In the October 2016 General Conference of the Mormon Church, one man voted opposed in the Conference Center. You can read his miraculous story here.
At this point, he still prefers to remain anonymous. So, I have been referring to him as ‘The man Adam.’ He is an active, faithful member of the church. Adam currently serves in a calling that requires high council approval and is extended by the stake president. Today he sent me this excellent essay and gave me permission to publish it on my blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Blind Obedience vs. Open-eyed Servants of Jesus Christ
I had an interesting experience in Sunday School the other week. For years, I have heard on occasion the question raised of whether Mormons are guilty of just blindly following our leaders, i.e. if we practice blind obedience. On every occasion, the answer was no. We don’t believe in blind obedience. We believe in obtaining a witness for ourselves of the principle in question. After all, Joseph Smith, Jr. once said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves” (John Taylor, “The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851, p. 339). But I was very surprised on a recent Sunday when the question of blind obedience came up, and the group agreed—without argument to the contrary—that we do indeed believe in blind obedience.
It seems the controversy over the November 2015 anti-gay policies has got many of us thinking. Some of us do not take an interest in such issues and are pretty much unaware of the details of the policies and their potential sticking points. Others have read the policies and find them to be consistent with church doctrine. Still others have familiarized themselves with the policies and identified some issues, but have chosen—or felt guided by the Spirit—to put those concerns on a mental/spiritual shelf and follow blindly. I have actually had many people tell me things like, “just be patient” and “just put it on a shelf and decide not to worry about it.” But there are others of us—a fourth group—who feel compelled by the Spirit to object. We feel a moral duty to stand for truth.
To many, the moral duty to stand for truth is equivalent to standing with the prophet and the other apostles on the issue of traditional marriage. But to some, the moral duty to stand for truth means to stand in opposition to policies that we clearly see are harmful, unnecessary and against the scriptures. We are not—as many, including Dallin Oaks, have suggested—following after false gods in the wilderness (“No Other Gods,” General Conference, October 2013). Our motivation is not a desire to follow the trends of the world or to seek the world’s approval. Rather, we seek to be true to our understanding of God’s nature, Jesus’ teachings and our commitment to be his servants—not blind servants of the church or its leaders, but open-eyed servants of Jesus Christ.
It used to bother me a lot when I would encounter people of other faiths who did not affirm the teachings of their leaders. For example, I know many Catholics who consider themselves to be fully practicing and in good standing in their church, but who also reject many core teachings of the church that are affirmed by the Pope. These include teachings on birth control, divorce, etc. I feel that now that I have had the experience myself of disagreeing with my church’s leaders, I have a clearer, more mature understanding of the dynamic that exists between church leadership and church members, and that the seemingly simple answer of “just accept and follow” simply cannot work in every case.
As I have learned about LDS church history, I have encountered similar problematic situations where people objected and often separated from the church due to disagreements. I read with dismay how David Whitmer—whose testimony of the Book of Mormon was unshakeable—was driven out of the church, because he objected to issues such as the manner of church governance, the publishing of revelations, and the office of High Priest. I wondered at how so many church members, including the prophet Joseph’s own wife and children, could choose to reject Brigham Young and his version of Mormonism that held polygamy as a central tenet and a practice necessary for exaltation in the highest degree of heaven.
As I learned about other Latter Day Saint tradition groups, I found similar issues. I was again dismayed as I learned about how so many people left the RLDS church in the 1980’s and 1990’s over issues such as the ordination of women to the Priesthood, the building of the temple in Independence, MO, the move away from the President of the church being a direct descendant of Joseph Smith, Jr., and the change ofthe RLDS church’s name to Community of Christ. Interestingly, I even have a Community of Christ friend who left her church due to its being overly liberal and accepting gay people in its congregations and ordaining them to the Priesthood. This is the exact opposite of my own situation as a member of the LDS church. So, why can’t all these people just suck it up, listen to their leaders and get with the program? Well, it’s just not that easy. We feel our consciences, and even the very Spirit of the Lord, instructing us to stand for the truth we clearly see.
So many have left the LDS church in recent years over the issues of the church’s anti-gay agenda, as well as problems of history and truth claims. And yet, people like Sam Young, myself and many others are staying. I wish to assert again very strongly that we are not motivated by a desire to follow the trends of the world or to find the approval of the world. This is simply a false assumption. What we are trying to do is pull off something that many—as referred to above—have failed to do. We are trying to remain in our faith tradition while being faithful to the truth we clearly see. We are trying to manage complex conflicts between our commitments to an institutional church, an historical church, our fellow saints, our own selves, and the Lord himself. The advice to just put these conflicts on a shelf and follow along in blind obedience simply will not work in all cases. And so the question is, is there room in God’s church for the likes of us? I really, sincerely hope so.