Saturday, August 2, 2008

Am I a "Liberal" Mormon?

This blog and my tone in it sparked a real-life conversation with one of my friends in which I found myself explaining that I was perhaps "more liberal" than others in the church when it comes to LDS culture. After reading the post of another friend at Temple Study which cites some strong language from the LDS prophet Harold Lee using the word "liberal," I have been forced to reflect on my word choice from the previous evening.

This morning and I found myself commenting on a post at MormonTalk and much of what I was writing is applicable to this discussion. So the text below comes from that comment but parts might make more sense having read the original post and the full commment.

Re: the fallibility of the "LDS Church", particularly leaders. My response:

I understand your point and agree that non-transparency can injure and break down confidence and faith. However, I would question whose role it is to be transparent and who is the “LDS Church”.

First, I would argue that we should not expect nor would we want the voice from LDS headquarters as the sole voice of transparency. We need independence as a check, much like the need for independent journalism in society. When challenges are made I think we want a voice from LDS headquarters that is not defense but humble but also positive. Personally I think the LDS Church is handling this better as time passes. The norm of response has completely changed during the administration of Gordon Hinckley and there are positive signs that that will continue such as the Ensign carrying a story about the Meadows Mountain Massacre recently. Historically to understand why the church has responsed to criticism the way it has I think Teryl Givens’ “People of Paradox” is the most insightful analysis.

I think there already exists a body of faithful LDS watchdogs so to say. I think the greatest example of extreme critic while at the same time unquestionable loyalty and faith was and is Hugh Nibley. And there is a whole group that have followed in his footsteps that I believe have maintained that fine balance. I personally think there critics who get too caught up in their criticism that they shoot themselves in the foot and lose their faith, but that is not the fault of the Church by any stretch of the imagination, that is a battle within the mind of that individual. I think modern authors like Bushman and Givens are some of the best well-known examples of how to live that balance appropriately, but there is also a whole population of common everyday Latter-day Saints that have found that balance as well, however it is more likely to hear the voices of those everyday members who did not find that balance when you peruse the internet.

Re: "inevitable" loss in confidence when discovering critical aspects of the Church, church history, culture, etc.

I disagree with ‘inevitable’. In any aspect of life and development there is naivety and then subsequent increases in knowledge that challenge previous worldviews, the response of the individual at those points in time is completely a choice. It is the easy path that jumps to conclusions, that thinks they are an expert in LDS history and doctrine the minute they discover an issue. It is the wise and humble who will say, 'here is an issue, let me learn more, it is obviously a known issue by other faithful members', and can also accept that our knowledge might never be complete on some issues.

In the complete opposite of inevitable loss of faith, I personally think that coming to a view that leaders of the church are fallible and human is a profound humbling and faith building experience and often comes with age as well as being asked to be a leader oneself.

Overall, the issues are neutral, the response of the individual is on trial.

In response to another commenter who was disillusioned with the Church but said if the temple oaths really were about serving your fellow man then that was a little redemptive for the image of the church in his eyes.

Finally regarding the comment that the temple oaths being about serving our fellow man as being redemptive… first that has always been the message and covenant from baptism on, I find the most poetic description of that is found in the scene at the Waters of Mormon after a group was baptized. And yes the culminating oaths in the Mormon temple are never about blind obedience to church leaders or blind faith but they are about, as have been published elsewhere (see below): Obedience to God’s commandments (reminder-the primary commandments being about love). Sacrifice of self. Also, purging of unholiness from our lives, particularly in the way we treat and interact with others. Additionally, fidelity in marriage. And then ultimately giving of our whole souls, everything we have and are, to God, his Church, and building his kingdom (which I will point out does not mean blind obedience to some institution but the complete opposite: the whole hearted freedom of choice to choose to build and to make the vision and mission of the institution your own i.e. caring for the poor, building faith, making good men better.

Public statements about temple covenants from church approved sources:

-Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997 ): 147.
-Elder Talmage, The House of the Lord, 100. Also quoted by Elder Packer in The Holy Temple, 163.
-Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988): 121.)
-Encyclopedia of Mormonism

I also want to link to Jeff Lindsay talking about how we need to prepare people better regarding the specific covenants they will make in the temple.

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