Those familiar with me know that I have plenty of soapboxes. Some of them have to do with the non-gospel practices of LDS Church members. For example:
These soapboxes have nothing to do with the doctrine of the Church, or legitimate practices encouraged by the Church, but rather with personal orthodoxies (that I see as contrary to the gospel) preached as the gospel.
I’ve recently taken a stance on the way a BYU student reprimanded a peer for breaking the dress standards of the BYU honor code, and I commented on a follow-up story published by BYU’s paper, the Daily Universe. A Facebook friend had this to say:
You are way too worked up about this incident. Aren’t your judgmental words about the boy worse than his own?
(Never mind the irony of these kinds of statements, with the criticism of being judgmental a judgment in its own right.)
I replied that “love everyone, judge no one” is junk religion, and summed up the stance you can read about in the post mentioned above. I also inferred that the letter-writer was a “sheltered, bubble-craving isolationist” and straight-out called him “a cowardly, small-minded boy”. As an example of how short-sighted, childish actions can convict the Church in the court of public opinion, I brought up the proxy baptism scandal that has resurfaced in the wake of President Romney’s campaign (recently, LDS “dweebs” have disregarded prophetic counsel regarding the baptism of holocaust Jews). The same friend replied:
Sorry, but I still don’t see name-calling within our own religion as ‘righteous judgement.’ You are obviously free to make your opinions known; however, your negative comments may have the very effect you see these ‘dweebs’ having: harming the image of the church. Some negative opinions are better left unsaid.
And then, a few days later, a stranger posted this:
Don’t you think the guy has gotten enough flack for it by now? Who would come forward and dare express their opinion with the entire world ragging on them? The guy never intended this to go to the press. He was shy enough not to just talk to Brittany about it in the first place. Whether he was right or wrong, he probably feels terrible and wishes he never would have written the note. It was probably a built-up of all the things he saw and considered to be immodest on campus, and he thought he should do something about it this time. I’m not saying it was the right method or it was a good judgement call, but give the guy a break. We all have motes and beams from time to time, do we not? I personally wish I could find this guy, give him a hug, and say, “Okay, that might not have been the best decision, as we’ve seen, but I’m sorry for all the hate thrown at you right now.”
(Speaking of my soapboxes, why can’t people online use paragraphs?)
There are two arguments in these Facebook comments, both of which I take issue with. The first deals with concealing internal issues, and the second with withholding all judgment. While I welcome people who disagree with me, I take issues with those who discourage open dialogue and healthy disagreement. That, in my humble opinion, is reprehensible.
The first argument is that we shouldn’t “name-call” within our own ranks. This mirrors the view of C. S. Lewis, who said in Mere Christianity,
“So long as we write and talk about [our disputed points] we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.”
I talk about this argument when I discuss the preface to Mere Christianity. You can read more there, but in brief, I think that this position is off. Why?
An Active Faith
First, who says that talking about disputed points will deter others from investigating the gospel? Could it not encourage them to investigate further instead? I think so. In the words of William James, those otherwise uninterested in a religion can have a previously “dead” option made “genuine” as they study deeper.
All the times I’ve dug deeper into my beliefs, or investigated a controversial issue, or struggled internally with some gnawing question, I’ve come out of it with stronger faith.
What’s more, religious organizations, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not cookie cutter groups. We are not all the same. Why would we want to sweep internal conflicts under the rug, particularly in this age when things will always come out? (Brittney Molina’s own twitter picture is what originally went viral on the modesty story.) I’m not like the note-writer, or the LDS dweebs baptizing Ann Frank for the fourth, fifth, or sixth time after the First Presidency has told members not to. I want others to know! We’re not all crazy, and white-washing the mosaic that is the LDS Church is not the way to encourage people into the fold.
Second, it seems slightly dishonest, if not at least disingenuous, to sweep our disputes entirely under the rug. I like what Dan Peterson said in his article “The Restoration stands up to history”, which I recommend you read in its entirety.
He describes the three “versions” of history that are often used to describe the LDS Church.
- “Thesis” is the rose-colored history taught by the LDS Church.
- “Antithesis” is the opposite to thesis, the hardened and critical history taught by anti-Mormons.
- “Synthesis” is the combination of the two – the fullest, most complete history that incorporates elements from both.
The history taught by the Church is not all-encompassing or historically complete, but why? Peterson offers,
“Because souls can be and are lost on [antithesis]. And, anyway, the church isn’t some sort of floating seminar in historiography. Regrettably, perhaps, most Latter-day Saints — many of them far better people than I — aren’t deeply interested in history, and, more importantly, many other very important priorities demand attention, including training the youth and giving service.”
If I were in a leadership position, I would probably make a similar decision to stick to thesis history. The purpose of the Church is to invite people to come unto Christ, not to educate them in exact historical matters that have no bearing on that invitation.
And yet I am not in a leadership position, and I am not the Church. Neither is the media the Church. The Church is more than welcome to censor its Sunday school material, but I can make my own choices about what I discuss in an open forum. An early LDS poet wrote,
Think not when you gather to Zion,
Your troubles and trials are through,
That nothing but comfort and pleasure
Are waiting in Zion for you:
No, no, ’tis designed as a furnace,
All substance, all textures to try,
To burn all the “wood, hay, and stubble,”
The gold from the dross purify.
Think not when you gather to Zion,
That all will be holy and pure;
That fraud and deception are banished,
And confidence wholly secure:
No, no, for the Lord our Redeemer
Has said that the tares with the wheat
Must grow till the great day of burning
Shall render the harvest complete.
And what of my friend’s insinuation that it’s not okay to name-call internally, but okay to name-call others? I’ll leave that to you.
Judging and “Judge Not”
The second argument, and by far the more important one, is that I was wrong to judge, and “way too worked up” over something that didn’t merit it. I should have kept to myself, and tended to my own beams rather than pulling at the motes of others.
I repeat my affirmation that “love everyone, judge no one” is junk religion, and that discouraging open dialogue is reprehensible. Where does judgment fit in to our every day behavior?
Maybe we would do well to define some of our terms before we get started.
In 1972, N. Eldon Tanner talked about what he called “unjust criticism and judging without the facts.” What did he mean by this?
He gave a few examples. One example involved what’s commonly known as “self-fulfilling prophecy” or the Pygmalion Effect, when we pigeonhole someone else by treating them based on who we expect them to be. Another example involved what Crucial Conversations calls telling yourself stories, or attributing motives to the actions of others. Both of these behaviors are inappropriate, and examples of prejudice and gossip. President Tanner decries the “vituperative talk of personalities” and “trying to tear down another”.
Dallin H. Oaks gave a devotional at BYU in 1998. You can find the transcript of it here, or a copy of it in the Church magazine Ensign. He further clarifies the type of judgment that President Tanner condemns. He says,
“I believe this commandment was given because we presume to make final judgments whenever we proclaim that any particular person is going to hell (or to heaven) for a particular act or as of a particular time…. The effect of one mortal’s attempting to pass final judgment on another mortal is analogous to the effect on athletes and observers if we could proclaim the outcome of an athletic contest with certainty while it was still underway.”
Gossiping, stereotyping, or ignorantly attributing motive is “proclaim(ing) the outcome of an athletic contest” before it concludes. We don’t give others the chance to make redemption.
So is all judgement inappropriate? President Tanner says,
“Each must try to understand the questions and then stand firm by his convictions.”
Elder Oaks says,
“In contrast to forbidding mortals to make final judgments, the scriptures require mortals to make what I will call “intermediate judgments.” These judgments are essential to the exercise of personal moral agency…. The Savior also commanded individuals to be judges, both of circumstances and of other people.”
How can one “stand firm by his convictions” without judging? How can we make intermediate judgments “both of circumstances and of other people” without judging? The truth is we can’t.
Righteous Intermediate Judgments
We are not left to our own in determining how to make righteous intermediate judgments. Elder Oaks gives us six principles as a guide.
- “First of all, a righteous judgment must, by definition, be intermediate. It will refrain from declaring that a person has been assured of exaltation or from dismissing a person as being irrevocably bound for hellfire….
- “Second, a righteous judgment will be guided by the Spirit of the Lord, not by anger, revenge, jealousy, or self-interest….
- “Third, to be righteous, an intermediate judgment must be within our stewardship. We should not presume to exercise and act upon judgments that are outside our personal responsibilities….
- “A fourth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment of a person is that we should, if possible, refrain from judging until we have adequate knowledge of the facts….
- “A fifth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment is that whenever possible we will refrain from judging people and only judge situations….
- “If we apply unrighteous standards, our judgment will be unrighteous.”
I’ll be the first to volunteer my comments to the standard given by Elder Oaks. Arguably, it may not meet that standard.
But that is not the point here. The point is that this stance, that we should in no circumstance judge other people, is far from the gospel truth.
I make judgments all the time. I judged that the student who wrote Brittany Molina that note did so inappropriately. I judged the actions of those who disregard the teachings of the Church, whether it be in terms of Prop 8 or proxy baptisms. These judgments aren’t in violation of the commandment to “judge not”.
Keep a close eye around you, and you’ll see righteous judgments all over the place. I can even help. Excuse an analogy that may help put my own judgment in perspective.
- A BYU professor makes a blatantly racist statement (you can find it in the Washington Post article “The Genesis of a church’s stand on race”)
- Remember how a BYU student wrote a remorsefully critical note of a fellow student
- The LDS Church clarifies the doctrine and stance of the Church in a press release which clearly denounces the stance attributed to the BYU professor
- I respond to the action and position of the BYU student using the scriptures and modern prophets.
Don’t be so quick to vilify those who take a stance against a position with which you agree. You may find yourself at odds with your own Church.
UPDATE: This past general conference, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave a fantastic talk about this subject entitled “The Merciful Obtain Mercy”. Check it out.