Embracing Liberalism, Rejecting Progressivism

by: Nate

January 15, 2014

I’m an admirer of John Dehlin.  My brother is also a big fan and he recently left the church along with his wife.  My faithful parents are nervous about me, wondering if I too am going to become another “Dehlinite apostate.”  I’ve tried to assure them that this won’t happen.  But they still ask: “How can you say that? You are surrounded by apostate, faithless talk.”  I don’t blame John Dehlin for the apostasy of his followers.  I believe he was doing what he felt honestly called to do.  But I do think that Dehlin’s path has been fraught with perils, perils which he himself admitted in an interview with Sarah Collett, transcribed in part by Andrew S. here.  Why hasn’t apostasy tempted me, when it has snagged my brother and so many other “Dehlinites?”  One reason is that there is an important difference between John Dehlin and myself:  Dehlin is a progressive.  I am a liberal.  Right now, it is my liberalism which keeps me in the church, as well as my anti-progressive stance.

Progressives Are Missionaries

Progressives want the church and society to change, to become more tolerant towards homosexuals, to ordain women, to engage in more humanitarian work, to be more honest and forthright about their history, etc.  They see the church as being run by good men who nevertheless have some outdated views, who also need to soften their hearts and embrace truths they believe are clear to them.  Progressives transform the world and I have great respect for them.  It would be wrong for an anthropologist to try to protect an African tribe’s “sacred” ritual of female genital mutilation.  It would be better for a progressive missionary to try to get the tribe to embrace the “Western” idea that sexual pleasure for females is not evil.  Progressives are guided by idealism and strong moral conviction.  I feel great love in Dehlin’s challenge to the church to embrace same-sex marriage, even though I disagree with him.  From his earliest years, Dehlin was concerned about influencing church heirarchy for good, as his story about his conversation with Elder Oaks suggests on his premier podcast.  But this progressive approach ultimately had serious unintended consequences, as the interview with Sarah Collett suggests.

Liberals are Conservationists

Liberalism is very different than progressivism, although the two are frequently conflated.  Indeed, liberalism is the opposite of progressivism, in that it values pluralism and diversity above all.  Progressives seek conformity to a universal moral ideal, and the eradication of what they believe to be backward or immoral beliefs.   But liberals respect the identity and culture of diverse groups, regardless of whether those groups have conservative, “unenlightened” beliefs.  Progressives are missionary oriented.  Liberals are conservationists.  Liberals might hope people change, but they don’t believe in trying to press or influence change.  Above all, they strive to be completely non-judgmental, tolerant and empathetic, to always put themselves in another’s shoes.  The great test of a true liberal is this: are you tolerant of intolerance?  Liberals champion the right of churches like ours to be as conservative as they want to be, as long as all groups are given equal protection and respect.

As a liberal, I abhor the idea that the Colorado baker might be forced to abandon his prejudiced religious beliefs to conform to current society’s beliefs about gay marriage.  I am dismayed by France’s enactment of the headscarf ban.  I fear that progressives might one day encroach upon the rights of our church to deny marriage to gays in our temples.  That’s not because I wouldn’t mind gay marriage in the temple, or Muslims abandoning headscarves.  I would love the church to ordain women.  I would love for them to abandon their correlated orthodoxy.  But I would hate to be seen as pressuring those things, to be seen as “steadying the ark.”  “Stop steadying the ark” is more than just a catch phrase used by the orthodox to put progressives in their place.  “Stop steadying the ark” is a fundamental liberal principle.

God-Ordained Authoritarianism

God designed the church to work in a very specific way: “I will call the weak things of the world, the unlearned and despised.”  He calls these imperfect rulers and tells them to “study things out in their mind,” and make their own decisions.  He tells them He will not “command them in all things.”  Then ironically He also adopts their imperfect decisions by saying “whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same.”  He gives a very specific order to priesthood authority, which resides not in the virtue of the priesthood holder, but only by virtue of the call itself.  Doing this, God knows His priesthood will stumble in its imperfection.  “My spirit will not always strive with man.”  But that was His design all along.  He is a “stumbling block, a rock of offense.”   He makes the church hard to believe in.  He is “an hard man.”  He “stops their ears and shuts their eyes that they see not, hear not, and be not converted.”  God designs His church, not only as a helpmeet to his saints, but also as a trial to test them.   The church engages in many fruitless quests: Zion’s camp, the Kirtland Safety Society, gold digging in Salem, destruction in Missouri, decades of polygamy and discrimination against blacks, backward attitudes towards gays.  But those who choose to stick with the church through the trial come out with stronger testimonies and faith.  The stone which the builders reject becomes the cornerstone.  The church continues to grow and advance, and it is marvelous to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear.  But the journey is longer than anyone thought.  It requires more patience than anyone thought.  The ark of the covenant must fall, and the Levites must stand by and watch it fall, and watch it be redeemed of the Lord.  A chick must break through the shell of his own egg or he will die.

Virtues and Drawbacks of Progressivism in the Church

As a tolerant and open-minded liberal, I am obliged to recognize and champion the value of both progressivism and conservativism as part of a diverse society.  Progressives have an important place.  But it is a perilous place.  One risks putting one’s own wisdom above that of God, to “trust the wisdom of man and reject the foolishness of God.”  I think that progressives sometimes miss an important aspect of what religion means: submission to an imperfect authority which stands in for God in the world.  True humility is not possible without submission.  I won’t rehash my arguments, but I blogged about the essential virtue of submission here.

So I don’t see myself leaving the church, even though I personally hold radically different views to your average orthodox Mormon.  If I learned Joseph Smith worshiped a white salamander, or Brigham Young ordered the MMM, I still wouldn’t leave.  If they found the bones of Jesus Christ I wouldn’t leave.  I’m here for one reason, and one reason only: God asked me to stay in and submit to a church which holds some different views to my own.  But it is good to be in a place like that, for it is a place of faith and submission.

  • What are the virtues of progressivism in the church?
  • What are the perils?
  • Is embracing liberalism a tenable worldview within a conservative church?
  • Is there a way to embrace the tolerant and non-judgemental attitude of the liberal, while also retaining the idealism of the progressive?

36 Responses to Embracing Liberalism, Rejecting Progressivism

  1. Howard on January 15, 2014 at 9:05 AM

    Nate,
    This is well written. But it is also an apology because it assumes all the flaws of the church are actually a feature and then attempts to rationalize them!

    You wrote: Progressives have an important place. But it is a perilous place. One risks putting one’s own wisdom above that of God, to “trust the wisdom of man and reject the foolishness of God.” This is not true! If you believe the church is divinely guided there is no risk at all! Why? Because any change that is enacted must be done by those in authority. Progressives are simply presenting a revelation request or a practice change request, they are not enacting the changes themselves or forcing them to be enacted and before any change is granted it is considered by the church hierarchy.

    Are you arguing it’s wrong to ask? If so how do you reconcile that position with Moses’ kind and mater of fact response to Zelophehad’s daughters revelation request?

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  2. Jeff Spector on January 15, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    Nate, I think this is awesome post. What I find so fascinating about some of the issues pushed by the so-called progressive is that they are not in fact progressive at all but regressive. Take women’s ordination as an example. They like to point to the past where women did practice certain Priesthood-like functions as a reason that they should be allowed to do it today. Even though, as a Church, our practices has evolved since Joseph’s first prayer and that practice was stopped. They claim to want more autonomy as Relief Society because it appeared that in the past that was so, even though, it really was not.

    So while SSM may be one of the only things that is truly a progressive position (though some cold argue it hearken back to Greek and Roman times), most others are not.

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  3. Andrew S on January 15, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    Very interesting post. There are some things in it that strike me as very weird, but particularly the “God Ordained Authoritarianism” paragraph. Particularly, this part:

    He gives a very specific order to priesthood authority, which resides not in the virtue of the priesthood holder, but only by virtue of the call itself. Doing this, God knows His priesthood will stumble in its imperfection. “My spirit will not always strive with man.” But that was His design all along. He is a “stumbling block, a rock of offense.” He makes the church hard to believe in. He is “an hard man.” He “stops their ears and shuts their eyes that they see not, hear not, and be not converted.” God designs His church, not only as a helpmeet to his saints, but also as a trial to test them. The church engages in many fruitless quests: Zion’s camp, the Kirtland Safety Society, gold digging in Salem, destruction in Missouri, decades of polygamy and discrimination against blacks, backward attitudes towards gays. But those who choose to stick with the church through the trial come out with stronger testimonies and faith. The stone which the builders reject becomes the cornerstone. The church continues to grow and advance, and it is marvelous to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

    So, you say that these fruitless quests give those who stick with the church stronger testimonies and faith. That seems consistent with the idea that, for example, hazing can make people more loyal to the organization that hazes (e.g., frats, military).

    However…this only applies to those who choose to stick with the church, and so we would also have to look at how many people choose to do that.

    You say that the church continues to grow and advance, but this seems statistically spotty. At best, the church is 15 million members, but this number is pretty fraught. There aren’t 15 million Mormons with strong testimonies and faith. There are 15 million members, where around 30-40% worldwide are active, and many of the members are disaffected (because the church does not exclude those members unless or until they consciously resign [and many face issues in having their resignations accepted] or are excommunicated).

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  4. Leah Marie on January 15, 2014 at 9:46 AM

    Progressives have an important place. But it is a perilous place. One risks putting one’s own wisdom above that of God, to “trust the wisdom of man and reject the foolishness of God.”

    I would argue that conservationism suffer from the same problem. A God who continually speaks to His children through revelation should be allowed to change things.

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  5. Daniel R. on January 15, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    “I think that progressives sometimes miss an important aspect of what religion means: submission to an imperfect authority which stands in for God in the world. True humility is not possible without submission. I won’t rehash my arguments, but I blogged about the essential virtue of submission.”

    What makes this an essential virtue? I hate to play this card, but do you believe this to be a virtue in the case of the FLDS and Warren Jeff’s? Does the “essential virtue of submission” of his victims hold up there as well? Wouldn’t we want to warn these about submitting to harmful behavior? It’s one thing to be a member of a church with leaders who have different views than you that you don’t try and change, and its another to belong to one that advocates policies that are harmful or degrading to certain people (homosexuals, women, etc) and submit to them without caring to change them.

    “It would be better for a progressive missionary to try to get the tribe to embrace the “Western” idea that sexual pleasure for females is not evil.”

    Yes, I guess call me a progressive. My personal view is that if you don’t have any desire to advocate for people or societies to change harmful / damaging behavior in the name of tolerance and accepting diversity, than you do not truly empathize with the pain / damage these sort of things cause to people. .

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  6. Howard on January 15, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Progressivism is a philosophy that simply asserts progress can improve the human condition. Liberalism is based on the ideals of liberty and equality. I don’t see anything wrong with either of them and I welcome the offseting voice in a church dominated by conservatism.

    Can anyone argue Jesus our exemplar was a conservative? Aren’t we admonished to be like him?

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  7. hawkgrrrl on January 15, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    While I too dislike activism, by your definition, I have to feel like I’m a progressive (even though I’m politically independent and generally don’t participate in activism). I see liberalism by your definition as obeying the prime directive while progressives want to give the savages fire. I also think there’s some difficulty distinguishing your liberalism from libertarianism (I was becoming convinced you were libertarian on Monday’s post).

    Would you maintain this stance under the Khmer Rouge? I guess the question is whether there is anywhere you draw the line; could church leaders do anything that would cause you to not submit? There is something appealing about this hands up submission, and even I have talked about it before, but only with “progress” that doesn’t directly affect me, only in the abstract. In talking to a good friend who fled Poland in the 1980s to defect to the US, he struggled to believe in god because god allows such things to happen, and he also had very negative feelings toward the invaders of his country. I said he would have to envision a god who doesn’t intervene in such matters, who doesn’t have a problem with what happens. That’s the core problem of your submission model. I can accept a god who is absent while BS goes on. But conservatives assert that there is a god directing the BS. That I can’t accept.

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  8. MB on January 15, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    Once again I’ll add my thoughts about submission, as I think that we too often misunderstand it as we pursue a path of liberalism or struggle with it in a progressive one. And I think it fits particularly well with what you are trying to outline as a liberalist approach to the church.

    Part of the challenge of “submt” as it is used in the New Testament (“Submitting yourselves to each other in the fear of God”, for example, in Ephesians 5) is the Greek meaning of the word translated as “submit”

    It is difficult for many English-speaking persons to grasp the subtle yet important distinction between middle and passive voice in Greek verbs just by reading the definition, and yet we think in ways that the Greek verb forms express. For example,a person may teach–an active verb. And one may be taught–a passive verb. But a person may also teach himself or herself by careful listening, discovering, reasoning, learning. In that sense, the person is both subject and object of the action. That is what the Greek middle voice expresses, a voluntary action by the subject of the verb upon the subject of the verb.

    Now, it would be possible in Greek to tell a person to subject someone else (though Paul never did so); and it would be possible to describe someone as being subject to another. But one cannot tell another to be subjected, any more than one can tell someone to be learned. However, Paul used the word “hupotasso” in the middle voice. The form he uses is the form, hupotoassomai,. Since it is asking for something that is voluntary in nature, “be subject to” is an awkward translation at best. Hupotassomai means something like “give allegiance to”, “tend to the need of”, “be supportive of”, or “be responsive to”. Perhaps the best translation of hupotassomai is found in a German translation of that word, sich unterstelle, “to place oneself at the disposition of”.

    It can be understood to refer to an ability to value another’s dreams and hopes as much as your own, and an ability to rejoice in their successes and to sorrow with them in their failures, and the ability to get one’s own ego out of the way as part of one’s charitable response. It is a natural extension of tolerance and love.

    With that definition of submitting, then yes, I believe it is an essential part of a liberalist path..

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  9. MB on January 15, 2014 at 11:13 AM

    And no, no huppotassomai for khmer rouge attrocities. We’re talking instead about our response to imperfect men trying to follow Christ, not murderers.

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  10. hawkgrrrl on January 15, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    Actually, an interesting note on the Khmer Rouge (obviously church leaders aren’t murderers – although Nate said he would stay if BY did order the murders of the MMM), they only came to power because of intervention in the first place. If the US hadn’t backed Prime Minister Lon Nol and hadn’t bombed Cambodia back into the stone age, the Khmer Rouge would never have come to power. We do sometimes overlook the unforeseen and unplanned downstream impacts of intervention, painting a rosy picture of aims achieved.

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  11. Karl on January 15, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    Really interesting post, Nate. You are writing to a difficult audience, many of whom will feel defensive about this post. But I think it’s important that we non-traditional LDS people begin to go deeper into who we are and what our relationship to orthodoxy is. We are less monolithic than we sometimes think, and the liberal-progressive divide seems like a useful way to think about that.

    I think that there is some disingenuousness among some people that you’d call progressive in how they want to see change happen. That is, instead of just letting our leaders know how we feel, but often the goal is not to communicate an opinion, but to pressure for a predetermined ‘true’ outcome.

    If progressives criticize TBMs for saying they know The Way Things Are, but then they turn around and give essentially an alternative Way Things Are, then I think that’s hypocrisy. But if liberals allow for people of different persuasions to Know things that conflict… it’s not hypocrisy, but it can be difficult to know how to navigate life with that pluralism. What does it mean for us? I guess I’d say I feel more like a liberal than a progressive, but I also don’t feel like I fall cleanly into either camp as defined by Nate.

    What I do know is that I gravitate toward the pragmatist philosophy that “truth is what works in the long run.” I suppose that means that ‘what works’ may differ from person to person. Which sounds liberal. But it will take me some time to work through what that really means, and how it relates to this idea of liberal and progressive.

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  12. LBK on January 15, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    As a Berkeley radical of the 1960’s I heard versions of your argument all the time. If there are wrongs, speak softly using the words of a Casper Milquetoast, do not rock the boat or cause any disturbance.. There are times you must act on your moral beliefs and take action.

    Are you writing that people should not have marched to see that blacks were hired by auto dealers? To help minorities register to vote in the South? To be willing to dodge rocks at anti-war rallies? Picketing stores that sold non-union grapes? Or to put it Church terms, should someone have supported George Romney’s desire to see the Priesthood ban lifted or prattle the mistaken racist comments of many church leaders.

    I believe the words of Pastor Martin Niemuller summarize our responsibilities: First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out-because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionist and I did not speak out- because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak up-because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

    Simply put, should we praise a Helmuth Hubener or castigate him as a lawbreaker.

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  13. Howard on January 15, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    Karl wrote: …often the goal is not to communicate an opinion, but to pressure for a predetermined ‘true’ outcome. I hear this asserted often but it seems baseless to me. You seem to be assigning intent here, so I’m wondering how you know what their intent is? Are you sure this isn’t just an assumption or projection?

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  14. hawkgrrrl on January 15, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    I would also like to know whether Nate would distinguish between activism that is aimed a cultural norms vs. authoritative decisions. For example, the pants movement was entirely about cultural norms.

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  15. Nate on January 16, 2014 at 2:22 AM

    Thanks for the great comments everyone. Hawkgrrrl asks: “whether Nate would distinguish between activism that is aimed a cultural norms vs. authoritative decisions.”

    I think activism aimed at cultural norms is usually more benign, and sometimes I think it is extremely positive and nescessary, because cultural encrustrations can dilute or warp the authoritative gospel. General Authorities sometimes attack cultural norms among Mormons. At the same time, some members see “cultural” things as “doctrinal,” maybe like not drinking Coke, or wearing dresses to church. Obedience to a cultural norm is something they do as a true act of faith. It’s their personal response to the gospel, and their sacrifice to God. In this case, I don’t think its always good to challenge cultural norms, when these norms reflect true faith. It’s like what Paul said about not eating meat. To him who thinks it is a sin, it is a sin, to him who thinks it is not a sin, it is not a sin. But don’t offend someone by eating meat in front of them, just to challenge them. Christ died for them too.

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  16. Nate on January 16, 2014 at 2:43 AM

    Howard, I agree with Karl that most progressives in the church press for a predetermined outcome. Progressives are usually acting upon a moral sense of justice, and they are idealists. They are not usually “brainstorming” for the Brethren. But if they were brainstorming, I think that would be welcome and very positive. We need people to think outside the box, and as long as they are doing it in the humble way you describe, I think it’s great.

    The problem with progressivism is that it pits your beliefs against the Brethren. You know they are wrong. They know you are wrong. Both sides are completely confident of their position. It’s human nature to think of oneself as always right. But this is a great illusion. We are not always right. In general, all people’s beliefs and perspectives have flaws, which is easy to see when we look at human history and the crazy things people confidently believed in the past. The reality is that we are all kidding ourselves. None of us, including the Brethren, have all the answers.

    Authoritative religion provides an important opportunity for people to deny themselves and submit to a being whose ways “are higher than your ways, and whose thoughts are higher than your thoughts.” When one submits to a strange religion like ours, one shows God that one does not trust in his own wisdom, and is willing to embrace the foolishness of God over the wisdom of men. We may recognize that there are some errors in the religious authority, but that is not the point. The point is that it provides an opportunity for humility and faith.

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  17. Nate on January 16, 2014 at 3:09 AM

    Andrew S says, “You say that the church continues to grow and advance, but this seems statistically spotty.” Maybe, but most imortantly, I’m thinking of the blessings that arise from individuals who stuck through the trials, like all the survivors of the Martin and Willie Handcart Company, none of whom left the church, and who wrote that they were greatful for the experience, because “we came to know God in our extremity.” Wilford Woodruff, Brigham Young, or John Tanner who spoke of the refiners fire of the Kirtland Bank or Zion’s Camp, which they were grateful for.

    MB, thanks for analyzing the etymology of submission. I think “to place oneself at the disposition of” is a good one, and is a bit more nuanced than submit, which can influence people to become doormats.

    Daniel R, I don’t want to seem categorically against progressivism. I think liberalism, progressivism, and conservativism all have advantages and disadvantages. In the secular world, I’m more of a progressive politically. But in the church, I take the opportunity to exercise submission, because I believe submission is an essential exercise in fulfilling our divine nature. We do not have kings anymore, and our society champions individualism, so people today are overly burdened by self-absorbtion and pride. The church gives us a clearly deliniated structure upon which to humble and prostrate ourselves, something sorely lacking in society today. It is a safe place to do so, because it is is a good and true church, even if it is not perfect.

    Leah Marie, great point about Conservatives, and I absolutely agree.

    LBK, “There are times you must act on your moral beliefs and take action.” Very good point, and I agree. I think George Romney is a good example, because he advocated for change in the church and society, but still he submitted to the structure of the church fully. If you can do both humbly, I think that is the ideal.

    Jeff Spector, thanks for the comments. It’s true that progressives in the church harken back to the pre-correlated past. If one were to be unkind, one would say they worship dead prophets and cast out living ones. The whole point of the LDS church, as opposed to every other church, is that we have prophets who claim authority today. I don’t care what they say so much as I recognize that they say it with authority. Authority trumps doctrine.

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  18. Howard on January 16, 2014 at 6:22 AM

    They know you are wrong.. So they knew I was wrong when I questioned the ban on Blacks prior to 1978?

    I don’t necessarly know they are wrong but I suspect it sometimes and I do I inquire of the spirit. I do know that my ways are often not God’s ways but I also know the brethren by their own admission were wrong about the ban on Blacks therefore they may well be wrong on other issues. So what exactly is wrong with questioning their position? None of us, including the Brethren, have all the answers.. So, questioning the brethern’s position should be considered a sign of health instead of a sign of aposticy!

    Nate your agreeing with Karl regarding progressive’s intent doesn’t make it so. Please offer evidence of this and explain how you come to this conclusion. Secondly please explain how that alleged intent has any bearing on the issue given the fact that changes to the church must be approved by church leadership. This is a strawman designed to discredit progressives. It is used because the anti progressive arguments are largely lacking logical merit.

    Nate, I have and I do submit. I submit to God. I am a sell what you have, give to the poor and follow Him disciple of ten years now! If you aren’t you probably have no idea what sacrifices are envolved with that! I enjoy easy access to the spirit and profound personal revelation. Trust me submitting myself to attorney Dallin Oaks doesn’t add much of substance to those experiences. Obediance and submission are just beginning lessons there is much more to learn and we must move beyond being an OT behavioual enforcement pharisaical church and become a Christian beattitude church in order to learn them! Does Oaks or Packer echo Christ with regard to gays? Obviously not!!! Jesus was silent on the subject and He, not Packer or Oaks is our examplar.

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  19. Andrew S on January 16, 2014 at 9:25 AM

    re 17

    Nate,

    Maybe, but most imortantly, I’m thinking of the blessings that arise from individuals who stuck through the trials, like all the survivors of the Martin and Willie Handcart Company, none of whom left the church, and who wrote that they were greatful for the experience, because “we came to know God in our extremity.” Wilford Woodruff, Brigham Young, or John Tanner who spoke of the refiners fire of the Kirtland Bank or Zion’s Camp, which they were grateful for.

    I guess the basic issue is this is just survivorship bias.

    But as I said before, there are well-known psychological effects of various “difficult” situations, so what you’re saying is also not unheard of. This applies to more than just the church.

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  20. Nate on January 16, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    Howard, I don’t have any evidence that progressives “know” they are right, other than that is the feeling I get from the discussions and articles I’ve read by progressives, like Dehlin’s TED talk for example. But I’m sure you are right that some, perhaps many progressives are less sure of themselves.

    Regarding submission to God rather than submission to the church, I think that requires a special relationship with God, a sure knowledge that you are following His will. Certainly Joseph Smith rebelled against the eclesiastical authorities of his day and instead submitted to God directly. If one has heard the voice of God, one must follow. If that is the relationship you have with God, then by all means, you should submit to it as a first priority, even over the church, if there is a conflict.

    But I think that many people don’t have this intimacy with God, or if they do, it might be an intimacy with a God of their own imagination, something that reflects their preexisting prejudices and beliefs. The church exists as a vehicle for people to submit to something outside of themselves, which merely stands in for a God who has not revealed Himself personally in His fullness. It is something tangible upon which to exercise faith, something that requires a sacrifice of one’s own perspectives and prejudices. I think that submitting oneself “to God” in the abstract is not strong enough for many people, because God is too abstract, too variable, because our experiences of God are often a reflection of ourselves. People who see God as authoritarian and judgemental are usually authoritarian and judgemental themselves. People who see God as loving and forgiving are usually loving and forgiving themselves. The church exists to expand and challenge our views of God and His ways.

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  21. Howard on January 16, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    But I think that many people don’t have this intimacy with God…The church exists as a vehicle for people… So I think this outlines an important hierarchy; Those who can should follow the spirit, those who can’t should follow the prophet. …our experiences of God are often a reflection of ourselves. Yes, isn’t this wonderful, we create our own reality and if that reality includes God we can become one with him! Why then would/should we accept a generic brokered podium/manual description of God and God’s will when/if we can have our own one on one relationship with him?

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  22. Nate on January 16, 2014 at 7:50 PM

    Howard, I don’t think that submission to the “podium/manual description of God” takes away from our personal relationship with Him. Rather, an eclesiastical authority helps us materialize our relationship with God into something tangible that we can understand and deal with. In our weakness here in mortality, we need material symbols of the spiritual realm. It seems you are advocating a kind of gnosticism, which is anti-materialistic. Ultimately, you are correct that the ideal is: “No man shall say ‘know ye the Lord’ because all shall know Him from the least to the greatest.”

    But we are too weak in our current state. We are too much in the flesh. John Dehlin pointed out that once his “Dehlinites” lost their faith in the Gospel, they also lost their moral bearings, and started engaging in open marriages and active anti-Mormonism. John said that when he started losing his own faith, the light went out of his eyes, even though he felt like he was doing God’s will. Jesus said that his way was “strait and narrow.” That doesn’t mean that the truth is strait and narrow. The universe is teeming with truth. But entering into a strait gate, submitting oneself to a tiny corner of His truth is an important exercise within the Gospel. It’s like embracing a monogamous marriage, even though there are thousands of other women with whom we could have a true and beautiful relationship. The point is to go deep into a singular point, to explore the universe within a single grain of sand.

    Also, I think that even within correlated Mormonism, one can enter into complete gnosis with God. Mormonism facilitates gnosis by inviting participants to go through various levels of spiritual growth: baptism, priesthood, temple, sealings. It invites us to embrace all truth, that all truth can be circumscribed into a great whole. A lot of the correlated Gospel is focused on “milk before meat” and indeed some of the milk seems to contradict what we have tasted of the meat. But that is not a real problem. When we understand the “meat” we will be able to embrace paradox and contradiction, because that is how God operates at the “meat” level.

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  23. Howard on January 16, 2014 at 10:05 PM

    The church was literally born of gnosticism! We are encouraged to seek personal revelation but should we actually achieve it we’re eyed with skepticism!

    John Dehlin pointed out that once his “Dehlinites” lost their faith in the Gospel, they also lost their moral bearings… Well I think Mormons who were raised in the faith are more vulnerable to this problem than others because of how their moral code is layered in overtime. When they jettison the church their morals are an integral part of that same belief system leaving them much more vulnerable than others at throwing the baby out with the bath water. I don’t see this as evidence of some evil vs righteous dichotomy or continuum or that church is responsible for people having basic morals.

    Also, I think that even within correlated Mormonism, one can enter into complete gnosis with God. Mormonism facilitates gnosis by inviting participants to go through various levels of spiritual growth: baptism, priesthood, temple, sealings. I would LOVE to believe this but what is typically reported is the the closest thing to LDS gnosis is experienced while on a mission and it is rarely ever encountered again!

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  24. Jeff Spector on January 17, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    Howard,

    “I would LOVE to believe this but what is typically reported is the the closest thing to LDS gnosis is experienced while on a mission and it is rarely ever encountered again!”

    This is a really perceptive comment I think. One of the reasons this is so is that on a mission, one gives not only their full-time, but their heart and soul to the work. They draw closer to Heavenly Father and the Savior than ever before, actually giving their might, mind and strength.(D&C 4:2)

    Upon return, this effort can diminish over time, not because they are no longer full time, but because they are no longer giving that might, mind and strength.

    That seems to be the biggest difference to me. It’s not universally true, but it happens to many.

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  25. Howard on January 17, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    One of the reasons this is so is that on a mission… Yes I think you’re right. Another trend I notice is members seem to pursue the spirit in a Moroni challenge kind of way and upon receiving a single spiritual conformation tend to interrupt it to globally mean that the church, BoM and prophets and nearly everything they have been taught are “true” and never again put the same level of effort into attempting to go further with the spirit except to occasionally ask self serving 8 Ball kinds of questions. Learning to hear and interrupt the spirit requires the same kind of practice and dedication that learning to meditate does and combining the two improves both and it improves one’s scripture study as well.

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  26. Howard on January 17, 2014 at 9:12 AM

    Btw, the best explanation for what that initial spiritual conformation likely means is you’re on the right track “come follow me” and as I recall it was Nate who offered that interruption long ago in another thread.

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  27. New Iconoclast on January 17, 2014 at 10:29 AM

    Sometimes I try to sort through all of these labels and I despair of making sense out of them. Or, more accurately, I despair of making sense out of myself! Howard says in #6 that Progressivism is a philosophy that simply asserts progress can improve the human condition, but I get hung up on connotations at times since in modern politics, so-called “progressives” usually seem like they’re trying to reverse progress in many ways.

    I am very glad that I joined the Church (a) as an adult, (b) not in Utah, and (c) that my missionary family was fairly intellectually curious and encouraged me to study and question. I’m also glad that, despite what I regard as the historical and doctrinal coherence of the Gospel, Heavenly Father was very direct with me in a spiritual sense about what I was learning and studying.

    I’ll probably just continue to accumulate data, study history, and shoot off my mouth often enough that I’ll never have to worry about serving in a bishopric.

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  28. Howard on January 17, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    …in modern politics, so-called “progressives” usually seem like they’re trying to reverse progress in many ways.

    US liberal politics are out of control! A continually growing welfare state puts the incentives in the wrong place leading to inefficiency high overhead and eventually insolvency (of course technically we’re already there!). But conservatives were rapidly adding to our insolvency as well because they just had to have their wars. So off we went conflating Iraq with 911 and chasing nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction”!

    The problem is how politics are played on the ground not the competing philosophies.

    Fortunately we are running out of wars to fight but we can’t just roll back welfare arbitrarily and expect people to work because they need jobs to go to! Where are the jobs? Multinational Corps. moved them out of the country. This was supported by conservatives while they looked the other way. Why? Because prior to this liberals demanded so much government regulation that businesses couldn’t compete in a world market.

    So this is something we are doing to ourselves via mismanagement. The Titanic is sinking while we argue over the deck chairs via partisan politics!

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  29. Howard on January 17, 2014 at 11:08 AM

    Many so called “faithful” (as if others are not faithful!) confuse and conflate the problems caused by US liberal politics with the progressive movement within the church. But these are not the same at all, there is a very BIG difference! Church leaders are not elected and when they take office they owe nothing politically to LDS progressives who are just a small (but growing) minority. So this notion that the church’s hand can be forced by LDS progressives is simply not true! To the extent the church actually bends to progressive positions it’s because progressives have presented a compelling argument.

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  30. hawkgrrrl on January 17, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    One thing I’m surprised hasn’t been mentioned yet is the work Jonathan Haidt did that shows the key difference between liberals/progressives (by Nate’s definition he seems to be describing progressives) and conservatives is how much weight they place on purity, authority, and justice. Conservatives care about purity and authority whereas liberals care about justice (outcomes) and distrust authority; perhaps this distrust is because we think authority is responsible to address and rectify injustice. According to Haidt, liberals care about justice, but conservatives care about fairness – and these are two different things.

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  31. Jenn on January 17, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    I really liked this post, and thought that it brought up some really interesting ideas-especially the whole, “tolerating intolerance” thing. I have a hard time with this, and since I have moved to Utah County I have been realizing how much I need to work on trying to appreciate the more conservative members here :)
    However, the weight given to blind obedience in this article seemed problematic. While I agree that part of the lesson we are to learn here on earth is to trust in God, at the same it seems like the other lesson is to learn how to govern ourselves. Since Mormons don’t really believe that when we die we will just be chillin in heaven and singing praises to God, but instead, eventually, becoming like him. Eve partakes of the fruit so that we can learn good from evil, not how to blindly obey. I agree that it is a balancing act, but I think it isn’t really part of our doctrine that when we do wrong things, just because our leaders say so, we will be blessed with an increase in faith. Maybe I misunderstood? I am just wondering how agency would fit in with what you are saying, because I really your ideas.

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  32. New Iconoclast on January 17, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    The Titanic is sinking while we argue over the deck chairs via partisan politics!

    Which is but one of the many things, some of which you mention in #29, Howard, that make me a “pox on both your houses” voter (and sometimes a non-voter).

    Hawkgrrrl, good call on Jonathan Haidt #30. I had forgotten that stuff. I do wonder how (and I haven’t read him extensively) he reconciles the liberal “mistrust of authority” with the political “liberal’s” wielding of government authority to attempt to achieve equality of outcome (“justice”)? Or do I vaguely recall that he defines “authority” differently, more as “moral order” than as “state power?”

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  33. Casey on January 17, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    I think the categories you’re describing are interesting but using the labels “progressive” and “liberal” is unwise. They’re both fraught and contested terms with meanings that can vary depending on who’s using them, especially with their inescapable connection to partisan politics. Any attempt to carve out your own special definition risks creating a lot of strawmen and muddying things more than you probably intend.

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  34. rah on January 18, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    In my sense of the gospel we are not asked to submit to mortal authority – even prophetic authority – in opposition to what our personal light of christ or spiritual revelation brings to us. This is core of what Mormons mean when we say we do not preach blind obedience. As Nate acknowledges “progressives” act mostly out of a sense of moral conviction. In Mormon speak, such convictions come through our understanding of the Gospel and personal revelation. Yet a continued difficulty in Mormon thought (theology is probably too strong a term) is that while we acknowledge the possibility of a disconnect between what leaders teach and instruct us to do and what our relationship with God convinces us is right, we don’t have any way to reconcile it when it actually does happen. Nate, your personal answer seems to be that you defer to priesthood leaders. It is unclear that you have ever experienced real cognitive dissonance between a strongly held moral belief and church instruction. You seem relatively ambivalent to the current issues – happy to roll with the punches. So I think hawwkgirl’s question to you still stands. What is your limit of submission? It really seems to me that your distinction between liberal/progressive is just another way to deny that there ever can truly be a legitimate disconnect between church authority and God’s will (for the person). I personally find such strong deference to authority in direct opposition to D&C 121 and frankly scary. That is exactly how some of the darkest moments in our church’s history happened. I agree there might be instances where obedience in the face of futility or benign error might be fine. I can not believe there are instances where obedience in face of one’s own personal countervailing revelation and moral conviction are spiritually good for anyone – the person giving the order included.

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  35. Nate on January 18, 2014 at 10:38 AM

    Rah, and also Jenn, regarding blind obedience, thank you for your comments.

    The submission I am advocating is not blind. Rather it recognizes and embraces the cognitive dissonance. It is in the spirit of Job: “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”

    I was inspired by an account I read of the Renaissance painter Botticelli. I consider Botticelli to be probably THE most spiritually uplifting and mystical painters the world has ever known. This was a man who was obviously in touch with something divine. He almost certainly understood something far deeper about the divinity of the human spirit than any of the church men of his day. Yet, when asked by his bishop to destroy some of his more “secular” paintings, he did. While this is a great tragedy for the art world, I think it says something important about the charecter of Botticelli, who, though he was among the greatest spirits of the age, submitted to the small-minded ecclesiastical abuse of the authoritative church. This submission did nothing to diminish the soaring heights of his artistic explorations. Rather, I think that in some way, his submission aided and grounded him, and gave his work a transcendent mysticism and paradoxical beauty which you can’t even find in Da Vinci or Caravaggio. That is just my opinion of the story, but I look to him as an example in my own life, as poor of an artist as I am.

    On the other hand, I do think, contrary to Rah’s suggestion, that ecclesiastical abuse in our church is rather rare, and really not as significant as we make it out to be. If we take an issue like gays, unless we are directly suffering the consequences of what seems to be an abusive position, it should not really effect us. 90% of General Conference is still about all the normal good stuff, loving God, loving neighbor. When President Hinkley was asked about blacks and the priesthood, he said he doesn’t get hung up on those “flecks” of history. He doesn’t take them seriously. “How do we prepare for the apocalypse? We don’t worry about it!”

    What is the content of 99% of what President Monson says? That is where the substance of Mormonism should be. He is our prophet. He is trying to set our priorities as a church. His sermons are the life we should be trying to live, the commandments we should be trying to keep. But we are getting hung up and distracted by things that are ultimately of little import: gays, mistakes of the past, judgemental attitudes. We are constantly quoting Pres. Packer, Pres. Oaks, or others who occasionaly dip into controversial territory. But who quotes Pres. Monson? I’ve never seen a quote by Pres. Monson here on Wheat and Tares. Why is that? Ironic, given the fact that I think true Mormonism and undefiled is exactly what Pres. Monson has been saying for years: aid the fatherless and the widow, and keep oneself unspotted from the world.

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  36. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    I do think…that ecclesiastical abuse in our church is rather rare… So you wouldn’t count the ban on Blacks as ecclesiastical abuse? If we take an issue like gays, unless we are directly suffering the consequences of what seems to be an abusive position, it should not really effect us. So we shouldn’t be concerned about gay suicide even when the church’s position is implicated? But who quotes Pres. Monson? Few outside of church itself. Once you know he loves widows and he canwiggle his ears, what is there of interest to quote?

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