How to Dissent Like a General Authority

I’m gonna steal BCC’s idea going to contribute to the fine discussions of the lifting of the priesthood ban with a few thoughts on what we might learn from some responses to the ban.

Let’s start with Elder Holland’s comment in his PBS interview; here’s how he, as a youngish church employee, responded to the news of the revelation:

I started to cry, and I was absolutely uncontrollable. I felt my way to a chair … and I sort of slumped from the doorway into the chair and held my head, my face in my hands and sobbed. …

There’s no issue in all my life that I had prayed more regarding — praying that it would change, praying that it would come in due time. I was willing to have the Lord speak, and I was loyal to the position and the brethren and the whole concept, but there was nothing about which I had anguished more or about which I had prayed more. And for that to be said in my lifetime, when I wasn’t sure it would happen in my lifetime, … it was one of the absolute happiest days of my life. …

Note that he, faithful Church employee and future apostle, had (1) prayed for the ban to end which means he (2) presumably did not like the ban or think it was sound doctrine/practice but (3) had not argued publically against the ban or let it affect his activity in the Church.

Next item. President McKay, from the Prince bio (which, if you haven’t read, you should drop everything and do right now):

[President McKay’s daughter-in-law] Mildred Calderwood McKay, who served on the general board of the Primary . . . expressed her anguish that black male children, who commingled with white male children during their Primary years . . . were excluded from the Aaronic Priesthood when they turned twelve. “Can’t they be ordained also?” she asked. He sadly replied, “No.” “Then I think it is time for a new revelation.” He answered, “So do I.” [On another occasion Elder Marion D.] Hanks related an incident from a prior trip to Vietnam, in which he had comforted a wounded black LDS soldier. As he told the story, McKay began to weep. Referring to the priesthood ban, McKay said, “I have prayed and prayed and prayed, but there has been no answer.”

Church architect Richard Jackson recalled the following:

I remember one day that President McKay came into the office. We could see that he was very much distressed . . . . He said, ‘Well, I’ve inquired of the Lord repeatedly. The last time I did it was late last night. I was told, with no discussion, not to bring the subject up with the Lord again; that the time will come, but it will not be my time, and to leave the subject alone.’ . . . I can still see him coming in with a bit of a distraught appearance, which was unusual for President McKay.

You’ll note from this that President McKay who was the President of the Church at the time (1) prayed for the ban to end which means he (2) presumably did not like the ban or think it was sound doctrine/practice but (3) had not argued publically against the ban or let it affect his activity in the Church.

Next up at bat: President Hinckley:

It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. (source)

Once again, “rejoicing” suggests to me that he wasn’t a big fan of the ban. Do I need to repeat my numbered list again?

At the risk of draining the lifeblood of the bloggernacle, may I suggest that one approach to doctrines/policies that we don’t like would be to pray for them to change and not air our grievances in public?

The ban caused untold harm to countless Saints and potential Saints. It seems to me that one way we can honor our heritage and reclaim this part of our history is to learn something from our experience with the ban that we can apply to other situations. I made a stab at that here and I think I can now add to my list a pattern for dissent learned from our leaders.

(And, you’ll note, their approach worked.)

64 comments for “How to Dissent Like a General Authority

  1. Julie M. Smith
    June 5, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    (sorry, annegb, I saw your duplicated comments and deleted one of them–apparently at the same time another person was deleting the other)

  2. annegb
    June 5, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    Not a problem, you know how I feel : )

  3. Kristine
    June 5, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    Julie, do you think it’s possible that ordinary members have different (lesser) responsibilities in terms of public silence than church authorities? It sounds as though President McKay’s daughter-in-law did voice her distress. For those of us without personal access to the president of the church, do you think there’s any acceptable place to express such feelings/thoughts?

  4. Kristine
    June 5, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    Elder Oaks says that members shouldn’t “criticize” in public, but that introduces a tricky definitional problem (and a possible bloggernacle-salvaging loophole : ) )

  5. June 5, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    The definitional problem is arguably there not just for “criticize,” but also for “public.” (Casual conversation at a friends house? The op-ed pages of a newspaper? A Sunday School class? A blog?)

  6. endlessnegotiation
    June 5, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    Your faith in octagenarians’ willingness to pray about certain subjects is much greater than mine. While you have been able to provide three examples I would be even more curious about a poll of all the prophets, seers, and revelators at the time. Frankly, I doubt that all fifteen of them were praying about the issue or thought about it much beyond, “I wish those rabble-rousing civil rights folks would leave us alone about this!”

  7. Julie M. Smith
    June 5, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    LOL! I was in the middle of composing this response to Kristine and Russell when I jumped back to see if there were any new comments; given endlessnegotiation’s comment, mine now seems doubly appropriate:
    Kristine and Russell, those are great questions and I don’t think the answers are obvious. It seems to me that, at least in the bloggernacle, tone matters a lot: there’s a world of difference between “I wonder how to reconcile X and Y” and “I wonder why those geezers in Salt Lake can’t understand the obvious contradiction between X and Y.”

    Suffice it to say, I don’t think that doubting the ability of “octagenarians” to be aware of and responsive to the world is the appropriate posture for dissent. Good grief, endless, do you trust anyone over 30?

    I’d also add: I have good reason to believe that at least some of the GAs are aware of what happens on the blogs; do you think they are more likely to rectify their supposed cluelessness when we scoff at their age and ability or when we present ourselves as faithful Saints struggling with issues from a posture of loyalty and support?

  8. ronito
    June 5, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Well I, for one, am glad that Martin Luther and Joseph Smith didn’t think to not criticize publically.

  9. Aaron Brown
    June 5, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    A quibble: I don’t see how the fact that Holland and McKay didn’t like the ban proves that they thought it wasn’t “sound doctrine/practice.” Maybe I’m just not understanding precisely what you mean by “sound doctrine/practice.”

    Also, has there been a ton of Bloggernacle commentary that essentially says “the old geezers must have really liked the Ban,” such that Julie needs to point out that “No, the leadership really didn’t like it either”? I think that the frustration of vocal bloggers about the Ban has been more about other things (i.e., too rigid respect paid to past prophetic commentary on the Ban, an imagined failure of leaders to take an interest in imploring the Lord for change as early as they might have, etc.). But maybe I’m just projecting …

    An oft-cited reason for the delay in rescinding the Ban was that “the membership just isn’t ready.” If there is any truth to this rationale (maybe there is, maybe there isn’t), then a vocal airing of frustration about the Priesthood Ban may have prompted some of the membership to think about the issue critically in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise. Not a bad thing, me thinks.

    Aaron B

  10. Julie M. Smith
    June 5, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    ronito, I for one, am glad that, unlike Martin Luther and Joseph Smith, I live in a time when the Church is organized on the earth.


    I’m not sure where you are going with the distinction between “didn’t like” and “didn’t think it was sound.” I assume that if they found the thinking behind it sound, they would have liked it and vice versa but maybe I am missing some distinction here?

    I think that there is some sense in the bloggernacle that past leaders liked/supported the ban–and certainly that sense among anti and ill-informed sites. I agree with you about the too rigid respect (although if Elder McConkie’s comment didn’t cure that, one wonders what would?) and imagined failure issues.

    You make a very, very good point about the “membership wasn’t ready” argument. One wonders what things were done (or could have been done) to lay groundwork for that change without explicitly condemning the ban.

    One thing I was trying to do with this post is suggest that there might–right now–be Church leaders who are not in full support of some of the church’s stands of the controversial issues of our day. They might even be praying for change. But they are loyal and supportive of the current policies, and perhaps we should be too.

  11. Mark IV
    June 5, 2007 at 2:36 pm


    Count me in as someone who needs a lot of help understanding the public/private distinction.

    At the time, some of the GAs voiced their doubts publicly, to the point that it made the newspapers.

  12. ronito
    June 5, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Keep in mind that Martin Luther most definetly DID live in a time where people thought there was the one true church that was established.

    Perhaps one of the reason that the ban stayed so long was because no one was willing to voice opposition to stop praying and take to the cause.

    No one looks at a man and says, “He’s my hero because he kept his mouth shut publically about things he thought were wrong.” No one remembers King John because he signed the Magna Carta, they remember the Barons that rebelled against him forcing him to do so. Ghandi didn’t keep his mouth shut, he went on the salt march, Martin Luther nailed his greviances to doors, Joseph Smith founded the church, Martin Luther King spoke out, Jesus preached on mounts. What’s the whole saying about what happens when good men do nothing?

  13. Julie M. Smith
    June 5, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    ronito, I glean from your comment that you think the LDS Church has as much truth behind its claim as the Catholic Church does. If that’s how you feel, more power to you, but I think there is substance behind LDS truth claims and therefore don’t think anything useful can come from continuing this conversation with you given our different suppositions. If I have misread you, my apologies, but your #12 leads me to believe that you don’t think the LDS Church has any bite behind its bark.

  14. Julie M. Smith
    June 5, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    Mark IV, I’m not familiar with a history of public dissent over the ban by GAs–can you point me to some sources?

  15. June 5, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    “Perhaps one of the reason that the ban stayed so long was because no one was willing to voice opposition to stop praying and take to the cause.”

    This of course ignores the data points of David O. McKay (which Julie reports above…) and Harold B. Lee (which she doesn’t) both praying for the Ban to be lifted, repeatedly.

    Ronito, perhaps you could explain how one voices opposition to God besides praying?

  16. ronito
    June 5, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    Julie, you misunderstand me.

    I’m saying that Martin Luther was in a similar situation as those GAs. He was involved in the leadership of the church perhaps not the upper echelons but he was involved as a monk. There were certainly priests and abbots and others that disliked the way that the church was going, you can easily find writings from disillusioned priests from as early as the 1200s. They just complained privately to their friends and prayed that things would change. And nothing happened for two centuries.

    No doubt Martin Luther was convinced in Jesus Christ and the Catholic church was the monolithic representation they had of his church (imagine Salt Lake City x10). Instead of praying for the pope to change his mind he took things into his own hands and did something. The fact that he did so before the reformation doesn’t make the reality he was born into any different. Sure, we don’t believe in the catholic doctrines, but Martin did, otherwise he wouldn’t have been a monk.. That was his reality. You do him wrong to dismiss it so lightly.

    I’m not in anyway likening the mormon church to the catholics I’m likening Martin Luther’s situation to the situation of the GAs.

    Still, if you have problems getting caught up on the whole catholic thing then ignore it. As I brought up twice now Joseph Smith also took action. He didn’t just sit about thinking “I’d better not rock the boat.” Where would we be if he did?

  17. ronito
    June 5, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    A. Nonny, see Martin Luther. Joseph Smith. etc.

  18. Peter LLC
    June 5, 2007 at 3:29 pm


    ronito is clearly responding to mindless devotion to the status quo. He might even be trying to “learn something from our experience with the ban that we can apply to other situations.” At any rate, your #13 leads me to believe that you have in fact misread him.

  19. Kevin Barney
    June 5, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    As Julie suggests, I think a lot has to do with tone and loyalty.

    A classic case is the Lester Bush article. We may never know what role it played or didn’t play in greasing the skids for the Revelation, but personally I think it did play a role. It was very controversial at the time, and some in SLC absolutely didn’t want it published and did whatever they could to stop it. But it treated the subject exhaustively, rigorously, fairly, in my view not as an attack at all, but providing the historical context which, frankly, most Church authorities of the time simply didn’t know or understand. (Before Bush’s article, very few Mormons had this kind of a big-picture view of the history of the ban.)

    So I do think there is definitely room for responsible discussion and critique.

  20. Julie M. Smith
    June 5, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    ronito, you seem to make nothing of the difference in authority level between the LDS and Catholic churches. I think it matters. Similarly, there was no organized Church for Joseph to defer to until he organized it, at which point he stopped dissenting :).

    If you are trying to say something else, you’ll need to spell it out for me, because I’m not seeing it.

    In case I haven’t been clear enough: I believe that all manner of lawful opposition is justified in opposing human institutions that are unjust. I believe all measure of prayerful pleading is justified in opposing the Church if/when it has a policy/doctrine that is unjust. As should be clear, I think our response to unjustness should differ depending on the degree of authority and inspiration that we find in the institution.

  21. ronito
    June 5, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    I’ll spell it out again. My point is that Martin Luther at one point saw the authority Catholic church as the same way the GAs see the LDS authority now. It might matter to you as you have perspective, but Martin Luther didn’t have that then. Ergo his actions should be measured by the perspective he had then, not the perspective you have now. To us it’s just a “well duh!” thing. Not so to him.

    Oh well, I must not be making my point. So drop it.

  22. June 5, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    Julie, we do have differences.

    I believe in the universal priesthood of all true believers.

    If any organized church has doctrine that is unjust, I feel it is my duty to speak out. As Kevin mentioned, yes, tone is important. Yet loyalty to God, even beyond church officials, is most important.

    Let me use a family illustration. My wife should verbally confront me over any of my policies that are immoral and any of my doctrine that is off kilter. For me, this shows both love and loyalty.

    Sarah had every right to confront Abraham when he was veering off from true orthopraxy.

    Submission to any other human has its parameters.

  23. Mark IV
    June 5, 2007 at 4:34 pm


    I just read this in the Spring issue of the Journal of Mormon History last night. In an essay by Gary James Bergera entitled David O. McKay’s Presidencies we find this paragraph:

    An early example of [Hugh B.] Brown’s willingness to publicly voice an opinion on a politically and doctrinally charged topic occurred four months before his appointment as first counselor. In June 1963, Brown was interviewed by a New York Times reporter for an article on the Church’s century-old practice of prohibiting black males of African ancestry from being ordained to the priesthood…The newspaper article quoted Brown as saying ,”We are in the midst of a survey looking towards the possibility of admitting Negroes…The whole problem of the Negro is being considered by the leaders of the Church in the light of racial relationships everywhere.”

    Though evidently not authorized to disclose the hierarchy’s private deliberations, Brown may have wanted to test the waters regarding a possible shift in Church policy. McKay, on the other hand, worried about the possible breach of confidentiality and potentially divisive reverberations of Brown’s statements.”

    The article also goes on to describe the trouble that the priesthood ban caused for BYU. Ernest L. Wilkinson lobbied vigorously for the church to change its position. N. Eldon Tanner is quoted in a letter responding to Wilkinson that the First Presidency is open to the idea of changing the policy but that “Elder Lee is completely obstinate”.

  24. Julie M. Smith
    June 5, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Mark IV,

    Fascinating–thanks for the citation. It seems that it could be argued both ways: on the one hand, Pres. Brown did it, on the other hand, Pres. McKay didn’t like it. :)

    The part about Wilkinson surprises me–I thought he was very conservative?

  25. June 5, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    By today’s standards, he certainly was. But it may be useful to keep in mind that he built a still-busy Washington DC law firm representing native American tribes. I think he had more then-current political sensibilities than might have been prevalent in the inter-mountain west.

  26. Mark IV
    June 5, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Julie, yeah, there’s something to be said for doing things in order. I don’t think Brown was saying anything that wasn’t true because I’m sure they did have discussions about the policy and what to do about it. And to McKay’s credit, even though he didn’t like being surprised by a GA giving an impromptu news conference and disclosing their private deliberations, he still appointed Brown as a counselor in the First Presidency 4 months later.

    Re: Wilkinson, in this case, I think pragmatism overruled his conservative instincts.

  27. DavidH
    June 5, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    “N. Eldon Tanner is quoted in a letter responding to Wilkinson that the First Presidency is open to the idea of changing the policy but that ‘Elder Lee is completely obstinate’.”

    I suspect that Elder Lee’s opinion (“inspiration”) represented the views of many “iron rod” members of the Church at the time. He believed that the ban was divinely directed, and therefore could not be changed unless there was a “revelation” of a different sort than animated other changes in Church practices and policies. Thus, when, in his absence, all the other members of the Quorum approved a proposal to lift the ban, Elder Lee so strongly objected that the proposal was not implemented.

    Perhaps, had he lived, the ban would have still been lifted in 1978, but I am not sure he would have felt the same motivation as President Kimball in continually supplicating the Lord for a change.

  28. Nathaniel Scott Cannon
    June 5, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    The discussion between Julie and ronito highlights the question of the loyalty, uniformity and etiquette among general authorities in terms of both public and private disagreements. The example given by ronito of Martin Luther’s dissent from the Catholic Church implies that there is a time and place for public dissent among church authorities. Julie’s response is that the Martin Luther model does not apply to LDS general authorities since the churches and settings are not the same.

    My own initial thoughts on this subject were; first, a general authority of the church does not bear the responsibility of commenting on disputed or otherwise controversial unless directed or authorized by the President of the Church, and second, that dissent within the ranks so to speak could and would be responded to by censure and possible ecclesiastical actions from reprimand, releasing from position, to excommunication. It has been known to happen.

    That being said, Mark IV’s last comment (#23) recalls to mind the issues and discussions surrounding the problem of organic evolution. The Smith-Roberts debate over that theory was passionate and represented a deep theological and philosophical divide. Neither party was really censured, being simply instructed to let the matter rest and not make any public statements as if they were official. To me this leaves the question (of public dissent) quite up in the air.

    It is clear that church membership is cautioned against doctrinal dissent, or asserting personal views over official ones, but isn’t there still room for differences of opinion even among the upper echelons? Or, do you think that this kind of expression is discouraged among the ranks? If that is the case should the notion of non-dissention be applied equally to all church members, or is this onus left only on those who officially represent the Church? As members of the LDS Church does our responsibility lie primarily in solid uniformity or intellectual public discourse?

  29. Julie M. Smith
    June 5, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    Nathaniel Scott Cannon,

    That’s a very thoughtful comment. I would make a distinction: my understanding is that public dissent is frowned upon (to put it mildly) by GAs but that, in internal discussion, it is expected that they will make their cases and state their opinions. As to how this applies to members (who will never be in a position to voice their concern to a GA in a private setting), the issue is murkier: I opened with the “pray for change but don’t criticize publically” option, which as Kristine and Russell pointed out, is troubled by how we define “criticize” and “public.” And I don’t disagree with them on how problematic that is.

  30. Mark IV
    June 5, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    Elder Ballard has described the apostles as having a range of views, and has said that nobody in the quorum is “a shinking violet”. I read that to mean that they have disagreements, maybe sometimes very spirited ones. And elder Oaks, in his book The Lord’s Way has described how sometimes it takes months and even years for the leading councils to achieve consensus.

    Given that the general authorities have much more experience in the church than the rest of us, and they can still take years to arrive at a settled opinion, I think it behooves us all to be patient when one of the rank and file members can’t get on board immediately with a new policy.

  31. Julie M. Smith
    June 5, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    Mark IV,

    I’d add to your (very nice) comment: I often hear things in the nacle like “How come they won’t more clearly state the church’s position on [stem cells, evolution, what it means to preside in the home, etc.]” and I think, maybe because they can’t agree on what it is.

  32. soul rebel
    June 5, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    Taking into account the fact that Joseph Smith himself ordained black males into the priesthood, I wonder why a revelation was needed to do it again? Brigham Young laid down protocol in disallowing the priesthood to black people. Did he receive a revelation to do so?

  33. ronito
    June 5, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    Perhaps my point is better made by Orson Pratt and the Adam-God theory. An apostle at the time he was far from not criticizing publically. He spoke publically and even published articles against it. It wasn’t until Brigham Young threatened to kick him out that Orson stopped. But after BY’s death the whole thing was taken out of the endowment ceremony and Spencer W. Kimball came out and denounced it as false doctrine. And Pratt was, in a way, vindicated.

    Imagine how much easier our lives would be if more people were like Orson Pratt and spoke out against the Adam God theory.

  34. Julie M. Smith
    June 5, 2007 at 7:39 pm


    In your example, it appears that Pratt’s effect on BY’s thinking was . . . absolutely nothing. But I wonder what effect the very public debate had on those who were sitting on the fence in regards to believing that BY was a prophet or in deciding to follow his counsel on moral matters.

    In other words, since public brawls tend not to change the mind of a prophet but tend to affect the thinking of weak members re the authority and reliability of the prophet, I find it hard to make a better case for the “pray and don’t criticize” stance than your Pratt and BY one.

    This case seems particularly egregious in that, presumably, Pratt had all the opportunity in the world to speak privately with BY on the matter. If private discussions didn’t work, then going to the press becomes not an effort to enlighten BY but to convince the public to side with Pratt. I am more sympathetic to the issue Kristine raised–the average member who doesn’t have a chance to make her or his case to the prophet.

  35. It's Not Me
    June 5, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    #26: “he still appointed Brown as a counselor in the First Presidency 4 months later.”

    I respectfully disagree. I believe it was the Lord that called Elder Brown to that position, not the President. The Prophet extended the call, but he can’t really be given credit for that. In my opinion.

  36. ronito
    June 5, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    Ah true, but then, imagine if it wasn’t just Pratt, what if half or more of the apostles spoke out against it. No one changed BY’s mind but BY, this much is true. But it could’ve lead to perhaps more people being unwilling to accept it as doctrine. And the effect of those sitting on the fence whether or not to follow the practice would’ve been to perhaps have them not practice this now accepted as false doctrine, which we can both agree would have been a good thing.

  37. Mark IV
    June 5, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    It’s Not Me, # 35 –

    You are absolutely correct. Your words are what I would have said, had I been thinking.

  38. TMD
    June 5, 2007 at 7:57 pm


    In re the ML example, there is evidence he at first thought he was following a norm of the local scholarly community and submitting questions for discussion, rather than breaking away. Indeed, I think one could well argue that without the introduction of German and wider Roman politics into the dispute, he may not have been excommunicated, and there may not have been any Lutheran reformation. So I’m not sure your example is as good as you think.

  39. Julie M. Smith
    June 5, 2007 at 9:03 pm

    ronito, your statement only works if you think that, on average, the prophet is teaching more false doctrine than true. While I don’t think his batting average is perfect, I think it is a lot better than 50%.

  40. June 5, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    Julie, this brought up so many thoughts.

    Taking into account the fact that Joseph Smith himself ordained black males into the priesthood, I wonder why a revelation was needed to do it again? Brigham Young laid down protocol in disallowing the priesthood to black people. Did he receive a revelation to do so?

    I have often wondered this myself. Do we require a revelation to “undo” something that was instituted without revelation?

    The same questions have come to my mind about women and the priesthood. Were women banned due to the cultural expectation? Or was there a specific revelation about it? I’ve never heard any refer to the former.

    Once when I was young a teacher explained that the scriptures were for all of us and that “man” in the scriptures just meant “mankind.” I said, “Except the stuff about the priesthood?” Blank stare.

    Since ALL the scriptures do not apply to women, I’ve always wondered how I could really tell which ones did. As a child, I extended that to wondering if ANY of them really applied to me, since I could never find any source to direct us specifically to which ones were reserved only for men.

    Sorry, I’m getting too far off topic.

    Julie, I think looking to this example is wonderful and appropriate, but I have sometimes felt that my prayers in such efforts wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

  41. Julie M. Smith
    June 5, 2007 at 9:41 pm


    I’m too lazy to sign up to comment on your blog, but I think that your choice of garments and women’s concerns is a very interesting one for you to have picked. The design of women’s garments was turned by Pres. McKay over to Rose Marie Reid, a woman who was a big-time-famous bathing suit designer. I think it is safe to say that she was aware of issues related to women’s underclothing. Now, this was obviously a while ago and there have been some redesigns since then–I don’t know the story behind those. But I mention this because it seems like, yes, on the face of it a bunch of old men aren’t going to know thing one about nursing clothing but in this case, they turned it over to someone who did. So thus I retain my faith in the ability of male octogenarians to run my church.

  42. paula
    June 5, 2007 at 10:28 pm

    Alison, I also don’t want to sign up to comment on the blog, and sorry for the threadjack Julie, but there was a long discussion about this at feministmormonhousewives awhile ago, and an address is posted there for expressing opinions about garments:

    I share your pain over garments.

  43. adcama
    June 5, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    “….may I suggest that one approach to doctrines/policies that we don’t like would be to pray for them to change and not air our grievances in public.\”

    Doesn\’t this slightly contradict some of our very important doctrine on faith vs. works? What about D&C 58:27-28?

    I\’ve always thought that sustaining our leaders meant that we tactfully express our opinions when their idea is bound to be a train wreck. How is it helpful to smile and pray as we watch them step over a cliff? (sounds arrogant, but it\’s not meant to be). However, I guess maybe it’s the airing of grievances in PUBLIC that’s at issue……seems right that it is important to share concerns privately – because it\’s the respectful thing to do – and because I suppose I\’d rather be made aware of something I may have missed in a private setting (it sucks when you publicly dissent from a position because you don\’t have all the facts or had some of the facts wrong). Lots more people to laugh at you :).

    A couple things I struggle with; 1) I don\’t have a direct line to the brethren when I want to discuss concerns with them privately, nor is there an anonymous suggestion box next to the tithing envelopes. 2) (a little more seriously) Aren\’t we kinda showing our approval/support for things we might not necessarily agree with when we just sit quietly? Is that the right thing to do? 3) Is some form of discussion/controlled dissent such a bad thing? I like the fact that our leaders look at blogs like T & S, maybe that’s all the feedback they need – but if I were in charge of a huge organization like the church, I’d like to know what’s being discussed between those insightful rank & file members. I don’t feel like there is a good forum for candid discussion among the top brass and overflow sitters like me – perhaps I’ve just never been so lucky to discover it.

  44. Nathaniel Scott Cannon
    June 5, 2007 at 10:58 pm


    You seem to be advocating public dissent as an effective and positive tool for doctrinal or policy reformation. I disagree with that notion entirely. Since you brought up the Adam-God Young-Pratt argument I will illustrate in that context.

    I whole heartedly disagree with Elder Pratt’s approach for one main reason; doctrinal issues should be matters of revelation, not public opinion. What Elder Pratt essentially did was wage a public campaign of doctrinal dissent (i.e. the Martin Luther model). Whether he was right or not doctrinally he was hijacking authority. The kind of church that I signed up for is one of revelation not promotion.

    That being said, public discourse can lead to beneficial changes within the theological paradigm. Not to be too repetitive, but the Smith-Roberts evolution debate is an example of where keeping debates hidden was detrimental to the general membership. The entire exchange was kept completely private until later publication of First Presidency minutes and other communications in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. As a result the LDS community went through a decades-long period under the impression that the doctrinal position of the Church was anti-evolution, which was not really true.

    So the question is, where’s the balance, and where does the lay member fit in? .


  45. Nathaniel Scott Cannon
    June 5, 2007 at 11:35 pm

    Adcama – Great! Overflow sitters! That’s how I feel most of the time, but are we missing the point that doctrine never really was established democratically? True, there have always been influences from many people in shaping and growing Mormon theology, but when did the general body of the Church ever receive the mandate to dictate or change policy?

    I think your choice of words is indicative of how some see the issue: “their ideas”, “stepping over a cliff”, etc. The presupposition of the source of these policies has everything to do with how one decides to appropriately dissent (which was really the impetus of the whole discussion). I wouldn’t underestimate the power of smiling or of praying!

    All – Re: the Black and the Priesthood issue, I’d read Ronald Esplin’s article (Spring 1979 BYU Studies Journal Vol 19 p 394) if you haven’t already. For nearly 30 years there has been little more to clarify from where or from whom the policy came. That is, to my knowledge anyway. Anyone know of some more recent scholarly research in this area?


  46. David Brosnahan
    June 5, 2007 at 11:46 pm

    I agree with you Julie. Also, because I don’t know, I will also give Pres. Young the benefit of faith that he was inspired to initiate the painful restriction which I am glad has now been lifted. However, due to McConkie’s quote “Forget everything I have said, or what…Brigham Young…or whomsoever has said…that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world” we don’t have to apoligize for the incorrect, speculative interpretations of scripture that may have been created out of a desire to justify the difficult policy. This is a good lesson on why we should shy away from speculation. What we speculate may be more damaging than the policy or doctine we are trying to defend.

  47. adcama
    June 6, 2007 at 12:21 am

    I apologize for the textual imperfections in #43 – first time poster here :).

    Nathaniel – true, the church differs in many regards from a pure democracy, but it’s not completely undemocratic (thus our sustaining of our leaders, counsels, etc). One could argue that since the common body of the church has sustaining authority, they are charged at some level to have input (“dictate” is probably too strong) relative to policy. Different leaders have different personalities and will therefore drive things in different directions (i.e. you may see different policy from different leaders).

    Perceptive to note that I do see some of the decisions made at a functional/policy (and perhaps even doctrinal) level as “their decisions.” The reason for that – I think – is well founded. I’m not sure anyone would argue that the brethren, even as a generally inspired collective body, have never made relevant mistakes. Maybe you’re right (if I understood you correctly) – we have no “mandate” to keep church leaders away from “cliffs” – but are you saying even cliffs are guided by inspiration? I don’t necessarily think so. I guess we have a hard choice to make if we’re asked to follow what we see as a cliff bound/imperfect/perhaps not exactly “from above” policy – it’s especially tough to just stay on our knees and not dissent more loudly when we believe it’s obvious that others may take a nasty fall and get hurt. I suppose that just like everything else, there is a happy in-between.

  48. June 6, 2007 at 1:45 am

    I think it is safe to say that she was aware of issues related to women’s underclothing.

    I remember your post on this last year, but I’m not sure how it would change my statement. It’s looking to me like she did her design when she was nearing about 60 years old. Which is just a tad past both child-bearing and child-bearing-related (was that convoluted enough?) age. Yes, she has some information about both, but they aren’t something she was dealing with on a practical level anymore.

    My blog said, “…I was pretty darned sure that none of the 70-plus-year-old men in Salt Lake were praying about practical garment styles for “that time of the month.”

    A few points: (1) I’m not sure how asking a 59+ woman to design them is addressing my…ahem…issue much. (2) The specific methods used in the 50’s aren’t even available anymore, so garments designed to accommodate them, don’t necessarily accommodate current methods. (3) I still don’t think any male leaders actively pray about women’s garment design on a regular basis and doubt it would be something they would even consider UNLESS a woman said something to them. And who in the world is going to bring this up with a general authority, except maybe his wife? (And since all their wives are past child-bearing age, do they sit about fussing over it?)

    I want to volunteer to be a beta tester for the next round of designs. :)

    Still, when Emma was annoyed at the tobacco mess, she brought it up directly to the guy who could do something about it. I would guess she did it respectfully, but she didn’t just pray and hope he would be as concerned about cleanliness, etc., as she was. Isn’t there an example that we could follow lurking in that story, as well?

  49. June 6, 2007 at 7:50 am

    Hey Alison,

    Just curious… What’s stopping you from making your own garments from better designed clothing?

    I don’t think it’s addressed in the temple recommend interview (although I’m pretty sure the Handbook of Instructions has dire things to say about it).

  50. adcama
    June 6, 2007 at 9:39 am


    I think you’re right with the example of Emma. How do the brethren know what potential issues to pray about (D&C 9) if those issues are never brought up by the common member? Maybe the question should be, besides praying and hoping, what’s the forum (if there is one) for upward feedback from the rank and file? Does the emphasis on not criticizing cause a reluctance for upward feedback?

    On the garments thing, there is good recent precedence for garment changes. The church recently approved and has for sale at distribution centers military garments that are desert brown and internally marked. I’d be interested in knowing exactly how those changes came about, but it probably got started when someone decided to go to the appropriate people and explain why the white externally marked garments didn’t work in Iraq and Afghanistan, no?

  51. Keith
    June 6, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    “At the risk of draining the lifeblood of the bloggernacle, may I suggest that one approach to doctrines/policies that we don’t like would be to pray for them to change and not air our grievances in public?”

    One of the reasons I think this is right is that it’s hard to see how airing such grievances in a public way doesn’t almost always amount to murmuring — something which affects the unity of the saints and which also blocks us from yielding our hearts to God. Murmuring, in other words, does public and private damage. What you propose is a way to still be submissive to God and to air our concerns truthfully (and it is only by remembering our condition before God that we can be fully truthful).

    In this regard I find a comment by Nibley helpful: “People use perceived imperfections of the Church as a pretext for them to relax their own personal moral standards. The psychologists tell us regarding our own emotional feelings not to keep these feelings bottled up too tight, because it can lead to an explosion. So what should we do? Be like the importunate widow and complain. Itemize your griefs, your doctrinal objections, your personal distastes. Lay them all out in full detail and get it out of your system. (You may wonder why people see me talking so much to myself.) With this understanding—you will do all this before the only Person qualified to judge either you or your tormentors. As you bring your complaints, be fully aware that he knows everything already—including everything there is to know about you.” (“Criticizing the Brethren,” 23-24)

    Additionally, it seems to me that the airing of grievances (especially when done in a spirit of contention, criticism, or (even mild) rebellion), may have exactly the opposite effect that one hopes for. Why, the thinking might go, should we take a particular action when those who are protesting or arguing for such an action don’t seem to have a willingness to obey God’s will anyway.

  52. Julie M. Smith
    June 6, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you, Keith.

    Another perspective that occurred to me: if someone comes to me and tells me that they don’t like the Church’s position on XYZ, I usually start giving logical or scriptural or traditional reasons in defense of XYZ. I wonder what would happen if I simply said, “Well, if you really feel that way, you should pray for XYZ to change.” Because, frankly, most of the time, I don’t convince anyone anyway.

  53. S Hardy
    June 6, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    I am puzzled by some of the conclusions drawn by very interesting case histories presented.

    My conclusions would be this:
    1. It is very hard to find anyone who remembers the old policy with fondness. Everyone claims to have hated it. As far as I can tell, there has been little (or no) push by “fundamentalists” to re-implement the policy. Is it possible that some did like it, and won’t admit it? Or is this a case of everyone keeping something going, even though they hated it?

    2. “(And, you’ll note, their approach worked.)” This is curious indeed. What if nobody had complained about the policy… would it have changed? Was it changed because of the quiet prayers of the faithful, or was it changed because of intense social pressure? It is hard for me to believe that without strong social pressure that the policy would have been examined and changed.

  54. Josh
    June 6, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    “Elder Ballard has described the apostles as having a range of views, and has said that nobody in the quorum is “a shinking violet”. I read that to mean that they have disagreements, maybe sometimes very spirited ones. And elder Oaks, in his book The Lord’s Way has described how sometimes it takes months and even years for the leading councils to achieve consensus.”

    So after living good lives and devoting themselves to the service of the Lord, many times they receive different answers when they go to the Lord for direction. This would appear to make personal revelation a very tenuous, unreliable means of finding answers. So when we are told to find out for ourselves, not to be led blindly, it is difficult to feel that there is accuracy in the answers we receive when even the brethren don’t seem to find it.

  55. Melanie
    June 6, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    “sometimes it takes months and even years for the leading councils to achieve consensus.”

    Is it possible that this lack of consensus is a council-level equivalent of a “stupor of thought”? It may not be a “no” answer in all cases, but it sounds like at least a “not yet” from the Lord. That seems to be how the apostles have reacted to it, in that they won’t move forward without the consensus.

  56. It's Not Me
    June 6, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    #54 – I think your comment assumes that the brethren believe they received answers to their individual prayers before discussing an issue. That doesn’t make much sense to me. I tend to think of their “discussions” more as brain storming under the guidance of the Spirit. I think most of them would confess that they’re usually just having a discussion, not each claiming that they were inspired in their individual comments.

  57. Josh
    June 6, 2007 at 10:12 pm

    True, they would probably discuss the issue, study it out in their minds, but would eventually turn to the Lord for guidance to know if they are in line with His will. It doesn’t make sense to me that they would discuss an issue for months or years without trying to receive guidance.

  58. August
    June 7, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    The Lord has already put into place the mechanism for guiding His church. There are at least 14 other chosen men capable of giving counsel to the prophet not unlike Jethro counseled Moses. I find it hard to believe that all of them would be totally unaware of an approaching \”cliff\”. If by chance one believes they can guide the church better than those 15 inspired men they always have the option of going up the priesthood chain or writing the brethren directly. In the end the real question is \”Does the Lord guide this church or not?\” If the Lord is truly at the helm he will not let His church go over that \”cliff\”. The questions that then remain are why did the Lord allow the ban on the priesthood to blacks and why did he wait so long to end it?

    I don\’t think there is any harm in speculating the “whys\” of the ban: a test, no body bothered to ask, it wasn\’t the time etc. In fact I believe the Lord wants us to try to understand his purposes and what we must learn by the trials we go through. I have known several people who had serious concerns with the way the church was run, and in both cases going public to get things changed didn\’t help the church and served them even less well. I might be wrong, but the command to \”seek not to counsel the Lord thy God\” may also apply to the way he runs his church and administers revelation. This does not mean a prophet can\’t ask the Lord for clarification or a change like Abraham, Moses or even Spencer Kimball did at one time or another, but that didn\’t go so well for Joseph Smith and his 116 pages.

  59. June 8, 2007 at 3:17 am

    Having seen the circumstances surrounding the lifting of the ban from a European perspective, knowing something of what was going on in Africa at the time from those who have been involved closely with it, I have been convinced all along that the lifting of the ban had little to do with public or private dissent within or without the mainstream Church. It had a lot more to do with the critical mass of Africans who were not only ready, but actively seeking to be part of the Church, and who have brought tremendous wisdom and righteousness with them. This says nothing about unworthiness of men of African descent anywhere else, only that they are not the only worthy men of African descent, that the ones in Africa at the time constituted a substantial resource for the Lord to use in bringing the Church out of its position as “an American church” and onto the world scene. Those men were known by the Lord, and by those in authority, if not by those in a position to speak out in the Valley. Have a read of Glenn Pace’s “Safe Journey”.

  60. Ironic
    June 10, 2007 at 11:02 am

    Does this discussion suggest that one who is frustrated with the Church\’s institutional and cultural lack of methods of expressing loyal and meaningful dissent should pray that this institutional and cultural characteristic change? How would we know when it does? Would we wait for a revelation to tell us that now we can express our opinions more openly?

    For those who have tried this method: how does it feel?

  61. annegb
    June 10, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    I found this quote on-line somewhere:

    “there is something Christ-like in supporting people in their callings when they are not doing all that well at them.” They’re going to use it in the bulletin next week and I wonder who will think they are not doing all that well.

    I remember where I was and what I was doing when they announced the lift of the priesthood ban. I only remember that about a couple of other things. Like Brother Holland, I cried like a baby.

    You know, prayer, what a concept. I always have to be reminded to pray about stuff. Go figure.

  62. Randy
    June 11, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    There is a lot of Folklore concerning the psthd ban, but the story that most sounds likely to me is that the brethren were praying for the wrong thing. The D&C specifically tells us how to go about making decisions. To paraphrase, we study it out, pray for inspiration and then make a decision. We then take that decision to God for confirmation. I heard it attributed from a GA that the decision was just never made. It was as simple as that. The Brethren were afraid to make the decision for a number of reasons and God chose not to make the decision for them. It was only when President Kimball went back to the D&C, read the passage concerning decision making, and then took a decision to God, who ratified that decision. Only then was the ban lifted.

    Under this story, the circumstances for the continuation of the ban become obvious. Fear was really the only reason.

    This concept of prayer and decision making can remove a lot of frustration from seemingly unanswerable questions and challenges.

  63. Tim C.
    June 25, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    I think most people have generally missed the whole point of what this discussion should be about.

    Post 58 got the question, but didn’t seem to come to the conslusion that he should have.

    The questions that then remain are why did the Lord allow the ban on the priesthood to blacks and why did he wait so long to end it?

    Would God order such a ban? No. God chose the Levites in the OT to have the priesthood, and no one else. But was that according to their skin color? No, he chose them as the first born of Israel that He saved out of Egypt. He never hear of God changing this either.

    God comes down on the prophet Samuel way back in the OT in 1 Samuel 16:7 for judging on outward apperences. God informs Samuel that He judges men’s hearts and not there appearances as man does. Much later in the NT we are told that God makes no distinctions between different cultures. Colossians 3:11 says, “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Galatians 3:28 says similarly.

    However, in the Book of Mormon, it states many time that people are “white and delightsome” and “dark and loathsome.” These are racist statements used to describe people either possitively and negatively by their skin color. This is something that I’ve come to realize that God would never do. God made our skin and all the colors that it comes in. The darker or lighter our skin is benefits us depending on what climate we live in. But leaders of the LDS church would have us believe that dark skin is a curse is which is not true.

    Brigham Young stated: “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 10:110).

    Notice that Brigham said that “this will always be so.” Obviously it is not like that today, which makes that claim of this prophet false. For anyone who thinks that you can’t count this against Brigham because he was speaking of himself. He also said, “I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture” (Journal of Discourses (vol 13, page 95).

    Now there is many other things that the GA has said in last hundred years that shows they have viewed African Americans as inferior. This is one reason that we had my family’s records removed. Now the racism in the LDS church has gotten much lighter. Hinckley would never have said what Brigham said, but it is still there. It’s still in the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, and Book of Moses and it didn’t come from God. All are equal in God’s eyes, and He doesn’t have favorites. Whosoever will draw themselves near to God, God will also draw near to.

  64. June 25, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    “… we had my family’s records removed. Now the racism in the LDS church has gotten much lighter …”

Comments are closed.