Last week’s devotional at BYU by Kevin S. Hamilton made some waves online. I listened to the whole thing and took longer notes I’ll summarize here. I thought I’d find things I agreed with; after all, I’m still IN the church, and I wouldn’t be if I didn’t, like Elder Hamilton, think one is necessary for me and/or want one to be a part of my life right now. To respond to everything in the devotional — there is a lot, I mean A LOT of problematic framing that I believe causes harm — would take a few posts. I want to focus on just the topic of infallibility.

Elder Hamilton’s Why a Church

Elder Hamilton compares the church to a capsule-type pill, with Christ and the atonement being the medicine inside. In the argument he builds: we can only come to Christ & walk with him as we

  • receive his authorized ordinances
  • make & keep associated covenants only found in his church along the path
  • renew those covenants every week & participate in the sacrament

He then goes on to highlight four things he observes today:

  • People disconnect Jesus Christ from his church & apostles by saying “I follow the Savior, not the church/apostles.” It is NOT possible. You CANNOT accept Jesus Christ and reject his Church or his messengers. You cannot separate Christ from the Church of Jesus Christ.
  • The Lord’s church is one of order. You don’t bishop shop or ward hop. A ward is not about what it can give you, it’s about what you can give.
  • Leaders are only human and are capable of making mistakes. While it’s true that we’re all fallible, The safety net for all of us is the unanimous council system that solves the problem. When they speak in unity they speak on behalf of Christ.
  • “Be the Change: work to change the church from within.” How does this square with being a humble follower of Christ? The kind of change that makes differences in eternities comes from within, our hearts, minds, and circumstances – we repent and change.
  • Some people have found it’s their absolute duty to point out the shortcomings of the church. They feel they’re loyal to the Savior but oppose certain teachings of the church. Oaks has said some who resist prophetic direction call themselves the “loyal opposition,” however appropriate for democracy, there is no warrant for this in the government of God’s kingdom where questions are honored, but opposition is not.” like I don’t support the church’s policy on ______ or I don’t agree with the way the church does ______. Alternative approach: substitute “The Savior” in place of “The Church” and say those statements again. Tells the OT story of transporting the ark of the covenant. The priest who reached out to steady the ark was smitten immediately. Only certain folks have the key to steady the ark. This has obvious modern-day parallels.

Responding to a Trust Crisis

On Twitter I called the substitution and equation of Christ with “The Church” and “Q12” blasphemous. I stand by that — it still turns my stomach to think of worshipping and loving the church and its leaders like my Savior, a member of the Godhead, the only perfect human to ever live.

The simplification of coming to Christ to making covenants only in our church and then renewing them on Sunday!! Even within our church, this narrow view of walking with Christ and coming to Him is … breathtakingly empty! and small? let alone that people are coming to Christ in every nation, land, and people without even the LDS church being a blip in their consciousness! It reeks of exceptionalism and condescension! I can agree that our Church has a special role in the latter days to lovingly administer all of the covenants we’ve been tasked with sharing – and if we don’t get folks in this life we’ll get them in the next. So many of us have found spiritual strength and experiences from folks outside the church (like Richard Rohr, etc.) that help us stay *here, the description that they are not walking with Christ is astounding to me.

I think this is counterproductive to keeping folks in the church. People are not necessarily having FAITH crises, but CERTAINTY and TRUST crises. I thought this was an attempt to stop the bleeding of folks out the door. What folks need is an acknowledgment of the uncertainty, tools to navigate it, and honesty in shortcomings to rebuild trust. There’s an opportunity to help folks manage & navigate the next step of faith …. one that hat holds paradoxes, uncertainty, & complexity simultaneously with faith. So many people want to keep the faith — I have bishops’ wives with LGBTQ+ kids in my dm’s begging for advice because the church is giving them ~nothing! The failure to provide better frameworks & insistence to lean into authoritarianism is staggering. I can’t continue. I have my sanity to keep. There is so much more to say. One thing I realized is this message isn’t for ~us folks who’ve shifted to another perspective of faith and it’s impossible to go back. I realized this talk isn’t for folks like me. It’s for the BYU students who attend devotionals in person and folks who listen at home. It’s for the kind of people who follow The Church News articles and socials religiously. This is inoculation for them. My question is Why can’t we get messages that work for us both?

A Pharoah Framework

For folks like me who feel called to Christianity (and to practice it in the LDS church) it helps to practice discipleship in a community of imperfect folks striving to love and serve your neighbors (sometimes enemies!). I think as LDS members we have a scriptural obligation to try to create Zion here through those actions, and that our covenants aren’t only to Christ, but to each other. I think the sacrament is the most important covenant I make and renew in that effort, and I am making it to Christ & others promising to forgive and seek forgiveness; to mourn and comfort; to serve and bless. We’ve found ways to rebuild and reconstruct a faith that works. What doesn’t work is messages like the above that make us enemies and opponents to folks. And it’s beyond frustrating because there are frameworks they could be using that work for folks in all stages of faith without shaking anyone’s foundation or causing schisms.

I’ll go ahead and lean on work that’s already been done by Terryl and Fiona Givens. In their Book Crucible of Doubt (Deseret Book, 2014), they have a whole chapter on the dangers of hero worship (On Prophecy and Prophets: The Perils of Hero Worship, page 59) and prophetic fallibility called (On Delegation & Discipleship: The Ring of Pharaoh, pg. 71). Nine years ago both of these chapters were incredibly helpful to me in navigating a way to stay. The metaphor they use is that God/Christ is the Head of the Church, the Pharoah. But whenever Pharoah isn’t present in the kingdom physically, he gives his ring to his vizier to be the authority while he is gone. The seal of the ring gives decisions as much weight and authority as if the Pharaoh were there. It does NOT mean that everything the viziers do in his stead is EXACTLY what the Pharaoh would do. In fact, the Pharaoh could be pretty upset with some ways the viziers run things, and if so he’d want to set things right and hold them accountable for their actions when he returns and teach them so it doesn’t happen again in the future. The viziers could never act perfectly in the stead of the Pharaoh in every way, even when coordinating together. As a peasant, I can disagree with policies and anything else the viziers do. If I want to be a part of society I can’t disagree they have the stewardship to make them. I wasn’t given the ring and seal. I can even pray for and love the vizier even though I disagree! I can, though, be myself and share my life and experiences in a way that may help others. I can write blog posts saying “Hey, that noble that went and talked to a bunch of scribes said that I have to consider the viziers as equal to the pharaoh and I think that’s messed up.”

I think this framework could be shared with EVERYONE and it would solve a lot of problems. I feel like not using it increases tensions and divisions in the church. I feel like it pushes folks out and makes it more likely for people with no questions to get pushed out when a decision by a vizier sooner or later causes problems and dissonance. Some may think his message is harmless, that it’s so obviously ridiculous there’s no cause for concern or worry over the messaging. Many felt the same way in 2016, I would hope that January 6 is an indication that we can and should worry about messages that ~will influence folks and divide instead of unite.

If you’re one of the folks in the church you can share the metaphor of Pharoah and Vizier in conversations that come up. On twitter a commenter told me he actually agrees with what Elder Hamilton said and was right. When I explained the Givens’ metaphor he responded positively and said he liked that way of looking at it and sees how it works well. I might not be able to change “The Church,” but one of the principles of the gospel we live by is that we should use our spheres of influence to do and be good.

What do you think? Does the metaphor work?