The last few weeks I’ve been in kind of a funk since Elder Nelson’s comments at CES devotional. I thought I’d made peace with the policy existing and found a path to move forward, but his comments really tripped me up and I found myself trying to avoid energy-draining conflict. At church I’ve wandered into nursery to volunteer as I’ve started trying to avoid the classes and comments from my Rexburg ward. Seeing that they didn’t need my help in nursery on Sunday I ducked into the last 15 minutes of Sunday School just to hear the lesson on Nephi and Lehi’s vision being taught specifically as a type and shadow of how we must always trust our current leaders, no matter what, because they eventually lead us to the promised land. Not exactly the well I would have chosen to drink from just now, but it gave me a bit to think about. I consider myself a believer, and I believe that I love, respect, pray for, and support my leaders in their callings. I don’t think I can say I necessarily trust them right now, or that sustaining requires me to always obey.
Christian Harrison has already more eloquently addressed this topic two years ago in a guest post here at W&T, with the applicable part under “Disagreement & Defection”:
The principle of sustaining our leaders is often coupled with the principle of obedience. It’s natural for leadership to feel sustained when they observe obedience… but this is an error of perspective. When I raise my hand to the square to sustain someone in their position — regardless of whether it be the President of the Church or the person who prints the ward bulletin — I’m not promising to obey them. I’m promising to sustain them.
The term “sustain” is rich with meaning. Food sustains us. Love sustains us. Unblinking obedience does not sustain us. My sustaining vote is evidenced and manifest when I pray for their success — when I’m rooting for them and helping them to magnify their calling. And, like food and love, the act of sustaining is reciprocative. My sustaining vote is accepted when those I sustain embrace and facilitate me in my work as the sustainer.
And when we disagree — and we will, it’s inevitable — we’re not called upon to simply succumb to the demands of begrudging obedience, which is a destructive act; we’re called, instead, to the godly and creative act of loving someone despite their failings. This is at the heart of the weighty calling of sibling-ship.
About this same time over the last month I’ve been reading the memoir of Armand Mauss, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Journeys of a Mormon Academic. It was a fascinating look into the life of an inside outsider – one who has never worked directly for the church but has been involved and been privy to a lot of details from the inside. I loved his description of pre-retrenchment church, his life and work, and especially the inside info. One of my favorite stories is when he was part of a group who’d been hired to do some surveys and statistical analysis (before the church started their own department) and during a presentation to GAs mentioned their stats showed Mormon boys had the exact same rate of marijuana use as the general population – and the GA in charge immediately shut down the presentation and didn’t allow the group to say anything more about their study or recommendations. I don’t know why that was so hilarious to me. Anyways, I also loved his succinct conclusion to the book. One of the things I hope to learn, remember, and apply from him is paraphrased below:
My relationship to the LDS Church as an institution has evolved in ways that are rational as well as emotional. I would summarize by saying that it had been one long process of disenchantment to which the changing ecclesiastical culture has contributed but not caused. Note that I use the term disenchantment and not disillusionment. I mean only that for me, the institutional church and its leaders no longer embody an otherwordly mystique, as they did when I was a young man. I confess that sometimes I miss the sense of security and certainty about church leaders that I had as a youth, when I saw LDS prophets and other leaders as virtually infallible spokesmen for Deity. Whatever part Deity played in its origins, the church soon came to operate and develop a lot like other human institutions and organizations. Therefore …it can be understood through sociological analysis. The sociological view is necessary. It was my understanding of this reality that gradually brought my disenchantment.
I am as offended as other intellectuals when I see policies and practices in the church that I consider harmful, or just plain wrong. Yet I have always understood the nature of LDS ecclesiastical polity: I know the church is not a democracy and does not claim to be one. It is a corporate, centralized bureaucracy, in which change occurs slowly.
So it is that I have continued to value my membership in the LDS Church and kingdom and to give it my voluntary loyalty, even when I have believed church policies to be in error in certain respects. Yet — and this is important — it has been precisely my disenchantment that has inoculated me against disillusionment, because of the concomitant reductions in expectations. That is, an understanding of the church and its leaders as human and mortal has kept me from holding out unrealistic expectations for their performance. This has left me free to offer them my own support, loyalty, respect, and appreciation as fellow laborers in the vineyard, but not as contingent on an inerrant execution of their duties. This kind of emotional detachment has left me free to express myself in respectful terms without an accompanying anger that might have led to my departure from the church.
I guess one could say that I have always tried to look on the church and its leaders with faith, hope, and charity, even while keeping my expectations modest. I suspect they might say the same about me.
So I guess that’s the space I’m claiming. I’m disenchanted as hell right now. Over the past few years there has been a lot regarding the church and my discovering its history that’s caused me to be disgruntled and upset. My fear has always been that I’ll stop caring and turn into an emotional zombie about everything and just phone it in the rest of my life. But maybe developing a healthy level of emotional detachment is key. Does this lead to acceptance of really low (Mauss uses “modest”) expectations? Things are just going to be a hot mess no matter what and I need to accept that, right? Is this the key to avoiding angry disillusionment?