False Choices and Fence Holes

June 2, 2014 | 117 comments
By

2014-06-02 The Good Shepherd

It is very common in the Bloggernaccle to talk about an exodus of members from the Church. These members are usually described as a cohesive demographic. The two examples I’ve seen most frequently are (1) young Millennials who are disillusioned by the discrepancy between real history and CES whitewashing and (2) good women whose contributions and perspectives are devalued and rejected by the institution at large.

I don’t have any insider or objective data on these concerns, and so I couldn’t say where they fall on the spectrum from urban legend to imminent crisis, but I suspect the problem is genuine based purely on my own experiences. The question becomes: what should we do about it?

Cynthia L proffered a twist on the usual tale of the lost sheep at By Common Consent on Saturday. In her parable, sheep wander away because there are holes in the fence. Disagreement arises among the shepherds. One group insists that we ought to repair the holes to protect the sheep. The other insists that if God had wanted a fence without holes, He would have created a fence without holes. And, this callous bunch adds, who wants those stupid sheep that keep getting lost anyway?

Let me start by saying that I think this parable succeeds at its stated purpose. The title of Cynthia’s post is “Why I speak up: our responsibilities as farm hands for the shepherd,” and in terms of explaining the motivations good Mormon men and women have to criticize the status quo I find it eloquent and reasonable. But there is a problem, probably unintentional, that I want to raise not by way of repudiation or contradiction but rather to proffer a third-way alternative.

The problem with the parable is that fences are, by definition, not supposed to have holes in them. The entire purpose of a fence around sheep is to keep the sheep in and the wolves out. A hole, therefore, is by definition a flaw. This means that in Cynthia’s parable we have only two options if we want to disagree with her: assert the absurd notion that a hole-riddled fence is a good thing or cruelly blame the sheep who wander and are lost.

In practice, this amounts to a presumption that when teachings or policies of the Church cause people heartache or doubt, then it is the Church that is in the wrong. There is certainly historical precedent for the Church being wrong. The most obvious, of course, is the racial priesthood ban. During the time when the ban was in force, it was frequently defended as being a matter of doctrine. Now that it has been rescinded, however, those statements have been implicitly rejected while the folk theology that sprouted up to explain the ban has been explicitly repudiated. Might certain of the Church’s policies—particularly those regarding the role of women or of homosexuals—similarly turn out to be prejudice and the tradition of men masquerading as the will of God? Yes, it is conceivable that this could be the case. But it is not a foregone conclusion.

I want to be very clear that my concern is not with any and all criticism of the status quo. Mindless worship of the status quo is indefensible for reasons that are clear both historically (the aforementioned racial priesthood ban) and doctrinally (continuing revelation and an open canon). But reflexive criticism of the status quo whenever it comes into question is an equal and opposite absolutism. This absolutism, even when it is unintended, necessitates depicting anyone who doesn’t condemn the status quo as both intellectually deficient (e.g. farm hands who think holes in fences are a design feature) and morally deficient (e.g. farm hands who think some lost lambs aren’t worth trying to save). This negative depiction itself has two problems: first, it leads to greater contention among the farm hands and second, it exacerbates the pain that the wandering sheep already feel.

Here is one example to make this discussion a bit more concrete. About a decade before the financial crisis, President Hinckley counseled members to avoid large debt for homes. The talk probably hurt those in the audience who had no choice but to purchase a home using debt or who had just taken out a large mortgage and couldn’t feasibly do anything about it now. In hindsight, however, the wisdom of the talk is clear. It is possible that the Church will change its position on controversial issues in the future, but it is also possible that it will not, and that we will come to see the wisdom of this decision at some future date. (Credit where credit is due: this particular example came from Julie Smith.)

I am not asking for Cynthia or anyone else to stop following their conscience in standing up for suffering and endangered sheep. My hope is simply for an understanding between the farm hands that—even when our beliefs diverge—we share a common ambition to be the best shepherds that we can be.

In the end, the only real fence is love. It is the love of our Savior, who loved us first, that draws us to Him. It is my personal conviction that Heavenly Father loves us that helps me find calm amidst the confusion and uncertainty of my own life. And it is that love that we need to strive to emulate not only in response to God, but also in response to each other.

But love does not always mean harmlessness, at least in the short run. There are times, as with Jacob’s sermon, where the truth cuts not only the wicked but even the innocent. I believe that anyone who is eager to give such a sermon is unworthy to give it, but also that we cannot assume that whatever causes pain or heartache in the short run must be abandoned. Sometimes as farm hands the power to take away suffering is out of our hands (for any of many numerous possible reasons), and the best we can do is minister to those whose pain we have not the power or the right to take away.

I believe the status quo is always a transition point to something better, but also that attempts to liberalize the Church’s teachings in some regards are flawed. But I welcome those who disagree with me as my fellow farm hands, and hope that we can always prioritize service over winning ideological battles. For that reason, I always carry within myself the kernel of doubt: what if they, and not I, are in the right?

117 Responses to False Choices and Fence Holes

  1. Adam G. on June 2, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Cynthia L’s parable assumes what it sets out to prove.
    There is little basis in our own history or in examining other churches to think that increased feminism and feminization is a solution to much of anything. It’s more likely to be a self-catalyzing problem–it creates a mindset that then sees more problems to which even more feminist measures are the solution, and so on.

  2. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 8:56 am

    There is little basis in our own history or in examining other churches to think that increased feminism and feminization is a solution to much of anything. It’s more likely to be a self-catalyzing problem–it creates a mindset that then sees more problems to which even more feminist measures are the solution, and so on.

    The practical concern with efforts to liberalize the Church is that–as far as I know–there are zero recent historical examples of churches that have taken the kinds of steps which are advocated (female ordination, downplaying historicity of scripture, etc.) and have met with any of the results that we are given to believe are the aim of such reforms (a renaissance of membership). There are churches who have made such reforms, but the results have been, if not outright disastrous, ambiguous at best.

    Of course it’s possible to say that we ought to make these kinds of reforms in spite of their costs, but then we’re back where we started. These people (who think like me) should be retained. But those other people well, if they can’t handle a better, more just Church and want to leave then good riddance!

    We ought to be very, very leery of any attitude that suggests some segments of the membership are more valued than others. And, if that holds, then we should probably be concerned with “people are leaving” in the broadest sense, and therefore be skeptical of any solution that is associated with declining membership and conversion rates in the aggregate.

    The philosophical concern is simpler. As long as you look for injustice and pain in this world you will find it. Period. Therefore, if there isn’t some counteracting or balancing consideration, any quest for perfect social justice risks fanaticism. That’s a pretty good definition of the term, right? Any narrow idealism has an intrinsic disposition towards fanaticism. The only antidote is to take a very broad spectrum of ideals into consideration (including, one would hope, pragmatism itself).

    In short, I think your concern with feminizing the Church is just one particular example of the general problem of narrow-spectrum idealism.

  3. Kristine A on June 2, 2014 at 9:56 am

    So, catch 22? If we have no interest in making changes and improvement, those who are here are more important than those who leave. If we have interest in making changes and improvement, those who are leaving are more important than those who are here. So we just . . . status quo?

    This is the very reason agitation is happening, by default “The One Way To Be A Good Mormon” is valued more than those not in the box. Maybe the changes we are asking for are to be valued equally, and not more imporant – for an infertile woman to be valued as equally, not for her nurturing or motherhood potential . . . but because she is a Woman of God with a valiant character; and God has sent to do (for her) something more important to build the Kingdom of God.

    People aren’t asking for change because they want the Church to be more like the world, they are asking the Church to be more like Christ. Which is a whole separate discussion, isn’t it?

    p.s. I like rah’s comment on that post, it’s less about fences and more about Pharisaical sheepdogs

  4. Kristine A on June 2, 2014 at 10:01 am

    “The problem with the parable is that fences are, by definition, not supposed to have holes in them. The entire purpose of a fence around sheep is to keep the sheep in and the wolves out. A hole, therefore, is by definition a flaw. This means that in Cynthia’s parable we have only two options if we want to disagree with her: assert the absurd notion that a hole-riddled fence is a good thing or cruelly blame the sheep who wander and are lost.”

    Yes, and we are human beings. Flawed, every one of us. And it is impossible that humans have never made a mistake in the administration of the Church, and that humans are able to build a hole-less fence. We are all trying to do the best we can, but our best is never perfect, is it? Even those with first visions make mistakes, obviously, to not grant the same possibility to the plethora of leaders over centuries is . . . disheartening. It should be a default assumption our human hands have built an imperfect fence.

  5. JohnnyS on June 2, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Nathaniel,

    Interesting post. I’ve seen your writing elsewhere and have enjoyed it, though I’ve not always agreed with you. Three things stick out at me from your post:

    1. “The only real fence is love.” Yes. I am a person of faith who is skeptical of many things that come from Salt Lake but I am not skeptical at all about Christ’s love. IMHO, love is the saving grace of the gospel. It’s an individual, subjective emotional state that can lead one to greater, more expansive things like empathy, forgiveness and service. Indeed, I think when love is truly working in the heart of the believer, it renders the fence invisible. Or, as Neo would say, “there is no fence.”

    2. I think the kernel of doubt you mention is really the key to a lot of the discussions happening on the bloggernacle these days. Doubt is a good thing, as is skepticism, I think. One quibble I have with the Mormon hierarchy in general is that skepticism is almost reflexively equated with cynicism (see Bro. Otterson’s recent letter, e.g.) and is interpreted as a lack of faithfulness when in fact, it’s a useful tool for the person of faith. If we all had a kernel of doubt, two things would happen: We’d be less self-righteous about our own position and we’d also be more likely to listen to people who take other positions.

    3. A small point: You mention that “attempts to liberalize the Church’s teachings in some regards are flawed.” A fair statement and one that I might on some level agree with. Also, though, it’s clear that church policy has, through the years, been directly influenced by cultural shifts and practices and has become slightly more liberal (or should I say, slightly less medieval and draconian) as the result of the culture in which it finds itself embedded. I’d suggest that if we are indeed losing our young people at anything close to the rates I’ve heard (and the hard numbers from our stake are that 90 percent of singles between the ages of 18 and 30 don’t attend) we may want to recognize that the church may benefit from being less rigid, less pharisaical and less corporate and be just a bit more progressive (which really, if we think about it, is much less radical an idea than the actual teachings/ideas of both Christ and Joseph Smith). If this is indeed a living church that relies on “continuing revelation,” one would think we’d get more than 2 official declarations in more than a hundred years. One would also like to think that the church would own the fact that the gospel and the church, as President Uchtdorf said in a recent talk, are still undergoing the process of restoration and that part of that restoration indeed involves responding and reacting to and even incorporating parts of the world’s culture. I know we like to do the whole “in the world, not of the world” thing, but that seems both outmoded and disingenuous; the church really can’t make the claim that it’s removed from the world with any kind of legitimacy anymore, at least given, as you point out, the “wrongness” of the church’s priesthood ban and the consequent social pressure on the church (both from within and without) to change the doctrine.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for the enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

  6. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Kristine,

    If your response to a post including the statement “Mindless worship of the status quo is indefensible,” is to inveigh upon me for ruling out any possibility other than the status quo, it’s safe to say we have a failure to communicate. I am not sure how I could possibly have spoken out any more strongly against defaulting to the status quo.

    This post has absolutely nothing to do with the question of “status quo vs. reform” per se. It is entirely concerned with how we go about reforming. The problem with Cynthia’s parable is not that it advocates reform. It’s not even that it advocates a particular kind of reform with which I disagree. The problem is that it assumes that no alternative (not the status quo nor other kinds of reform) can be reasonably considered. It therefore implies that anyone who is not on board with the specific program of reform Cynthia favors is both mentally and morally deficient.

    We can advocate for reform in ways that are not absolutist. We can advocate for reform in ways that do not logically necessitate demonizing or caricaturing those who disagree with us. We can advocate for reform in ways that are still epistemically humble. We can advocate for reform in ways that hold out the possibility that decent and reasonable people may see things differently. And that is the primary point of my post. It is not an argument against reform. It is an argument against absolutism. Whether that absolutism is deployed in defending or attacking the status quo is immaterial.

  7. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Thanks, JohnnyS. In regards to your last point, you wrote:

    I’d suggest that if we are indeed losing our young people at anything close to the rates I’ve heard…we may want to recognize that the church may benefit from being less rigid, less pharisaical and less corporate and be just a bit more progressive

    I don’t think that we should necessarily jump straight from “we have a retention problem” to “progressivism is the solution.” As far as I know, progressivism has not helped any other religion in recent history.

    As the Church faces new challenges, new approaches should naturally be used to meet those challenges. But the big question is: what approaches should we try? That was my concern with Cynthia’s parable: it short-circuits that discussion by assuming progressivism is the answer. It might be. But it might not be.

  8. Chris Henrichsen on June 2, 2014 at 10:34 am

    I mostly stay to spite the Adams and Nathaniels of the Church. Not a particularly righteous motivation, but it does the trick.

  9. Xenophon on June 2, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Whether or not there are fences, or fences with holes, there are as many reasons to wander as there are sheep, and all we, like sheep, have gone astray. Ultimately, those who choose to heed the voice of the Good Shepherd will not be led astray. The Lord loves and knows all of His sheep, but there are also wolves in sheeps’ clothing that threaten the ninety and nine as well as the one.

  10. Xenophon on June 2, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Race, feminism, and homosexuality are three very separate and distinct issues. Bloggernacle tenets frequently seem to rest upon the shaky assumption that there is a simple continuity between rescinding the priesthood ban and advancing feminism or gay rights. In an age that prioritizes rights over responsibilities it may be an effective tool of propaganda to co-opt issues of race, but feminism and homosexuality are at least as far removed from race as they are from each other. In spite of the priesthood ban and its subsequent lifting, the doctrine of the priesthood has not changed, nor has the doctrine of the family changed. If policies in the past were touted as doctrine, that does not mean that doctrine as such is therefore fluctuating. Policies are subject to change. That is why they are called policies. True doctrine, on the other hand, does not change because it is eternal.

  11. Chris Henrichsen on June 2, 2014 at 10:48 am

    If true doctrine is doctrine that never changes…there must not be any true doctrine.

  12. SilverRain on June 2, 2014 at 10:56 am

    I think you address this rather fairly. Cynthia’s parable has another flaw: from the perspective of the “callous” farmhands, the sheep aren’t just finding holes and wandering. Some are the ones making the holes in the first place. They are finding a place in the fence they feel is weak, or even may be actually weak, then butting holes in it and/or pointing it out to the rest of the sheep and encouraging them to go through it. They wander around continually bleating about the holes, advertising them, drawing attention to them and encouraging others to do the same.

    While I’m not saying either perspective is 100% accurate, that kind of puts a different spin on the situation. Those “callous” farmhands speaking out against such sheep could, then, just be trying to protect all the sheep, IF they remember to operate with the love of God and with the Spirit. Yes, even those who are causing the problems. But, being mere farmhands and not the Savior Himself, they often misstep and forget to show love because they are frustrated. Or, there are those mingled in with the ones who defend the Church who know nothing more of love than those trying to attack it.

    Philosophies of any kind do not guarantee charity.

    Also, I find a growing lack of doctrine when it comes to understanding love. Love is not comfort. Love doesn’t even mean free from pain. In fact, whom the Lord loves, he chastens. (Rev 3:19, Helaman 15:3, D&C 95:1) The love of God is not evidenced in lack of pain, trial, questions, doubt, or injustice. In fact, in my experience and in what I have learned from scripture, disciples of Christ are often those who suffer the most pain, affliction, and sorrow. Even the Nephites who tarried were not spared from the sorrow of the world. They are courageous, in my mind, to be willing to take that extended burden.

    I don’t think there are very many defenders of the Church who rejoice that people are leaving. But they also hold agency in high regard. “Leaving the church” cannot be a trump card, or a means to control. It is, ultimately, a choice of the individual. Threatening “change this or people will leave” has the opposite effect to the hopes of those who trumpet it: It stymies conversation entirely.

    The moment you paint someone, as Cynthia does, as heartless or unthinking, there is no way to proceed.

    This is why certain groups cannot be part of the discussion. Not because they are deemed less valuable as people, but because by their own actions they have ended any chance of productive conversation. I’m just glad that the Church isn’t extrapolating that attitude to everyone who is concerned in these matters.

  13. Kristine A on June 2, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Nathaniel, my comment #3 was less a response to your post as to your comment #2, which without the post above was without context, I suppose. Your post is very thoughtful and fair handed and I agree. I share not because I think I’m right – I think I could be wrong. But hopefully the answer is shaken out in the discussion of ideas, and the movement of everyone towards more introspection and analysis.

    Were that more saints were in your place.

  14. JohnnyS on June 2, 2014 at 11:04 am

    To Nathaniel,

    This perhaps betrays my own bias, but I suppose I viewed any change the church makes to be progressive more in the sense of just moving forward, not necessarily that it would automatically plug into progressive ideology. So an example would be that I think that it is much more likely that women’s roles will (slowly and infinitesimally) continue to expand in the church rather than church leadership saying that the solution is to make sure that women stay in the home, cook dinner and don’t get educations. In other words, the changes the church enacts involving issues of gender, race and sexuality are, as I see them, nearly always progressive in the sense of expanding definitions and practices. We’re not likely to see, for example, the church bringing back ankle- and wrist-length garments in order to help people deny their homosexuality. The church, in other words, is progressive but it just goes about being progressive at a glacial pace.

    To Chris Henrichsen:

    Well played.

  15. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Kristine-

    Thanks for the kind words. I really like this:

    But hopefully the answer is shaken out in the discussion of ideas, and the movement of everyone towards more introspection and analysis.

    That’s the same vision that I have. I like to think of myself as a voice in a chorus. It’s not my job to sing the whole song. It’s my job to sing my part as best as I can and trust that something greater than any one voice will be the result. Eventually.

    I have pretty strong opinions about the right way forward, and I’m not reluctant to share them (that’s what you picked up on in comment #2), but I also have a real concern with trying to protect a peaceful and respectful space where all sincere voices can be heard.

  16. Porter on June 2, 2014 at 11:20 am

    “Might certain of the Church’s policies—particularly those regarding the role of women or of homosexuals—similarly turn out to be prejudice and the tradition of men masquerading as the will of God? Yes, it is conceivable that this could be the case. But it is not a foregone conclusion.”

    I think it is a foregone conclusion, and your use of the word “policies” as opposed to “doctrines” is precisely the route the church should be going. But it’s not. Dallin Oaks and his ilk have been doubling down on their rhetoric of exclusion, and this will not go well for the church long term. Increasingly members of the church are embracing equality and will be unwilling to affiliate with a church that spouts offensive doctrines. That is why I no longer attend.

    And if history has taught us anything, it is that when enough people start leaving the Church and taking their tithing with them, and when outside economic pressures come to bear, the church will eventually adapt and these current doctrines will eventually be dismissed as the “doctrines of man.” It cannot happen soon enough.

  17. Kristine A on June 2, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Nathaniel, many voices feel they are not heard. It is not safe to speak. And when we raise our voice it is squashed in a variety of ways. The more “strident” voices of late have made my moderate voice all the more palatable. I find that progress.

  18. Chris Henrichsen on June 2, 2014 at 11:27 am

    “And if history has taught us anything, it is that when enough people start leaving the Church and taking their tithing with them, and when outside economic pressures come to bear, the church will eventually adapt and these current doctrines will eventually be dismissed as the ‘doctrines of man.’ It cannot happen soon enough.”

    Nah, they now have a funding structure that does not really all that heavily on tithes. Either way, plenty of lawyers and dentists (let a lone big money folk) to make up the difference.

  19. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Porter-

    And if history has taught us anything, it is that when enough people start leaving the Church and taking their tithing with them, and when outside economic pressures come to bear, the church will eventually adapt and these current doctrines will eventually be dismissed as the “doctrines of man.” It cannot happen soon enough.

    The irony is that if I believed you were right about that–about the Church inevitably if belatedly chasing after popularity–then I would see no reason to keep attending. I don’t know what the future holds for the Church, but I do believe that it will not be determined by popular vote. That’s why I’m still here, regardless of which direction that takes us. Because I believe that it is ultimately the Lord’s Church, and that even if we on Earth screw things up from time to time, there’s more going on than a popularity contest.

  20. john f. on June 2, 2014 at 11:44 am

    “We ought to be very, very leery of any attitude that suggests some segments of the membership are more valued than others.”

    Do you remember on your mission when instructions would come down periodically from the Area Presidency via the Mission President and the APs that we should try harder to find male converts so that they could become priesthood holders because we already had enough women since they tended to join the Church at a higher rate than men? I guess you might protest and say this never happened in your mission and that might well be true. If so, that is wonderful.

    But for others, this did happen, and, in some cases, like in mine, an instruction came down that even went a step further: we should lay off teaching so many women and really, really focus on just finding men to teach so they could become priesthood holders.

  21. john f. on June 2, 2014 at 11:48 am

    “In an age that prioritizes rights over responsibilities”

    Are OW and other women who have concerns about the status quo asking for rights or responsibilities? I thought they were asking for responsibilities rather than rights. . . .

  22. Kristine A on June 2, 2014 at 11:48 am

    how about my new analogy, from BCC:

    me: I love my patch of grass, over in the crowded area I wasn’t getting much nourishment. But over here I’m still nearby, in sight and sound of my Shepherd

    sheepdogs: You are leading all of us astray! That is nasty grass that will kill us all if you share it with anyone. Either join us or leave!

    me: but, but . . . I’m still following my shepherd and being nourished. I know others who could use this nourishment. Maybe if we put some fertilizer or aerated the common patch over there it could help us all, or make those who spread out able to remain?

    sheepdogs: How dare you judge our grass, our Shepherd controls the grass and only that grass is what we all need!

    me: hmmm. . . that really didn’t work out for me. And I heard the Shepherd tell me personally it was okay for me over here . . . I’m very careful to keep the Shepherd in hearing distance.

    sheepdogs: You are wrong! Only the good sheep stay in that patch of grass, obviously you are not a good sheep!

    What I lack in academic tone I make up for in . . . style? :)

  23. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 11:49 am

    john f-

    I don’t think I ever had a directive from my Mission President to find more men, but we all knew it was a good idea. We knew because the women in the Church often told us it was a priority for them. That is not a joke. The gender imbalance made things harder for the women who joined. (I served in Hungary, where the Church was relatively new so everyone was a convert.) In a hypothetical scenario where we had far more men than women, I’m sure that the emphasis would have swung the other way.

    The point is that we should be sophisticated enough to distinguish valuing one segment more than another from treating segments differently. Sometimes different treatment comes from different valuation, but not always.

  24. rameumptom on June 2, 2014 at 11:55 am

    There is an assumption in her parable that the lost sheep are wandering away from the fenced-in area, and from there assuming there are holes. It is just as likely that the sheep wandered off as they were out with the flock feeding in the world, and wandered off away from the flock. Only when the shepherd gets the flock back to the fenced area does he/she realize there are a couple missing sheep, and then goes out to look for them. Nobody pushed the sheep out of the fold. They walked off. The shepherd is caring enough to search for the lost sheep, even if the lost sheep does not want to be found. Are there flaws in the church? Sure. However, most people leave for their own reasons, often including having enough pride to not show charity towards the shepherd, simply because he chooses a different hill for the sheep to graze than the one the wandering sheep wishes to be upon.

  25. Chris Henrichsen on June 2, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Most people are really bad at parables. Maybe moving award from ancient middle-eastern imagery would help us communicate better.

  26. Martin James on June 2, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I was reading some Pew survey data about Millenials this morning and I think the question of retention is more driven by form rather than content. In other words, its not what a church teaches but the very fact that a church has an “in” and an “out” that is relatively permanent is what is leading to declining numbers.

    For example, Millenials are less likely to self-identify as patriotic that earlier generations (49% vs 70+ for boomers). Very much less likely to think other people can be trusted (less than 20% ) versus much higher for earlier generations at similar ages.

    Less likely to identify as environmentalist (32% vs low 40’s for earlier generations).

    I think the issue is that younger people want choices more frequently, rather than wanting to identify over the long term with one institution.

    Churches (as opposed to religious or spiritual beliefs) may be a bit obsolete. Maybe “menu-churches” could adapt but its a very different thing than what we’ve had.

    I know many here think that a “religious community” is essential to religion but the math seems to be that what unites us also divides us. The church is developing “extra-ward” sects online so that people can self-identify better to communities that reflect what they believe today and the costs are low when tomorrow they are in a different mood and migrate to a different community.

    The pain parents feel when children leave the church is an interesting force in the church for older people. That more than economics will drive change in my opinion. People see the church differently when they have fewer children as members. They will want a religious concept that doesn’t separate them from their children.

  27. Ty on June 2, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    I think we might be misreading the parable.

    We are better off being numbered with the lost sheep–those who bring joy to those in heaven. Luke 15:7 “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”

    There is a strong irony here. How many just people do you know, which need no repentance? The rare thing is not the 99, but the individual who realizes that he is fallen, and needs Christ.

  28. Tim on June 2, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    “Nobody pushed the sheep out of the fold…”

    While this is a nice sentiment for people who don’t like to take responsibility, it’s not at all accurate. It’s the “Am I my brother’s keeper?” response.

    Plenty of members are pushing and encouraging sheep they don’t care for out of the fold. Perhaps not intentionally, but they’re being pushed all the same.

  29. Quickmere on June 2, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    I think it should go without saying that Cynthia’s representative characters (the ones who say the fence has holes on purpose, and the ones who say let those sheep go) are based on real-life actual people who have said those very things about very real people in the very real non-parable world. I’m still trying to figure out exactly why this overlong response was necessary in the first place, seeing that all it does is suggest that not everyone is morally questionable who doesn’t express concern about holes in the fence or about having them fixed. But that was already a given. I thought it was clear that Cynthia’s parable was in response to very particular perspectives and wasn’t intended to be universal.

  30. Quickmere on June 2, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I’m also fascinated by the cut-throat utilitarian logic of Adam G., who thinks the Church and our Church leaders should not act unless acts ensure some sort of statistical growth and certainly not any sort of statistical shrinkage. This is a massively simplistic utilitarianism to boot, collapsing everything into “feminist” or “not feminist” categories. He’s exemplifying the type of person in Cynthia’s parable who says “let those sheep go, who cares, it is their fault” and so forth. I wonder if the other character, the one who says the fence was intended to have holes, will show up in the comments, too.

  31. Quickmere on June 2, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    One other point about the comparison Adam G. makes which Nathaniel then buys into. “Change” in church policy re: women here are styled as “liberalization,” and in this way we can ignore the question of whether something is “right” or “true” or even “God’s will” because we’ve looked at the numbers, albeit with our imperfect spectacles,” and as a result, need not seek further light and knowledge in what Pres. Uchtdorf has called our “ongoing” Restoration.

    I don’t know why people who make this argument haven’t considered the possibility that such “rear-guard liberalization” efforts on the part of these “liberal” dying churches are not so cynically executed for the simple reason that such churches need to increase attendance numbers and tithe receipts.

    The Church shouldn’t make such adjustments according to a utilitarian conversion metric. The Church should make changes, whatever changes it makes, because they are the right thing to do at any given point in time. “Do what is right, let the consequence follow!” is a slogan that is typically invoked only when we’ve already decided on what is “right.”

    Perhaps the problem, then, with Cynthia’s original parable is that readers can still walk away thinking that things boil down to calculations rather than, as Nathaniel says and Cynthia would undoubtedly agree, Christian love.

    Or, like Kristine A puts it in a stunning way: “People aren’t asking for change because they want the Church to be more like the world, they are asking the Church to be more like Christ. Which is a whole separate discussion, isn’t it?”

  32. Amira on June 2, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Nathaniel, you can count me as one woman who has spent a lot of time in places where there are very few priesthood holders whose solution to the problem is definitely not to focus on baptizing men to balance things out. I would hope that all missionaries would work on finding people who were truly ready to join the church and not worry about their gender. If that means that there are places where there is a significant majority of women, then maybe we need to find more ways to let women lead so the imbalance doesn’t matter as much.

  33. Quickmere on June 2, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Nathaniel, you said this:

    “If your response to a post including the statement “Mindless worship of the status quo is indefensible,” is to inveigh upon me for ruling out any possibility other than the status quo, it’s safe to say we have a failure to communicate. I am not sure how I could possibly have spoken out any more strongly against defaulting to the status quo.”

    The failure to communicate IMO stems from the fact that you’ve written a post containing a caveat with no substance behind that caveat. You describe Cynthia’s post as demonstrating a “reflexive criticism” and you’ve offered no counter-suggestion regarding faithful criticism/critique of the status quo. In other words, the rhetorical leverage of your post as a whole is tilted almost entirely toward maintaining and defending the status quo, with your added suggestion that people just employ “love” more often, which most folks, as you also point out, already think they’re doing.

  34. JohnnyS on June 2, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Martin James,

    Really good points. I think that the Millennial/older generation split you mention is pretty right on in my experience. Also, you talk later in your post about people wanting a religion that doesn’t separate them from their children and I think that that is key. Ironically, a church that says it’s all about family and community and we’re all brothers and sisters is actually very divisive in its doctrine. I think a lot of millennials are friends with and therefore comfortable around gay people, atheists, people of different faiths, etc. and they want to know why those folks don’t “deserve” to be in the celestial kingdom. And you know what? They’re right. I’m not a millennial, but I want to know that, too. Does the church realize how divisive its own doctrine is? I wonder if that should be a question to ask in this whole examination of what the church should change.

  35. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Quickmere-

    I can see that if you thought the original parable was clearly intended to be about specific sorts of people, my response might be unnecessary. Based on the feedback so far, however, you impression was not at all universal.

    As for the numbers vs. principle argument: the big problem here is that people always seem to want to care about which ever one helps their argument. In Cynthia’s parable the concern is numbers: people are leaving. Do something to save them! When conservatives say “Hey, that might not help in the long run,” then the response is to suddenly drop the pretext of concern with numbers and suddenly develop a “Do what is right, let the consequences follow!” mentality.

    So, when a conservative says “Do what is right, even if we lose some sheep.” they are heartless. But when a conservative says “Let’s think about the implications of this policy for the sheep,” they are unprincipled. This is a great example of having cake and eating it too.

    The sensible, moderate position is simply that both considerations matter. I have all kinds of long-winded philosophical thoughts on the relationship between pragmatism and idealism which I can simply summarize as this: neither can exist without the other.

    All I’d like to see is some consistency. If the simple fact that people are leaving now is a problem worthy of consideration, then the fact that even more might leave later is also a valid consideration. If principles are worth maintaining even if they offend some liberals, then they are also worth maintaining even if they offend some conservatives.

  36. Dave K on June 2, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Nathaniel, overall another very good post. I’m growing concerned that I am starting to agree with you too often. I’m not particularly interested in debating/revising the parables of lost sheep. What I am interested in asking you about this quote from your comment #2:

    “We ought to be very, very leery of any attitude that suggests some segments of the membership are more valued than others. And, if that holds, then we should probably [not?] be concerned with “people are leaving” in the broadest sense, and therefore be skeptical of any solution that is associated with declining membership and conversion rates in the aggregate.”

    In the abstract, I think I agree with you (please clarify if I miscorrected your quote). But in practice I find that no one does what you suggest. By our natures we tend to give more value to those people and ideas we already know over potential new members or new information (loss aversion bias). Additionally, most people tend to make utilitarian calculations to one degree or another (i.e., give weight to whatever position leads to the most members or most growth. As one example, your mother Fiona said the following in a Mormon Stories interview regarding OW:

    “As a European, as someone who was born and raised in Africa, I am particularly sensitive to the global church, and our call to build Zion. … Many of the countries in which we hope to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ have a very fixed social and political male hegemony, and I’m not sure how successful our ability to aid women in those countries exercised priesthood power which I found in the temple, which is accessible to all. If sister missionaries are coming into those countries, most of them are primarily Muslim, waving the banner of priesthood authority, and right now I understand there are a lot of African men joining the church because of this hierarchical power, and I think if we were to come in and destabilize that then we would prevent our sisters around the globe from accessing the ordinances and the power, the priesthood power that is only to be found in the temple.”

    In the same conversation, Margaret Blair Young expressed a similar sentiment in labeling OW’s requests “a very first world thing.” In my reading, it appears that these good sisters are doing what you counsel against – pitting one group’s desires against another’s. They also seem to be giving a higher value to the desires of sisters in humbler circumstances over those in the developed world.

    So my questions to your are: Would you apply the same principle to potential new converts as to the people “who are leaving?” Should the church ever consider the impact of policies on any group or should it just “do what is right and let the consequence follow?” By arguing (in post 7) that “progressivism has not helped any other religion in recent history,” are you not implicitly making a utilitarian calculus and thereby setting up one segment of the church population (the numerous conservative base) against another (the smaller progressive group)? Thanks for your thoughts. I wish I could propose better answers rather than just pepper you with critique.

  37. Quickmere on June 2, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    “As the Church faces new challenges, new approaches should naturally be used to meet those challenges. But the big question is: what approaches should we try? That was my concern with Cynthia’s parable: it short-circuits that discussion by assuming progressivism is the answer. It might be. But it might not be.”

    We’re dealing with terms here, “liberal” “progressive”, in undefined ways. Or are you suggesting we should try reverting to ankle and wrist length garments as part of an initiative to strengthen members of the Church and improve conversion?

  38. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Quickmere-

    We’re dealing with terms here, “liberal” “progressive”, in undefined ways. Or are you suggesting we should try reverting to ankle and wrist length garments as part of an initiative to strengthen members of the Church and improve conversion?

    There’s a time and a place for wanton generalities. :-) I’m using “liberal” and “progressive” in the broad, albeit US-focused sense of “coming from or similar to the American left”.

    My point, in the comment you quoted, was that he Church must change, but that that change need not be in a liberal direction. That doesn’t not mean it will be regressive. The whole idea that we have to choose between the status quo (or regression to an earlier status quo!) or liberalizing our faith (in the sense of making it closer to the American political left) is annoying for me. What about changes to the faith take us in a direction that makes us more conservative? For example: instead of ordaining women, we (re)elevate the Relief Society to parity with the Melchizedek Priesthood Order. I call this “more conservative” because it would seriously double-down on the idea of gender essentialism that defines much of the American social right.

    Of course I think it’s unhealthy to judge theology by contemporary politics. That point is just that change is inevitable, but not synonymous with “progressive” in the political sense.

    Of possible interest: Women And The Priesthood: What’s the Conservative Position?

  39. Dave K on June 2, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Dang it Nathaniel. I see you largely answered by questions in a comment entered at the exact same time I entered mine.

  40. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Dave K-

    In the abstract, I think I agree with you (please clarify if I miscorrected your quote).

    Yeah, you did miscorrect my quote. :-)

    The damage might not be so bad, however. There are two principles at stake:
    1. Numbers (lost sheep)
    2. Principle

    I think that both are valid considerations. I would go farther and say that numbers / lost sheep is just one among many principles that need to be considered together in balance. If we just tried to guide the church according to the numbers, it would be a useless weathervane of popularity. But if we completely ignored numbers, we would be remiss in our obligation to reach more people.

    Clearly we can’t compromise principle for the sake of numbers, but just as clearly we should be willing to make changes where principle allows in order to keep retention and conversion rates high.

  41. Quickmere on June 2, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    “In Cynthia’s parable the concern is numbers: people are leaving. Do something to save them! When conservatives say “Hey, that might not help in the long run,” then the response is to suddenly drop the pretext of concern with numbers and suddenly develop a “Do what is right, let the consequences follow!” mentality.”

    This is just where I think you’re wrong, though. In my view, Cynthia is primarily concerned with the one, the individual, although that fact becomes obscured by a parable that discusses a flock with multiple sheep. I don’t see her saying “look at the number of sheep who are leaving and on that basis we should repair the fence,” but rather “sheep are getting through holes in the fence, holes which I think are possibly not part of the design, unnecessary, fixable. But when I suggest such holes should be addressed I have been accused of being cynical/unfaithful/etc. which is unfortunate, since what I’m really doing is trying to help other sheep.”

    “If principles are worth maintaining even if they offend some liberals, then they are also worth maintaining even if they offend some conservatives.”

    Again, it seems you think Cynthia would disagree with this, but I think it’s obvious that she wouldn’t. After all, she’s still desirous to be in the fold and even hopes to serve the fold.

    Culturally, it’s pretty clear that the Church errs on the side of “offending the liberals” as you put it. But again, you respond with your conservative/liberal labeling. Maybe the root of the problem is that your ideological worldview seems to be tied more to political than religious categories (or more pointedly, you, like most people, simply collapse the two). You seem more concerned with saying “not so fast, liberals, gays, feminists!” than with making your more mundane point that idealism and pragmatism must execute a strange negotiation. Whether you intended that to be the case or not, I can’t be sure, but I don’t think you intended it that way.

  42. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Quickmere-

    Again, it seems you think Cynthia would disagree with this, but I think it’s obvious that she wouldn’t. After all, she’s still desirous to be in the fold and even hopes to serve the fold.

    My post doesn’t rest nearly so pointedly on speculation about what Cynthia herself thinks. I don’t know her at all and, even if I did, I would consider it bad form to focus an entire blog post on her in such a personal way.

    I picked Cynthia’s parable because I found it good representation of a trouble form of absolutism on the left. The parable, independent of its authors intentions, does indeed support that absolutism by presuming that when folks leave it is because of a flaw in the Church. Rather than the alternate possibility that people leave (1) for their own reasons or (2) because of external pressures that must be combated.

    Just as you’re willing to grant that I may have said something I didn’t intend to say, I certainly don’t presume that this particular aspect of Cynthia’s parable was intentional. But it’s pretty unambiguously there.

    I respect that you don’t see it, but I’ve got to be honest and tell you that I find your explanations (rooted as they seem to be in what Cynthia believes rather than what the parable conveys as a stand-alone text) less than convincing.

    Culturally, it’s pretty clear that the Church errs on the side of “offending the liberals” as you put it.

    That the Church is more compatible with conservatism than liberalism in the US is obvious. That this is an error is not. It’s one of those, “Did the Church leave liberalism, or did liberalism leave the Church?”-type of questions.

    Maybe the root of the problem is that your ideological worldview seems to be tied more to political than religious categories (or more pointedly, you, like most people, simply collapse the two).

    I certainly do collapse them. That’s intentional. I don’t like compartmentalization. In any case, my point here was to critique absolutism. In this case, it was absolutism coming from the left, but I tried to make abundantly clear in my post that it is not a partisan issue. (See again the quote about “Mindless worship of the status quo…”)

    The relationship between pragmatism and idealism is very interesting to me, but only tangentially related to the post.

  43. Quickmere on June 2, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    My post doesn’t rest nearly so pointedly on speculation about what Cynthia herself thinks. I don’t know her at all and, even if I did, I would consider it bad form to focus an entire blog post on her in such a personal way.

    You’ve rhetorically set her up as the example of a wider trend of people in the Bloggernacle who attribute an apparent mass exodus of Church members to certain liberal sensibilities and your post is structured so as to suggest that her parable offered an iron-clad dichotomy of possible responses to which you offer a “third-way alternative” as though Cynthia herself is positioned against that way (which, by the way, is a vague “all you need is love” Beatles liberal-sounding point with the conservative addition “Love Hurts” a-la Nazareth added for good measure [liberal and conservative labels borrowed from you]).

    In your most recent comment you say she represents the “absolutism on the left” rather than representing a concerned sister in Christ, which speaks directly against your post’s stated peace-making purpose.

    “That the Church is more compatible with conservatism than liberalism in the US is obvious. That this is an error is not. It’s one of those, “Did the Church leave liberalism, or did liberalism leave the Church?”-type of questions.”

    Here I thought maybe you were going for a “my Kingdom is not of this world” vibe or a “no manner of -ites” sort of thing in your post, and I pushed back a little to see to make sure. And now you’ve more clearly overturned that in the comments by setting up factions, lumping Cynthia into one of them, and then lecturing me for making assumptions about what Cynthia L. believes or intends while simultaneously making just such assumptions about her yourself.

  44. Quickmere on June 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    “Clearly we can’t compromise principle for the sake of numbers, but just as clearly we should be willing to make changes where principle allows in order to keep retention and conversion rates high.”

    It seems too often we may be prone to postpone reasonable even needed changes on the grounds that we don’t want to appear to be compromising principle for the sake of numbers.

  45. Cynthia L. on June 2, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Hi Nathaniel,

    The art you chose is stunning. Who is the artist/source?

    Some thoughts on your post and the first couple comments. Sorry if this is reiterating points made in later comments.

    “That was my concern with Cynthia’s parable: it short-circuits that discussion by assuming progressivism is the answer.”

    Can you point to where the parable it says this. Or maybe the issue is what you mean by “progressivism”. If you mean that in a political or semi-political sense (i.e. “progressivisim” = feminism, gay rights, anti-racism, etc), then it seems like you are basing that entirely on the fact that I wrote it, and you know me, apart from the parable, as someone with progressive leanings. The parable talks about holes in the fence. One could just as easily invoke the parable and cast not persecuting gays enough as a “hole.” The parable is entirely agnostic as to the nature of the perceived hole. It just explains the rationale for individuals being “anxiously engaged” as opposed to being a passive apologist for the status quo (the hole is obviously there because it is supposed to be there, so let’s do nothing).

    It seems to me that although you reply to Adam G’s comment in agreement, you two have decidedly opposite views. Adam G is making a utilitarian argument that what matters is maintaining demographics. You’re saying that we should take a “darn the torpedoes” approach, where we do what is right regardless of consequence, because the role of religion is to challenge us to be better and that is hard, painful work. I have often heard even more strident versions of this from conservatives, for example, during Prop 8. So many had an attitude that if the speaker and a half dozen allies end up being the last 7 people on earth defending the flag of banning gay marriage, so be it, that’s a hill to die on. It’s curious to me that sometimes such an uncompromising version of this view is seen, but as soon as we start talking about liberal changes, we get anecdotes about how UU church down the road has some empty pews so it’s not a good idea.

    I suppose one could just as easily turn that around on liberals: why do we support increased leadership roles for women, when that (might) lead to decreased membership, but we sound the alarm on the attrition that (might) be tied to other issues. My response is that it doesn’t make sense to talk about any change unless one believes it is right. I would never support instituting a change I believe is morally wrong, just because I think it would fill up pews. But if we are doing something wrong, *and* doing that wrong thing is causing some progressing and perhaps irreversible damage, certainly it could make righting the wrong more time-sensitive.

    Another thought, I think part of what explains or underlies the fact that demographics are raised by conservatives against liberal suggestions of change (which I raised above as a possible contradiction in the conservative viewpoint) is not that conservatives believe that is the most important issue, but because conservatives are responding to what they think is the liberal motivation for the change: numbers. But I think this misunderstands the liberal view. Again, it is a matter of conscience, the numbers merely adding timeliness to the discussion and urgency to the change. Perhaps we liberals just need to find better ways of communicating our motivations, but it is a source of frequent pain that we seem so often to be dismissed as having “cynical” (most recently) or superficial concerns such as social status, etc. It is difficult to have a respectful exchange of ideas when we are so often not granted the basic respect of acknowledging that we are motivated by discipleship and not some kind of path-of-least-resistance.

    That was really what I was trying to convey with the parable–the discipleship motivation.

  46. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Cynthia-

    Thanks for coming here to comment! I want to respond to your most important point first, which is this:

    It is difficult to have a respectful exchange of ideas when we are so often not granted the basic respect of acknowledging that we are motivated by discipleship and not some kind of path-of-least-resistance.

    I absolutely believe that many liberals with whom I disagree on issues are “motivated by discipleship.” One of the main motivations of my post was to advocate for a way of disagreeing that doesn’t dehumanize our opponents. I’m happy that we see eye-to-eye on that.

    As for the parable itself, I think it definitely came across as being more partisan than you intended. I understand your statement that it could be shifted around to make it less partisan, but as it stands it comes across as partisan for the simple reason that attrition now is primarily a liberal concern (whereas attrition later is primarily a conservative concern). This made it very natural and easy to read the concerned farm hands as liberals and the callous farm hands as conservative. (It doesn’t hurt that this plays into stereotypes about bleeding heart liberals and selfish conservatives.)

    As I’ve been trying to explain to Quickmere, however, I never supposed that this reflected some intentional attack on your part. I picked your parable because it was a prominent example of how a text could (even if inadvertently) fuel absolutism by giving the impression that one side has all the good guys and the other side has all the bad guys. I didn’t pick it because I thought that was an accurate reflection of your own considered beliefs.

    And, just so we’re clear, I don’t even think that makes it a bad parable. When it comes to answering your primary question (“What motivates liberals concerned with lost sheep?”) I think it does exactly what it was supposed to do. The absolutism, while present, is tangential. You said it yourself: “That was really what I was trying to convey with the parable–the discipleship motivation.” And on that score it works.

    You’re saying that we should take a “darn the torpedoes” approach, where we do what is right regardless of consequence, because the role of religion is to challenge us to be better and that is hard, painful work.

    Well, sort of. What I’m really saying is just that we should be consistent. You pointed out yourself that both liberals and conservatives tend to switch back and forth between principle and demographics based on convenience. I think demographics absolutely do matter because, as you illustrated in the parable, of the discipleship motivation. That’s real. But it needs to be balanced as just one principle among many. However that balance is struck, it should be consistent rather than swaying back and forth like a see-saw depending on which is convenient.

  47. Chris Henrichsen on June 2, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Consistent in our concern for those in pain and leaving now and for those possibly leaving in your hypothetical?

  48. CRW on June 2, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    This, absolutely, Martin James.

    “The pain parents feel when children leave the church is an interesting force in the church for older people. That more than economics will drive change in my opinion. People see the church differently when they have fewer children as members. They will want a religious concept that doesn’t separate them from their children.”

    Looking back, I believe that the doubling down on “the ideal family” – RM dad, SAHMom, 2+ children) has been the direct cause of my children leaving activity. The oldest sent his letter of resignation in during Prop 8 because he could not support the harm the church’s stance was doing to his and his wife’s LGBT friends; the next two stayed active through really hard and scary divorces but ultimately found their church experiences as single parents alienating, painful and untenable; the next has simply lost her faith in God and the church due to a really horrible father-in-law who abused her husband using priesthood patriarchy as the justification; and my youngest is sweet, believing, but with mental health issues which made him unable to deal with the anxiety of going to church to hear the continuous mission/marriage/kids rhetoric.

    They didn’t leave because they were sinning or wanting to sin.

    My husband and I are still active recommend holders. But family will always come before church to me, and I am very lightly fastened to it now. Ironically, what mostly keeps me active and tithe-paying is that my husband wants me to go with him, and I love him enough to do it. I also love Jesus, and try to live his example for my family and grandkids.

  49. Chris Henrichsen on June 2, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    BTW, calling for consistency is Nathaniel’s passive aggressive way of painting liberals as hypocrites. Nicely played. It will serve you well in your future Church leadership callings.

  50. Dave K on June 2, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    C’mon Chris. You can disagree with Nathaniel without turning jerkish, especially since this is his post. I follow both of your blogs. Yours is pretty good. I especially appreciate the posts I can relate to such as ones on baseball and Wyoming. But as a self-acknowledged liberal (and OW supporter) I can say that I rarely find a conservative as open to fair discussion as Nathaniel. I’d take 100 of him over the typical fox news crowd in my ward. He can be my bishop anytime (or his mom).

    As for the substance of your post, we’re all hypocrites. Acknowledging that is what gives us a small measure of credence to (tactfully) point out hypocrisy in others.

  51. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Dave K-

    Thanks for the kind words. I just want to clarify one thing.

    Acknowledging that is what gives us a small measure of credence to (tactfully) point out hypocrisy in others.

    I wasn’t trying to point out hypocrisy in anyone, tacitly or not. I agree with what Cynthia L wrote in her comment, which is that there both liberals and conservatives who flip back and forth between concern for numbers or concern for principle as it suits them. I would like to see consistency from everyone on that count. If there was any partisan implication to that statement, it was unintentional (and I still don’t see it).

  52. thelogicalmormon on June 2, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    I am one of those (like maybe you are, Nathaniel) who is more disturbed by the conflict surrounding these issues than the resulting change or lack thereof. If we, as a people, are striving to be of “one heart and one mind” we need to find better ways of disagreeing and advocating for change. Every statement we make on the subject individually should be thought out with as much care, love and guidance from the Spirit as we can muster.

    Relating to these kinds of issues, we also need to be able to identify the difference between doctrines and practices. Doctrines cannot be changed, only clarified, while practices can be changed, thrown out or even reversed. In both cases, however, the guidance needs to come from the Lord. I blogged my thoughts on this distinction here: http://thelogicalmormon.com/2013/06/13/doctrine-vs-practice/

    Believing the church is true is very different from believing the church is perfect. I wholeheartedly believe the former, and equally reject the latter.

  53. Blog Administration on June 2, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    “BTW, calling for consistency is Nathaniel’s passive aggressive way of painting liberals as hypocrites. Nicely played. It will serve you well in your future Church leadership callings.”

    Chris, this is a violation of T&S’s comment policy. Please refrain from making personal attacks or your comments at T&S will be moderated.

  54. WI_Member on June 2, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Nathaniel,

    If you woke up tomorrow an an average LDS woman but had carte blanche to change doctrine and/or policy regarding women in the church, what would be on your list?

  55. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    WI_Member-

    Two caveats first.

    (1) I’d like to think that my answer wouldn’t change based on waking up as someone else, no matter the gender. Fair should be fair. Truth should be truth. Etc. If my answer depends on who I am, it’s not a very good answer.

    (2) I wouldn’t actually change doctrine to suit my fancy because then it wouldn’t be doctrine.

    But if what you’re trying to ask is what my best guess is at the future changes that will continue to improve our Church, I would start with restoring the Relief Society back to full parity with the Melchizedek Order of the Priesthood. (Same thing I said in comment #38.) I’m not 100% sure I have all the kinks work out, and I have some other reforms that would go with it, but that seems to best fit the vision of complementarity as I understand it.

    Thankfully, I’m not actually in a position to make that call. So I get to grouse and theorize and speculate along with everyone else without much really depending on my armchair quarterbacking.

  56. Dave K on June 2, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    thelogicalmormon (#52), there’s a quote that goes “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” That’s how I think about doctrine vs. policy. In theory, they are different. In practice, not really.

    Go read the 1949 First Presidency Statement in which the curse of cain and premortal valiancy teachings are declared “doctrine” by George Albert Smith and his counselors. Then read the lds.org gospel topic Race and the Priesthood in which those doctrines are expressly disavowed.

    Sorry to say, doctrine changes. Saying a teaching is “doctrine” is not meaningless. But it doesn’t mean the teaching is fixed. It just means it will take longer to change, and often the change does not happen until after the death of the person(s) who declared the teaching “doctrine.”

  57. Dave K on June 2, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Nathaniel, what would you think of joint-callings to married endowed couples for high-level, time-consuming, key-holding responsibilities? I’m thinking specifically bishops, stake presidents, temple presidents, and mission presidents, and maybe even 70’s/Apostles. In addition to helping with many gender issues (interviews, budget oversight, etc.) joint-callings would allow for more people to share these time-intensive callings.

  58. Kristine A on June 2, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Yes, I’d prefer to replicate Nathaniel and replace most FoxNewsers I interact with (I’m in Rexburg, the reddest county in the nation, after all).

  59. Nathaniel Givens on June 2, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Dave-

    Nathaniel, what would you think of joint-callings to married endowed couples for high-level, time-consuming, key-holding responsibilities?

    I really like the idea, too. I think there are lots of exciting possibilities for moving the Church forward in ways that respond to real concerns while also maintaining fidelity with some of the principles (like gender essentialism and complementarianism) that seem (to me, at least) really core to our theological identity.

  60. Jax on June 2, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    If consistency is the goal, then let’s please choose “what is right” over ‘demographics”… please!

    People will come and go as they please, let them! be glad when they come, sad when they go, but mostly let’s be content that we’ve done what’s right, and that their going is their own choice.

  61. Ardis on June 2, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    what would you think of joint-callings to married endowed couples for high-level, time-consuming, key-holding responsibilities?

    I hate the idea. My stomach is churning right now at the very thought that my leaders would be called in large measure because they married the right men.

    And since this thread is so big on consistency, remember this: It isn’t consistent to add married women to the leadership mix of single and married men (yes, I know that other than deacons quorum president, only married men are eligible for keyholding positions; but single men hold the same priesthood as married men, and are still eligible for many responsible positions at least as high as the stake level) while leaving single women out in the cold. If a “solution” applies to all men and all married women, but omits all single women, it is inconsistent and is no true solution.

  62. Naismith on June 2, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    Also, for about 19 years Elder Scott has been demonstrating that a single man can function as a member of the Q12,

  63. Jared on June 2, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Nathaniel, I would like to get your take on this approach to the fence analogy.

    The Book of Mormon teaches the following:

    1. For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.
    (Book of Mormon | 2 Nephi 2:11)

    2. the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.
    (Book of Mormon | Mosiah 23:21)

    These revelations argue that the Lord will permit holes in the fence.

    The answer to holes in the fence is to avoid them. Those who choose to build a bunkhouse near the holes in the fence are inviting unnecessary trials on themselves. But the nature of a fallen world is that the faithful can’t always avoid what comes through the holes in the fence. In those situation the following revelation explains how we should act.

    5 If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea;
    6 If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you? and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword, and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb;
    7 And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
    8 The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 122:5 – 8)

  64. Steve Smith on June 2, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    I am avid reader of Nathaniel’s posts and have been in disagreement with him in the past. But this post is pretty good. He’s right. Sometimes pragmatism is a more practical path to pursue, and there is a great deal of inconsistency in the way that many conservatives and liberals think in the LDS church.

  65. Cynthia L. on June 2, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    What Ardis said.

  66. John C. on June 2, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    Folks, you are all apparently burying the lede that is revealed in this post. Apparently the church faced a mass exodus (or, at least, a potential one) over advice regarding debt in the 90s. It was certainly prescient advice and looking around the hills of Utah County you can definitely tell it was taken to heart. I shudder to think of the harm that was done by that counsel. Realtors became as maligned in the church as lawyers and liberals. Real hurt, comparable in a serious sense to the harm done by sexism and racism, was the result.

  67. Steve Smith on June 2, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    John C, really? Household debt grew in Utah during the 90s much as it did throughout the US: http://www.utahfoundation.org/img/pdfs/rr689.pdf. And you’re equating anti-realtorism to racism and sexism? A bit of a stretch wouldn’t you say? Besides, do you have any hard evidence that members became noticeably hardened against realtors after GBH’s encourage for members to stay out of debt? Was there noticeable discouragement among the rank and file against becoming a realtor? Did the church leaders openly chastise people who became realtors, financiers, bankers, etc.? I don’t think that much harm was really caused as a result of the announcement about debt. Of course, I did notice (and this is anecdotal) lots of students who refused to take out student loans and overworked themselves during college to stay out of debt. But the numbers don’t really show that people started rapidly coming out of debt. If anything, the LDS church’s long history of urging members to marry young and have large families made it so that many households had no choice but to take on lots of household debt. I don’t recall too many middle age men with five or so kids just up and selling their homes to buy a smaller more affordable home all of sudden all because of GBH’s counsel on debt.

  68. Ardis on June 2, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    Steve, Steve … Check your sarcas-o-meter. It seems to be non-operational.

  69. Martin James on June 3, 2014 at 12:05 am

    Jared,

    Yep, sounds like enduring 3 hours of church to me!

  70. Peter LLC on June 3, 2014 at 3:19 am

    “Fair should be fair. Truth should be truth. Etc. If my answer depends on who I am, it’s not a very good answer.”

    I’m inclined to agree, but how can our answers ever not be a function of who we are?

    “Sometimes pragmatism is a more practical path to pursue”

    By definition, pragmatism is always the more practical path to pursue. However, it seems that the question is when to yield to principle in pursuit of fairness, truth, etc.

  71. Dave K on June 3, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Ardis, just to clear the facts, priesthood keys are held by prophets, apostles, temple presidents, mission presidents, stake presidents, bishops, elder’s quorum presidents, teacher’s quorum presidents, and deacon’s quorum presidents. I may be forgetting one or two others (stake patriarch?), but let’s go with that list for now. Of these, to my knowledge only the calling of bishop requires a man to be married. However, in practice, only married men are called to these positions with the exception of DQP, TQP, and EQP. In my experience, the “qualifications” of the wife are considered as least as important as those of the man being called to hold the keys.

    By including wives in the calling (as full equals in authority, not just figureheads), nothing would be taken away from single women or from single men. The change would only add to what some (married) women can do, and would open up many positives large and small, from women conducting worthiness interviews and disciplinary actions for other women, to spouses being able to sit together in sacrament meeting.

    I appreciate the need to minister to and involve singles. The need will only grow as singles become a larger percentage of our membership. I’d love to hear ideas for how to include single women (and men) in more leadership roles. But currently none of the specific roles I’m discussing (bishop on up) are available to any women. And I’m pretty sure you are not on board with ordaining women, single or married. So how would expanding these callings to a couple instead of an individual negatively affect singles? It is just that the gulf between marrieds and singles would grow and singles would feel left behind? That seeing a married couple on the stand emphasizes even more that singles are “other”?

    Moreover, IMO, couple-callings would likely open up more leadership roles for singles (particularly women). One common explanation for why women are not called as clerks and executive secretaries is fear of affairs (this was the explanation given by Elder Halstrom just two weeks ago in a multi-stake meeting I attended). It seems to me that a couple-bishop would alleviate much of this concern as the bishop’s wife would be in most all of the same meetings as her husband and through her service come to know and trust the clerks and executive secretaries much more. Such an environment would alleviate much of the concern that exists in church culture regarding mixing the sexes.

  72. Dave K on June 3, 2014 at 8:30 am

    Correction to post 71: In the final paragraph “bishop’s wife” should have been “bishop-wife.” In my proposal, the bishop-wife would be just as much the “bishop,” and hold just as much authority and keys, as the bishop-husband. Such a calling would track what happens in many (most?) lds families where the husband and wife are co-presidents, to borrow Elder Perry’s phrase.

  73. Martin James on June 3, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Peter LLC,

    Our answers will always be a function of who we are in a biophysical sense, our brain generates them after all. But one can put more weight on different kinds of evidence and experience including things that seem wrong to us.

    One downside of the reliance on individual conscience( granted, the least worst approach) is that it leads to the “often wrong but never in doubt” attitude on display in every comment section everywhere.

  74. Martin James on June 3, 2014 at 8:41 am

    Dave K,

    I like the idea but why the same sex confessions?

    Women are often more objective about men and vice versa: less power dynamic.

  75. Dave K on June 3, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Martin James, many women have expressed that interviews and judgments would work better for them if conducted by other women, or at least if women were present and participated. As someone who has participated in interviews and disciplinary councils, I can give my personal opinion that I would be more comfortable with my wife or another trusted sister performing that work for sisters. Thus a couple-bishop, or at least a female bishopric counselor, would open up avenues for better discourse and ministering.

  76. Bryan S. on June 3, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Couple-bishops wouldn’t expand the pool of potential bishops however. Anyone with a family would be ruled out because who would stay home with the kids? Unless tag teaming became a thing. In which case interviews would be with just one person anyway. I’m sure many would see this as a plus since some think we stretch Bishops too thin anyway. Why add the burden of a family. It would also mean that the average age of a bishop would go way up making them also more likely to be old school and hard line conservative.

  77. Ardis on June 3, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Dave, the traditional — and often only — route to social/economic/political involvement available to women throughout history has been through their marital connection to leading men. Your proposal imports that dependent relationship to church leadership: If a man can be called to serve in a position alone that is not open to a woman alone, but which becomes available to a woman as long as she is married to the right man, then you are perpetuating that old, arbitrary, path-to-authority from the fallen, non-church world.

    Single men hold the priesthood from age 12 up — they do not lose their priesthood if they do not marry, but are still eligible for all but a tiny fraction of leadership positions. Those leadership positions are now closed to all women; your proposal would open those positions to married women, but those positions, under your proposal, would still be closed to single women. It isn’t that your proposal would “take anything away” from single women, but your proposal does create a three-tiered hierarchy: married couples with the potential to hold any calling; single men with the potential to hold any but perhaps one or two callings; and single women who, well, are left right where we are today.

    As for your question about “ministering to singles,” you’ve hit the problem right on the head in the wording of your question. Singles don’t want to be passive receivers of ministry. We want active participation in ministry. We want to serve, we want to be involved, we want to be as vital to the life of a ward or stake as any other person who got lucky and found a mate who is also willing and worthy to serve.

    Any “solution” that leaves us — whether “us” is women or singles — as we are now, for the most part shut out of leadership and active participation in the life of the ward or stake *except* as objects of men’s and marrieds’ ministry, is no solution. The Church may benefit from the added involvement of married women in leadership positions under your proposal, but I know that God’s eventual solution will bless all of us, even single women, with inclusion in leadership and the ability to share the gifts that we, too, have been given by God. Anything less is not inspired.

  78. Jared vdH on June 3, 2014 at 10:17 am

    I’ve imagined that the Church could go with something similar toDave K’s thoughts on “couple callings”. I’d personally feel better about it if we expanded this beyond just the bishop/stake president positions though to cover the entire bishopric/presidency. Essentially the counselors would also be “couple callings”. I’d probably even extend this to the High Council. If this also came with a loosening of the priesthood monopoly on the Sunday School presidency, Executive Secretary, and Clerk callings I’d be particularly happy.

    If this also corresponded to tighter integration of the YW with either the Aaronic priesthood, or (and this is much more likely) the RS, then I think this could solve a lot of problems.

    As for taking care of the kids of the bishopric, I think some mix of tag-teaming and whatever the opposite of tag-teaming would be called would be the default. The same already happens in families, why not the ward family as well? You could request an interview with either one or both members of the bishopric couple. For interviews requested by the bishopric, the invitation to the interview could also allow for the member to choose between a solo interview with whichever member you’re more comfortable with or a couple interview. For bishopric meetings, surely some member of the bishopric has an older child capable of caring for the other children for an hour? Or following the tag team principle one of the six could care for the children while the other five meet. For those instances when an “official action” needs to be taken, that would require all six, or perhaps some reasonable “quorum”, but the mundane tasks of admin could be handled by whoever is available. In some ways I feel like this is much more flexible that what we’ve currently got.

    As for Ardis’ thought “that my leaders would be called in large measure because they married the right men.” If I remember correctly, Elder Christofferson expressed the thought at one point that he only was called as a General Authority in the first place because of his wife. My web search skills aren’t finding the quote at the moment, so I may be wrong. But I know I’ve heard this sentiment before, even if I’m off on the details.

    Now, all of the above doesn’t address the issues of homosexual or transgender members, in fact it may exacerbate them. That’s I think the major weakness of this particular approach.

  79. Christian J on June 3, 2014 at 10:19 am

    What Ardis said. Also, the state of single women in the Church is a pretty good barometer for the legitimacy of any justification of the status quo or the merit of any proposed solution. No, child birth is not the same as the priesthood (single women). No, couple callings are not a good idea (single women).

  80. Jared vdH on June 3, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Ardis,

    I was writing my response to yours and Dave K’s comments while you posted yours, but I wanted to make the major assumption of my post clear – the only positions available to only single male priesthood holders would be in the Elder’s Quorum and Young Men/Aaronic Priesthood. These callings would be mirrored by the positions only available to women, including single women, in the Relief Society and Young Women. In my version of this, Sunday School, Executive Secretary, and Clerks are removed from the priesthood-only restriction, and all “presiding callings” become “couple callings”. As for the “Elder Scott” exception – in my mind if one member of the couple dies, they are still a couple and can continue in the calling as is, even if it’s the man who dies.

    I acknowledge that this does not address your desire for singles to be more involved in the ministry. In fact it makes it worse by removing single men from the possibility of service. However my thought experiment is based more on addressing the issue of gender inequality than fixing the problems of single members in the Church.

    This is also a weakness, and I admit it fully as a single person in this Church myself.

  81. Nathaniel Givens on June 3, 2014 at 10:37 am

    So, thinking about the couples-calling idea, I think one possible problem with it (although there’s a lot to like!) is just that it might make leadership even more insular.

    Imagine, for example, a bishopric comprised of 3 men and three women, all spouses. It just seems like the risk of having an echo chamber might be really high, relative to a bishopric where the wives are out in other callings (or not in callings at all) and therefore able to get more information and differing perspectives for their spouses. In other words; it might actually lessen rather than improve the ability to understand a wide variety of perspectives in the ward.

    This is one possible pitfall of emphasizing gender to the exclusion of other considerations. It’s certainly true that male/female issues are important, but so are military / non-military issues, white-collar / blue-collar issues, convert / lifetime member issues. Couples callings might increase the ability to understand male/female issues, but at the expense of all the others.

    Just to be clear: I still like the idea. Lots. Those were just some thoughts I had on the con side.

    Christian J-

    What Ardis said. Also, the state of single women in the Church is a pretty good barometer

    But not single men? I mean, they get hit by the “couples only” calling in the same way that single women do.

  82. Ardis on June 3, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Jared, if the positions you list are the only ones available to single men, then you are retrenching the areas where single men can serve today — stake high councilman, for instance. How is opening up new avenues of service to some, by restricting service opportunities to others, an improvement in the organization? Also, saying “I was only called because of my wife,” meaning that he received the support of his wife to be and become the best he could be, is an entirely different proposition from the proposed couples callings, where the spouse is not only a personal support but holds actual organizational authority.

    Nathaniel, is a bad proposal any better because it slams single men in the same way it slams single women? (But single men do still hold the priesthood, and consequently have service opportunities that are not open to single women … unless you think my nurturing nature makes appropriate, rewarding service to the kingdom if I bake cookies for my married male research assistants?)

  83. Dave K on June 3, 2014 at 11:28 am

    I was avoiding further derail of the OP, but since Nathaniel is running with the idea I will also add some critique to the idea of couples-calling. The church culture I’ve experienced very often places bishops on a pedastal. Many bishops dislike the “father of the ward” mentality and dislike members approaching them as if they – the bishop – had more access to God for problems the member should seek revelation on themself (e.g., what job to take, how many kids to have, etc.) Calling a couple as bishop could entrench this notion even more as now there would be an official “mother of the ward.”

    Couple-callings could cause strife within the marriage, for example where members pit one spouse against the other with requests, or when there are serious disagreements between a couple as to the proper course of action. Couple-callings could lead to even more stagnation that we have now. Of course, these issues already exist in the sphere in which couple-callings are the norm – the family – and quite often the experience leads to better and stronger marriages.

    Going the opposite direction, a better way to alleviate the time burdens on bishops may be to reduce the calling to the level of other ward council positions such as EQ, RS, and HPG. Bishops originally were just over temporal matters. I could envision a ward structure in which primary stewardship over temple/worthiness issues is given to the HPGL (who would then be the common judge for the ward), primary stewardship over gospel instruction is given to the RS (primary, sunday school, seminary, library), primary stewarship over missionary work and home teaching is given to the EQP, and primary stewardship over AP functions, finances, welfare, and the building remains with the bishop (which is an AP office).

    I can also piggy-back on Nathaniel’s concern about insulation. In the ward council’s I’ve sat on, it is very common for council members to know of member needs and issues by virtue of their marriage (e.g., YM president can report on a recent incident in seminary because his wife is the seminary teacher). That affect would lessen drastically with couple-callings.

  84. DQ on June 3, 2014 at 11:33 am

    Ardis,
    I know you meant that as a joke, but the single sister in my town has homemade cookies in her freezer at all times for children in the town to stop by to visit her. I can assure you that in the day she passes away she will be mourned more and remember for her kindness through all eternity by dozens of children — far more than any bishop they EVER have well. And it won’t be the value of the sugar, eggs and butter that did it, but her kind heart that found joy in providing what on one level is trivial service to the one, but absolutely meaningful to their desires at the same time.

    I hope this doesn’t blow up into a battle by pointing it out, but your cookie aside just had me reflect on a few things.

  85. Dave K on June 3, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Ardis, I don’t have time to do the full math, but looking over the stake and ward calling directories on my phone it seems to me that both men and women are gender-limited in possible callings in roughly equal proportions. The major differences are (1) men are largely excluded from interaction with young children and (2) the number of leadership positions for men are roughly twice that for women. As far as actual numbers go, though, these two balance out in a typical ward. Thus, regardless of priesthood ordination, both men and women experience similar amounts of limitations due to their gender. You may never be on the HC, but I will never be my kids’ primary teacher.

    In looking over the calling lists, I also noticed that a significant number of callings are already routinely couple-callings: employment specialist, seminary and institute teachers, librarians, and marriage relations instructors are issued to couples where I live. I also noticed that some callings are not available for married couples; specifically, YA and YSA reps.

  86. Ardis on June 3, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    DQ, I know you don’t mean to offend, but even the whiff of a suggestion that passing out cookies, no matter the kindness of one’s heart, could possibly be enough to fill the measure of one’s creation, is … well, I’m speechless.

    When the new elders assigned to my ward stopped by recently, they instructed me, with straight faces, to go up and down the streets of my non-Mormon neighborhood, knocking on the doors of complete strangers and inviting them to join me in my home for dinners, which I would prepare at my own time and expense, so that the elders could drop by, eat, and make appointments to teach

    Maybe my heart is cold as ice, but I don’t get any joy from cooking or baking for complete strangers. Well, I do get a great deal of joy out of supporting my local food bank — so maybe it’s the assumption that I ought to find my life’s meaning in cooking or baking for people who are neither friends nor family that turns my heart cold.

  87. Martin James on June 3, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Dave K,

    I was a primary teacher in a ward where many of the teachers were former bishops and HC members. I guess that’s unusual? Old ward I guess.

  88. DQ on June 3, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Ardis,
    That’s fine. But like I said, the sister I speak of will be held in memory for time immoral, while every bishop they ever have will be forgotten. Make of it what you will.

  89. Ardis on June 3, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Dave, my ward is not typical, but it’s the one I have in mind when I evaluate how proposed changes would play out in practical terms.

    We have no children or youth. Zip. So, on the male side, we have twice as many leadership/teaching roles in the two priesthood quorums as in the Relief Society. And the bishopric, and the clerks/secretaries. There’s the SS presidency, but we can ignore that as it’s a meaningless position (in our ward, at least). Divide the other SS callings between men and women, and divide the music callings in the same way and they cancel each other out. But there are also opportunities for men in the stake high council. And the Elders and High Priests alternate weeks on handling the Sacrament. That’s about it for any substantial commitments of time or effort, although there’s a plethora of 20-minute-a-week minor positions, presumably available in equal numbers to men and women.

    There are a heckuva lot more opportunities for men in my ward to serve in any substantial way than there are for women to serve. It isn’t a typical ward, but it’s the reality I live with.

  90. Dave K on June 3, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Martin, glad to hear. The church handbook discourages men from serving as primary teachers, and places additional restrictions when they do, but it does not out-right forbid it. In my experience, a lot depends on how much local leaders trust men around children and whether there are enough priesthood holders to make a ward function. I live in the so-called mission field where we have enough active men to fill the “priesthood-only” callings, but not enough to make a surplus that could serve in primary.

    Ardis, sorry to hear about your experience with the missionaries. I was once an idiot-19-year-old missionary myself with may too much authority and time on my hands and way too little maturity and understanding of how real life works. I can also sympathize with being pegged into gender roles that bring little or no joy. If I’ve said anything here that hurts I apologize.

  91. Ardis on June 3, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    I apologize for monopolizing your thread in the past few hours, Nathaniel. I’m bowing out now.

  92. Jax on June 3, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    “many women have expressed that interviews and judgments would work better for them if conducted by other women, or at least if women were present and participated.”

    THEN TAKE ANOTHER WOMAN WITH YOU!!!

  93. Christian J on June 3, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    “But not single men? I mean, they get hit by the “couples only” calling in the same way that single women do.”

    Nathaniel, yes – men face couple restrictions currently. But, the limitation just pale in all comparison in my view, so that’s why I didn’t mention it as the *ultimate* barometer. I don’t agree that they get hit “in the same way”. I keep hearing that bishops/branch presidents have to be married, but that’s only an ideal. They don’t really *have* to. In my experience, its a luxury that most North and South American saints enjoy as normal. Single women, on the other hand, are restricted from Provo to Sri Lanka.

  94. SteveF on June 3, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Dave K, I think on the surface the idea of couple callings is a nice quick fix to key-holding parity, but ultimately for me it fails for many of the reasons Ardis points out. I find your model commendable in the issues it seeks to address, but something inside me says there will be a grander and more lasting solution that addresses those very same issues and more.

    Although, I do feel there may be at least one likely exception, and that is temple president. For whatever reason, it does feel right to me to have a married male president and female president as patriarch and matriarch overseeing the temple priesthood. But until further light is revealed through authoritative channels, I suppose this is all just interesting speculation anyway.

  95. Amy T on June 3, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    I can barely take the suggestion of calling couples to leadership positions seriously enough to do a thought experiment, but here goes.

    (Do not mistake any of the following concerns as an argument for why only men should be called; it is solely an argument that families should be given kind consideration and callings limited within a family so families can have a life outside church and time to interact with their children.)

    In my ward, such a structure would create serious problems. The suggestion of creating a group to deal with babysitting is particularly laughable. Children’s ages are not matched, and there are not always older children in the family, and no possible bishopric member or couple has enough social capital to be able to come up with as much babysitting as it would require, even using members of that “management team.” The families would end up needing to pay for babysitting, and that is very pricy in these parts, assuming you can even find a babysitter. It would be an absurd burden on the families.

    Just having one member of the family in the bishopric or a significant calling is already a heavy load. If the families have children but the parents need to be in meetings and at activities in addition to their employment, who gets the children ready and to church? Who puts the younger children to bed? Who takes care of the children during church? Who gets the teenagers to youth activities?

    Now if older couples in the ward were called into such positions, thinking of the members of my ward, it would also create a burden. When there are children and grandchildren of any age involved, and both husband and wife working in most cases, the dynamics would become complicated and unwieldy.

    Next, I agree with Nathaniel’s concern that this would limit necessary information flow within the ward.

    Third, I agree with Ardis that it would further marginalize single women. Not good.

    I realize that people are trying to come up with creative ways to deal with the problem being discussed, but couple callings is not it.

    (With very limited exceptions, such as temple president and matron as SteveF mentions, and in our stake, there are older couples with no children in the home who serve together as addiction support group counselors, and it seems to work, but that calling has very specific and limited duties.)

  96. David on June 3, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Nathaniel:

    I like the article. Maybe the solution starts with historical accuracy. Without all the facts in front of us, how can we possibly make good choices? The priesthood ban was clear error and it took outside forces (Stanford refusing to play BYU, etc.) to force a remedy. So, where else is it wrong? I know the Church is belatedly coming to the realization that non-disclosure doesn’t work in the long run, however, it still believes it necessary to edit the Joseph Smith Papers and is taking an incredible amount of time doing it. Why?

  97. Jared vdH on June 3, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    David,

    From your comment, I am inferring that you believe that the Church History Department is dragging its feet on the Joseph Smith Papers project. Please let me know if I am misinterpreting you.

    I will have to respectfully disagree. Having worked on academic projects in the past, I believe the amount of time it’s taking them is due to the size of the task. They have to assemble to relevant artifacts, determine the artifact’s authenticity and provenance, digitally image them in such a way that does not damage them, and then transcribe them so they can be read by someone who isn’t an expert in 19th century handwriting and grammar. All of these steps have to be verified along the way to document their accuracy.

    Editing isn’t censorship, it’s good academic practice to ensure accuracy.

  98. Martin James on June 3, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Dave K,

    So which handbook are you referring to? I don’t see discouragement at all, what am I missing?

    “When considering members who might serve in the Primary, the bishopric and the Primary presidency should remember the positive influence of worthy men in the ward. Children, especially those who do not have worthy priesthood holders in their homes, need to see examples of righteous, caring priesthood holders. Men may serve as teachers, music leaders, pianists, activity days leaders, and Scout leaders. They may also assist in the nursery.

    When men are assigned to teach children, at least two responsible adults should be present at all times. The two adults could be two men, a husband and wife, or two members of the same family. In small branches, if it is not practical to have two teachers in a classroom, a member of the Primary presidency frequently visits and monitors each class that a man teaches alone.”

  99. Kristine A on June 3, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    I have a male friend who served as nursery leader in Iowa with 3 other men from elder’s quorum. It was their favorite calling. The only gender limitation in primary is on the presidency, which I see no reasonable justification for. I had so many kids without fathers in the home or without priesthood holders in the home and it was like pulling teeth to get my bishopric to let me call a man in there. They need as many good male examples as they can get!

  100. DQ on June 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    I think we also have a perfectly good analogy, also given in scripture that we can apply. The iron rod, the mists of darkness, and the many strange paths.

    I think this iron rod analogy, when compared with the fence analogy, really maximizes human agency. The fence analogy built without holes would imply once you’re in you’re pretty contained (although presumably you can check out at the gate). But the iron rod really makes it clear that it’s a daily thing you can hold on to and if you go away there’s a pretty strong chance you’ll be lost.

    When this analogy is considered along with the supposed holes in the fence, it becomes pretty clear what’s happened to the people who are often self-described non-Iron rodders doesn’t it?

    Isn’t it pretty plainly the case that virtually everyone that has distanced themselves from the church, or is active but opposed to XYZ teaching or practice of the authorities is self-describably not one of those so called “iron rodders”?

    I’ll hasten to add that one interesting aspect of the iron rod and the tree of life is that there are multiple ways to get to the tree (Lehi by direct revelation, Nephi, Sam, Sariah through following the family patriarch’s voice).

  101. Martin James on June 3, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    DQ,

    You’re excluding fundamentalist mormons I guess? Give it time DQ, give it time.

    Since there are more lambs outside the fence, maybe what is needed are bigger holes for lambs to come in through.

  102. Chris Henrichsen on June 3, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    See, those people are all just like Laman and Lemuel. They are apostates and whiners. I love how we read the Book of Mormon and see ourselves as Nephi and Sam. We are all Laman and Lemuel. Pride saves us from seeing ourselves that way. We need to be saved from pride rather than having pride blind us from our fallen state.

  103. Dq on June 3, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Chris, there are plenty of people in the vision not like laman and lemuel, plenty not like Nephi etc. I realize I touched a nerve by pointing it out, but it’s pretty clear the fence analogy, to be properly understood also should consider the iron rod. The fence isn’t a strainer we are pressed though against our will. There are perfectly good ways not to wanted away from the rod and get stuck in or lost outside the fence.

    Martin, I have no idea what you’re referring to about fundamentalist Mormons? Are you talking about the flds? I’m talking about staying close to both the scriptures, the teaching of the brethren and the spirit. Some claim they can hold to the rod by following 2 of the 3, I claim you need all three. If you feel you’re doing that no need to disagree.

  104. Dq on June 3, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    Btw Chris, it’s a shallow reading to suggest were all Nephi. As I pointed out he arrived by following the voice of his father. Laman and lemuel rejected that voice. The rod was for the rest of us it seems.

  105. Martin James on June 3, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    DQ,

    There is a pretty darn good case that the 3 are contradictory.

    To be worldly is to only love one’s friends. To hold fast to the word of God is to love one’s neighbor. The Iron rodders are the ones holding fast to love of neighbor and of enemy.

  106. DQ on June 3, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    Ask President Monson if he feels that scripture, inspiration from the Holy Ghost, and the voice of the modern day prophets are contradictory.

    Now, I think you can make a petty case by isolating individual pieces, but one thing is for sure that I have never heard or read a church authority tell me not to trust in the combination of scripture, revelation, and prophetic teaching. You are telling me they are are (often or sometimes?) contradictory.

    I ask, why should I listen to you, rather than my own judgement, which also concurs with the Lord’s authorized servants?

  107. rameumptom on June 4, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Martin James wrote: Since there are more lambs outside the fence, maybe what is needed are bigger holes for lambs to come in through.

    I suppose we could. Of course, others would insist we just make a bigger fence that includes all, or better, just knock down the fence entirely and let everyone be saved on the “free roaming” plan.

    As for the Tree of Life, it is an analogy that is useful, if used properly. While fences are designed to forcibly keep sheep in and wolves out, the ToL meme shows that it is a personal choice: whether one will seek the ToL or wander off into mists of darkness (of their own choosing). J Golden Kimball used to say that he had a hard time staying on the straight and narrow path, but he crossed it as often as he could. Not sure how that fits the analogy….

    That people all struggle with different points of the gospel: WoW, chastity, pride, priesthood, history, honesty, gambling, level of activity, etc., should we not just see all of these as potential points where we must choose to still hold onto the iron rod or risk being lost in the mists (or worse, find ourselves mocking from the giant spacious building)?

  108. rameumptom on June 4, 2014 at 7:50 am

    Martin James wrote: To be worldly is to only love one’s friends. To hold fast to the word of God is to love one’s neighbor. The Iron rodders are the ones holding fast to love of neighbor and of enemy.

    That is one interpretation of how it might work, but it is not what the Vision tells us. Yet, the scriptures (of which the ToL is a portion), do not specifically note what you say. It states that the rod of iron is the word of God. Word of God comes to us by scriptures, prophets and the Holy Ghost. Loving others is a manifestation of our following God, but is not necessarily the same as holding onto the iron rod. I’m sure there are many in the great and spacious building who believe they also love neighbor and enemy, and their mocking is only their loving method to help the partakers of the ToL to see the error of their ways.

    Meanwhile, love comes to those who are partakers of the tree. It is a gift that is given to the person from God, and it is a gift that Lehi wanted to share with his family. However, it still necessitates walking along the path and holding to the iron rod for most of us just to obtain the Tree.

  109. Martin James on June 4, 2014 at 9:57 am

    ” I’m sure there are many in the great and spacious building who believe they also love neighbor and enemy”

    That may be the most optimistic thing I’ve ever heard.

    So Rameumpton, since you are on a roll here, how many letters are in the Word of God?

  110. Martin James on June 4, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Rameumpton,

    it may sound like I’m mocking but I’m actually really, truly very confused as to what “holding to the iron rod” “word of God” and “follow the path” mean for today’s actions.

    Here are two examples. When I was younger in the 1970’s I had no doubt that holding to the iron rod meant to be against communism and supporting individual agency and opposing the ERA.

    But I have no idea what the the Word of God has to say about feminism or privacy.

    Is feminism inspired to promote justice for women or is it not?

    Is the reduction in privacy by the government of God and for our good or is it not?

    I can relate to most interpretations of people bu they all seem to me to be taking principles or parables, combined with historical concrete applications and applying them to future situations.

    It is my belief that this type of reasoning by analogy is impossible. The correct principles that we have do not lead us to practical “pathwalking” or “iron rod holding”.

    Why are church leaders taking such a hedged position on ordaining women? Why does it seem to be a muddling through of a changing role for women rather than clear pronouncements about the future?

    The actual words from the brethren seem much less “iron rod like” than the people who are saying hold tight to what the brethren are saying.

    The message seems to be “hold tight while we muddle through”.

    I’m perfectly happy with holding tight while muddling through but I’m just confused by people who don’t see that the way forward is not clear to anyone be they leaders or followers or apostates or saints.

    It doesn’t seem to me that the iron rod or the path goes backward and so holding fast to the past or tradition about what the word of God used to mean is really, truly holding fast to the iron rod.

  111. rameumptom on June 4, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Martin,

    There are no perfect answers, even from prophets. As with Paul, we “see through a glass darkly”, only getting basic glimpses of things.

    What I do understand is that the answers to the rod of iron and the word of God are contained within the pages of the Book of Mormon. There is no feminism, no black, no white, no male, no female, no free nor slave, but “all are alike unto God.”

    The gospel does not focus on mortal issues (with the exception of commanding us to feed the poor and comfort the sick), although prophets often have to deal with them, as well as us.

    The key message is a spiritual one. No one in this life literally holds onto a rod of iron. No one literally walks to a tree of life, or enters into a great spacious building that floats in the air.

    Feminism can be a good thing, though it is not a part of the gospel, simply because the requirement is for all of us to 1. believe in Christ, 2. repent, 3. receive the ordinances, 4. receive the Holy Ghost, 5. endure/serve to the end. This is known as the “doctrine of Christ” (2 Ne 31-33, 3 Ne 11).

    If we were to all focus on this pattern, there would be no poor. There would be no need for activists pushing feminist, political, or any other agendas.

    The mists of darkness are a distraction tactic that causes us to become lost in our journey towards the Tree of Life. My personal belief that these distractions can include some forms of feminism, politics, entertainment, sports, hobbies, careers, or anything else that causes us to deviate from the path. Yes, even GAs can sometimes drift into politics or other issues, as well.

  112. Raymond Takashi Swenson on June 4, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    If someone is perturbed that the pre-digested versions of LDS history they got in Sunday School or even Seminary were incomplete, the question then becomes, are you really interested in finding out a more complete and accurate picture of that history, or are you punishing the Church because it didn’t hand feed you what you now think is the truth? Anyone who is willing to put a normal amount of effort into study can find tons of information about LDS history and the development of doctrines, as well as answers to questions about the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price or LDS polygamy during the 19th. Anyone who falls out of the Church before he or she has put any intellectual effort of their own into educating themselves from legitimate sources is being judgmental of the Church and of their fellow Latter-day Saints in a way they would complain about if it were other Church members judging them. You are responsible for your own education in the gospel. As Alma 32 teaches, the reward of knowledge comes only if we invest the effort required to fertilize and water our testimonies.

    At the same time, leaders in our wards and youth programs and seminaries could do with more awareness of the issue, and educate themselves in how to help youth get answers to their religious questions. The official curricula of the Church are positive as far as they go, but often do not describe criticisms and so cannot prospectively protect our youth and young adults from being misled. There is no systematic program for educating leaders and teachers in how to deal with difficult questions, even to knowing where answers can be found.

    Perhaps one approach would be to call a ward specialist who acts as a resource for helping members to find answers from faithful sources.

  113. frank on June 5, 2014 at 12:44 am

    Raymond: I don’t think the members are at fault for being mislead by the sugar-coated history the Church spews. You cannot blame the victim for his cancer in this case. The Church controls the curriculum, writes the manuals, and has threatened ex-communication in the past to anyone who speaks out of turn. So, claiming that the members are at fault if they don’t understand a history that was hidden and still is being hidden is unfair at best.

  114. Ardis on June 5, 2014 at 8:35 am

    a history that was hidden and still is being hidden

    How deep in mud do you have to bury your head to be able to write this with a straight face?

  115. Martin James on June 5, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Ardis,

    Are not expenditures both history and hidden?

  116. rah on June 6, 2014 at 5:00 am

    Rameumptom,

    There is no race in the Book of Mormon? No class? And the teaching that “all are alike unto God” is not a statement that relates in any way to racism, sexism, feminism? We read that book very, very differently I guess.

  117. rah on June 6, 2014 at 5:10 am

    Ardis,

    We have made great strides recently in opening up our history and the Church is being more candid about it. I agree with your sentiment that Frank is way overstating the case but at this point I think we can sympathize a bit with those that feel a sense of betrayal over the consequences (intended or not) of correlation and some decisions in how history has been handled. Some of what he says is of course rooted in reality. Members of the 12 did try and discipline Lester Bush for his historical article on race and had to be stopped by other Quorum members. Arrington, Bennion and crowd were marginalized and disciplined (if informally) for many of their history related efforts. And we did excommunicate people for what has turned out to be if not perfect history, honest history given the methods and sources of the time. Also, I will say that the church probably will have to put up with some of the hidden history critiques until they do things like release the full Clayton diary. We are however apparently getting the Council of 50 minutes! That is exciting. I think we are better owning up to these institutional failings when confronted by people who have been hurt by them. Not everyone is the skilled scholar you are nor can we expect most members to be.