A Harmful Address from General Conference

I like to explore the blogosphere after General Conference ends. I’m interested in the reactions that others have to the words of the Church leaders, men who I consider to be prophets, seers, and revelators. This helps me to think more critically about what I’ve heard, which in turn builds my testimony in what they’ve said.

One particular post caught my eye. A marriage and family therapist, and member of the LDS Church, wrote a post on the Saturday morning session of General Conference, dividing each speaker’s comments into (potentially) three sections:

  • Messages I Found to be Healthy and Uplifting
  • Messages I Found to be Needing of Further Nuance/Discussion
  • Messages I Found to be Harmful

The first two sections aren’t anything special – this blog, for example, is a place where I often add my own nuance and discussion (from my perspective, of course) to the words of prophets. That third section, though, piqued my interest, perhaps because it’s an idea that is so foreign to me – it’s a short walk from “harmful” to “dismissible,” and that concerns me ever so slightly.

In the interest of adding to the dialogue, I’d like to look at the “harmful” portions identified by this blogger in Jeffrey R. Holland’s address.

Advocacy and Agency

Love and tolerance. It came up in a recent conference session, and Elder Holland discussed it again here – what does it mean to “love one another”?

“At the zenith of His mortal ministry, Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” To make certain they understood exactly what kind of love that was, He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” and “whosoever … shall break one of [the] least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be … the least in the kingdom of heaven.” Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others. Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once)” (emphasis added).

The blogger had this to say:

This does not help us be inclusive in our congregations, families or friendships….  Advocates of causes are not usually advocating for “transgression.”  They have equal convictions to ours about their beliefs.  And our beliefs may differ.  But there is no call here to find the similarities with those we may disagree with – which from a systems perspective, is usually the most successful way to effect change anyway.”

I find her comment about inclusiveness informative. While it is certainly something for which we should strive, I’m not sure it has ever taken preeminence over other gospel objectives. The Savior himself said (and Elder Holland quoted in this address),

“I came not to [bring] peace, but a sword.”

His gospel would, as he explained elsewhere, pit family members against each other. This suggests to me (though certainly it merits more discussion than I give it here) that while we can strive for inclusiveness, it should not supplant other, more important, objectives.

I also found her comment about advocacy interesting. I may be misunderstanding her, but I think that what she meant to say was this:

Advocates of causes are not usually advocating for do not usually consider what they advocate for “transgression.”  They have equal convictions to ours about their beliefs.

What’s the problem here? Simply, “transgression” is black and white more often than we’d care to admit. That may be a naive way to look at things – and I’ll readily admit that there is much more gray in the world than we hear about in Sunday School – but is there not a definitive truth? An objective standard?

And if there is an objective, definitive standard, whether or not something is a “transgression” does not depend on the person doing the considering. Advocates may not consider their efforts to be in support of transgression, but their consideration is irrelevant.

(What’s more, many advocates come from biased positions from which they are likely less able to make a good judgement about the nature of their causes, particularly if they are at odds with Church leaders.)

Advocate for what you wish – I don’t have a problem with that, and that’s the very definition of agency – but don’t call good evil, and evil good. This may sooth your conscience about acting contrary to the words of modern prophets, but it’s wrong. And it drives me nuts. So please stop. You know better.

Prophets in the Land Again

The blogger continues,

“He makes an argument for the love of Christ to be tied to measures of righteousness.  Although there are aspects of this I believe in (“if you love me, follow me), here it can be used as a way of separating “us from them,” which is quite contrary to the Messianic teachings he so readily refers to.  He is implying that our current understanding and interpretation of gospel doctrine when it comes to the topics I mentioned above [social initiatives that the Church takes strong stances on] are the teachings Christ would have been championing in our day.  When in actuality the New Testament presents a pretty different narrative – of Christ being quite a revolutionary against the church leaders of His time, prioritizing love OVER measures of righteousness (i.e. advocating for a prostitute against the legal punishment of her day, breaking the Sabbath rules by healing and providing service to those in need, etc.).  If Holland’s argument would have been directed towards fighting against things like human trafficking and slavery, the devastation of chronic poverty, bullying, etc. – I would have been much more on board.  But I think we all got the gist of what types of “advocacy” within our current church culture he was referencing.”

First off, let me just say “THANK GOODNESS that someone FINALLY unlocked these secrets of the New Testament!” I mean, we’ve been wasting so much time with this whole modern-day-prophet thing. If I had only known that a correct analysis of the behaviors of Christ recorded in the New Testament would allow me to align my worldview with correct principles, I could have adjusted so much sooner! WWJD y’all! Who knew?

Okay, I jest.

But seriously, the entire premise of this paragraph (before even getting into content) is completely nonsensical. I would expect this kind of talk from a mainstream Christian, because for them the Bible is their authority. Creeds and dogmas and standards are all reverse-engineered from these 2,000-year-old pages, because they believed that with the close of the apostolic era revelation ceased.

Latter-day Saints are different. We don’t believe that the Church is based on the Bible.

(This is about to get hardcore – credit for the idea goes to Ross Baron, by the way.)

Our Church is not based on the Bible. Our Church is based on what the Bible is based on – revelation, through prophets. Joseph didn’t call 12 apostles because Jesus had 12 apostles. We don’t support the ideas in The Family proclamation because of some random verses in the New and Old Testaments. We don’t trace our practice of proxy baptisms to Paul’s off-hand reference to it in Corinthians. All of these things are born of revelation, through prophets.

Following this idea through, if something that a prophet says conflicts with my idea of what the Savior would do (even an idea built on Biblical stories and concepts), I’m going to accept that maybe I’m missing something about the Savior and side with the prophet.

But the blogger does have a point. The Savior was absolutely a revolutionary, but not exactly in the way she implies. The Savior revolted most strongly against the legalism of his day, the “measures of righteousness,” but not righteousness itself, something obscured in her examples. The Savior did advocate against the legal punishment for prostitution of his day in this case, but also admonished the woman to sin no more. The Savior did heal and eat on the Sabbath, but he was breaking the legal restrictions put up by the religious leaders, not the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy (a commandment he himself gave originally). There is nothing in the Savior’s action or ‘activism’ to suggest that he ever prioritized “social justice” over keeping the commandments.

What if we don’t know the answer? What if we’re confused? What if there’s disagreement?

That’s why we have prophets.

Not Popular

Elder Holland suggested that prophets aren’t popular. Unfortunately, it feels like they have a growing up-popularity even within the Church.

What do you think about his talk?

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