Mormons Celebrating Diversity

Ecumenigal Mormon 37 Comments

Hello Mormon Matters community!

I was invited to contribute a blogpost now and then, and hope I’ll be able to throw some meaningful questions into the hopper.

I write under the name Ecumenigal because of my eclectic background and multi-faith points of view. I’m sort of a religious mutt.  I’m Mormon by heritage, birth, and culture, an atheist by upbringing, and now a sort of New Age Jesus Hindu with a great appreciation for Mormon theology as encompassing much of eastern and western thought.  In future posts, I hope to talk more about my vedic appreciation of Mormonism.

For this post, I want to talk about ecumenism and respect.

ECUMENISM

Ecumenism is controversial because some people are rightly concerned that in order to find the common denominator, you have to water down the teachings so much that they become meaningless. I have to admit that while I’d like to say, “We all believe basically the same things, so can’t we just get along?”… it doesn’t actually serve the truth very well to pretend there are no significant theological differences, or to re-define terms so that it sounds like we’re talking about the same things when we are not.  I see ecumenism as a meeting place for fellowship and bridge building, and talking respectfully and honestly about differences.

In my adult life, I actually joined the church for a short time, and was able to do so honestly by redefining the terms. Although I explained that openly to the Mission President and got his blessing, I just didn’t end up feeling that my membership had much integrity, so I took my name off the records but remained partially active.

I was really interested to notice during this experience how my Mormon friends dealt with this.  What I see going on is a church with a tradition of “One True Church” and “All other creeds an abomination”, clashing with the growing modern sensibility of religious pluralism:  “Celebrate Diversity”, “Respect Differences”, “Live and Let Live”, “I’m OK, You’re OK”, “Family of Faiths”, etc.  (It may be true that there are lots of early church teachings to support an ecumenical view, but the modern popularity of this view is bringing these teachings out more, I think.)

To be sure, when I took my name off the records, I had my share of visiting teachers pouncing, grilling and tearfully pleading with no real ability to hear what I was saying. However, the majority of my friends blinked away tears, smiled, and wished me well. I was told things like:

“God has a purpose for Buddhists being Buddhists, and it’s not for us to judge what that purpose is or where a person will end up in the end. It’s important to go where the Spirit leads you because God may have a purpose for you somewhere else.”

“You don’t have to be a Mormon, it’s just a question of what blessings you want to enjoy in this life.”

“To Thine Own Self Be True.  It’s important.”

Another example of a growing ecumenical culture in Mormonism:  Even in Relief Society I’ve heard discussions of ‘there are only two churches, that of the Devil and that of the Lord, and all followers of Christ are in the One True Church’. This included clarification by the RS teacher that ‘Yes, you can tell your Catholic and Methodist friends that they are part of the One True Church’.  What a surprise to hear that in RS!

RESPECT

In my family of Mormons and Atheists, respect is a big topic.  We can treat each other respectfully, but in the end, people still feel disrespected.  From my point of view, the Atheists almost by definition probably feel that the Mormons suffer from a delusion.  The Mormons almost by definition probably feel that the Atheists are blind to a whole dimension of reality.   Even if we refrain from speculation about the reasons for these delusions/blindnesses and speak with respectful words, I think that it is very difficult for either party to feel truly respected by the other because the worldviews themselves imply something about those who do not share it.

The only solution I can see to the Mormon/Atheist respect issue in my family would be if people were willing to say, “I might be wrong, and who knows, you might be right, and I trust your judgment, but the way reality shows up to me is…”   It seems rather hard to ask a Mormon to say “I might be wrong”, because culturally, “sure knowledge” is seen as superior to mere hope and faith.

I’ve noticed that I’m not particularly open to ANY absolute truth, because of what beliefs in absolutes would do to my relationships with people.  I try to hold my convictions while avoiding having opinions that involve other people.

The questions I want to throw out there are these:

Do you feel a conflict between “One True Church” and “Celebrate Diversity”?  If so, how do you work with or resolve that conflict?

What does it mean to be “respectful” toward others?  Does it mean just treating them with respect, and honoring their agency, or does it mean thinking in your heart they are really OK without your worldview?

Does truth loose its meaning and potency if you believe that others are OK without the “truth” that you are in possession of?

What would it mean to be a Mormon who believes “I might be wrong”?  Is there scriptural support for such a relationship to truth?

Comments

comments

Comments 37

  1. I view various other faiths and traditions as containing shards of truth that may or may not be contained within our LDS tradition. Every culture and tradition has light and truth. I do strongly believe that all people can ultimately benefit from the addition of gospel truths and that with the gospel everyone no matter how good they are right now can be made better. Converts from various traditions enhance our own understanding of truth and enrich us immensely and I think the church can and will grow to embrace more diversity in its practices.

    I do also believe that God may use individuals more effectively in another faith rather than as a Latter Day Saint. C.S Lewis is a good example for me, as he brought more people to faith in Christ in his tradition than anyone in the 20th century and could not likely have done this had he been a member.

  2. Two points. First, respect means that one values the relationship of the other and does not do anything to show rudeness. Having a discussion about beliefs should center around not wanting to appear rude. Two, I see the Mormon church as having all the necessary saving ordinances for all of mankind. That is how I speak to others about the Mormon church instead of saying the “one true” church. All other churches and beliefs systems have good in them. We are better having the Catholic church on the earth than to not have it; even with the priest sexual abuse.

  3. The more experience in life, the more I appreciate the fact that God plays a strong roles in the lives of all that are open to Him. We filter these experiences through cultural perspectives, but they are as real for Mormons as they are for non-Mormons.

  4. I like your definition of ecumenism: “a meeting place for fellowship and bridge building, and talking respectfully and honestly about differences.” Some of the Mormon/Evangelical encounters that I’ve seen online this past year have been good examples of this, some not so good.

    Mitch, while I think mutual respect is extremely important in these kinds of discussions, I don’t know if I can agree with you that they should CENTER in not being rude. What do you think of President Ezra Taft Benson’s motto (which he kept on a plaque in his office) “I want to be right and easy to live with, but in that order” ???!!!
    (Of course I would not go as far as ETB myself, I’m never really sure if I’m RIGHT…)
    Ecumenigal, what do you think these conversations should center on? I’d say maybe coming to a greater understanding of each other and the Divine?

  5. The Catholic Church now declares that the Kingdom of God “subsists in” the Church, replacing the previous formulation that the Kingdom is the Church. In other words, they believe that while the Church is the Lord’s primary instrument in bringing salvation to men, and that it has the authority to administer the ordinances necessary for salvation, they recognize that the Kingdom is broader than the formal Church, and may include people who are not nominally Christian or even expressly theistic.

    I think the LDS Church will probably make a more or less explicit declaration of a similar principle.

  6. Great post Ecumenigal. I wish my immediate family of Mormons, Evangelicals and Agnostics could have respectful discussions. Religion is off the table for conversation with our family.

    Bored in Vernal–how nice to hear someone admit she is never really sure if she’s right.

  7. I’ve lost interest in Mormonism as the “One True Church” although I feel that it is authentic and true. I also feel that other religious traditions are true, so for me, celebrating diversity is simply to recognize the truth wherever it is found.

    I do believe in my heart that members of other faiths “are really OK without my worldview” but would hope that they’d be willing to consider truths in the Mormon tradition. In that sense I’m not much of a missionary, and never have been.

    As for whether truth “loses its meaning and potency if you believe that others are OK without the “truth” that you are in possession of”–this is where I’m losing interest in the Mormon “go team! we’ve got the truth, and they don’t!” mentality. There are some core things in Mormon theology that are completely unique, and they are important to me. I would never give them up. But we are also in the predicament of limiting our understanding in many areas to words spoken by LDS apostles in authoritative publications/speeches. My great revelation of the last few years is that there are Catholics and Evangelicals and Protestants and Buddhists and Yogic teachers and many others who have enlightened me greatly, and their truths are a beautiful addition to my LDS beliefs without taking away from the revealed truths of the restoration. Mormons are really somewhat shallow in their discussions of the Bible, for example. I haven’t found any truly valuable Mormon writings on the Psalms or the Book of Job, for example, that match other great Hebrew and Christian biblical scholarship. The Catholic writer Henri Nouwen wrote an absolutely beautiful book on the parable of the prodigal son that should be read by every Mormon (and his other writings are simply brilliant). In dealing with the pain of a serious illness that is not being cured, I have not found comfort from Mormon writers because they self-edit so heavily–they don’t get down to the reality of suffering and the loss of spiritual comfort that happens in serious illness. I prefer the gritty realism that writers from others faiths are willing to deal with as they explore the spiritual side of pain and healing.

    The question of whether I might be wrong in my beliefs doesn’t bother me, because I just don’t think that it’s reasonable to limit our world view to “Mormons are always right and others are wrong”–and the parallel that if others are right, I must be wrong. As far as I can tell, this thinking was a key reason that Mormonism maintained its unique identity as it grew in the 1800s, and is probably why it will continue to maintain a separate and very loyal identity among its followers. But it’s also why so many leave who might otherwise have stayed. Like you, I am uncomfortable with absolutes.

  8. I liked your post! I’ll try to answer your questions the best I can from my standpoint as a fairly average Mormon.

    >>Do you feel a conflict between “One True Church” and “Celebrate Diversity”? If so, how do you work with or resolve that conflict?

    I don’t really see a conflict: just because we say we’re the one true church doesn’t mean that everybody has to be the same! God puts us in different situations for His own reasons, and in the end all that will matter is how good of a person we were based on what we knew and our own opportunities. I’m reminded of the quote “Whate’er thou art, act well thy part.” From a theological standpoint I’m a big fan of diversity. If “Mormonism” is to be eventually a collection of all truth, then faithful Mormons must seek for truth everywhere, no matter the source.

    >>Does truth loose its meaning and potency if you believe that others are OK without the “truth” that you are in possession of?

    Not to me, at least. I’ve been able to have the knowledge that I have, so I’m obviously expected to live up to it. If somebody doesn’t have that knowledge, this doesn’t weaken my experience at all, because I know that they won’t have to live up to something they don’t have (see my answer to the first question).

    >>What would it mean to be a Mormon who believes “I might be wrong”? Is there scriptural support for such a relationship to truth?

    First of all, calling you “wrong” would be… wrong, it would mean that nothing you do is right. Again, just because we claim to be the one true church doesn’t mean that everybody has to be the same or do the exact same things. Sure, I believe there are specific requirements to enter the Kingdom (but, again, we’ll be judged based on what we know), but if we all had to do the exact same things all the time we’d all be the same, and that would be boring. 😉

  9. This post really resonates with me. I was raised LDS. I am still an active LDS, including holding a temple recommend. That being said, I have never really felt comfortable with the “one true Church” idea. Even on my mission, during which I was even ZL, AP, etc. for whatever that’s worth, I merely told people that here is a message that’s made some sense to me. If you’re interested, great. If you’re comfortable where you are, that’s fine too. I was never a “shake the dust off my feet” type of person.

    Over the past few years, because of various circumstances, I have really tried to find my spiritual foundation. I have read LDS things more than at other times in my life, but I have also read widely. I have read the Quran. I have read the Bhagavad Gita. I have read the Dhammapada. I have felt truth in the Book of Mormon resonate with me, but I have had the same feelings with all of these other books. I have felt more “aware” yet less “sure”. I have seen much good in many, many people and a greater love for the world.

    As far as how this relates practically:
    – I think I am much more compassionate towards others because of all this.
    – I think that God is bigger than the LDS Church. I don’t think that only the few million active LDS people currently on the world will be the only ones back with Him, out of the tens of billions who have lived.
    – I don’t know how effective I will ever be at missionary work. The foundation of missionary work is the concept that is doesn’t really matter what you have, be it Baptist, Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic, atheist, etc., ours is “better” or more of a “fullness” or whatever other term someone may use.
    – While I have had past leadership positions, I don’t know how effective I will be in future leadership roles. It seems everyone from a bishop on up states things like, “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt”, etc. We only hear certainty. There doesn’t seem to be a place for “I hope” or “I have faith it might be true, but don’t really know”.
    – I will probably always have a temple recommend. They are mostly behavioral questions that aren’t that hard to follow, regardless of what belief system you follow. I don’t affiliate with any “anti” groups. I doubt they’d take anyone’s recommend because they can’t say “know” but merely say “hope”.

    I am a Mormon who says, “I might be wrong”, but I’m still going to be a good person anyway.

  10. The One True Church idea is not opinion, it was revealed by God to Joseph Smith. There is no reason why we have to be rude or throw this up in anyone’s face. We either believe it or not. But it is the doctrine of the Church.

    The issue of respecting diversity has moved well beyond being respectful of other’s beliefs to condoning and having to accept ideas and behaviors that we disagree with.

    Being open to everything seems to me to be unwilling to make a real commitment to anything, even to no belief at all. While I am happy with ambiguity in the life, that is a bit too much for me to deal with. I’d rather just believe in nothing.

  11. I do experience a tension between my commitment to a chuch and the differences I see in other churches. Although I think there is sometimes nice rhetoric about being tolerant toward other faihs I wonder to what extent this is possible if the dynamic of right/wrong is used. Perhaps using different categories of might work but all of these have issues.

    Good/bad

    Living/Dead

    Having Spirit/Lacking Spirit

    I think that respecing other dominations (in a way that can tolerate firm believers from all sides) needs to encourage using differing criteria in tha evaluation. All of these categories would cut across our different faiths in unique ways highlighting our areas of similarity and difference. Moreover, I sense that respect probably emerges from being able to see our own weaknesses (as individuals and as religions) before we start examining the weaknesses of others. This type of acknowledgement will facilitate respect that does not become too vascillating (as jeff suggests) and therefore can encompass the firm believer as well as the less rigidly committed to a community like ecumingal seems to be.

    I also wonder whether ecumenism also fits of this binary of respect. What is the opposite of ecumenism… unitism? Whatever it is, I wonder whether ecumenism can tolerate unitism, can they think it is ok?

    It seems to me that any position firmly held will create tension with those who hold the opposite.

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    Thanks for the warm welcome everyone!

    Bored in Vernal: Yes. I like what you said. I think a conversation bears the most fruit when the purpose is to gain deeper understanding of the other, rather than to try to convert the other to our way of thinking. We also have the opportunity to gain understanding of the divine if we listen carefully to how others experience it.

    Rico: Very interesting! You said “…I wonder whether ecumenism can tolerate unitism, can they think it is ok? …It seems to me that any position firmly held will create tension with those who hold the opposite.”

    Yes, I’ve often thought that in the end, if you really value tolerance, you have to be tolerant of intolerance. If you really want to be ecumenical, you have to include those who are not. If you want to be forgiving, you have to forgive unforgiveness.

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    Thomas: This is very cool about the updated Catholic view on the Kingdom of God. Some may feel that it’s a watering down to be more politically correct, but I think it’s the church responding to increased human wisdom and nuanced understandings.

    When I took a shot at being Mormon, the way I dealt with the “one true church” concept was similar to what the Catholics are now saying. There is only one true church and one false church, and we know that we will receive more light and understanding on the other side of the veil. So, we know that the “one true church” is larger and more all encompassing than we know. On a different thread someone was saying something about it being about a “true” or “false” spirit, so there are LDS members who are part of the false church and non-LDS who are part of the “true church”. I thought I could get along with the idea Jesus restoring the truth and practice of the priesthood and guiding the Mormon church, without making any assumptions about weather or not he is also leading and restoring understandings to other groups of people.

    The evangelicals like to quote the Bible that ‘One day every tongue will confess you are God, One day every knee will bow.’ I think the common way to relate to that is to imagine that ‘One day everyone will finally know I was right.’ But I think the vision is that one day there will finally be unity. When the whole truth is apparent, we’re ALL going to be surprised. I think we’ll be too busy being happy and amazed to gloat over who was more right.

    As a side note, my former religion professor, (a Methodist minister and archaeologist who studied under the guy who was instrumental in bringing out both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library) said that just looking at the way religions evolve, he thinks Mormonism will become the main American religion…but it will be completely mainstream-ized by then.

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    No-man: I really enjoy to go to synagogue to get alternate and interesting interpretations of the Torah. When Christians read the O.T. they primarily talk about how it points ahead to Jesus. But the Jewish reading of the same texts is rich and applies directly to our lives. What I like most in my experience with Synagogues is that the Rabbi opens up the discussion to the congregation, who offer what they think the text means, and those offerings are left to stand as valid. The Rabbi doesn’t make concluding remarks, saying, “Well, this is the correct interpretation.” How revolutionary!

    No-man, you said “In dealing with the pain of a serious illness that is not being cured, I have not found comfort from Mormon writers because they self-edit so heavily–they don’t get down to the reality of suffering and the loss of spiritual comfort that happens in serious illness. I prefer the gritty realism that writers from others faiths are willing to deal with as they explore the spiritual side of pain and healing.”

    What a great topic for a post. I live with serious illness also, and I’ve found it really interesting to see how different spiritual traditions and cultures deal with the realities of suffering. I think I’ll write about this for my next post.

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    Jeff: Yes, being everywhere has a lot in common with being nowhere. I like to joke that I’m just trying to be more like God – omnipresent!

    Being closed to the concept of absolute truth has its limitations. It means that one would miss out on being able to discern important absolute truths. I do see some absolute truths, but in the application of these truths to our lives, I mostly I see that there is “opposition in all things”. To me, this doesn’t just mean that there is a negative force that will fight against everything good, but that there is a proper use and a misuse for every teaching and “truth”. For example, many families are brought closer together by the church, and many families are torn apart by it. Or, the concept of “living in the moment” can help people access the Holy Spirit, and let go of worry and regret. But the same concept of “living in the moment” can be used to justify lack of responsibility and accountability.

    The interesting thing you seem to be bringing up, Jeff, is that the church doctrine is the church doctrine, even if we re-invent it in our minds to make ourselves more comfortable. I’m curious if you would rather see people misunderstand the teachings but stay in the church, or stop re-defining terms, obscuring and diluting things, and confusing everyone with “faith promoting rhumors” of universalist interpretations that aren’t validated by scripture, and just go elsewhere to a more universalist religion?

  16. Another thought I’ve had relating to Mormonism, which I haven’t fully thought through the implications:

    One of the main things setting the LDS Church apart from other denominations is the restoration of the priesthood. Many of the basic beliefs in God, morality, etc. are the same. Many people use the Bible. Perhaps not everyone has to be LDS in order to benefit from the restoration.

    An example of this is the Levites in ancient Israel. They were ones that did ordinances for everyone, not just for the Levites. All of Israel benefited from that. People in other tribes still needed to be “good people”, but the ordinances were handled by someone else. Perhaps this is the role of the LDS Church. Perhaps people will just be judged on how they related to God and their fellowman as the 2 great commandments suggest. Perhaps the technical requirements for “ordinances” will be handled vicariously by the restored priesthood. This is logically going to have to be the case for the 99.9% of the current population who isn’t active-LDS.

    Just a random musing…

  17. Ecumenigal,

    “Is that the church doctrine is the church doctrine, even if we re-invent it in our minds to make ourselves more comfortable.”

    Well, you can certainly do that, but that doesn’t change reality. If people are really “confusing everyone with “faith promoting rumors” of universalist interpretations that aren’t validated by scripture…” then it is their problem. They do not understand our doctrine and our teachings well enough to distinguish reality from falsehoods. I realize that can have an incredible affect on new members, but the HG is there to test all things. I think that works most of the time.

    I may be different but when I heard something that doesn’t sound quite right to me, I look into it and figure out what is truth and what is not.

    However, if we went solely by whether things taught were scriptural of not, most religions could no longer exisit since many of their teachings cannot be validated by scripture. One of the benefits of a Living Prophet.

  18. Ecumenigal,

    “Being closed to the concept of absolute truth has its limitations. It means that one would miss out on being able to discern important absolute truths. I do see some absolute truths, but in the application of these truths to our lives, I mostly I see that there is “opposition in all things”. To me, this doesn’t just mean that there is a negative force that will fight against everything good, but that there is a proper use and a misuse for every teaching and “truth”.”

    This concept really depends on your belief in the nature of God, at least religion-wise. If God exist and is in control of the eternities, then, to me, there must be absolute truths associated with it. If God just exists as an idea, then those ideas can and do vary and subject to personal opinion and perspective. Some folks believe there are many ways to find God. I don’t really believe that. I do accept that there are a number of ways to find parts of God, but only one true way of finding God in totality.

    When I studied Scientology many years ago. They taught me that ” What is true for you is true.” And I sort of still believe it. What’s true for us as individuals is true for us, but that does not make it THE TRUTH.

    “For example, many families are brought closer together by the church, and many families are torn apart by it.”

    The Church does not do this, people themselves do it. you cannot give the Church credit nor the blame.

  19. Jeff: I absolutely agree with you re: the existence of absolute Truth, and our obligation to seek it as best we can.

    Is the “Living Prophet” model a fundamentally more accurate guide to absolute truth than other means? Are prophets guided by anything close to a clear, unambiguous, functionally infallible revelation? Or do they exercise their own judgment, being miraculously preserved against only truly church-destroying error (the Catholic version)? Or are they just muddling their way through things as best they can, more or less like anyone else?

    I see extensive evidence of the second option.

    “Some folks believe there are many ways to find God. I don’t really believe that. I do accept that there are a number of ways to find parts of God, but only one true way of finding God in totality.”

    I agree. Whether “finding God in totality” is ever possible in mortality, where we necessarily see through a glass darkly, is questionable.

  20. Thomas,

    “Whether “finding God in totality” is ever possible in mortality”

    I didn’t necessarily mean in mortality, but since so many people do not believe in the hereafter, it becomes an impossible task for them. We know that learning continues in the eternities.

    “Is the “Living Prophet” model a fundamentally more accurate guide to absolute truth than other means? Are prophets guided by anything close to a clear, unambiguous, functionally infallible revelation? Or do they exercise their own judgment, being miraculously preserved against only truly church-destroying error (the Catholic version)? Or are they just muddling their way through things as best they can, more or less like anyone else?”

    To me, yes and yes. They do both. Hopefully, each one at the proper time and context. We place such a significant importance in all the prophet’s words. But, it is we who should be more discerning.

    “Honey, I’m going to bed now” is not a prophesy…. 🙂

  21. #20, #21: I would pick the last option – good men working their way through things as best as they can.

    There are many examples, both interreligion and intrareligion, that show this is closer to reality than anything else. Interreligion – many different denominations interpret the same scripture different ways. Which of these is the “absolute truth”? Which ever one “I” believe, of course.

    Even intrareligion, there are many people who have diametrically opposed beliefs as to what Absolute Truth is. Were blacks less valiant in the pre-existence, or not? Prophets have come down on both sides of this. It was what it was millennia ago. Is polygamy essential to our eternal salvation, or grounds for excommunication? Again, eternal principle, but both viewpoints have been held. There are many, many examples that could be given, where prophets and leaders have taught things as eternal, or absolute truths, only to have the opposite taught as an eternal truth later.

    Because of this, I think prophets are good men (better than me) who try the best they can, who are inspired, but who also make mistakes just like the rest of us.

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    Mike,

    There is an indigenous culture somewhere in South America that believes that they are doing spiritual practices that hold the whole world together. At first I thought, “Humph. Just another evidence of human nature making us think we are the center of the universe.” But, then again, how do we know that this group was not charged with doing certain work that improves the spiritual condition of the whole world? It’s interesting to think about.

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    Jeff,

    Yes, you’re right, it is people who break families up and not the church. I would say that people can experience family strife over church issues if they are in one relationship to the church, or they can experience family unity over church issues if they are in a different relationship to the church.

    It’s kind of actually a pet peeve of mine that people blame the church for family strife, which is why I was making the point.

    Food is an easier example. Food can make you sick or nourish you. Food wouldn’t have the power to make you sick if it didn’t have anything to do with your body. The rational response to getting food poisoning is not to never eat again and decide food is bad.

    In the same way, I think it’s hard for families when a family member leaves the LDS faith for the precise reason that the church does so much to make close knit families. All the more points of connection to dissemble. It’s kind of like saying, “At least being broken hearted is evidence that you truly loved.” If a Mormon family is more distraught over a member leaving then a family of another religion would be, it’s just evidence that the church has a lot to offer families and therefore there is a lot to loose.

  24. #26: I also agree that it’s not the Church per se that breaks up families, but I do think the purpose is related to this post.

    Families obviously want the best for each other. Blood ties run deep. In the LDS Church, with our emphasis on eternal families and the interrelated web of relationships tied together with sealings done for the living as well as vicariously, this is taken to the next level. At the same time, the LDS Church also essentially ties ones salvation to God to ones relationship with the Church in many, many ways. Therefore, when someone leaves the Church, whether formally or informally, it is seen by many in the family as breaking that eternal web. At the end of the day, given that the family “web” is ultimately the most important thing seen from an eternal perspective, this can create tremendous feelings of angst. It is therefore not uncommon for parents of a child not “active” in the Church to feel like failures, even if that child is well-educated, being a good husband/father/friend, charitable, and successful in their business. They still feel like they “failed”. Now, it is obviously not the “Church” that broke up the family, but it is a necessary and logical result of the teachings of the Church.

  25. Jeff, I would say that the Mormon church divided families when it got involved in the political gay marriage debate. There is something wrong when one group of people have to remain silent in a church building, while the other gets to say incorrect things. Good example is the Six Points read at he pulpit. The origin for one of the points was from a New Jersey Methodist church. Most Mormons do not know about the church gazebo sitting on public land.

  26. It may be true that it is people — not the formal Church — which divide families over religious matters. However, it is also true that those people are motivated to their divisiveness by doctrines that are propounded by the formal Church, and as to which the Church may take too few precautions to avoid the doctrines’ teaching having that effect.

    after all, 155-mm howitzers don’t level the neighborhood. People armed with 155-mm howitzers level the neighborhood. But we are still concerned enough about that latter possibility that we don’t just hand out howitzers to everybody in the elders’ quorum without giving at least a brief tutorial in their safe use.

    (My favorite example of the dangers of howitzers in undertrained hands was when UDOT shelled Pleasant Grove:
    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,600121107,00.html)

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    I have one friend who says, “People don’t have a right to believe whatever they want to believe, because beliefs turn into actions.” Hmmm.

    Another friend says, “Why should someone be offended at my beliefs? If I treat people respectfully, then my beliefs are none of anybody’s business.”

    There are times when the belief itself is indeed offensive. If I were to believe that one race was genetically superior to another, that would be offensive. Would that belief be anyone else’s business? Should I have a RIGHT to that belief? How much in control of our beliefs are we?

    Then there are other times when people are offended at beliefs out of their own prejudices and it’s unfounded. I’ve got one family member who is so sure that because I’m interested in Spirituality, I must have disparaging or damning beliefs about her, or I must want her to convert to my way of thinking, that she won’t hear me out to explain that it isn’t true. (I’m a universalist. What would I convert her to? Everything? 🙂 )

    It’s a real quagmire, but I think it’s really worth looking at what our beliefs imply about those who do not share the same beliefs. The Sikh religion is based on a vision of ecumenism and universalism, but in practice I’ve read some Sikhs on the internet sounding just like members of most other religions, wanting others to convert to their way of thinking and assuming that others not on the same path will not reach the same goals.

    It’s not just religions, either. Almost every system for personal growth falls into the same trap. As soon as you set up a goal and a method to get to that goal, unless you’re real careful about wording and presentation, it is implied that the people who don’t use the method will not reach the goal. Human nature being what it is, people jump all over that and enjoy feeling “right”.

    There are many spiritual traditions that deal well with this, but the RLDS is one of my favorites because they weren’t founded on Universalist principles, but have migrated toward it with language that honors their beliefs without making implications about those who do not share their beliefs. I posted this in another thread, but here is a favorite example from their website.

    “We experience salvation through Jesus Christ, but affirm that God’s grace has no bounds, and God’s love is greater than we can know.”

    That’s just beautiful to me.

  28. Mitch, 27

    “Jeff, I would say that the Mormon church divided families when it got involved in the political gay marriage debate.”

    You are entitled to your opinion. It does not make it true. I am certain you can find families where members had differing opinions about that effort and it did not divide them. Division was a choice that some made.

  29. Ecumenigal,

    “If a Mormon family is more distraught over a member leaving then a family of another religion would be, it’s just evidence that the church has a lot to offer families and therefore there is a lot to lose.”

    I agree with this. Some would call it control, but I don’t. I think the concern is generally out of love for that person.

  30. Mike S.

    “Families obviously want the best for each other. Blood ties run deep.” It’s true in the theoretical sense. But, in reality, individuals have their own agendas and desires and might not “want the best” for family members.

    The Church does not teach that families are broken up if one or more members strays. It is hard not to feel that way or to feel as a failure. But it is the individual’s choice that might disrupt the earthly family, but not the eternal one. Prophets have long taught that if we are true and faithful, our families will be re-united.

    I prefer to believe that.

  31. ##31 and 32: I think the frequent “Bitter Fruits of Apostasy” lessons, the perpetuation of the Milk Strippings Myth, the “deceived crawlers over the obviously authentic Book of Mormon” language, and other characterizations of disillusioned members as as morally deficient or unusually foolish people, also contribute to the divisiveness under discussion.

    It’s not just “the church has a lot to offer families and therefore there is a lot to lose.” The Church doesn’t just allow sectarian enmity by default; it actively fosters at least some of it. It shouldn’t. It can more than adequately defend its position without going over on the offensive.

  32. #29: “There are times when the belief itself is indeed offensive. If I were to believe that one race was genetically superior to another, that would be offensive. Would that belief be anyone else’s business? Should I have a RIGHT to that belief? How much in control of our beliefs are we?”

    As a primary matter: Everbody has a “right” to his beliefs, whatever they are. But of course “having a right” and “being right” aren’t the same thing. A person has a right to even morally wrong beliefs, because compulsion of belief is a moral wrong greater than holding even a grossly offensive belief could be.

    I would say that a belief, even if held in good faith, becomes morally wrong when it is held by reason of a person’s cultivating the vices of imprudence and sloth — of either being too lazy to properly inform his judgment, or by willfully ignoring evidence that ought to convince a reasonable person. Denial of the Holocaust, for example, is not morally wrong simply because it usually is motivated by bad faith (i.e., by underlying Jew-hatred); it’s also morally wrong because you have to engage in willful denial of convincing evidence to hold your opinion.

    Regarding your example, what do you mean by “genetically superior to another”? Interestingly, human biodiversity is one of those areas where good-faith, entirely rational conclusions are often declared to be morally unsound….

  33. Post
    Author

    Thomas, I agree with you that there are things the church does that it should not do that foster divisiveness. The “all the more points of connection to dissemble” and “there is a lot to loose” comment is just a thought I have a lot as a way to find appreciation and forgiveness because it hurts my heart to be mad and critical or to see other people decide that the church is all bad. I don’t think anything is all good or all bad.

    Regarding my example, I don’t know what I mean, since it’s not a belief I actually have or have looked into. Just an example of how a belief itself may effect others besides the believer.

    Your comments about laziness and willfully ignoring facts is interesting. I want to give them some thought.

    I think racism and other things like that come a lot from just plain programming.

    I spent time with a guy who I would call racist, though he was kind and fair in his dealings with all people and accepted his daughter’s interracial marriage without a problem. This guy could not drive past a group of people of a different skin color without muttering something about them.

    While previous to my time with him I was pretty color-blind (I couldn’t tell you what races of people were in the last commercial on TV because it didn’t register in my brain as an important), once I hung out with this guy for six months, I found myself driving down the road, passing by a group of people of a different skin color, and from inside my brain, in my own voice, complete with a feeling of disdain, I heard the same phrase that he would have said. I had only ever had positive interactions with people of this ethnic group, and wasn’t even aware of what stereotypes there are about them. It was a pure “garbage in, garbage out” experience.

    I thought to myself, if in only six months I could be programmed to think his words as if they were my own, think how much harder it would be for him to overcome growing up with a father who constantly snarled blood-curdlingly offensive things? It made me appreciate how far he’s come. He has bucked his own subculture to be the open-minded guy who treats everyone equally and considers them all children of God. He just mutters rude things now and then.

    I’m not saying we’re not responsible for our beliefs, or that my friend shouldn’t do more self-inquiry about this, but it sure seems like we’re the fruit of our upbringing and culture to me. I’ve been reading some stuff about brainwashing techniques and I think we humans are sadly easily programmed.

  34. I agree with ecumenigal that we are easily programmed. At my previous company, we had a very conservative dress code – even “unnatural” hair dye was out. After being indoctrinated for several years there, I couldn’t walk through a store without spotting “dress code violations” right and left and having an immediate negative reaction to those people who just didn’t look put together and “professional” (like you need to be professional when you’re shopping!). Likewise, after attending BYU for several years and not seeing men with facial hair or non-conservative haircuts, I did a double take in a chapel session at the temple once when one of the male patrons had a pony tail and facial hair. It’s pure conditioning as I never bought into the ideology behind either of these standards. Personally, this is why dress codes and standards strike me as a bad idea (e.g. white shirts only). They create subtle judgmental feelings based solely on appearance.

  35. Post
    Author

    Great example Hawk. I had reverse culture shock when I returned “home” from spending two years in Provo. All those brazen spaghetti straps everywhere! Have they no shame? 🙂

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