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.
13 thoughts on “The Man Adam–A Moral Duty to Stand for Truth”
Sounds to me like Adam and Sam both have similar objectives, which I will couch in a familiar phrase:
You are doing your best to be IN the Church, but not OF the Church.
To clarify, by “the Church” I am referring to The Brethren who own, control and correlate the Church and its officially promulgated and enforced doctrine, policies,procedures and governance practices. These include some key features with which Sam and Adam (and thousands of other faithful members) do not and cannot agree due to a dramatic clash of personal core values with those exhibited by The Brethren.
I salute anyone who has the fortitude to remain in a spiritually toxic environment while doing your best to clean it up and minimize the poisoning of other participants who also make the choice to stay put.
Please stay as long as you are able to tolerate the oxymoronic reality of a Church of Jesus Christ whose leaders marginalize and throw stones at innocent members who did not have the pleasant fortune to have been born in conformance with the delightsome standards set by The Brethren required for members to be acceptable in their eyes.
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Thanks for the ‘salute.’ It means a lot to me.
My salute back at you, Sam
Sam and Adam, I hope that the brethren will understand how so many feel about the November policy change. I have my doubts that this will change in the near future. As I have said before, I don’t like the change, but understand the Church’s need to cover themselves from lawsuits. It was the same with the FLDS. There were several very ugly custody cases that the Church got drug into. I also wonder just how big a problem this is in the LGBTQIA community. I do not nor have I ever felt like I was blindly obedient. I always heard the brethren say that we should study and pray about anything we heard them say. So, that’s what I did.
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Study and pray. Such great advice. Sometimes different people get different answers. Different answers can still be right for different people. I respect, honor and support those who accept the LGBT policy. I expect nothing less for my full embrace of the Law of Common Consent. Unfortunately, it has not been reciprocated very often. At least my family now fully understands where I’m at and how I’ve chosen to follow the teachings & commandments of the Savior. Common Consent being one of those commandments.
Doesn’t the 11th Article of faith apply to both members of the Mormon Church as well as non-members?
“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
What a brilliant essay – thanks for sharing it Sam. Janice, I find it really interesting that you say the reason for the discrimination against the children of gay people is to protect against law suits, which it may well be, but the apostles haven’t actually said that was the reason as far as I am aware. They have tried several justifications but that wasn’t one of them.
This is a symptom of the problem ‘Adam’poinrs out that we face with our current leaders doing inexplicable things. The justifications Elder Christofferson gave in the broadcast interview were that it was intended to send a political message to the world that we oppose gay marriage, to avoid cognitive dissonance for the children where what is happening at home is incompatible with what is taught at Church, and also weirdly to avoid obliging home teachers to visit and minister to those children in their homes as they grow up. All of those reasons to me are nonsensical and/or don’t come anywhere close to justifying inflicting such suffering and stigma on innocent children who should be able to experience full fellowship and a smooth journey through their young life in our Church.
But if what has happened is most members have concluded these are really lame justifications and are now making up more credible ones like the concern about child custody cases and talking about them as if they are the official reasons, it just shows what a disconnection there is growing between the leadership and their ability to honestly and openly explain what should be the ‘plain and precious truths’ of their reasoning, rather than forcing the members to scrabble around trying to cobble together a logical framework for illogical policies and teachings.
In the past this is what led to all the many now repudiated justifications members and leaders constructed to justify the unholy sin and error of our 130
years of institutional racism that they now admit never had anything to do with God’s mind and will.
The custody argument also doesn’t work because an amicable ideal outcome of child custody after divorce is equal rights and access for both parents, but now the apostles have clarified that their discrimination will only apply to children who spend half or more of their time with a gay parent they have handed the non gay parent a massive incentive to go hostile and fight for a larger share of custody rights and time because otherwise their poor active Mormon children will be brutally shunned from the ordinances and activities and ordinations that their peers will have as LDS children and youth. This policy has therefore significantly sabotaged the likelihood of amicable post divorce child custody deliberations. They just haven’t applied even basic logic or thought to the consequences of this policy and I would be amazed if they consulted the Relief Society and Primary leaders in making the policy which profoundly impacts the women and Primary teachers in their personal life and callings.
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Fantastic comment. Thank you.
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Sorry if I offend someone, but I believe and or know for a fact that what you claim to be the Spirit confirming your belifes is actually the adversary working to pull you away. I love everyone and pray that you should fast and pray to see who is actually pulling at your heart strings
Here is an inspirational video review of personal revelation and how to determine which church is true.
I don’t think “the brethren” are making a political statement as much as I believe they are making a moral argument:
1) Homosexuality is sinful.
2) Obedience is paramount.
3) The prophet has the right to declare Gods will.
4) No compromise with sin.
5) If you aren’t with God, you are against him.
The Nov. policy may be an ensign to the world, but in my opinion, it is more so a clarion call to the faithful to gird their armor. (Of course, those are always conflated in the missionary oriented church.)
I don’t think the leaders want to cause harm and pain to the members, and certainly not to drive people away. However, they feel strongly enough that same sex attraction is of the devil that they are willing to suffer the consequences for drawing a line in the sand. After all, sacrifice has always been regarded as not only beneficial but necessary, the church takes great pride in being persecuted, and they anticipate that the end times are upon us when wickedness will reign. The current growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community is seen as both a form of persecution of the righteous, and a sign of the times. A great sifting is expected, and the fact that they are precipitating it is no more shameful than were the actions of Samuel the Lamanite. It is their duty. And it is our duty, as they see it, to get in line.
Sure, they morn the loss of innocence of little children. However, they blame the gay, not themselves. (And, of course there have been efforts to distinguish orientation from action… but c’mon, we all know “as a man thinketh in his heart” is still pretty deeply held in the church, and can’t help but affect the outlook on orientation.)
The same type of arguments apply to problems with church history, mysogeny, science, etc., etc., etc.
Personally not believing that the end times are any closer today than they were to the early Christians, I’m curious to see how it will shake how. My prediction is unfortunately many will be hurt and disappointed unnecessarily. The likes of Sam and Adam will eventually move the church in a more Christ-like, historically accurate, and reasoned direction. However, being early adopters they run the risk of falling to the vindictiveness of the “sentinels on the wall”.
I hope they don’t. I don’t have much faith, but I do hope both members and leaders move quickly in a more progressive directions… not because I believe the church any more, but simply because I continue to love many who still do. I hope greater happiness for all… which I believe is based more on acceptance of others and reliance on reason than acceptance of guidance from above and reliance on God.
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I acknowledge that the brethren can make a moral argument, yet that only pertains to them, their church, and those who want to follow them. Nobody else is obligated to conform to a prophet’s declarations about God’s will, which are simply unsubstantiated claims with no evidence. People aren’t bound to simply exercise blind faith by rolling over to obey all of the utterances of church leaders without thoughtful question and examination. In fact, my spiritual experiences trump a church leader’s spiritual direction about my life, especially since my individual path is based on my intellect and conscience, not theirs. I’m confident that God can direct my life, if he so chooses, through personal inspiration to me and not through third parties who are fallible people. In fact, I believe that God’s gift to me is that I get to create the meaning or purpose of my life.
Who is to say, “If you aren’t with God, you are against him” – I see that as a false dichotomy. Just because one might claim someone else isn’t with God, doesn’t necessarily mean they are automatically against God – yet, many members conflate the two? Could it be that a church leader isn’t with God on some occasions due to their fallibility?
Rather than the religious construct of certain things defined as sin, perhaps a more fitting principle is the idea of morality – that which supports human flourishing and well-being. Maybe some of those things that believers consider to be sin are really just misunderstandings about reality and are cultural stigmas.
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When I was LDS, I had sort of the opposite paradigm as Adam – it seriously bothered me when it was repeated that what was taught in the Ensign/over the pulpit at General Conference was doctrinal, or that criticizing leadership was sinful. Why should it be? Even the most ardent Mormon must concede that Mormon leaders have not gotten it right 100% of the time.
The comment about the Pope especially made me chuckle, because I am actively joining the Catholic church in spite of my many disagreements with Pope Francis. I could show up at my parish’s social group and openly declare that I thought Francis was wrong on certain topics and find that most of my fellow parishioners agree with me. The idea that a Pope could never teach false doctrine would be immediately scoffed by most any faithful Catholic, ridiculed by any theologian, and possibly even denounced as Ultramontanism.
Questioning and having doubts in leadership is healthy, and to insist otherwise makes your position appear weak. I’m glad to hear Adam is coming around on this issue 🙂
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I should be clear. My post above is *not* intended to endorse the LDS church, it’s leaders, it’s members, nor it’s policies. I simply sought to state what I believe they believe (speaking of the TBM), not what I believe they should believe.
As for me personally, I left the church when I came to doubt it had as much truth as I could find outside it’s walls. I might have remained as a closet doubter except for one thing. I came to the conclusion Adam did many, many years ago. The LDS faith, as practiced by most today, does indeed ask for blind obedience. It’s funny Thomas speaks of the Pope since for years one of my favorites sayings has been, “Catholics profess the Pope is infallible, but act like he isn’t, while the LDS profess the Prophet is fallible, but act like he isn’t”.
I’m no scholar on Catholic doctrine, so I may be incorrectly maligning them. And of course my flippant statement isn’t even complete/correct in it’s simplicity. But, as I understand it, the Catholic doctrine is that the “body of Bishops” as a whole are infallible with regard to doctrine. Ironically, this is actually very similar to LDS beliefs which hold that God won’t let the Prophet lead us astray, and Sam’s claims for the need for common consent. But, I still like the joke as it points out LDS deferrence to authority.
Had there been room for honest questioning and less deferrence, I would have been willing to stay and fight from within. As it was, if there was any one thing that I found unacceptable and caused me to resign my membership in the church it was that I felt it more important to follow my conscience than to follow the brethren.