Conflicting Opinions

By: Jake
July 14, 2011

Is the church antagonistic toward academics and others with conflicting opinions?  Critics would say yes.  I suggest that the real issue is that some members (even those in leadership roles) do not know how to deal effectively with disagreement within the church’s culture.  Today is another post by guest Jake.

As Boyd K. Packer taught, the purpose of correlation is to “represent the brethren in pointing out to you areas where you, in one detail or another, might, in the interest of the overall program, need to make an adjustment or two.”  This prevents contradictions in what apostles are saying in church publications and ensures consistency through all departments and programs.  The downside is that silence is the only real indicator of disagreement.  Members may wrongly conclude that the Q12 are always in full agreement or that disagreement is against church policy.  The debate behind the policy is not shared, only a single black and white answer.  As a result, members and even local leaders may resort to binary notions of true and false in which two views cannot co-exist because one must be right and the other wrong.

Yet if we look at the history of our church we can find numerous instances when prominent figures in the church disagreed, even strenuously. In the 1920’s and 30’s there was an intense disagreement between James Talmage, B.H Roberts and Joseph F. Smith regarding evolution. The fact that they disagreed didn’t stop them from working together. It gave members the ability to see conflict management within the church.  Unfortunately, history has also shown that often the wrong party won in the debate on the grounds of seniority.  But the fact that the disagreement surfaced is important as it showed disagreement was not a sign of lack of faith, or rebellion against the church.  In the present church we have no examples of conflict from our leadership, or even an acknowledgment that conflict is possible.  This makes it difficult to discuss conflicting views in the church without being labeled contentious and wrong.

This problem is magnified when combined with local leaders and members who are overzealous in demonstrating their allegiance to the church.

When Henry Ford produced his Model T car, he famously advertised it as being available in any colour as long as it was black.  Because the church offers one neat and tidy harmonious answer to each question, it suggests that it is the only way to think about the matter, or worse, that no thinking is required at all since a pre-packaged answer is available.  This translates to “you can think about the gospel in any way you like, as long as it is the one way we have taught you.”  But if we only ever know one side of the case, then we know very little; there are often many other sides to any story, and by considering other views we gain understanding.

The only way to identify errors is to compare alternate views. We know that the church has made mistakes in the past and will no doubt correct errors in the future.   The attitude often found amongst locals seems a far cry from that proclaimed by Orson Pratt when he said that: “Convince us of our errors of Doctrine, if we have any, by reason, by logical arguments, or by the Word of God and we will ever be grateful for the information and you will ever have the pleasing reflections that you have been instruments in the hands of God of redeeming your fellow beings.”  Teaching only one viewpoint is antithetical to personal and institutional growth.  As John Stuart Mill said: “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and even if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”  The more views we have the better our ability to compare them for their individual merits. 

Perhaps it is better to hide debate, though.  Would exposing differences of opinion in our leadership promote faith?  Or would the lack of agreement only serve to divide and confuse members? Is it the case that the average member simply ‘cannot handle the truth’?

An example I have encountered of members failing to hear more then one stance is related to the church’s doctrine about progression through kingdoms. In 1952 the church declared in a letter that: “The brethren direct me to say that the Church has never announced a definite doctrine upon this point. Some of the brethren have held the view that it was possible in the course of progression to advance from one glory to another, invoking the principle of eternal progression; others of the brethren have taken the opposite view. But as stated, the Church has never announced a definite doctrine on this point.” However, since then, Bruce R. Mcconkie gave his controversial “Seven Deadly Heresies” talk and specifically stated that progression through kingdoms was a heresy; despite the fact that this was only a BYU address, his prominent stance within the church and his subsequent frequent quotations, through Mormon Doctrine and extensive quotes of him in institute manuals meant that for many members his declaration that belief in progression through kingdoms was a heresy became seen as the church’s official stance.  In a recent institute class I attended, the entire group attacked a classmate who said that it was possible to progress through kingdoms, citing BRM’s view as the “official stance.”
In this situation most of the class had never considered the alternative view; they simply dismissed it because it contradicted what they had been taught.  They were unaware that the view that they held was just as speculative and indefinite as the one they denounced.  Had they been aware of the possibility of an alternative interpretation (that there was no “one true answer”), perhaps the contention might have been avoided and a more faithful discussion resulted instead of an attack on the alternate voice. In this case then would it be better if the church taught both ways and let members decide?  Or not address it at all, with the result that the speculative popular interpretation could be taken as the official stance?  

Many feel that the one true church must have one true answer to all questions.  Disagreement is seen as disunity.  However, there is not always one true fixed answer; some answers are time-bound or situational. As Joseph Smith taught “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed.”  The fact that only one is taught does not mean that it is an unchanging answer.

Real schisms occur when people don’t know how to deal with differences of opinion.  We develop the ability to deal with conflict through exposure to it; children learn by seeing their parents fight and then come to a resolution.  Conflict is an intrinsic part of my life as a philosopher, yet when academic conventions of conflict and resolution are brought to a church setting, it is not considered compatible.  Is this because opinions, when expressed in church, get invested with greater epistemological significance then mere opinion? Is it that an opinion in church can be seen as not simply an opinion but either a profession of faith or of dissent, and thus has greater gravity attached to it than needs be?

The focus on the product of unity (consensus) has deprived us of the process of becoming unified in our differences.  Zion can not be built by giving us one mind to which we must adhere and follow, but will become most beautiful and natural as we all work together to arrive at one mind through reconciliation of a diversity of thought.   The church may ultimately teach a clear stance, but we should not assume that what is taught is the only way of thinking about an issue, nor that the church’s stance is by default the right way.

As Elder Richard Evans taught: “Old conceptions and traditional interpretations must be influenced by newly discovered evidence.”  The only way that we can be influenced by new experience and understanding so that we can improve and progress is if we allow a voice for new evidence to be expressed amongst our fellow members. Perhaps this means that not only must we be more tolerant towards other views, no matter how absurd or much we think they are wrong, but also we must be more outspoken ourselves and present views that create opportunity for people to consider alternative interpretations and new evidence outside of the mainstream.

When the right questions and concerns are raised, they are gateways for revelation. While I think it is right that the church correlates published statements, we need to do more to prevent becoming impoverished in our ability to deal with conflict and disagreement within the church.  Local leaders who lack critical thinking skills may conclude that any deviation from the party line is evidence of fighting against the church and must be stamped out.  This creates dogmatism and fanaticism in the name of institutional loyalty.

What do you think the church can do to promote better methods of handling conflicting opinion?  Is this an institutional or local problem?  Is it a problem at all?  Discuss.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

44 Responses to Conflicting Opinions

  1. Kiley on July 14, 2011 at 4:44 PM

    I have recently had several disagreements with very orthodox members of the church and was left shocked at how mad they were… The conversation shifted from calm conversation to them being really upset in a matter of seconds. I think it really goes back to the ideas you are talking about here. It is difficult for some to entertain any idea that they feel conflicts with the church’s stance…

    I really like the question that you ask here at the end.

    “What can the church do to promote better methods of handling conflicting opinions?”

    They could become models of showing healthy conversation when opinions differ, but that would quickly “uncorrelate” things wouldn’t it?! As long as the stance is that the church is “true” and correlated I’m not sure the church really can promote betters ways of handling conflict… Allowing for more than one answer or opinion undermines “true” and “right”.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 5

  2. Course Correction on July 14, 2011 at 5:07 PM

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

    The inability of Church members to handle conflicting opinions in mature, thoughtful ways is only a problem if the Church desires to gain and keep thinking members.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 5

  3. Howard on July 14, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    We can drink the Kool-Aid or we can think, thinking leads to conflict and conflict leads to learning. However the learning can be threatening and painful for those with cognitive dissonance and it’s resulting impermeability of thought. Those with the most impermeability of thought tend to cling to the orthodox view wanting to shut down the discussion but the process is generally psychologically healthy and the group ultimately benefits.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  4. Jacob M on July 14, 2011 at 6:36 PM

    I think the biggest problem is how people mis-read the Book of Mormon where it talks about avoiding contention. A lot of people I know feel that any disagreement is contention and must be stopped at once before the devil takes hold. It makes it rather annoying to those who enjoy debate.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  5. Dan on July 14, 2011 at 7:29 PM

    Perhaps it is better to hide debate, though. Would exposing differences of opinion in our leadership promote faith? Or would the lack of agreement only serve to divide and confuse members? Is it the case that the average member simply ‘cannot handle the truth’?

    Sadly though, the reality of life gets in the way. For instance, blacks and the priesthood, or Galileo and the earth being at the center of the universe. At some point, the overwhelming evidence contrary to the position taken by “seniority” will be such that “seniority” will lose all legitimacy on the matter by being on the wrong side.

    What do you think the church can do to promote better methods of handling conflicting opinion? Is this an institutional or local problem? Is it a problem at all?

    it is a problem we all face (meaning all of humanity). We like some semblance of stability, and when we are constantly in a state of questioning, we feel unanchored. I think what the church can do is promote that the prophet speaks for the Lord, but that his voice is not exclusive.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 5

  6. Chris on July 14, 2011 at 10:03 PM

    What do you think the church can do to promote better methods of handling conflicting opinion? The church is still learning how to incorporate people of different cultures, races, and religious backgrounds. President Hinckley taught us to show more tolerance towards those who may not share our beliefs, but Church leaders and members have much to do to show kindness and respect to those in and out of our Church whose beliefs differ from our own.

    Is this an institutional or local problem? Both

    Is it a problem at all? Absolutely. Until members and leaders show genuine respect for those whose beliefs differ from our own, missionary work and retention of members will suffer.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  7. Mike S on July 14, 2011 at 10:20 PM

    What do you think the church can do to promote better methods of handling conflicting opinion?
    They can allow for and present different opinions. In the early days, Church leaders openly disagreed about things. People understood that they were expressing their opinions. Actual doctrinal changes were presented as revelations.

    Currently, there is a uniform and correlated front. We are told that obedience is more important than reason. We are told that when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done. Over the past decades, this thought has permeated the Church to the point that when you point out a different opinion of things you would do if you were in charge, you are sometimes accused of not supporting the program.

    Is this an institutional or local problem?
    At the core – institutional. Through “trickle-down”, local. Church leaders are not chosen for thoughtful and independent thought. Leaders are not chosen for expressing differing opinions to consider. Leaders are chosen for supporting the program, whether or not they agree with all of the minutiae.

    Is it a problem at all?
    Absolutely. Differing opinion is suppressed. We are seen by the world as monochromatic sheep in many cases. Members with differing opinions either silently suppress them or else end up on places like this :-)

    So, maybe the current policy is a good thing – otherwise no one would be reading this.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 8

  8. Will on July 14, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    God is not a God of confusion; rather, he is a God of order.
    Despite the efforts by some to create a democratic view on revelation, it follows a proper order. Information is revealed to a Prophet and pushed down the ranks.

    If God intended reconciliation of diverse views there would have been no apostacy; and, clearly no need for a restoration. Instead of a restoration, God would have attempted to reconcile all the different faiths. He didn’t attempt to reconcile these diverse views; rather, he called a Prophet and established his gospel.

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 2

  9. Mike S on July 14, 2011 at 11:29 PM

    Will:

    That theory is nice in concept, and I will grant that it is in God’s power to reveal whatever He will.

    However, in practice, there ARE diverse views – even within the Church and even on important things. For example, the Creation story is an essential part of the temple, but the Church has NO official viewpoint on evolution. God COULD reveal the answer through His prophet, but hasn’t. Tithing is essential, but there is no official viewpoint on net or gross. There are many, many other things about which people disagree and for which there are NO official revelations.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  10. hawkgrrrl on July 15, 2011 at 1:20 AM

    I think the key points are:
    - leaders can’t afford to share opinions without being extremely clear that’s all they are
    - local leaders should not be yes men chosen for their fanatical willingness to do whatever they are told even if they are really good people otherwise
    - the rest of us should just be who we are and say what we think, consequences be damned, to create a safe place for people to express themselves

    I have to say, though, I am not very encouraged by the examples of open debate that existed in the earlier days of the church. The evolution debates are a prime reason why. Uninformed higher-ranking bluster beat science. What kind of crap outcome is that?

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 4

  11. Seth on July 15, 2011 at 2:50 AM

    I like this:

    The focus on the product of unity (consensus) has deprived us of the process of becoming unified in our differences. Zion can not be built by giving us one mind to which we must adhere and follow, but will become most beautiful and natural as we all work together to arrive at one mind through reconciliation of a diversity of thought. The church may ultimately teach a clear stance, but we should not assume that what is taught is the only way of thinking about an issue, nor that the church’s stance is by default the right way.

    The two groups of people I’ve seen get most upset in discussions about the Church are either fundamentalists on the one hand, or orthodox members on the other. To them, “like-mindedness” (unity/consensus) is paramount to any discussion and any deviation from [their] norm is apostasy. My way, or the highway.

    I think we need to focus much, much more on the like-heartedness as opposed to the oft-cited like-mindedness clamored for by both groups. The problem this creates [focusing on like-heartedness], though, is that people chaff when some people do one thing, others do another thing and they do something different. Many members what a unified, codified doctrine so that everyone does the same thing, has the same rules, same expectations and same judgment standards [it's easier to judge others by our standard].

    But what the Joseph Smith quote and Paul’s teachings in Romans (“I am persuaded by the Lord Jesus … that nothing is unclean of itself, but to him that esteemeth it unclean, to him it is unclean”) show is that there may be a better, different way than what we’re pursuing currently.

    And, I don’t see any reason for conflict. If we can sit back and accept that we each have different lives to lead, different revelations to guide us and different situations to go through, maybe we can realize that we don’t all need to go through the same cookie-cutter existence, believe the same cookie-cutter beliefs, etc.

    God is love. And, if God is love, maybe we can learn to love the differences more than our ego-need to be right about everything, including how I think you’re supposed to live and believe..

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  12. Seth on July 15, 2011 at 3:04 AM

    Will:

    God is not a God of confusion; rather, he is a God of order.
    Despite the efforts by some to create a democratic view on revelation, it follows a proper order. Information is revealed to a Prophet and pushed down the ranks.

    Help me out with this, but I think you’re misplacing a few key tenets of the LDS faith. We think God is a God of order, and the D&C states as much, but if “God’s ways are not [our] ways,” then I’m fully ready to concede that his ways could look like confusion to me. God isn’t bound by our definitions, our modern words, our institutional boundaries.

    Likewise the idea that “…information is revealed to a Prophet and pushed down the ranks” is speaking of church specific information only. The President of the Church doesn’t micromanage our lives, doesn’t receive revelations for individual members, doesn’t tell me what to do, how to think or what to wear or, basically, anything to do with 99% of my life. Those things are mine to manage and work out.

    The scriptures don’t say “let the Prophet work out your salvation,” nor do they say that the “Prophet will cause your bosom to burn,” nor do they say “By the power of the Holy Prophet you can know the meaning of all things…”.

    There is an individual level of accountability, where we are accountable to God [and God alone] for what we believe, do, say and are. I’d argue that most of our lives are simply outside the purview of the president of the church [and that's how it should be].

    Joseph Smith stated that the early saints minds were “darkened” because all they wanted was the prophet to tell them what to do – and yet I think our modern LDS culture is light years worse… we’ve codified that statement into an actual Primary song that most children sing every Sunday in church.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 12

  13. Trev on July 15, 2011 at 4:12 AM

    Although it leaves openings for criticism (like any comment here), Will is actually bringing up an important point that none of the responses to his comment have directly addressed. At some point, we do have to consider the purpose of “Restoration” as to what was restored and the significance of it. You can easily say, “Well, the Restoration includes certain principals and doctrines, but the interpretation of them in my life is open,” but then eventually that gets to the point where there may as well have not been a Restoration, or the idea of something needing to be Restored or established loses all meaning.

    It’s easy to ignore that there needs to be that line because we seem–and I feel, too–that we are so far on the one side of it, but what Will brings up is indeed important.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  14. Jake on July 15, 2011 at 4:50 AM

    “Until members and leaders show genuine respect for those whose beliefs differ from our own, missionary work and retention of members will suffer.”

    This is a good point. It makes me wonder if the failure to deal with difference internally also reflects our failure to deal with and work effectively with other faiths, who all get lumped together as being part of the great and abominable church. Is this simply not being able to live with two possibilities?

    Will:

    “If God intended reconciliation of diverse views there would have been no apostacy; and, clearly no need for a restoration.”

    I don’t see how there is a logical progression here. Even if God did intend reconciliation I don’t see how that would stop an apostasy as people act for themselves? It seems to me that the apostasy really took root and established itself when Constantine tried to correlate the beliefs of Christendom, and shut down on diversity of belief with his creeds and stopping of discussions on God. It was the leaders of the church and their failure to deal with difference that gave us the Nicean creed. Perhaps a bigger part of the apostasy then we think was caused because they stopped discussion and debate over doctrine and introduced correlated doctrine.

    “Instead of a restoration, God would have attempted to reconcile all the different faiths.”

    How do you know that he didn’t try that already? What if the purpose of the restoration is to help reconcile different faiths together and bring us all to a unity in Christ?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  15. Aaron R. on July 15, 2011 at 4:54 AM

    There are certain types of people who enjoy and respond positively to the discussion of ideas. Those people often find their way to blogs or other similar fora.

    I am not convinced that voicing differences of opinion is necessarily good for the Church or the members as a whole. I suspect that the Church is currently moving toward a happy medium in regards to how it approaches these dynamics. For example, Bushman recently called this the emergence of a golden age in relation to the academic study of the Church and its History and the Church has given tacit support of the bloggernacle. Church leaders want to focus on presenting what they believe is the core message in a way that can translate across as many ethnic, educational and national boundaries as possible and let that small group of conflict-oriented people pursue these other avenues for their growth and spiritual sustenance.

    I cannot really fault this approach – eventhough I may disgaree with it – especially because I am not convinced that everyone would be better off if they were more inclined to discussion and debate (and god-forbid conflict).

    In this regard I love both Kristine’s post on academics and Adam Miller’s elaboration recently. People inclined to ideas sense that these ‘intellectual’ gifts (the inclination to ideas and discussion) are their most important; and yet we (isn’t always the way that we self-select into that category) mis-perceive what it is that we can bring to the Church. Other Church members do not want our ideas they just want us; in all our brokenness and (yes) our naivety.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  16. Jake on July 15, 2011 at 5:07 AM

    Dan:

    “I think what the church can do is promote that the prophet speaks for the Lord, but that his voice is not exclusive.”

    I just can’t see this ever happening. We need exclusivity on speaking for the Lord, just as we need to have a monopoly on the Spirit and truth.

    Course Correction:

    “The inability of Church members to handle conflicting opinions in mature, thoughtful ways is only a problem if the Church desires to gain and keep thinking members.”

    If it is not seen as a problem which it appears not to be by leaders then does this mean that God doesn’t want thinking people in his church then? Maybe this just means thinking people should just limit what they think about. They can think about anything they want except for this church stuff. But then how do you define what is okay to be debated and what must not be analysed?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  17. Will on July 15, 2011 at 5:07 AM

    “God COULD reveal the answer through His prophet, but hasn’t. ”

    President Hinkley clearly stated we did bit evolve from a lower life form.

    Seth,

    You are the one confusing doctrine. Working out our own salvation and receiving revelation for the church as a whole are two different concepts. I need to repent for my sins, just like President Monson needs to repent for his sin. He can’t work out my salvation. He can, however, receive revelation on the steps I need to follow to be forgiven or what acts I need to change in my life. The opposite is not true. He is the boss, at least here on earth.

    Now for personal revelation, if I don’t get my butt out of bed and quit pecking away on my IPhone I am going to miss my tee time. Now that would be tragic.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  18. Jake on July 15, 2011 at 5:28 AM

    Aaron,

    I agree with you that the church is trying ‘to focus on presenting what they believe is the core message in a way that can translate across as many ethnic, educational and national boundaries as possible.’

    My concern is that this is often not actually translated into local specific situations. The General authorities teach general principles to help guide us find an answer not specific solutions. In order to fully translate the general abstract principle to a specific circumstance it means discussion and debate to apply it correctly. However in many cases people simply unquestioningly take the general principle and take it as absolute and feel it must be adhered to exactly as it is given from the leaders. They see them as providing the final word on the matter, whereas I like to think of leaders as providing a starting point in me finding an answer that works for me in my situation.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  19. Aaron R. on July 15, 2011 at 5:53 AM

    For me there is a large difference between debating whether there is progression between the kingdoms and what is appropriate Sabbath practice. Moreover there is a big difference between discussing whether women should have the Priesthood to how best to serve a family in the ward. The former are questions the ‘thinky’ people ask and just do not matter to most people I know, nor am I convinced they should matter.

    Admittedly, this is anecdotal (but this is all I have without formal data) but I hear discussion and differences of opinion about the latter set of issues quite regularly. This is not to say that there is not a kind of normative consensus in certain wards, and even across the Church, but that there is a clustering of differences around that consensus. This is most notable (contrary to popular opinion) when you visit other areas of the Church. The normative consensus often shifts slightly in other areas and this shifting even seems to have been ‘canonised’ in the most recent handbook.

    However, maybe I have mis-understood your position.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  20. Paul on July 15, 2011 at 7:12 AM

    From the OP:

    ” In the 1920’s and 30’s there was an intense disagreement between James Talmage, B.H Roberts and Joseph F. Smith regarding evolution.”

    It’s only a matter of time before R. Gary shows up to refute this claim…

    “In the present church we have no examples of conflict from our leadership, or even an acknowledgment that conflict is possible.”

    True, we do not have open doctrinal debate as may have existed in Joseph and Brigham’s time. But we do know from a variety of sources (official and non) that such debate takes place among the senior quorums. Do we need to know the details of those discussions? Certainly President McKay’s and President Kimball’s biographies reveal such discussion on the matter of the priesthood, for instance.

    A few years back, Elder Faust spoke on this matter in General Conference in which he offered the suggestion that we consider the difference between private and public questioning.

    I don’t know how much of that recommendation is an effort to control the message, and how much recognizes the global nature of the church, the instant sharing of news, and continuing concern for how to shepherd new members as they continue to nurture their seeds of faith.

    I don’t live on the Wasatch Front, so I don’t observe what goes on in Mormonland. Here in the hinterlands (I attend a midwestern suburban ward) there’s a fair amount of tolerance for other views, there’s healthy discussion about some topics and silence on others; people allow those with too many piercings and tattoos and too few sleeves to worship with us without comment.

    I will also say this: a ward council could be a great place to model the discussion of differing points of view, and I believe that is the intent of encouraging broader and more honest participation by the members of the council.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  21. Jake on July 15, 2011 at 8:02 AM

    Aaron, I agree that there is a large difference between the two. I personally think that whilst its interesting to think about the former questions its not really relevant or vital to think about them. But I think it is a false comparison. In the case of serving a family the church has not prescribed how it should be done. It has left that sphere open for different views.

    But if we consider Sabbath day observance, the fact that recently we were told in GC by Elder Ballard that flip flops were not appropriate for Sunday, in addition to other talks and articles on what is appropriate for sunday, as a result it has caused a limitation on the level of discussion that can be had and effectively closed down discussion on the matter. As now the GA’s have given an opinion on it, it effectively means that to disagree with this is akin to rebellion against the leadership. It effectivley means that I am unable to express the view that Elder Ballard was wrong, or not fully correct in expressing it, or provided an alternative explanation or interpretation of it. Leaving it uncontested that it is wrong to wear flip flops on Sunday. Yes, there will be moot points still but if the church pronounces on the matter it stops what should be open for discussion from being discussed.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  22. Jeff Spector on July 15, 2011 at 8:09 AM

    I think the disagreements are subtle. you have to listen to the conference talks very carefully and read their other words or books to find it.

    On matters of church policy, they are publicly aligned. One of the reason they ask that Stake conferences are not recorded is to insure that the general Church population do not hear words that might be given to a particular Stake or region or, to insure that those doctrinal differences are not made public.

    So if President Hinckley says women should have only one set of earrings and then Elder Bednar reinforces that with some story about a guy who called off an engagement because of it, but yet another GA will speak in conference about not focusing so much attention on appearances, you wouldn’t call that a disagreement?

    I know that conference talks are fully vetted beforehand, but you cannot escape the fact that there are contrary messages given from time to time.

    Remember Elder Nelson “War” talk?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  23. Geoff - A on July 15, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    I belive there is need to encourage diversity of opinion and make this acceptable, but for the last 30 years or so the opposite has been the reality.

    As someone said above, leaders are generally chosen because of their obedience and willingnesss to accept leadership but not provide feedback on failure.

    I have lived in a disfunctional ward for some years. We got to the point where we were starting 20 minutes late because there were only 30 people there on time. When I had a TR interview with the Stake Pres he was not aware of any problem in the ward except that the Bishop had reported to the SP that I was attacking his wife by asking questions in her SS class.

    The Bishop in his part of the TR interview spent an hour with my wife and self claiming I was attacking his wife by asking questions in class. I agred to talk with her and try to make peace. The discussion went round and round with me saying I felt we should share our views on the gospel and her saying she had the Bishop, Prophet, and God behind anything she said and if I had a different view it obviously came from satan. This view does not leave any room for discussion.

    I would like, for a start, to have the Ensign stop sanitising everything. I would like a question and answer session where more than one view is recognised, rather than the present where a number of people quote the copy book answer.

    I would like the opinion of those of you who are closer on whether there is some change of direction being lead by the councilors in the first presidency. It seems to me that the Prophet has not said anything of depth since Prop 8, but that his councilors and particularly Uchtdorf are talking more of becoming Christlike, as opposed to those who want us to be obedient to the leaders.

    Does anyone else see this or is my optisim carrying me away?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  24. Aaron R. on July 15, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    I don’t think it is a false comparison primarily because you raise such high level issues in the OP and then discussed the local or specific circumstances of practice in your comment responding to mine. I guess what I’m asking here is on what topics do you want to see these differences expressed: big ideas or practical specifics? Your post suggests you want this type of discussion on big ideas but your later comments indicate that you want it on specifics.

    Re: the sabbath. The issue here for me is that there are, as you note, a variety of talks on this issue which espouse quite divergent approaches. Again, I am aware that there are norms around this issue (for example, beards, sandals, white shirts etc.) and these can be listed ad nauseum. But the bigger issue, IMO, is that there is a great deal of variation around these points in every ward and that discussion does occur. I can only speak from my experience but I find very little absolute homogeneity in any ward that I have been to on any of the cited issues.

    The second issue here is that certain venues are more conducive to this type of discussion. I’m not sure Sunday School is intended to be the place for this kind of debate; Sunday School seems more geared toward community-building. However, I do see this type of discussion a lot more in Ward Council, Stake Councils, FHE, Institute and discussion groups (my ward has one).

    Just one other point: You said that ‘The only way that we can be influenced by new experience and understanding so that we can improve and progress is if we allow a voice for new evidence to be expressed amongst our fellow members.’ I think this overstates your case. The life experiences of individuals is probably just as influential (and I would argue more so) in causing people to rethink and change than any discussion at Church. Ideas matter but they are rarely that important for most of the people I spend time with.

    Apologies for the long comment.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  25. Ray on July 15, 2011 at 8:59 AM

    When I look at the current composition of the Q12 and the FP, it is obvious to me that there are differences (even major differences) in view regarding many doctrinal topics. That was even more clear when Elder Wirthlin was alive, but Pres. Uchtdorf and Pres. Packer are a prime example now. (Although I think it is important to point out that Pres. Packer is much more complex than most members realize – at both ends of the evaluation spectrum.)

    As for the OP, being an explorer (a “thinker-tinkerer”) in a settlement is hard. Settlers value security above all else – and “unity” is a part of security; explorers value challenge and stimulation and newness, but those things threaten security in a real way. Thus, there is an inherent conflict that simply can’t disappear totally in a congregation that includes settlers and explorers.

    The real issue, imo, is living a life that is non-threatening to the settlers and that will provide enough “social capital”, if you will, to allow the settlers to smile benignly and accept the explorer in their midst. It’s learning how to express a differing opinion in a way that is not threatening to most of the settlement – and, even more critically, to express concurrence often enough that the heterodox views aren’t all that is heard (or even the primary voice that is heard).

    I express different perspectives quite often, in all kinds of church settings, and there are very few people who get upset when I do it in person – since they know me as a complex person, a dedicated member and not just an opinion.

    It’s impossible in a forum like this to provide the physical, individual, softening aspects of face-to-face communication, so it’s really easy to misinterpret what we say to each other and be MUCH more emotional than we would if we were sitting side-by-side or in the same classroom. It’s impossible to see the smile that accompanies the remark – or the hesitation to try to find just the right wording – or the knowledge of our family and job situations – or an understanding of our formative backgrounds – or the service rendered side-by-side – or any mumber of other mitigating circumstances. Thus, even as our conversations here are much more open and free-flowing than in church, it’s much harder often in a forum like this to have the same type of communal edification with people who have widely varying viewpoints than it is in church – which is really ironic, but it’s important to consider, imo. (If you doubt that, just think if what happens when a radically orthodox or conservative person comments on a controversial topic.)

    This is too long already, but I think it’s really important to udnerstand that we face the exact same issue here as the OP discusses at church – and ask ourselves if the quickness with which insults and sarcasm and mocking and emotionalism rise in a setting like this is what we want at church. This is not a one-sided issue, and we tend to forget that we can’t expect others to accept our views if we can’t accept theirs.

    Yes, absolutely, there is a negative consequence of the difficulty in expressing dissenting opinions at church – and I wish mightily that it wasn’t so. However, if we look at how many threads spiral out of control in the Bloggernacle as a counter-exmaple . . . this is a more complex topic than we tend to realize.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  26. Will on July 15, 2011 at 9:36 AM

    Ray,

    There are differences of opinion in the 12 now just as there was when Christ offered the intercessory prayer pleading with the Father that they be one. He did not plead with the Father for them to be diverse; but one as he and the Father are one. I suspect he wants the same thing now.

    With that said, I don’t see much disputation
    among the brethren. They seem to be fairly united. Now, as for local leaders I see a huge difference – even here in the Book of Mormon Belt. The first ward I was in with its 17 percent full-tithe payers, it was hard to find anyone that could fill the role of Bishop. Now, in my current ward, more than half of the High Priests have served as a Bishop or Stake President elsewhere in the church. Literally, there are 40 men that could hold that position in my Ward. With this said, there is going to be a huge difference in the spiritual maturity between the first ward I was in when I was first married and the current ward I reside.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  27. Nick Literski on July 15, 2011 at 9:45 AM

    Let’s not overly-glorify the public expression of disagreement that existed in early Mormonism. While I’m all for people being able to speak freely and exchange ideas, early Mormons were also known to engage in physical violence on occassion, stemming from religious disagreements. The Nauvoo Lyceum began as a place for the elders to have such discussions, but Joseph Smith shut it down because the elders became too contentious. In particular, they became more interested in winning arguments (being right) than in loving one another (behaving rightly). That said, even Joseph wasn’t beyond a physical response to disagreement. On at least two occasions, he bodily threw his younger brother, William, out of his house for “insulting” him.

    As for freedom to disagree in the modern LDS church, I think it’s all too easy to blame the suppression of dissent on elderly church leaders. IMHO, the leaders of the LDS church are backed into a corner in this regard, due to the attitudes of their membership. It’s human nature to want clear, definitive answers to questions. Most people find comfort and safety in certainty. When it comes to what Hugh Nibley called the “awful questions,” many people don’t want to have to think–they want to be supplied “the correct answer ™.” There’s nothing new about this tendency, either. If Mormon teachings are correct with regard to Moses, his people were unwilling to deal with the day to day ambiguities and challengs of the higher law. They wanted to be told what to do and think, and they ended up with the lesser law as a result.

    When I was an undergrad at Utah State University, I assisted the Institute Director in teaching a special class on “challenging issues” in Mormon history. My elders’ quorum president’s wife enrolled in the class. The instructor was quite open about the discussion topics, presenting alternative views and allowing class members to reach their own understanding. One day in class (I wish I could remember the historical event being discussed), my elders’ quorum president’s wife raised her hand, and clearly on the edge of tears, asked the instructor, “So which way are we SUPPOSED to believe?” She wasn’t asking which interpretation of the historical event was “true,” but rather which interpretation was “approved” by LDS leaders. Then again, I suspect that in her mind, “true” and “approved” were the same thing. The point is, she didn’t want to have to examine the events and ponder their meaning. Being faced with that responsibility clearly upset her. Rather, she wanted a definitive answer to be supplied to her by those in authority.

    So how does this affect LDS leaders? They’re forced to shut down discussion. Anything they say can and will quoted by LDS members, all too often as a tool to bludgeon other LDS members who think differently. It’s almost as if LDS leaders should be given a Miranda warning: “Anything you say can and will be used against your fellow saints, as a definitive declaration of objective truth!” Knowing how much weight will be given to their words, and knowing how distressed many members get when they hear conflicting views from general authorities, these men are forced to say as little as possible—rarely expressing any sort of opinion, but rather sticking to (a) the direct pronouncements of the current president, or (b) the most basic and unquestioned of LDS teachings. Personally, I feel sorry for the bind these men are placed in, and I don’t think it comes “from the top down.”

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 7

  28. Ray on July 15, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    Will, it absolutely is possible to be united as one and have differences of opinion – even with regard to central things. If you don’t believe that, read the authors in the New Testament carefully – assuming they were united as one in the way Jesus prayed they be.

    In “Concern for the One”, Elder Wirthlin put the responsibility to stop people who feel different from leaving on those who fit the cultural norm. He said, in effect:

    “They need to be able to play their own unique instruments in the orchestra of God without being silenced by the dominant instrument.”

    I. Love. That. Analogy.

    I agree, Nick.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 4

  29. Aaron R. on July 15, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    Great comments, Nick.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  30. Aaron R. on July 15, 2011 at 10:53 AM

    Actually, in response to that, I think Nick hints at something which haunts Mormonism in this discussion. It is the contradictions in JS himself which seem to be bodying outward over time. At times we learn one way or another but we are always living out our religion from within that Prophetic psyche to a certain extent.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  31. Aeowyn on July 15, 2011 at 11:09 AM

    I really appreciated this post and the comments so far – especially your observation that revelation comes in answer to questions. We see that in the restoration and I have noticed that reality in my personal experiences as well. Questions are good, though some are more productive than others. 

    “The focus on the product of unity (consensus) has deprived us of the process of becoming unified in our differences.  Zion can not be built by giving us one mind to which we must adhere and follow, but will become most beautiful and natural as we all work together to arrive at one mind through reconciliation of a diversity of thought.   The church may ultimately teach a clear stance, but we should not assume that what is taught is the only way of thinking about an issue, nor that the church’s stance is by default the right way.”

    I agree. Thanks, all, for the thoughtful discussion. 

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  32. Paul on July 15, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    Nick, nice comments on this thread. Thanks for those.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  33. Michael on July 15, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    Nick,

    While I like the comment I can’t but help think how the general authorities have the direct responsibility to CORRECT such a dysfunctional and screwed up culture as you describe. If they just retreat behind the “simple principle” screen and watch aren’t they passive supporters of the carnage and bloodshed happening to the Church on their watch?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  34. Ray on July 15, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    #33 – Michael, I’m truly curious: What carnage and bloodshed is happening on their watch that hasn’t happened in every religion throughout time – or in our own church in its history? I’m not trying to defend carnage and bloodshed of any kind, but I really would like to know what’s unique historically about our time in this regard.

    Second: On one hand, most people in the Bloggernacle would love it if the leaders stopped setting standards for lots of things – especially doctrinal and cultural standards that all must follow in order to be considered believing Mormons; on the other hand, there are lots of statements saying those same leaders should speak more forcefully about issues where problems are perceived.

    At the heart, the real issue, imo, is whether we want leaders who dictate to us and squelch opposition by speaking out about everything or leaders who teach principles and allow people to govern themselves – or exactly where on that line we want them to be. My sense is that most people want leaders who will forcefully speak out about those issues that are important to those people – but shut up about those issues with which those people would disagree with what is said. Iow, we want leaders who agree with us and will change things to how we want them to be.

    Some people want all GA’s to be Elder McConkies or Pres. Youngs; others want all GA’s to be Elder Wirthlins or Pres. Uchtdorfs.

    Maybe that’s not what you mean, but isn’t that just the flip side of the dissent suppression discussed in the OP? Wouldn’t it be more in line with the general tone of most comments here to want BOTH types of leaders, so that BOTH types of people can relate to some apostles – even if they can’t relate to others? Isn’t it better to hear piccolos and tubas and kazoos than to have all apostles play the same instrument and the same melody?

    Some people might hear only one instrument in their own ward or branch and stake – and they might get so attuned to hearing only that one instrument that they have a hard time hearing the others, but I believe there are FAR more unique instruments playing FAR more unique counter-melodies and harmonies than most people realize – largely because most of them play much more softly than the piercing piccolos.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  35. Mike S on July 15, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    Will:

    While “one”, there were certainly substantial differences of opinion among early Church leaders about things like circumcision, for example. And these were felt to be doctrinal things.

    So “one” doesn’t mean “agree”.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  36. Michael on July 15, 2011 at 3:10 PM

    Ray,

    I appreciate very much your post. I guess I would not ask for one particular approach or style to be dominant. I would, instead, ask for a more defined theology to be presented by the Brethren instead of just a discussion of principles. Principles are fine when we seek to develop good character or a self-disciplined lifestyle. However, it does no good to me when I am trying to be a Latter-day Christian. I can gain that knowledge from secular sources.

    I look to the Church to present a deeper reflection on discipleship and the Restored Gospel. To focus more on Adoration of our Saviour. To develop somewhat more of a liturgical approach (in some areas). To celebrate more of Holy Week and less of illogical lifestyle conformity.

    The carnage and bloodshed refers to the mass exodus of young people and other devout older members who are not gaining any spiritual nourishment from our current services. It refers to those who are being ostracized for inconsequential disagreements in policy or procedures.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  37. Will on July 15, 2011 at 3:20 PM

    “How do you know that he didn’t try that already?”

    Are you suggesting God tried, but failed? If so, how do you reconcile the idea of perfection? Or the concept he can see things past, present and future?

    Mike,

    One means one. One means more than one share the same view; have the same values; have the same goals; have the same perspective. This WAS the plea of the Savior for his apostles.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  38. Mike S on July 15, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    Will:

    I agree that one means one – we should all have the same goal. But we disagree many times on the path to that goal and on the details.

    For example, despite selected quotes you or me or anyone else may pull out from either side of the argument – there is NO official Church statement on evolution – either for or against. There are opinions of many leaders, which conflict, but no “revealed will of the Lord”. Period.

    It is the same with many other things. Some people think Coke is against the WofW. President Monson and President McKay both drink/drank Coke. Some people stay in Sunday dress all day, others are taking off their tie on the way out of the chapel. And so on for hundreds of things that define what it means to live life as a Mormon. We DISAGREE.

    Yet, we can all still be “one” in our ultimate goal.

    As I gave in my post on tattoos, here is a haiku that best describes my feelings on it:

    Don’t like my tattoo
    Don’t like your white shirt and tie
    Still – brothers in Christ

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  39. Mike S on July 15, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    #36 Michael: I look to the Church … To celebrate more of Holy Week and less of illogical lifestyle conformity.

    I like this.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  40. Dan on July 15, 2011 at 8:05 PM

    Will,

    Are you suggesting God tried, but failed? If so, how do you reconcile the idea of perfection? Or the concept he can see things past, present and future?

    You seem to imply that God’s perfection overwhelms our agency, or in other words, God has a plan that accounts for every contingency no matter what choices we make. I think you misunderstand the nature of perfection (which is of course natural as we are imperfect, thus not actually able to understand perfection). I think back to God telling Noah that he’s gonna essentially start over by wiping the whole earth clean of His children! Why would he need to do that unless His plan to that point had not gone well? Or is he just lying to Noah? And of course the parable in Jacob 5 is instructive. The Lord of the vineyard sure feels overwhelmed by the wildness of the branches, which it seems from reading that carefully, he did not expect from his labors. And of course, Jesus himself mourning over the loss Jerusalem was about to receive at the hands of the Romans 35 years after his resurrection, saying how he was the hen trying to gather the chicks together, but ye would not. You can sense both strong disappointment and immense sadness and sorrow that he wasn’t listened to as he probably expected.

    No matter how perfect God is, that does not take away our ability to say no to Him.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  41. Dan on July 15, 2011 at 8:05 PM

    wow, talk about Lost Scriptures, Romans 35 has been found!!! :)

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  42. Jake on July 16, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    Nick great comments.

    I loved this:

    “They’re forced to shut down discussion. Anything they say can and will quoted by LDS members, all too often as a tool to bludgeon other LDS members who think differently. It’s almost as if LDS leaders should be given a Miranda warning: “Anything you say can and will be used against your fellow saints, as a definitive declaration of objective truth!”

    I agree completely. I think the problem is that members have, will and do use statements from GA’s to bludgeon each others beliefs. This reiterates the issue of why to they feel the need to bludgeon each other with quotes? Why can’t members cope with difference in opinion? What can be done to prevent this? Both personally, and with those around us? I feel sorry for GA’s for being in this position but can this be changed or is it always going to be like this now?

    Aaron,

    I would like to see it in both big ideas, and specifics. I think it would be great if people had more liberty to discuss different ideas on anything. I don’t think that anything should be ring fenced as being impervious to discussion and debate.

    “I do see this type of discussion a lot more in Ward Council, Stake Councils, FHE, Institute and discussion groups (my ward has one)”

    This is again behind closed doors. Most members aren’t in those councils. If they don’t see discussion in a normal church setting then they will never learn it and think that there is only the standard way. Contrary to your suggestion that it is not suitable for SS. I have found the most refreshing and enlightening SS lessons that I have been in or taught are ones that have created a climate in which discussion of various perspectives are allowed. Having taught SS for several years now, in my experience debate in Sunday school has a very positive effect on members. I think community bonds are strengthened through empathy and this is developed my considering alternative views and perspectives which by presenting conflicting opinions it can help develop.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  43. Geoff - A on July 17, 2011 at 11:57 PM

    Jake, I’ve been in SS classes where discussion was encourages, and it was great. But i’m not in that kind of ward now because the bishop and particularly his wife don’t like anything but total obedience.

    Aaron who organises these discussion groups, who chooses topics, do they meet on Sunday. More details please. There are many people in my ward who would enjoy a good discussion but it can’t be done in SS in our ward. (the bishops wife phones people up and corrects what they say in SS ) Just wondering how it can be started without running foul of authority.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  44. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 18, 2011 at 5:41 AM

    Hmm, my earlier comment about my high priest group is missing.

    I did like Ray’s thought that My sense is that most people want leaders who will forcefully speak out about those issues that are important to those people – but shut up about those issues with which those people would disagree with what is said.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

Archives

%d bloggers like this: