President Oaks gave a talk in the recent General Conference entitled “Two Great Commandments.”  In it, he discusses the balance between love of God and love of our fellow humans.   Jana Riess shortly after penned her concerns about some of the points made by President Oaks.  This sparked a letter in the Salt Lake Tribune from former State Senator Stuart C Reid, calling her piece a “biased broadside” against President Oaks. Now I’m not actually going to talk about Pres. Oaks’s talk, Dr. Riess’s article, or State Senator Reid’s response.  What I DO want to talk about is the concept of the marketplace of ideas.  

The marketplace of ideas is generally attributed to two Johns: John Milton felt that in a free and open interaction, truth would prevail. [1] John Stuart Mill felt that truth left untested would slip into dogma. [2] Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, felt that it is safe to tolerate “error of opinion […] where reason is left free to combat it.” [3]

President Oaks has made many statements throughout his life that relate to LGBTQ behavior and identity within the context of the church.  He has also made public statements for the church as an organization in relation to public policy, legal concerns, and legal rights and allowances for LGBTQ individuals outside of the church.  A majority of his statements on LGBTQ issues have engendered criticism in both contexts. He has also explicitly stated that “it’s wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true, because it diminishes their effectiveness as a servant of the Lord.”  

Here’s what I want you to consider:  (It’d be interesting to ask your friends, family members, or other people within the church around you, because I’d love to find out how individuals feel.)   

  • Are the statements of President Oaks fair game for criticism within the marketplace of ideas?
  • Do you agree with President Oaks on criticism of church leaders?  In the citation (transcript of an interview), he seems to state that his quote against criticism directly related to the writing of history.  When individuals have used this quote to oppose criticism of the statements of church leaders, have they used the quote in this context?
  • Does it make a difference when President Oaks is talking in context within the church vs public policy and legal issues outside of it? 

[1] Milton, John. Areopagitica, in Areopagitica and Of Education 1, 50 (Harlan Davidson, Inc. 1951) [1644].
[2] Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. London: Longman, Roberts & Green, 1869; Bartleby.com, 1999.
[3] Jefferson, Thomas. First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1801), in Writings 492, 493 (Merrill D. Peterson ed. 1984).