Sustained Criticism

June 4, 2014 | 80 comments
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This is a summary of the message (in my own words) that I’ve been hearing at church (and in some social media circles) for the last few months, in sacrament meeting, inspiring newsletter messages, Sunday School comments, and Relief Society and Young Women lessons:

While it is possible that some Church leaders in the past may have been fallible, it falls to us now to follow our current Church leaders unfailingly. After all, we don’t want to be like some of those women in the news that are protesting against the Prophet. Anytime a person disagreed with a leader in the past, even about something small, they had to repent, because it is wrong to criticize our leaders.

First: to offer criticism and to criticize are two different things. One can be very helpful, pointing out unseen flaws or deficiencies so that corrections may be made and all can be edified. Don’t forget that with all that talk of motes and beams, we all have something in our eyes. We can and should help each other out, and graciously accept the help that others offer us. But inasmuch as being critical is just cover for insults or insubordination, it is in no way helpful or productive. If we all strive to be generous and charitable, we’ll only have the first and not the second.

Second: While we have an obligation to sustain our leaders, they have a matching obligation to serve us. Open and honest communication is imperative if this system of support and service is to be sustainable. Our leaders need us to communicate with them our cares and concerns so they can do their work effectively. But if voicing a concern is conflated with criticism, then few people will be willing to speak, to the detriment of us all.

Third: External forces act to throw off this sustainable balance. These forces include shifting cultural norms and social pressures. We all need to adjust to these forces in order for the system to remain sustainable. It can be hard when it seems that the ground is shifting beneath our feet, but if we hold to the Rock that is our foundation, to the very fundamental principles of the Gospel, we will be fine. The tricky part is recognizing what is that solid foundation, and what are the sandcastles that we and our forebearers have built up on top of it.

In all these lessons I’ve had on sustaining our church leaders, I find myself coming back to this word, sustain. To uphold or carry. To bear or suffer. I should hope that we are supporting our leaders more than we are suffering under them.

One illustrative story was the widow sustaining Elijah. He was able to carry on because her substance became his sustenance.

Sustain. Sustenance. Sustainable.

It’s what we do, what we need, how it all needs to be.

 

80 Responses to Sustained Criticism

  1. theoldadam on June 4, 2014 at 8:14 am

    In our tradition, we don’t follow church leaders “unfailingly”. For we know that they are sinners.

    We follow Christ and His Word. Faithfully.

    The law to expose and convict us…and the gospel to forgive us and set us free.

    Over and over and over again. All throughout our lives.

  2. Rachel Whipple on June 4, 2014 at 8:17 am

    theoldadam, I agree that what’s we should be doing, but that’s not the message I’ve been hearing. I may have a problem with my ears. :)

  3. Dq on June 4, 2014 at 8:28 am

    I think that it’s important to recognize what our stewardship is as well. If you’re the RS pres, bishop etc and have an issue with some aspect of the organization that you can or feel should be changed its worth looking into making a change in your area (that’s possible… Such as calling YW to assist in visiting teaching, but not insist the church ordain them).

    The real is is we all make personal covenants. The purpose of the church is to help us make and keep our covenants (keeping our covenants puts us on the path of discipleship that necessarily includes all kinds of charitable and virtuous behavior) . The purpose of the church is not to form a more perfect church through the nature of us pointing out various flaws and then expecting improvement while those very flaws that prevent true discipleship remain in us. If you want the organization to be perfect, be year therefore even as your father in heaven is perfect.

    Here is the dichotomy we can choose from: the church’s faults (real or perceived) are preventing me from becoming a true disciple of Christ OR my choices and use of agency is preventing me from becoming a disciple of Christ.

    Cleans the inner vessel. I’m not saying critics are a bunch of evil sinners. But the focus and energy is entirely misplaced at best and may very well be counter productive because so much energy is spent on trying to change an organization who’s purpose is to be the vehicle for you to make covenants and become like Christ. The church through ordinances unlocks to door but it’s still up to us to walk through and climb the stairs.

  4. Jax on June 4, 2014 at 9:07 am

    theoldadam,

    I entirely disagree with you in that we do NOT know that they are sinners. We know they have not lived perfect lives because only one man has done that. But that only means that they sinned at least once during their lives. It is a vicious untruth that people believe that since we’re aren’t perfect we must therefor be sinning constantly. Not true!!! A theoretical person who only sins once in their life would be “not perfect,” but would also not accurately be defined as a sinner IMO. That term seems best applied to someone currently/routinely/knowingly/happily engaged in sin. I don’t believe the Apostles fit into that category.

    The whole purpose and stated objective of the atonement and gospel is to help us overcome our sins, which we CAN do. We can repent and overcome. His grace is sufficient to help us overcome our weaknesses. Just because a person has sinned in the past does not make it guaranteed that they will sin in the future. It is possible to go a entire day without sin. And then a second day in a row. Then a week. Then the rest of your life. We do ourselves and our fellowmen a great disservice if we look at them all as if they are in the depths of sin. Even though it will be true for most, there will be those for whom it is not true. Even if we do it for no one else, can’t we at least give the Apostles of the Lord the benefit of the doubt?

    I am traveling across state lines today, so I won’t be available to carry on a conversation on this. if you respond and I don’t, please don’t assume it is because I can’t/don’t want to continue supporting this position.

  5. Rachel Whipple on June 4, 2014 at 9:19 am

    I’d like to think that I’m wading in the shallows of sin, headed for that perfect shore, but sometimes I get smacked down by a wave or caught in the undertow.

  6. Martin James on June 4, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Ol’Adam and DQ,

    The issue is that “Follow Christ and his Word” and “make covenants” and “become disciples of Christ” bear enormously different interpretations.

    This issue is that there is a significant group of people for whom “bear witness of Christ” means to restructure relations among the sexes. To these people, the way women have been and are treated is completely inconsistent with Christ’s teachings. What kind of disciples would they be to not act aggressively on what is obviously being told to them by the spirit?

    I don’t hold out much hope for balance. It seems like a war over the meaning of love to me and all’s fair in love and war. When you put both together…I hesitate to speculate.

    One the other side, the spirit is obviously telling many people that love and discipleship means to be submissive and obedient and that families can’t exist without differential roles.

    The conclusion I come to is that the spirit wants us to be at war. We are basically revisiting the garden of Eden where we are under conflicting demands.

    How exciting!

  7. stephenchardy on June 4, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Dq: Anyone who has felt uncomfortable about the direction the church is going in terms of one policy or doctrine or another may experience a sense of futility. Your last paragraph uses phrases such as “entirely misplaced” and “counterproductive” This sense of futility can eventually lead to resolution. However if a large organization fails to have some vehicle for complaints, some way to be heard, then the resolution of the dissonance may come in the form of withdrawal from the church. Even if the church is well-intentioned. Our leaders need to listen to all of the complaints, and they must be aware that inspiration from God may come to them from odd places. The story of Balaam and the donkey teaches me that God speaks to leaders and followers alike, using any venue He (not us) sees fit.

  8. Kent Larsen on June 4, 2014 at 9:27 am

    The wise leaders I know are all begging for feedback, even if it embarrasses them.

  9. Dave K on June 4, 2014 at 9:52 am

    These are good thoughts Rachel. Thank you. I’ve been wondering lately whether there is a place in the church for “cafeteria sustainers” (for lack of a better word). All members pick and choose which teachings they will prioritize. But is it possible for member to pick and choose which teachings they will sustain – to say in essence “I sustain the prophet as the holding all priesthood keys, and I support most of his teachings, but I do not support everything he teaches?” Is sustaining an all-or-nothing proposition?

    Regarding criticism, I recommend the approach explained by Armand Mauss in his April 22, 2014 Q/A on Times and Seasons. Mauss was asked how he managed to stay in the church even though he was a critic of some teachings, while other members of his generation were pushed out of the church. Part of Brother Mauss’ response was this:

    “One thing that kept me out of trouble was that I never publicly criticized the actual policy of withholding the priesthood from “Negroes,” as they were then generally called. Instead I focused (and always remained focused even to the present) on the doctrinal folklore used to justify the discriminatory policy. Naturally I had my doubts about the origin of the policy itself, but I knew that it was embraced in a 1949 letter from the First Presidency, which made it “legitimate” as Church policy, even if it was wrong.”

    I think that is key. Wherever possible, direct criticism at arguments and justifications rather than at the church or leaders themselves. A good example of this is found in Julie M. Smith’s May 29, 2014 post “A (Partial) Response to Brother Otterson,” in which she critiques Otterson’s justification for the gender priesthood restriction but does not personalize the critique or even say she favors female ordination.

  10. Steve Smith on June 4, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Thanks for the post, Rachel. Great observations.

    Two words (especially for Dq): Lowry Nelson – http://mormonstories.org/other/Lowry_Nelson_1st_Presidency_Exchange.pdf

    Almost all active LDS in the Mormon corridor agree with Lowry Nelson in his views on interracial marriage. Almost no one agrees with George Albert Smith’s view of interracial marriage as “repugnant.”

  11. DQ on June 4, 2014 at 10:03 am

    I think the paint and confusion comes from the fact that people approach the church using a modern stakeholder, political perspective. The church is viewed as “we the people” like any other kind of organization composed of voluntary members that have vested interest, indeed even an obligation to chart the course of the organization.

    On one side of the coin, that viewpoint is correct (to a certain extent) that through our actions, input, feedback, etc. we can influence what kind of organization the church is.

    But on the other side of the coin, it’s also misplaced to the extent that influencing and changing the organization becomes the goal. As I said before, the goal of the organization is not a more perfect organization.

    To veer to the edge of the political/religious side of the spectrum, this is exactly why so many previous Apostles said socialism and the law of consecration can’t work. Socialism presumes the people own the means of production and is focused on material gain. The law of consecration says the Lord owns the earth and it’s up to us to submit and consecrate whatever we have back to him (which can’t very well happen if the society at large is also laying claim to it). Notice I said nothing about the many issues of capitalism, so let’s not go into a battle about which is better in the meantime.

    That same underlying principle applies to the church. It’s the Lord’s church, not societies church, not the members church. The Lord organizes the church, gives us stewardships in which to act, grow, screw up, lean, teach, serve etc. He gives us covenants that not only act as a constant reminder to us, but empower us when we channel our agency in the right direct and most importantly contain eternal promises that God will deliver on.

    Sure you know all of this, but by reason for pointing it out is that I don’t see where our focus should be on evolving the church in a political way beyond the bounds of our stewardship.

  12. Martin James on June 4, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Steve,

    Wow, you can still smell the powder on those smoking guns.

  13. Martin James on June 4, 2014 at 10:17 am

    DQ,

    Not at all, the confusion comes from people thinking that what prophets say to day will hold very far in the future. I mean that’s what we usually mean by a prophecy, right?

    But who was more prophetic about what the Lord wanted to do with his church in 2014, Lowry Nelson or the brethren of 1947?

  14. DQ on June 4, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Martin,
    That’s a false choice. You seemed to be suggesting that if Nelson organized, for instance, like OW the course of the church would have changed.

    Nelson sent a letter, his letter was answered. Right or wrong, nuances and specifics can be argued and rejected.

    But you seem to be keen on looking at issues from the past and using them as the foundational basis for some notion of righteous dissent in the present. But the conclusio is not so clear.

    Who’s to say that I can’t point to the same letter (as well as others) and now organize and insist that I shouldn’t listen to the Prophets regarding plural marriage, group marriage, or child sacrifice a la Abraham?

    The “who” that has the “say” is the Prophet and the Brethren, under my construct. Under yours it’s not really a house of order, but one of endless dissent based on historical precedent.

  15. Samuel Ray Oman on June 4, 2014 at 11:11 am

    the idea of self government and listening to the promptings of our own GOD is sustaining the leadership. even if that means taking a different path. how sad it would be is our own children followed us, rather than finding their own, independent course of action. go figure who you follow next time you say a pledge of allegiance to the flag and to the republic etc.

  16. Jonathan Cavender on June 4, 2014 at 11:12 am

    “While it is possible that some Church leaders in the past may have been fallible, it falls to us now to follow our current Church leaders unfailingly. After all, we don’t want to be like some of those women in the news that are protesting against the Prophet. Anytime a person disagreed with a leader in the past, even about something small, they had to repent, because it is wrong to criticize our leaders.”

    There are two flaws in this. First, there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with a leader. Joseph Smith was clear (and the Book of Mormon repeats this) that every man and women have right to their own beliefs. However to publicly criticize a leader, or fail to follow their direction, is a much bigger issue. Second, and this is very important, the motivation for putting forward this argument is not to avoid being like ‘some of those women in the news.’

    Sad experience has shown a cycle of apostasy time after time. It begins with a disagreement with the Brethren. Sometimes things are handled appropriately, and the disagreement is done through correct channels. Things are resolved, or matters continue to be discussed. But then sometimes it continues into public criticism. Once it reaches that point, it seems to follow a predictable pattern. Pride becomes involved. Apostasy results. I have seen this pattern happen at least three times in my lifetime. Once you take the position, as Sonia Johnson did, that the Church is true but the Prophet is wrong on this or that issue, it is only too common to see people follow Sonia Johnson’s road right out of the Church.

    In contrast, name the last person who left the Church for following the Brethren’s counsel too closely. The problem with the Pharisees wasn’t their strict obedience, but rather their selective and external strict obedience. If a person is fully committed to following all the Brethren’s counsel, they don’t fall away. It doesn’t happen — whether you agree or disagree with the Brethren, there is safe harbor in following them. If they are wrong on a particular issue, the Lord will correct them in His time and by following them you will likewise be corrected and we may all rejoice in the further things the Lord has seen fit to reveal. In a world with so much confusion, so much mist and darkness, and so many people getting lost so easily, we abandon that safe harbor at our peril.

  17. Martin James on June 4, 2014 at 11:29 am

    DQ,

    I’m just saying that the house of order does a good deal of reordering and people don’t always keep up.

    The racial ordering of the house of God in 1947 is not the order anymore.

    You wrote “Who’s to say that I can’t point to the same letter (as well as others) and now organize and insist that I shouldn’t listen to the Prophets regarding plural marriage, group marriage, or child sacrifice a la Abraham?”

    Well, which prophets are we talking about? The one’s for polygamy or the one’s against it?

    What are the brethren’s words about Ordain Women? I can’t tell very well except that they are dear sisters and not invited to Priesthood meeting at temple square.

    But since some are apparently members in good standing with temple recommends, doesn;’t that mean that the brethren must feel that they are sustaining their leaders?

  18. Martin James on June 4, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Steve Smith,

    I don’t always see things the way you do, but thank you so much for posting those letters from Lowry Nelson. I don’t know or care much about church history and have never heard of him, but when I read his letters, I thought “that guy is a saint and a prophet.”

    I went and said a prayer and asked that wherever Lowry Nelson goes in the hereafter, please, please let me go with him.

  19. Samo on June 4, 2014 at 11:38 am

    I couldn’t agree more with this post! To be fair, I sense that the impulse for a no-criticism approach to church leadership comes from a real place of faith, love, and gratitude to both the leaders and to God. I think that should be recognized and validated. Still, I don’t think faith and gratitude necessarily preclude criticism of the institution. Sincere criticism can be a mature response that demonstrates love, faith, trust, and fidelity.

    To my great disappointment I often sense that those who raise questions or concerns with the institutional church are demonized. The Ordain Women movement has been characterized as a “near apostate group” that “insists” the Church meets its “non-negotiable demands.” As I’ve watched since the inception of the movement I can only conclude that this is a disingenuous (maybe uninformed?) mischaracterization. It’s dismissive and self-righteousness and divisive. To ask, even through public demonstration, that an all-male church leadership prayerfully consider a change in policy/doctrine regarding women is an astounding deference to authority, not an opposition to it. I feel it’s asked in earnest and to not respond in earnest feels antithetical to what Mormonism teaches.

    We often think of “bearing one another’s burdens” narrowly as a command to support one who suffers an unexpected trial. But with a gospel and church that casts a net so large that it includes all humans throughout history, this will inevitably include the burden of our differences. Regarding church leadership, I think this command requires that church leaders bear the burden of members’ views and experience and that alternatively the general membership of the church bear with patience the response and decisions of church leaders (including their fallibility). If we take seriously the command to “counsel with the Lord” I think we have to concede this includes sharing our views and desires with him and his institutional leaders and participating in a dialogue that will inevitably yield changes and progress. It’s not counsel if we don’t give voice to our views.

  20. Jonathan Cavender on June 4, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    “The Ordain Women movement has been characterized as a “near apostate group” that “insists” the Church meets its “non-negotiable demands.” ”

    Kate Kelly has been quoted as saying that “nothing else will do” other than ordination. Understanding both that (1) Kate Kelly is not OW; and (2) there are other interpretations of what she is saying, I don’t think you can take the position that anyone claiming that OW has insisted on non-negotiable demands in either uniformed or disingenuous. I have heard other explanations for what Kelly said, but in the end I too believe that she was expressing an insistence on a non-negotiable demand.

    Again, that is a smaller part of a broader picture, but it is not the unreasonable position some make it out to be. There is evidentiary backing for the statement that OW insists on Priesthood ordination as a non-negotiable demand.

  21. Martin James on June 4, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Jonathan,

    It seems interesting to me that the church, so far, has been very careful not to say OW or its members are an apostate group.

    Why?

  22. Jonathan Cavender on June 4, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    I don’t know, but I imagine it is probably because they are not an apostate group. If you recall from history, the Church only took steps against Sonia Johnson when she took the position that people should stop talking to the missionaries until the Church abandoned their opposition to the ERA. But Sonia Johnson didn’t start there — she started with the Church is true but the Prophet is wrong on the ERA. The issue, to me, is where that approach to the Church can lead.

  23. DavidH on June 4, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    And so the debate continues, and proves that good Mormons admit that their leaders are fallible, but good Mormons are not supposed to really believe they are fallible. Good Mormons don’t espouse “blind obedience” but “faith obedience” (obeying without seeing). The problem with this belief is that good Mormons today can see that the First Presidency in 1949 were flatly wrong about the Church’s race based policy. If the First Presidency could be wrong about such a significant thing before, how can it be said that they cannot be wrong about something else today? That doesn’t mean that things espoused by Church leaders should be ignored; in fact they should be studied and considered and prayed over and accepted as much as the Spirit of the Lord permits us to. But if the Spirit of the Lord gives us a different answer than that taught by Church leaders (as apparently it did to Dr. Nelson, who remained in the Church though he disagreed with its policy), that does not mean that we are necessarily wrong in our understanding of the Spirit. And if the Spirit of the Lord directs someone to write a letter (as it may have done for Dr. Nelson), who am I to question his writing that letter? Or to form a group called Ordain Women (which advocates remaining in the Church but urging that leaders and members pray about the issue). And yes, many people (including some of my friends and loved ones) left the Church in the 1960s and early 1970s never to return, because they did not believe that the race based policy of the Church could possibly have come from God: that is, they believed that if the Church was wrong on that issue, it meant the Church must be all wrong for them. But there were many who accepted that the Church leaders were wrong about the policy, and who stayed anyway, in hopes that with time and the Spirit those errors would be corrected. And I am glad I stayed, and I am glad Dr. Mauss stayed, and many others. I may be wrong in thinking that our current policies about the functions of women and the place of LGBT members are not quite right, and I may be wrong in thinking that some major changes should be made to coincide more closely with God’s purposes. But I plan to stay in the Church, and watch God’s hand in making what I think are adjustments that are right and true and good. As my daughter, who may be the most devout person in our family, told me, her cognitive dissonance with the Church resolved itself when she realized that the Church as an institution need not be perfect to be “true” and worth belonging to..

  24. Samo on June 4, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Jonathan,

    Sure, I grant that Kate Kelly’s statement that “nothing else will do” beyond female ordination is easily interpreted as non-negotiable. From the OW mission statement:

    “The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality: God is male and female, father and mother, and all of us can progress to be like them someday. Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process. Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.”

    That too sounds non-negotiable. But both of those are decontextualized from the group’s overt deference to the prophet as definitive voice regarding a change on this issue. Maybe I’m being overly generous, but to end their mission statement with “We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer” seems to recognize that the change must take place outside of any negotiation between OW and church leadership. To me, their full position includes not only the exigency of female ordination but also the recognition that doctrine and policy is only defined by one prophetic source. I said a characterization of OW as “making non-negotiable demands” seems disingenuous because it fails to acknowledge the entirety of their position.

    More broadly, and to the original point of the post, I think it’s a mistake to demonize criticism of the institutional church. Not that the church should engage all criticism, but we should be courageous enough to recognize that criticism from within our membership is generally made in earnest.

  25. Dave on June 4, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    When is criticism within the Church welcome? Officially, never. Practically, when it is positive (aimed at improving things) and directed at things and programs, not people. “The manuals are boring and uninformative — they need to be upgraded” works. “The bishop is boring and ineffective — he needs to be replaced” doesn’t.

    It would be nice if the Church provided some avenues for positive criticism and feedback. A stake suggestion box. An email submission box at LDS.org. The idea that this is the Lord’s Church, take it or leave it, just doesn’t match the historical record, which shows that many LDS programs and initiatives derive from innovative local programs that get taken up by the Church as a whole. But Correlation has squashed most local initiative out of the system. An increasingly detailed Handbook has removed most discretion from local leaders. The Church is sort of stuck in a mid-20th century rut institutionally. It’s no wonder we’re losing Millennials. We really need to shake things up a bit. All is not well in Zion.

  26. Kristine A on June 4, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    This is a really great post and discussion, esp the Lowry Nelson letter – I loved that. I met with my bishop last night over my moderate mormon feminist questions, just as Bro Otterson requested. One thing he did tell me is that if we ever see any injustice we are morally obligated to raise our voice and speak up; even in the Church because it would be impossible to think that pride and sin or the world could ever not creep into how we do things. He’s a good man, my bishop, and he’s no where near a feminist.

  27. Owen on June 4, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Steve, another thanks for posting Lowry’s correspondence. I find it strangely faith-promoting.

  28. wreddyornot on June 4, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks for this posting, the linked resources (Steve Smith), and the discussion.

    Anyone observant and faithful knows that the nature of creation entails an unfolding. That applies to the gospel and to earthly manifestations. We see through a glass darkly. As this gradual process progresses, what once was changes into a different and usually a more complex or better form. We can, as the OP says, contribute to this unfolding by being both a critic and a communicator. Furthermore, we do so by keeping the commandment to love one another. It is ironic but I think that we gain stability as we recognize that the nature of an unfolding means things are not stable and are going to change.

  29. DQ on June 4, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    DavidH,
    Arguing about the fallibility of the leaders is really besides the point for me. That’s entirely what I’m trying to get at. We have obligations, responsibilities, areas for growth, areas we can help and serve others.

    Work within what you have rather than seeking to point out all the faults in others.

  30. EFF on June 4, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Dave, the example you gave (criticizing manuals vs. criticizing a bishop) illustrates a principle I always try to live by: there is no idea, proposal or policy that should ever be shielded from review and constructive criticism; by contrast, there is no excuse for making ad hominem attacks on church leaders. “Speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed” does not mean that we cannot, in a spirit of humility, question the words of our leaders, though sadly, as Rachel noted, that is not what we are hearing from the pulpit.

    This discussion reminds me of an episode in 19th Century British history involving British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston. In the 1840s, he became so exasperated with the Indian civil service officials who were constantly criticizing his South Asian policies that he said he would rather have second-rate obedient people than first-rate independent minds. But if the British Foreign Secretary had carefully considered the views and warnings of those “independent minds” when they urged him in 1839 not to proceed with an unprovoked invasion of Afghanistan, then perhaps 5,000 of Her Majesty’s soldiers and civilians would not have lost their lives three years later when the local population, as predicted, revolted against the British occupation.

  31. Joey on June 4, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    I wonder what impact Lowry Nelson’s letters (and possibly other similar letters to the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) actually had on the men involved. I recall, but can’t verify where I learned this, that Pres. McKay made inquires to the Quorum of the Twelve and even the Lord regarding priesthood ordination to all worthy males while he was the President of the Church.

    It was only 30 years after these letters, in 1978, that Pres. Kimball made that historic announcement regarding priesthood ordination after making the subject a topic of discussion and prayer and fasting. Then there is Elder McConkie’s statement that I love, “Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or George Q. Cannon or whoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.”

    Lowry Nelson had that light and knowledge that didn’t come to the presiding councils of the Church until later and the remarkable thing is that Lowry Nelson didn’t let that fester within him and cause him to choose paths that would lead to him losing his testimony of the Gospel. I assume that he had sleepless nights as he pondered the response from the First Presidency. I assume that he faced this as anyone faces a trial of their faith and possibly even cried to the Lord, “Where art thou?” I assume that he survived this trial of his faith, and perhaps even came away with a stronger testimony after the experience. I know that I have a stronger testimony after my own faith trials, after my own sleepless nights where I have asked the Lord that same question.

    Judging from the comments that have been made in this thread, as I don’t presume to actually know Lowry Nelson, I assume that Lowry Nelson kept his faith or in the least, his membership in the Church. I don’t know where he was when the 1978 announcement was made, but I imagine that Lowry Nelson, alive or dead, rejoiced exceedingly and thanked God for the answer to many prayers that he and other similarly minded people, who also had that light and knowledge, undoubtedly made.

    I find this to be very faith promoting and thank everyone for their posts.

  32. Rachel Whipple on June 4, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Steve, I have to add my thanks for the links to Lowry Nelson’s correspondence. That was far better than the OP, and I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone read them.

  33. palerobber on June 4, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    @ Martin James #21

    It seems interesting to me that the church, so far, has been very careful not to say OW or its members are an apostate group.

    the Church, via Otterson, has written that OW’s actions are “suggestive of apostasy.”

    do you take this weasely language as a show of restraint? because in my mind it seems clearly calculated to brand this group as apostate in the minds of LDS readers.

  34. Jax on June 4, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    “in my mind it seems clearly calculated to brand this group as apostate in the minds of LDS readers.”

    Maybe your wrong. But… if you are right and the church (PA office and by extension the Q12 and FP) wants me/you/us to think that way, shouldn’t we pay attention and give heed? That doesn’t mean we come out and condemn or shut them out, but keep in the back of our minds that the intentions of this group might not be wholesome and uplifting. That we should avoid giving them our wholehearted support, especially those of us who only know very little about the group, its leaders, and/or its motivation. Maybe we should be leary of jumping on board a boat when we don’t know their intended destination?

    That would be my takeaway if I thought the church was sending a calculated message.

  35. ji on June 4, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    When is criticism of a child welcome? Never. When is criticism of a spouse welcome? Never. Employee? Boss? Neighbor? Our call is to sustain and lift up, with respect and dignity.

  36. wreddyornot on June 4, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    Criticism welcome? Depends how you define criticism. To find fault with. Probably not too welcome. To judge the merits and faults of. Bring it on. This child of God welcomes criticism that notices merits and faults so I can learn and grow. I belong to a critiquing group that criticizes my writing. I need it and I welcome it. It helps me improve. As a spouse, I welcome feedback, good and bad. Same as an employee, a boss and a neighbor. Sustaining and lifting up are fine, in the appropriate context. They are not universals without other options and do not foreclose criticism when appropriate.

  37. Jax on June 4, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    Criticism has a negative connotation. So it is a tainted word to use. But the truth is that we only EVER improve when we are faced with negativity. It is only when you are told you are doing something wrong that you notice it (if you’d had known you would have fixed it). It is only by correcting a child that they learn to speak/act correctly. It is only by pointing out errors that manuscripts get corrected. Having a friend read a paper or book adds no improvement if they don’t point out it’s weaknesses or fallacies. Our skills/hobbies improve when people tell us how to do it better, not if they tell us we are doing it just fine! It is only by the presence of that negative that we can move in a positive direction.

    I don’t think that “They are doing it wrong” is a good way to put things to either a child or adult. Tact (which I often lack) is needed. I don’t approve of the OW approach, nor really do I find their goals appealing. But if it moves us in a positive direction, great. Some negativity only leads to negativity though; and if OW does that for the church then “suggestive of apostasy” is a befitting term. And if that is the term the church has used, either about their goals or objectives, then I think the average member (and maybe everyone) should be leery of them.

  38. Steve Smith on June 5, 2014 at 8:18 am

    “Criticism has a negative connotation. So it is a tainted word to use. But the truth is that we only EVER improve when we are faced with negativity. It is only when you are told you are doing something wrong that you notice it (if you’d had known you would have fixed it). It is only by correcting a child that they learn to speak/act correctly. It is only by pointing out errors that manuscripts get corrected. Having a friend read a paper or book adds no improvement if they don’t point out it’s weaknesses or fallacies. Our skills/hobbies improve when people tell us how to do it better, not if they tell us we are doing it just fine! It is only by the presence of that negative that we can move in a positive direction.”

    This piece of advice wouldn’t apply to the LDS church leaders? Isn’t this exactly what OW is doing? Simply making a plea for what they believe will improve the LDS church? Or are the LDS church leaders beyond any sort of critique or criticism? Given the fact that OW is a group of women who want women to be able to have leadership positions in the LDS church (and thus help contribute to its management and growth), it would appear that they are offering only constructive criticism. This is far, far different from the type of criticism put forward by ex-Mormons who accuse leaders of lying and deception. So labeling OW as an apostate group, thus placing them in a category of people who want nothing to do with the LDS church, seems to be an incorrect overreaction.

  39. Martin James on June 5, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Palerobber,

    I think the PR department is extremely weak sauce compared to bishops and stake leaders taking action through disfellowshiping and excommunication actions.

    I can’t tell if the church’s stand has changed or whether there is just a fear about the blowback from taking official action against feminists but it seems very different from the 1970’s and 1990’s and also from what happened to Denver Snuffer.

    Its a very, very different church to me than even 10 years ago.

    The rhetoric from the members that oppose OW seems much stronger than the statements from Priesthood church leaders.

    Why is that?

  40. Jax on June 5, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Steve,

    I don’t know enough about the OW group as a whole, about the individuals in it, nor about the real intentions of those people to say for sure whether or not they are “simply making a plea for what they believe will improve the LDS Church.” Do you know all of them well enough to say that for sure?

    I know that everyone says that many of the OW are active faithful saints. But that also means that OW has some non-member/excommunicated/disfellowshipped people in it as well. Do you know their motivations? Goals? Agenda? Do those people make up the leadership of OW? Are they the moving force behind it? Is there a good reason to align my goals and desires with the goals and desires of excommunicated people?

    In a world where I desperately want to do the right thing and follow the right path, who should I trust more to lead me: Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ; or people with less than faithful standing in the church I believe to be true? I’ve read several comments in blogs about this topic where people make insinuate that the Church has some nefarious plan to keep women subjugated to maintain the all-male hierarchy and that it should be self-evident that the TRUE church would ordain women. The insinuate that against the Apostles, but would have us believe OW mission statement is the only goal and we should take at face value that their goals are good and wholesome. Why should I doubt the inner-workings of the FP and Q12 but wholly trust the OW group??

    And they aren’t offering only “constructive criticism” are they? They made a demand about what organization they will accept within the church. That isn’t constructive at all. It is a my-way-or-the-highway type of approach. The only one who gets to take that stand is the Lord. It IS His way or the highway. And since OW seems to be on the wrong side of what His way has always been, there is no good reason for me to think they aren’t on the highway to apostasy, just as Bro. Otterson seems to have suggested.

  41. Martin James on June 5, 2014 at 10:51 am

    But is not God bound by justice?

  42. Jax on June 5, 2014 at 11:27 am

    What makes you think Ordaining Woman is required by justice??

  43. Martin James on June 5, 2014 at 11:59 am

    I don’t know if it is or not, but if it is then I think God would be bound by it.

    Basically, I don’t see the point of saying its God’s way or the highway, when the issue at hand is usually who decides what God’s way is.

    What I find very interesting are the people who think that the leaders decide bu that the leaders are wrong. Its kind of a cool dynamic. I mean normal people would think that if you think the leaders are wrong then they would find new leaders, right?

    But its the very submissiveness of the OW approach that is unusual. They are kind of like Socrates; willing to accept the punishment because they believe it is not their place to decide, but also not willing to give up conscience to not press the issue.

    Lambs to the slaughter have moral force and I think that is why I think the church is handling it very cautiously.

    I’m just a spectator to it, but I find it very dramatic and poignant.

  44. Jax on June 5, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    If it were a Justice issue, then He would have been unjust to not have them in the past, no?

    I think that weird dynamic is simply because so many of them KNOW that this is the true and restored church of Christ. They can’t just walk away knowing their salvation is at stake. They know they can’t legitimately start another one that follows the principles they want, so they want to force change in this one. They know it is true, but simply don’t like some of that truth – like the truth that homosexual acts are sinful or that women aren’t ordained to priesthood offices. They want to be part of the true church, but change the truths so that they are more comfortable in it.

  45. Steve Smith on June 5, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    “In a world where I desperately want to do the right thing and follow the right path, who should I trust more to lead me: Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ; or people with less than faithful standing in the church I believe to be true?”

    You forgot a third option, which is yourself and your own reasoning. No one knows your situation better than your own self. Doing and saying the right things should be taken on a case by case, issue by issue, act by act basis. No one person is right all of the time. All are liable to be in error or to take positions on issues that are not charitable, misguided, ineffective, etc. Hence, we should never just accept that whatever so and so says is right without filtering through our own individual frame of reasoning first. We may not always have the time or resources to evaluate what people say and there are times when it is befitting to say that something is probably right because that is what so and so said, and they have a good track record, or are an expert, or have done a lot of research and thinking. However, on a topic such as women and the priesthood, which everyone who has posted has made time to discuss, all should be able to cite reasons to back their positions. No one should be saying, “women should have the priesthood because OW says so,” or “women shouldn’t have the priesthood because the LDS church leaders say so.”

  46. Jonathan Cavender on June 5, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Steve:

    Why then have watchmen on the towers? Why then did the Lord create a Church? Why did He call Apostles and Prophets?

    It seems that there are a number of people (and I don’t place you in this group, because frankly I don’t know you) who do not like what the Lord is saying through His established leadership. Given the choice between humbling themselves and bending to the will of the Lord, or attacking the very concept of Priesthood leadership, they choose the latter. If a Priesthood leader in the past made a mistake, they feel justified arguing that any position that a Priesthood leader has is nothing more than their own opinion. I have seen the letter that you have been anxiously posting on many different threads, and what you don’t realize is that it says a great deal more about you than it does about the leadership (at that time or currently).

    Yes, we have fallible leaders. But the point is, they did not position themselves as our leaders. The Lord put them in their positions. One cannot claim to be obedient to the King when they disobey and constantly focus on the mistakes of the generals the King appoints. The general might not be perfect, but the King who chose him is. We might not understand why this general was appointed, we might not like the general appointed, and we might think that the general is making mistakes of such consequence that the King should replace him. But in that situation, we take the matter to the King and we follow the general.

    What is so often forgotten is we are trying to build a Zion society, which means one heart and one mind. If each of the Members pulls in their chosen direction without concern for the whole, Zion cannot be formed. Leaders, even imperfect ones, help us to develop a Zion society because we can align ourselves with the leaders and as we approach perfect alignment the Lord can guide our leaders to bring the whole society into alignment with Him.

    Here is a prayer I recommend. “Father, I think that what is happening on issue X is being done wrong. I think my [Bishop, Apostle, Prophet] is mistaken on how they are handling it, and what’s more I think that they are actively harming thy work. But I know you put them into their place, and I don’t know but that they are right and I am wrong, or that you have put them in place for some other reason unrelated to this. This is your Church, and they are leading me in your name. Help me to follow them, help them to change if they are wrong, help me to know the truth either way, and throughout let your work go forward.”

    And I give you one further thought, Steve. What if the Brethren are right and you are wrong on an issue? And what if you lead people away from them with your frequent comments pointing out their mortal failings?

  47. Jax on June 5, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    But Steve, the point is invalid on the issue of Women and the priesthood because I can’t just decide myself to give it to them any more then they can choose to give it to themselves. So following myself and my own reasoning does nothing. I shouldn’t be a mindless robot and should seek to know and understand for myself. But I think that relying on my own reasoning/logic is contrary to the principle of not relying on the “arm of flesh”. We are supposed to rely on God and trust in His goodness, His judgement, His mercy, His knowledge. This is why the Lectures on Faith say we must have a true and full knowledge about the character of God in order to have faith in Him. Jo. Smith said that without that it is impossible to have faith. Which is also why so many think that the OW group is faithless – they don’t trust that He can be just if he doesn’t ordain women, or question his judgment/knowledge if he selects all male leadership. If you think that He is unjust then it is impossible to have faith in Him.

  48. Rachel Whipple on June 5, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Jax, you wrote:
    In a world where I desperately want to do the right thing and follow the right path, who should I trust more to lead me: Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ; or people with less than faithful standing in the church I believe to be true?

    Can I take this to mean that the office one holds in the Church is an indicator of their faithful standing in the Church? So the Apostles would be more faithful than non-apostles? Would stake presidents be considered more faithful than nursery workers? Are some men more capable of faith than all women because they are the only ones who can be appointed to that kind of standing in the Church? (I know this is tangential to your point, but I sincerely would like clarification on your thoughts here.)

  49. Martin James on June 5, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Jax and Jonathan,

    You seem to be minimizing the role of agency for the leaders. Just because they are his leaders doesn’t mean that they are receiving his guidance to the fullest.

    Why limit the ways God can speak to his chosen servants? How do you know that demands from the flock are not inspired by God to call his leaders to account? Certainly, they testify to being inspired in their supplication.

    I’m not saying its likely, I’m just saying that you can’t know for sure how God speaks to his leaders. Leaders still have agency. Sin and apostasy can start at the top as well as the bottom.

  50. Jonathan Cavender on June 5, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    To be fair, Jax, although we are holding similar positions, I would rewrite your statement as follows:

    “In a world where I desperately want to do the right thing and follow the right path, who should I trust more to lead me: Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, who I believe to have been called by revelation; or people assuming their contrary positions through some mechanism other than appointment by the Lord?”

    Faithfulness really doesn’t enter into it.

  51. Jonathan Cavender on June 5, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Martin:

    If I may paraphrase:

    “What is that thou hast testified? Hast they received stewardship? Why do not we received stewardship? Behold are not the people as good as the Brethren? Thou also sayeth, except we follow the Brethren we shall perish. How knoweth the thought and intent of our hearts? How knoweth thou that we must follow the Brethren? How knoweth thou that we are not individually inspired by God in opposition to the Brethren? Behold, we attend Church, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God. We do believe that God will save those who follow Brethren and those who do not.”

    It doesn’t matter what sins the Brethren have (and I believe them to be, generally, far more sinless than most of their critics). It only matters that Christ, who I have sworn solemn covenants to obey, has asked me to obey these Brethren at this time. All the sophistry in the world doesn’t change that. If the Brethren, through their agency, make mistakes and I follow them as a exercise of my obedience to the covenants that I have made to follow Christ’s chosen leaders, then I will be safe.

  52. Jax on June 5, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Rachel,

    Absolutely not! Any member can have just as much faith as the Apostles, or more. Any member can have their calling and election made sure. Any member can know personally the true nature and character of God. They can have that faith and knowledge and still not be selected by the Lord as His Apostles, stake presidents, etc. Does a Stake President who is released and made the nursery leader losing faith status?? No!! Faith and position are not related except to say that you should/must(?) have faith to hold them, but holding them doesn’t mean you are more faithful/worthy than those who don’t.

    Do you disagree?

  53. Martin James on June 5, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    But Jonathan its not about you or me, or our obedience now is it.

    What is there for us to obey relative to advocating or not advocating for ordaining women or critiquing the actions of Ordain Women?

  54. Martin James on June 5, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    My confusion is not sophistry. Personally, I feel supporting Ordain Women is supporting a group that opposes the LDS church. However, the fact that the church leaders do not apparently find that to be the case as evidenced by recommend holders participating and not losing their recommends leads me to believe that obeying the church leaders mean to believe that they are not opposed to the church.

    Its all very confusing and exciting to me.

  55. Jonathan Cavender on June 5, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Martin:

    Based upon your response, we must be talking past one another. Your post stated:

    “Why limit the ways God can speak to his chosen servants? How do you know that demands from the flock are not inspired by God to call his leaders to account? Certainly, they testify to being inspired in their supplication.”

    Of particular interest was that of the flock being inspired by God to call His servants to account. The Lord’s house is a house of order, and it does not work in that fashion. Regarding belief, I believe in absolute freedom of belief to believe anything you choose or feel compelled to believe. Once you step across the line from belief to advocacy, I believe you have taken an important step. Therein lies the obedience aspect. I have covenanted to support my leaders. That means being open in those areas where I agree and being silent those times I do not (except through proper channels).

  56. Martin James on June 5, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    We are talking past each other in that it seems to me the Priesthood leaders have NOT said that OW is being disobedient and that seems inconsistent with your view of advocacy as disabedience.

  57. Jax on June 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Palerobber in post #33 said that the PA department said that OW is “suggestive of apostasy” So maybe they haven’t had disciplinary action, but there are many activities the church doesn’t take action against which are wrong and contrary to church teachings/practices nonetheless.

  58. Jonathan Cavender on June 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Martin:

    A movement cannot be disobedient — it has no moral agency. As for individuals, I believe that what the Priesthood leadership (through PR) has done is establish the proper mechanism for raising disagreements (through the Bishop and up the ladder from there). I see people like Kristine A, who I disagree with in belief on many issues, and I cannot help but feel a high degree of regard for her obedience. If, by chance, she is right and I am wrong I look forward to finding that out. If I am right and she is wrong, I am confident that she will be kept safe because of her willingness to obey the leadership even when she may disagree with it on some issues.

    Contrast her (and I hope she won’t mind me using her as an example, since I am attempting to use her solely as a positive example) with the actions of some members of OW. Protesting on the temple grounds, after being asked not to. Some who reject Elder Oaks’ talk (although the majority accept it, to their credit). Others are using tactics derived from political venues that are inappropriate for this situation.

  59. Rachel Whipple on June 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Thank you, Jax. I agree with most of your statement in 52 (I’m not sure how one would have one’s calling and election made sure, or if that is even a current practice as it was in the heady days of the Restoration).

    As for OW, I personally know many of the people involved. Some are women of great faith and humility. Others are more concerned about social change than revelation; in that I suppose the group is as mixed a bag as any group of people or congregation of saints. I am too conservative to join the cause, but someone who has always felt some attraction to the idea of being a pastor or a nun (no female equivalent for either is available within the LDS tradition, with the exception being older sister missionaries, and even then, a life explicitly devoted to the gospel is a temporary assignment, not a vocation), I am sympathetic to their position. I also feel acutely the ways we tell everyone in our church that boys matter more than girls, and men more than women, through our commitment of resources (leaders called, time they must spend, money allocated for scouts vs activity days girls and personal progress). But as sympathetic as I am, I am also concerned that rather than opening up compassionate and candid discussions, the OW movement has lead to a polarization that may make it much more difficult to bring up concerns relating to this gender based inequity because such criticism may be seen as advocating apostasy. This puts me in an uncomfortable position, one where I feel guilty for sins that are not mine, in pain and without peace even as I sustain my leaders.

  60. Jax on June 5, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Rachel,

    I can see the disparities and how that leads to hurt feelings. In my small branch it is reversed here with the girls getting much more than the boys for the quite reasonable reason that there are MANY more girls than boys, including my own (4 girls, 2 boys). In my Utah ward growing up I was too young to notice if the girls felt slighted. I know that many boys did, though. mostly because I was always the quorum president and scout leader and I liked sports, so those boys who didn’t got left out a bunch.

    I hope my girls don’t become sad/hurt/angry that they can’t have the priesthood. My oldest girl, 12, doesn’t have a problem with it yet. She is faithful and happy with her role. I wish everyone were. I wish I were all the time! :) I just trust in God’s goodness that HE knows what is right, and that by following those HE calls everything will be alright for me and my family.

    Not sure if having your calling and election made sure is a “process”, is it?? It’s not like the church structure/gov’t is involved. It is solely between individual and God.

    I’m also sure that OW is a mixed bag of personalities and goals. I think their stated objective is questionable even if their intention to help ostacized women is noble. I don’t know the individuals. But it seems that OW receives a large outside-the-church influence, and I don’t see how their goals and desires could be aligned with the mission of the church. If their desires were the same, wouldn’t they be in the church???

    If the Lord says, “Women will be ordained to priesthood offices” then I’ll be thrilled to ordain my wife. I’ll trust the FP and Q12 when they say that that is the lord’s will. Until then, I’ll trust that their (and all previous apostles) having not ordained women is because ordaining them is not (currently) His will. Is that an acceptable position?

  61. Rachel Whipple on June 5, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Jax, I was thinking of the second anointing ordinance that made the calling and election sure in Nauvoo times. Since then, we’ve generally just talked about doing regular ordinances, receiving the Melchizedek priesthood if male, and enduring to the end.

    You position sounds reasonable. I think what may help is if our leaders said, “We recognize this is a concern and a matter of faith for many of our members. We have approached the Lord about this issue and our answer is X.” If X is “not now” or “not ever,” then that should take the wind out of OW’s sails. But until they hear that their request was taken seriously and brought before the Lord, I don’t see them letting go.

  62. Jax on June 5, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    The letter Bro. Otterson sent about the church having meetings with various groups makes it seem to me that the Apostles are taking it seriously. It doesn’t explicitly say “we’ve prayed and the answer is… ” but I’m impressed that this issue, and the concerns/feelings of the women on this issue, very seriously. I find the idea that it hasn’t been a matter of prayer for them quite ridiculous actually. I’d love to know if those meetings started with a prayer, and what was asked in it!!

    If they did get that kind of response though, would it be enough? I think it would be for most of the faithful women supporting OW, but would it for the leadership who seem to think ordination is the only acceptable answer?? Would they cancel the protests, the pants-to-church days, the press releases, etc??

  63. Steve Smith on June 5, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Jax (47), you’re right. You can’t decide what church policy should be. Neither you nor OW has the power to do so. But on the question of whether allowing women to hold the priesthood is the right thing to do, you can have an opinion. My point is that we can inform our opinions through our own powers of reasoning. We don’t have to accept something simply because somebody else said it.

    Jonathan Cavender, how do you know that God is behind the LDS church and that it isn’t a contrivance of Joseph Smith and others? What if we’re wrong about Islam and it turns out that God did indeed declare to Muhammad that it was blasphemous to believe that Jesus was the son of God and that the Mormons’ belief in such a doctrine warrants their eternal punishment?

  64. Samo on June 5, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    Jax, you write:

    “If the Lord says, “Women will be ordained to priesthood offices” then I’ll be thrilled to ordain my wife. I’ll trust the FP and Q12 when they say that that is the lord’s will. Until then, I’ll trust that their (and all previous apostles) having not ordained women is because ordaining them is not (currently) His will. Is that an acceptable position?”

    I think your conclusion carries an assumption that may or may not be true: because women haven’t been ordained to the priesthood, that was God’s intention. To my view, many church practices and doctrines–most obviously in the D&C–were dependent on a problem/question/concern among members that led to church leaders seeking revelation on the matter. Could it be possible that the modern church was restored in a patriarchal culture (U.S.) and naturally men and women assumed certain roles consistent with the paradigm of their culture which were acceptable to God at the time? Could it be that western culture has migrated toward gender equality socially, politically, etc and that relatively new paradigm within the church has led people to question how those ideas should be reflected in the church? Could it be that agitation for women’s ordination encourages the prophet to seek revelation on the subject and God reveals as part of the ongoing restoration that in fact his intention is for men and women to be ordained? More broadly, is it feasible that there are changes, big and small, that God would make to his church but that he waits for us to explore, debate, and then question Him before revealing it? If so, how would those questions and debates be raised to the prophet? Would it not be clumsily with some members retrenching a traditional position, some moderates, some more aggressively pushing for change?

    I don’t know whether women will be ordained in the future or not, but one might interpret that we are headed that way and not just because of the very public ongoing debate. Elder Oaks talk was certainly a response to this issue and in his response he went further than any other authoritative voice that I’ve ever read on the subject. To say that not only women hold priesthood power, but that they also act with priesthood authority, including when they officiate in priesthood ordinances in the temple really expanded my view of women’s current access to and use of priesthood. His description made priesthood as much a female domain as male–excepting ordination only. If women were to be ordained in the future I would imagine first an inculcation among the broad membership that female leaders act with priesthood power and authority. Again, I’m not predicting it necessarily, but if it’s important for church members to become comfortable with the idea, the doctrine Elder Oaks taught could possibly be a move in that direction.

  65. sba on June 5, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Thanks for this, Rachel. Two things come to mind: Ron Walker’s terrific book Wayward Saints, on the Godbeites and Brigham Young; and Maxine Hanks’ very moving remarks at last year’s FAIR conference, in which she described learning to have compassion for church leaders as part of her path back into the Church.

  66. Jonathan Cavender on June 5, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    Steve:

    “Jonathan Cavender, how do you know that God is behind the LDS church and that it isn’t a contrivance of Joseph Smith and others? What if we’re wrong about Islam and it turns out that God did indeed declare to Muhammad that it was blasphemous to believe that Jesus was the son of God and that the Mormons’ belief in such a doctrine warrants their eternal punishment?”

    I am very surprised to read such a comment on a board such as this. I would assume that you are either LDS, or at least familiar enough with believing Mormons to know how we know that God is behind the LDS church. In any event, I have a testimony based upon a number of experiences that I have had that have compelled me to believe in the Divinity of the Restoration and of the Gospel.

    Incidentally, we have no problem acknowledging that God inspired others (including, say, Mohammed). We believe that the Lord speaks to all people and inspires each nation. Our claim as the only true and living Church is related to the Priesthood we hold (allowing saving ordinances to be performed) and the hierarchical structure, which allows continuing revelation through the Church.

  67. Steve Smith on June 5, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    “I would assume that you are either LDS, or at least familiar enough with believing Mormons to know how we know that God is behind the LDS church”

    Of course, I know that this is what is claimed, but what does it mean? 1) Does everything the church leaders say represent God’s words in every way, shape, and form? 2) Did God call them and then inspire some of their words but not others? 3) Did God call them and then just let them have free rein as to what to say and make them essentially make approximations as to what was true? If it is the first scenario, then they are essentially infallible, at least in word. Because everything they say over the pulpit is to be interpreted as God’s direct words. If it is to be the second scenario, then how are you to distinguish between what is God’s words and what is not? If it is the third scenario, then their words are to be interpreted as merely a form of reasoning, much in the same way that we members reason. Would you mind elaborating on what is meant by saying that God is behind the LDS church?

    “Incidentally, we have no problem acknowledging that God inspired others (including, say, Mohammed)”

    Again, you have to be selective about you mean by inspired. Because if you accept that the idea that Jesus is divine and the son of God is doctrinal, which I’m assuming you do, then you cannot possibly accept the passage in the Qur’an (which Muslims by and large accept as God’s literal words revealed to Muhammad) that states that it is blasphemy to believe that Jesus is the son of God through Mary. To believe both to be inspired doctrines is to believe a contradiction. These are mutually exclusive ideas. If you accept one idea as doctrine, then you must doubt the other. You must believe one to be truth and the other to be heresy. And we should make no mistake that the LDS church proclaims that some of the doctrines of other religions are outright heresy and blatantly false. I know it sounds like I’m stating the obvious, but too many LDS people for some reason skirt around the idea that mutual exclusivity actually exists as well as contradiction.

  68. Jonathan Cavender on June 6, 2014 at 12:01 am

    Steve:

    Sorry, I will back up here (I thought there was a larger common ground of understanding than there apparently is). As to your three choices, the closest answer is 2, but it isn’t quite right. The right person is called, and they do their best to do God’s will. We are called and covenant to follow them. We do not need to sit around and wait to figure out whether what they are telling us to do is correct (key word: ‘do’), but we follow them because the Lord placed them in a position of stewardship. We never really follow our Priesthood leadership, in a very real way — instead we follow Christ through following our Priesthood leadership (imperfect people though they are).

    As to inspired men and women outside of our Church, we don’t mean that every word they say is inspired (we don’t demand that out of our prophet, much less leaders of other faiths). We can believe that God inspired men and women to share ethical, spiritual, and temporal truths with others. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the Doctrine and Covenants states that when a person is enlightened by the power of the Holy Ghost, though acting without stewardship, they are to share that enlightenment as wisdom. This is what has been done by many in the history of mankind. There have been Prophets who have spoken on the inspiration of Martin Luther, for example — that doesn’t mean that we are Protestant or that we believe all of his theses. We don’t need to believe all of the doctrine and dogma to recognize that they were inspired in their sphere and to feel a holy envy for those aspects of the Gospel which have been revealed to them and are well-developed in their faiths.

    Thus we see little problem in an orthodox Jew practicing their religion, and even being inspired to practice it. We don’t say they are wrong in toto, but that we just have something different, something special, and something more.

  69. Jax on June 6, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Samo,

    How many sermons have you heard where the path of revelation is said to be God>>Person>>Agitate to Prophet/Church>>Membership/world. I don’t know I’ve ever heard that it starts with God, then down to some unknown person, then back up to the sustained Prophets, thenback down to the church. Do we call that rollercoaster revelation?? I have however heard plenty of them where the path is described as God>>Prophets>>membership/world.

  70. Steve Smith on June 6, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    “We are called and covenant to follow them”

    Could you please indicate where in LDS sacred ritual that members covenant to follow the leaders no matter what they say? I can’t find it. We covenant to not speak evil of the Lord’s anointed and to consecrate ourselves to the LDS church, but I cannot see that we ever covenant to follow the leaders no matter what they say.

    “We do not need to sit around and wait to figure out whether what they are telling us to do is correct (key word: ‘do’), but we follow them because the Lord placed them in a position of stewardship”

    My impression is that we honor and sustain the leaders in their position of stewardship by not seeking to usurp their authority and in respecting and hoping that they make their decisions and pronouncements in good faith. But this does not mean that they are beyond question. We follow them if and only if what they say coincides with our understanding (which we have arrived at through our own reasoning) of what is right.

    “We never really follow our Priesthood leadership, in a very real way — instead we follow Christ through following our Priesthood leadership”

    Yes, we should follow Christ based on how we think, through our own reasoning, Christ is to be followed. Because you cannot possibly be following Christ if a leader deviates from what Christ would have said or done.

    “As to your three choices, the closest answer is 2, but it isn’t quite right”

    OK, I accept that we could nuance and massage, and perhaps diversify, the scenarios. But still, you seem to be conceding that not everything that the leaders say is inspired. If that is the case, then we have to rely on our own reasoning to figure out if something is moral, true, right, etc. We have to evaluate their words to figure out if they are logically consistent with things that they have said in the past and to figure out if they in accordance with the other central doctrines of Jesus Christ as found in the scriptures.

  71. Jax on June 6, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    I gotta back Steve here a bit about questioning leadership. A big part of the distribution of the handbooks is so that everyone will know not only who has what responsibility, but what those responsibilities are. So if you’re visiting area authority tries to change the sacrament prayer, you know he can’t do that. If he were to try to ordain your RS pres. as an Elder that would not work either. I’ve never heard of either of these happening, but you get the idea. We don’t do something just because a leader says it.

    However, Steve, I think when he says that we think that others (like Mohammed) could be inspired that it doesn’t mean we think everything they do is inspired. I for one wouldn’t list Mohammed at all and definitely wouldn’t consider the Q’uran as inspired. But we don’t think that revelation belongs solely to members of the church. God answers prayers for everyone, blesses everyone, and inspires everyone at times – or if not for EVERYone, than for the vast majority of people trying to do good.

  72. Samo on June 6, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Jax,

    •Nephi breaks his bow and builds a new one, takes the issue to Lehi for revelation.
    •The families of the brother of Jared see the dissolution of their society so they take their concerns to the brother of Jared to ask for mercy and direction.
    •Oliver Cowder wanted to translate like Joseph so he asked the Prophet to seek a revelation on it. (D&C 8)
    •From D&C 54 section heading: “Members of the Church living in Thompson, Ohio, were divided on questions having to do with the consecration of properties…As a consequence, Newel Knight … had come to the Prophet asking how to proceed. The Prophet inquired of the Lord and received this revelation.”
    •From “Race and the Priesthood” on lds.org: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was restored amidst a highly contentious racial culture in which whites were afforded great privilege….By the late 1940s and 1950s, racial integration was becoming more common in American life….Brazil in particular presented many challenges. Unlike the United States and South Africa where legal and de facto racism led to deeply segregated societies, Brazil prided itself on its open, integrated, and mixed racial heritage….Church authorities encountered faithful black and mixed-ancestry Mormons who had contributed financially and in other ways to the building of the São Paulo temple…. Their sacrifices, as well as the conversions of thousands of Nigerians and Ghanaians in the 1960s and early 1970s, moved Church leaders… In June 1978, after “spending many hours in the Upper Room of the [Salt Lake] Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance,” Church President Spencer W. Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received a revelation.” (edits for brevity not necessarily to serve my point)

    All of these follow the model: members question/debate/speculate/hope>>agitate to Prophet/church>>Prophet inquires>>God responds to membership/world through the Prophet. You asked about this model:God>>Person>>Agitate to Prophet/Church>>Membership/world (roller coaster…I like that). I don’t think I would go so far as to describe it that way (I didn’t in my comment above). I think it’s possible, but I would never presume to reliably predict how and when and on what matters God might speak to people broadly to encourage a movement toward His will. Did God inspire US culture toward racial integration and equality? Probably. Did that change precipitate the lift of the priesthood ban? Possibly. Was that cultural change part of God’s larger revelation on lifting the priesthood ban and the ongoing restoration of all things? I would never presume to know, but it’s not unthinkable. Mormon leaders don’t shy away from the idea that individuals and groups can be inspired to serve God’s will without being prophets. But in the context of changes in the Church, how inspired members’ speculation/agitation is isn’t very important in my mind. What is important to the model is that members engage the gospel and raise earnest questions/concerns to their leaders which precipitates revelation. That model is very much a part of our history. The historical record in Mormonism is that revelation is generally preceded by earnest questions. I don’t think the onus is on the Prophet alone to ask all the right questions all the time. If God inspires His general membership to raise the right questions and the Prophet responds to the people he serves by taking that to the Lord for further revelation, I’m okay with that. You?

  73. Frank Pellett on June 6, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Samo, none of your examples contained “agitation”. All of them came from problems involving the growth of the Church in each era. They came from the leaders becoming more aware of the issues. Those who did form groups to try and publicly force the Church hindered progress far more than they helped advance it.

  74. Jax on June 6, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    “where do I go to find food?”
    “Please don’t confound our language.” and “Where do we go live now?”
    “We’re not sure what to do with this property, how would you like us to proceed?”
    “There are serious structural problems in your church and you need to ordain women to fix them.”

    Can you not see how your examples don’t fit what is happening today? The first few are supplications, the last one a demand. There is a difference, a big difference, in going to the Prophet to seek counsel and going to the Prophet to tell him how you want your problems fixed. And that is exactly how I see the OW stance. “We have issues with your(our) church and those issues make us feel bad. In order to make it better you need to Ordain Women and nothing less will do.” Now those bad feelings are a legitimate concern, but their approach, and I suspect their true motivations, and not entirely holy.

  75. Jonathan Cavender on June 6, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    Jax and Steve:

    “I gotta back Steve here a bit about questioning leadership. A big part of the distribution of the handbooks is so that everyone will know not only who has what responsibility, but what those responsibilities are. So if you’re visiting area authority tries to change the sacrament prayer, you know he can’t do that. If he were to try to ordain your RS pres. as an Elder that would not work either. I’ve never heard of either of these happening, but you get the idea. We don’t do something just because a leader says it.”

    If a leader is acting outside of their stewardship, then a member is not under covenant to follow them. My language may have been overly broad and uncareful, but the point that I am making solely applies to actions taken within a leader’s stewardship. If a leader contradicts another leader higher in the hierarchical order, we follow the higher leader.

    Incidentally, that also applies to revelation to not follow the prophet. I believe, as was the case with Nephi killing Laban, that the Lord may at his discretion direct us to not follow a leader. He is higher on the hierarchical order than even the Prophet. But that does not give us permission to contradict the Priesthood leadership — that is actually given as instructions for the individual and not for dissemination to the Church. Nephi killing Laban was correct. Nephi organizing or advocating to overturn “thou shalt not kill” or establishing “Kill Laban” would not have been correct.

    “We follow them if and only if what they say coincides with our understanding (which we have arrived at through our own reasoning) of what is right.”

    But when you reach this point, you have gone to far. You may put revelation against the Priesthood leadership, because there a higher authority is contradicting a lower (even if only in your individual case). But when you put your reason against Priesthood authority, you have gone astray. Add to that the fact that human reason is self-deceptive and self-destructive, and if reason was the only check on behavior then we are easily led astray. I have seen it happen enough to not doubt that result.

    “Yes, we should follow Christ based on how we think, through our own reasoning, Christ is to be followed. Because you cannot possibly be following Christ if a leader deviates from what Christ would have said or done.”

    There are a number of examples to demonstrate you are incorrect. Staying on the issue of blacks and the Priesthood (which many believe was wrong), would a Bishop have been following Christ if they had conferred the Priesthood on a black man in 1974? I think the clear answer is no, even if the Priesthood ban was incorrect. We follow the right leader at the wrong time, even if he or she is on the wrong path. We trust the Lord to intercede — He selected this leader, and He will protect us if we follow the leader that He has chosen.

    “But still, you seem to be conceding that not everything that the leaders say is inspired. If that is the case, then we have to rely on our own reasoning to figure out if something is moral, true, right, etc. We have to evaluate their words to figure out if they are logically consistent with things that they have said in the past and to figure out if they in accordance with the other central doctrines of Jesus Christ as found in the scriptures.”

    I draw a much different conclusion. They may not be right, but they have been put in the position of stewardship such that — barring revelation contradictory to their counsel — I am to follow their guidance. If such a revelation is received, it is received only for me and not for the Church as a whole (since I do not have stewardship for the Church as a whole).

    As to the issue others being inspired, we know from our scriptures that the Lord speaks to each culture and each nation (see, e.g. 2 Nephi 29). That being true, we are welcome to examine the Analects just as we examine the Apocrypha to find what is inspired and what is not. There are often more important things that we need to be about and doing than to overly dedicate our time to this task, but ALL progress come from God.

  76. Samo on June 6, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    I guess it depends on how you define agitation. I was using it broadly. The OW movement seems to have formed a group by necessity (and perhaps naturally given social and online media) because the concerns they raise and changes they advocate are far too heated for people to raise them alone without fear. I sense it’s as much or more a support group as politically oriented one looking for leverage.

    I’m empathetic because I personally know a few supporters of OW, including some who flew to Utah for the original demonstration asking for tickets to the Priesthood session. Interestingly, some of these hold prominent positions in stake and ward leadership in my area. They are people who are covenant keeping, invested, loyal to the church and the prophet by every measure I can come up with. And yet they feel the question of female ordination should be raised. I think they see their loyalty to God, the church, the prophet requiring them to make the concern known. Sure, some view their methods as brash, forceful, coercive, whatever. It’s easy to stereotype a group that makes the rest of us uncomfortable. But talking with these people, hearing their views and experiences, I have come away feeling moved by their sincerity, personal wrestle, faith, reverence for and deference to the prophet as authoritative voice. Of course these examples may or may not represent the majority of OW supporters, but when I interact with people like that I have a hard time dismissing them altogether.

  77. Jax on June 6, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    Jonathan, I don’t really have an issue with you here. I think with each statement we all make their are circumstances when “it” works and times when they don’t and we keep pointing out exceptions to rules that we all understand and abide by. I only briefly scanned the past few posts from you and Steve, and mostly agree with your position, but was merely pointing out how some superlatives (always, never, etc) just don’t work. We don’t ALWAYS follow a leader. We shouldn’t NEVER question.

    I’m bowing out of this conversation though. Feel free to spar with Steve without me. Thanks!!

  78. Jonathan Cavender on June 6, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Jax:

    Sorry, I understood that. I mislabeled my post — I included you in the header because of the first paragraph. The rest was in response to Steve.

  79. Steve Smith on June 8, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    “If a leader is acting outside of their stewardship, then a member is not under covenant to follow them”

    Jonathan, members are not under covenant to follow leaders, period. Some following is implied in the covenant to live the law of consecration. We covenant to consecrate “time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed [us], or with which he may bless [us], to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.” And even there, the text strongly suggests that the LDS church is merely a vehicle to accomplish greater ends, and not the end itself. Yet I do not see in any of the covenant texts that members are obligated to follow leaders. I know that some church leaders have encouraged members to follow the leaders even if they are wrong, but that’s not binding in any way. After all, not everything that is said in conference talks and other talks given by LDS leaders is consistent (i.e. Russell M. Nelson and unconditional love, in a 1991 talk he talks of Jesus’ “unconditional love” and in a 2003 Ensign article he says that God’s love is conditional).

    “But when you reach this point, you have gone to far. You may put revelation against the Priesthood leadership, because there a higher authority is contradicting a lower (even if only in your individual case). But when you put your reason against Priesthood authority, you have gone astray. Add to that the fact that human reason is self-deceptive and self-destructive, and if reason was the only check on behavior then we are easily led astray. I have seen it happen enough to not doubt that result.”

    You yourself acknowledged that we do not always know what is inspired speech or revelation and what is not. Additionally, there are inconsistencies in how the leaders present the doctrine (as indicated in the example above). So since we do not know and cannot always tell, we are forced to rely on our reasoning to figure out right and wrong choices, as well as what is true and what is false. We can use the leaders as guides to inform ourselves of this, but we shouldn’t follow them blindly. As for reasoning, leaders have routinely counseled the LDS membership to rely on reasoning. Here’s Dallin H. Oaks in a 1989 conference talk: “We seek learning by studying the accumulated wisdom of various disciplines and by using the powers of reasoning placed in us by our Creator. We should also seek learning by faith in God, the giver of revelation.”

  80. Jax on June 11, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Fully supporting the church today, as always. I realize some are mourning (… really??) but their position has been VERY clear to me from Conference talks/Ensign articles/Handbooks/etc and still seems very consitent.

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