Recently, I’ve noticed a meme from conservative Mormon commentators on certain progressive or liberal Mormon causes. I can’t say when I first started hearing this argument, but I will try to illustrate it with a few examples. First, a plain, moderate, matter-of-fact statement from our very own Hawkgrrrl, in response to Mormon Heretic’s recent post asking people to chime in on their thoughts of Ordain Women’s most recent General Conference (to attend the Priesthood session at their local stake centers) action:
…First of all, trying to attend another church meeting is definitely not my style. Second, sisters attending locally had a few different outcomes: 1) some few attended with little fanfare, 2) some attended after a bit of browbeating at the door (being asked why they wouldn’t follow the prophet), and 3) some were reportedly blocked from attending by men at the doors so their womanly taint would not disrupt the meeting. IOW, it’s a reflection of local leadership how the women were treated.
Those who were treated shabbily will probably be gone within a year, along with their families. Maybe that would have happened anyway. Some people seem to care about that more than others.
In Hawkgrrrl’s comment, the meme I would like to discuss is stated as an observation rather than an argument, but I have seen in many other places a similar concept expressed in more intentional terms. Example 2 comes from the same discussion, part of a comment from SilverRain:
I personally don’t think OW should have been turned away originally simply because they have rendered themselves not important enough to be worth the fight, but sadly the Church played right into their hands. The sheer demand for the leadership to communicate with them demonstrates hubris and an inability to be taught. Every change regarding women that has happened has been done in spite of OW, not because of them, by those who are humbly and earnestly petitioning in faith. They refused the lines of communication open to them, demanded and forced ones more to their liking, then failed to understand why they were rejected out of hand.
I believe it’s because many of those organizing OW fully intended the rejection of those who play into OW’s scheme. There are many earnest, believing, faithful people who have joined themselves to OW, never realizing that they are patsies being used to “prove” how hard-hearted and out of touch Church leadership are. Sadly, the only winners here are the ones pulling the strings. The casualties are those with good intentions who have been misled.
This isn’t limited to Ordain Women and to blogs. Example 3 comes from a Facebook group discussion on progressive Mormon efforts for recognizing gay marriage within the church (…or whether there will even be such efforts). There, one person stated this concern more overtly:
Yes, revelation will prevail. All the while, how many will apostatize because they cling to the idea that a western democratic style of governance should override God’s method of revelation for His church?
My worry isn’t that activist mobs will be effective in influencing God’s revelations, it’s that they’ll be successful in leading away members of the church.
Is progressivism the road to apostasy?
The common thread of each of these examples is this idea that progressive causes and progressive activism leads to apostasy. Even more, that the goal (whether intentional or not) of activism is to lead otherwise faithful members into apostasy.
From the last comment I’ve shared, that first paragraph actually sounded very familiar to me, and I realized when I read the comment today that I had seen it as the thesis of a couple blog post from certain conservative Mormon bloggers. Most notably, I can think of two posts from Jeff G addressing this idea, one from New Cool Thang and one from Millennial Star. So, in Example 4, from Jeff’s One Does Not Simply Lose One’s Testimony at New Cool Thang, Jeff contrasts the values of “liberal democracy” with the values of Mormonism:
This is THE lesson that I have learned regarding my misguided departure from the church. I had worked myself into a position where the values and standards of the gospel had become a second language to me – second to the values and standards of liberal democracy. The latter had taken the place of the former as my default mindset, the habitual patterns in which I automatically and uncritically thought, spoke and acted. Through years of training and practice, I had come to evaluate and measure the church and its values according to those of liberal democracy at a deeply intuitive and emotional level rather than the other way around. I had come to feel more repugnance, offense and moral indignation at the thought of somebody violating my liberal democratic values than if they had violated those of my Mormon upbringing.
The values of “liberal democracy” align with a what Jeff G earlier described as the “culture of critical discourse” (CCD) at M* (oh, and that article is actually titled the “Mormon Intellectuals’ trojan horses”, so there again is the meme). So, Example 5:
It is this principled distinction, this setting apart of certain individuals from their peers that is deeply hostile to CCD. Whereas intellectuals embrace criticism as a tool which is to be applied by everyone to everyone about everything, the priesthood, by contrast, is a tool which is specifically aimed at stifling criticism by certain people against certain people about certain things. It is the priesthood, then, and not prophecy which most scandalizes the intellectual, for it is at the very core of their culture to resist anything and everything which says that certain questions, answers and other speech acts belong exclusively to uniquely authorized individuals which have been set apart from their peers. It is the authority of priesthood, then, and not the supernaturalism of prophecy that intellectuals within the church will find themselves compelled to ignore, reinterpret or otherwise repress.
The Facebook commenter I quoted earlier (Example 3) said something else that makes me believe that he has been reading Jeff G…he said, regarding gay marriage but quite applicable elsewhere (emphasis added):
What interests me is the progression (or regression). Virtually all of the progMos I knew during Prop8 did not advocate for ecclesiastical endorsement of gay marriage. They were only in favor of gay marriage because they felt it was the lawfully fair thing to do, not because they condoned homosexual behavior. Now, however, most progMos I know favor ecclesiastical endorsement. Why the change? Does progressivism naturally lend itself toward a replacement of religious ideals with secular populism?
The following response was SO ON POINT (and it indirectly led to the creation of this post):
I’d say it lends itself to the replacement of religious ideals that synthesize the secular populism of the last generation with religious ideals that synthesize the secular populism of the current generation.
The reason I liked this response so much was because it pretty much encapsulated my questions (unsatisfactorily answered) to Jeff G. Jeff (and the facebook commenter above) speaks of apostasy being a replacement of Mormon values with liberal democratic (or critical) values. But he has no satisfying answer for the following two questions.
- Since Mormonism is not the dominant ideology, how does the church or Mormonism ensure that any of its members have been converted to Mormon values? (IOW, I as a member for life still lived and worked and went to school in a secular society. I might concede to someone like Jeff that I value liberal democracy or critical discourse over Mormon authoritarianism, but I can’t say there was ever a time when I didn’t. Living life in America means living life in a sea where liberal democratic ideals are the water.)
- How can we be so sure that some members (or even leaders) aren’t confusing or conflating Mormon values with secular conservative values? (As someone who has lived in the Bible Belt, I’m fairly sure conservative or tea party values are not actually Mormon values.)
Don’t get your hopes up
To try to tie together all of these quotes and thoughts, I would like to summarize the argument as I see it. It seems to me that some conservatives view liberal or progressive movements within Mormonism as being pathways to apostasy. Per this meme, how this works it that, whether explicitly or implicitly, the progressive activist replaces a faithful member’s Mormon value system with an external, secular value system. After that, they set the member up for disappointment as the Mormon church inevitably doesn’t live up to the external secular value system (and the supposedly authentic Mormon value system becomes no longer palatable to the member.)
So, the biggest argument against progressive activism basically is: don’t get your hopes up!
(This is related to a similar argument I’ve heard about apostasy — that apostates took the church too seriously.)
But I have a big counter-response, and it ties to my questions to Jeff G.
The conservatives seem to think that if liberal Mormons didn’t agitate, people would be OK with the status quo. They would remain within their Mormon values and not have that boat rocked.
I think this is dubious. I think the cause-and-effect relationship is mixed up. It’s not that agitation turns faithful members into apostate liberals. It’s that faithful, liberal (maybe apostate?) members are driven to agitate. The agitation happens because there is already a demand for it, and these movements pick up in steam because people feel empowered to do something to change the status quo, and think that something can happen.
I agree that there’s disappointment if and when they get knocked down, but whether they believe change is possible or whether they are resigned to believing that change is not possible, the status quo is still unacceptable to those members. Liberal Mormon activism isn’t the cause or catalyst for apostasy then. The status quo is unacceptable by itself.
In fact, I would probably go as far as saying that not only does liberal Mormon activism NOT cause apostasy, but it keeps some members in. Instead, what causes apostasy is when people who are unhappy with the status quo stop believing change is possible.
What do you think?
I think what you are saying, as opposed to the conservative argument, is that there is no hope. Liberalism is by definition apostasy since they are already disenchanted. The difference is that some would like to go out with a loud and obnoxious bang rather than just drift away. Aren’t you the poster boy for the apostate condition of liberal ideology?
You have conservative thoughts on this wrong. We don’t think,”people would be OK with the status quo,” without the agitation. Those who aren’t won’t be. However, it sets up an us/them mentality that liberals ironically don’t like from the conservative members. It sets up a situation of things better change the way we want it to or the Church itself is apostate. Sure, they argue to stay in the Church, but the only reason given is to be in a better position to fight the Church and not because of any sense of a testimony. Basically, it goes from not liking the status quo and shrugging that off to a call for open rebellion. In the Kingdom of God there is no active loyal opposition. Those who would otherwise accept (that doesn’t mean be OK with) the status quo become openly argumentative.
Don’t you dare forget some high profile conservatives who were ex-communicated recently who have taken members with them. This idea of activism to change the Church status quo as harmful is not just a liberal problem. You just haven’t heard many conservatives criticise them because the media have ignored them other than as a mention tied to the far more vocal and accepted liberal factions.
“Since Mormonism is not the dominant ideology, how does the church or Mormonism ensure that any of its members have been converted to Mormon values? ”
Case by case. There is no and never will be a sure fire method. God’s leadership and individual members must decide such a things as inspired by the Spirit. It is a war that has been going on since Adam and Eve first stepped out of the Garden. That is why this CANNOT be answered; only struggled with. That is the whole point of mortality, to learn what is of God and what is not, with the guidance of the leadership as examples.
“How can we be so sure that some members (or even leaders) aren’t confusing or conflating Mormon values with secular conservative values?”
This is where the problem of a Kingdom of God vs secular Democracy or Republic comes in. To paraphrase Jesus, follow the commandments and then decide for yourself and see if it comes from God or Man. I would have to ask you the same question, how do YOU know,”conservative or tea party values are not actually Mormon values.” Seems there are a lot of assumptions what Mormon values are in this bold statement. Once again, since you claim to be an apostate Mormon, certainly your values are not Mormon values and therefore have a poor position to make any declarations.
I’ll make it really easy for you though. What the Mormon leadership says and does IS by definition the way to know what Mormon values are. If you are not following the Church leadership then you aren’t following the Mormon values since the number one Mormon value is the authority of the Priesthood. Whoever challenges that is, as even Joseph Smith stated, on the road to apostasy.
I endorse most of what is said in the OP. I disagree with much of what Jettboy said. Most specifically his last paragraph. If one compares what the leadership teaches now with what the leadership taught even 20 years ago, let alone 40 or 80 or 120 years ago, “Mormon values” have changed in many small and large ways. Which way has been true Mormon values? Or is it simply, “Love it or leave it…Right or wrong, follow the prophet?”
While for the sake of the “baby in the bath water” I do not advocate wholesale apostacy from the teachings and decisions of our current “prophets, seers, and revelators,” after all we do need to (more or less) sustain our current leaders or things fall apart. However, that does not address the issue I am making: When was the church being led by inspiration, (to give just some simple examples) before or after the GAs finally figured out that racism, sexism, unlimited procreation, etc. were not right? And, by the way, God did not teach them the error of their (and their predecessors’) ways. The wider, progressive culture the church exists in did.
Is progressivism the road to apostasy? Yes! Absolutely!
But only because the church has been hijacked by conservatives who get to define apostasy, who conflate conservative values with the gospel itself as if they are one and conflate the words of it’s leaders with the mind of God as if they never speak their own minds and conflate LDS progressive inclusive love for all with secular liberal politics which they ideologically dislike and oppose. So the simple reason progressivism is now the road to LDS apostasy is that the church has become a conservative club.
Yes, agitation happens because there is already a demand for it. It there were no demand for it it would simply be stirring that is ignored, the reason stirring agitates is that it awakens dissonance that already exists in others.
There’s an interesting question within this OP about the motives of those who advocate activism. First of all, to liberals, activism is a normal activity to bring the needs of minorities to the attention of those in power. This is the only power a minority group has to create change: making decision makers aware. It’s easy for conservatives to criticize that because they like the status quo. They don’t want it to change.
The casualties are those who were previously on the fence, who were emboldened by the idea that change was possible, who began to see that there was hope (but who were perhaps less disenfranchised than the originators of the movements). Some conservatives would say those who started the movements were cynically looking to damage the church by winning “converts” to their side against the church or using those folks as cannon fodder. From where I’m sitting, what I saw was that the reaction of the church was far more damaging than anything the activists did. The activists pointed out a problem. Others said “Yes, I agree that should change.” The church largely said they didn’t care and that anybody who doesn’t love the status quo IS the problem. A cynical conservative would say that the original agitators foresaw that would happen and deliberately used those people as cannon fodder in an ideological war. When I talked to people who were involved, that’s not what I heard. If anybody saw those people as expendable, it was the church. The agitators really believed change was possible. Apparently they were wrong.
The problem with agitation is that it reveals those in power and their feelings toward minority and powerless groups.
What I am saying (especially in my last few paragraphs) is that the difference between a liberal and an apostate is that the liberal has hope but the apostate does not. The liberal is not already fully disenchanted because they still believe that the system can change. But if they get knocked down enough times, then they will lose that hope and become disenchanted. Liberal activists aren’t seeking to “go out with a bang,” because their goal isn’t to *go out* at all. It’s just that the church continually pushes them away (and eventually out).
So, I actually think that you can use someone like me as a good example of the *difference* between liberal activist and apostate. I did not and do not work with Ordain Women, do not work with pro-LGBT Mormon activists, etc., and part of the reason is because I do not share their hope that the LDS church can be changed or that the change would produce a meaningful difference. Another part of the reason is because I actually do not think it is my place — I actually very strongly believe in the difference between someone of faith who is liberal and someone not of faith who is liberal. As someone who is the latter, I don’t think it is my place to stand with those of the former, notwithstanding however much people are going to lump the two categories together anyway.
Well, I don’t think intellectual LDS orthodox actually argue in favor of the status quo anymore because it’s become too nonsensical; which status quo? the one the polygamous one?, the monogamous one?, the one that allowed blacks? the one than banned blacks? the current one that accepts blacks by popular demand? So the position has been morphed into *what ever* LDS leaders say even if/when they give an about-face command. This moves the mystery of inconsistency of “eternal laws” into the realm of the supernatural and the infallibility of our leaders fallibility which is much easier to conflate and obscure with double speak.
“Liberalism is by definition apostasy since they are already disenchanted.”
Jettboy, I find this part of your comment perplexing. It seems to me a critical part of building a sure foundation on Christ requires a certain disenchantment with our human institutions. No institution (or leader) can save us, not even the Church. It seems to me that we are not fully awake until the spell is broken and we realize that. This is when we finally reach out to the only one who can save. Regardless of our political persuasion or our activity in the Church, we can be alive in Christ.
I think it is a false dichotomy to assume that there is not conservative agitation. Fundamentalist polygamist groups, for example, are agitators for conservative (and fundamental elements of) Mormonism. While we spend a lot of time discussing liberal activisim on this site, there are conservative agitators (Denver Snuffer, Tim Malone to name a few) that are not happy with the status quo either. Agitation can come from either end of the spectrum, so I don’t think it’s fair to label liberals as agitators, and conservatives as status quo. Regarding polygamy, for example, liberals are status quo, while conservatives are agitators.
MH brings up an interesting point. The church more or less treats all agitators equally, whether conservative or liberal. Both types have been excommunicated. The difference I see is that conservative agitators have an attitude of arrogance, substituting their own authority with that of the church. Liberal agitators are supplicants, questioning authority’s treatment of underdogs. Throw rotten tomatoes if you will, but there’s a confidence to the conservative agitators that I would think would be far more objectionable, and yet the church sees both an equal threat to be dispatched.
It seems to me the attitudes described in the original blog are a way for conservatives to put down/dismiss progressives.
They are saying we don’t have a problem, therefore there is no problem, and therefore if you have a problem it is because you have a weak character and have been lead astray either by designing minds, and ultimately by the devil.
This is a discussion ender. Why would a conservative need to talk to such a weak deluded soul? Why would one who has been described in that way think there is any point in trying to talk to the person who has so little respect for them?
Pretty much of a divide, agree with us or leave, and its your fault not ours if you do leave.
I find this attitude much more prevalent in groups. Individually I can discuss with gospel conservatives, but in groups there is no respect or possibility. The divide is wider.
Surely now that gay marriage is settled in Utah it is only the place of women that is the dividing line now?
I want to address the several comments that speak about conservatives…since I’ve been thinking about it…
It seems to me that the conservatives aren’t really agitating for change in the church. The conservatives are making a condemnation, yes, but it’s not as if they are petitioning for change. Rather, the church already is already apostate in their eyes and so there is a need to point that out for its own sake.
As hawkgrrrl said:
Like, the threat of Denver Snuffer and the others is not that they will pressure the church to change. It’s that these folks believe the church has absolutely lost some sort of crucial authority, and that therefore people can gather independently. The threat of Denver Snuffer is the radical idea that he can commune with Jesus outside of the institution.
This is totally different than liberal activists. Because liberals work within the system (to the chagrin of apostates and conservatives, who both wonder — if you don’t like it, why not leave it?), they are still beholden to the institution.
the radical idea that he can commune with Jesus outside of the institution. What’s radical about that?
I suspect liberals work within the system or attempt to because their psychology tends to default toward inclusion and visa versa for conservatives and it is those defaults we see being played out in the church rather than the gospel and what it means or God’s mind or will. For example the church selectively elevates obscure mostly O.T. prohibitions against gays into exclusion and call it gospel yet the ten commandments and the written record of Jesus himself omitted the topic completely. So really how important can it be if it follows honor thy father and mother by some distance? Inclusion was Jesus’ default but exclusion is the LDS default and they sell it as gospel! When an exclusive conservative clashes with an exclusive conservative the result is exclusion! Gee, what a surprise!
Conservative agitators have an attitude of arrogance, while liberal agitators are supplicants? This seems to me to be a very self-serving statement, and a false statement.
Based on what little I have seen, there most certainly is an attitude of arrogance in many who would number themselves among the liberal agitators. To say all the arrogance is on the other side, while one’s own side are merely supplicants, is a stance that itself is evidence of an attitude of arrogance — the pot calling the kettle black. To say that liberal agitators are pursuing their course solely to help others (“the underdogs”) is similarly disingenuous.
“The church more or less treats all agitators equally, whether conservative or liberal. Both types have been excommunicated.” That’s fairness and equal opportunity, right?
Well, two things:
1) Most people are not used to people saying that they have actually seen Jesus.
2) In the Mormon church of 2014, if you hadn’t noticed, the institution is kind of a big deal…
Thanks for explaining Andrew, I wasn’t equating communing with seeing, apparently you do. I am aware that the LDS church sells itself as a broker, a middleman and insists on protecting that position even in the absence of supportive scripture but my point is a broker isn’t required to “commune with Jesus” and that isn’t a radical concept at all to Christians.
well, even if you approach it that way, the LDS church isn’t a standard typical protestant church.
“Liberal agitators are supplicants, questioning authority’s treatment of underdogs.
… there’s a confidence to the conservative agitators that I would think would be far more objectionable”
The liberal agitators who are likely to be excommunicated or likely to leave on their own, are not supplicants. They’re “speaking truth to power”. They know where the church has and is going wrong just as much as any conservative agitator. Furthermore, I’d say that they’re more of a threat from an institutional standpoint because the prevailing culture is more likely to win them sympathizers. I believe some of them (eg., Kate Kelly) position themselves supplicants because 1) it beats thinking of oneself as an apostate, 2) they do want to stay in the church if they can fix it, and 3) it helps win support.
What I don’t understand is why those who have truly decided the Church really isn’t instituted of God, led by a prophet, etc., want to bother reforming it. Is it really such a fabulous social institution that it’s worth preserving if it’s fundamental premise is fraudulent?
*its fundamental premise
What I don’t understand is why those who have truly decided the Church really isn’t instituted of God, led by a prophet, etc., want to bother reforming it.
Well, there can be a lot of reasons for that. The exit cost is very, vary high for many doubters and non-believers but the cost of staying is also very high so the motivation to reform can be to favor those who are caught in this painful dissonance stuck doing the inauthentic dance of pretending, most were trapped quite innocently simply by being born in captivity. I have a strong testimony of the restoration but believe since Joseph the evidence clearly shows the church has drifted farther and farther away from divine revelation and inversely increased it’s service to mammom so a major goal in reforming it would be a return to divine direction and a reduction in the demand for blind obedience to the corporate managers.
This discussion sounds like an argument about the merits of nationalism.
There are the faithful, ardent defenders of the Church, or “Mother/Fatherland,” and those who see the institution of the Church or State as an imposition of authority that is completely unnecessary. As Howard stated above, the LDS Church does in many ways sell itself as a broker or intermediary to commune with God. This is the identical position adopted by secular governments, who sell themselves as necessary intermediaries to communion with society. You cannot achieve exaltation or commune with God without the Church, and you cannot hope to live in a peaceful, prosperous, and safe society without the guiding hand of a government/State. Or so the argument goes.
The difference in strategies of different “agitators” also follows this pattern. There are those who for whatever reason are deeply patriotic to their governing institutions, and argue to themselves that if only the right people were in power, if only the right strategies were implemented, if only people could be led to think the right thing, all would be well. They work within the confines of their governing institution because, at their core, they believe such institutions are necessary, whether for salvation or for secular prosperity. Many (but not all) of the liberal-leaning agitators fall into this camp.
As mentioned previously, the other approach to agitation is to simply break away. These individuals no longer recognize the institution as legitimate. They claim that no intermediary is necessary to commune with God, that no intermediary is necessary to create a prosperous secular society. I suppose you could call this the anarchistic approach. Note that these agitators typically do not have issues with the Gospel or with law and order, only with the perceived need for an institution to provide/interpret services and intermediate.
There are many who, in response to the “Why don’t you just leave?” question, do in fact leave. They abandon the Church as an institution, but they typically do not abandon the Gospel, nor do they cherry-pick doctrines to justify their actions, nor do they typically become militant towards the Church. They simply disengage from it, while retaining a testimony of Christ, the Book of Mormon, the reality of God, etc. If they have cultural roots within Mormonism, they may continue to go to Church and participate socially.
“Living life in America means living life in a sea where liberal democratic ideals are the water.”
Perhaps in America, we have a misconception about the nature of power and control. As citizens in a democracy, we have a vote, we have representatives, and even though our individual influence is minuscule, we still have an impression of power. But we have no real power. It is entirely an illusion. It is only collectively, banded together with thousands and millions of others that we wield any kind of control in the system. That is not power, that is just giving ourselves over to various forces completely out of our control: Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, whatever.
But we have this false sense that our politicians are pandering to us, that we are their superiors every voting cycle. We are ridiculously proud of how much better we know how to run the country than the politicians. Who will we deign worthy of our vote, our precious vote?
But all of this is a great illusion.
I think progressive or conservative agitation in the church suffers from the same illusion. We think that we have some kind of control or power in the situation, when we have none. We might be a small part of a greater progressive force which may influence change, but changes will happen (or not) with or without us individually.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t band together to try and get something done that we believe in. But we should be humble about the reality of our personal power or control in the situation.
It is a principle of the church that we cede power and control to God, trusting in his leaders. We can hope for change if we can see things that seem wrong. But we cannot exercise any power or control to bring about that change. All we can do is observe, throw in our two cents. By setting up principles of submission to authority, all God is doing is putting us in our proper place, and showing our illusion of power and control for what it really is: a complete farce.
I just think that someone like Kate Kelly is very different from most apostates… The disaffected Mormon underground doesn’t “get” Ordain Women because they don’t think priesthood is actually legitimate or the church is actually worthwhile.
In contrast, Kate believes priesthood is legitimate and the church is worthwhile.
The reason you can’t understand it is because you have a fundamentally bad premise. The entire point is that Kate and OW do believe in prophetic authority, revelation, etc. So they have to appeal to those channels.
There was an interview with both Kate and John Dehlin, and at some point, Kate says, “Well, the difference with me is that I actually *do* have a testimony.”
Interesting analogy at first glance, but upon going through it more, I have some issues. Firstly, it doesn’t seem like you’re assessing nationalism, so much as assessing the need for a state. other than that, it seems pretty good. I would say on a practical level, there are reasons why people believe a state is necessary (even if they disagree with how the status quo of the government is run) that prevents them from being anarchists or libertarians, but that’s a different discussion.
I haven’t read the comments yet, so be gentle if I say something which you have already responded to.
I want to address your closing summary line by line.
1 – “It seems to me that some conservatives view liberal or progressive movements within Mormonism as being pathways to apostasy.”
I think conservative members would agree with this, although I would want to refine it a bit. After all, there are many right-wing values that I think are also counter to gospel teachings. The primary tension that I see on the left, however, is that they view any and all asymmetries in power as being a kind of slavery which ought to be objected to – and priesthood authority just is an asymmetry in power between the steward and his stewardship. My own perspective is that, for the most part, I fully support most progressive and liberal movements inasmuch as they are aimed at asymmetries in power that the Lord has not ordained. I’m not always very confident in their proposed solution to such problems, but I too share an apprehension toward such asymmetries. The path way to apostasy, then, is when the progressive seeks to undermine asymmetries that Lord has ordained.
2 – “Per this meme, how this works it that, whether explicitly or implicitly, the progressive activist replaces a faithful member’s Mormon value system with an external, secular value system.”
This is pretty spot on. Just to rephrase it, the primary danger lies in our tendency to measure the church and its values by man-made, secular standards rather than the other way around. In other words, it’s not that church values are straightforwardly traded out for secular ones. Rather, its that the world teaches us through various mechanisms to re-interpret and re-prioritize the values of the church in accordance with its standards. Rather than warping the square peg of democratic values to fit into the circular hole of the gospel, we reshape the circular peg of the gospel to fit in the square hole of democratic values. This process is very subtle and gradual – making it very difficult to detect until, usually, it is too late.
3 – “After that, they set the member up for disappointment as the Mormon church inevitably doesn’t live up to the external secular value system (and the supposedly authentic Mormon value system becomes no longer palatable to the member.)”
This is where I get off the boat. The whole point of the conservative critique is that we shouldn’t have had the expectations of the secular value system in the first place, in which case there is nothing that we ever should have been all that disappointed about. Even that isn’t the best way of putting it though. I think we’ve all been disappointed that when the church or the world doesn’t live up to expectations that we thought were entirely justified. The point is that our disappointment is almost totally irrelevant to how the church is run. The idea that membership approval matters is quite obviously an idea that we get from the democratic world around us. When it comes to church government, what obviously matters most is the Lord’s approval. Even more offensive to the progressive liberal, however, is that when it comes to the government of a ward, the bishop’s approval matters more than that of the ward members. Legitimization of priesthood decisions within the church flows from the top-down rather than from the bottom-up. This just is the divinely instituted asymmetry of power that is totally at odds with progressive liberal values. In other words, I disagree with this third part of your arguments because, first, we should never have gotten our secular hopes up in the first place and, second, that the disappointment of these hopes simply isn’t all that relevant since “we” are not in charge.
Yes, I believe that the Lord wants us to be satisfied and happily active within the church. (It is, however, strangely difficult to support this belief.) But such things must be on His terms, not ours. This is why the terms of the progressive agitators are largely irrelevant.
A couple of brief responses to some comments:
Jettboy, I would never go so far as to say that liberalism just is disenchantment with the church. But then, liberalism can mean soooo many different things. I think what you mean to say is that liberal activism aimed at the church is necessarily based in a certain dissatisfaction with its current status. In this case, though, I think there are some forms of right-wing activism as well though… as you mention in your comment.
fbisti, You point out that the church and its teachings has changed and then infer that at least one of these sets of teachings (past or present) must necessarily be wrong. How do you support this inference? By this same reasoning, wouldn’t you also have to believe that either sacrificing animals was wrong or our current lack of such sacrifices is wrong?
Howard, You label the church leaders as “conservative”, but you don’t really nail down what it is, exactly, about their conservatism that is so objectionable. In what sense are they conservative and how is this counter to the gospel?
Hawkgrrrl, I think you misrepresent conservatives within the church. It’s not that they necessarily like the status quo, it’s that whether they like it or not is simply not relevant. I think all of us agree that building ones testimony of personal satisfaction with the church and its operations (as if it were some kind of brand loyalty) is to build one’s house upon the sand.
What both conservative and liberal agitators have in common is a belief that the church as it is today is off track. The conservative agitators point to a time in the past as the departure point and say “Up to here, we were on track. If we revert to this, we are OK.” But on the liberal side, the other difficulty is that the church has really never been perfectly on track. There’s more nuance in understanding the fallible role of human leaders and members in imperfectly seeking understanding of a divine will than in ascribing divine will to either the status quo or the status quo that used to be. There’s a lot less confidence and nuance in the liberal position than in the conservative position. That’s part of what I mean when I say that there is arrogance in the conservative position. Liberal agitators and believers have come to terms with the idea that the church has never been and is not perfectly aligned with God’s will. That should initially cause some discomfort, but it’s a better option than unrealistic expectations IMO.
Jeff G: you don’t really nail down what it is, exactly, about their conservatism that is so objectionable. In what sense are they conservative and how is this counter to the gospel?
What’s objectionable about an overwhelmingly conservative church leadership is the very lopsided imbalance it creates. Exclusion is generally contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sure a case can be made for a history of priesthood exclusiveness but it must be accompanied with the recognition that as time collects by command it is given to broader and broader groups strongly implying that it’s exclusive beginning had more to do with “you have to start somewhere and with someone” and a desire to maintain control as it expands than say some meaningful difference in skin color.
No, exclusion is very much a part of the gospel as is imbalance. It’s just that they are supposed to be exclusions and imbalances along lines that the Lord sets. What reason is there to suppose that these imbalances and exclusions that you perceive are not along such lines? It seems like you are projecting progress onto mere changes.
Of course my point is that I see no reason to think that the conservative constituency of the church leaders is the cause rather than the effect of, or merely correlation with certain gospel principles. The difference those church leaders who registered and voted democrat and those who did never seemed to be all that significant.
Please demonstrate that the Lord set these imbalances and exclusions, no man and compare the Lord’s post mortal body position on these issues with Jesus’ embodied position regarding them. Given Jesus’ generally inclusive nature and the church’s generally exclusive nature what explains this difference?
The difference those church leaders who registered and voted democrat and those who did never seemed to be all that significant. Given the church peer pressure for unanimity this measures nothing that is reliant to this conversation.
This entire statement could apply to any activism, because just because someone is pursuing activism doesn’t mean that they have an inflated sense of their own personal power.
Here’s an example:
Ordain Women is banding together to try and get something done that they believe in. But they are humble about the reality of their personal power and control in the situation. They cede power and control to God, trusting in his leaders — that is precisely why they petition the Lord and petition the leaders. They know they cannot exercise any power or control to be ordained — it is not in their hands. But what they can do is observe and throw in their two cents. They do this through activism wearing the Lord.
Anyway, notwithstanding that example, it seems to me that on the swinging pendulum between human agency and God’s sovereignty, your statement is far toward the latter. But this seems out of place in Mormonism, which places a priority on human agency. I mean, you can interpret your comment in a very defeatist way that just doesn’t make sense for the can-do nature of Mormonism.
Thanks for dropping on by. I’ll try to respond to a few of your points here…
I guess my one question would be — how can we know for sure whether any given asymmetry in power is actually part of gospel teachings/what the Lord has ordained vs. part of right-wing values (or other secular cultural values, whether from our modern era or previous eras)?
I mean, to the extent that Mormonism believes in an institutional authority structure (e.g., not a priesthood-of-all-believers system), that’s one asymmetry, but there are additional asymmetries, such as asymmetries of gender, asymmetries of race, and so forth. Have we come to a consensus that the racial asymmetry was simply not doctrinal, or is that still under debate???
Is it really as simple as what Jettboy said in his first comment: “What the Mormon leadership says and does IS by definition the way to know what Mormon values are.”?
re: our tendency to measure the church and its values by man-made, secular standards rather than the other way around.
One of my major issues is that it seems difficult to actually separate man-made, secular standards from church standards. You speak of this process being gradual, subtle, very difficult to detect until it’s too late. I would say though that one reason it’s so difficult is because *nearly everyone* is affected, because *nearly everyone* (at least, within a Mormon context) lives in a world of man-made secular standards. We are not like folks who cloister themselves from the outside world.
This goes into another comment you made…
I can buy this. BUT I don’t think this is possible. Everyone lives, breathes, works, and learns in the secular culture. It’s difficult to understand how people wouldn’t naturally absorb the secular value systems (whether liberal, conservative, or other) in some way or another.
This isn’t just a problem for converts. It’s a problem for literally every member.
I don’t think this is necessarily offensive though. I think that if you look at liberal/progressive activists, they are AWARE of this — and so their action is coordinated accordingly. They aren’t trying to do grassroots movements, typically. They aren’t trying to make things flow bottom-up (e.g., get their bishop to talk to SP, SP to talk to area authority, area authority to talk to general authority.) They know that they need to address, for a church-wide concern, the general authorities first.
This doesn’t sound like a disagreement with my argument at all. My argument is precisely that conservatives believe that we would never have gotten our secular hopes up (somehow). At best, where we disagree is that I don’t think it’s possible for someone to not absorb the expectations of the secular value system in some way. And, given that, they will then get their secular hopes up.
I think that this is part of a conceptual disconnect between liberal and conservative as well. Just like with my comments on what is “offensive” to progressive liberal above, I think that one could easily say that progressive liberals understand and believe this as well. But they ALSO believe that one can “weary the Lord,” petition the Lord, etc., etc., Yes, always, things are on His terms, not ours. BUT the difference is that the progressive liberal thinks one can actively participate in God’s plan, whereas the conservatives appear to think that it is given — without any human input or participation — as decrees.
Conservatives like status quo because it works for them, and they coincidentally (!) see the status quo as divinely mandated. Progressives don’t thrive in the status quo, and so they see the status quo as the creation of imperfect humans. Improving an imperfect human system is not only acceptable but our duty. That seems like the root of it to me.
Systems are always a byproduct of those in power; even if we concede that divine will drives decision making, those humans in power interpret that will (and as we know they debate and discuss these things, so there is room for differing interpretations). And those in power create systems that work for them. When conservatives don’t desire change, they will use all manner of argumentation to avoid it (just as progressives will argue for change endlessly). Both are simply trying to create the best environment for themselves.
There are true conservatives who don’t want change, and there are those who would accept change if it was sanctioned by authority. It’s the authority-is-in-charge structure that makes them comfortable, not whether there is change or not. So the flip side of the argument here is that (just as some progressives can’t live with the status quo) some conservatives will not accept humans driving change.
I think a long comment of mine just got deleted by wordpress. Aaaarrrrgghhh! Anyways, here’s a very short version of it:
Andrew, I like the post a lot. I think it didn’t get conservatives quite right, but it showed far more effort to get them right then we usually see in the ‘nacle.
“I guess my one question would be — how can we know for sure whether any given asymmetry in power is actually part of gospel teachings/what the Lord has ordained vs. part of right-wing values (or other secular cultural values, whether from our modern era or previous eras)?”
Two ways and neither one of them involves human reasoning of any kind. First, ask the witnesses who were there at the setting apart of the individual. Second, pray to the Lord about whether that line of authority is legitimate or not. Full stop.
The only way priesthood authority can become void is by way of personal unrighteousness. In contrast to the world, a lack of qualifications or simply getting some issue wrong is not enough to cancel their authority.
“But they ALSO believe that one can “weary the Lord,” petition the Lord, etc., etc., Yes, always, things are on His terms, not ours. BUT the difference is that the progressive liberal thinks one can actively participate in God’s plan, whereas the conservatives appear to think that it is given — without any human input or participation — as decrees.”
I agree that this is the main difference. Yes, we ought to weary the Lord with regard to thing over which we have been given stewardship. (Even then, the case of Martin Harris gives me pause though.) But never are we told to weary our priesthood leaders, the press, the bloggernacle, etc. Never are we told to weary the Lord with regards to decisions and issues that are outside of our stewardship. Again, these boundaries, these asymmetries of power and voice are exactly what the progressive liberals fail to acknowledge.
“Conservatives like status quo because it works for them, and they coincidentally (!) see the status quo as divinely mandated.”
Says who? Your comment calls conservatives’ testimonies into question in a way which is (at least) on par with the ways in which conservatives call liberals’ into question. Who are you to say which direction causality flows in cases such as these?
But again, the whole point is whether we like or dislike the status quo (and many conservatives do not like it, contrary to what you say) is largely irrelevant. Our voice is not meant to guide the church and is thus irrelevant.
“Improving an imperfect human system is not only acceptable but our duty. ”
Says who? Even if you do not think that these are cases of steadying the ark, that story is a strong counter-example to your maxim.
Well, my take on liberal versus conservatism in the Church does not necessarily fall to the level of agitation or change one is looking for.
Mainly, because change in the Church sense is really an on-going process for the membership. We are looking for change of heart, change of nature, change of attitude, change of behavior, etc.
Also because to me liberal thinking has more to do with the interpretation of doctrine and principles then it does agitation for change. I think it was MH that identified both so-called liberal and conservative agitators (you know, he and I are agreeing more and more these days. I guess it must have been the burrito). So agitation knows no orientation necessarily.
A liberal interpretation might look like whether the flood was world-wide or local, whether Adam and Eve are literal or figurative or what “Blessed are the peacemakers” might mean.
I think applying a “political view” spin on change is wrong. It is more likely a world view spin that is more accurate.
@ Andrew S
Yeah, I noticed it derail about halfway through and decided to submit the comment anyway. As far as analysis goes it was on the brief (lazy) side, and am not surprised you found issue with it. Organized religion and the modern secular state share an uncanny resemblance in organization, rhetoric, and self-descriptive language. The borders blur in my mind sometimes.
I think the crux of my experience is that what Jettboy described as “Mormon values,” that are generated and reaffirmed by the actions and preferences of the leadership, have far more to do with cultural practice than with doctrine. I know a commonly repeated meme is “the Church is the same everywhere you go,” and this idea is often credited in testimonies as something that makes the individual know that “the Church is true.” Except that the Church is NOT the same everywhere. There are a few shared structural components, but beyond that the cultural differences can be quite striking. At least that was my experience living throughout the US and overseas.
It seems as though to reject Mormon culture is, in the eyes of many, to reject the Gospel itself. The two have become so intertwined as to appear inseparable. And so you have to ask uncomfortable questions like “Do I need to pay 10% of my income as tithing to the Church, or do I take a New Testament/BOM approach and give it directly to the poor/needy in my area? Are those with hyperpigmented skin cursed by God, or are they just a variant of normal? Are 3 hours of meetings on Sunday necessary for salvation? Is body modesty a principle of the Gospel? Do leadership positions other than Bishop and Apostle really need to be filled by a male priesthood holder?” And so on.
I would posit that there are those who identify with Mormon culture, and seek to shape and mold it to better suit them. I think Kate Kelly falls into this category, despite her vilification as an agitator for doctrinal change. And I say shape the culture, not attempt to redefine the doctrine. And there are others who either cease to identify with Mormon culture or who never identified with it to begin with, who go their own way and participate in their own cultural group(s).
I don’t think this is capturing my question. I am not asking when priesthood *authority* is in question. I am saying, given priesthood authority, how can we tell whether any particular position held by a priesthood leader or statement made by a priesthood leader is appropriately Mormon/theological/divinely inspired rather than being secular/non-theological.
Because I think that is my distinction between liberal and apostate. The liberal still believes in the authority, and that’s why they have to go through said authority. The apostate loses trust in the authority.
I definitely think that there’s not enough to flesh out the difference between theological liberalism and political liberal/progressivism.
But it seems that the worldview spin is tied with the political spin.
Andrew, I already covered that. 1) Have they been ordained, set apart and given the keys to make a decision regarding that issue. 2) Pray to know if that priesthood lineage in legitimate.
That’s it. There’s nothing deeper to it.
So, is *anything* a properly authorized priesthood holder does therefore doctrinal/theological/divinely inspired?
At least as doctinal/theological/divinely inspired at anything that those within his stewardship will say or believe, since they aren’t authorized to receive any inspiration at all on the subject.
I just posted this over at a different discussion:
“To rephrase, you’re concerned that my rejection of objectivity leaves the door wide open for the infallibility of PSRs since we are no longer allowed to compare their statements against those of other PSRs.
My response is that even though we are not allowed to make that comparison, this does not mean that there are no standards at all against which to compare and measure the PSRs. The primary form involves going higher up the chain of priesthood authority until we are asking the highest link in that chain in the form of personal revelation.
I personally view personal revelation as an appeal to higher authority rather than an appeal to higher reason. But even if you don’t agree with that, you can still believe that an appeal to God’s reason is a standard against which you can measure PSRs.”
So, yes, a duly ordained and worthy priesthood leader does carry the default which can only be overturned by those higher in authority (be they mortal or immortal). At no point is human reason allowed to overturn the reason/inspiration of those who are divinely authorized to speak on that subject.
I hope that’s a bit clearer.