Can God Proscribe Behavior?

October 9, 2011 | 61 comments
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First of all, I want to be clear where I’m coming from. I would call myself a faithful member of the church. I pretty much go along with all the “orthodox” Mormon stuff. I’m not cafeteria. I’m not New Order. I’m stereotypical, boring, Happy Valley Mormon — except that I despise scrapbooking.

Second of all, I think asking questions, searching for insight, and being uncomfortable with parts of Mormonism don’t make me, ipso facto, unfaithful. Nor do I think doing so is bad, wrong, or problematic. In case you haven’t noticed, I have problems with church gender issues and polygamy. And leaders who micro-manage. And serving in Primary. But not too much else.

Third (of all), I would like sincere feedback. Hold back on snark, please. I’ll censor freely.

In my last post, “Shunning the Unbelievers“, a subject came up on which I’d like more input. The idea was presented that if we want “things to get better” we have to insist that the status quo is not acceptable. In my case, for example, if I want gender issues to “get better,” I need to demand that the current situation is wrong.

Here’s  my problem. I don’t know that it is wrong.

It feels wrong to me in some cases. It seems unfair. But I’m not convinced that my feelings are really relevant. No, it’s not that as a woman I’ve been beaten into submission, have no confidence in my ideas, or can no longer think straight. (Although I admit there may be other reasons for my muddled thinking.) It’s just that I simply am not convinced that God is prohibited from making rules that bug me.

Rather, I think it’s actually possible that:

  • God can appoint prophets who actually do speak his will
  • Women can’t have the priesthood
  • Men can be sealed to lots of women and women have to share the man
  • Having a bad temper isn’t acceptable for disciples
  • Men can only marry women
  • Women can only marry men
  • A sense of humor is good, sarcasm not so much
  • Sundays are for worship, not recreating
  • Journal writing is important
  • Girls “don’t need” the resources boys need

Rather than insisting that our particular hobby horse — or even genuine concern — can only be resolved the way we want it resolved, I think disciples of Christ must be open to the idea that their way is not God’s way. We must recognize the possibility that God can actually proscribe behavior — even if it’s behavior we want to engage in. We must accept that our feelings and desires may not be the ultimate indicator of what is actually good and true.

What are your thoughts on this?

61 Responses to Can God Proscribe Behavior?

  1. Sonny on September 25, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    “if I want gender issues to “get better,” I need to demand that the current situation is wrong.”

    I think “demand” may be accurate for some, but not all the would like to see some kind of change. The word is a bit strong.

  2. wonderings on September 25, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    My first thought is “Everyone’s line as to what God proscribes is different.” Because obviously some people at Mountain Meadows believed that God proscribed them to do what they did. Some terrorist organizations believe that God proscribed their behavior to kill in the name of God. Those things feel wrong to me, but using your above, should I question those feelings? Or is the line in front and there is no way God would proscribe those behaviors.

  3. Dan on September 25, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Alison,

    Women can’t have the priesthood

    So one can be a prophetess without having the priesthood? Or have we mischaracterized the women in the Old Testament who we call prophetesses?

    Generally I think that if we cage ourselves into thinking that we should just accept things as they are takes away from the fact that the relationship between the church of God and God Himself isn’t just a one way radio, and that we CAN demand something that previous generations did not desire in their church. Previous to 1978, you could just as easily have added to your list the following: “Blacks can’t have the priesthood.”

    Just as in a marriage, the wife doesn’t just submit to the husband without question or ability to have her voice or desires heard. As the relationship between member and church has been tied to a marriage, why should members not demand the same as a wife would demand of a husband: the ability to be a voice in the marriage, to be equal, to not be just a submissive possession.

  4. JT on October 9, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Alison – Amen. I think this type of introspection is unfortunately far too rare. Kudos.

  5. Travis on October 9, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Dan,
    Joseph Smith taught that a prophet is one who has the spirit of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus, quoting Rev. 19:10 (DHC 3:28), but condemned the idea of women declaring themselves prophetesses and founding churches (DHC 4:571-581).

    From that I understand that the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus, and the gift of prophecy is one of the gifts of the spirit (Moroni 10:13), and that those are independent of whether a person has the priesthood or not, and it is probably in that sense in which Deborah and others in the Old Testament were considered “prophetesses.”

    But to be a prophet in the sense of one authorized to serve as a leader of the church and to declare doctrine, acting as the mouthpiece of God–that requires the priesthood and has been reserved to men.

    Women are not “submissive possessions” simply because they do not serve in leadership roles in the church. In the world, which is obsessed with power, perhaps serving in positions of leadership is equated with dominance and superiority. But in the church, that is not the case, or else I must also be considered to be unequal and a “submissive possession,” since I do not serve in any leadership capacity.

  6. palerobber on October 9, 2011 at 10:20 am

    i think there are two distinct types of rules that you’re conflating here: the amoral and the immoral.

    you seem not too troubled by rules which, while arbitrary, are at least amoral (i.e. don’t have any moral implications) such as Sabbath rules, journal writing, and — though you don’t mention it — dietary and modesty rules would also fit in this category. basically, you’re willing to go along with rules that, while odd, by their very oddness don’t burden you with the demand of moral justification. if God asked you to always wear green on wednesdays you could go along with that, because doing so would only require you to sacrifice as much of your own identity as seems appropriate in exchange for unity with the body of the church or oneness with God himself.

    however, those rules which you find immoral (i.e. which conflict with your own well founded moral reasoning), are clearly much harder for you as they demand a much higher sacrifice of self. if the unequal treatment of men and women, or of gay and straight, violates your moral value of fairness, “can” a true God ask you to abandon such principles in the name of devotion? naturally, i think the better question is “why” would he?

  7. honey on October 9, 2011 at 11:34 am

    When I come to these questions, the moral ones I don’t agree with or understand. I try to remind myself that according to the scriptures God has in the past and in modern time proscribed behavior. Then I try to remind myself to humbly question and if the answer isn’t forthcoming in a timely manner, be patient. Somethings I can’t really get behind (blacks and the priesthood for instance), but I am usually quiet except in my conversations with the Lord. I have in most of my questioning received answers, but in at least two instances it has taken years. I try not to find myself instructing God but allowing Him to instruct me. It Usually works out for me.

  8. Mike S on October 9, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Quick question: Along the same lines, do you think blacks would still not have the priesthood if they quietly just accepted their role as “fence-sitters” in the pre-existence as a part of “God’s plan”?

  9. ji on October 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    “Rather than insisting that our particular hobby horse — or even genuine concern — can only be resolved the way we want it resolved, I think disciples of Christ must be open to the idea that their way is not God’s way.”

    Amen.

    The Gospel, or some parts of it, are hard for some even within the Church. The scripture speaks of stumbling blocks and offense, within the Church. We read in John chapter six where many were offended by Jesus’s teachings (from Jesus himself, not some apostle) and walked away — the Savior asked his disciples, Will ye also go away? The answer in John 6:68-ff is wonderful.

  10. Tracy on October 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Alison, I love these thoughts! I think this is your best writing ever…and I have been reading you for many, many years on a variety of boards. I think you bring up a valuable concept that needs pondering long and hard…and as I did, I realized that my thoughts and feelings are not the most reliable or correct way for me to judge things. God is God and I must admit I don’t always understand His ways. Thank you for for helping me reframe some of my questions & concerns.

  11. Jax on October 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    I think He can and does. I think it would be nice to know WHY at times, but I don’t think that having ME understand why is as important to God as knowing that I will obey anyway is.

    This is how I sequence my questions

    Can God proscibe behavior?
    Do you think he DOES proscribe behavior?
    Do you think he has issued commands regarding behavior X?
    Will you obey?
    Do You understand why He commanded it?

    If the answers to 1, 2 and 3, are Yes, then 4 is as well. A yes to 5 is nice as well, but not as important to me.

  12. Blake on October 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    If God cannot proscribe behavior, then he is no God. If God must agree with whatever we think is the case, then we cannot learn from God. If God is limited to what our culture approves, then the prophets lose their role as critics of culture and conduct. In other words, a God who cannot issue commands that have absolute demand on us is sadly irrelevant. On the other hand, a God who can issue such commands is scary and uncontrollable. He could command the absurd and what we take to be immoral on its face. He would be a lot like the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob instead of the moral philosophers.

  13. brian larsen on October 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    To me it seems that this OP may contain a hidden problem and then also conflates two things that ought not to be. Problem: proscribing behavior is not the same as proscribing a person. Conflation: God may be able to do proscribe a behavior without moral fail – this, however, do not mean that we can. Now I’m not saying we can’t proscribe behavior, I’m just saying that it’s not clear to me that we can do it fairly – also that even when we can (supposing we know we are fair) that doesn’t necessarily give us permission to proscribe a person. End result: I don’t think this post resolves the concerns that the original gave birth too.

  14. E on October 9, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Allison, my only thought in response to your post is, Amen. We can all have our own opinions and feelings but I think we always need to keep the door open to the thought that we may be wrong. We can share our thoughts, feelings, and concerns, but I think we cross a line when we insist that our own preferences or beliefs needs to be implemented ‘or else’.

  15. Bradley on October 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Perhaps we complexify doctrine to justify the three hours we spend in meetings every week. But didn’t we really learn everything we need to know in Primary? Simple basic obedience, love and forgiveness, with the atonement healing all wounds.

    Look at the commandment situation from God’s perspective. You know he is putting you through trials (for perfectly legitimate reasons). You know he loves you immensely and feels every one of your fears and pains. From this you can conclude that his “commandments” are there to protect you. Of course, there is no you and there is no me. There is only us.

    I see the OP’s laundry list as outside the scope of the basic gospel and therefore mostly irrelevant. But if you want to fix the world, love is everything.

  16. Alison Moore Smith on October 9, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Sonny #1:

    I think “demand” may be accurate for some, but not all the would like to see some kind of change. The word is a bit strong.

    The idea came from a comment that said, “…he first step in making things get better involves having some critical reaction to what others deem OK. If progress is to be made, it can’t always be OK. At some point, somebody has to put a foot down and say, that’s NOT OK.”

    In that context, I don’t think “demand” misrepresents the position.

    wonderings #2:

    …obviously some people at Mountain Meadows believed that God proscribed them to do what they did. Some terrorist organizations believe that God proscribed their behavior to kill in the name of God.

    I think you’re confusing “prescribe” with “proscribe”?

    Dan #3

    So one can be a prophetess without having the priesthood? Or have we mischaracterized the women in the Old Testament who we call prophetesses?

    My question would be: Have we characterized prophetesses at all?

    It seems to me that prophetesses and priestesses have been relegate to the we-don’t-know-so-don’t-talk-about-it pile, along with Heavenly Mother. So, you tell me, because I sure as heck don’t know what a prophetess is in LDS dogma.

    Generally I think that if we cage ourselves into thinking that we should just accept things as they are takes away from the fact that the relationship between the church of God and God Himself isn’t just a one way radio, and that we CAN demand something that previous generations did not desire in their church.

    I agree with the first part of this statement. Just want to be clear that I’m not advocating for shut-up-and-obey. (I hoped that first two paragraphs would have made that clear.)

    When you get to “demand” however, you lose me. The idea that it’s OUR church and should mold to our desires is seriously misguided, IMO. (I also think it misrepresents church history.)

    Previous to 1978, you could just as easily have added to your list the following: “Blacks can’t have the priesthood.”

    Absolutely — along with a litany of other things, like dresses above the ankle being immodest. But the fact that church policy and practice change doesn’t change the fundamental idea that maybe God can be the final arbiter of truth.

  17. Alison Moore Smith on October 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    JT, thanks for the kind words. :)

    Travis #5:

    Women are not “submissive possessions” simply because they do not serve in leadership roles in the church. In the world, which is obsessed with power, perhaps serving in positions of leadership is equated with dominance and superiority. But in the church, that is not the case, or else I must also be considered to be unequal and a “submissive possession,” since I do not serve in any leadership capacity.

    Travis, I think Dan’s use of “submissive possession” is a bit of hyperbole (whether he intended it or not). No one here has suggested that women are “possessions” in any typical sense of the word — and I think the term is simply provocative.

    But “submissive”? Sure. Those without leadership positions are asked/expected to be submissive, obedient, acquiescent. Absolutely. And given that women ALWAYS have VERY immediate, local, in-the-building “superiors” who supervise them, who approve their decisions, who can veto everything they do, absolutely they are expected to be submissive pretty much all the time.

    Don’t take that to mean that I think submission is undesirable or bad or wrong. I don’t, necessarily. But I do think it CAN be problematic in the church and out. And I think it needs to be acknowledged honestly.

  18. Jon Miranda on October 9, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    #5
    Church/family life is all about submission. Wife submits to husband, husband submits to wife, children submit to parents, parents submit to children, everyone submits to God.

  19. Ellis on October 9, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    I wish I had something terribly insightful to say. It seems so obvious that if God is all powerful, all knowing and immutable that God is light years ahead of any mortal and cannot be questioned when it comes to declaring truth. And whatever actions he might forbid would be proscribed because the consequences are antithetical to the plan.

    I am also aware that we receive from God the things we desire so I suppose if enough of us decided to put our foot down and say we don’t like this particular practice and we aren’t going to do it anymore it would change. That wouldn’t mean that God had somehow changed the definition of truth to fit ours. It might simply mean we will have to learn from the consequences of our own actions. It might also mean that the issue wasn’t really important in the eternal scheme of things so it didn’t matter that it changed with the times.

  20. Jax on October 9, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    I wish I had something terribly insightful to say. It seems so obvious that if God is all powerful, all knowing and immutable that God is light years ahead of any mortal and cannot be questioned when it comes to declaring truth. And whatever actions he might forbid would be proscribed because the consequences are antithetical to the plan.

    I though this was a good paragraph, that I generally agree with. I think the problem comes, not with declarations we know come from God, but in the ones where we are supposed to believe they did. I think many people don’t accept as readily the premise that because a GA said it in GConf that it came from God. And that is the disconnect. Many of us are willing to accept that while others aren’t. How to distinquish between “the will of God” and the “dictates of man to help the will of God” is often more difficult than we would like.

    I am also aware that we receive from God the things we desire so I suppose if enough of us decided to put our foot down and say we don’t like this particular practice and we aren’t going to do it anymore it would change. That wouldn’t mean that God had somehow changed the definition of truth to fit ours. It might simply mean we will have to learn from the consequences of our own actions. It might also mean that the issue wasn’t really important in the eternal scheme of things so it didn’t matter that it changed with the times.

    I don’t think we would like the change much. I imagine the only thing happening if we put our foot down and say we want things our way is that the result would be something similar to God’s giving to the children of Israel the lesser law rather than the fullness. I for one am more than willing to practice my submission and humility in the saving law, rather then practice a possibly more comfortable lower one.

  21. Sam Brunson on October 9, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Jon,

    Wife submits to husband

    Since when? Contemporary marriages—both in and out of the church—tend to be fairly horizontal; I certainly don’t want my wife to submit to me, and I don’t believe for a second that God does, either. (Of course, to go further down that line would be pretty threadjacky, so I’ll wait until some later time to go any further.)

    God is, of course, different. And Alison, I’m going to assume it’s pretty uncontroversial that God can proscribe behavior. But that just leads to a second question: how do we know what He proscribes? Sure, the prophet tells us, but is every word the prophet says God’s revealed word? (The answer might be, Yes, but that’s an interpretive step we have to take.) If our bishop or relief society president tells us God doesn’t want us to do something, is that His word? What about the Handbook? or the scriptures?

    For the most part, I think it’s this second question that engenders the conflict; there can be significant disagreement on how to understand proscriptions, even from sincere fellow believers.

  22. Cameron N on October 9, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    I have next to no experience in Relief Society, but in most of the wards, we’ve been in, it seems like ward leaders accept the Relief Society’s opinions and decisions and get out of the way. I know if I’m ever in a so-called ‘leadership’ position, I would take very seriously any opinions shared by a woman in any calling. Part of that is because I know that the spirit can work as well through any righteous individual as anyone else.

    Are there outstanding cultural gender discrepancies for certain church members that need to be resolved? Of course. I’m horribly ignorant of them, I’m sure. I think that the Lord expects us to hone things over generations to a perfected state, much like the priesthood quorums, sunday school, our missionary approach, temple ordinances, family history, and pretty much every other gospel category has gradually approached a ‘perfect’ state and will continue to do so for a long time.

  23. Ray on October 9, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Excellent post, Alison.

    I think the recognition that we might be wrong (or only partially right) is the heart of both humility and faith.

  24. Sonny on October 9, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Alison,

    “The idea came from a comment that said, “…he first step in making things get better involves having some critical reaction to what others deem OK. If progress is to be made, it can’t always be OK. At some point, somebody has to put a foot down and say, that’s NOT OK.”

    In that context, I don’t think “demand” misrepresents the position.”

    Of course, in *that* context. But what I am saying is that not everybody that would *like* or *hope* to see a change are demanding it. My comment had more relevance when I made it in your original post, before you took it down and did some rewording. I had asked that you take off my comment in light of the rewritten post but for whatever reason you decided to keep it in.

    I actually really like your reworded post. It is very thoughtful and gives me a lot to think about. My only objection is the (now much less obvious) implication that those that have voiced a hope for change are all lumped into a pot of demanders.

  25. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 9, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    I’m not convinced that my feelings are really relevant

    http://www.lds-mormon.com/face.shtml is interesting because Elder Packer explains why he feels the same way, giving examples where he was wrong and how those have shaped his approach and methodology.

    There has been a lot of criticism for that talk, but the core of it is that he is talking about how his own mistakes informed his current approach.

  26. Alison Moore Smith on October 9, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    You have given so many wonderful comments. It will take a while to respond, so bear with me and keep them coming. :)

    palerobber #6:

    i think there are two distinct types of rules that you’re conflating here: the amoral and the immoral. …you seem not too troubled by rules which, while arbitrary, are at least amoral (i.e. don’t have any moral implications) such as Sabbath rules, journal writing…

    If I understand your point, I’m not sure that I’d agree on the distinction you make between amoral and immoral. Is keeping the Sabbath without moral implication? How so?

    I’m unsure how you’ve decided what bothers me and what doesn’t. The last time I wrote in my journal was April 29, 2007. So journal writing is certainly on my list of “things were supposed to do but I’m lousy and doing.” And that list bothers me. Our Sabbath observance would probably look very much like the New Era story variety, but I wouldn’t mind feeling free to go to a movie or something.

    …basically, you’re willing to go along with rules that, while odd, by their very oddness don’t burden you with the demand of moral justification.

    First, in reality I’m “willing to go along with” ALL the rules. (At least in theory, In practice, of course, I often fail miserably.) But I’m also willing to ask questions and seek clarification on those that trouble me — even while I’m “going along with” them.

    Second, I think ALL rules carry the burden of “moral justification.”

    however, those rules which you find immoral (i.e. which conflict with your own well founded moral reasoning), are clearly much harder for you as they demand a much higher sacrifice of self.

    Of course rules that trouble me are more difficult to go along with than those that I think are fabulous. And talks that I find boring are more difficult to sit through than those I find interesting.

    if the unequal treatment of men and women, or of gay and straight, violates your moral value of fairness, “can” a true God ask you to abandon such principles in the name of devotion?

    Of course he can. The real moral dilemmas are when we have values conflicts. They happen all the time, very often having nothing to do with organized religion. (One of my favorite treatise on this is The Bottom Line on Integrity.) Having God introduce a moral dilemma isn’t any more troubling than having people or situations do so.

    naturally, i think the better question is “why” would he?

    Because he’s omniscient and I’m not. :)

    I have six kids. Almost daily I impose something that they don’t think is “fair” or “fun” or otherwise imposes on their “principles” and that doesn’t make them feel warm fuzzies. I think you can probably give lots of answer for “why” I would do such a thing. Lots of those reasons probably apply to God’s actions as well.

  27. Alison Moore Smith on October 9, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    honey, thanks for your input. I was quiet for years and I came to the conclusion that speaking up isn’t necessarily wrong, either. I know I don’t always do it in the best way possible, but I’m at least conscious of the need.

    Mike S #8:

    Along the same lines, do you think blacks would still not have the priesthood if they quietly just accepted their role as “fence-sitters” in the pre-existence as a part of “God’s plan”?

    Mike S. I don’t have any memory of blacks taking to the streets to protest their plight, but I was only 14 when the revelation was announced. So I have no idea whether they (or others) put their collective feet down on the issue and/or if that helped or hurt the situation.

    But you’ll note that I’m not advocating that. (See paragraph #2.) I’m simply asking if we, as members, can tolerate the possibility of God actually telling us that some things are off limits and out of bounds, or if we think that we have to be cool with everything that God says, before he says it.

    jl, thank you.

    Tracy, thank you for the very kind words.

    Jax, I like your question list. Thanks for including that.

  28. chris on October 9, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    Regarding the priesthood concept… I have an expansive notion of the priesthood, which I dare say is the correct one ;)

    If the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, to have God’s power manifest in our lives is to have rights pertaining to the priesthood.

    The power of God is manifest through gift (and receiving) of the Holy Ghost, and also through the other ordinances which are worthily received in the gospel.

    So any member (male or female) who has been baptized and confirmed and subsequently lives faithfully and worthily, will have the Holy Ghost with them. I see this as God’s power manifest, which is basically another term for his priesthood.

    Now, what seems to confuse the matter is the terminology we’ve constructed for well-defined roles which men are specifically set apart within that priesthood.

    But the power that comes with receiving the Holy Ghost is to receive revelation, which comes through God’s priesthood. So women in this real and vital sense can acquire and develop priesthood power.

    For reasons which were wise according to God, the roles to officiate within that priesthood outside of the temple, such as conferring the priesthood upon others, ordaining to specific offices, etc. is limited to worthy males.

    I think it somewhat confuses the matter to describe God’s power as it relates to the Holy Ghost as being connected to the priesthood, because there was no official ordination to an office, but I think by not drawing any connection to women and power in the priesthood we sometimes feel as if women are excluded.

  29. michelle on October 10, 2011 at 12:50 am

    ” I’m simply asking if we, as members, can tolerate the possibility of God actually telling us that some things are off limits and out of bounds, or if we think that we have to be cool with everything that God says, before he says it.”

    Thanks for this post. What came to mind when I read this was Nephi. He needed his heart to be softened by God in order to accept his father’s (the prophet’s) words. When he went for the plates, he had to rely on the Spirit, and was asked to do something he really didn’t want to do. The Spirit had to reason with him until eventually he realized that God had put Laban in his path. He struggled with anger and fear as well.

    I think there are illustrations in his account that illustrate to me that we aren’t going to necessarily ‘be cool’ with everything God says on our own. And I think that underscores the fact that following God and trusting in prophets takes faith.

    In fact, I think the doctrine of the Fall indicates that it’s a given that on our own, we wouldn’t be cool with God’s laws and teachings. Our natural, fallen selves resist the things of God. (I think Pres. Monson talked about this in Conference — reading 1 Cor. 2.)

  30. wreddyornot on October 10, 2011 at 12:54 am

    Well, of course by definition God can proscribe behavior. And when He tells me to do this or that, and it rubs me wrong, as His child I expect to be able to have a conversation with Him and work it out so that I understand before I act and do something I don’t think is right, etc. But if He orders me directly, and we don’t have time for me to understand, well then I hope I have the good sense to know it’s Him and to do what He says and then to continue on trying to talk to Him and to understand what I’ve done.

    However, almost everything we consider in religion, even in the LDS Church, as proscribed behavior by God is mediated in some way or another. And I don’t trust every mediator out there. So I always have to go to God.

  31. James Olsen on October 10, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Allison, I think there’s an utterly trivial, descriptive way to read what you’re saying (Can God proscribe behavior? Obviously. Is there anyone with anything like a traditional understanding that would disagree with that?). By this reading, the post’s rather flat; it really doesn’t say much.

    Then there’s the indirect speech act way of reading your post here, which is that you’re concerned that many of us (perhaps yourself included) manifest a serious lack of humility in the way we approach proscriptions within the church when they run contrary to our own thoughts/feelings – you’re prescriptively enjoining us all to keep that in mind as we go about our private and public wrestlings – you’re pointing out the contrast between our fundamental faith/understanding and a “demand” that the church change. This seems to me a much more promising way to read your post.

    On this second reading, however, I see a couple of problems. First, you’re very vague on “demand.” On the one hand, you could mean that holding protests outside of the COB waving banners for women’s ordination (like what happened in the 90s) oversteps basic boundaries. On the other, you could be referring to posts like my last one where I claimed that our theological creativity and agency within the bounds of orthodoxy is a crucial part of both individual and institutional progression. I (obviously) see a world of difference between the two, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to refer to either approach as a kind of demand.

    Second, you state explicitly that you’re not advocating a shut-up-and-obey approach. But you never get around to helping us see how we reconcile things. As written (again, I’m assuming an indirect speech act sort of reading rather than the trivial one, which means I’ve got to look between the lines a bit), it looks like you issue the preface, “Ok, shut-up-and-obey is a bad approach” but then the overall thrust of your post is “Since I believe God knows more than me and has the literal right to proscribe my behavior, I ought to just shut-up-and-obey when I don’t understand things.”

    Finally, even on the indirect reading, there’s very little practical upshot. So yes, I’ve got to be humble, remember Isaiah 55 and all. But we’re still left with the morass of substantive to insignificant issues (do we treat them all the same?), and the sorting out of cultural vs. divine proscriptions (and whether or what the tie is between them?). And there’s just not much take away here in terms of how I DO reconcile things. If I don’t shut-up-and-obey, then what do I do? Anxiously, festeringly hold back my deep/trivial concerns? Seek for deeper understanding (and what about when the deeper understanding doesn’t come)? How does my belief in God’s authority work together with my own agency and belief that this agency is critical and respected even by God?

    So I’m left with 1. Wanting to see something more than the trivial reading; 2. Agreeing with the general principle of the indirect reading; 3. But feeling like even the indirect reading doesn’t really help me practically address my concerns (though it might help keep me more humble than I’m prone to be).

    Am I missing something?

  32. Alison Moore Smith on October 10, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Blake #12, great comment.

    He would be a lot like the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob instead of the moral philosophers.

    And that he is.

    brian larsen #13:

    Problem: proscribing behavior is not the same as proscribing a person.

    Agreed. This post doesn’t address condemning people in any way.

    Conflation: God may be able to do proscribe a behavior without moral fail – this, however, do not mean that we can.

    In order for the post to conflate the two issues, it would have to address them. It doesn’t. Given the feedback on the last post, I’m just trying to see if we can come to any foundational points of agreement. The question is straightforward. Do we agree that God can proscribe behavior?

    End result: I don’t think this post resolves the concerns that the original gave birth too.

    This post isn’t intending to resolve the concerns from the other post. As it states in the OP, it’s intending to clarify a point that came up in the comments.

    E, thank you. I agree. :)

  33. Alison Moore Smith on October 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Bradley (#15), honestly I don’t understand your point. If the only things you are interested in discussing are obedience, love, and forgiveness — and everything else is “outside the scope of the basic gospel and therefore mostly irrelevant” — then so be it. Others feel differently.

    Jon Miranda #18:

    Church/family life is all about submission. Wife submits to husband, husband submits to wife, children submit to parents, parents submit to children, everyone submits to God.

    I agree with your first sentence. But is there someplace men are commanded to submit to their wives?

    Ellis #19:

    It seems so obvious that if God is all powerful, all knowing and immutable that God is light years ahead of any mortal and cannot be questioned when it comes to declaring truth. And whatever actions he might forbid would be proscribed because the consequences are antithetical to the plan.

    It seems rather obvious to me, too. But I don’t think it’s universally accepted, given some responses. I realize not all respondents are either LDS or religious. But in an LDS forum, establishing a common ground makes sense.

  34. Alison Moore Smith on October 10, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Jax #20:

    I don’t think we would like the change much. I imagine the only thing happening if we put our foot down and say we want things our way is that the result would be something similar to God’s giving to the children of Israel the lesser law rather than the fullness.

    Here’s the thing, Jax, change comes from the top, but “the top” simply doesn’t always know the issues at “the bottom.” I wrote about this over four years ago in Trusting the Octogenarians.

    I love our general leaders, but — honest and truly — I don’t think they have any idea about the difficulty caused by garments while nursing. (Or a host of other women’s issues.) And I can tell you positively (according to the Salt Lake Temple matron in 1985) that the change in requiring women to wear bras over their garments (with garments “next to the skin”) came about because women who’d had mastectomies COMPLAINED about their prosthesis sliding off and other women complained about other feminine issues. The “rule” became “wear you other underclothing however you feel comfortable” — because women spoke up about the problem, instead of sitting quietly waiting for elderly gentlemen to be inspired about women’s monthly issues.

    And, yup, I like the changes very much, thank you.

    I’ve always loved the example of Emma and the School of the Prophets. She was the one doing the cleaning. Even though the prophet himself was THERE, even though he SAW the mess, even though he KNEW she was cleaning up — and even though he was spiritually “in tune” — the problem did not occur to him. It occurred to the person LIVING with the problem.

    Emma did not “put her foot down” in the way I would describe it, but she did explain the problem and express her discomfort with it. I have no indication that doing so was inappropriate. And I have no indication that she wasn’t much less bothered after the men stopped spewing tobacco spittle. :)

  35. Alison Moore Smith on October 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Sam Brunson #21:

    Since when [do women submit to men]?

    Hmm. You been to a temple endowment or sealing lately, Sam?

    And Alison, I’m going to assume it’s pretty uncontroversial that God can proscribe behavior. But that just leads to a second question: how do we know what He proscribes?

    If his proscriptions are that obtuse, then what good are they?

    …there can be significant disagreement on how to understand proscriptions, even from sincere fellow believers.

    In some cases, I’d agree. Others are pretty clear. But before we can attempt to discuss the proscriptions, we have to agree that they exist. And, if they do, then we have to be willing to see that POSSIBILITY, even in issues that trouble us.

    Polygamy is the prime example. It honestly horrifies me. But there is a bit of historical precedence that neither I (no any honest Christian) can ignore. If my pat answer to things that bother me is simply that God couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t ever make declarations about my personal issues, then I’m being intellectually dishonest.

    And I do find that dishonesty showing up all over the place.

  36. Jax on October 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Alison

    Emma did not “put her foot down” in the way I would describe it, but she did explain the problem and express her discomfort with it. I have no indication that doing so was inappropriate. And I have no indication that she wasn’t much less bothered after the men stopped spewing tobacco spittle.

    I agree. I don’t see Emma as “putting her foot down”, nor from you description of it, the women who complained about the wear of garments. I don’t remember any flag waving in front of the COB in SLC that James #31 mentions, but I’ve never seen any “putting my foot down” behavior from church members. The only example I can think of are those who put their foot down that they wouldn’t abandon polygamy, and they were cut off like my post implied.

    Take the example of women and the priesthood. I think putting ones foot down would look something like joining a group who sends a letter to the 1st Presidency stating they will hold no callings, participate in no activities, or making any contributions to the church until women are ordained. At that point the only change I can see being made is the Lord cutting ties with them. If the entire church were to do something like that then I imagine something close to what transpired for the Israelites when they lost the higher law and were left with a lesser one. That is something I think most of us would not like.

  37. Sam Brunson on October 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    You been to a temple endowment or sealing lately, Sam?

    Ah, but there is an intense qualifier there; even taken literally, it doesn’t demand wifely submission.

    If his proscriptions are that obtuse, then what good are they?

    Two replies. First, just because God proscribes something doesn’t make the proscription self-interpreting. The commandment not to “work” on the Sabbath requires us to figure out what work means; the definition is not self-evident.

    And even when the interpretation is clear, there is the question of applicability. For example, in the early church, there was a debate over whether non-Jewish converts to Christianity had to be circumcised and whether they had to follow Jewish dietary restrictions.

    But there’s also the question of who speaks for God, and when does he or she speak for God.

    Which goes to my second point: I think this ambiguity is itself a good. It requires us to expend effort in order to understand and follow God’s will. And it requires us to develop our own ability to listen to the Spirit. Both, I believe, are more important to our eternal welfare than obedience alone.

    And yes, people get it wrong. And sometimes they try to convince others that their wrong answer is right. But that seems to be a condition of our mortality.

  38. Gary Lightman on October 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    I think you are on the right track. While sometimes gods laws are confusing to us in the here and now, it all makes complete sense when we see the same things happening to those we read about in biblical times. The key is to understand how to know when we are receiving personal revelation and when it is just our own thoughts. That one skill makes it possible for us to know that what we are being told from prophets and apostles is gods will for us.

  39. Sonny on October 10, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Sam,

    “Which goes to my second point: I think this ambiguity is itself a good. It requires us to expend effort in order to understand and follow God’s will. And it requires us to develop our own ability to listen to the Spirit. Both, I believe, are more important to our eternal welfare than obedience alone.”

    YES!

  40. Sonny on October 10, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    And I say that in the same way that Brigham Young feared blind obedience.

  41. Alison Moore Smith on October 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Cameron N #22:

    …it seems like ward leaders accept the Relief Society’s opinions and decisions and get out of the way.

    I’ve been in multiple wards of both very respectful leaders and fairly dismissive ones. Even the latter tended to be decent people who, IMO, just liked to micro-manage everything. For example, dictating very specific, minute details in the Primary program — at the last minute. (“No, violin prelude music.” “Cut those two songs.” etc.) Or declining every single suggestion to fill a position only to finally just call the person he wanted — over and over again.

    I have often encountered the “tolerate what the women say so we can get down to real business” attitude. Like I said, having the immediate control always on one “side” lends itself to particular problems.

    Thanks, Ray. :)

  42. Alison Moore Smith on October 10, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Sonny #24:

    But what I am saying is that not everybody that would *like* or *hope* to see a change are demanding it. My comment had more relevance when I made it in your original post, before you took it down and did some rewording.

    To be clear, I did not edit the piece at all after I took it down. It took it down because it got bumped by another post within just a few minutes, so I rescheduled it after conference, on my next Sunday. :)

    I just checked the post revision log and I did not access the post at all except to publish it and then reschedule it. (One other perm opened it in the interim, but he didn’t edit it either.)

    I had asked that you take off my comment in light of the rewritten post but for whatever reason you decided to keep it in.

    I did not get this request. How did you send it to me?

    My only objection is the (now much less obvious) implication that those that have voiced a hope for change are all lumped into a pot of demanders.

    Since I happen to be one of those who had (repeatedly, ad naseum) voiced hope for change in many areas, I’d hardly be placing all of us in some unseemly pot. I’ve also written extensively (here and elsewhere) to counter the idea that those who speak up are somehow unrighteous or unfaithful — and it’s reiterated in the second paragraph of the OP, above.

    Rather, as the OP says, the context (that has been the same since it first posted) was from a comment in the last post.

  43. Alison Moore Smith on October 10, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Stephen M (Ethesis), thanks for your thoughts.

    chris #28:

    So any member (male or female) who has been baptized and confirmed and subsequently lives faithfully and worthily, will have the Holy Ghost with them. I see this as God’s power manifest, which is basically another term for his priesthood.

    Now, what seems to confuse the matter is the terminology we’ve constructed for well-defined roles which men are specifically set apart within that priesthood.

    Yea, the confusing “terminology” isn’t “setting apart” it’s “ordained” — and it’s only done for men. chris, I appreciate your input, but this line of thinking is kind of aggravating.

    No, you can’t have the priesthood. But you really have the priesthood anyway. So why are you making an issue about not having the priesthood? But, no, you can’t be ordained. But you don’t need it. But you already have it.

    Look, women do have access to spiritual stuff. But they don’t have the priesthood. Let’s deal with what really is. :)

    For reasons which were wise according to God, the roles to officiate within that priesthood outside of the temple, such as conferring the priesthood upon others, ordaining to specific offices, etc. is limited to worthy males.

    I accept that this might be true. But the indications I have are that it’s a long-accepted cultural artifact. But if someone can come up with a formula for how we tell when “men” means males and when it means mankind, I’m all ears!

  44. Sonny on October 10, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Alison,

    #42

    My apologies. When I read the post when it came back up, it appeared to me in a different tone completely. Perhaps I was in a different frame of mind reading the original and so it colored how I saw it.

    Again, my apologies.

  45. Alison Moore Smith on October 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    michelle, thanks for the good examples and insights. :)

    wreddyornot #30
    10/10/2011 at 12:54 am (Edit)

    Well, of course by definition God can proscribe behavior…However, almost everything we consider in religion, even in the LDS Church, as proscribed behavior by God is mediated in some way or another. And I don’t trust every mediator out there.

    As addressed above, I understand this. The post isn’t trying to make the leap from “yes, he can proscribe behavior, therefore X.” It’s just trying to establish a common ground that says, “Yea, we agree that God can define good and evil — even if it defies our preferences.”

    James #31:

    Yes, I can be utterly trivial. :)

    Is there anyone with anything like a traditional understanding that would disagree with that?

    There are dozens of people who behave as if they disagree with it. If there is some rule they don’t agree with, there is no discussion about “what if the doctrine/commandment/policy/interpretation is correct.” Rather, the assumption is that it is wrong — and they are right. And that we should put our collective feet down in revolt until we get the change we want.

    Refusing to acknowledge that we could be wrong in our moral authority, puts US at the helm of good and evil. God can’t say, But WE can. In other words, we elevate ourselves to become gods.

    I would love the church to be more gender inclusive and, yes, for women to hold the priesthood. That seems reasonable and fair to me, and I can’t see any rational reasons why it shouldn’t be that way. Still, I’m not going to insist that the church policy should change — because I’m willing to concede that God could actually want it the way it is. But I think I can appropriately discuss it, point out the problematic elements with patriarchy, give examples of mistreatment of women, etc.

    First, you’re very vague on “demand.”

    Yes, I am. The comment wasn’t in depth, it simply suggested that we must “tell someone in a strong way that they must do something.” That idea is incompatible with recognizing that perhaps things are not supposed to change, because they are correct as they are.

    The discussion of how to appropriately agitate is one of it’s own. (And even if this post were focused on that, I don’t have a good answer for where I think the line is crossed.)

    Second, you state explicitly that you’re not advocating a shut-up-and-obey approach. But you never get around to helping us see how we reconcile things.

    Nope, that wasn’t the focus of the post. The focus was merely to look for common ground as a starting point in discussion. But I wanted to be clear that I am not coming from a view that says members can’t have opinions or voice concerns or anything like that.

    Since I believe God knows more than me and has the literal right to proscribe my behavior, I ought to just shut-up-and-obey when I don’t understand things.”

    Not at all. James, have you ever seen me shut up? Even when it would have been prudent? ;)

    I’m not saying, “God is in charge, so shut up, you unfaithful heretics!” Rather, I’m asking if we can discuss troubling issues openly with the underlying agreement that — after all our wrestling — God still gets to define what is right and wrong, not us. Do we acknowledge that under all of this, after we’ve reasoned the best we can, after we’ve brought consciousness about issues to the surface, after we’ve given point and counterpoint, are we still WILLING to let God be the final arbiter.

  46. Alison Moore Smith on October 10, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Sonny (#44), no apology needed. I just wanted to be sure you knew there was no bait and switch. :)

  47. Raymond Takashi Swenson on October 10, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    For Mike S and others: Those of us who are old enough to have actually been adults before June 1978 know that black Latter-day Saints were not engaged in public demonstrations against the Church which led up to the change. The recounting by President Kimball of his persistent prayer about the issue was clearly motivated by concern about the many faithful Latter-day Saints of African descent who were ready, willing and able to fulfill callings, to go to the temple, but for the priesthood ordination restriction. It was not motivated by any fear of opprobrium from the NCAA, the NAACP, or any other group external to the Church. He was also aware that there were thousands of people in Gjhana and Nigeria who had converted themselves by reading the Book of Mormon and were pleading to have missionaries sent to baptize them. In 1974, as the new president of the Church, he had called on all members and leaders to prepare to fulfill God’s task, to preach the gospel to all mankind. He surely was aware of the huge gap in the map of the world that Africa represented for the Church, alongside the Muslim nations and the Warsaw Pact countries. When the announcement was made, there was not a single protestor who could claim to have had anything to do with it, because they had pretty much faded away years before.

    If any change happens with regard to women and priesthood ordination, it will most likely occur in the same way, I think, with the perception of the First Presidency and Twelve that the women of the Church need priesthood ordination to do all they are capable of in the service of God and fellow Church members.

    On the other hand, it is not obvious to me that lack of priesthood ordination prevents women from exercising leadership, from service, or from being influential in the Church. And within the temples, it doesn’t prevent women from participating in important ordinances. It certainly does not prevent women from receiving revelation about their responsibilities as members, parents, neighbors, teachers or leaders. It does not prevent women from serving as missionaries and otherwise leading prayers and preaching the gospel. While we are taught that priesthood is essential to the legitimate function of God’s church on earth, it is also apparent that it is not necessary for every member to be ordained to the priesthood for the church to function to bless the lives of all its members. The gift of the Holy Ghost, and the many particular Gifts of the Spirit, are not restricted to those with priesthood ordination. The scope of inspired teaching and leasership in God’s Church is not limited by the number of priesthood holders.

    In Alma 13, we are taught about the Priesthood of Melchizedek, and the interesting point that, apparently, those who hold the priesthood in mortality were literally “foreordained” to it in premortality. Obviously this is ordination is only potential until the person foreordained actually joins the Church and lives worthy of ordination. This teaching would seem to mean that all black men ordained since 1978 were foreordained before birth. Presumably, if women are to receive the priesthood in mortality, they will also have been foreordained by God in the premortal world. Their being able to receive ordination in mortality would then depend, among other things, upon their joining the Church and living so as to be ready to fulfill the responsibilities of actual ordination.

  48. Rachel on October 10, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    “We must accept that our feelings and desires may not be the ultimate indicator of what is actually good and true.”

    Our church has a strong emphasis on personal revelation, which often comes in the form of insight and feelings of what is good and true, as well as a strong emphasis on authority. But there are cases where earnestly seeking, faithful people are confronted by an apparently irreconcilable conflict between the two. In that case, they may be forced into a false dichotomy in which they either submit to authority and subsume what they personally believe to be right for them, or they feel compelled to leave the church.

    I think there needs to be a space open for questioning, for expressing discontent or criticism, so long as it is not mean spirited and both (human) sides are open to the possibility that they may be wrong. It requires a delicate balance of bravery to speak out and humility to be willing to change position. That God is the final arbiter of truth, able to proscribe behavior is unquestioned. Whether or not we or our institutions have understood Him correctly is something else entirely. I think you are right, that questions are okay, but demands are not.

  49. Jax on October 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    There is nothing wrong in questioning; as in “I don’t know why we have to do it this way…” But ultimately if we are going to “sustain” someone as a prophet, that means we will act in such a manner as to suggest that he is one. It’s not just calling them one, it is actually doing the activities and following the programs, and leading other people to believe that he is one. So the sentence above would actually be, “I don’t know why we have to do it this way. It would make more sense/make me feel better to do it this other way. BUT since I sustain the church leadership (General and Local) I’ll do it they way they’ve directed.” Otherwise, we aren’t really “sustaining” are we? We’d be undermining.

    Hopefully everyone is wililng to discuss the ideas both up and down the leadership pyramid and be willing to discuss/consider others point of view and ask, “Have I/we made a mistake?” and take it to the Lord for confirmation. I believe this happens at the local and general levels. I’ll keep voicing my many concerns/gripes and ideas, keep hoping the consideration happens, but ultimately I’ll accept whatever comes down to me. That’s my outlook!

  50. Dan on October 10, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    nice to see this post back. i was wondering where it went.

  51. James Olsen on October 11, 2011 at 12:24 am

    Alison – thanks. Helpful clarification. Looks like you really were going for the trivial reading; but it also looks like perhaps it might be less trivial than I take it to be. Specifically, it looks like it might be useful directed in the opposite direction that you seem to be aiming – that is, helping those prone to shut-up-and-obey approaches to recognize that

    we can discuss troubling issues openly with the underlying agreement that — after all our wrestling — God still gets to define what is right and wrong, not us.

    which importantly means that

    I’m not going to insist that the church policy should change — because I’m willing to concede that God could actually want it the way it is. But I think I can appropriately discuss it, point out the problematic elements with patriarchy, give examples of mistreatment of women, etc.

    I certainly see this as a more significant point to make to members at large, while you seem to see the reminder to us having these discussions of the end-of-the-day-God-gets-to-say point. Maybe your post can do both.

  52. Cameron N on October 11, 2011 at 12:59 am

    Allison, this is an awesome post. I admire your position that I wish more people shared. The many opportunities we have to digitally and anonymously share extrapolated personal philosophies, mingled with scripture does not change the mind or will of God. We can neither refute nor create doctrine. We can share educated opinions based on holistic understanding of scripture and contemporary revelation and history, but that is all.

    Obviously, many cultural practices exist to various degrees in the church which are not correct. It is our duty to correct these in private with the individual, and address them IF prompted in public discourse as a leader.

    One example that may be similar to such situations may be the Jared (mahonri’s brother). He made suggestions to Jared, but clearly Jared was the recognized spiritual leader of the family organization for some reason.

    To be honest, I’m pretty sure that seventies, apostles, and other leaders are aware of these cultural problems. They can only do what the Spirits allows them to. I’m sure sometimes it must be frustrating for them that the problems keep arising, but nevertheless they are called to ‘wrestle, morning after morning’ with them. How must the first presidency feel when they have to re-refute false rumors and re-issue reminders?

  53. Jax on October 11, 2011 at 8:30 am

    The post on “Shunning the Unbelievers” has comments closed, but since this thread was started because of those comments I hope this isn’t too much of a threadjack, but I recently identified some of those people I find worthy of shunning.

    The “Occupy Wall Street” protests have brought some of them together. One is the man who had the gumption to call for cannabalism and emphasized that he meant that they should kill and eat the greedy rich people. Another is the man who was walking around with a head on a stick to show what should happen to the greedy rich, the Jews, etc. A third and 4th would be the couple who had sex in the square under a tarp. And on the fringe are all those who cheered these people on, who didn’t turn away in disgust, or who otherwise think that death and debauchery are good tools to effect change.

  54. Alison Moore Smith on October 11, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Sam Brunson #37:

    Ah, but there is an intense qualifier there; even taken literally, it doesn’t demand wifely submission.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “even if taken literally.” It’s an explicit, vocalized covenant. How does it work to reinterpret a single, clear sentence…figuratively?

    Yes, there’s a qualifier. Now. There wasn’t when I received my endowment. (Good change! Probably because someone spoke up!) But I don’t understand how covenanting conditional submission isn’t still submission, by myriad definitions. (“the action of accepting the authority of another person” – ” the action of yielding to the will of another person”) Particular when the same verbiage is used for men, the term used obviously isn’t a weak term.

    The commandment not to “work” on the Sabbath requires us to figure out what work means; the definition is not self-evident.

    I agree there is wiggle room on this particular command — flexibility for the sake of application — but we have SO MANY explicit authoritative statements to specify this apparently completely unitelligible command, that I think it’s been made clear enough for anyone to apply meaningfully.

    But you said, “…how do we know what He proscribes,” which makes it sound as if it’s an eternal mystery of sorts. What proscriptions do you honestly feel are incomprehensible? (Or are they so hidden that we don’t even know what they are? (In which case…)) Are there any on my OP list, for example?

    IMO, the main point of most commandments, counsel, etc., really is pretty clear — at least clear enough to work with and then move forward with the Spirit. (To be clear, that doesn’t mean I DO those things, but I’m not going to pretend I don’t understand them. Most of the time. At least in theory.)

    For example, in the early church, there was a debate over whether non-Jewish converts to Christianity had to be circumcised and whether they had to follow Jewish dietary restrictions.

    Yes, and those items were clarified, right? So the debate went away as far as we are concerned. (Or, wait, was I supposed to have a bris???) ;)

    I think this ambiguity is itself a good. It requires us to expend effort in order to understand and follow God’s will. And it requires us to develop our own ability to listen to the Spirit.

    I agree with this idea. But I do think that — when it comes to our pet issues — we are often slow to hear even very straightforward, clear counsel. Because we can assuage our guilt by pretending what seems obvious really isn’t.

    For example, when the prophet first addressed the “two earrings” thing, he was speaking to YW, not to the RS sisters.

    I used that as an excuse to keep all of my piercings for months. Seriously. Because I LOVED them.

    I was a YW leader (beautiful, I know) and the kids LISTENED to me, in part, because they thought I was hip and cool and “not like my parents.” So even though I toed the party line doctrinally, they thought I could really hear them (and I think I could). And I had endured PAIN to get them. And they made me feel…hmmm…individual. Here I was, a total stay-at-home Molly Mormon, but I still had my edgy side. And I thought they looked neat. And I had all these cool combinations of earrings.

    There were all sorts of reasons I loved them. But it took a few months for me to stop pretending the counsel wasn’t perfectly clear and get rid of them all. (But two.) And I still wasn’t happy about it or “converted” to the idea, but I couldn’t deny the obviousness of what the prophet said any longer in good conscience.

  55. palerobber on October 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    #26 Alison Moore Smith

    I have six kids. Almost daily I impose something that they don’t think is “fair” or “fun” or otherwise imposes on their “principles” and that doesn’t make them feel warm fuzzies. I think you can probably give lots of answer for “why” I would do such a thing. Lots of those reasons probably apply to God’s actions as well.

    first, i’m sure we can agree that there’s a categorical difference between being “fair” and otherwise moral in dealing with our children, and being “fun” and giving them warm fuzzies. i have children myself and while i do ask them to eat their vegetables i certainly don’t, for example, arbitrarily require it of one child while excusing another — that would be unfair.

    second, if you believe that your own capacity for moral reasoning is as weak as a child’s compared to God’s, and if you further believe that all God’s rules explicitly go to morality (not just implicitly, by virtue of being His), then i honestly don’t see how you arrive at a place of being “uncomfortable with parts of Mormonism” unless your discomfort were merely visceral.

    please correct me if i’ve misread you, but when you used the word “uncomfortable” there i don’t think you meant it in the sense of “feeling slight pain or physical discomfort” but rather in the sense of “feeling unease or awkwardness”. this is again the distinction i referenced previously. my children don’t feel uneasy, awkward, troubled, conflicted, or dilemma-stricken about the rules i impose on them. they just don’t like them.

    you’ve mentioned some proscriptions you just-don’t-like (or, if that’s puting it too strongly, some proscriptions you could-take-or-leave). but you’ve also mentioned some that you, very unlike a child, feel morally conflicted about. so i don’t think the parent-child analogy is very apt — at least in the case of you :)

  56. palerobber on October 11, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    btw, thanks for the book recommend — looks interesting.

    btw2, when you wrote in your post about “asking questions” it made me wonder whether you direct those questions at church leaders or at God, and from which you take your answers? or do you just ponder it in your own mind?

  57. big ed on October 16, 2011 at 6:05 am

    THE COMMENT DOES NOT APPLY TO THIS PAGE. (But, all the other “comment opportunities were closed.)

    I just wanted you to know what a pleasure it was to happen on a site that doesn’t tollerate the sort of inflamatory comments found on other sites dedicated to “creation-evolution” discussions. And, as a non-LDS (nor member of any other religion) person, I wanted to ask you what you thought would be the position of an LDS believer, who became President of the US (no particular person), on the creation-evolution issue, in public school science instruction. This is addressed to the staff there. You can publish it somewhere on your site, if you like. I’m serious, and would appreciate any reply that you feel like making on the subject.

  58. palerobber on October 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    bid ed,

    an LDS President would obviously take his/her position on the issue of “creation-evolution” directly from Church HQ, once they figure out what exactly that position is.

  59. david packard on October 22, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Alison, Sorry i happened upon your post so late in the game. (I missed the action.) But your post got me thinking about how this struggle (regardless of how we come out on any one of the issues and any particular time) reveals a profound desire to worship. In the end, even if we don’t get it right, the worshipful attitude itself is what I believe is to be most valuable. Here’s what I mean.

    Okay, so let’s say that at the most fundamental level, most sincere believing Mormons basically end up worshiping God according to the dictates of his or her own individual conscience. That is to say, ultimately, we really can’t “pray a lie,” and we can’t really believe in a God that is undeserving of our trust, admiration and love. Second, I think that it’s fair to assume (at least for the moment) that Mormonism has a broad enough range of possible interpretations which enables us (to some extent) to fashion in our minds and hearts the qualities of this God whom we worship. While engaged in this effort (perhaps better described as a sacred journey of learning and becoming) we try to strip away all of our bias, self serving tendencies, and replace it with what the spirit seems to tell us, but we acknowledge that this can be messy at best. This is hard stuff.

    That’s why your post causes so much personal reflection, in my view. When we get into the business of deciding what real-world things that God likes and dislikes, we are invoking that privilege to worship to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Maybe it’s helpful to take this just one step further. Perhaps we are compelled by our own faith and honesty and authenticity to worship a God whose attributes are the best imaginable (of course with the proviso that we must account for within those attributes the apparent state of affairs in the observable universe and the human condition) Aren’t we therefore compelled to believe in such “best imaginable” God? Believing or worshiping a God which espouses anything less, in fact, is kind of like “praying a lie”.

    I think this concern is implicit in your post. Advocating against, for example, cultural traditions that one feels quite strongly that God disapproves means that they’re rather confident in their understanding of a God who’s attributes are supposedly independent of them, their life’s story, etc. How confident are you (i.e., can any one be) that you’ve got it “just right”? The humility that you (wonderfully) suggest acknowledges that one may be (a) incorrect in the way they have overcompensated/undercompensated for bias, (b) incorrect in failing to appreciate the greater wisdom lying beneath the apparent inequity/harm, or (c) incorrect for a reason that just just beyond us as 21st-centrury western human beings.

    Feeling a bit torn between these two compelling imperatives: “not praying a lie” on the one hand, yet “acknowledging error/humility” on the other hand, is at the heart of real authentic worship…especially (I believe) in our LDS tradition. Maybe we feel this healthy tension particularly strongly as Mormons because of our dual belief in living prophets as a good source of knowing what God really wants, along with personal revelation through the Holy Spirit as the ultimate (albeit very difficult and “messy”) source of knowing what God really wants.

    Final Comments
    1. Perhaps because the process of engaging in this honest struggle is at the heart of growth and worship in our LDS tradition, it is more important that we HAVE these concerns than it is how we come out on any of these particular issues at any point in time. (I know, I know, easy for me to say as long as I’m not on the receiving end in a relationship with a member whose whose got it all “wrong”). So there are limits here on this point I’m making.

    2. It seems to me that if you’re gong to err, you gotta err on the side of “not praying a lie,” going with what you “know” is right, but with openness/humility (again, in order to not shortchange yourself, not to mention your duty to others).

    3. My comments here have been WAY too long. (I apologize :-)) I know it may not resonate with most people. I’m not confused with this part. Your post, however, seemed to clear up some things for me, and I wanted to express it. Thanks.

  60. Crick on October 25, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    “I think disciples of Christ must be open to the idea that their way is not God’s way.”

    Isn’t that the whole point of religion? First we find out IF there is a God. Then we find out what is God’s character. Then we seek to follow it, because God is…well, God.

  61. david packard on October 26, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Crick, I agree whole-heartedly.

    However, the struggle (at least for me) is that often I feel strongly that Gods way is a certain thing. (For example that we are being way to racist in our ways of handling things–still, or as another example, that we should be much more willing to listen and ton understand what our brothers and sisters who experience Same sex attraction are trying to say.)

    If I feel strongly that this is what God wants, and even after I give the matter all the reflection and prayer I feel I should, I still may have a problem. That problem is that it STILL may not be God’s way, despite my sincerest (and what I believe to be “righteous”) effort.

    Balancing your passion about specifics for the gospel with humility that you are just not gettin’ it, is where I believe personal growth can really take place. You are learning to feel viscerally about God’s way.

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.