Is Dissent Tantamount To Apostasy

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The Kate Kelly campaign for gender equality in the Mormon Church, the ensuing reaction by her (local) priesthood leaders & the media storm this has whipped up has raised a great many issues which are discomforting for many members and in some cases humiliating them in the public’s perception.

An issue which is of greatest concern to many in the Mormon Church is not whose doctrinal interpretation is correct and whose isn’t, but rather, is dissent tantamount to apostasy?

As a current LDS member with questions himself says,

“That is a question that I hope everyone examines independently of our personal views. Understand that the implications of the answer of that question go well beyond the futures of a couple of bloggers you’ve never met. If there isn’t room for dissent, then there isn’t room for people like me. Am I an apostate? I guess we’ll find out. Heaven knows I’m just trying to do right by my heart, my brain, and my people.”

This question is of the utmost importance, because I believe it underpins the most basic of human character traits of integrity and authenticity.

Truth is paramount, and the ability to honestly and openly question without fear of repercussions is the beginning of discovering it.

Fear of the truth is a major impediment to authenticity and freedom to choose. Fear lies behind the actions of many Church leaders in trying to suppress free-speech.

I personally had my lips sealed by the threat of excommunication if I spoke to any Church members about Church history, after I resigned as Bishop.

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My Stake President, under direction from the European Area Presidency, and most likely the First Presidency tried to silence me because of the position of influence I held as a Bishop.

They even gave me strict instructions from the European Area Presidency that I must not talk to the members of my Ward when I visited the chapel for sacrament meeting the week after I resigned as Bishop. At this sacrament meeting I was chaperoned by my First Counselor who had been given firm directions to prevent me from communicating with anyone during my visit.

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After ten months of obediently keeping my mouth shut I decided I could no longer stay silent.

I wrote a letter to my Stake President notifying him of my decision to break the agreement. He has never replied.

Here is my letter:

Sent: Sunday 4th December 2011

Dear President Martin,

It’s been a good few months since we communicated so I thought I would report on how things are going for us, as well as inform you of an important change of mind.

Hopefully you & your family are well.

This year’s absence from Church has been a tremendous blessing, from the point of view of spending much more quality time together as a family without feeling guilty. As a simple example, it’s been wonderful to be able to read books at bedtime each night with our youngest son, Elliot. Something I wasn’t able to do often with our other children because of a combination of work & Church commitments. It seems our relationships have grown stronger as a result of spending more time together. This is a very positive outcome.

It has become much more apparent over the last year how we, as leaders & members, sacrifice so much time for the Church at the expense of spending precious time with our families, without ever realising it, because we’re prepared to serve our God no matter what, in the vain hope of future blessings.

I do worry about my friends & family in the Church. I’m concerned about the effects on children & marriage relationships when parents are absent most nights.

All my life I have been willing to give of myself and sacrifice because I believed, (“knew”), the Church was true, and that God would bless us for our efforts, when really it was actually damaging the most important of relationships.

The sacrifices of time & money we have made as a family did not form any part of the reason we left. We have only realised this as the year progressed.

If the Church could be proved to be true tomorrow I would be back like a shot, and serving with all my heart, might, mind & strength like I used to.

I believed in the Church because of its “truth claims”! Not because it felt good!

However, now I am confident the Church is not what it claimed to be, I can no longer, in all good conscience, continue to sacrifice for what I now see is a fantasy. My dedication to following truth is stronger than ever.

The main reason to contact you is to highlight a major concern I have about our current arrangement.

I agreed not to speak about difficult issues regarding Church History & Origins. In fact, if my recollection is correct, you insisted I should not speak to other members about anything to do with Church History, whether true or otherwise! In exchange you agreed to allow me to retain my membership, or not to hold a disciplinary council in consideration of my membership.

Of course, at that time in May you also became aware of my blog posting which included my ‘resignation letter as bishop’ which had been inadvertently made public by John Dehlin, a friend of mine & member of the Church in Salt Lake City who is the producer of Mormon Stories Podcasts. John hadn’t realised the sensitive nature of my blog at the time & once I alerted him of the problem he kindly desisted in publicising it. However, my resignation as bishop was of such a strong interest the news spread quickly around Church & Ex-Mormon forums, & the blogosphere before he could stop it.

You probably heard that it ‘went viral’ &, despite my best efforts by password protecting it, was viewed over 14,000 times by people worldwide in just seven days! This was never my intention, but as the Church is only too well aware information is difficult to control once it gets on the Internet!

You are probably aware the Church currently attempts to suppress information from its members about events in the past which makes uncomfortable reading today. As an active member I was certainly discouraged from reading it because it was deemed not-faith promoting.

However, in my opinion, & General Authorities from the past agreed with this, any attempt at hiding the truth or covering it up should be seen as unrighteousness dominion! (Of course that was before the ‘information age’!)

Let me illustrate with a few quotes:

Elder James E Talmage, “The man who cannot listen to an argument which opposes his views either has a weak position or is a weak defender of it. No opinion that cannot stand discussion or criticism is worth holding. And it has been wisely said that the man who knows only half of any question is worse off than the man who knows nothing of it. He is not only one-sided but his partisanship soon turns him into an intolerant and a fanatic. In general it is true that nothing which cannot stand up under discussion or criticism is worth defending.” ~ James Talmage, Improvement Era, January 1920, p. 204.

“I admire men and women who have developed the questioning spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas and stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent – if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression. This free exchange of ideas is not to be deplored as long as men and women remain humble and teachable. Neither fear of consequence nor any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences. We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it.” (Hugh B. Brown, counselor in First Presidency, Speech at BYU, March 29, 1958)

“If a faith will not bear to be investigated: if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak.” (George Albert Smith, Journal Of Discourses, v 14, page 216)

And other famous & respected men have promoted free speech & discussion:

Thomas Jefferson taught that, “However discomfiting a free exchange may be, truth will ultimately emerge the victor.”

English philosopher John Stuart Mill said, “Any attempt to resist another opinion is a ‘peculiar evil’. If the opinion is right, we are robbed of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth. If it is wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in its collision with error.”

I loved the church because I believed it was true, not just because there was a lot of good in it. The truth was something I felt I possessed and truthfulness was, & increasingly is, something I feel is worth standing up for &, if necessary, sacrificing for!

I was sure that my Prophet, my Church & my leaders lived by a higher law. I certainly believed I lived by a higher law while I taught the LDS gospel as a missionary & as a Bishop. In other words, I believed that truth was the highest of all values taught in the Church. I thought the Church and the truth were one and the same until hearing Elder Boyd K Packer’s talk:
“I have a hard time with historians because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting it destroys. . . . Historians should tell only that part of the truth that is inspiring and uplifting”. -Boyd K. Packer (Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History, page 103)

This goes against everything that I believed all my life. According to Elder Packer, there is some truth to be afraid of. I’m sorry President, but my sense of morality means I disagree. I have been taught otherwise my whole life.

Exodus 20:16 – Thou shalt not bear false witness…

Isn’t telling only half of the story the same as bearing false witness ?

2 Nephi 28:28 And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall.

So, President, is the Church on a sandy foundation or built on a rock? If it’s on a rock, then there’s nothing to be afraid of. If it has a sandy foundation, I can see why the GA’s might harbour ill feelings towards the truth.

If ‘truth’ needs to be protected to the point of lying to cover it up, it cannot be the truth. If a doctrine cannot be mentioned because it will look bad, there is something wrong with it.

Let’s not forget D&C 93:24 stating that “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were.” Not just things as we wish they were, or as they are faith promoting, as approved by the First Presidency, or as it supports our version of things.

“In conflicting doctrinal and historical situations, we are taught in the church that we should just revert back to our testimonies and put things on a shelf to be answered sometime in the afterlife. Sometimes we’re encouraged to find out for ourselves, although that advice is heavily coated with the warning not to search out information contrary to what the church teaches. The stress is definitely loyalty above inquiry.” ~ Unknown Author

“Each of us has to face the matter-either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.” – President Gordon B. Hinckley. ‘Loyalty’, April Conference, 2003.

President, I’m afraid my loyalty is to the truth, therefore I need to change our agreement. I have felt uncomfortable this last year about avoiding speaking about the difficult issues for the Church.

From now on I will encourage my friends both in and out of Church to ask questions, & to search for truth, even if it means standing up against orthodoxy!

I am not “advocating against the Church”, I am ADVOCATING FOR TRUTH!  So my friends can make their own minds up & decide to follow the truth, if that is what they want to do.

No one should exert any type of force on another in an effort to make them believe, truth or otherwise.

As President Brown so aptly said, “Neither fear of consequence nor any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the Church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences. We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it.”

My plea is to all members of the Church, including you, to open your minds enough to honestly consider the question “If the Church was not true, would you want to know?”

It’s not about whether it “feels good!” Truth is never about how it feels! Truth stands independent & doesn’t care how it makes us feel. Truth is the same yesterday, today & tomorrow. The Church can, & has changed, but truth stands firm & immovable.

When you consider why we believe in the Church, & the gospel it teaches, really consider, honestly. It’s all about ‘feelings’!

I would be very happy to discuss this & anything else with you.

Know that I am your friend,

Love
Steve

A few months later I wrote personal letters to LDS family and friends inviting them to join with me in Apologising to The Blacks for ever holding racist views prior to 1978.

For this action I was summoned to a Stake Disciplinary Council for apostasy.

They desisted with this action at the time due to my wife’s then recent diagnosis of breast cancer, for which gladly she has now made a full recovery.

Can the Mormon Church tolerate dissent or even sincere questioning?

Or does obedience, loyalty and conformity always take priority over truth, authenticity and integrity?

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See also David Twede’s excellent blog post about loyalty: Paying Trons Revolt

Mormon Open Letter for honesty, and transparency

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17 Responses to Is Dissent Tantamount To Apostasy

  1. Steve, Well said and thanks for sharing!

    Absolute truth is unchangeable, yet doctrines and policies can change while revolving around absolute truth. The Mormon Church has a culture of guilt, fear and shame as well as hidden agendas, and a management system the prophet (dictator) uses to shepherd the sheep. It’s about only one way of doing things (correlation) with little wiggle room. Many members of the Mormon Church are leaving and know they are up against a brick wall in trying to effect appropriate changes from within.

    I don’t believe in the type of God that is an authoritarian, ruling by a system through a “top down hierarchy,” or a structure like Mormonism that has a gospel where there is only one way of doing things.

    I believe in the type of God who is a participative leader like a parent, mentor, or coach that encourages input from his children in working around absolute truth, who fosters teamwork in order to reach a consensus, instead of merely being a dictator. I see God utilizing the talents, skills, and abilities that he has blessed his children with to create the best solutions to problems and set user-friendly policies and doctrines that enable all who live by them can be happy and content about. The gospel, the way I see it, is about God and his disciples combining their efforts in setting standards and preferences that they can modify as needs come up and traditions change over the span of time to serve all of those who live under it.

    Sadly, “repentance” (church discipline) to some leaders implies living without authenticity and integrity in order to toe the party line, which means showing up at church, but not becoming involved and remaining silent.

    Since “truth” can stand on its own merits, the leadership should support members sharing differences in beliefs, voicing concerns, and encouraging uncomfortable questions from its membership – it’s the acknowledgment of both “truth” and mistakes that protects the good name of the church, not simply casting people out. People should have civil discussions about the elephant in the room, instead of hiding it. Sure, not all truth is useful, but who gets to decide if it is or not and under what context.

    If I was a believer I would think that maybe the leadership doesn’t always get things correct and God allows the membership to influence church leaders to make changes – good thing we have the 1st amendment to the U.S. constitution (supposedly inspired, possibly as a check and balance for the church) and not a closed theocracy. Perhaps occasionally God uses the church membership as a catalyst through his prophets to “reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

  2. Stormin says:

    Excellent as usual! I just thank God that Mormonism is a SCAM and has nothing to do with God and very little to do with Truth! What a relief this knowledge is to all of us Exmos! Even though I do not agree with Kate on some issues, after listening to mind numbing podcasts and trying to ask her and her and her associates simple questions, I totally agree with her right to have and voice an opinion!

  3. jeanikins says:

    Really powerful message in this blog Stephen. I am glad you are still using your integrity to speak the truth as other wonderful church leaders have done before you.

    Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church said:

    “I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. 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.” (History of the Church, 5:340)

    Oh how the mighty are fallen!

  4. The church preaches from both it’s so-called scripture as well as from the pulpit to avoid murmuring and disobedience. To do so is to apostacize as Laman and Lemuel did when they murmured. This was one of my first inclinations that something was amiss and led me on a journey out of Mormonism and to truth!

    http://questioninglds.blogspot.ca/2007/01/spirit-of-disobedience-or-spirit-of.html?m=0

    Thankyou Steve for sharing what I’ve long believed is true.

  5. Kemari says:

    Brilliant. It is so easy to see now! Being able to question has been a gift. Seeing the full picture is amazing. I loved all of the points you made. One truly has to ask himself why it would require repentance to question? This was always a shelf item for me. If a church claims it’s true it should encourage questioning…thus allowing their claims to ring true! Sadly, the opposite is happening under the guise of “satan” grasping your soul.. Thank you for being yourself and such an inspiration to me and so many. Xo

  6. Debrauk says:

    Well said, I recall I was instructed not to tell the “weaker members” what I had discovered about the flaws and fraud in church history and hinted at a possible court for “behaviour unbecoming a member of the church” …because I had dared to tell some member friends, when asked why we had left, about Joseph Smith’s polyandry….. Not. A. Cult.

  7. Camille Biexei says:

    Thoughtfully written post and good comments. Thanks for this reminder.
    Once you see what is “behind the curtain”, you cannot return to blind obedience without betraying yourself.

  8. Norine says:

    A great article, Steve. You won’t need my praise but wanted to let you know that I’ve forwarded it as I’ve done others of your articles to questing family members two of whom have recently finally taken the ‘plunge’ to freedom. I hope you won’t mind if I share this (below) with you though? Re what Ann Graham Lotz refers to as risk-taking obedience. It’s a new (to me) take on a well known parable. At least I found myself muttering mmm ….
    Acts 5:29, NKJV
    At the wedding in Cana, Jesus issued a command to the servants that seemed to have nothing to do with the shortage of wine: “Fill the jars with water” (John 2:7, NIV). The servants must have stolen furtive looks at each other, but without question, resistance, or argument, “they filled them to the brim” (John 2:7, NIV).
    Why did the servants obey? What made them risk their reputations and their jobs and carry out His instructions? Surely it wasn’t just because Mary told them to do whatever He said. It must have been something about Jesus Himself that thrust them out on the limb of risk-taking obedience.
    Was it His clear, firm gaze of authority?
    Was it the quiet confidence of His demeanor?
    Was it the unwavering strength of His tone of voice?
    Whatever the reason was, they obeyed and experienced the thrill of seeing the water they poured into the jars, pour out as wine!

  9. robinobishop says:

    So many have reported in blog kingdoms that there is a widespread exodus from the rank and file from the LDS. Nobody seems to produce any meaningful numbers as the LDS Church continues to sustain an exploding rate of baptisms. I’d love to see those increasing % pts. besides, this blogger didn’t leave the church; he just happened to release himself from being Bishop, his covenants remain in place.. The LDS never have had a shortage of those members who choose to live in both worlds. The BOM and D&C attest to that.
    The surprise to me is that this is something to brag about. As for me, when I converted I chose liberty after taking the red pill and leaving the slaves of old habits behind. Somebody get those numbers in the exodus.
    And OMGoodness, there were 150 women who tried to barge into the Priesthood session of General Conference again.

  10. It reminds me of Michael Quinn’s statement:
    ”It is… my conviction that God desires everyone to enjoy freedom of inquiry and expression without fear, obstruction or intimidation. I find it one of the fundamental ironies of modern Mormonism that the General Authorities, who praise free agency, also do their best to limit free agency’s prerequisites – access to information, uninhibited inquiry and freedom of expression.”

  11. Good Will says:

    Steve,
    You already know my opinion regarding your neuropsychological explanations for disbelieving not only all things Mormon, but even in the existence of God. I disagree with you vehemently.
    However, I loved this post! You’d be a welcome guest at my table and I consider you — while still a potential Korihor — a real friend of truth, for everything you wrote here (as far as I can tell) is true.
    I am one of those (I don’t know how many there have been) who has been excommunicated from the LDS Church recently (in April) for inquiring and publishing (on my blog) the results of my “investigations”. I am, by no means, a great or deep thinker. I just love the truth.
    And it bothers me — really bothers me! — when an organizational leadership like the LDS hierarchy attempts to squelch any investigation and exposition of truth. (That was not one of the premises of the LDS faith I originally embraced…or so I thought). But once I fell victim to the Church’s “purging” — on the grounds that my “questioning” and “findings” constituted “false doctrine” and “apostasy”, even when my “faith in the Church” remained strong! — I lost all confidence and trust in any of the current Church administrators (in the line “supervising” me), who, apparently, will do whatever they are told to do by Church authorities over them (being followers of men rather than followers of God), inasmuch as the Church has apparently conflated the two now (i.e., men = God).
    I dearly loved the LDS Church (and still do, in many respects). But keeping the commandments and being “true and faithful in all things” are apparently not enough to be LDS; you must now also be sufficiently “untrue” to tolerate lies told in God’s name. You must tolerate hypocrisy, false history and false doctrine masquerading as the “true” and “unchanging” gospel! You must embrace the teachings of men — not even mingled with scripture! — in deference to the commandments and dictates of God.
    And that I could not do.
    Thank you, Steve. I appreciated this post and will refer to it again.

    • SteveBloor says:

      Thank you Will.

      I appreciate your approbation.

      I’m appalled at the way you were treated and I am awe-inspired by your courage and integrity to live what you believe despite tremendous opposition.

  12. TheOtherHeber says:

    I was a High Councilor and had been released two years before after five years as a bishop when I concluded the LDS Church had built its house on the sand. I contacted both the bishop and Stake President then in office and informed then that I did no longer consider the Church true and that I and my family would no longer be serving in any capacity or attending.
    In the course of the next weeks I’had talked to my parents and a certain colleague in the High Council that reached out to me asking why I had been absent from the meetings. Of course I told him the truth.
    The Stake President and the Bishop then came to my home and threatened to hold a disciplinary council if I ever told anyone that I didn’t believe in the Church anymore. The SP said he had been in contact with the Area Presidency to ask for instructions. I told them that I would not lie and I would tell anyone that wanted to know the exact reasons, and that I would not lie to cover up the Church’s lies.
    I ended up informing him that I was going to resign my membership and that there would be no disciplinary council for me.
    As soon as I sent my letter, I posted on Facebook a very diplomatic explanation of my reasons for leaving the Church and it caused quite a stir in the Stake. A handful of people have reached out to me telling me that they’ve began to do some research after reading my post and had also concluded that the Church is a fraud. Most of them left the Church but there are two who have became NOMs. I’m certain there will be other effects in the next months and years. “Do what’s right, let the consequence follow.”
    As a way to hurt me (and my then TBM parents), the SP decided to announce at Priesthood/RS Meeting that we’ve asked to have our names removed.
    So, I conclude that it’s more or less homogeneous throughout the Church (I’m in Brazil) and everyone who find out that Joseph Smith was lying about everything may expect a similar reaction. The LDS Church is an evil institution and humanity would be well better off without it. I’m agnostic now, but if there were a devil, he would very likely have been involved in the origins and operation of this institution.
    Congratulations on doing what’s right and being the Martin Luther/William Law of your Stake. Future generations will look to you with gratitude.

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