You can find Part 1 here. This post is really supplementary to that post, and should be read second.
In Part 1, I discussed my surprise at reading the blog of a Latter-day Saint criticizing Elder Russell M. Nelson’s commencement address comments on so-called same-sex marriage. It hurt me in the same way Michael Bay hurt me with his Transformers franchise – in both cases, I felt (perhaps unfairly) that I had been betrayed when certain expectations I had were not fulfilled.
And let me tell you, you can’t even measure that kind of hurt.
Location, Location, Location
The point I tried to really hit home in Part 1 was “This is about expectations.” I’m mixing it up here by emphasizing the other side of the same coin.
This is not about content, at least not directly. For the purposes of this discussion, content doesn’t really matter. It’s all “location, location, location.”
Take Riess’ comments, for example – I can get that content anywhere.
I can get that content from old friends, from work associates, from the political talking heads on MSNBC that think I’m a wack-job by virtue of my religious beliefs. I can get that content from mainstream Christians like Hank Hanegraaff, the Bible Answer Man, who would try and school me all day on how my Mormonism is at odds with his version of Christian discipleship. I can get that content from Facebook, where not a day goes by when my feed does not have a link to something that disparages one belief of mine or another.
It’s not about content.
Sheepy Wolves? Wolfy Sheep?
How is it possible for me to say that content doesn’t matter? Let’s look at a scripture from the New Testament.
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
Think about the caution. It’s not (at least not directly) to “Look out for wolves!” Rather, it’s to “Look out for wolves masquerading as sheep!” Sheep would be understandable wary of wolves in general – they would of course recognize that they could they could, uh, get eaten anywhere – but wolves hiding among the sheep would be especially dangerous.
In other words, we’re meant to be on the lookout for those purporting to be one of us, but encouraging us to act contrary to what ancient and modern prophets have taught. The warning is not a caution to guard against those seeking to turn us from the gospel (again, at least not directly). We can “get that content” anywhere. The warning is a caution to guard against those seeking to turn of from the gospel from within our own ranks.
“Wait, did he just call someone a wolf?!”
I get that “wolf” is a serious term to throw around, but let me stress two things.
- First, frankly, I don’t care about the application of the term on an individual level. I’m not anyone’s bishop. Simply, using something real as a case study makes for a much more effective discussion.
- Second, if we’re so judgment-averse that all we do is cry “all is well in Zion,” we’ll render the warning useless. You realize that, right? We were warned of sheepy-wolves (or at least wolfy-sheep). Given that warning, should we really ignore that such people exist in the interest of holding hands and singing Kumbaya?
With those two things in mind, we should ask ourselves whether or not comments like these really merit “wolf-status.”
I think they do. This discussion focuses on one of the foundational elements of Mormonism. We have modern prophets! This principle is essentially our religious competitive advantage – no one else teaches that like we do. You can’t discard that.
I’ve pondered before about how this principle fits into our faith in other places on this blog –
(like Of Paradigms and Prophets; The “Enemies” of My Church; What Makes Me Mormon; What Makes Mormonism Unique – A Sense of Community?; The Principles Behind my Prop 8 Support; and, most recently, Correlation is for the Dogs)
– and I’ve even suggested that believing in prophets is something that makes someone “Mormon,” whether or not their names are on the record of the Church. That may be absolutely crazy for me to do, but stay with me for a moment.
This isn’t a discussion about quirks or peripheral issues:
- This isn’t a discussion about whether or not to drink Dr. Pepper and watch rated-R movies.
- This isn’t a discussion about the effectiveness of Sunday School as currently administered.
- This isn’t about the primary kids that get up during fast and testimony meeting (oh my gosh, why do their parents keep encouraging that month after month after month after…).
- This isn’t a discussion about whether or not the Harry Potter books encourage witchcraft.
This is a discussion, generally, about the role of prophets (which, as I said above, is foundational), and specifically, about a doctrine that has been taught and retaught, spotlit for at least the last 20 years, advocated for by multiple general authorities and on multiple occasions (including in General Conference), and that is reinforced in ancient and modern scripture. Elder Neil L. Andersen even called out Mormons who bash other Mormons over this in the last General Conference.
An obscure reference in the first edition of Mormon Doctrine, this isn’t. A peripheral doctrine you only hear about from the 87 year-old senile high priest in your ward, this isn’t.
Not Just Any Christian, Not Just Any Topic
Now, you’ll remember that I said this isn’t about content, not directly (I’d forgive you for having forgotten that after the previous section).
The warning from the Savior’s sermon in Matthew mentions wolves, but the message isn’t just that wolves are dangerous. We already knew that. The message is that wolves hiding among sheep are especially dangerous.
In the same way, this kind of discussion, one that takes shots at some of the foundational principles of Mormonism, is potentially damaging. Guess what? We already knew that, and you can get this prophets-are-dumb, pro-gay-marriage content anywhere.
“Well, here’s a concept: I can be a disciple of Christ and a supporter of nontraditional marriage. In fact, I can support nontraditional marriage precisely because I am a follower of that good shepherd, the one who preached compassion.”
“Oh, so what you’re saying is that your seemingly contradictory positions are acceptable, because you’re one of us! You just understand the gospel better…”
“…wait a minute…”
(See what I did there?)
What’s more, we’re not talking about just Christian discipleship, nor has she marketed herself as any run-of-the-mill Christian disciple. She’s a Latter-day Saint, and presents herself as such (to a Mormon, a Christian can be as wolf-y as an atheist).
I expect this from the vehemently anti-Mormon Bible Answer Man. But he’s easy to pick out as a wolf.
The Questions and an Answer
I don’t know what the right answers are, or even what questions I’m trying to answer. Clearly, it’s not a simple thing.
Do I have a right to feel betrayed? I don’t know. Maybe not. Maybe it’s my own fault.
Should folks censor themselves whenever they speak publicly? I don’t know. It probably depends on a number of things. For example, does a bishop get to put up political signs in his front yard around election time?
What do we do when we feel so passionately about something, and suddenly the folks in Salt Lake puts the kibosh on it? I don’t know. Does it really mean we have to let that part of us wither and die? On the other hand, what is the point of having prophets if we only sustain them when we agree with them?
Those are all tough questions. There are many others. I have one answer that may be of some worth.
When I was getting ready to graduate from high school, our stake organized a mission-prep class for anyone, male or female, that was interested in serving a mission. It was taught by the man who’d served as stake president for most of my childhood, President Tanner. I looked forward very much to that class each Sunday.
I don’t recall exactly how the subject came up, though I think someone may have asked a question about how to deal with controversy. President Tanner advised us that when he was faced with a controversy, he would take it to the Lord, and then prayerfully seek out answers. When he did this, he offered, one of two things would happen, without fail:
- One, he would find an answer that satisfied him.
- Two, the issue would stop bothering him.
In my experience, I’ve also found that to be absolutely true. When I’ve stayed rooted to the True Vine as I’ve worked through my concerns, I’ve been able to feel the influence of the Spirit. Ultimately, I either find an answer to my question, or I’m comforted by the testimony I’ve already received that Joseph Smith is a prophet and that he restored the church of Jesus Christ, a church that continues to be led by prophets, seers, and revelators.
I may not know the answers to the tough questions, but I know that much, and that is enough.