen — !

  29. John T. on May 6, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    Get off that fence!
    Buy a new outfit. Fix your hair so you have those little curls coming down that look like earings. March up to the microphone tomorrow and tell everyone how much you love Heavenly father, the Church, your Family, how blessed you are. You can do it, sister!

  30. manaen on May 6, 2006 at 2:13 pm

    26
    We go to church primarily for our own enlightenment for only a very short time. As soon as we know a little more than the first-year convert, or the sixteen-year-old lifers, a significant part of what we are called to do at church is to serve others.

    But, isn’t the enlightenment we most need an understanding/development of how best to serve others? I believe that this the key of Christlike/selfless service. It’s not accepting the points of doctrine — which basically are how best to love and serve others — but the embedding of them into our natures that prepares us for exaltation.

  31. Juliann on May 6, 2006 at 4:06 pm

    Get off that fence!
    Buy a new outfit. Fix your hair so you have those little curls coming down that look like earings. March up to the microphone tomorrow and tell everyone how much you love Heavenly father, the Church, your Family, how blessed you are. You can do it, sister!
    —————
    Note to self: Insulting descriptions of female behavior are rarely appreciated in mixed forums. ;-)

  32. smb on May 7, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks for having us read this post, Nate. I enjoyed Armand’s essay and found it quite invigorating. I’ve had a mixed relationship to this topic over the years. Shortly after my mission, an ardent apologist, I was placed in the bishopric of the ward that covered the Boston academic institutions. I had a brief period where I was an adamant (if only equivocally successful) voice of intellectual respectability and would often add my Nibley-ish voice in defense of religious orthodoxy. Later I became uncomfortable with the political and social environment in which those defenses took place and focused more on my own spiritual well-being. I tended to try to schedule camping and mountaineering trips over weekends to avoid too much time in church and declined callings for a period. I still felt quite religious but needed some space. As I felt to be more actively involved, I felt to openly express what I understood while being open to other viewpoints. At times, selfishly and hypocritically, I have been publicly intolerant of other views, a position for which I feel some remorse. Now I tend to be open about my views but in self-deprecating ways, with a lot of laughter. I’m not sure how best to approach it, but I am coming to believe that whatever our approach, it is imperative that our social interactions in a church community (and historical theologizing is perhaps predominantly a social act in our church) be based on respect for the god-humanity of other members.

    I have received feedback over the years. Some good, some quite negative. One gentleman, visiting from Utah (if I remember correctly he was selling LDS-themed video tapes in Boston), adrenalin shaking his vocal cords, denounced me during a priesthood lesson on the Word of Wisdom in which I said that our health code was much like Jewish Kosher laws and need not rely on pseudo-scientific nutritionism. I saw his right arm twitching as if to rise to the square. I apologized and tried to be kind to him (I’m sure in an insufferably sanctimonious way, as I view the event in retrospect), but he stormed out of the lesson.

    One chance encounter with a law student at our ward house provided another mode of feedback. He said, “I knew who you were before I even came to Boston. Some guy in DC said you are the biggest heretic in the church.”

    Some of the undergraduates in the Boston schools who had previously expressed their comfort in knowing that an apparently credentialed intellectual had a firm and orthodox testimony have felt visibly uncomfortable with the recognition that my voice is now alternative rather than mainstream.

    On the other hand, friends and members of my current ward occasionally share with me that when I comment, speak, or teach in the ward, they remember how much they love the Gospel and the Church, and those connections maintain them in sometimes difficult circumstances. Others tell me they enjoy feeling stimulated to consider the Gospel in new ways and some others tell me they skip other responsibilities to stay for my lessons. I am trying more earnestly now to pray before I teach or preach in church, to ask for spiritual guidance in preparing what I teach. This was not always the case. Sometimes I was more interested in controversy or hammering out historiographic details than I was in sharing the Spirit. I see that period now as immature, “adolescent,” to borrow Armand’s phrase.

    I did get more clearly positive feedback when I was actively and publicly orthodox. More people telling me that they had been touched by my teaching or had gained new insights into Christ. The positive feedback was coming from different people then than now.

    Occasionally I feel that some alternate voices are like the vaguely neurotic and often overbearing uncle (always single, rarely normal in shape) who cannot let go the dark secrets of the family’s past: who had a tendency to drink, who may have visited an asylum in the 1940s, who raised whose arm in anger at spouse and child. There may well be something to understanding the family milieu in which you arise, but there are limits, and there are times when affirmations of connection to the family are more important than getting the precise psychiatric diagnosis or excavating every detail of a relative’s misdeeds.

    At this stage in my life, in love with a spouse and children, busy in a field I enjoy but severely overextended, I find that what I want in church is kindness and friendship, a sense of pleasant camaraderie, shared jokes, and of course the experienced presence of God. Gentle intellectual stimulation is not rejected when proferred, but I’m glad to hear how people are doing, what miracles they have seen the spirit do in their lives, to interact with them in a friendly and family way. Sure, I get a little riled up when someone appears to be using Gospel principles to support political views I reject, but that does not define my pleasure in the Church.

  33. Nate Oman on May 7, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    smb: Thanks for your thoughts. If it is any consolation, I was not the guy in DC saying that you were the biggest heretic in the Church, and I always enjoyed your lessons. One question, offered in the playful spirit of shared jokes….

    “Sure, I get a little riled up when someone appears to be using Gospel principles to support political views I reject, but that does not define my pleasure in the Church.”

    What should be the proper response of those who get riled up when you use Gospel principles to support political views that they reject ;->?

  34. Edje on May 7, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    smb (32): Thanks. I find your comments useful.

  35. smb on May 7, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    nate (33):
    I know it wasn’t you, though when the individual was named, I had no memory of ever having met him. I have fond memories of your time in our neck of the woods. I wouldn’t have objected if it had been you. While I believe it’s a complete mischaracterization of my Gospel commitment and beliefs, I enjoyed the stridency of his belief.

    re: your question, I have empirical answers, based on my observations in encounters over the years
    a) bristle
    b) fume
    c) “I think you’re crazy” (that’s a paraphrase)
    d) “next comment, please”
    e) “Nope, you’ve said enough today. Let’s call on someone who hasn’t spoken”
    f) laugh nervously
    g) ask “what on earth do you mean?” (paraphrase)
    h) approach me afterwards and ask “do you have sources for that?”
    i) smile indulgently
    j) laugh merrily

    What I would propose as a standard that would apply equally to me and to others is some combination of actual engagement, kindness, and some laughter. Those who know me will cry “hypocrite,” but I think it’s a reasonable standard to try for and am happy to be reminded if i stray. And if it’s a total hijack of a lesson or strain of thought to allow the person driving the lesson to steer clear of my proposed detour.

  36. Kimball L. Hunt on May 7, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    Hmm: either a fight-or-flight reflex channeled into such passive-aggression as bristling, fuming, sarcastic ad hominem, closing off of dialogue; or else reacting out of personal strength to perhaps more relaxedly? listen, endeavor to understand, feel compassion, look for commonality, gently communicate through non-cutting irony. I completely relate, having often stubbornly suffered the brunt of various members’ over-broad crusading. On occasion, I’ve been a crusader myself! But, yes, crusaders are people too, who often with time mellow, able to see some of the folly of their former ways.

    Epigram
    - – -
    OUTWITTED

    He drew a circle that shut me out –
    . . . .Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
    But Love and I had the wit to win:
    . . . .We drew a circle that took him in!

    . . . .– EDWIN MARKHAM. .( 1852 – 1940 )

  37. Lynnette on May 8, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    I do think that asking difficult questions simply for purposes of stirring the pot, as it were, it perhaps not the most appropriate behavior for church settings. On the other hand, I really like it when people talk honestly about the issues they’re struggling with or trying to make sense of (even if their particular issues don’t particularly resonate with me). I’ve noticed that when I’ve mentioned that such-and-such question is something that’s hard for me, or that doesn’t make sense to me and is something I’m still trying to figure out, I’ve generally gotten a very positive response. I think there’s a real hunger for authenticity at church, for people to talk about the things they’re actually dealing with and thinking about.

  38. Ephraim on May 8, 2006 at 2:50 pm

    Loved the article and the thread.

    To me the purpose of attending Church is to build others and grow myself spiritually by feeling the Spirit with my brothers and sisters. The teacher might not know as much as I do, or may know more, but if I am in the frame of mind to pray for his/her success in bringing the Spirit to the lesson, it usually happens. I have learned that my intellectual pursuits must be done on my own time. When I sit back at Church and wait to be enlightened intellectually, I am usually bored. When I seek the Spirit, and pray that it might be present for all of us, I usually learn or remember spiritual truths that brighten my week. The information being taught may not be perfect or in complete accordance with some things that I have read (“O, Say, What is Truth” anyway?), but I see the gospel changing lives in the testimonies that are shared, and friendships being rekindled every week. I don’t have all the answers yet, suspect I won’t for a while, and don’t take upon myself the role of enlightening others with fact/aspects/information that I have learned that are not quite settled in my own mind, and perhaps others are not quite ready for. The gospel is true. Christ lives, loves me, and I need to become more like Him. Even at Church.

  39. John T. on May 8, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    A hunger for authenticity? you’ve got to be kidding.

    Please refer to the standard menu:
    1.) Read the Scriptures 2.) Prayer 3.) Temple Work. Price Fixe: 10%. — Sorry, No Coffee or Tea.

  40. Mike on May 8, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    I think the Decalogue of Mauss is a celestial level approach. I hope I can figure out at least one of them to follow.

    What about those of us down in the lower octaves of alternative voices? Those without Ph.D level minds and without Gandi levels of patience and with more than the usual number of personal faults? Perhaps those who are degenerate spiritual descendants of J. Golden Kimball and Porter Rockwell? Who live in wards that appear to be dying?

    We might be more numerous than you think. 85-90% of my ward is totally inactive and not all of those people are just too lazy to come to church.

    My goal, in contrast to the Decalogue, is to stay out of jail, the hospital or putting others there. Not getting axed is also desirable. My problem with authenticity is that some of the situations in church are so outrageous that any non-violent response lacks authenticity. I exaggerate, but only a little.

    Suggestions?

  41. greenfrog on May 8, 2006 at 5:09 pm

    My problem with authenticity is that some of the situations in church are so outrageous that any non-violent response lacks authenticity. I exaggerate, but only a little.

    If you believe violence is really on the table, I’d recommend meds.

  42. Kimball L. Hunt on May 8, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    Well, Mike, there’s always don Corleone!

    They’ve a saying
    . . . .If you know your opponent and also know yourself you’ll never risk life in 100 battles
    . . . .if you don’t know your opponent but do know yourself you’ll win one and lose one
    . . . .If you don’t know your opponent and also don’t know yourself you’ll risk life in every battle

    Chinese proverb. Also Sun Tzu’s Principles of Warfare iii-rd chapter’s ultimate verse

  43. Mike on May 9, 2006 at 8:23 am

    Nothing is worth fighting for?

  44. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 9, 2006 at 2:35 pm

    I think the Decalogue of Mauss is a celestial level approach.

    Are you serious?

  45. Phillip C. Smith on May 21, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    Armand Mauss’ article is wonderful and can be a help to all of us who have questions related to the Gospel and our place in the scheme of things. I hope to be humble enough to be open to truth from any source and mature enough to change my perspectives and behaviors if truth and obedience to God warrant it. I need to make sure also that the problem isn’t with me, so first I should try to set my own house in order.

    My mother, a grandniece of President Heber J. Grant, once asked him in 1934, soon after she graduated from Columbia University, “Uncle Heber, have you ever doubted?” His answer was, “No, I have never doubted, but I have wondered.” I have thought often what a great answer this is. There is much that even Church presidents don’t know, and they know that they must continue to search for truth along with the rest of us.

    My personal experience has been that I can ask anything or raise any concern with Church leaders I know or who know me. Elder Neal A. Maxwell offered me an open invitation to bring up anything I wished with him. Elder Richard L Evans did the same earlier during his tenure in the Council of the Twelve. Other Church leaders that I have known personally are as open to opinions from others, but all would appreciate, as I would if I were on the receiving end of a question or comment, that the principles of D. & C. 121:34-46 be in play in any such exchanges. There are also many open, thoughtful Church leaders on the stake and ward levels willing to help us work through our questions and issues. We should identify and seek them out as needed.

    Mauss’ guidelines should be read and followed in our honest search for truth. Thank you, Armand, for your wonderful contributions to thought and insight.

    Phil

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