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