Two-headed Hydra

October 22, 2008 | 100 comments
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Thirteen-year-old son: Mom, can I watch “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”?
me: No.
son: Why not? There’s nothing bad about it.
me: I disagree.
son: Well, I disagree with you.
me: That’s okay.
son: (sighs, rolls eyes) What’s so bad about it?
me: (describes gratuitous violence as seen in the trailers, without mentioning my past acquaintance with all things AH-nold)
son: What, you think watching that will make me want to go kill somebody?
me: No. I’m not worried about the immediate effect. I’m worried about how watching that kind of show might affect you in subtle ways over a period of time.
son: I think I can handle it, Mom. I’m thirteen.
me: And I’m thirty-seven.
son: So what?
me: So I’ve been around a lot longer than you have, and I understand some things you don’t understand yet.
son: I think I understand just fine.
me: Yes. And that’s exactly why you need parents.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is a post about Prop 8. Specifically, it’s about the inner tension experienced by people who want to preserve their spiritual integrity on two levels–being true to their personal beliefs/perspective as well as their church leaders’ beliefs/perspectives–and find these two in conflict regarding Prop. 8.

Like many other LDS, I have mixed feelings about the proposition, and I’ve been uncomfortable with the offical mandate to fight it. This is the first time I’ve found myself at such odds. My integrity has taken the form of a hydra with two heads, and I don’t want to chop off either one.

But recently, while reading Nate Oman’s article “A Defense of the Authority of Church Doctrine” (Dialogue 40:4) I came across this provocative idea:

To the extent that Church doctrine simply tracks my substantive beliefs there is a sense in which it is not really all that practically important to me. Furthermore, if I am willing to grant legitimacy to the claims of Church doctrine only in those cases where I already substantively agree with it, there is a sense in which it lacks any power to teach or change me. It is precisely those instances where I find myself in disagreement with the substantive content of Church doctrine that it has the real possibility of altering or changing my beliefs and behaviors.

As my mind automatically substituted “counsel” for “doctrine,” I had one of those big bright lightbulb-above-the-head moments. Up until that point, I’d been asking myself this thorny question: “Should I be more true to my leaders than to myself?” Nate’s point prompted me to reframe that question: “Should I trust my self-counsel when it directly conflicts with specific counsel from church leaders?”

An equally thorny question, to be sure. Self-doubt can be dangerous. Yet the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that it’s a necessary element of spiritual progression. I don’t need to chop off the Kathy-head of the hydra–but sometimes I need to let the other head take the lead. It has much better eyesight.

I’m not here to dictate the role self-doubt should play for others as they mull over Prop. 8. Each of us must answer our own thorny questions. But as for myself, I’ve realized I’m being the spiritual equivalent of a thirteen-year-old if I don’t consider the probability that church leaders understand some things I don’t understand yet–and that that’s exactly why I need prophets.

How about you?

(Note: I’m not interested in hashing over the legal and political aspects of Prop 8. I’ll nix comments leading in that direction, as well as those I deem disrespectful in any regard. Why? Because I said so.)

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100 Responses to Two-headed Hydra

  1. Marjorie Conder on October 22, 2008 at 10:28 am

    This is a provocatiave idea–in many areas. As parents we have probably all used something like this many times, to essentially the same response from our children. As mortal children of God, our view may likewise be limited in many areas and we too may have to shape up and do some things, “just because God/the prophet says so.” Grumble, grumble.

  2. Julie M. Smith on October 22, 2008 at 10:29 am

    This is a great post. I think that there are times when your self-hydra should win over the counsel-hydra, but it bothers me that I see a lot of comments on Prop 8 that assume that the self-hydra should always win–no questions asked.

  3. Frank McIntyre on October 22, 2008 at 10:46 am

    Thanks, Kathy. Great post.

    Don’t tell your son I watch the Terminator show.

  4. Jennie W. on October 22, 2008 at 10:48 am

    I was just talking to my kids this morning about this same subject. We were talking about Lehi and his family leaving Jerusalem. The B. of M. states that several people wanted to kill Lehi like the prophets of old because he told them things that they didn’t want to hear. My kids were incredulous that anyone wouldn’t listen to the prophet no matter what he says (they’re young!). As my 11 year old said, “the prophet is God’s voice, Mom. Whoever doesn’t do what he says is dumb.” OK, then. Good point.

  5. Nitsav on October 22, 2008 at 10:52 am

    That passage in the paper stood out to me too, KLS. Though I’ve never been a big Sunstone fan (and my antipathy has lessened recently), this passage paralleling Nate’s sentiments has always struck me.

    There are a “host of scriptural and historical incidents that illustrate how unwavering obedience is sometimes more flexible than deciding our own limits. The hazard of inflexible obedience is that we accept directives that are not from God; the risk of deciding our own limits is that we reject commandments that are of God. From Abraham to Heber C. Kimball and up through today, the Lord has had the unnerving habit of wrenching heartstrings and asking the preposterous. It seems that counting the cost is something the Lord expects from generals and architects, but dislikes in his disciples. The Abrahamic tests go beyond the bounds of rational theology, at least in the moment when decisions are made. To say “this cannot be of God,” “beyond here I will not go,” or “God would never ask this” is to run the risk of being too narrow, and almost certainly the demands of discipleship will press us until we shatter like glass.”
    -”What Sunstone Means to People Like Me.” Sunstone, July 1981.

  6. PB & J on October 22, 2008 at 10:59 am

    What time is it really?

  7. Dan on October 22, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Kathryn,

    On the other hand, how many parents over-protect their children to a point that those children are unable to live in the world successfully and have many social issues they would not have if parents were to let them be more in tune with the world? Where is that line drawn, and who is to say that what a certain parent says is not good for their children is in fact wrong, and that thing is actually pretty good? Take dancing for instance. In some religions, it is forbidden for teens to dance together–at all! Are those parents and religious leaders correct?

    Personally I’m still awfully torn on this issue because I don’t believe religions have done a good enough job explaining why gay marriage is such a threat to traditional marriage. Also, it is very troubling that all this effort is being thrown in one state. Where was the effort in Massachusetts? Connecticut? Or how about Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands, and so on. Why California? There are just too many unanswered questions.

    In the case of my children, if my daughter wanted to watch something that I didn’t think was good, I would explain to her in the clearest language why I thought it wasn’t good for her. It shouldn’t be a mystery.

  8. Adam Greenwood on October 22, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Remarkable introduction, KLS.

    I’ve read that upper-middle class children in America today often have trouble adapting themselves to situations of obedience and hierarchy because their parents never tell them ‘because I said so.’

  9. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Nitsav (#4): Wow. Thanks.

    The reference to Abrahamic trials leads me to another question. In Abraham’s case, the Lord’s command to kill Isaac came in direct contrast to the Lord’s promise that Abraham’s seed would proliferate through this very son. According to Paul, Abraham figured the Lord would raise Isaac from the dead in order to keep his word. (Heb. 11:17-19) So, Abraham endured the preposterous command by holding fast to the promise. (And without this dynamic, I don’t think I could stomach the story.)

    The Abrahamic trial of polygamy also came with specific flip-side promises attached: living a law that had the potential to destroy families brought an assurance of eternal parentage.

    What promises have we received this time around?

  10. Nate Oman on October 22, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Good post. I wish that I had a simple answer to this question. I am with Julie, however, in saying that I am extremely uncomfortable with those who dismiss the notion of authority and skip straight to posturing about the priority of conscience. Sometimes we should follow our conscience in the face of authority, but if we take the notion of authority seriously, there are times when we shouldn’t. Sorting out which is which is difficult.

    BTW, for those interested in the article that KLS quoted, the full text is up on my professional website here. Enjoy! (or not…)

  11. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Dan (#7):

    Parenting is tough. Many shades of grey, and few catch-all answers. Mistakes are inevitable. But I do my best with what I know at the time.

    I did explain to my son why I didn’t want him to watch the show. I’m a big advocate of parents reasoning with children as far as reason can take them. But in many such discussions, there is a point at which parents and children reach an impasse. Children don’t know what we know, so they may be incapable of understanding (and therefore accepting) parental reasoning.

    I think it’s possible that I’m incapable of understanding (and therefore accepting) prophetic reasoning.

  12. Julie M. Smith on October 22, 2008 at 11:32 am

    “I don’t believe religions have done a good enough job explaining why gay marriage is such a threat to traditional marriage”

    Maybe there is a reason for that: maybe it is a faith/obedience issue and compelling, rational reasons would undermine the entire point of the exercise.

  13. What About Mom on October 22, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Interesting. I feel similarly conflicted (that is to say, couldn’t really care less) about the protect marriage amendments.

    But I’ve also been struggling recently with the abortion question, following Elder Nelson’s Ensign article. The accepted “exceptions” to the pro-life stance of the church seem (to me) to be incompatible with comparing abortion to the deaths in war (as he did). I find myself thinking that either pro-choice is not so bad, or that I should be even more pro-life than Sarah Palin.

    A friend commented on my post about this: “The truly consistent positions are: no abortions ever, [or] abortions for anyone that wants it. Or, if you believe that God has said there are specific exceptions, then you are consistent with what He says.”

    Sometimes I think we see things in black and white, or a false dichotomy (even in your symbolism of the 2-headed hydra). And also we see our intellect telling us that the church’s position is just not quite right.

    And it scares me that my own reasoning is so, so seductive (not to mention reasonable).

  14. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Interesting, Julie. It’s possible that the prophets are withholding from us their compelling, rational reasoning for the purpose of spiritual tutelage. It’s also possible that God is withholding the same from the prophets themselves, for the same purpose.

    I think it’s more likely that we simply don’t have the capacity to see the full picture, so we’re not receiving it at this time. But obviously that’s mere speculation on my part.

  15. Ben S on October 22, 2008 at 11:46 am

    “how many parents over-protect their children to a point that those children are unable to live in the world successfully?”

    Brigham Young and I wrestle with that question here.
    http://www.millennialstar.org/2005/09/12/brigham-young-on-studying-evil-and-living-in-a-bubble/

  16. Bookslinger on October 22, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Kathryn, excellent analogy.

    One of the benefits of having the longest-serving (and therefore generally among the oldest) apostle serve as the prophet, is the generational view that they have.

    As you pointed out with your son, you have a longer-term view of the effects of cultural/media influences.

    What has been absent from the SSM debate is a generational view. I’ve pointed out what I believe will happen with the next generation in a few comments around the nacle, so I won’t repeat it here (and as per your request). The real question shouldn’t be on what SSM has on people living now, but on future people whose entire formative years are withinin a society where homosexuality and SSM have been normalized.

    Any organization, the church included, has to raise up a future generation to operate the organization, or else the organization ceases to exist in a generation. The Prophet isn’t just thinking of your children as children, or them as adults, he’s thinking of your children as parents raising your teenage grandchildren.

    The generational view was seen by Joshua, when the Israelites failed to remove all the Canaanites from the promised land. “They’re not hurting us, why can’t we just live and let live?” Yet the influences that Joshua foresaw came on the very next and subsequent generations.

    The senior apostles have seen the transitions of society since World War II and the baby boom: the sexual revolution, contraception, no-fault divorce, absent fathers, working mothers, pornography. Elder Bednar is a baby-boomer, but Elder Monson was an adult by the time the baby boom started, and already a middle aged adult at the height of the sexual revolution.

    They’ve seen the trends. They know where this is going. SSM is not the end point of this trend. And there will be consequences that are unforeseen to many, as there are for any big change in society.

    It is not rocket science for them to take their knowledge and insights into the human condition, and basic human behavior, and to observe how society’s attitudes towards homosexuality have evolved, and then extrapolate what’s coming.

    Then add to that, further knowledge of divine origin to which they are entitled and entrusted.

    This is a big thing. From what I gather, the church has not gotten involved in a hot political issue since the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) of the 1970′s. This is historic.

  17. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 11:47 am

    What About Mom:

    I’m going to nip the abortion thing in the bud, although it’s an important, meaningful, and somewhat-related topic. I have a reply to your friend’s comment, but I’ll save that for another post.

    I don’t think the two heads constitute a false dichotomy–to some extent, I think one thing about Prop. 8, the prophets think another. But I welcome further discussion about that.

    I also welcome your thoughts on the conflicts between obedience and conscience in a more general vein.

    But I respectfully point out that if you couldn’t care less about the proposition, then you and I really aren’t similarly conflicted regarding this issue.

  18. Emily M. on October 22, 2008 at 11:54 am

    I love this post; it articulates the Prop 8 dilemma so well. And for me, it comes down to trusting that my leaders have a generational view, as Bookslinger said. I think there’s a reason we sustain them as prophets, seers, and revelators. Inherent in their calling is the ability to see consequences that we may not understand at the time they ask us to obey. I trust that such is the case here as well.

  19. Steve Evans on October 22, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Great post, but a 13-yr-old is probably alright watching the Sarah Connor Chronicles. It’s a fairly fun show. With robots! and guns!

  20. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Bookslinger:

    This is indeed historic.

    As for prophetic authority, I put far more stock in divine knowledge (and superior faith) than advanced age. But I do think it’s wise to carefully consider the advice of those who have been “there and back again,” this situation included.

  21. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Steve: This is a kid who sleeps with his air-soft rifle. He doesn’t need any more encouragement.

  22. Jonovitch on October 22, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Kathryn, in my quick analysis of your analogy, I see more than just the two heads. I see about 16 — one for me (probably the biggest head, figuratively and literally) and one for each of the 15 prophets, seers, and revelators. If any one of them wants to go in a certain direction, it’s not easy to convince big-headed me (or the other 14) to go with it. But if all 15 of them are unanimous in their decision, then I essentially have to gnaw off my own head to not go along with them, i.e., kill myself spiritually.

    Another way to look at it is that your second “church counsel” head is only authoritative when it represents the collective wisdom and counsel of the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Anything less is not authoritative.

    Either way, you’re spot on, and I recently came to a similar conclusion: if this were just random church members or even if it came from a handful of General Authorities, I’d definitely have a different opinion on the matter (as I do with so much).

    But as it is, the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have unanimously endorsed this position. That’s not something that happens all that often, and when it does, we would be wise to tell our ego’s one personal hydra head to suck it up and follow the collective, unified counsel of the wisest heads.

    Jon

  23. Steve Evans on October 22, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Kath that is an EXCELLENT start! Sounds like a great kid, you should give him a little more lead.

  24. Mark Brown on October 22, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    I’d like to suggest, as gently and politely as I can, that the argument for authority is substantially weaker in this case than in others.

    Consider that over the past 25 years, every time the official church has taken a position on anything related to homosexuality, it has had to revise its position very shortly thereafter. The following examples illustrate my point:

    1. Aversion therapy treatment for homosexual people at BYU in an effort to turn them straight. After the resulting suicides became public, it was discontinued.

    2. We used to advise gay men to marry hetero women. Again, the disastrous results have brought about a change in policy.

    3. We used to expel gays from BYU, as if their very presence would pollute the campus. BYU now recognizes its gay and lesbian students with an officially sponsored organization.

    4. Up until about 3 or 4 years ago, it was generally accepted doctrine that homosexuality was a chosen orientation, and not naturally occurring. The interview with Elders Oaks and Wickham opened the door to the possibility that sometimes people are born with homosexual orientation.

    5. We used to be adamantly opposed to civil unions. According to the official press release announcing our stand on prop. 8, we are now willing to accept civil unions.

    This record does not inspire confidence. How do we reconcile out belief in inspired authority with it?

  25. MissMEL on October 22, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Speaking as someone whose one hydra-head has limited brain capacity and a big mouth, I sometimes have to trust the other hyrdra-head to have wisdom and insight. I trust the leaders of the church. I have decided that for personal reasons I could not make phone calls, but I will take a stand on this issue in my own way. I pray that this will satisfy both the heads and most importantly THE HEAD of ALL HEADS!

  26. Eugene V. Debs on October 22, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the situation–not living in California–but it seems that the General Authorities are taking a political stand and inviting, not forcing, members of the Church to join them. If my Bishop came to a theoretical, California-based version of me and said “will you give money to Prop-8 efforts” and I said “I prefer not to” that would be the end of it. It’s not going to be a temple reccomend question. I’m not going to get released (ok, maybe if California me had the calling that reality me has).

    For me, the test is not forcing myself to support a political position I disagree with. The test comes in not publicly criticizing the General Authorities for taking a political stance that I would, in the abstract, find very problematic. So far, I am passing that test.

  27. Gerald Smith on October 22, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Excellent post. Not only does it entail Prop 8, but anything the prophets counsel us that we struggle with. How many people I heard struggle with Pres Hinckley’s counsel for no tattoos and 1 set of earrings for women! A friend of mine who joined the Church, with tats and earrings, upon hearing that counsel, grimaced and then turned to me and said that he had been thinking of getting a couple more tattoos. He took his earrings off and said that for him, the prophet’s counsel was of greater importance to him.

    Interesting how God can make us grow by challenging us.

  28. Adam Greenwood on October 22, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Mark Brown:

    But in a way you’re validating Nate Oman’s point: in this area you discount the church and aren’t willing to let it change you or guide you. That’s one way of splitting the conflict, of course. But a warning: the human mind is set up so that if you percieve a conflict between what you think right and what the Church says, you are going to do a good job of coming up with reasons why the church should be ignored in this particular circumstance, while still granting that its authoritative in all those other circumstances where you happen to agree with it. I’m not saying you’re wrong or that you are uniquely biased or that the fact of bias compels us to think we’re wrong or anything. I’m saying that given a two-hydra situation, mankind has a cognitive bias for finding reasons for justifying the self-head. Part of the reason KLS may not trust his son to make up his own mind about the show is that she knows that he really wants to see it and at his age that will skew his judgment.

  29. Jim Cobabe on October 22, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Kathy,

    I have similar misgivings, although my circumstances are very different. I don’t know where to turn for direction. Some counsel from the brethren is exactly what we need.

    Thank heaven for some inspiration.

  30. Bro. Jones on October 22, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    My trouble is that, without pointing to specific issues, the prophet and leaders have occasionally been wrong. Not all the time, not even often, but occasionally they have followed a course that is later reversed or outright abandoned and repudiated. Recognizing that point, you’re left with two possible schools of thought:

    1) One should be following the leaders regardless of their course;
    2) One should determine individually whether or not they should follow a given part of a course.

    Maybe this isn’t clear so I’ll give a different example. I heard a story once about a man that President Joseph F. Smith had called to be a stake leader. There was some issue with him that a lot of people in the stake seemed to know about, so many refused to sustain his calling when called to do so. President Smith berated the stake for their lack of faith and forgiveness, and continued to demand sustaining votes until there was a unanimous vote. Approving, he left the meeting, and a week later released the man from his calling without comment.

    So who was more blessed: the people who agreed immediately to sustain the man, or those who were true to their own feelings and eventually changed their mind? I find myself wondering which group I should place myself in sometimes, or even if it’s worth drawing the distinction.

  31. Matt Thurston on October 22, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Nate said: “It is precisely those instances where I find myself in disagreement with the substantive content of Church doctrine that it has the real possibility of altering or changing my beliefs and behaviors.”

    Tension usually results in more introspection, study, and dialogue — and ultimately better understanding and ownership of one’s beliefs and values. So I agree with this statement. It’s not clear, but the statement doesn’t seem to imply that one’s changed or altered beliefs and behaviors always dovetail with prophets and church doctrine.

    My sense is that the Church esteems prophetic counsel or decree above personal revelation/conscience, at least when those two channels of authority are at odds. Shouldn’t it be the reverse? A stalemate should give one pause, should trigger the study/prayer/introspection Nate’s statement implies, but ultimately personal revelation/conscience must be the final arbiter. Otherwise, what’s the point? Acting against one’s conscience is misery, as Orson Pratt explained:

    “I am not a man to make a confession of what I do not believe. I am not going to crawl to Brigham Young and act the hypocrite. I will be a free man… It may cost me my fellowship, but I will stick to it. If I die tonight, I would say, O Lord God Almighty, I believe what I say.”

  32. Adam Greenwood on October 22, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Another problem: in a Church that takes continuing revelation as a founding principle, its going to be pretty difficult to find any area where the Church counsel has not changed. So, if you want, you can always say or imply that the Church had a record on the issue that “did not inspire confidence” and was therefore acting without “inspired authority.”

    A racist could point to the Church’s various lurches on the blacks having the priesthood as evidence that its current counsel against racism should be ignored. A polygamist could say that the Church has an untrustworthy record on marriage, having favored monogamy, then polygamy, found that it didn’t work, tried concealed polygamy, and then gone vociferously for monogamy, and only in recent decades having changed its mind about mixed-race/mixed culture marriages. He could point to changing counsel on birth control, abortion, and family size as evidence that while the Church might be generally inspired, he could ignore its counsel on polygamy. A gay marriage supporter could use the same line of argument.

  33. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    Steve, your babysitting privileges are hereby revoked.

    Good discussion so far. Many worthy questions popping up, and everyone is being well-behaved. (Mark B. #24, thank you for being gentle and polite.) I need to step away for an hour or so–I’ll respond when I return.

    Be good until I get back. You may not watch TV.

  34. Jonovitch on October 22, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    Nate (10), in the conscience vs. authority battle (which is in the forefront with Proposition 8) I’ve tried to outline a good compromise in my comment 22, and I’ll try to clarify here. Essentially, my willingness to follow authoritative counsel at the expense of my own conscience is on a sliding scale. As the hierarchical office of said authority reaches higher and higher on the org chart, *and* as that one authority’s counsel is increasingly supported by other high-ranking authorities, so diminishes the weight of my own conscience. The only point at which I will completely give up my own superb logic is when all of the highest authorities are in unanimous, collective agreement.

    In other words, when my bishop gives me counsel, I’ll consider it. When my stake president gives me counsel, I’ll consider it even more. (When some random General Authority who has very little connection to me gives “us” counsel, I might actually consider it less, unless I like it.) But when the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak with one voice, I will consider it to be the will of the Lord and anything less than obedience on my part in this case is a bit silly.

    You could throw in other variables to adjust the sliding scale analogy (such as individual credibility, or proximity to and understanding of “me”), but the point is, when the top 15 Church authorities, comprising the top two authoritative bodies of the Church, are unanimous in their message, when they have reached a consensus and are acting as one, we would do well to swallow our pride, deflate our egos, shred our prominently framed professional degrees, and join the consensus opinion.

    Jon

  35. Last Lemming on October 22, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    “I don’t believe religions have done a good enough job explaining why gay marriage is such a threat to traditional marriage”

    Maybe there is a reason for that: maybe it is a faith/obedience issue and compelling, rational reasons would undermine the entire point of the exercise.

    I thought the point was to get enough nonmembers to vote for Prop 8 that it passed. Testing the faith of members by promulgating weak arguments will not accomplish that. Or is this not about winning?

    Personally, I think it is very much about winning.

  36. Mark Brown on October 22, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Adam, everything you say makes sense, and I agree with you, more or less.

    This post, and Nate’s paper, and Frank M.’s post about playing the odds when it comes to following your own judgement vs. accepting the authority of the church all attempt to approach the question in different ways.

    We all accept two axioms: 1)It is best to observe the speed limit, and, 2)there will be occasions when it is best to ignore the speed limit. We accept prophetic inspired authority, while simultaneously making no claim for prophetic infallibility. The value of threads like this lies in helping us novigate the narrows in between.

  37. Matt Thurston on October 22, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Jon said, “But when the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak with one voice, I will consider it to be the will of the Lord and anything less than obedience on my part in this case is a bit silly.”

    If only it were that simple.

    In any case, when are the top 15 church authorities not in unanimous agreement? (And if they are not, we wouldn’t know it.) Adam’s comment #32 lays out several scenerios when the Top 15 were in agreement, but changed their minds later. So a person who disagreed with mixed-race marriages was disobedient in 1960, but obedient in 1980? Did God change his mind, or did the leaders finally understand the will of God?

    Otherwise, I like the “sliding scale” analogy, I just disagree with your conclusion. As you move up or down the sliding scale it should trigger more or less study/prayer, but automatically defaulting to the unanimous opinion of the Top 15 seems a poor use of one’s conscience and agency. Would we want radical Muslims or Christians to follow the same logic?

  38. Jonovitch on October 22, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Mark Brown (24), and others: BYU is not the Church. “Generally accepted” is not the Church. (Heaven help us if it were!) Individual general authorities are not the Church. Even individual apostles are not the Church.

    When an individual speaks (or if an affiliated institution acts), regardless of how high-ranking that individual (or how prominent that institution) is, there is still room left for personal opinion and error of judgment. Many examples of this pepper the Church’s history, including the aforementioned BYU policies, “generally accepted” stances, books published by apostles, or even pulpit-pounding by presidents of the Church at some random stake conference — but such individual opinions and actions can’t accurately be portrayed as “Church doctrine.”

    Here’s the important distinction:

    When all 15 prophets, seers, and revelators unanimously speak, act, or opine, that holds total authoritative weight, and can be declared to be official and binding. It doesn’t happen often, and there’s a lot that’s left to us to mull over in our mortal minds. When all 15 of them give their stamp of approval (Proclamation to the World, The Living Christ, and Prop 8 come to mind most immediately), it’s safe to put our trust in the collective wisdom of the unified Church leadership.

    Jon

  39. Adam Greenwood on October 22, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    “So a person who disagreed with mixed-race marriages was disobedient in 1960, but obedient in 1980?”
    Yep. That’s the thing with continuing revelation. It continues. Trying to belong to the pretend 2050 Church in 2008 is a mug’s game.

    “But automatically defaulting to the unanimous opinion of the Top 15 seems a poor use of one’s conscience and agency. Would we want radical Muslims or Christians to follow the same logic?”

    Yep. There is no God but God, and Thomas S. Monson, Henry B. Eyring, Dieter Uchtdorf! [Pauses for breath] Boyd K. Packer, L. Tom Perry! [Pauses for breath] [Loses track of where's he at. Can't remember who's next anyway. Wanders off.]

  40. Jonovitch on October 22, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    Matt (37), if only radical Muslims or Christians would listen more closely to the Top 15! :)

    I didn’t mean to automatically trigger blind obedience, at any point on the scale. Of course studying things out in one’s own mind and heart should accompany individual decisions. I simply meant to state that my own opinion matters less and less as the Top 15 approach official, published consensus. Thanks for the clarification.

    In individual cases such as polygamy, racism, Prop 8, I believe God knows best and that the Top 15 are probably the best equipped to get that knowledge to the rest of us. It doesn’t always work out that way, but I feel much safer going with the signed, sealed, delivered (and unanimous) opinion of them than with some other random authority here or there.

    I guess my argument is less of “always listen to the Top 15 without turning on your brain” than it is of “don’t listen to everything an individual Church member says, regardless of their present calling, without turning on your brain.”

    Jon

  41. Nitsav on October 22, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    I dislike people who contribute little more than citations of others, but I’m going to do it again. Situations like this are anticipated, and have happened before, to some extent.

    “If we hear any principle taught from the stand that we do not understand, let us seek to comprehend it by the Spirit of God. If it be not of God, we have the privilege of knowing it. We are not required to receive for doctrine everything that we hear. We may say, “I do not know whether this is true or not; I will not fight it, neither will I endorse it, but I will seek knowledge from God, for that is my privilege, and I will never rest satisfied until I have obtained the light I require.” 
    If you hear a doctrine that does not agree with your feelings or that you do not believe, take this course; do not reject nor endorse hastily without knowing or understanding. By taking this course you will develop the principle that God designs we should possess, and we will thus become a wise and understanding people, for we will be based on the rock of revelation. (Apr. 21, 1867, JD 12:46)
    -George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, 270

  42. Jonovitch on October 22, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    And to go along with Adam (39), we’re not omniscient, even the Top 15. We’re all trying to get a clear view of things, but from our present location and situation, we have a very limited perspective. Also, (and this is personal opinion, so please turn your brains on) in some cases I believe God might just let us (meaning the Church) work out some of our stupid decisions from the past on our own.

    I think the priesthood ban may our may not be related to this. Again, personal opinion, and still very fluid, but either Joseph Smith shouldn’t have been ordaining black men or Brigham Young shouldn’t have been denying black men. We now know that David O. McKay asked repeatedly about this issue as early as the 1950s, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t time to solve the problem yet.

    I don’t know nearly enough about the history or the internal discussions of many, many Quorums of the Twelve over the decades. This is just my best shot in the dark, and it will probably change radically as I gain greater light and knowledge. And I’m okay with that. Exactly the way it’s supposed to work.

    Jon

  43. David on October 22, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    What evidence do we have that the entire Q12 and FP are in unanimous agreement that Prop 8 is the will of the Lord? I ask because I’ve read the letter from the FP (I believe, but correct me if I’m wrong) asking the members in CA to do all they can to support the ammendment. Jon’s statements about the 15 being united in one voice seemed to me a bit presumptuous. In 30 years when historians have access to journals and meeting minutes, will we be surprised at the debate on this issue? I honestly don’t know.

  44. Julie M. Smith on October 22, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    #39: LOL!

  45. dja_ra on October 22, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    (Warning inflammatory speech)
    true conversation held somewhere in the south

    dad: I don’t want you playing with that neighbor kid.

    me: why not?

    Dad: Because he’s a f@g!

    me: so?

    Dad: God hate’s f@gs!

    Parents (and prophets) are as much products of their culture and influenced by the mores of their peers as are children.

    Parents are not naturally wiser. I did know more about the world and its workings at 13 than did my mom. The generation gap is in some cases an enlightenment gap.

    Those of my parents generation who believed that god hated gay people, that black men were inferior, or like SWK in MoF believed that M* lead to homosexuality were simply products of their time. They were mistaken. Some of them grow up and see the light as mores change. Some die before becoming fully enlightened.

    We have made a great deal of progress as a church and as a culture. When I pray and think about this mattrer, my spirit impressions tell me that Prop 8 is wrong, and that the brethren still have some growing to do. I will stand by my spiritual witness, and let the prophets be accountable to god for theirs.

    Too many thinking, good, spiritual; people in the church as struggling with this issue for it to just be a matter of following the prophet. I am very ashamed that I was raised to believe in the spiritual inferiority of blacks. These were things that I was taught by the church. We grew up. I have faith that we are growing still.

  46. Stephen Jones III on October 22, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    I like the Abrahamic example, because while extreme, it helps illustrate the point well, I think.

    When God told Abraham to kill Issac, you\’ve got to believe that Abraham didn\’t understand God\’s will. Abraham, whose own father tried to sacrifice HIM to an idol, must have had grave reservations about sacrificing his son. I can\’t image how Abraham\’s self hydra ever reconciled the command of the Lord, except in that he trusted God, and trusted His commands. You have to see this as a case of Abraham completely surrendering his will to the will of God even though all natural logic opposed the idea. Yet following God was the right thing to do, even though Abraham couldn\’t see the way in front of him.

    For some of us, maybe Prop 8 is our own Abrahamic test of sorts. Will you follow God\’s will (as proclaimed by His prophets), or will you trust in your natural logic?

    I\’m one for whom the natural logic speaks loudly and persuasively against Prop 8. However, I have to decide if I have Abraham\’s faith.

  47. David on October 22, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Did Abraham have God speak directly to him telling him to sacrifice Isaac, or did he have 15 men telling him to sacrifice Isaac while his own spiritual promptings told him not to?

  48. Not Ophelia on October 22, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    #46: But God gave Abraham that command personally, it didn’t come through another…..

  49. Bookslinger on October 22, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    In any case, when are the top 15 church authorities not in unanimous agreement? (And if they are not, we wouldn’t know it.)

    A) Publicly: practically never, Privately: since the beginning. B) exactly, but “when” not “if”. Those situations in which there is not unanimity don’t leave their quorum meetings.

    Adam’s comment #32 lays out several scenerios when the Top 15 were in agreement, but changed their minds later. So a person who disagreed with mixed-race marriages was disobedient in 1960, but obedient in 1980? Did God change his mind, or did the leaders finally understand the will of God?

    What about those who were pro-stoning-of-fornicators in 800BC and anti-stoning-of-fornicators in 1980. Things do change concerning what God expects of us at a given time. (And I think you got your dis-es mixed in a double-negative.) Past changes, or slow changes we can take. But when there’s a change in our lifetime, we lament “Who moved my cheese?!”

    …but automatically defaulting to the unanimous opinion of the Top 15 seems a poor use of one’s conscience and agency. Would we want radical Muslims or Christians to follow the same logic?

    I think it would be great if both radical Muslims and [radical] Christians would follow the Top 15. The prophet is the prophet to the whole world, not just us. In the Spirit World, all our non-member friends are going to grab us by our spirit shoulders and shake us and say “What?! You had a real prophet? Why didn’t you tell me? I thought I was your friend! You knew and you didn’t tell me?!”

    And when our righteous and godly friends, those who are devout in their religion, whatever it may be, find out we didn’t do everything the prophet said, they’ll say “What?! You had a real prophet, and you had a testimony that he really was a real prophet, and you didn’t do what he said?? What were you thinking?!”

    This has got me thinking. I have a lot of repenting to do.

  50. Mark N. on October 22, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    If I vote yes on 8, and I do it for all the wrong reasons (I believe it will force a lawsuit that will cause the Supreme Court to have to step in on the issue again), does it still count as being obedient to the Church leadership?

  51. Matt Thurston on October 22, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Thanks to the responses to my various comments, Adam, Jon, and ‘slinger.

    You all made this point: “I think it would be great if both radical Muslims and [radical] Christians would follow the Top 15.” And to that, they would say, “Right back at ya, buddy.”

    Nobody sees a problem with this kind of universal human tendency to esteem the opinions of one’s own “Top 15″ as truth, and the opinions of the various other “Top 15s” as ersatz? The ramifications of such universal (and hopelessly at odds) certainty are obvious. No discussion can occur with such certainty.

    What about those who were pro-stoning-of-fornicators in 800BC and anti-stoning-of-fornicators in 1980. Things do change concerning what God expects of us at a given time.

    Really? You find it easier to believe God changed his mind than to believe Men got it wrong? What does that say about God?

  52. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 22, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    As my mind automatically substituted “counsel” for “doctrine,” I had one of those big bright lightbulb-above-the-head moments. Up until that point, I’d been asking myself this thorny question: “Should I be more true to my leaders than to myself?” Nate’s point prompted me to reframe that question: “Should I trust my self-counsel when it directly conflicts with specific counsel from church leaders?”

    I’ve often had that thought.

    “If we hear any principle taught from the stand that we do not understand, let us seek to comprehend it by the Spirit of God. If it be not of God, we have the privilege of knowing it. We are not required to receive for doctrine everything that we hear. We may say, “I do not know whether this is true or not; I will not fight it, neither will I endorse it, but I will seek knowledge from God, for that is my privilege, and I will never rest satisfied until I have obtained the light I require.”

    If you hear a doctrine that does not agree with your feelings or that you do not believe, take this course; do not reject nor endorse hastily without knowing or understanding. By taking this course you will develop the principle that God designs we should possess, and we will thus become a wise and understanding people, for we will be based on the rock of revelation. (Apr. 21, 1867, JD 12:46)
    -George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, 270

    Not as good as the Spencer W. Kimball sermons I heard when younger, but still, they came together for me when I was still in my teens.

  53. MikeInWeHo on October 22, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    re: 47

    That’s a really good point. The Abrahamic test analogy doesn’t hold up very well. Also, the Church doesn’t even teach prophetic (or even ecclesiastical) infallibility, does it?

  54. Adam Greenwood on October 22, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    #47 – #48:

    God is another authority, and we have no reason to think that our own direct spiritual promptings are more infallible than anyone elses.

  55. ed johnson on October 22, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    I’m not sure what “continuing revelation” has to do with this. Have there been some revelations on homosexuality that I haven’t heard about, that have led to the changes in doctrine and policy over the last few decades?

  56. Adam Greenwood on October 22, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    “You all made this point: “I think it would be great if both radical Muslims and [radical] Christians would follow the Top 15.” And to that, they would say, “Right back at ya, buddy.”

    So what? You were trying to say that privileging the 15 was equivalent to jihadi fanaticism. Perhaps that would make sense for (radical) Christian to say, since they think we’re both equally wrong, but I don’t see why I as a Mormon should accept the equivalence or why you as a Mormon should make it.

    Its a disease of liberalism (broadly understood) to try and make decisions on the basis that one’s own experiences and commitments should be treated neutrally, or, at least, as an object for study and not a basis for one’s own being.

  57. MikeInWeHo on October 22, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    re: 56

    I don’t understand your last paragraph, Adam. Can you re-state? Thanks.

  58. Matt Thurston on October 22, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    “You were trying to say that privileging the 15 was equivalent to jihadi fanaticism.”

    No, I’m comparing human propensity, not religious organizations. In other words, I am saying that the human propensity to believe one’s leaders are “true” and others leaders are “false” (broadly understood) is universal. For some people (i.e. jihadi fanaticists) the ramifications of such propensity may be more lethal than for others.

    Its a disease of liberalism (broadly understood) to try and make decisions on the basis that one’s own experiences and commitments should be treated neutrally, or, at least, as an object for study and not a basis for one’s own being.

    So humility is a disease? You see no ground between “certainty” and “complete neutrality”?

  59. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    #47: There is no evidence whatsoever that Abraham acted against his spiritual promptings. Indeed, quite the opposite.

    I think Abraham’s test is commonly misread. The test wasn’t, “Will you do whatever God commands, even if it goes against your own conscience?” The test was, “Will you do what God commands, even if the command seemingly makes impossible his fulfilling of his covenant?” In other words, “Do you believe God will keep his word, no matter what?”

    This is what I was referencing way back in #9, and this is why, when mulling over Prop. 8, I believe it’s vital to consider God’s word and God’s promises regarding following his prophets.

    Which brings me to my next point:

    David (#43) We could argue whether the fifteen have unanimously decreed that Prop. 8 is the will of the Lord. But it’s an indisputable fact that legalizing SSM is in direct conflict with principles in “The Family: A Proclamation,” and that this proclamation is a unanimous, binding decree by the Fifteen.

    As far as prophetic infallibility, I’m with Jonovitch on this one–the wise bet goes with prophetic consensus over individual conclusions, no matter how reasonable and heartfelt those conclusions may be.

  60. wbpraw on October 22, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Thank you for this post and this discussion. I think this is the type of discussion that we as members should have been having from the beginning. It’s much more constructive than bantering over who’s a bigot and who’s not. So thank you. I’m learning a lot.

  61. GC on October 22, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Didn’t Brigham Young himself tell us that we should not just follow blindly, but ask God for spiritual direction. For spiritual confirmation of church instruction.

    After being asked by the Bishopric to participate in cold calls to get Californians to vote yes on Prop 8, my wife and I discussed this matter at great length. The conclusion that we came too was that neither of us like the idea.

    1. We both firmly believe in free-agency and accountability. They have their free agency to decide for themselves, and are accountable for their decisions.
    2. We have neighbors that are in a same-sex relationship. They are “GREAT” people. They have 2 of the neatest sons who are so intelligent and well-adjusted. The oldest of the two babysits our son, and I do not have one ounce of worry about the situation!

    I will not openly reject this instruction, but I can not support it (not in this case).

  62. Jonovitch on October 22, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    David (43), if they weren’t united on the action that they’re taking, I don’t think they’d be taking it. These aren’t men who will be brow-beaten privately into towing the line publicly. I have heard from anecdotal evidence, that if there is any lack of unity in the Quorum/Presidency meetings, that the issue will be tabled for another time. Where no action is taken, you can probably safely guess an issue is still being discussed. When there is a concerted effort, with official sponsorship of the Church, under the direction of the First Presidency, you can probably safely assume that they’re all okay with it.

    But let’s check it out, just in case:

    We know that the First Presidency is united — they signed their names on the letter, and we have subsequently found out that they reviewed the LDS Newsroom editorial piece, giving that their tacit approval, if not their explicit signatures.

    Plus most of the other current apostles signed the Proclamation to the World, whose first and last paragraphs defend traditional marriage and prescribe such actions as those being taken in California and elsewhere. So we know they’re on board.

    The only one’s left are Elders Bednar, Cook, and Christofferson. Well, the LDS Newsroom page on Proposition 8 has a couple videos with Elder Bednar and Elder Cook promoting the Church’s action, so they seem to be okay with it to. But mysteriously, we haven’t heard anything specific from Elder Christofferson, the junior apostle. (He always looked a bit shifty, if you ask me. Plus he’s a lawyer, and we know from experience that all lawyers are a bunch of liberal hippies. It’s a wonder he was called at all. I’ll have to pray about that real hard, I guess.)

    So, I guess you got me. Only 14 of them support Prop 8. We can all go home now.

    Jon

  63. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Thank YOU, wbpraw.

    I commend all the commentors (is that a word? I guess it is now) for playing nicely together. Seriously.

    Matt #51:

    Nobody sees a problem with this kind of universal human tendency to esteem the opinions of one’s own “Top 15″ as truth, and the opinions of the various other “Top 15s” as ersatz? The ramifications of such universal (and hopelessly at odds) certainty are obvious. No discussion can occur with such certainty.

    And the ramifications of trying to build the kingdom of God without that certainty are . . . ?

    You find it easier to believe God changed his mind than to believe Men got it wrong? What does that say about God?

    It says he has different lawbooks for different people at different times. Is this a surprise?

  64. Jonovitch on October 22, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Kathryn (59), thank you for saying what I meant much more clearly than I was able to:

    “The wise bet goes with prophetic consensus over individual conclusions, no matter how reasonable and heartfelt those conclusions may be.”

    Happy Wednesday, everyone! I’m off to get other things done now (especially since we have solid evidence for only 14 of the 15 prophets, seers, and revelators supporting Proposition 8…darn hippy lawyers *random muttering*).

    Jon

  65. Peter LLC on October 22, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    I think Abraham’s test is commonly misread.

    As do I. The close reader will note it was not a prophet who commanded him, but God Himself. I submit that that would make a difference. I mean, anyone who views an ambassador the same as a head of state/government needs to review protocol. So the question isn’t really “Do you believe God will keep his word, no matter what?” but “Do you believe I will keep My word, no matter what?”

  66. Kaimi Wenger on October 22, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    New health advice: Stay hydra-8-ed; read Kathy’s blog posts.

  67. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    GC (#61)

    There’s a big difference between God giving you spiritual confirmation of church instruction and deciding you “don’t like the idea.” Again, imo, reason and emotion shouldn’t trump prophetic counsel. Should personal revelation trump prophetic counsel? I believe that depends on the revelation and the counsel, and that a decision to break stride should never be considered without extreme carefulness and humility.

  68. A Turtle Named Mack on October 22, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    I made my son give his last piece of candy to his younger sister because she wouldn\’t stop screaming on our way to church last week. He was upset and couldn\’t come up with any scenario where that was even remotely equitable, nor would it teach his sister to behave more appropriately. I agreed with him, and responded simply that it was best for me, and for the drivers in the on-coming lane of traffic that I was considering swerving into at the moment.

    As with many others, I\’m quite conflicted about Prop. 8. I have always maintained that if God wants me to think, believe, act a certain way, it\’s between He and myself. I don\’t let Church leaders determine my personal beliefs. They\’re called to direct the Church, I\’m responsible for myself. My personal inclination is to oppose Prop. 8, for the many deplorable attitudes it fosters. It\’s not in my best interest, nor that of many of those with whom I associate. However, it\’s clear that Church authorities believe that Prop. 8 is in the best interest of the Church, and that they need the help of church members to accomplish the end they deem necessary. Now, I think they\’re wrong, and that it won\’t accomplish what they hope it will. However, just as I refuse to let others dictate my personal beliefs, I need to recognize that directing the Church is their calling, not mine. I don\’t understand it, but I don\’t think I\’m being asked to understand it, just to help the Church accomplish what its leaders think is necessary. Still, that doesn\’t make it easy.

  69. DavidH on October 22, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    As a U.S. citizen and Latter-day Saint, I have dual loyalties–to my country and to my Church. As a voter, I understand that my duty is to vote the way I believe is best, exercising my own best judgment. As a member of the Church, I have been asked to support a certain proposition.

    What if the way I believe is best is different from the way my Church has asked me to vote? Does voting as the Church asks violate my duty to my country of voting as I think best? Or would voting the way I think best violate my duty to the Church of supporting the Church’s position?

    There are at least two ways to address this:

    Option a. voting the way the Church has asked, even if I personally disagree with the Church’s judgment, does not violate my duty to vote as I believe because, in this case, my belief about the proposition is overriden by my belief that the counsel expressed by the Church is always better than my understanding. In other words, I have voted the way I believe I should on the proposition because I believe I should vote the way the Church directs (even if I would otherwise disagree). According, I have indeed “voted the way I think best using my own judgment.”

    Option b. voting the way I believe (even if different from the Church’s position) does not violate my duty to support the Church, because the Church has not directed me to vote that way even if I (and my conscience) otherwise strongly disagree. As a loyal member of the Church, I am obligated to seriously study, consider and pray about the Church’s counsel, and then to vote my conscience. I am also obligated to keep any disagreements with the institutional Church on the matter respectful.

    My recollection is that, about 100 years ago, President Joseph F. Smith testified before Congress on whether faithful members of the Church were required to follow direction of the Brethren in voting and other political matters in order to remain in good standing. Congress was concerned, in effect, that the expectation and doctrine of Latter-days under my hypothetical above was uniformly to “follow the Brethren” in voting (Option a), rather than exercising their own independent judgment (albeit taking the Brethren’s counsel into account). As I recall, President Smith assured Congress that a faithful Latter-day Saint could and should follow Option b, and vote their own independent conscience and judgment on the matter.

    I personally think Option b is perfectly consistent with the Church’s counsel and, in fact, a preferred interpretation. I say it is preferred, because this interpretation is similar to the official resolution of a similar cunnundrum sometimes faced by elected officials in voting on legislative matters:

    “Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated Church position. While the Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent.” http://www.newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/public-issues/political-neutrality

  70. Mayan Elephant on October 22, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    A turtle named mack,

    that is scary logic. really scary. it sounds like you are saying that your hope in monson is more of a compass than your faith in mankind, logical reasoning, obedience to the two great commandments and confidence in your own spiritual impressions.

    that is scary.

    you do not do everything the prophets have asked you to do. how are you deciding that in this case, where you want to do something different, you are instead going to obey the leader of the church?

  71. David on October 22, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Jon (#62, 64) – I hope I didn’t offend you in some way, I can’t tell.
    I believe that the Proclamation on the Family is inspired and represents the “unanimous voice of the 15″. But I don’t give the same level of reverence (for lack of a better word) to the counsel try and influence California to pass Prop 8.
    They (the 15) could all very well be of one mind on this matter, and may have been from the very beginning. On the other hand, I also think it’s possible that some of them could also have had serious reservations, and after much discussion (and even revelation perhaps!), they have agreed to be united on the course of action that the prophet wanted. Yet we are not given access to these deliberations and/or revelations, but we might later (as the history books are written, such as the biography of President Kimball and the revelation on the priesthood). I don’t think anyone in the 15 is being brow-beaten, just that those that might have had reservations are willing to “tow the line” because they know the importance of (even perceived) unity at this point in time.

  72. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Peter (#65):

    Thing is, Abraham couldn’t have been counseled by the prophet. Because he was the prophet.

    Yes, I think I would feel much better about supporting Prop. 8 if the Lord himself appeared to deliver that edict. (I’m supposed to consider the voice of the Lord’s servants as equivalent to his, and I admit I fall short of that.) But as Nibley points out, when angels appear to men they pretty much just quote scripture. If a heavenly messenger of any stripe were to appear at my bedside tonight (as my Kindergartner surely will), he or she would probably quote the proclamation.

  73. JimD on October 22, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    I agreed with him, and responded simply that it was best for me, and for the drivers in the on-coming lane of traffic that I was considering swerving into at the moment.

    “Quit your whining about gay marriage, or so help me, I’ll steer this Earth into the next black hole I see!!!”

  74. kevinf on October 22, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    KLS, this is a thought-provoking post for me. I guess because I’m not in California or Utah, and the letter was not read here, that I didn’t take it that I should be supporting Prop 8 as a matter of obedience. There are some who argue that the Proclamation on the Family is not canonized, and as such has limited doctrinal impact.

    I have always had a struggle with many of the things that other members, well-intentioned, have held out as “Abrahamic Tests”, that in the long run, really turned out to be non-issues. On the other hand, I truly have felt the witness of the prophetic mantle on our modern day prophets on a number of occasions.

    I think it was Hugh B. Brown who said in a BYU devotional something to the effect that the GA’s didn’t care if the students thoughts were “orthodox” as much as they did that the students should have thoughts. I personally think we short ourselves when we say “I’m following the prophet because he said so”. I would much rather think that the prophets give us counsel, sometimes very pointed, and that we are then to try and seek our own confirmation. Sometime that comes, sometimes we get contrary inspiration, and sometimes we get no answer. I think that Nate’s statement about examining our motives, thoughts, and feelings is extremely important so that when I find myself in one of these paradoxes, I can say that I weighed the evidences, sought scriptural and spiritual guidance, made a decision, and asked for confirmation. If we have done all that, we may still choose to follow guidance that conflicts with our personal conscience, or we may choose to follow our conscience, but we have at least done what the Lord expects us to do. And in some cases, we may find that following counsel despite our initial reaction and personal lack of conviction may still be right in the long run. However, once we have committed ourselves to a course of action, we should expect to find peace in our hearts in pursuing that course. It is the one sure point of reference that the Lord gives us that we are on a correct path.

    See D&C 9:7 ” 7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me”, and D&C 7:23 “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? ”

    We may still find ourselves at different endpoints, but we should find peace once a decision has been made and a course pursued.

  75. Mayan Elephant on October 22, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    TOE the line, damnit. it is TOE, get it?

    Tow the line? what is that?

  76. David on October 22, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Yes, you are right (toe). Sorry.

  77. Peter LLC on October 22, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Kathryn (72): Abraham couldn’t have been counseled by the prophet. Because he was the prophet.

    Yeah, there’s surely an entry in the Manual of Mental Disorders for prophets who command themselves to do hard things.

    David H (69):about 100 years ago, President Joseph F. Smith testified before Congress…

    And more recently during Romney’s candidacy the issue came up again. Romney said he would not be bound by SLC’s views.

  78. A Turtle Named Mack on October 22, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    JimD – That’s perfect. I would not be surprised if something similar hasn’t been uttered in a Q12 meeting.

    Mayan Elephant – Scary logic, indeed! Of course, much of this Prop. 8 rhetoric defies logic. I think what I’m saying is that it is quite possible that what is best for the Church is not always what’s best for me, personally. In many of those cases, I do disregard “counsel”. So I cherry-pick those instances where the counsel has no meaningful bearing on my life to demonstrate my ability to follow the Prophet. This may well be one of those instances. Of course, as I am one who lacks a moral compass, I sleep fine.

  79. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks, kevin f. Nicely said.

    I agree that “Abrahamic trial” is not a term to be thrown around loosely, and while Abraham’s situation can provide food for thought as we discuss the complexities of supporting Prop. 8, the parallel is problematic.

    At the same time, I don’t think I’m overestimating the weight of the situation at hand. But as you say, only time will tell.

    I agree that we short ourselves when we we say “I’m following the prophet because he said so,” having invested nothing in the decision.

    Generally speaking, I respect all who thoroughly examine their motives, thoughts, and feelings regarding sticky issues, even if their conclusions are different than mine. But I firmly believe that members of the Church are expected to uphold every tenet of the proclamation. I accept that there’s some grey area on what it means to do so, but I beg to differ with anyone who denies that obligation.

  80. John on October 22, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    It’s good thing that God gave us the right to go to him directly. the only cure to the two headed hydra.

    Everyday a new Prop 8 posting and within a few hours 70+ posts. The church has missed the opportunity and teach us. I do feel the church is out to lunch if they think prop 8 will change the exposure of gay lifestyle to our children. Most of the stories are in states without any same sex marriage provisions. Diversity programs are everywhere and prop 8 only changes the language (1 word – union vs marriage) but that is all. The exposure still happens.

    They should be able to make a more compelling argument because I am assuming they are correct in the direction they are giving us.

  81. Josh Smith on October 22, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    DavidH (#69) has it right. We owe loyalties to our church and our state. It is a shame that these loyalties sometimes conflict.

    Here’s the resolution I’ve come to … for what it’s worth:

    When the Church asserts itself in a political matter, and asks the members to take certain action with regard to the state, its claims must have reasons. It cannot be the authoritative parent (“because I said so”). It must enter the debate as any other actor. It must have reasons for its position, and I weigh those reasons as I would any other participant in the debate. This is a personal decision for me. If someone stopped me on the street and asked me if I was an American or a Mormon, I would tell them I’m an American, but I’m an American that is a strongly committed Mormon. At the end of the day, I’m an American first.

    Now if it is a matter that doesn’t involve the state (doctrinal claims), then I think we can start thinking about authority and being submissive. With doctrinal issues, the Church/member relationship looks like a Parent/child relationship. When it comes to politics, the metaphor breaks down real quick.

  82. bbell on October 22, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Here is how I see this.

    In 1840 or so one of my English ancestors was asked by John Taylor to move to the US and gather with the Saints. He never looked back.

    in 1846-1848 my ancestors were asked by a modern prophet to cross the plains and settle Utah. They followed the council.

    A few years after that they were asked to practice polygamy. They did.

    in the 1920′s they were asked to follow the WOW. The men did not and the women did. This has caused a ripple in my families activity in the church that continues to this very day in my extended family. I hold this out as a warning example to those in opposition to the FP.

    My mother was asked to work against ERA in the 1970′s. She did

    In 2008 we are aked to support Prop 8. There is little or no doubt that gay marriage is clearly against the teachings of the LDS church. I am also not finding any real opposition to the FP or any angst whatsoever amongst the rank and file TR holders. In fact individual contributions from Church members in CA seem to make up a large portion of the funds donated to Prop 8.

    So I think I will follow the prophet on this one.

    Like I always say I find a real disconnect between the average LDS TR holder I know and many of the denizens in the ‘naccle

  83. kevinf on October 22, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    KLS, I would agree that the Proclamation is an inspired message, even if not canonized. It is possible to believe that and yet still have ambivalent thoughts about Prop 8, as you suggest. I’ve had issues with some of the advertising and rhetoric surrounding the organized campaign, and not sure that the association with some of our partners in that effort will be to our credit. We remain a naturally suspicious and divisive people when it comes to public discourse (speaking of the country as a whole, not specifically our church), where it is easier to exclude than to include. Accommodations on either side are problematic for us as a church. We risk getting labeled homophobic and hateful on one side, or falling victim to what I would term “universalist” acceptance of just about anything on the other side for fear of offending. Being right doesn’t mean that we can forgo temperance, charity, and humility, nor can we be so accepting as to forget our principles.

  84. Mark Brown on October 22, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    bbell,

    The difference is that in this case, the church leadership has already stated that this in not a worthiness issue, and that a member’s stand on this, even in California, has no bearing on ability to hold a recommend, serve in a calling, etc. Like I always say, I find a real disconnect between the leaders of the church and the denizens of the ‘naccle who presume to speak for them.

    In addition — did I miss where this directive went out to anybody besides residents of California? A faithful member outside of California who watches conference and reads the Ensign would know nothing about prop 8 unless she read about it on the internet. 99% of the average TR holders in my ward have never heard about it.

  85. Aaron T. on October 22, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Nice post. Much needed.

    As has been pointed out by some, one struggle I have with this is that the church does not have an exactly consistent record when it comes to defining marriage (i.e. polygamy) or fighting for civil rights. And one could reasonably question the ability for church leaders (even all 15 up top) to seperate personal beliefs/cultural DNA from direct revelation.

    Furthermore, the church, in an effort to logically explain their position on this issue, has offerred possible secular consequences that one could find dubious at best (misleading at worst). And even though the church is acting lawfully by participating in the passage of this proposition, I firmly believe that the founders did mean for a wall of separation to exist between government and religion and I struggle when a religious body pushes legislation that seems to provide no secular benefit (or dubious secular benefit) whilst depriving certain citizens of civil rights, in the name of a religious tenent or belief.

    On the other hand, it goes without saying that we all want to follow/sustain our leaders.

    So, off with one of my heads? Or can there be compromise that I have somehow missed?

  86. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    kevin f: Agree 100%.

    bbell: Thank you.

    John: It’s a pretty important word, kwim?

    Josh: I’m a Mormon first.

    and Kaimi (#666): I’ve been fishing for a clever comeback, but I keep coming up dry.

  87. queuno on October 22, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    bbell – Just curious if they read the Prop 8 letter in your ward/stake. I’m hearing differing reports from other North Texas denizens. I didn’t notice it in my ward (where I bet I could say “Prop 8″ and people will wonder if I’m talking about the school bond).

  88. Mark Brown on October 22, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    So I think I will follow the prophet on this one.

    So I guess we are all in the same boat, then. According to official donor records, neither you, nor I, nor Thomas S. Monson has donated a nickel to prop. 8. It is soooo good to be on the prophet’s side.

  89. queuno on October 22, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    I think it’s interesting how people cycle between their loyalties when Church and state conflict. I know many people (including some in these virtual parts) who took the side of the FLDS against the evil Texas CPS marauders, when in a similar context with different actors, would take the side of the state. Sure, we can get into the actual details, but TYPICALLY, it seems like whether we side with the Church or the state is less principled and more whether we are personally affected.

  90. bbell on October 22, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Yes Prop 8 has come up here in SS and EQ.

    When the TX constituion amendment was voted on a few years ago a statement was read in all wards in our stake in support of the amendment banning SSM.

    I really think that there is a great deal of spiritual safety in following the bretheren and the main body of the saints. I also believe that if you are raising LDS kids and somehow they get the idea that you disagree with the church on this issue their retention in activity as teenagers and YSA’s has been damaged to one degree or another.

  91. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Aaron T.: And one could reasonably question the ability for church leaders (even all 15 up top) to seperate personal beliefs/cultural DNA from direct revelation.

    That line of questioning is incredibly compelling for the natural man. I’m not saying the question should never be asked, but I am saying it’s probably harder for me to ask it with pure intent than it is for the head honchos to keep their biases to a respectable minimum.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the directive is alloyed somewhat with “personal beliefs/cultural DNA.” But I’ve decided to give my leaders, rather than myself, the benefit of the doubt.

    As for compromises, I’m sure you’ll come up with something. I have a close friend who will vote no on Prop 8., yet is obeying the directive to talk to non-members about the importance of voting yes. If I lived in California I would choose a different course, but I respect my friend for thoughtfully balancing her inner resolution with her outward obligation, per the letter.

  92. m&m on October 22, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    Kathryn,
    Thanks for this post. I love the quote from Nate Oman. I always like to say that if we could figure it all out on our own, we wouldn’t need prophets. :)

    Should personal revelation trump prophetic counsel? I believe that depends on the revelation and the counsel, and that a decision to break stride should never be considered without extreme carefulness and humility.

    Just a thought or two piggybacking off of this comment…..Were a decision to ‘break stride’ felt to have come via revelation, then the question is, what does that mean? From what I understand about personal revelation, it’s simply that — personal. It has its limits within the bounds of one’s personal life and journey. What concerns me is when people take personal revelation and generalize that for everyone else. “I don’t feel good about this, therefore the prophets must be wrong [implication is that they are wrong for everyone].” There is an order to how revelation works, and I don’t think that is it. :)

    I fully believe that God takes us from where we are and helps us take our next steps toward growth and progression, and that may all look a little different for each of us. The leaders have acknowledged that there would be those who might not agree, and to me to this point have seemed to give people some measure of space to work through that. This is a hard, complex issue. But to me honestly struggling with the issue and not being sure if one could do anything at this point to support it is a whole lot different than coming out full force against the prophets, and using personal revelation as the justification for that. I just don’t think it works that way.

    I think of Pres Eyring’s talk from this summer’s Ensign about safety in counsel. He compared counsel that we feel doesn’t fit (yet?) to sand that has the promise of gold. Rather than dismiss it as completely useless, he invites us to hold that counsel in our hands, and that we might discover gold flakes over time.

    That is what this issue has been like for me. I started holding the sand in 2000. I didn’t ever really question the leaders’ position, but I didn’t really understand it, either. But I trusted them. Over the past eight years, I feel I have come to understand it so much better, and the pinnacle of that understanding came when I attended the broadcast done recently (portions of it are on YouTube). The question was asked what we have been promised with this. We have been promised the joy of knowing that we are defending the plan of salvation and possibly helping generations to come. I also think we could be helping stem the tide of calamities that could come if God’s plan is threatened (a la the Proclamation). Even there, they call upon citizens and govt officials everywhere to help promote measures that support the family as defined by prophets.

    One more thought — I can understand people being concerned about the way the Church’s understanding about homosexuality has changed and grown over time. I think it’s important to consider, though, that in the end, their position is based not on sorting out all the details of homosexuality, but on the fundamental truths of the plan of salvation. No matter what, marriage between man and woman has always been a fundamental element of that plan, since the beginning of time (even in times of polygamy, the relationships were still heterosexual). And teaching and upholding that plan is a key part of the role of prophets. That and testifying of Christ. It doesn’t get much more basic than that. So I think as we weigh out their teachings, it’s important to consider how fundamental the teachings are. If they are musing about something like man on the moon (not really central to the plan of salvation) that’s one thing. If they are teaching about Christ or the plan, that’s wholly another. At least that is how I see it.

  93. kevinf on October 22, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    Josh, I’d say that I am a Mormon and an American, but if the two come into conflict, I’m a Mormon first, and likely as well at the end of the day. Hence, I exercise greater caution when theology and politics start to get entangled, and of late, I have found it easier to shed my political ideologies than my religious ones. That, however, often still puts me at political odds with the majority of my fellow saints.

    Queno and bbell, the lack of a letter directed to stake presidents and bishops in Washington state did not prevent some bishops from ripping a copy off the internet to read to their congregations, no doubt to great satisfaction by some and perplexing looks by others.

  94. m&m on October 22, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    Sorry…long comment.

  95. Ray on October 22, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I have been conflicted about the overall issue of gay marriage for quite some time – mostly because I despise the hypocrisy inherent in many of the arguments against it. This is not the place for that, but my concerns over weak and invalid arguments are deep and serious. I also am firmly supportive of full civil rights for all civil unions, with “marriage” being reserved for religious covenant relationships. I have good friends who are gay. In college, as part of the off-campus contingent, I was the token married undergrad in a sea of gay students. I deplore the way that homosexual activity is targeted as more vile than its heterosexual doctrinal counterpart; after all, fornication is fornication regardless of the gender(s) of those involved. Some of the most un-Christian people I know and have ever met are anti-homosexual, “Christian” bigots – and being paired with them pains me greatly. I want to defend and protect those who have faced discrimination and persecution, having been born with a similar heritage.

    However, I recognize that the Church leaders did not fight civil unions at all. They did not fight civil benefit legislation at all. They aren’t fighting to criminalize homosexual activity. In fact, their official stance regarding homosexuality is more liberal than it has ever been. So, I’m left to ask why they are so adamant about gay marriage in CA.

    I believe it has to be related to their status as prophets and seers. I can see very clear and compelling reasons why legalizing gay marriage and the attendant legal possibilities could have disastrous effects on society – especially in the way that sexual exploration could be encouraged and taught within public schools. I am not confident that such will be the case, but I certainly can envision it as a very reasonable conclusion. Given that fact, if I credit those whom I believe are prophets and apostles with any degree of ability to read the signs of the times and warn of future results of current actions, I am forced to consider that they might be correct in such an uncharacteristic mobilization.

    Finally, our leaders were born within one generation of the near destruction of the Church – largely for daring to teach and practice a sexual code that differed from the societal norm. They understand that such a thing can happen in ways that a relative young buck like me simply doesn’t. It’s academic to me; their fathers and grandfathers were exiled and jailed as a result, and their temples were threatened directly. Calling concerns that something similar might happen in the future if we end up as the only entity fighting new societal sexual standards ridiculous and alarmist is not paying attention to our actual history. How can our leaders have any confidence that gay marriage won’t end up being the future polygamy – the weapon used to try to destroy the Church – especially if that weapon can be constructed and wielded by 5-9 individuals and not the will of the people?

    I can’t fault the prophets and apostles for believing the legalization of gay marriage will lead to results that will be devastating to our society, even as I love my gay friends and want them to enjoy every civil right I enjoy. If I truly do accept them as prophets and seers, I must spend time and effort trying first to understand why their position might be the correct one – not automatically assuming it can’t be right. Since I can see very reasonable justifications, I believe I should follow their counsel in this case – realizing that the voice of the people should be the deciding factor for issues of sexual morality and the law.

    I still have reservations about the issue – especially with regard to most of the arguments for the Proposition (which, I repeat, include some really stupid, ludicrous ones), but that doesn’t over-ride my belief that these men really are prophets, seers and revelators.

  96. JimD on October 22, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    and Kaimi (#666): I’ve been fishing for a clever comeback, but I keep coming up dry.

    Well, I wouldn’t lose my head over it.

  97. Adam Greenwood on October 22, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Didn’t Brigham Young himself tell us that we should not just follow blindly, but ask God for spiritual direction. For spiritual confirmation of church instruction.

    If Brigham Young said it, then it must be true. No question.

  98. Adam Greenwood on October 22, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    That first Turtle Mack comment is awesome. It would make for a great character in a novel.

  99. Nathan Bunker on October 22, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Great post!

    There is one thing that was missed in the comments. The thirteen year-old son is too focused on whether or not he can watch the movie, but eventually what he needs to learn is why his mother is so concerned about the movies he watches. The actually movie is not so critical as is the reason why she doesn’t want him to watch it. At some point he is going to have to decide for himself which movies he should watch and which he shouldn’t, whether or not he gets to watch this one. So even more important that not watching the movie is the growth he is experiencing by learning how to discern good from evil.

    I have always been open minded and have never had a problem with SSM. When the church came out with their position, it made me stop and think. I don’t think the important issue here is how you actually vote, but that the church has finally taken a stand. At some point the church has to take a position. And now they have. The question is, are we on the same page? I’m still working on that.

  100. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 22, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    M&M: So I think as we weigh out their teachings, it’s important to consider how fundamental the teachings are. If they are musing about something like man on the moon (not really central to the plan of salvation) that’s one thing. If they are teaching about Christ or the plan, that’s wholly another. At least that is how I see it.

    Me too. Thank you.

    Ray: I still have reservations about the issue – especially with regard to most of the arguments for the Proposition (which, I repeat, include some really stupid, ludicrous ones), but that doesn’t over-ride my belief that these men really are prophets, seers and revelators.

    Ditto.

    Nathan: So even more important that not watching the movie is the growth he is experiencing by learning how to discern good from evil.

    Yes. The same could be said for me as I grapple with Prop. 8, although rather than framing it in terms of discerning good from evil I’m framing it in terms of discerning which of my two heads should take the lead.

    Speaking of which, JimD, I’ll take your advice. After all, two heads are better than one. Even if one is named Kaimi.

    And that brings us to the conclusion of this thread. We’ve hit 100, and it’s time for me to make dinner. Thanks to all for participating.

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