“Who Do We Want at Church?”

As I was brainstorming about starting the safe-space group that I mentioned in a previous post, it was December 2021, and I started seeing people commenting online about the upcoming final (or nearly final) lesson in gospel doctrine that would cover the two official declarations. Since those cover what are generally considered controversial topics—polygamy and Blacks and priesthood—lots of people were interested in whether their wards would cover those topics, and if so how they would approach it.

So since I was thinking about how to talk about hard issues, the morning of that lesson, I pitched the idea to my wife— who was then the gospel doctrine teacher—that I teach a lesson on “how do we talk about difficult issues related to church history?” for the GD lesson.

She was a bit apprehensive, but said okay, and I started brainstorming ideas. But as I did so, I felt the strong impression, “Run the idea by the ward council first.”

Doing so was an interesting experience, and long story short, the council’s very strong feelings against me doing such a thing had me texting my wife asking her to teach the lesson as originally planned. Their strong reaction made it pretty clear that my proposed lesson was not going to go well, and I’d been at the bishop thing long enough to know that trying to force-feed members ideas and plans that they’re balking at tends not to go well.

My experience with proposing that idea to the council was a big learning experience. 1) (the biggest!) The vast majority of members (if my ward is representative which I think it is) DO NOT want to talk about the controversial stuff. I think I’d gotten the (mistaken) impression that a much higher percentage did want to talk about such things from all my time on the Bloggernacle. SOME people do, but they are a minority (I’d say probably no more than 15 percent in most wards). As my EQ pres said after I proposed the idea, “Go off with your little group of people who want to talk about such things, and leave the rest of us alone.” So that’s what I did (my safe-space group). So yeah, he was a little gruff but ultimately correct, I found.

2) Another issue that came up in the meeting is one I want to discuss more on this blog: some apprehension that promoting more open discussion in the hopes of helping less orthodox people stay in the church could itself be somewhat concerning in that it could lead to the spread of unorthodoxy by such people.

It was a pretty intense meeting and afterwards I felt a strong impression to prepare remarks for the next week’s meeting as a follow up. I felt prompted to begin that second meeting with the title of this post, “Who do we want at church?”

For context, I told the story of the time I’d been in Richard Bushman’s 2008 seminar to discuss how to help people with faith crises over church history. We would spend a chunk of the day researching, another discussing, and another chunk with the various guest speakers Bushman would bring in. John Dehlin* (still a member at that point) was one of the many guests he had come speak to us. I’d not heard of John before that, but some of the guys (older professors) were upset Bushman invited him, and others were bugged by those who were upset, and we had a big debate about it the next day.

One summarized his issues with Dehlin by simply saying, “he doesn’t believe many of the important things that we believe,” and after some discussion, Bushman asked us all the question that I repeated to my council: “who do we want at church?” We then discussed and Robert Woodford, an older guy who’s since passed and had a lot of church leadership experience gave the summary: “we want everyone at church. It doesn’t matter what people believe unless they are actively causing problems.”

To that statement, I chimed in (in the 2008) meeting. I’d been an eq pres for a bit and knew it could be hard to get the guys to do stuff and wondered what it would be like to try to motivate a group full of Dehlins to do their home teaching. To my concerns, Woodford and the group pushed back: tons of guys don’t do their home teaching. We don’t kick them out unless they are actively causing problems. Everyone is welcome who wants to come. We don’t police what they believe in order to attend.

So those ward council meetings were important learning experiences, but I’m interested in thoughts on some of the uneasiness that my suggestions created for some of my ward members, and the uneasiness some in Bushman’s 2008 seminar (including me at the time) had over people participating in the church while having unorthodox beliefs. What about when local leaders (like I was) have unorthodox beliefs also? Is that problematic, and if so, how? What about Woodford and Bushman’s assertion that church acceptance (welcoming people) has nothing to do with their beliefs? Again “Who do we want at church?”

* Yes I know he is controversial and don’t really want to make this post a debate about him. So can we avoid that?

29 comments for ““Who Do We Want at Church?”

  1. My experience as a political liberal and progressive Mormon and just watching others is that you better keep your mouth shut. My experience having a LGBT child is you better keep it secret unless you are sobbing over their status as lost forever. My experience as an independent politically is that I could only talk about the half of my beliefs that republicans supported. Republicans get to talk, independents don’t, and Democrats better make a self depreciating joke about how they are so unrighteous they are gasp, a Democrat. If you knew about any false teachings, keep your mouth shut. Never mention such things as Marsh didn’t leave the church over milk strippings, he left over polygamy. But Brigham Young wanted to pretend polygamy wasn’t a problem, so he lied. Brigham pretended polygamy had nothing to do with Joseph’s death, or the absolute “lies” (which were all true) that came out in that newspaper that upset Joseph so much he destroyed the printing office. If you have any personal experience that might not fit with the rosy picture of “stay on the covenant path and live happily ever after” just stay silent. If you brought your children up with FHE, attendance, and living the gospel and they didn’t stay in the church shut up. If you think the Garden of Eden was an allegory, better not bring it up in class.

    People don’t want reality, they want to be reassured that *they* are righteous and that nothing horrible like wayward or gay children will happen to them. They want reassurance of the prosperity gospel. They want to believe that if they pay their tithing they will be blessed financial, unlike that other sucker who lost his job. They do NOT want to mourn with those who mourn, but just be reassured that all is well in Zion. They want to live in a sweet reassuring fairytale. They don’t want controversy or hard questions, like why do the righteous suffer. They want reassurance that the righteous are always happy. It is one reason they victim blame the poor and suffering and select the wealthy for leadership.

    Now, not all Mormons are like that, not even the majority, but enough are that if you disturb their world they push back. They want unthinking orthodox happy pablum. Sorry, but I like real loving compassionate people who live in reality, not ones building mansions in heaven and moving in prematurely.

  2. Thanks for posting that video, Dan, though I’m not sure exactly what you are critiquing. Obviously I didn’t suggest anything about drawing people in with pop music or avoiding deeper conversations. As Anna said, deeper conversations is usually what people who are struggling want and often can’t find at church.

    I would see what we do in the safe-space group I mentioned as very much in line with Sister Wixam’s talk. I’m curious to know more about what you see as problematic in some of the suggestions I proposed.

    Anna, indeed, and in my next post I’m thinking of posting about a more specific example.

  3. 16 years after my faith-crisis started I can say with total confidence that my local leaders want me in the pews for two reasons: me being present fulfills their duty to the ward/numbers and it gives them/the ward/the ‘spirit’ the opportunity to influence me in becoming more traditional like them. However, they don’t actually want *me*.

  4. Stephen,

    You left your story incomplete! It ended with the flashback to your 2008 meeting, but you don’t describe what happened in the follow-up ward council when you asked this question to those who don’t want to talk about controversial things.

    My wife had a similar experience in our ward when she was called to be on the Relief Society Activities Committee specifically to make the RS activities more inclusive. She would point out ways the plans were not inclusive, suggest changes to make the activity more inclusive, and then the RS presidency would shy away from those changes and put the plans back to the traditional ways. They would actually say they were uncomfortable doing things inclusively.

    This is a good post, and I think this gets at a core part of the issue: active church members know they *should* want everyone at church, and they want to *think* they want everyone at church, but they don’t *actually* want everyone at church. And much of the time when they are saying “we want everyone at church”, what they mean is “we want everyone to think and feel and do the same as us, which means they’ll be at church like we are”. When it comes down to the question of facing differences, they choose in favor of not facing them, and not welcoming those who do face them. Whether you meant this in your paraquote of the EQ president, the language there (“go off”, “leave the rest of us alone”) isn’t just that they don’t want to talk about those things, it’s that they don’t want the people around who bring those things up.

    I suspect that, similar to your 15% of people who want to talk about controversial things, probably not more than 15% of people at church want non-homogenous people attending (I’m not saying the 15% are the same people in both cases). And I don’t think that is going to change. Like you said, if only 15% of the people are even willing to talk about it, the ones who are not are very unlikely to realize they are unwelcoming, change their perspective so they want heterogeneity at church, and then update their behavior to actually welcome everyone.

  5. Stephen, I don’t think anyone wants to exclude anyone else or stop them from coming to church, unconventional views or not. And it’s not that unusual to hear unconventional things at church – it’s not like newly baptized members suddenly know every point of doctrine or the right phrases to use. If you know your fellow ward members well, you can probably look around on any given Sunday and spot a few people whose lives are in tension with the handbook or the temple recommend questions.

    Giving people an opportunity to get together and talk about their concerns seems like it could be useful, but the muted enthusiasm from some quarters is understandable. If you have one person concerned about tithing, another about polygamy, and another about Book of Mormon geography, how do you avoid ending up with a group of people who are all concerned about all three issues? How do you avoid creating a group that sees itself as the enlightened few in contrast to the superficial and uninformed masses? And how do you distinguish someone who’s looking for a way to discuss and resolve concerns from someone who’s looking for a platform for their criticism? That’s less of an issue with a local, ward-based group, but seems like it could be a real problem online.

    I don’t recognize the church that Anna describes in her comment. Frankly her comment seems like a long list of crappy things to say about the church and its leaders and members, and I wouldn’t be enthusiastic about a group featuring that type of material. It seems like deep discussions could too easily be crowded out by shallow critiques.

  6. I think many commenters bring up a place where the rub is, and one that Bushman was referring to when he asked the question, “Who do we want at church?” And that’s the question of belief. Again, the guy in the 2008 seminar said he had a problem with Bushman invited Dehlin since Dehlin didn’t believe much of the orthodox doctrine, and Bushman responded in his “Who do we want” way. So Bushman, back by Woodruff, were asserting that they felt that we as members wanted to make room for people with unorthodox beliefs “as long as they weren’t creating a problem.”

    So what does “creating a problem” look like? Woodruff (if I recall) basically said trying to get people to leave the church, and I have to say, I’ve encountered occasional unorthodox stuff, but I’m never encountered anyone at church trying to get others to leave. So based on my experience, I’d assume that’s pretty rare.

    I’ve encountered a few who do voice frustration, but in my experience, such people don’t want to keep coming to church, and will either drop out, or wait till they’re feeling better about things to come back.

    So that’s kind of the heart of the question I was curious to ask, how to we feel about the unorthodox coming?

    And truth be told, when I asked my ward council that question to begin the meeting the follow week, I was talking about myself as much as anyone else. Literally I was asking if I (was the bishop at that time) was welcome because the prior meeting got pretty tense to the point that I wondered.

    So to answer your question Sideshow, what happened the next week as that as soon as I was done with church that first week, I felt a very strong impression that I was to prepare for next Sunday and to say what God told me to say. I started with the 2008 story and the question “who do we want at church.” I felt strongly impressed not to open the question up to the whole group to but specifically asked to guys in the front. The mentor guy I’d mentioned in previous posts who said he agreed that we wanted everyone as long as they aren’t causing problems, and then I asked the other guy, the eqp and he simply said, “Well, doesn’t the sign say visitors welcome?”

    I then gave something of an autobiography of why I’d felt prompted at various points in my life to research what I had. All that happened related to that meeting is quite a long story, but 1) it was pretty intense (I had like 4 panic attacks that month) 2) I learned a lot from the experience, and 3) I was eventually able to smooth things over that needed to be.

    I’ll answer Jonathan in it’s own comment.

  7. You definitely address lots of issues at the heart of what I wanted to discuss here, Jonathan. The parameters I listed in the comments on this post (https://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php/2024/03/different-church-experiences-and-the-command-to-mourn-with-those-that-mourn/) I found worked quite well: you can be different but not better, the purpose of the group is to help people stay, but it’s a safe space for people to bring up questions and concerns.

    I found it worked really well, and group members have told me it’s played a big role in helping them stay. So I guess this brings me back to the point I made in the previous comment: are we uncomfortable helping people stay who have unorthodox beliefs? Is that seen as creating something problematic for wards and the church as a whole. Again, coming back to what that 2008 group member said to Bushman and Bushman’s response.

    For me, I’m very good with wanting to help people to stay and okay with them having unorthodox resolutions. Again, my group members told me I helped them stay. Is that okay? :)

    Ultimately, perhaps you and I had a different experience with the Bloggernacle. I did find it a helpful place to hear voices of people who had concerns I did but still wanted to be faithful members. I wasn’t totally sure there was such a thing before reading Kevin Barney’s blog post on prop 8 back in 2008. That meant a lot.

    And yes, we know it’s been something of the wild west here, but I’ve also observed many standards of blog policing that I actually thought would be good rubrics for my group: don’t be self-righteous and if you really hate the church this probably isn’t the best place fro you (I know that gets unevenly applied). But at the end of the day, the Bloggernacle was and is a helpful place for me. Sharing ideas seems like a good thing to me, even if some of us are annoying. :)

  8. When I was in the beginning stages of faith crisis / deconstruction, a previous stake president and then-current patriarch gave a sacrament talk in which he mentioned the new Gospel Topics Essays. I had read the essays, but hadn’t heard them discussed openly before. I approached this brother and asked if I could talk through some things and he agreed.

    We met the next week and I dumped way too much way too fast about things in church history that gave me grief. His response was, “Well, the church isn’t for everyone. Maybe you would be more comfortable elsewhere.” I inferred that he was afraid that I would spread my concerns to other ward members. I was just really confused that he brought up the controversial topics in sacrament meeting, but then signaled that he didn’t really want to see these things discussed.

    It is super important for me to have a place to discuss these tough topics while remaining “inside the club.” If this Safe Space meeting didn’t exist, I may have taken that patriarch’s advice by now and retired. I find validation that I have legitimate concerns and I am not alone in the struggle.

  9. I am completely certain that, if asked, members of my ward would almost unanimously say that I am welcome at church. I am nearly as certain that a pretty large portion of those same people don’t actually want people LIKE me at church. I get that second message fairly often.

    Jonathan Green, part of the difference between your perception and Anna’s might be that you don’t hear the comments in the same way. I know that when I have asked others what they think of ward members bringing their politics into church discussions, most don’t remember that politics were part of the discussion. If you honestly think your politics actually are church doctrine, you won’t recognize that you are talking about politics. I once said something to a few people about a bishopric member’s testimony that we shouldn’t have questions because we already have all the answers, but no one I talked with even remembered that he had said it. I hosted a family home evening that ended up including very negative comments about gay members said by people looking at a photograph of my gay daughter. I’m sure those neighbors only thought they were expressing support for church doctrine, but that is not how the comments landed on me.

    “Not a problem for me” is not the same thing as “not a problem at all.”

  10. Stephen, I think stating those two things at the outset – different but not better, the goal is to help people to stay – is really important. Thanks for reminding me.

    PWS, I’m not sure why you think I wouldn’t hear comments in the same way. I’d try to process them differently, of course. I try not to subject people’s testimony’s to too close of scrutiny because they’re unscripted and I’d rather have people speak from their hearts, even if the thoughts that come out aren’t perfectly polished. I’m sorry people said unkind things about your daughter. I’ve been in a position to provide feedback about an unspecified church event, and one piece of feedback was that adult leaders at the event should under no circumstances make disparaging political comments.

    When you say some people don’t want “people like me” at church, what do you mean? I can’t say that such people don’t exist, but in the most recent example I know, the one person who sincerely didn’t want someone at church was outnumbered by a dozen others (at least) who did and ended up moving to another state.

  11. I’m enjoying this series so far and looking forward to more. A few years ago while I was RSP one of the other ward leaders gave me a copy of “Bridges: Ministering to those who question” by David Ostler. A point made in the book is that most people who are in “faith crisis” really want to stay and need acceptance, validation, and support but are usually pushed out instead because other church members feel threatened by them or consider them unfaithful. Your “safe space” group sounds like exactly what the author was trying to promote.

  12. I’ve been reading this series (and the responses) with interest, but have to comment on this one to endorse “We want everyone at church. It doesn’t matter what people believe unless they are actively causing problems.” And I’ll add that we have procedures for identifying and dealing with those who are causing problems, and judges in Israel to carry them out. Anyone who takes it upon themselves to usurp that role does so at their peril–I’m pretty convinced that the sin after murder that Alma talked about was not sexual sin, but causing people to leave the Church. And I don’t think “But he didn’t believe the important things we believe” will be much of an excuse. I would include in that comments like “Then why are you here?” or anything else that makes people feel unwelcome. Dave, I’m glad you didn’t take that patriarch’s advice for both your sakes.

    Anna’s story makes me sad because I’m sure those are her honest perceptions and perceptions matter. I recognize some elements of it, and can imagine a ward where those elements predominate. That said, my experience is very different. For one thing, I’m in a ward where I doubt a teacher could tell the milk strippings story without someone pointing out that it’s dubious (but not definitively debunked) because contemporary records of Marsh’s excommunication don’t mention it and George A. Smith (not Brigham Young) only told it years later. But it was not a cover-up for polygamy given that it all happened in Missouri, and the full story of Marsh’s conflict with the Church would have been very familiar to the Saints at the time. (Anna, I think you might like my ward. We’d welcome you at any rate.)

    ReTx, I think we all struggle with the dialectic “God loves me as I am” and “God wants me to change.” I’m not surprised that your fellow ward members are reflecting that imperfectly (maybe very imperfectly) but I hope that both are more true than they’ve managed to communicate. I don’t doubt they’d prefer that you change by becoming more like them though–that’s human nature.

    PWS, if there’s one good thing about the Trump years, it’s that most conservative Church member have had to recognize the difference between right-wing politics and Church doctrine. Too many have put their politics first, but that happens on the left too. Even in the most ruby-red ward, not knowing if the person in the pew next to you is a MAGA enthusiast or a Never-Trumper is a pretty good deterrent to bringing up politics, and that’s all to the good.

  13. So what does “creating a problem” look like?

    This feels like a key question.

    I caused problems (and got pushback) by answering class questions that reflected my faith that was non-standard. I caused problems by gently, kindly correcting huge doctrinal/historical errors by ward members. The big one though that got me blacklisted from callings (or at least relegated to the library and classes of younger children) was insisting to my stake president that actually the temple ceremony could change to be not inclusive of women as there was a precedent for change.

    I’ve never once tried to influence someone out of the church. Part of inclusion to me is encouraging others in the path they are in of it works for them, including the lds orthodox path.

    In the last few years, I’ve shut my mouth entirely and faded into the background. Most people at church seem happier that way. I’m no longer causing problems because I’ve disengaged.

  14. To me, much of this discussion does highlight a major point I want to discuss in these posts: the tension that different points of view can cause. Again, I think that differing viewpoints are going to increase and learning how to get along will be important, I think.

  15. @ReTx: What the Church means by “creating a problem” is defined in chapter 32 of the Handbook. Most relevant to this discussion is the definition of “apostasy” in, with the most relevant points being:

    Repeatedly acting in clear and deliberate public opposition to the Church, its doctrine, its policies, or its leaders

    Persisting in teaching as Church doctrine what is not Church doctrine after being corrected by the bishop or stake president

    Showing a pattern of intentionally working to weaken the faith and activity of Church members

    Note that simply holding unorthodox positions doesn’t qualify at all, and stating them in Sunday School would only qualify if you claim they are Church doctrine or do it in a way that weakens the faith of others. That last point is a judgement call, and I’m not interested in judging anyone’s behavior or second-guessing their bishop or stake president. And I note that no one seems to have actually accused you of apostasy. But I’ll confess I’m smiling as I imagine that stake president in his first temple session after the endowment was changed to make it more inclusive for women.

    Being called to teach Primary is definitely not an “informal membership restriction.” Teaching Primary is awesome. :)

  16. This discussion is screaming for a definition of what orthodoxy is. Especially when we’re talking about perspectives about historical things. Does orthodoxy equal what the Q15 say about historical things? If so I would say that model doesn’t actually exist because the Q15 do not address historical things in a specific way. Does orthodoxy equal what the majority of active members think? If so we don’t have that model either because we do not talk about these things in our meetings and knowledge of history varies among members. And if you were to perform an anonymous survey of active members about how they reconciled specific questions about the Book of Abraham or something like that, I would expect there to be quite a range of responses.

    So I’m left with the impression that orthodoxy means not taking or voicing a position about specific controversial questions related to our history. Orthodoxy seems to be more about avoiding controversy or difficult questions than about how they are answered. This is why people can be viewed suspiciously just for reading or talking about certain things. I think this is a significant problem.

  17. As a non-traditional member I would LOVE to feel free to discuss so called issues openly in SS and EQ meetings but as most here have said, it rarely if ever goes well. For every person like me, there are 10 traditional members in the class that will not want to go there and it gets awkward fast. Oddly enough, when I was bishop and shared non-traditional views, the members were more open and allowed me to share without throwing stones. I didn’t get to crazy but would sometimes share facts that were not well known to clarify the topic or lesson. A bishop perk.

    Now I sit on my hands and try very hard to not feel like “the enlightened ONE” and sinfully judge all my fellow ward members as clueless sheep. In my defense, when one truly studies the churches actual history, you look at everything different. To have those who dont know the history throw stones at my factual comments, is very frustrating.

    I would LOVE to meet with all of you face to face every Sunday and do what is being done here. I could listen to your views for hours.

    Would be a great day when I could attend SS, or gospel doctrine class, or “safe place” church issues support class.

    If your family is a traditional, check all the church boxes, family then you experience our fine church community in a completely different way than the families that are not traditional. This is unfortunate but human nature I suppose. Lots and lots of really good members stay home or dont feel a sense of community because they are not in the so-called traditional orthodox mold.

  18. The comments, and especially the last one by REC911, makes me think of my measuring stick for whether to comment on something: is what I’m going to say potentially going to help someone listening? Or am I just trying to point out how others are wrong about this or that? In other words, can I say something that can both (1) challenge culture that misses the doctrine, AND (2) help strengthen the faith of someone listening?

    To me, one reason we gather (beyond taking the sacrament, per Moroni 6:6), is to strength others – “to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.” Moroni 6:5. To me, speaking concerning the welfare of our souls really is about strengthening each other in faith and in taking actions that will help guide us back to our Heavenly Father, as that is typically described in the scriptures as the best possible end-result for the welfare of our souls. So when I share non-traditional views (even if it is as simple as challenging the assumptions about the ten virgins being ONLY an allegory about self-reliance), my goal is to say something that could help another in the class to whom the “accepted” story is challenging/disheartening/frustrating in increasing their faith in God.

    All that said, I would of course not deny that a large percentage of those attending often do not tend to want anything to come up that might create “friction” in weekly meetings, as they really just want the traditional forms to be observed. And that is a challenge, and can cut against the grain – speaking up for those that do not tends to limit opportunities in the church (which, frankly, though desired at times from a worldly perspective, is not the point of church IMHO).

  19. I tend to think of the term of orthodoxy more in sociological terms: how does most of the “group” define it? Based on that, I’m pretty comfortable describing myself as unorthodox. I find that to be the most useful definition in practice, and have pointed this dynamic out to frustrated people, saying things like “if you want to be part of the group, you have to understand that saying things that the group find antagonistic will likely elicit an antagonistic response. That’s just the way groups are.” As REC notes, trying to “enlighten” the others is pretty tough in our classroom settings. Has to be done pretty gently and on a small scale.

    But all these comments do highlight the fact that there is a need among a decent portion of the church that DO feel like they need to talk. My sense is that this is an increasing need among young adults. So I have found the Bloggernacle quite helpful for me and wanted to use what I’d learned there to see if I could help anyone in my ward. Been happy with the results.

  20. Who do we want at Church? The question largely depends on the culture of the ward setting. In Hawai’i, we often get Utah-types (I’m making a generalization here) who are very set in their ways. White shirt and tie is their standard, but not ours. I isolate Utah culture, because the institution that manages the Church exports it—in manuals, handbooks, etc. (beard prohibition, ear ring limits, conservatism, etc.). With this culture comes a degree of intolerance and also a degree of cognitive dissonance. Both intolerance and cognitive dissonance combine for a disconnect in the temporal and spiritual space in the Body of the Church. This is why belief systems are dangerous. They lead to dogmatic attitudes about what is holy and what is profane.

    Faith is not belief. The conflation of faith and belief has two side effects. On one side, it’s the common denominator of almost every “faith crisis;” in my experience, folks more often suffer from “belief crisis,” which has little to do with faith; our dogmatic belief systems and expectations simply reach to a point beyond reconciliation. It’s the belief systems that are a vulnerability to the membership of the Church. On the other side, conflating faith and belief leads to rigid zealotry, and makes idols of ideology—particularly when belief systems become dogmatic. If facial hair, piercings, tattoos, or other physical expressions can be interpreted as profane, we’ve introduced judgments upon each other already. The same for political beliefs. Belief systems shape our culture, but do not define it.

    If our cognitive dissonance is so strong that we can’t speak about plural marriage, race and priesthood, or about tithing spent for a shopping mall, the culture of the Church is at risk. Belief systems are a critical vulnerability for the Church. Every angry ex-LDS and every enemy of the Church attacks belief systems, and from these attacks, we divide and scatter, or huddle and homogenize. If we learn to discern between faith and belief, we will be a more tolerant, more mindful, faithful Body of Christ. We can move from faith to ordinance to covenant without a single belief system. My hope and prayer is that we learn to do so.

  21. T.M. Overley – You took the words right out of my mouth but said it much better than I could have. For me, you hit the nail on the head, we humans have continuously, in the attempt to bring about goodness, confuse means and ends. Dave Brisban articulates it this way; “The quality of the ends we use always matches the quality of the ends we produce”. Christians (even LDS folk) mistake “certainty” and “correct belief” for faith when what God really desires is trust and intimacy. We attempt to unify by way of cognitive agreement, which always risks unity turning into its counterfeit of uniformity.

    We take real and raw experience and then poor concrete over it. We systematize, codify, add dogma and add a form layer or rigidity and then stand back and watch as actual experience fades into the distance in favor of worshipping maps. What is more, within this framework, evangelism turns into inviting people into relationship with our own beliefs rather than with God. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not about rightness (correct beliefs), it’s about righteousness (right relationship, seeking justice). Rightness is pointing the law at myself, while righteousness, rather than using the law as a mirror, it points it at Christ, and turns the law into a magnifying glass, a tool that illuminates the needs around me rather than something to constantly check how I appear.

    When we make correct beliefs the end instead of the means, the law, like the Pharisees used it will never be fulfilled. Beliefs and the law were always meant to point beyond themselves, they are meant to be loves servant, not it’s slave. Religion, for all its possibility and potential for good, has painted itself into a corner by making it more about “Beliefs” (truth claims) instead of what it’s most equipped to offer, “Values”. As a result, it largely abandons and rejects any process of intellectual humility or honesty.

    Eric Facer, in his essay on critical thinking wrote, “True scholarship, by definition, must “be conducted without bias, and results published, regardless of whether they confirm any particular hypothesis or doctrine,” If you begin with a desired conclusion, you must ignore contradictory evidence. “That is not scholarship (or faith); it is propaganda.”

    This statement is a stinging indictment against any intellectual or spiritual endeavor that begins with the need to confirm what has already been decided. This problem, in my opinion, not only threatens “True Scholarship”, but also meaningful “Faith”. If my faith is pinned, at every turn, to confirming that “The Church is true”, then it already lacks what I think Moroni is teaching us in Moroni 7. Moroni seems to suggest that faith carries with it an ethical responsibility, which is, a willingness and humility to continually place my beliefs back into the experiment of mortalities crucible, to be tried and tested, to bring forth fruit meet for repentance. For as Moroni says, “Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith”.

    Faith is not a clinging to what I know, it’s taking the assurance I have and using it to hurl me towards the unknown. It’s exposure to the mystery of what God is and what I am capable of becoming. We might say faith is where rationality meets intuition. It’s when we have enough evidence to make things, not seen, plausible, and our common sense, moral compass urges us forward into the unknown.

  22. Interesting discussion. It’s rare that anyone says anything that I would view as controversial in Sunday school or priesthood meeting or even Sacrament meeting. But that’s my perception. I will say that even though I am fairly conservative politically and probably in the majority among the members of my ward and stake, it ALWAYS makes me uncomfortable if someone gets political in their remarks even if I agree with them. I’m probably more uncomfortable if I do agree with them. But, my biggest complaint in Sunday school or priesthood is when the same people make all the comments (orthodox or not). I’d like to have instructors pass over people who have already made a comment and let others make comments. But that’s my beef at the moment.

    In any case, one thought that comes to mind about inclusivity is that what may be considered inclusive to one is exclusive to another. It’s hard to make everyone happy–near impossible, in fact. Maybe a worthy goal nonetheless.

  23. I should clarify my comment about inclusivity. My point is that if you make space for something very unorthodox you may make someone with more orthodox tendencies feel uncomfortable and vice-versa. Maybe that doesn’t help. I’ll stop now. :-)

  24. T.M. and Todd, I like the structure you propose. In fact, Todd, I’m in the middle of a series of posts over the Juvenile Instructor talking about such things. I’m planning on putting up a post tomorrow on this very topic and may link to your comment!

    But like I say over on the posts, I do understand the discomfort people have of having aspects of their larger structure of their belief system called into question. I very much agree with you that faith is a willingness to learn and that’s how it’s been for me. But a lot of people don’t think that way, and just to reciprocate what I’m asking for here, yes, I want the conservative, orthodox believers to feel welcome in the church too (even the Utah types with their white shirts!)

    Wizard, thanks for clarifying. I figured that’s what you meant and it’s a good point. In some future posts, I’m going to keep suggesting that I do foresee more unconventional types making themselves comfortable at church to the possible discomfort of some of the more orthodox. So what I hope we can achieve going forward is ways to get along.

  25. As to whether or not our wards discuss politics in church meetings…
    Maybe my outspokenly conservative northern Wasatch Front ward is unusual, but we really can’t have any discussion about the Last Days/Second Coming that doesn’t involve political views. As I said, they don’t think they are discussing their politics. They believe that their politics are church doctrine. I don’t think they are unusual in Utah, though I will readily admit that I might be wrong.

  26. I really appreciate all these posts and the discussion. Thank you.

    “Who do we want at church?” I would love for my faith community to mirror the overall community. But it just doesn’t. The faith community lacks the diversity of my overall community on all levels (socioeconomic, race, marginalized folks).

    I do think it’s telling that we even have to ask the question. That alone show we have work to do.

  27. One piece of context that I’ve found helpful and often share with others are some sociological data I picked up during my PhD seminars back in the day. The professor who ran our sociology seminar (and who had done of a ton of polling) offered this summary: “the biggest difference between the two political parties, I found, is church attendance. Republicans go to church; Democrats do not.”

    That of course is a bit of an overstatement, but also a correct description of a wider tendency. So while I’ve always felt a bit like the odd man out with Democratic voting, I keep that data piece in mind. If I want to hold to my Democratic Mormonism, I need to understand I’ll be a minority in the US (unless that changes, who knows?)

    And another thing that same professor pointed out is just how segregated churches tend to be. Malcom X made the famous statement that Sunday was the most segregated day of the week, and that’s been quite slow to change. I’ve even heard analysts note that Mormons are actually somewhat more racially integrated than a lot of mainline churches. So that’s unfortunate, but also a larger societal trend.

    Anyway, I do anticipate additional changes in the future and will post more of my thoughts.

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