Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,Follow the prophet; don’t go astray.Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,Follow the prophet; he knows the way.
Manipulative, mind control exercises on poor, unsuspecting members?
Expression of unity through a calculated, informed decision by a community of worshipers?
I’m been forcing myself to write this post for quite a while, to have it ready before conference, but it’s been difficult. Mostly because I’m going to start lecturing and evangelizing in this post, and I’m squarely sitting in the middle of the audience I’m lecturing.
The theme “Follow the Prophet” is not a popular one, obviously to Ex-Mormons but also to a number of active Mormons.
Some of the greatest atrocities human beings have done to each other have been done in the name of religion. We don’t have to look very hard within Mormonism to find our own tragedy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre. A group of LDS, believing they were directed by God, opened fire on men, women, and children of an emigrant wagon train party, killing 120 people.
“Follow the Prophet” for critics of Mormonism, conjures up negative images of people following a leader blindly without thinking into wrong behavior. They use terms and allusions like Morgbot, Manchurian Candidate, mind control, blind sheep.
No one likes being told specifically what and how to teach. Correlation is a dirty word. Follow the Spirit has turned into Follow the Prophet. The church seems slow to react to cultural issues. Things out of Salt Lake sometimes feel corporatized. The church’s anonymous public relations newsroom and web site publications seem to do more doctrinal clarification than the prophet and apostles do in conference. The church’s business arm, understandably created to protect the financial viability of the church and maximize the good the church can do given the donations it receives, has grown into a corporate behemoth.
This seems to contradict the Jesus of the New Testament, who was always individual focused and seemed pretty anti-authority. Likewise for the church Joseph Smith started based on quotes from him like “I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine…I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.”
But the LDS church in the 21st century is not a small, local religion. Jesus in his earthly ministry was not leading an organization of 15 million members. Joseph was not managing a global church with 30,000 units in 160 countries and 180 languages. You must feel some sympathy for the brethren in their effort to create the same kind of individualist atmosphere of freedom that the early Christian church in the time of Christ and the early restored church in 1830 had, while keeping a level of consistency and unity across the modern LDS church. It’s not hard to imagine how bad things could be if the church didn’t exert this kind of strong, central leadership: rogue bishops exercising unrighteous dominion, inconsistent experience from ward to another, confusion over what is correct and incorrect teachings, etc.
It’s our strong, central leadership precisely that has enabled the church to grow and consistently maintain the good experience that members have across the globe. Many of the things we love about the LDS church are only possible due to that organizational strength.
In the sacramental paradigm, which is how I view Mormonism and religion in general, scriptures, doctrine, and church practices are not seen as revelations from God to man. They are seen as offerings as a sacrament from man to God. It is man saying, “this is how we think you want us to teach and act as a church”. This raises the question, “if you don’t think these doctrines and practices are revealed directly to God, then why would you submit yourselves to the leaders of the LDS church?”
A comment on a thread on my facebook page from an Ex-Mormon: “(one who engages Mormonism with this sacramental/metaphorical paradigm) must submit themselves to an authority that they no longer see as having any legitimate basis. As long as the leaders of the church consider themselves to have any special moral authority, then there is no incentive to stay.”
I strongly disagree. We as a church, as a body of Christ, as a community of worshippers have agreed how the church will be led. We sustain the prophets and apostles to have the authority to define doctrine and govern the church. We have faith in them, meaning we are loyal to them, we have trust in them, we support and sustain them in acting in their role. It doesn’t require believing they literally are directed by God or have authority directly given to them from God. It does require that the faith we hold in them is a real and powerful force. Their source of authority is the faith of the members.
We offer this faith as informed decision makers not as blind sheep. We have tested the fruit of the church and it is good to us. We find joy and beauty and truth in living a life of faith by LDS principles. We attend church, take the sacrament and worship God weekly. We hold Family Home Evenings. We pay our tithing. We listen to our leaders at conference time and find value in their teachings and work to apply their teachings in our lives. We see that by doing so, we are enriched and edified and our lives are blessed.
I apologize for going in full on preaching mode here but I feel strongly about this and wanted to include this message. This tirade came out on a walk with my wife as I tried to explain how I view the brethren.
We need structure. If Mormonism is going to survive, it has to have structure. If we’re serious about Mormonism being a beautiful religion, something we want to preserve for our children and posterity. If we think dressing up in our best to worship God with our neighbors or community, keeping the Sabbath as a holy day for family and worship, emphasis and commitment to families, sending our kids on missions, the beautiful doctrines of Jesus Christ, and the enabling of us to be close to our Father in Heaven. If we think this is worth preserving, then it has to have structure. We come together as a Body of Christ as a community of worship and we put our trust and faith in the brethren to lead us. Maybe when the brethren ask us to pray for them it’s not a trite, fake humility, maybe they really do need help, maybe they don’t know exactly what they should do, maybe they need the courage to do hard things and take a step into the dark, maybe they are doing the best they can but it’s hard and they need every bit of help they can get. I’m INTJ personality and naturally anti-authority. I can’t stand the thought of turning over the thinking to someone else—on any issue. I bristle at authority. Give me a rule, and my first inclination is to break it. If I can get behind this idea, anyone can. You may not like the stance on female equality, or how much tithing is donated to humanitarian aid, or LGBT stances, or racism, or the refusal to call out Joseph Smith for polygamy, or the quashing of unorthodox voices, or whatever you may not like. But look at every single one of those issues, and there is progress. The church is moving in the right direction. We can sustain the brethren, pray for them, and have faith that our Body of Christ will keep progressing. We need the structure the organization provides to preserve all the good things. Without that structure, there is chaos.
What if they tell me to do something I don’t want to do?
Jesus Christ asks hard things from his disciples. We look at the big picture at what is asked from us in Mormonism, and we have to decide if it’s something we can support and have faith in as a whole. We have to look hard and determine if this is something difficult but ultimately rewarding for me if I do it, and engage in Mormonism fully? My gut feeling is that “cafeteria Mormons” (I’m looking in the mirror here, and I’m squirming) could engage in a richer form of Mormonism through doing less picking and choosing and more trusting in the whole of the faith.
What if they teach something I think is wrong?
Teachings and doctrines in the metaphorical/sacramental paradigm are seen not as revelation from God to man but sacramental expressions from man to God, ie “this is our best guess at what you want us to teach about you and how you want us to live”. We collectively as a body of Christ with the brethren leading us, do the best we can. There are of course going to be differences of opinion with our community. As disciples of Christ and as member of a church were we sustain and have faith in our leaders, we sacrifice things even sometimes our own doctrinal beliefs. If these are minor, we sacrifice them for the good of the whole, as we seek for unity. If they are major, then they may lead us out of the church, if we are unable to reconcile them.
What if they tell me to do something I think is wrong?
Don’t do it. If anyone ever tells you to do something you think is wrong, don’t do it. You might challenge yourself and think through why you think it’s wrong. You also might seek to understand if the church is really telling me to do this, or is this a cultural practice I perceive as church mandate. But you should never do something you think is wrong.
What if they tell me to teach correlated material and I don’t want to?
See above, sacrifice and unity. Sorry.
Is there an avenue for cordial dissent? How can members express disagreement while sustaining and following the brethren?
We can ask respectfully for change. I don’t think we can demand change. This is a great question we need to work out better as a church. Some view the Ordain Women conference demonstrations as cordial dissent. Some view it as an act of betrayal and apostasy. This is an area where we can grow as a church and compromise in all directions would probably be good.
What if their teachings hurt me or someone I love?
Some LDS teachings of the past and present hurt people. Hopefully the hurtful teachings are getting buried in the past as we move forward with further light and knowledge. I believe it’s a church members’ right to express that a teaching hurts them or a loved one. We have to trust the brethren to hear us and that they will move to fix things in the best way they see possible. Ultimately, this is probably a good reason to leave the church, if you think the teachings hurt you or a loved one and this outweighs the truth and beauty you experience, and you don’t see hope for change. But, I see progress. I see things moving in the right direction. I have hope for the future.
So, to summarize, in the sacramental paradigm we are not viewing the brethren as dictating to us what God wants. We are viewing the brethren as public servants who we sustain and offer our faith in to lead this church in a way that we collectively as a body of Christ believe is the truest way. I choose Mormonism because I believe it has the most truth in it, and our leaders, within that tradition of truth, have inspiration that is valuable to me.
But in order for Progressive Mormonism or a sacramental paradigm to work, there still has to be some teeth in the religion. It can’t be whatever you want it to be. There needs to be some orthodoxy in order to make it work.
I’m looking forward to sustaining the brethren and hearing their counsel this weekend. I may not agree with everything they say, but I trust they have words of inspiration that are valuable to me. I may not believe they are literally direct mouthpieces for God. But I sustain them and express my faith in them as the leaders of our church. I will pray that they have the wisdom and courage to teach the doctrine and to move the church in a direction that we as a Body of Christ believe is most pleasing to God.