How Change Happens (or Doesn’t)

By: hawkgrrrl
December 11, 2012

When I was a pre-teen, I remember overhearing a conversation between adults about the ERA, the political push for women to have equal rights in society and in the workplace.  I was proud to think that while others of my friends belonged to churches that led by fallible men, we had God at the helm, and since God is no respecter of persons, the church would obviously be pro-ERA.  I was crushed and confused to find that not only did the church oppose the ERA, but that a woman in the church was excommunicated for vocally supporting it.  I naively had assumed that the church would come out in vocal support of her right to free speech and that the principles of equality that she was backing were consistent with the gospel and the worth of souls.

In my youthful quest for answers, I asked trusted leaders and parents how the church could oppose equal rights for women, and I was given a few answers that were at least partly satisfactory at the time (in addition to several answers that were completely unacceptable which I won’t list here):

  • Although God does support equality for women, there were hidden, sinister agendas associated with that specific movement that were damaging to the faithful.  (I suspect abortion was the unstated culprit as Roe vs. Wade was still in its unsteady infancy).
  • Change takes time.  Moving too quickly leaves people behind, unintended victims like children and families.

I can’t say I was totally mollified by this, but I could see the practical difficulties of organizational change, even when the change was obviously morally and ethically right and even when the status quo had its own victims.  Between the known evil and the unknown evil, conservatives tend to stick with the devil they know.

Liberal vs. Conservative Change Narrative

In Nate Oman’s excellent OP on managing liberal expectations for change in the church and the ensuing discussion, two examples of wide scale change in the church are discussed:  the 1890 repeal of polygamy, and the 1978 priesthood ban being lifted.  I’ll return to these two examples in a moment.  First, my own recap of how liberals and conservatives see change happening in the church:

Liberal Narrative: “In the world . . .”

The church lags behind society and eventually has to catch up.  Society is more enlightened and evolved than our aging leaders and most conservative members are capable of being, although they are good, well-intentioned men.  All people are a byproduct of their culture and society.  It is difficult to be visionary with the constraints of cultural assumptions. It is an embarrassment for a church claiming revelation to be less enlightened than the average well-informed (progressive) citizen.

When change happens, it is usually too little too late, and it is brought about through external pressure.  The church never apologizes to the victims of its retrograde policies, but probably should.

Conservative Narrative: “. . . but not of the world”

God’s ways are not our ways.  This is His church.  The world wants us to change to be like the world, but God wants us to live according to His plans, not the world’s.  Leaders and members can’t second guess God’s timing and need to be patient.  God sometimes waits for His people (the faithful inside His church) to catch up so that He doesn’t lose their precious souls through rapid change.

When change happens, it comes from God through his prophets, and the faithful need to follow.

Clearly the conservative narrative sounds more faithful.  But is it an accurate depiction of how change happens?

What Drives Change

Where does change originate and how does that affect organizational change?

  • Society at large.  The church is pressured from external sources to keep up with the times.  Because we are in a gerontocracy, this type of pressure sometimes puts statements of sitting leaders in an embarrassing light as they are viewed as out of touch.  They are forced to figure out where the crowd is headed and find some way to get out in front of changes they may not fully believe in.
  • Membership.  This source is the grass-roots change, members who encounter practical problems in living the gospel and who either clamor for change (at the progressive end) or request policy clarification (at the conservative end).
  • Leaders.  The leaders seek to clarify a policy that they see is impractical, misunderstood, or inconsistent.  Often these changes are published in the Church Handbook of Instruction.  Sometimes these policy clarifications are a retrenchment rather than a change.  A call to action read over the pulpit can also be this kind of change.
  • Revelation.  The president of the church states that he has received revelation from God on a doctrinal matter.

In looking at the conservative narrative, change starts with revelation and goes down the chain from God to leaders, to members, and eventually to society at large.  It’s a pretty idealistic version of events, and many conservative members have added a caveat differentiating policy changes from doctrinal changes.  Only doctrinal changes need to come from God. Policy changes can originate with man, even leaders in response to members or society.  The result is that most changes really originate with the leaders, and there are some conservative members who consider any criticism of “the brethren” as equating to apostasy.

In looking at the liberal narrative, change starts with society at large or within the membership.  Members who are more directly affected by the lack of change (the unintended victims of status quo) should agitate to make their needs known so that leaders can empathize and make progressive changes.  They believe in the wisdom of crowds, but they rely on leaders to use their power to enact changes (or criticize leaders who don’t use their power for progressive good).  As Nate put it:

Liberal Mormons too often talk about power without thinking about it very carefully. They assume that the Brethren are very powerful, perhaps most powerful of all when it comes to dictating to “ordinary” “true believing” Mormons. I suspect, however, that the reality is quite a bit more complicated. The Brethren are powerful because rank and file members follow them, not vice versa. This means that they are far more constrained that many people assume.

Case Studies:  Polygamy vs. Priesthood Ban

Let’s get back to the example of polygamy and the priesthood ban.  When polygamy was repealed, the change was sudden and had significant blowback.  Many faithful members didn’t believe it.  They believed leaders were speaking to them in code, merely pretending to support society’s anti-polygamy stance while winking to them secretly to continue the practice.  Schisms formed that plague the church to this day.  Some of the faithful even agitated to remove the prophet from his office.

These things didn’t happen when the priesthood ban was repealed.  There are two factors that existed in the repeal of polygamy that didn’t exist in the repeal of the priesthood ban:

  • Leaders disagreed about the change. Although most members were in favor of both changes, leaders at the highest levels of the church were participants in polygamy at the time it was repealed. By contrast, by 1978, leaders were relieved to repeal the priesthood ban.  It allowed them to quit justifying the unjustifiable.
  • The change created direct negative pragmatic consequences for the faithful. In the case of polygamy, families were separated.  Wives had to be turned out of the house.  There were socio-economic impacts.  Those not participating in it rejoiced to be able to avoid it, but those who were in it had to deal with practical issues.  With the repeal of the priesthood ban, it was simply allowing people blessings that had previously been denied to some.  Nobody lost anything.  Those whose blessings had been delayed rejoiced that their sacrifice had now ended.

From a practical standpoint, this also means that when it comes to change, the church often protects its own faithful at the expense of missionary work.  But it also means that status quo victims (including the faithful) who at least theoretically have coping mechanisms, are only considered insofar as societal pressures apply or members make their hurts known.  This is why it seems so much of our change comes from external forces rather than from God himself.  I’m forced to conclude, as does TT of FPR:

If Oman’s analysis of power and change is correct, then it suggests that Mormons should be even more active in advocating for change. If church leadership is the tail that follows the membership, rather than the other way around, then the membership should seek more progressive policies. This provides the leaders with the incentives to change as well as the needed shift in attitudes among the membership as the prerequisite to change.

Precious little change requires direct revelation; doctrine can shift with emphasis in curriculum, public statements, or a few General Conference talks.   The role of leaders is primarily to nudge and clarify. Policy changes should and do come from societal pressure, especially through members who bridge the language barrier between the faithful insiders and society at large.  These members who speak both languages are vital to progress, inclusion and missionary work.

Yesterday vs. Tomorrow

Generation gaps are usually at the heart of change.  Even Jesus said, in Luke 12:53:

“The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.”

These are generational dividing lines, not based on class, occupation, education, or religious factions. Jesus doesn’t specify which side is right, just that they will be at odds.  But it’s interesting to note that our revolutionary leaders (Jesus and Joseph Smith) were also our youngest.

As commenter Dave K. put it:

I cannot think of any active members who would revolt if the church embraced homosexuality. I do, however, know of a number of families, and a whole lot of young singles, who currently are inactive, or less active than they otherwise would be, because of strong disagreement with the church’s position.

I don’t believe we need to “pick” which members to cater to, but to the degree our decisions are motivated by the perceived responses of members, I would err on the side of catering to the youth rather than the elderly. The youth are the future after all. We can withstand losing some of the old vanguard. We cannot withstand losing the youth who we will count on to fill the ward council within the next decades.

Coasting without Applying the Brakes

The real risk is not in slow progress, but in regressive policies that alienate the young, pit the church against the world (its missionary audience), and limit human potential by repressing, disenfranchizing or antagonizing groups of faithful members.  It’s this kind of retrenchment that makes change harder, even when the change is ultimately inevitable.  If leaders are waiting for members to catch up before introducing change, they should be extremely careful about retrograde policies and statements that make change harder to embrace.

As for the ERA, it seems to me that there’s been progress, but given the vociferousness of the regressive statements against it, the church can’t really embrace these changes without sounding inconsistent.  I suspect the church would still use the same two arguments I heard 30 years ago:  the movement was tainted by association with sinister hidden motives, and change takes time.

Discuss.

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42 Responses to How Change Happens (or Doesn’t)

  1. European Saint on December 11, 2012 at 6:39 AM

    Thank you for your analysis, hawkgrrrl. While I do not agree with you in all areas, I appreciate your efforts to clarify what’s at stake here.

    “The real risk is not in slow progress, but in regressive policies that alienate the young, pit the church against the world (its missionary audience), and limit human potential by repressing, disenfranchizing or antagonizing groups of faithful members.”

    To clarify what exactly we are talking about here (and, I assume, at BCC, T&S, FMH and elsewhere), is the change that both “the young” (in the church, I assume) and the world currently hope for being understood as: (1) Accepting homosexual marriage both outside of and within the church, possibly with statements suggesting this would be in accordance with–and not contrary to–the Gospel, and (2) Doing away with a male-only Priesthood policy/conferring the Priesthood upon women in addition to men? In your view, are these two issues at the forefront of what might be termed changes currently being sought by the Progressive/Liberal/Pick-Your-Adjective Mormon community? If so, why are these viewed as good/right/inspired (I sincerely want to know)?

    Thank you–and other readers–in advance for helping me understand these stances (which, I have found, are often implied but rarely outwardly stated in many blog posts).

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  2. hawkgrrrl on December 11, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    Euro-Saint: I’m not sure I qualify as a liberal since I’m not an activist. I’m not even a slacktivist. As with politics, I still feel like more of an independent, a third version, someone who understands but doesn’t embrace either side.

    I personally want to see a church that doesn’t limit human potential or antagonize people for things beyond their control (e.g. being a woman or being gay). Accepting gay marriage is extremely progressive, for any church. I’m not opposed, but I’m not holding my breath either. Do women need to have the priesthood? Not necessarily. But they also shouldn’t be subordinated to men at every turn, and there should be female voices in church leadership that are representative and equally considered.

    Why is it that only progressive views are considered heretical? There are tangible negative consequences to intransigent views expressed stridently. I think most of the reasons progressive views are viewed as dangerous relate to generation gaps and political persuasion, not the gospel.

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  3. Howard on December 11, 2012 at 7:54 AM

    The brethren set a stage that invites criticism. They pretend to speak for God but lacking Joseph’s prophetic skills they mostly talk about mundane things. In the absence of strong leadership others rise to fill the resulting vacuum and the church’s pharisaical Mosaic ways provides the material for critism. Christ is our exemplar once the church’s teachings and practices model Christ there will be little material for it’s critics to use against it.

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  4. Usually a lurker on December 11, 2012 at 7:56 AM

    Good analysis, Hawkgrrrl. A succinct description of how liberals and conservatives view change. Toward the end of the OP, though, I think you are agreeing with this statement by Dave K:

    As commenter Dave K. put it:

    “I cannot think of any active members who would revolt if the church embraced homosexuality. I do, however, know of a number of families, and a whole lot of young singles, who currently are inactive, or less active than they otherwise would be, because of strong disagreement with the church’s position.

    “I don’t believe we need to ‘pick’ which members to cater to, but to the degree our decisions are motivated by the perceived responses of members, I would err on the side of catering to the youth rather than the elderly. The youth are the future after all. We can withstand losing some of the old vanguard. We cannot withstand losing the youth who we will count on to fill the ward council within the next decades.”

    I have to disagree with that comment. I think the church would lose a ton of members if gay marriage is accepted as being on par with heterosexual marriage in the church. It goes against what the church has been teaching for decades.

    I think it could be the issue that would topple the house of cards that is the idea that the church is led by revelation, that God is unchanging, that the Proclamation of the Family was inspired.

    I don’t think the church could survive it. It wouldn’t be the same church, for sure.

    I would be a bit gleeful if it happened, though, because I grew up in the church but I’ve been doubting the church’s truth claims for years and years–well, since I was a teenager–and finally I could know, without a doubt, that it is not the one true church. And my family would likely agree with me. What a relief!

    And it would be so wonderful for families with gay members. But would they still think the gospel was led by Jesus Christ, or by membership decree?

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  5. Last Lemming on December 11, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    According to the Q&A published in the March 1980 Ensign:

    Recognized constitutional authorities state that the Equal Rights Amendment would represent a serious eroding of the powers of states and would result in a massive transfer of legislative power dealing with domestic relations from the states to the federal level. This transfer would greatly disrupt the division of powers central to our constitutional system. Domestic relations laws are now passed, interpreted, and enforced primarily at local and state levels. This permits local flexibility for differing cultures, ideals, and customs.

    I reluctantly bought this argument at the time. Of course, it all went out the window when it came time to endorse a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

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  6. hawkgrrrl on December 11, 2012 at 8:12 AM

    Usually a lurker: Yours is an interesting perspective. You might be right, but here’s why I don’t think the same. Conservative members (the vanguard) are the ones who view change as coming from God or if it’s just policy change, coming from leaders they are happy to obey. Revelation in the church is also contemporary only – new revelation trumps the old. But I’m also not sure that embracing gay marriage as equal to heterosexual marriage is the right action for the church to take. I actually think we are totally off base in our contemporary view of marriage as primarily a love match for personal fulfilment. I think we war with gay marriage and homosexual rights at our peril, though.

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  7. Howard on December 11, 2012 at 11:10 AM

    Why is it that only progressive views are considered heretical? Because regressive views retrace where we once were so they were once accepted and status quo views are where we are.

    The church is parental, members are expected to become as little children and follow not lead (unless called), suggest (arc steading) or question (apostasy); “just do as you are told because I said so!” (Follow the prophet!)

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  8. Howard on December 11, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    Have you ever walked down front and center in the Conference Center and looked up? I have, several times! It is an amazing building visually! Sure it’s cold rough slab granite making it butt ugly on the outside and the gardener needs to be fired for the way the back of it looks and the acoustics really, really suck especially compared to the miracle of the 1860s Tabernacle. But inside there is another kind of miracle going on! Imagine being whisked from the Huntsman Jet along with your body guards to Temple Square then walking underground as those above hustle across the street in the blowing snow and wait in line for the metal detectors that screen out the few crazies who may mean you harm. Taking your seat on the stage in the red seats, you know you enjoy one of the best seats and views in the theater but the view is about to get better, much, much better. As you approach the podium you realize exactly why this gigantic theater was built – so 21,000 pair of adoring TBM eyes can see you…YOU! What adoring ego feed! You so soak it up!

    Now with all of this being so right, what could possible need to be changed? Let’s begin today with the primary song “Follow the Prophet”.

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  9. Douglas on December 11, 2012 at 4:42 PM

    Hawkchick – this one was Airballed. That’s ok, I’ve personally seen even his Airness (Jordan) muff an easy slam-dunk in front of 17,323 at what was once Arco (now Sleep Train) Arena.
    I’ve heard this somewhat tortured logic about”well, the Church changed on Polygamy and the Priesthood ban on blacks, so acceptance of homosexuality is inevitable”. Not so fast. Neither change, especially the latter, can be attributed to external pressure due to timing. Four years ago, in the wake of the Prop 8 thing which I reluctantly campaigned for, I saw some pitfalls in the way the Church was getting involved. However, methinks a positive has been to show how one can be against the practice and still be compassionate to the practitioners.

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  10. Howard on December 11, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    Airballed, that’s cute. Douglas are you comparing President Monson to Michael Jordan?

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  11. Douglas on December 11, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    Aaghh…I just had a vision of President Monson and Bugs Bunny being accosted by the Nerdlucks at Granite Mountain. They were looking for fellows “Morons”…

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  12. FireTag on December 11, 2012 at 7:24 PM

    I’m not so sure I can completely buy the generation gap argument. It seems that the relevant metric for the gap isn’t what 20 year olds believe when they’re 20, but what 20 year olds will still believe when THEY are 60 year olds. And the latter can still be very different than the former.

    It is useful to remember that it’s 40 years since the heady days of the ERA — and society has apparently decided NOT to bother with it, but to deal with the advancement of economic and educational opportunities for women through different means. So it wasn’t just a generational thing.

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  13. Jeff Spector on December 11, 2012 at 8:33 PM

    The Church tends to mirror society more than any of us want to admit. Somewhat lagging most of the time, but still a reflection. You see it with the activity rate, divorce rate, the opinions of leaders visa-vi race over the years.

    I suppose if society fulls embraces same sex relationships and normalizes them, the Church will eventually come along in some way.

    I hear the echo of “legally and lawfully married” running through my head. Something will have to change.

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  14. hawkgrrrl on December 11, 2012 at 9:47 PM

    It just occurred to me that in advocating that the church not fight change – remaining neutral when society may be shifting – I’m really advocating an even more conservative position. By avoiding retrenchment, we keep all our options open. We can still steer into the skid if it becomes one.

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  15. Douglas on December 11, 2012 at 10:16 PM

    #13 – We do, and it’s not ALWAYS to the good! And working on the second round of getting ‘happily divorced’, I’m not helping the stats any, even if I might be “justified” (it’s still a failed marriage).
    Race relations I would say definitely, but we must not make the mistake of judging prior generations by our self-perceived ‘enlightenment’. Even “Dishonest Abe”, the so-called “Great Emancipator” (a moniker slightly less dishonest than labeling Hitler a Judeophile) would be considered a terrible bigot were he aspiring to the Presidency today – imagine a candidate that explicitly did NOT favor racial ‘equality’ for blacks and whites (he wanted whites to remain ‘superior’) but also advocated mass deportation of blacks attempting to run…he’d be the unquestioned nominee for the Kook party. Likewise I make a habit of picking on the late Mark E. Peterson for his 1954 speech at BYU where he deigns to allow a black man to drive a Cadillac should he be able to afford it (why thank yuh, mistah Peterson suh, cuz yuh know we black folks just gots to have a Cadde-lack!) as being ‘quaint’, but I’ve confidence that in his heart and certainly in the eyes of his fellow men that Elder Peterson’s feelings on race were benign (for his day, not OURS).
    I would dispute that ‘society’ EMBRACES gay relationships. Rather, a rather vocal and obnoxious minority has worn out the American public on this subject, which frankly has a “live and let live” attitude. And I can see that likely the majority of gays simply want to live their lives free of Government interference and violence due to their lifestyle – I can wholeheartedly agree with that. However, a vocal subset of the gay community has adopted an “in your face” posture, and has turned it into a cultural obsession. It’s that point where I’ve reserved my right to say, “Ugh!”, and proclaim my utter disgust. Is it “Hate”? Well, I don’t give a fat rat’s hiney what THEY, or ANYONE, thinks of my disdain for homosexuality! I care only what my Lord and my family think, and simply reserve the right to share my views peacefully in the marketplace of free ideas. The day is coming, however, when even THAT will be criminalized, on cause that some one might be “offended”. “Gawd” help us then.

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  16. Mike S on December 11, 2012 at 11:10 PM

    Hawk:

    This is a great post. Normally, I’d have a lot to say. Hell, I even wrote a whole series on things I would change “If I Were In Charge”. I realized, however, that I don’t expect the Church to change except in areas where it’s dragged kicking and screaming by societal pressures.

    So I’ve given up. I don’t have the energy anymore to fight the good fight. I just go along for the ride now – go to church, do my calling, follow the rules to keep temple-recommend-worthy, and call it good.

    Instead, I find spiritual fulfillment more outside the institution. I feel closer to God being further from the Church, yet closer to my fellowman. It’s supremely ironic but is what it is.

    Thanks for the post.

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  17. Douglas on December 11, 2012 at 11:34 PM

    #16 – For different reasons, I’ve often felt same. I go because it seems the thing to do, not because I’m breaking traffic laws to be the first one to be seated in Sacrament. Still, likely you’re persisting for the same reason that I do…because you know, deep down, that the Gospel is true.
    But NEVER feel that you should qualify seeking fulfillment outside what the Church offers. Men are, that they might have joy. As long as your heart is in the right place, methinks the Lord will see it and reward you accordingly. Me, I like baseball…Giants, specifically. I promise that my appreciation of the National pastime doesn’t inspire me to do as did Al Capone (at least as he was portrayed in the 1987 version of the “Untouchables”). I make no apologies for bleeding Orange and Black from March THROUGH October.

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  18. Howard on December 12, 2012 at 1:43 AM

    Still, likely you’re persisting…because you know, deep down, that the Gospel is true and the church isn’t.

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  19. Hedgehog on December 12, 2012 at 3:43 AM

    Hawkgrrrl, I think in Britain the ERA mostly passed us by. I certainly wasn’t properly aware of the debacle until recently. I’m glad you raised the practical effects for members of the changes in your case studies of polygamy v. priesthood ban. That that didn’t seem to have been appreciated, was the main thing that bugged me about Nate Oman’s original post. I’ve also been slightly surprised at the expressed belief on various related posts that there was no kick back from the church members at the repeal of the priesthood ban. Really? None at all? Anywhere? Or were they simply referring to more lasting consequences?

    The ward I grew up in was absolutely delighted. There were well-loved ward members this affected directly. I was at the chapel at the time a phone-call came through with the news, and one member running around giddy with excitement looking for Bro. _____ who he thought was in the building, to tell him. I was happy too. About 9 years old, I was beginning to have to grapple with the clear contradiction that we are all God’s children, but for some reason some were discriminated against, even at church. It was uncomfortable.
    However, one teacher I had a few years later, and whose daughter married a member from Bristol, mentioned that there had been a congregation there that hadn’t accepted the change. I was very surprised. Thinking about it now, in the 70s there was a certain amount of National Front (a fascist & racist group) activism in Britain, and some racist attitudes amongst the general population. The church was still pretty young in some places. And Bristol was a port heavily involved in the slave trade from 1698 until Britain abolished the trade in 1807. I wonder to what extent the racist tone of the church in the 60s and 70s may have been seen as a plus by some investigators. Ouch! Surely better to have made the change sooner and avoid that.

    On your #2: “I still feel like more of an independent, a third version, someone who understands but doesn’t embrace either side.
    I personally want to see a church that doesn’t limit human potential or antagonize people for things beyond their control (e.g. being a woman or being gay).”
    Seems a pretty good description of where I am too, though I often feel more liberal than most of my family…

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  20. ji on December 12, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    There is another possibility…

    Maybe the priesthood leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are good and honorable men who are doing their best to magnify their callings and who are still sustained by the Lord.

    Maybe for some in our community, Matthew 15:8-9 applies.

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  21. ji on December 12, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    I try to look at the Church as a collection of people, rather than as an institution. Because people in general adapt to changing circumstances as time passes, people who are members of the Church are also going to change — and this means the Church is going to change. But how does change occur? Can it be predicted? Can a certain approach to change, or category of change, be assigned to a particular person or class of persons? or to an institution? Good questions, but hard to answer. Certainly, I would never want someone else to view my life, observe some changes, and then armchair-quarterback-style assign motives to my changes. They might be right some of the time, perhaps, but seeing myself as a complex person, I have to think they would be wrong (as least by oversimplification) almost all of the time.

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  22. Mike S on December 12, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    ji: Maybe for some in our community, Matthew 15:8–9 applies.

    I agree with you. I do think that the priesthood ban, as instituted by Brigham Young, is a perfect example of “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men”.

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  23. Howard on December 12, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    Ji,
    I believe priesthood leaders are generally good and honorable men who are doing their best. But Prophets claim to be much more than just priesthood leaders! They proclaim to world that they speak for God and want us to follow them as if nearly every theological word they speak is directly from God! In doing so they become public figures and public figures get analyzed and criticized armchair-quarterback-style especially when they claim to speak for God! Look at Christ’s and Joseph’s lives.

    Prophets need broad shoulders and if they truly do speak for God they are more than capable of shouldering and countering the criticism because God is more than capable of defending himself.

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  24. Mike S on December 12, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    #20 ji: Maybe the priesthood leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are good and honorable men who are doing their best to magnify their callings and who are still sustained by the Lord.

    I agree with this absolutely, and think it leads to the basic problem that forms the essence of this post.

    In Joseph’s day, he proposed very radical changes from what was established. He brought forward new theologies, new scriptures, new ways of thinking. Many things conflicted with societal norms, but people believed him and followed him. And why?

    Joseph talked with God. He was bold about saying that. He was visited, in person, by angels. Many of the things he taught were prefaced with “Thus saith the Lord…”. People could choose to not believe Joseph, but when he says that he spoke with God, it’s a powerful testament.

    Today’s leaders are good men – I agree absolutely. I know many Church leaders and see Apostles and Seventies on a regular basis – both socially and professionally. And they truly ARE good and honorable men sincerely trying their best and devoted to the Church.

    But, there is a difference in the teachings now. In my lifetime, I have NEVER heard a prophet or apostle say that have seen, spoken with, or encountered God, Christ or an angel. They quote previous leaders. They give their opinions. President Hinckley gives his opinion on how many earrings he thinks looks good, and it becomes de facto doctrine. We build nice buildings and expensive shopping malls. Etc.

    So, today’s leaders are good men shouldering the difficult load of managing an organization with millions of members. But it ends up being reactionary to societal trends, as Hawk points out. It ends up being opinions of people, sometimes 2-3 generations removed, turned into doctrine. Miracles have been reduced to administratively changing the age someone can go on a mission.

    I think all this would go away tomorrow if President Monson got up in conference and said, like Joseph, “I saw God. I walked with Christ. And this is what He said to do. I don’t know why either, but here it is.”

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  25. ji on December 12, 2012 at 12:56 PM

    Howard (no. 23): You wrote,

    They proclaim to world that they speak for God and want us to follow them as if nearly every theological word they speak is directly from God!

    No, they don’t.

    Mike S (no. 24) — You wrote,

    I think all this would go away tomorrow if President Monson got up in conference and said, like Joseph, “I saw God. I walked with Christ. And this is what He said to do. I don’t know why either, but here it is.”

    No, it wouldn’t all go away, unless he said what you already want to hear him say. We mustn’t be like the rich man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and we mustn’t seek for a sign. Priesthood leaders teach through persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned — they don’t teach by virtue of high office — their high office imputes a duty to teach, yes, but their high office does not give TRUTH to their teachings. Yes, they give their opinions, and yes, their opinions change over time. In my mind, they are good and honorable men who are doing their best to magnify their callings and who are still sustained by the Lord.

    I see the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with its current leaders, as a beautiful gift.

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  26. Howard on December 12, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    Ji,
    Yes they do. Hear the Prophet’s Voice and Obey: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1995/05/hear-the-prophets-voice-and-obey

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  27. Frank Pellett on December 12, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    “Why is it that only progressive views are considered heretical?”

    Bit of a false dichotomy here (I think). Views are only progressive if you see them that way. For example, some consider polygamy progressive, some regressive, but it is certainly heretical at this time. Marriage equality is progressive and not heretical. All in how you look at it.

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  28. hawkgrrrl on December 12, 2012 at 6:23 PM

    ji: nobody here would disagree with you that church leaders are good and honorable men doing their best to magnify their callings. That hasn’t been posited anywhere on this site.

    Frank Pellett: whether polygamy is progressive or regressive is an interesting question. In most societies where it is practiced (e.g. India, Muslim countries), it’s regressive, holding on to a model from the past, in some cases well past its sustainability. In the case of Mormonism, I think it was progressive radical change. However, it’s progressive change that puts women in the position of second class citizen, so in that sense it’s regressive. They weren’t practicing it in the most oppressive forms (no bride burnings or honor killings). But it is still unsustainable in a society focused on individual rights, including the rights of women.

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  29. ji on December 12, 2012 at 8:03 PM

    Hawkgrrrl (no. 28) — In your eagerness to dismiss my comments, you need at least to be honest. I read here that the Church’s leaders pretend and that they use their positions to feed their egos. I’ll stop there. It has been posited here that church leaders are something other than good and honorable men doing their best to magnify their callings.

    In a discussion of change that offers academic explanations for change (or lack of change), it is eminently reasonable to suggest that there is another possibility.

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  30. hawkgrrrl on December 12, 2012 at 9:33 PM

    ji: “I read here that the Church’s leaders pretend and that they use their positions to feed their egos.” You didn’t read it in the OP. A commenter said it.

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  31. Howard on December 12, 2012 at 9:42 PM

    Ji wrote: I read here that the Church’s leaders pretend and that they use their positions to feed their egos. I can see your confusion Ji but it was not posited here (at least not by me) that church leaders are something other than good and honorable men doing their best, I believe they are exactly that but not a lot more. The church is not introspective; psychotherapy, meditation and enlightenment are not revered, taught, pursued, embraced or encouraged, as a result it’s members and leaders generally and largely lead unexamined lives, of course your personal mileage may vary. So I was addressing things that are probably subconscious to them. An illusion has been crafted in the church that our prophets are Prophets like the Great Prophets but they are clearly lessor prophets when the fruit of their revelation is compared to that of the Great Prophets. Yet, they do nothing to correct that impression instead they play along acting out their roles. The joke goes; the Pope is infallible but Catholics don’t believe it and Mormon Prophets are fallible but Mormons don’t believe it! It is easy to get used to private jets, underground passages, special seating etc. without being a bad person and it is easy to rationalize that the Conference Center internal seating architecture was really done for the adoring TBM fans who don’t believe you are infallible and not for you or your ego.

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  32. Henry on December 13, 2012 at 4:46 AM

    Jeff Spector
    I hear the echo of “legally and lawfully married” running through my head. Something will have to change.

    Not going to happen.

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  33. Geoff - A on December 13, 2012 at 8:08 PM

    Henry, Like you I hear “legally and lawfully married to their husbands and wives”, and I think, so that doesn’t exclude gay marriages.

    Are you able to contemplate what your reaction woudld be, when it does happen?

    Would it depend on how it is presented?

    If the Prophet says he has had a revelation would you accept the change as Gods will?

    I don’t believe a revelation is necessary because there wasn’t one to prohibit it, so if the Prophet just announces that “all legally recognised marriages are recognised by the church”. Would you be able to accept that as Gods will?

    As the post is about how change can be made and accepted, it would be useful to know how you respond to the change when it comes, as you seem certain it won’t?

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  34. Mike S on December 13, 2012 at 8:21 PM

    For all those who claim to “know” what will and what will never happen, consider the following:

    - The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy

    - Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.

    - Etc.

    These are things that even PROPHETS said would NEVER change. And guess what, they changed. So who are we to say, as non-prophets, what will NEVER change?

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  35. Douglas on December 13, 2012 at 9:48 PM

    #34 – you can dredge up every opinion and misrepresent that these ideas were (1) considered doctrine and (2) thought to be immutable. I would question strongly your testimony insofar as following a LIVING prophet.
    If for some unforeseeable reason the Church were given revelation that gay (and lesbian) couples who were lawfully married are in compliance with the teachings of the Church, and therefore able to enjoy the full blessings of membership and temple attendance, it wouldn’t have to be forced down the members’ collective throats. The same Holy Spirit that speaks to the Prophet and the General Authorities would also communicate same to the membership at large. This is a concept that seems to utterly elude you and many of the other naysayers that twist not only scripture but every breathing that any Church leader had ever uttered (they may be inspired but they are human and allowed to make mistakes in their free agency; read Bruce R. McConkie’s talk about following the Prophet, then Spencer Kimball, after the PH revelation in ’78). That’s why I can say with confidence that we won’t see a “gay-friendly” revelation in mine or your lifetimes (I’m assumed we’re about the same age); such would run contrary to virtually everything that’s been practiced regarding morality, sexuality, and the family. The only “progress” that I can see is that the membership at large is being taught to behave with greater sensitivity and compassion towards members, especially those in their family, that struggle with this issue. This was LONG overdue, IMO, because I’ve always felt that both LDS and so-called “Christians” tended to single out LGBT folk as being especially reprehensible (I abhor strongly the lifestyle but they ARE my brothers and sisters, I CAN’T and WON’T reject them, only their sins). To me, much of the way that those with the Gospel is not unlike how the Nazis reacted after one Herschel Grynspan assassinated a German diplomat in France; they seized upon that crime as an excuse to punish all German Jews, and hence Kristallnacht. Let’s admit that some of our numbers have acted beyond mere disdain or disgust for the PRACTICE of homosexuality, and have persecuted the practitioners. Again, I’ve had family members, good friends, and even a woman whom I’ve been acquainted with for some years (and now see on occasion) struggle with these issues. None of them has ever felt judged adversely by yours truly.

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  36. Henry on December 14, 2012 at 5:37 AM

    Legalizing gay marriage doesn’t mean a thing. When Christ went into the spirit world for 3 days, there were certain groups of people that he could not go to personally because they had defiled themselves while in the flesh. The scriptures are replete with warnings against gay sex, both ancient and modern.

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  37. Howard on December 14, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    That’s quite a logic leap Henry.

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  38. Douglas on December 14, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    #37 – truth hurts, Henry is correct. Else Peter, in his capacity as the leader of the Church as it was in the Roman Empire would not have mentioned it. As rampant as homosexuality was in Roman times, it would not only be obvious why Peter would relate something that the Savior told him; but we ought to need Peter’s warning. The goal is not popularity nor political correctness; rather, the salvation of human beings

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  39. Michaela Stephens on December 14, 2012 at 6:04 PM

    24: I know of at least one current apostle who has seen Christ. (It took some connecting of dots by reading conference talks and one of their books to figure it out, but once pieced together, it was obvious.) I’ll not “out” him, since he doesn’t want to draw public attention to himself about it.

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  40. Geoff - A on December 14, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    I am pleased to see that you would be able to accept it if the Prophet changed the ruling.

    I have a problem with love the sinner but hate the sin. I’ve had this said to me about me, and certainly didn’t feel loved.

    I am also concerned that you think homosexuality could be so terrible. There are people in the world raping, selling women into prostitution, killing masses of people, generally being absolutely wicked.

    I can’t see how people who are otherwise christlike, but are homosexual, can be lumped in with really evil people. I know I’ve seen your beliefs above, I just don’t see the world, or this issue, as black and white as you do.

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  41. JR on December 14, 2012 at 11:12 PM

    I’m probably hijacking this thread, but a comment about what #15, Douglas, said. I have read where gays are suing various people, businesses and churches for supposed “hate crimes” against them, not discrimination but hate crime.
    A Christian non-LDS couple who own a photography studio told a female gay couple that the studio would not be able to photograph their wedding and left it at that. The couple could have gone elsewhere but pursued why this particular studio would not do the wedding, so the studio told the gay couple that they were Christian and homosexuality goes against their beliefs and they were not comfortable doing a gay wedding. The studio was sued for hate crimes against gays. And there are many other stories like this one. The day is coming when the LDS church will be sued for hate crimes against gays. It will lose it’s tax exempt status as well as gain a host of other problems. It has already happened to other churches and many, many businesses.

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  42. Douglas on December 15, 2012 at 7:09 PM

    #40 – Exactly my point from a Libertarian who is LDS as well (some wonder HOW I match the two, but I’ve figured it out for myself, and as said some thirty-odd years ago while preaching “Il Vangelo” in bella Italia, “Cio mi Basta…”. In the name of political correctness and a misguided view of what constituted equality, some are (ala Orwell) “MORE equal than OTHERS”. In the case you cited, JR, it seems incredulous that this lesbian couple has a case against a PRIVATE firm. If they don’t wish to do business, they don’t even have to cite a reason. A “hate” crime to refuse to freely associate? Were I the judge with the sad duty to have to adjudicate this matter, I’d be inclined to not merely dismiss the complaint w/o further discussion, but I’d sanction the attorney that brought it forth in the first place for wasting the court’s time on such frivolities!
    I would think that most of the LGBT community merely wants to live their lives w/o violence or undue interference. That’s quite reasonable, and I can certainly applaud situations where such things as laws prohibited “sodomy” were ruled unconstitutional..between adults, it may be an offense in the eyes of the Lord to “work that which is unseemly”, but that should remain between the respective participants and their Lord (if indeed they care to acknowledge Him), and not be any business of any Government. But in the case you cited, it seems that it’s tantamount to all too many instances that I’ve seen where someone LGBT doesn’t get their way. Instead of accepting the outcomes of the free and LAWFUL choices of individuals; tactics which are in effect bullying and a collective childish tantrum seem to be the way to advance “gay rights”.

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