Thursday, February 7, 2013

to speak or not to speak

I happened to read this article today, and while I feel that the author makes some good points, I need to take exception to her conclusion. I can't help but be reminded that it has always been by slow revelation, inspired by the intense and long-standing pressure of critical questions, that an answer is sought and revelation comes. If this is true of individuals, why not of the church as a whole? In which case, isn't it important for those of us with questions/concerns to voice them?

I certainly don't support disparaging church leadership, and I wouldn't want to participate in it, but I teach persuasive writing for a living, so I whole-heartedly believe in the importance of appropriate arguing as a way to advance understanding. I try to steer my students away from the idea that an argument is a fight or debate. Instead, I encourage them to see argument as process and a product-- as the development of a stance as well as the result (of inquiry, research, and truth-seeking discussion). In fact, in its very essence, an argument is an opportunity for exploration and exchange -- for the broadening of perspectives by all those who are involved.* With this definition, isn't it possible that we can respectfully disagree and question our leaders? Especially since "the assertion that revelation is either totally true or totally untrue is still a false dichotomy: We simply do not believe, as Mormons, that we must accept all scripture and prophetic teaching as equally inspired, and we have no doctrine of prophetic infallibility" (England).

It is because of questions, concerns, and doubts that we can learn to rely on personal revelation -- to search out and know for ourselves.
 The things of God are of deep import and time and experience and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind O man if thou wilt lead a soul into salvation must search into and contemplate the darkest abyss and the broad expanse of eternity, thou must commune with God. (TPJS, 137)
If as a people we are encouraged to question -- too seek out truth and the deep things of God-- it seems entirely reasonable to me that this practice would then lead to questions concerning church policy and concerns with cultural traditions. And I don't think this is a bad thing; a difficult one perhaps but:
God apparently uses such a unique and uniquely troubling test because it is the only way to teach us something paradoxical but true and very important about the universe—that trust in our personal experiences with divinity must sometimes outweigh our rational morality. Obedience to the divine commands that come directly to us must sometimes supersede our understanding of earlier commands if we are ever to transcend the human limitations of even our best inherited culture and religion. We must learn, sometimes very painfully, to be open to continuous revelation. We must learn such a lesson partly because truth and history are too complex to be reduced to simple, irrevocable commandments—even from past prophets—like "Thou shalt not kill" or "Thou shalt always have only one spouse." Truth is ultimately "rational," but it is not always or immediately clear to our present reason (England). 
But I guess the question remains... while it is okay to disagree with church leadership, at what point do you have to bite your tongue and follow the advice here not to "air our grievances in public" and to instead "dissent like a general authority" by simply praying for change and not letting it affect church membership?

Is a letter like this too far? Or... is it just far enough? My friend Tracy thinks so:
In church last Sunday, the age-old comment as brought before the class. "Being critical of leadership is the first step to apostasy." Am I, by disagreeing, criticizing men/women called of God? Are we then, to accept the infallibility of our mortal and flawed leaders? We are all men. We are all born to make errors. Is it not possible that one such error might be made by a man in a leadership position? 
The letter to President Dalton does not show scorn or anger. It shows that President Dalton may not have taken her comments into a deep enough consideration for peoples of the world of whom she has no knowledge of. It also calls her to consider another point of view, hoping to help her to understand the struggles and trials of other's experiences, experiences that she has clearly not experienced.

So I ask: Have you come to any place of reconciliation with this issue?

Here's what my brother said when I asked him:
As times change, so do cultural norms, expectations, understandings, etc. The church, as we know, is not immune to change. Policies, leaders, organization, and so forth change as well. But how can that be? Since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever? How can his church not be the same yesterday, today and forever? I'm not going to say much about that here, however, it would do us good to remember (as Joseph Smith said) that in proving contraries, truth is made manifest. In examining and proving the apparent contradictions of an ever-changing church that belongs to a never-changing God, we find reconciliatory principles and truths.

Think about "disagreement" with church policy. 20 years ago, if you disagreed with something, there wasn't much you could do. You could talk to local leaders. You could write a letter to church HQ. You could try to persuade family and close friends to your point of view. But other than that, you didn't have many outlets for complaining about your disagreement (unless you were a published scholar, in which case there were likely established mediums for hosting these types of conversations). 
However, the advent of the internet has ushered in an entirely new era of democratized thought. Anyone can publish anything they want. They might spend 6 months researching their thoughts, or they might spend 6 seconds. The playing field is level. Who's to say which voice has more weight in an argument? It's a kind of mob rule. You can find whatever voice you want to listen to … "we have all gone astray, everyone to his own way"(Psalms 139).

I think this democratization brought about by the internet has led people to think that church is a democracy, which it's not. And I think we have to accept that. Sure there's room for suggestions and what not, but I would say most of the time you're the one that has to change, not the church.

It's like with that recent article about how much the church brings in in tithing and the members have no good documentation or reporting of what is being done with their money. Some people think there to be more transparency in how the church operates. What is happening with all this money? where is it going? isn't there some kind of "annual report" that will tell members where the money is going? Without reporting and documenting, it's too easy to have corruption. People laundering money, giving favors to others, etc. So, makes sense to have proper reporting right? But then again, that's not what tithing is about. It's not about giving your money to the church and then getting a report in return that informs you your tithing was used to feed a homeless person (which makes you feel good inside). It's about faith. It's about saying "here's my money Lord. I don't need to know what happens to it" because God doesn't need your money. He just wants to see if you'll pay it. What happens to it at that point doesn't matter. Paying tithing and seeing what happens with it is like making a charitable donation and getting a report back to see where and how your money was used. That's obviously not what tithing is for.

If everyone starts thinking they can say whatever they want whenever they want and are empowered by the publishing tools of the digital age, then I think that's a move towards anarchy and decentralized power, which the church is not founded on.

I think most of the time it's about biting your tongue. I'm probably one to be a lot more submissive about the actions of church. Actions and policies of the church cause me to do a lot of reconciliation with the gospel and our implementation of it here on earth.

If you believe in "appropriate arguing as a way to advance understanding" that's fine. If you want to disagree with church leadership, that's fine too. But I think it's just too easy now-a-days for everyone to run to the internet where they think they'll be heard and only cause more confusion with misleading facts and petty arguments that everyone will see.

At what point can you speak your mind and at what point do you bite your tongue? Only you can know that. And it's most likely that you'll choose one or the other and find out later if you made the right choice or not. Hopefully, at that point, you'll repent and do better next time. That's how we learn right? **
I think this is a great perspective -- especially the idea of biting your tongue as a choice of faith in the Lord and His church AND speaking out when you feel you must.

I believe that obedience and self-sacrfice -- two of the most basic principles of the gospel -- at times require that we reign in our ego, our personal integrity, and what I think I "know" and just obey. So, how do you learn to draw the line between trusting your experience with divinity which leads you to be disagree and also being obedient? It's a contradiction, so I know there's got to be something deeper to be learned through it...

So I asked more people, including my friend Marlee:
I don't mean to be a politician about this but I agree with both sides. FOR ME I don't know that there is a point where I bite my tongue and only pray for change, or a set point where it is requisite for someone to publicly dissent. It all depends, and the rule I WOULD set for myself would be to follow the spirit. If you twisted my arm and forced me to set a point when I felt you should ALWAYS publicly dissent it would be when someone is preaching false doctrine. A Sunday School teacher, a Bishop. We should take ownership of our faith, know the doctrine, distinguish it from culture and tradition, and when leadership strays from established church doctrine they should be stopped.

That being said I want to say why I LOVE what Bonnie Blythe said is that she redirects people to the source of all truth and revelation; God. Too often when people see a need for change in the church they go public, maybe they want to change the minds of fellow church members, or maybe church leaders. As if the members were at the head of the church, as if the leaders were at the head of the church. Not that there isn't a place for that, those changes are part of the process. But more concerned with change being affected, I'm concerned with the fate of individuals who don't air their grievances with the one person who actually IS at the head of the church. The one person who cares most about them and their concerns. The one person who has REAL power to affect change in HIS church. They fail to take issue with him and at best the miss an opportunity for relationship with Deity that could lead them to greater faith and miracles, at worst their faith fails them in the face of so much contradiction and opposition and they remove themselves from the spiritual safety God provides for his children within his church.

Change is less likely to come if those who see a need for it, leave because they don't have the faith to first ask for it and then patiently wait for it. 
Whatever the case may be personal relationship with God is paramount, and that's what prayer is for.
I think she is spot on in saying both are right -- that's what makes this such a challenging paradox and why I think just getting different viewpoints/feelings on both actually makes the best kind of "answer" to this balancing act. We can learn from each other  and each decide for ourselves how we will face each individual instance of speaking up...or not.

I guess for me, it comes down to what I have experienced and how it has give shape to my testimony on different concepts. For many issues I am willing to bow out when I don't fully understand them or lack experience in an effort to understand them. I will trust the church/my leaders with the knowledge that God will not fault me for my obedience to His servants when the truth isn't clear. Besides, if I haven't felt guided by the spirit in any particular direction, who am I to say I know the answer better than those who have stewardship over me? However, if it is an issue I have prayerfully studied and meditated on -- and have received personal revelation pointing me somewhere -- and the occasion arises when I can defend or clarify this for someone else, then this is the time I feel validated in speaking out. Though, I must admit, I do need to pause more often to prayerfully ask if this is the case before jumping into things headfirst.

With all that in mind, I'd like to end with how my dad responded: 
 I don't know that one will ever come to a unchanging position on this matter. Mine seems to be always changing a little as I learn and understand more. Certainly patience and faith are the lights we must use to probe into the darkness. I see nothing wrong with having a dialogue on subjects of theology outside the "revealed" word. That helps us understand and opens our minds to new possibilities. To simply fold our hands and wait, is not reasonable for us or to God. After all, we all should be searching for the "further light and knowledge he has promised to send". That said, public displays of rancor and criticism of church leaders seem never to be appropriate. As Paul said, 'Be kindly affectioned one to another.... as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." (Romans 12:10,18).
I think the idea of approaching God, instead of man, is also entirely reasonable. I wish more of us would do that, on all subjects. I will give you an example. During the preparations for the Olympics in Utah, Pres. Hinckley announced that the Church would take certain actions in support of the festivities. I don't remember what it was, but I didn't think it appropriate. I thought, "Well, I can send a letter to the Brethren (which probably would not make much difference) or I can just accept it as a "Church" decision. Neither seemed satisfying. So, I decided to take it to the Lord, as he was the one in charge ultimately. I prayed to the the Lord and told him my concerns and left the matter with him. A couple days later, Pres. Hinckley announced that the Church would not proceed with its original intentions. Now, what is one to draw from this? Did my prayer make a difference? Well, you can draw your own conclusions. The Lord hears our prayers and answers them. More than ever, I realize now that we can go to him, that we have a direct line with the man in charge.

*Of course, for it to be effective argument, all parties have to listen carefully and try to understand the divergent views of others – in order to consider all points of view, even those with which they disagree (This includes being able to reconstruct the arguments of their opponents because they understand it so well and are able to then consider and frame their claims as a response to what others have said while remaining respectful, courteous, & open‐minded.)

**I want to highlight that I wrote back to him, asking about his statement: "I would say most of the time you're the one that has to change, not the church." I responded with: I agree with that in terms of a lot of things, your example of tithing being one… but what really got me thinking about this issue is things that have been happening lately with women's rights, along with my experiences with friends struggling to find a place in the church in light of their homosexuality. I don't necessarily want to tell the church what to do (I HAVE NO IDEA and I'm glad it isn't my responsibility to be totally honest) but I am concerned about people who feel that they can't fit in the church (even if it's due to cultural rather than doctrinal reasons) when the gospel (and therefor the church) is supposed to be for everyone. 

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