I was thinking about E. Oaks’ comments in General Conference about criticism. Talking about things that prevent us from benefiting from the gospel, he said:
Another potential destroyer of spiritual roots—accelerated by current technology but not unique to it—is the keyhole view of the gospel or the Church. This limited view focuses on a particular doctrine or practice or perceived deficiency in a leader and ignores the grand panorama of the gospel plan and the personal and communal fruits of its harvest.
This is an update to something he said on PBS’s show The Mormons, a statement for which he was widely criticized:
It’s wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true.
In a talk in 1987, he elaborated on this same idea much more fully in an Ensign article here. I’ve been thinking about the similarity between church leaders and what it is like working out with our personal trainer. My husband and I have been working out with a succession of personal trainers for a little over a year. We just recently started again with a new trainer we are just getting to know. Hopefully you can see some of the parallels.
We started working out with a trainer for a variety of reasons: boredom (we had a lot of free time on our hands when we started), fear of death and aging, a desire to feel better, and the awareness that working out alone was yielding parlous results. I was also recovering from having fallen off a horse at the time, and my back was jacked up. Usually, a person at the gym generally comes up to you and asks about your fitness goals, and then they set you up (for a nominal fee each session) with a personal trainer to motivate you to achieve those goals. This is similar to the reasons we either join the church or engage more fully with it. To some extent, our assessment of the outcome is related to whatever prompted us to join in the first place.
These are the routine thoughts I have when I work out with my new personal trainer:
- He has a crazy forced laugh like Caesar Flickerman, the blue-haired host in the Hunger Games trilogy. 
- He isn’t giving me full credit for all my work. Sometimes his count is off. I’ve done four reps, and he says “three . . .” Grrr.
- Easy for him to say. He has it easy. He’s young and hasn’t given birth to three children or lived in Asia being force-fed noodles and rice.
- My body just doesn’t work that way. What he’s asking me to do is literally impossible for my body type.
- I’m not going to focus my entire life on this. He’s crazy if he thinks I’m going to spend every single day in the gym. I have other things going on in my life.
Recapping, my criticism falls into these buckets. :
- Perceived slights & wrongs
- Personal circumstances
People in leadership wear big boy and big girl underpants and don’t need to be protected from criticism. They lead a worldwide organization. That’s why they are in the position they are in. E. Oaks also stated this in his 1987 Ensign article, although this bears repeating for two reasons. First, those who claimed E. Oaks said this because of arrogance and a belief that leaders should not be questioned are implying (at least in part) that leaders can’t take the heat and should get out of the kitchen. Second, those who can’t stand for leaders to be criticized often try to protect them, as if leaders need members to act as human shields for them. In part, it is a sign of respect to criticize. We criticize someone because we are engaging with their ideas and taking them seriously.
Ultimately, though criticism isn’t really about them. Criticism is about us. If it were only about them, we would just ignore them. Criticism is the point at which another’s ideas clash with ours.
Recently, we were telling a funny story about someone we know. My daughter said, “I used to look up to [that person].” I said, “You should look up to her. She’s got a lot of admirable qualities.” While the story we were telling was typical of this person, it showcased one of her ridiculous qualities. Each of us is a mix of good qualities and the absurd, although many people fail to realize this. We all make judgments about the people around us, whom to trust, whom we should fear, who is a good role model, etc. We listen to all the information (or stories) we have about a person. As we get older, we know a lot more stories about these people.
Children are more vulnerable to negative information because they have fewer stories. When we have fewer stories, the outlying stories are more powerful and we may mistake them for typical. There was an interesting TED talk about the problem of the “single story.” She shares the example of a man who had seen Christian Bale’s movie American Psycho, and this was really the only story he knew about Americans, so he thought this was more typical behavior than it is.
Listen to your inner monologue for the 5 types of criticism I outlined, and you’ll see why criticism is all about us:
Personality quirks. We often find personality traits endearing or annoying for subconscious reasons that have nothing to do with the person and are related to memories or insecurities. While it’s important to give people a pass, I’ve also found that once you’ve accurate described personality flaws, it’s impossible to unsee them. For example, I can’t hear E. Perry talk without “hankering for a hunk of cheese,” although Schoolhouse Rock is a positive association for me. I can’t unhear that Caesar Flickerman laugh either.
Perceived slights & wrongs are usually accidental on the part of the person doing them. Now, if I have a personal trainer who always miscounts my reps in my favor, I’m going to be more likely to like that person than one who always undercounts my work. I should be mature enough to realize that errors in my favor vs. errors “against” me are still both errors. My workout is what it is. If my trainer demotivates me with constant mistakes that are out of my favor, I should probably find a new personal trainer. But if I’m getting off light because of counting errors in my favor, I’m also not going to get the results I want.
Privilege. It’s true that I need to adjust some of what my personal trainer says for his awareness of what it’s like to be in my shoes. If he’s knowledgeable about nutrition and aging and women, I may get more value from what he’s saying. But if not, I’ll have to ignore some of the things he gets wrong. Either way, I shouldn’t immediately dismiss all he says, just realize that he may not truly empathize with the struggles of someone who isn’t a twenty something male. If he’s over the top wrong in the type of advice he’s giving or causing me injury based on wrong assumptions, I should probably get a new personal trainer.
Personal circumstances. Let’s be honest. Part of this is me making excuses, and part of it is legit. There are literally some types of exercise that just don’t work as well for some body types, and every body type differs in what it needs. Our frames, our muscles, our metabolisms, all of these are factors. If we have an injury, we have to compensate for that. If we have short or long legs, a weak or strong core, neck or back pain, all of these are going to impact how effective various exercises are. But sometimes I just need to make a slight adjustment or try a different machine or a different exercise to get the result I need.
Priorities. OK, he’s a personal trainer whereas I have a company to run, kids to raise, and an ever-growing Netflix queue to work through.  When he implies I’m going to be at the gym every day for an hour, well, obviously I know that’s completely impractical. It being the center of his life is because he’s a personal trainer is fine, but I’ve got to decide how much time this is really worth to me. I can derive benefit from it, but I have to decide how to integrate workouts into my overall life and still pay the bills, get kids to school, and build a business. It’s up to me to determine what I want to get from my workouts. Do I want to be more flexible, in better cardiovascular shape? Do I want to lose weight or gain muscle? Do I want to be a runway model?  He can’t decide what success looks like. Only I can.
So I can appreciate E. Oaks’ advice in the most recent General Conference:
we must be moderate and measured in criticism and seek always for the broader view of the majestic work of God.
In his 1987 Ensign article, E. Oaks suggested 5 alternatives to criticizing leaders: 1) overlook the flaw, humbly acknowledging our own flaws 2) reserve judgment and postpone action (is there something of merit that we aren’t yet seeing?), 3) take up our differences privately with that leader (obviously not terribly easy to do with apostles or GAs in a church this large), 4) go over their head to another leader (works for local leaders), 5) go over their head to God or pray, but also pray to understand if we are the one in error.
- Have you ever experienced the problem of only knowing “one story” about a person or group of people? How does our limited interaction with high level church leaders help and hinder our perceptions of their flaws?
- Where does engaging with ideas end and undue criticism begin? What criticism is “moderate and measured” and when does it go too far?
- How does clarifying your own goals and expectations alter the tendency to be critical of leaders?
- Does the analogy of a personal trainer work for you? Why or why not?
- Do these pants make me look fat?
 My last trainer had no sense of humor whatsoever and frequently told the same pointless stories, and the one before that often just seemed distracted and not that committed. It’s always something.
 The one I liked best? The one whose count was mostly accurate, but occasionally in my favor. Which is how I like my apostles. Or how I perceive the apostles I like.
 I don’t know how they all came up as “P” words, but by the 3rd “P” word, I was committed to make it work.
 And apparently blog posts to write!
 Shaddap. I know the boat has sailed on that one.
“Ultimately, though criticism isn’t really about them. Criticism is about us. If it were only about them, we would just ignore them”
That is spot on and precisely why the Savior counseled us to take the beam out of our own eye. He wants us to focus on our challenges and when we criticize it is a coping mechanism to mask our own flaws.
I can more readily get behind the advice to be “moderate and measured in criticism” than sweeping statements like “it is wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the critcism is true.” Where E. Oaks gets off base, in my view, is when he carves out a special exception for leaders in the LDS church because their leadership is of a different kind than that of any other organization. From his 1987 talk,
“Government or corporate officials, who are elected directly or indirectly or appointed by majority vote, must expect that their performance will be subject to critical and public evaluations by their constituents. That is part of the process of informing those who have the right and power of selection or removal. The same is true of popularly elected officers in professional, community, and other private organizations. I suppose that the same is true even of church leaders who are selected by popular vote of members or their representative bodies. Consistent with gospel standards, these evaluations—though critical and public—should be constructive.
“A different principle applies in our Church, where the selection of leaders is based on revelation, subject to the sustaining vote of the membership. In our system of Church government, evil speaking and criticism of leaders by members is always negative. Whether the criticism is true or not, as Elder George F. Richards explained, it tends to impair the leaders’ influence and usefulness, thus working against the Lord and his cause. (In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p. 24, quoted above.)”
Oaks, by focusing solely on the utility of criticism in selecting candidates for public office, is ignoring the other benefits of criticism. For instance, the possibility of negative criticism can dissuade leaders from making bad decisions. Constructive criticism can also help them correct course instead of doubling down on a bad decision. Criticism can also help them understand how a particular policy or decision is coming across and, by addressing the concerns, help achieve greater buy-in from the public. None of these benefits of criticism are dependent on the leader being popularly elected.
Later on, Oaks asserts that “rejection of or murmuring against the counsel of the Lord’s servants amounts to actions against the Lord himself.” Again, I think Oaks is over-generalizing here. If, as he acknowledges elsewhere, leaders make mistakes, then rejecting their mistaken counsel shouldn’t be considered action against the Lord. I don’t subscribe to the idea that the Lord blesses us for following mistaken or uninspired counsel, though perhaps He will be merciful if we do so in good faith. Also, by essentially scrubbing the public record of any meaningful public debate and white-washing the history of church leaders, you are setting members up for disappointment when they do discover troubling facts. And when they bring up those facts, they will be attacked for being critical.
Finally, the counsel to not criticize church leaders is frequently employed as a shield to prevent members and investigators from rigorously investigating the claim to divine authority that those leaders make. It is a catch-22, circular argument. Criticizing LDS leaders is wrong because they are the Lord’s servants, and anything that casts doubt on whether they are the Lord’s servants is criticism. So I see this brought up not so much when someone is having a hard time with the local Primary President, but rather when someone brings up Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy, or treasure hunting, or translation of the Book of Abraham. These criticisms are focused on the issue of authority, the merits of the church’s claims. They are part of the marketplace of ideas. The proper response should not be to attempt to silence or ignore critics but rather to engage them, which would lead to a greater understanding of the underlying issues and events for everyone.
Criticism invites dialog, Oaks is demanding monolog! It makes life so much easier for him and for the brethren when the mobots act in unison.
The other issue here is when one is speaking up about problems that have real, negative consequences in real people’s lives. I can totally get behind withholding criticism that is about inconsequential matters that don’t affect the community or the people we care about. Criticizing personal foibles of leadership, for example. Elder Maxwell liked alliteration – maybe a little too much. Its easy to find that endearing (I did!) or I guess you could criticize it. That certainly doesn’t seem constructive. Another matter wholly is when the thing being criticized is substantive and is hurting people. Are we to stand idly by and do nothing, say nothing? Is it never right to speak truth to power for fear of criticizing them?
It is simply wrong to speak horribly and hurtfully of our gay brothers and sisters. It IS WRONG. Especially if you are speaking as “one that has authority” and whose words carry eternal weight in the minds of our youth and the devout. Its a proximal cause of suicide! It was wrong to teach racist, pseudo doctrine from our most sacred pulpits. It is wrong to body shame our women. It is wrong to brush aside the concerns of our sisters about their place in the eternities. It. is. wrong. And it hurts real people, today, in their real lives.
Certainly, should criticism be well-grounded, measured and constructive? Yes. Is that hard to do sometimes especially when one poignantly feels the hurt personally or through the experience of loved ones? Absolutely. Empathy and mercy should be extended both ways.
I think of all the saints I know that have bent over backward to couch their observations and pleas for help, change and recognition of real concerns in the most positive, faithful way possible. They years of trying to work through the chains of command and normal channels. Only to be turned away again and again. Ignored. And then told ‘you can’t “criticize” anything, ever”. It just simply isn’t healthy for any organization and all while hurting real people in tangible ways. Yeah so I feel fine criticizing a system which refuses self-criticism.
What so many seem to want to put ourselves in a Panglossian church – a place where “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”. Good for them but I assume we as a people will be held accountable before God for inhabiting our delusions while people suffer.
When you tell your personal trainer that you have a sharp stabbing pain while trying to complete an exercise, how does he respond?
“I’ve done that exercise many times, and now I’m much stronger than you.”
“Everyone needs to do this exercise to become physically fit.”
“I’m not going to respond to you. I busy running this gym. Go get help from another gym member.”
“You chose this gym and now you need to do all the exercises we do.”
“A doctor told me that is the best exercise.”
“Stop! Some discomfort isn’t unusual, but what you are describing shouldn’t happen. Let’s figure out what is going wrong.”
I like your analogy but ironically it leads to greater criticism because of the personal nature of the trainer and the general nature of the church authority. If you want to pursue a healthcare analogy, there is greater correspondence between general authorities and an MD-PhD engaged in teaching and research.
Rah points out an interesting paradox. We are not to criticize leaders, but our leaders are free to criticize us, or those who don’t share our beliefs, like homosexuals.
It puts liberals in a particularly difficult place. Liberals typically have empathetic or tolerant views towards people like homosexuals and secular humanists. They are anxious to demonstrate that empathy and it is part of their personal moral code. However, they belong to a church that is publicly critical of these folks. So in order to demonstrate their tolerance, they have to distance themselves from church teachings by being publicly critical of the church. You announce to the world “I think my church’s stance on SSM is wrong!” Otherwise, they will be associated with the conservative intolerance, and liberals find this association intolerable.
The paradoxical answer to the paradox is to be tolerant towards the intolerance of the church, something that is extremely difficult for most liberals. It’s an uncomfortable place to be, particularly with regard to relations with the outside world.
We could equally say that Elder Oaks’ advice isnt about them either, it’s about you. They are trying to protect you from sin, not themselves from criticism. A quick search of all scriptures related to criticism make this pretty clear. The idea that criticism of authority is good in any sense comes from the enlightenment rebellion against church authority, not the scriptures.
There is no learning in being protected from sin, how can you begin to know what God knows if you are living in a bubble? Perhaps you have an argument if you’re pointing to taking a life or other very serious sin which has eternal consequences, but Oaks doesn’t limit his (all but) infallibility to his advice to very serious sin. God is not God because he flawlessly follows Bro. Oaks, perfect obedience doesn’t make gods it makes mobots, Gog is God because hi possesses knowledge of all things and he didn’t acquire that knowledge by listening to Elder Oaks.
I agree with Nate and Rah, specifically as relates to appearing to support intolerance or ill treatment of others. The alternative to criticism is sometimes to divest. For example, I mostly divest from BY. He’s dead. It’s not that hard. (I divested from personal training for about 4 months, and most days I consider doing that again, but I want my husband to go, and if I quit, he will – that’s maybe a weird reason, or maybe that’s typical).
I just watched the movie Philomena last night. Dame Judi Dench plays an Irish woman who was put in an abbey as an unwed pregnant teen, then her son was sold to an American couple, and she was forced to work for 4 years in the laundry to pay for her upkeep. As a faithful Catholic, she still believes in confession, praying to the saints, and that the nuns did a terrible thing because they didn’t understand the consequences of their actions. She’s traveling with a journalist to find her son. He’s a lapsed Catholic who doesn’t believe in God and feels the Catholic church should go to confession for the horrible things they’ve allowed to happen. At the culmination, he confronts the nun most responsible, and Philomena intervenes and says she forgives her for what she did, and it happened to her, not to him. She points out that his lack of belief doesn’t make him any happier or nicer than he claims others’ beliefs make them miserable. He’s the one who is miserable. It’s a fascinating story. Her attitude is admirable, but it’s impossible not to agree with him that the nuns did terrible things, perhaps due to their dearly held wrong beliefs, and that there should be some justice and advocacy.
I have many people close to me who believe “when the GA has spoken the thinking has been done” in regards to them always being right and never being able to criticize anything they say.
My response has always been from BY (ignore the blind security part):
“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation,
****and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders****, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.”
I highlighted my favorite part (we can weaken the influence we can give our leaders). The logical conclusion that BY sees the communication between leaders and members as two-way. Members *should* be able to influence their leaders. How can we exercise two way communication and influence if we never speak?
On the other hand I’m really tired about the incessant whiners (although some readers would find me among them). Can’t they find anything good to thank the leaders for or celebrate? I’m in favor of celebrating all good; and I know I can be better in communicating that. I still reserve the right to speak when I think the effects of a current course of action are harmful/damaging. If it doesn’t fall into that category for me – I let it go.
“Which way do you face?” Remember the that talk from October Conference? The newly called GA was counseled to represent the leaders to the people, never the people to the leaders.
Well, if we are all facing the Savior as we ought, we could whisper over the shoulders of those ahead of us the things that are of great importance and in need of being addressed for all those ahead of us are to “be the least among us and the servant of ALL, not just a preferred few. Such constructive and positive whisperings in full view of the Savior would keep both the ones whispering (unheated, kind, softly spoken but real and true needs) and the ones hearing (listening with full purpose of heart) on holy ground. Cynicism would be checked, sarcasm avoided, anger dormant,and progress would be happily and swiftly made.
So many times in life I’ve been caught in situations where I’d done thins differently or made changes IF ONLY I HAD KNOWN. But too often, I already thought “I knew” or didn’t want to listen to anything or anyone who could have helped me discern what I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.
I didn’t want to be bothered, or more encumbered, or my time taken. It was all about me, even as when I had criticisms it was also often about me.
Harsh criticism hurts. But no critique at all hurts worse. It hinders or stops growth completely. The scriptures refer to this as damnation–the hindrance of going forward.
Fabulous post Hawkgrrl! You and KristineA are hitting them out of the park. I’m learning and growing and thank you so much.
Make that “hindrance” near the end there.
Without criticism and critic, nothing would improve. While sometimes I think that “constructive criticism” is a lot like “military intelligence,” criticism with the intent to damage is not helpful.
I think that Elder Oaks intent, while seemingly a non-sequitur, was to help those who are hyper-critical of the GAs, without understanding the actual position they are in by virtue of their calling. They teach Gospel principles, they teach ideals and hopefully, they lead by example.
“Does the analogy of a personal trainer work for you? Why or why not?”
The historical origins of the critic as a profession go back about 200 years or so, with the the significant increase in the public consumption goods, services and media that were produced and provided by people with which the consumers themselves were not acquainted. The professional critic was specifically aimed, then, at subverting any authority that a producer might gain over their consumers due to asymmetries of information or bargaining positions between the consumer and provider. In other words, critics are specifically aimed at undermining authority. Similarly, the literary critic was specifically paid to check and undermine any authority that political (and ecclesiastical) leaders might attempt to usurp over their reading public.
In this sense, I think most of us are perfectly comfortable criticizing a gym trainer or government officials because, if anything, they are supposed to answer to us and not the other way around. There is no legitimate authority that they as individuals are supposed to have over their consuming public. This is why we say “the customer is always right” or that we (ideally) live in a “democracy”. The church, however, is (ideally) not a democracy and the customer is almost always wrong and in need of council, repentance and the administration of saving ordinances. Priesthood authority is for this reason NOT supposed to be undermined, through criticism or any other means (exposing their personal unworthiness being an important exception). In other words, priesthood leaders and gym trainers radically different.
That’s what makes me so uncomfortable about posts like these. First of all, they provide zero scriptural support, but instead parrot cliches and morals that the world teaches us. Second, these cliches and morals are themselves very historically situated and as such have no right to be read back into the scriptures. Third, this worldly set of teachings and leaders were specifically designed to subvert a church and its authority, and even if we see a difference between that church and ours, they most definitely do not. Finally, the authors try to pretend that they are simply distancing themselves from church leaders in order to go it alone when in fact they are simply exchanging one set of teachings and leaders for another by leveraging the latter against the former.
With this in mind, it is worth pointing out that it wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation and its subversion of priesthood authority that the noun “belief” took on its current meaning, bereft of any reference to other persons and an individual’s relationship to them. Prior to this, the latin word for belief (fides) meant to stay faithful, trustful and loyal. It’s not a coincidence, then, that the profession of critic emerged immediately after this word began to shift in meaning as it came to be adapted to enlightenment philosophy and its explicit individualism.
Before the word had been stripped of its interpersonal connotations, the idea of a faithful or believing critic would have simply been a contradiction in terms that made no sense at all. The western world, however, has followed the reformation and the enlightenment in making belief and truth virtues of individuals that accordingly have no relationship whatsoever to church authority. When posts like these follow the western world by parroting their values (just because they don’t cite them, doesn’t mean they aren’t parroting them), they may not be explicitly attacking church authority, but they most definitely are silently sidelining them and this is wrong.
I think we err if we judge Elder Oaks using a framework common to our American political, business, and social institutions. He is teaching a correct principle for the salvational benefit of the saints. I am mindful of D&C 112:20 and 84:36, which I recommend to anyone who wants to understand this principle better.
Some of the best advice I have ever heard is this: “Think for yourself. Question authority.”
Now, if an authority also asks not to be criticized and teaches that criticism of that authority is wrong, even if the criticism is true, well, that authority should be DOUBLY questioned, at the least.
Faithful criticism is only a contradiction if the faith and critique have the same object. The correct object of faith is God. The object of criticism we are discussing is leaders. Criticism of erring leaders definitely occurs in the scriptures.
I regret that I have but one like each to give to Joel’s and rah’s comments.
Jeff G: “I think most of us are perfectly comfortable criticizing a gym trainer or government officials because, if anything, they are supposed to answer to us and not the other way around.” Comfortable until you die from a heart attack. We criticize our personal trainers in large part at our own peril. Hopefully we don’t criticize them while choking down a box of Krispy Kremes. Which is my point.
“That’s what makes me so uncomfortable about posts like these. First of all, they provide zero scriptural support, but instead parrot cliches and morals that the world teaches us. . . this worldly set of teachings and leaders were specifically designed to subvert a church and its authority . . . Finally, the authors try to pretend that they are simply distancing themselves from church leaders in order to go it alone when in fact they are simply exchanging one set of teachings and leaders for another by leveraging the latter against the former.” I am completely perplexed at these comments. Where in the OP do I do any of these things?? This post is my attempt to internalize E. Oaks’ remarks that have been roundly criticized elsewhere. My analogy to a personal trainer reframes E. Oaks’ remarks in the context of why we seek religious counsel in the first place and how it can be useful to us. The quotations are all either directly from his talk (not scriptures, but I disagree that only posts that quote scriptures are meaningful as scripture is also subject to interpretation) or the TED talk I embedded which just illustrates the problem of criticizing leaders in front of our children. How anything I wrote here can be twisted into an attack on “church authority” is truly beyond my comprehension.
But I will engage with your idea of “church authority” which I think is significant. Contemporary people engage with religion primarily as individuals, seeking a better life, seeking the counsel that will help them achieve their potential. Religion is personal. If it weren’t so, Joseph Smith would never have sought answers in the grove. This individual approach (as opposed to a hereditary, duty-bound approach often found in the scriptures) is undoubtedly as modern as clean drinking water, so if that’s your criticism of the OP, you have certainly identified an underlying assumption of my post. Frankly, I think the Q12 also feel their counsel should be beneficial and edifying to individuals and not just pro-social on a communal level or pro-church-authority.
I also wonder, as a side note, why you specifically mention “priesthood” authority without reference to women who lead in the church. Are we not beholden to them in any way or is it open season to criticize based solely on one’s sex? What about instances where different priesthood leaders hold different opinions and provide different counsel? Do we have to agree with conflicting viewpoints?
I believe my reading of E. Oaks’ remarks is useful given his modern audience. He’s not King Benjamin talking to ancient people, he’s a modern person as well. He is providing counsel in a modern setting.
Jeff G: so you’re uncomfortable with any amount of criticism of priesthood leaders (except for personal worthiness) because they have priesthood authority and *any* criticism weakens their authority?
What kind of influence would you have them on us? I suggest they are guides giving advice, leaders trying to light the way. But your interpretation leads to: obey even if they are wrong and you will be blessed. Which I just see as a fallacy; prophets have spoken against that…. given, plenty of apostles have spoken in support of that position. So . . . hmmmm . . . they disagree publicly: what shall be done? Must I rely on my own personal revelation to make my way forward?
When they say it’s impossible to lead you astray – warning bells go off in my head. I don’t think there is any mistake our leaders can make that would frustrate the work of the Lord; HF will make sure his people will have access to exaltation. But the rest? Mistakes, stumbling blocks, etc. Those will happen. Or do you not believe Uchtdorf when he says our leaders have made mistakes? Or when Holland says to have patience with our GAs because they are all that the Lord has to work with, imperfect vessels.
If there’s one thing scriptures teach us is that prophets are just as much of a hot mess as the rest of us. Maybe the leaders need to have a little softer hold on their people so mistakes won’t lead the whole fold away at the same time.
there is not convincing the “when they speak the thinking has been done” types. So maybe I’m just wasting my breath.
In re. note , you look pretty good in all of the pictures in the post. 😉
I like Jeff’s response in #14; it makes me think (in many of the ways illuminated by Hawk’s and Kristine’s responses in 19 and 20). Jeff says, thinking mediaevally,
Hawk is quite right in pointing out that Joseph’s original quest for knowledge – our foundational act, as it were – is essentially a Renaissance/Reformation action, the action of an individual born and raised in a society formed to protect the rights of the individual against the power of the higher societal order. This is not coincidence.
If we truly believe that we can never criticize leaders with a higher religious calling, to paraphrase Elder Oaks, how is it that we praise the courageous reformers, the Luthers, Wycliffes, Tyndales, and others, some of whom died for their criticisms? And we specifically call them out for having opened the door for the Restoration by opening the door to criticism? Or do those religious leaders, the popes and cardinals of the 15th and 16th centuries, not count because they weren’t really appointed by God but only thought they were? (I guarantee you they would have said much the same thing as Elder Oaks, and they backed it up with the stake.)
Likewise, in re. that free, individualized society that nurtured young Joseph so that he felt free to speak to God as a man speaks to another: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” Except that we praise the American Founders, and even claim the US Constitution as a divinely-inspired document.
It seems ridiculous to conclude that even Elder Oaks, for as comfortable as it might make him, meant that we should never point out the errors of our leaders. At least, I hope he didn’t mean that.
“If we truly believe that we can never criticize leaders with a higher religious calling, to paraphrase Elder Oaks” I hasten to point out that the full text of E. Oaks’ talk does NOT say this. Only the soundbite does. Additionally, his most recent remarks in GC didn’t say this. He specifically says we should be measured and moderate in our criticism, putting it into the greater context of the work of God, not to simply shut the hell up and pretend all is well in Zion.
Fascinating insights, thanks.
In the October 2014 conference, which had many talks focusing on following the prophets and sustaining the leaders, D. Todd Christofferson had an interesting point: “But God intends that His children should act according to the moral agency He has given them, “that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.” It is His plan and His will that we have the principal decision-making role in our own life’s drama. God will not live our lives for us nor control us as if we were His puppets, as Lucifer once proposed to do. Nor will His prophets accept the role of “puppet master” in God’s place. Brigham Young stated: “I do not wish any Latter Day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ,—the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves.”
We are supposed to think for ourselves about the decisions of church leaders, which opens up the possibility that we, in fact, may not agree with all their decisions. Hawk is right that we need to view any disagreement within the overall panorama of the gospel work, but we are free to disagree nevertheless.
Although I already appreciate your writing and insight, including in this post, I am now sidetracked and excited about the idea that you may be a fellow horse person…?!
I also love that you point out that criticism is not just about the other person, it’s also about us, and that is an easy thing to forget when we’re judging others.
Something I have had a hard time understanding is the fear these leaders have. Fear that the truth would destroy faith led the leaders to whitewash the church’s history. Oaks’ comment is out of fear that criticism will destroy people’s faith.
If the church is true, what are the leaders so afraid of?
The truth is a powerful thing. If I teach that 2+2=4, I am confident that the truth will manifest itself to those who hear my teachings. I do not need to claim that it is true because God told me. I would not be afraid of naysayers screaming, no matter how loudly, that I am wrong, or that I am teaching falsehoods. Isn’t the truth powerful? It doesn’t seem like church leaders think so. They fret and fret and in my opinion, it makes it worse. If the church had been more open and less afraid about its history, it would be in a better spot today with the information so readily available to so many people. Now I understand that my mathematical example is extremely simple, but the church claims the Holy Ghost will make the truth manifest to those who truly seek. So, what are the leaders so afraid of?
Someone who shares their belief and is open to criticism seems much more trustworthy than someone who shares their belief and frets about criticism.
From some of the comments you would think that people were responding to http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-churchs-cardinal-sin-of-blasphemy_28.html?m=1 and not what Hawk wrote.
“And yea verily, behold Jesus said to his disciples, “Criticize not ye the Pharisees, nor shall ye question the Sadducees, though thy judgments be righteous and thy questions be without guile. Do this neither in public, nor in thine private gatherings. For behold, are these not thine appointed leaders, and have they not authority over thine spiritual comings and goings? Rather, do as thou art instructed, withersoever they shall command thee, and this do without murmurings, and for thine unquestioning obedience it shall be well with you in the kingdom of my father.””
Neither do I.
There always seem to be a faction in the church that would love to return to a pre-enlightment religion, but this seems to mean something out of the dark ages of absolutist religious authority. Prophets in most our scriptures are without hierarchical power, especially not in the way that seems to be suggested here. They are men standing on walls exhorting, itinerant preachers going from city to city, maybe patriarchal rulers of families, but really except maybe for some parts of the Book of Mormon with its prophet kings, judges and generals in some parts prophets haven’t really been the head of large hierarchical organizations. They exhort obedience to the laws of God not obedience to themselves and the organizations they lead. So I don’t feel much persuaded by appeals to the historical prophets when it comes to these questions.
New Iconoclast #22, rah #30
Exactly. We really can’t expect to have it both ways.
Stephen #28, I enjoyed both this post and that post.
Brjones, love it!
Unfortunately, Matthew 23 does come fairly close.
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
Thankfully, He continues with very specific and biting criticism that are equally applicable now.
Let’s see. Sadducees and Pharisees were a split off sect of Jews, often deemed hypocrites. Compare Q12/FP to Sadducees and Pharisees (because, after all, the analogy obviously is there based on their actions/teachings/words) but avoid casting any aspersions on authority when it comes to Christ (our ultimate high priest and authority). I see how this game works.
Dear Elder Oaks,
Respectfully, you can’t have it both ways.
How many times have church leaders reminded us that the former church leaders are fallible men? Whether discussing the peccadillos of previous prophets (or more serious issues) or revelations that have been changed, reversed or abandoned, the church constantly harps that prophets are fallible men, and that we shouldn’t expect too much of them. Additionally, the church teaches not to deify the current or former leaders of the church, because, after all, they are only human. Considering all of this, how can you ask that current leaders not be criticized at all, even if the criticism is true?
You misunderstand me, IDIAT. I’m more than happy to cast aspersions on christ or anyone who professes to speak in his name. That just isn’t what we were talking about.
Sadducees controlled the temple, and Pharisees, the Sanhedrin. On that basis alone, there’s grounds for comparison to those who currently function in the same capacity. I certainly don’t believe our current leaders would crucify the Son of God, but the criticisms in Matthew 23 find corollaries to current church practices all too easily.
Reading through this entry and all the comments made me think for some reason from this quote from the West Wing episode “The stormy present”
“As men seek to douse the flame, douse the ideal, to return to a different age entirely, to return to an age from which our forefathers fled. Fundamentalism is a vision, an idea as rigid as democracy is flexible and we cannot let it overcome what we have worked so hard to form.”
My way of dealing with the church is to understand that the church is made up of the Gospel of Christ, programmes to help us live the Gospel, and the views of the leaders(often influenced by their conservative politics) taught as if they are gospel.
Elder Oaks is one of the worst culprits of teaching his political views as gospel.
I find it interesting that we discuss at church the gospel, it is less acceptable to question the programmes, and totally unacteptable to discuss the political views. It should be the opposite, but often people are most sensetive about their weakest area.
The things the church or its leaders are most likely to be criticised for are the views that are taught as Gospel, but some years later are no longer Gospel; racism, opposition to inter racial marriage, opposition to birth control, and at present opposition to gay equality, and female equality. All these have come and gone in my life time, hopefully the last two will too.
There is no problem with questioning, whether programmes are still fullfilling their purpose in helping us live a gospel principle. Do home and visiting teaching help us to love our fellow man or can we still do our ht and not love a large proportion of our fellow man?
The leaders who teach their personal/political views as if they are gospel should be willing to justify those views, and even respect different views. They would have to recognise their teachings, as not Gospel first.
There is very little criticism of Elder Uchtdorf, because he usually teaches the Gospel of Christ, there is criticism of the more conservative Apostles, because they often teach their consevative views as if they are gospel.
The church will be a better (more gospel) place when the conservative politics is either removed or recognised for what it is. Sadly unless we have the Lord choose the Prophet rather than who lives longest we will have politics, and leaders over 90 for the forseeable future.
I certainly don’t believe our current leaders would crucify the Son of God
Inasmuch as ye have driven LGBTQ children to suicide, and then blamed them for the despair that they felt, ye have done it unto me.