My Disenchantment with Church and State—Part 1 The Church

Stephen WellingtonCulture, LDS, missions, Mormon, Mormons, questioning 50 Comments


As long as I can remember, I was always rebellious against what I felt was unjust coercion, but I feel it was not until my mission that I started to come into conflict with authority.

At points I felt that missionary managers did not care about me or the other missionaries. At one point, crying on the mission president’s shoulder, I said, “All I want is to know that someone cares.” This was my own personal gethsemane that helped me feel the atonement working in my life and to feel Jesus’s love when I felt no one else cared for me. My mission president often described a mission as “a wonderfully awful but an awfully wonderful experience”. It definitely was for me. I had firsthand experience of the pain of mission politics and the abuses of power within a vertically structured organization.

When I heard John Dehlin’s podcast about his mission in Guatemala, about baseball baptisms I realized that there were similar stories, by others, of problems where people felt that ecclesiastical power was being abused and regular missionaries were being ostracized or punished for “objecting to unjust authority.” We have all heard Lord Acton’s maxim,

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I firmly believe this and have witnessed it in myself and in others.

Coming home from my mission I set myself goals to learn more about church history as a matter of faith mixed with curiosity and enjoy my mission for what it was. However, and I humbly admit, that I had the opportunity to visit with various bishops and councillors quite frequently over the next few years to resolve issues that had cropped up. I noticed that some were very humble and kind whilst others were more dictatorial and autocratic. The autocratic leaders made me realize that I was being too naive in trusting my spiritual wellbeing with these types of men, that I was perhaps too honest, and that I was going to repent so I would be able to get out of there as soon as I could.

During this time I read MANY church books that an orthodox mormon would call “anti-” but I found them historically accurate and fairly honest. I spent all my spare time, in a 2 year period, reading through church history books by anyone I could get my hands on and realized that the faith promoting Mormon history I was used too was biased, propagandized and most importantly didn’t tell the whole story. During this crisis of faith and sense of betrayal I also lost a faithful Mormon girlfriend who was worried about the information I was reading and I made my family worry. In my books and attempts at resolving my dissonance I read Michael Quinn’s “Mormon Hierarchy” series and was flummoxed about ecclesiastical power abuses in the history of the church from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson. My heart went out to those who suffered abuse by men in power as I empathized with them.

D&C 121 reads:

39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

It seems Lord Jesus Christ agrees with Lord Acton…or should it be vice versa.

For the time, I am unable to stay in Eden after eating of the bittersweet fruit of Mormon History. I choose to stay in the church and consider myself Mormon though I have unresolved doubts that plague me daily and I stay as committed as I can. My journey seems to be leading me to help those who are suffering and oppressed. I wonder whether this is the right journey but I find meaning and hope in it. I still choose to face Eden and my heart aches to return and meet others there when people, like myself, who have eaten this bittersweet fruit, learn how to illuminate the pathway back to religious certainty.

Comments 50

  1. I am just curious, I find in modern discourse “abuse” greatly over-used and a great I-am-a-victim-so-you-have-to-honor-my-agenda opener. So in a sense.. I am calling you out, asking for some facts.

    What specifically did you experience on your mission that was abusive at the hands of leaders? I once lived in a flat where the zone leaders took the room with the best heater.. and we were left in the colder room.. would you consider that abuse of power? Abuse is a very strong word. Were you yelled at? Were you denied food or rest? Did they just not give you the attention you thought you deserved (your post hints that that may have been at least part of it)? Did they hold you over a toilet and give you a swirley? Did they hurt your feelings? I had good Mission leaders, and I had bad ones (people are like that) I laughed at the bad ones, and went on with my mission. I appreciated the good ones. It turns out, upon stone cold reflection, I was probably as bad at following as they were at leading.. so I shouldered plenty of the blame.

    If you level a pretty dramatic charge like that you should back it up with a few facts so we can understand the level of abuse you are alleging, since abuse can mean so many things to different people. You owe your readers a degree of specificity that you have not yet provided.

  2. Regarding the different kinds of leaders, I’ve found it useful to consider the different Myers-Briggs Types. I presented at Sunstone 1994 on “Alternate Diagnosis: Personality Type and Social Conflict in Mormonism.” Just compare the ENTJ or ESTJ profile with that of, say INTJ or INFP.

    Then there are the developmental patterns, where people are in their personal spiritual growth. I’m fond of the Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth, which I prefer to the Stages of Faith scheme. Veda Hale sent me a summary many years ago, which I have occasionally posted on LDS sites.

    I find that awareness of such issues removes the question of such conflicts from the question of Mormon culture in particular, and moves it to the problem of humanity. I closed out my Sunstone talk with a Brigham Young quote on the importance of “knowing people as they are, and not as you are.”

    Once, while visiting the FARMS office in Provo, I heard Shirley Ricks comment on the phenomena of LDS have “their testimonies on too tight.”

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  3. I will never trust a bishop with my private life again. A bishop at BYU, I felt, abused his power over me. I was trying to get away from the addiction to pornography and masturbation, but every time I went into his office, I felt worse and worse, more and more depressed. I was in my second to last semester when he told me he would not sign the ecclesiastical endorsement for my last semester at BYU. I felt awful because he made me plead and beg to get it. I was doing all I could under the circumstances. I was meeting with a counselor to try and “solve” the problem. I was able to get him to give me the last semester. But that experience has created a huge wall inside me. Never again will I reveal my personal life to a bishop, someone in authority over me.

  4. Stephen,

    To quote one of our presidents, “I feel your pain.”

    Losing girlfriends and making family worry over religious doubts, been there, done that (and pre-mission.)

    Hey Porter, (that’s a Johnny Cash song),

    Stephen never said people were abused on his mission, but that “ecclesiastical power” was.


    I faced many of the same issues as Stephen, and yet I am an ISTJ (i am also qualified by CPP to interpret the MBTI for others). I am intrigued by your presentation. Where can I learn more about type and Mormonism?

  5. Kevin, not to be confrontational, but as a research psychologist concerned with noncognitive assessment, I find the psychometric properties of the Myers-Briggs to be sorely lacking. The gross categorization of individuals into the types is a deceptive and simplistic way of examining personality that does a lot to perpetrate misconceptions about the complexity of human interactions. I am not aware of any serious psychometrician or industrial psychogolist (SIOP members especially) that endorses the MBTI as a matter of course over other personality inventories.

    Stephen, while I understand your feelings of disaffection quite well, and have struggled mightily myself from time to time, remember that the simple questions are the ones that matter most. So while the church is imperfect, and sometimes church leaders do bone-headed things (wait until you hear what the current BYU-Hawaii President is doing!), the ulimate leader of the church is Christ. The simple question is this: Is the Book of Mormon scripture? Is there a God in Heaven? Does He want you to remain a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and try to make that church a better church? If the answers to those questions are yes, then you need to focus on understanding what role God wants you to play within the church, and then do your best to fill that role.

    I think sometimes we make things too complicated when we begin focusing too much on the history of the church. Yes, it is good to know these things, and we should not be ignorant of our past. But the very simple question remains: is this what God wants for us to do be doing? If the answer is yes, then we do it. We use our agency to choose to be obedient.

    Of course, I want you to understand that I have struggled too, and I understand how hard it can be. I wish you peace and comfort in the Lord as you move forward.

  6. If you level a pretty dramatic charge like that you should back it up with a few facts so we can understand the level of abuse you are alleging, since abuse can mean so many things to different people. You owe your readers a degree of specificity that you have not yet provided.

    Perhaps this misses the point. No matter how egregious the behavior, I guarantee some LDS apologist/polemicist can indignantly declare that the problem was entirely the fault of the person complaining. I once knew a CES instructor who suffered treatment in his employment that would lead most people in a secular job to sue, yet when he complained of what he saw as unethical treatment, he was told, “it’s not what anyone does to you, it’s how you choose to react!” In other words, “the LDS church is true, ergo blame the victim.”

    One of the great truisms I remember from my undergraduate sociology work is that whatever people perceive and believe to be real is real in its effects. Rather than assume Stephen is an “enemy of the faith,” thus causing you to go into full-scale apologetics mode, why not try to actually address his topic—that of preserving LDS faith in the face of perceived abuse by leaders?

  7. No, Nick, you take my challenge to Stephen wrong, I do not want to minimize any problem he may have had, I just want to understand it better.

  8. Porter, I hope that’s true. If it is, you may wish to reconsider the way in which you express your sincere desire for greater understanding. You opened with:

    I am just curious, I find in modern discourse “abuse” greatly over-used and a great I-am-a-victim-so-you-have-to-honor-my-agenda opener. So in a sense.. I am calling you out, asking for some facts.

    You may wish to consider that such an approach places people on the defensive, rather than encouraging open communication.

  9. Many aspects of my mission were terrible. I was berated for not baptizing children, threatened for working to maintain good relations with members of the ward I was working in, and I witnessed the corrupting power of nearly meaningless positions and statistics. I purposely bought fewer phone tokens than I really needed to call in my numbers to the zone leader each week in order to “accidentally” run out while being yelled at. Efforts to take concerns up the chain were blocked by the APs.

    So what did I do? Eventually I took my series of complaints to the mission president along with a list of suggested corrective actions. A shouting match that lasted two hours ensued and I knew once it began that I was either spending the rest of my mission in Presidente Prudente (known as “The Hole”), getting sent home, or that there would be big changes.

    The changes started that day.

    I think many times the leadership structure of a mission can keep a president from knowing what is going on. My president called me in months later to thank me for telling him things that were hard to hear. Years later at a reunion he took me aside again and did the same thing.

    I think a lot of people have bad experiences on their missions. The nonsense rules and the meaningless rat races for position and numbers combined with the difficulty (for some) of being far from home for the first time can make for a negative experience. Not to mention the constant rejection, “interesting” food, and marathon walks to appointments.

    In any case my point is that people blame the Church for a bad mission experience when there are plenty of other factors at play.

  10. Stephen, thanks for sharing. I have a great deal of respect for those who chose to remain in the church despite their struggles. It is a difficult path to walk.

  11. I still choose to face Eden and my heart aches to return and meet others there when people, like myself, who have eaten this bittersweet fruit, learn how to illuminate the pathway back to religious certainty.

    This may not directly address what you put here, but in my opinion, a lot of the anger and bitterness that comes from ‘finding out the Mormon church is not what it claims’ (whatever the hell that means), is misdirected. People are angry at the Church, when they should really be angry at God (and in many ways, I think they are). He’s the one who could have made it all clear, and yet He clearly didn’t.

    I’m not sure what the link between history and religious certainty is. I don’t understand it. I just plain don’t get it. I’ve read various historical books about Mormonism and if anything, I feel that I need to more. Maybe I just don’t trust other people’s conclusions, but I don’t think you can read a book and come to any definite conclusion without reading and studying more.

    I like the uncertainty. I find it liberating. I’m not forced to believe in something because it is irrefutable. I can take the facts and craft my own conclusion. Just because someone has a piece of paper with MA or PhD written on it, doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to slavishly agree with their conclusions. I certainly appreciate their perspective and craft, and they are a lot more persuasive than others, but ultimately I get to choose.

  12. Reading these types of posts and comments makes me grateful beyond words for my mission president and my extremely positive mission experience. My president was a very kind, warm, loving, Christlike man who put no pressure on us at all for statistical achievements. Sure I saw the leader-missionaries themselves doing bad or wrongheaded things, like hearing my first Zone Leader on my first P-day repeatedly “F-Bombing” another elder he disliked. Or when the AP’s went into high-pressure-mode to twist my arm into going along with their one-size-fits-all program of cold-contacting 10 people a day “on the street” when I was already tracting about 8 hours per day in my rural area and they told me my hundreds of daily door contacts “didn’t count” toward their new “street contacting” program. I just told them “no, that doesn’t make sense in my rural area,” and continued to work the way I felt the Spirit directing. But these minor irritating experiences with less-than-optimal leadership taught me valuable lessons, like not to micromanage others and to allow them to exercise their spiritual gifts and insights within their own stewardships.

    All in all, when I see a Church leader do something I think is wrong, I do not conclude that the problem is with the Church, its doctrine, or with concept of authority itself. I think the problem is with an individual who has not yet learned how to apply the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his life. So to me, throwing out the concept of authority because of bad exercises of authority is going too far unnecessarily. And it would also deprive us of enjoying the many benefits of righteous leaders. Because of my mission president’s righteous exercise of authority, I benefited and was strengthened in too many ways to enumerate.

  13. “During this time I read MANY church books that an orthodox mormon would call “anti-” but I found them historically accurate and fairly honest. I spent all my spare time, in a 2 year period, reading through church history books by anyone I could get my hands on and realized that the faith promoting Mormon history I was used too was biased, propagandized and most importantly didn’t tell the whole story.”

    I think I didn’t have the same shock and injustice as some do when they find the whole story because of when I got my hands on the whole story. I was 16 when I started reading more academic texts on Church History, starting with BH Roberts History of the Church, which was open about discussing money-digging and stone-in-hat and other historical truths. I also read the Salamander Letter and Momonism Unveiled by EB Howe. It was challenging to my faith for a time, but I also being a teenage had not fully committed myself so it was easier to be objective. I think I got shocked at the right time because it allowed me to weight the facts, do some praying, and become more sophisticated in my faith at a young age–then serve a mission.

    I credit Stephen’s distress (and many others like my best friend) to feeling duped finding out about the facts of Church history AFTER the mission when you suffered all kinds of abuses from people you were trying to save. Then you find out after the fact that you didn’t get the whole story–that kinda sucks. That would feel like an injustice and its hard to overcome. I recommend that seminary be a little more academic so that the truth is taught at a young age, allowing the youth to digest it before they serve mission. I know that’s taking a big risk, but I think it’s worth it.

  14. Peter,

    Like you, I encountered challenges to my simplistic faith pre-mission, really in high school. But the worst was my freshman year at BYU pre-mission, where I was easily able to research Mormon history and theology in the campus library. It made it more difficult for me to decide to serve a mission, and certainly made me less amenable to controlling tactics on my mission, as I’d seen the Church as a human institution for a few years at least. It has made it easier to eventually reach a working consensus on what I can accept in terms of belief and activity in the Church to have had time to work out many troublesome issues in the time since I was a teenager.

    The issues change as you go through life changes too. There are things that arise when you have a child that weren’t issues, and issues I had before go away. So belief and activity are dynamic things. They aren’t decided all at once.

  15. My “great awakening” happened on my mission, when I snuck in contraband apologetic materials and read them when my companion wasn’t looking. Since it was all from an apologist perspective, it was not majorly disruptive to my faith, although it did help me shed whatever measure of naivety I had, and illuminated many of the issues of history, science, and doctrine that I had not yet considered as significant. When I talked to other missionaries, I realized I was developing an awareness and cognizance of many of these tougher issues that other missionaries over-simplified into “search+ponder+pray” or “if the BoM’s true, its all true.”

    Post mission, I did some more reading from less friendly sources, and while my perspective, understanding, and maturity continued to develop, I never came across the shock of learning things I had never been told, and never faced the embarrassment of having a non or ex mormom know more than me about the controversies.

    I now remain faithful (at least the way I understand faithfulness,) although I am a bit heterodox in that I comfortably shrug off the words of the Brethren (past and/or present) when necessary, I acknowledge Masonic influence in the temple, I could go with the expansion theory of the Book of Mormon, and I can accept the revelations in the D&C as not having been dictated word for word.

    That said, I don’t feel any inhibition in gleaning wisdom from the Brethen, seeing the doctrine and truth through symbology of the Temple, embracing the Book of Mormon as an avenue to spiritual enlightenment, and read the D&C as the word of God.

  16. Power abuses in Cape Town? Get out. ( =

    Having served in Stephens mission, I can relate to a degree with what he’s talking about. For me the mission power structure was more of an annoyance than a faith diminishing experience. Looking back years removed now, rather than being cynical (I’m not implying that Stephen is cynical about his mission experience) it makes me chuckle to think of the debacle that can sometimes occur in a hierarchal authority structure composed of 19 and 20 year old managers.

    I can sympathize with the crisis of faith narrative, as could most people who have gone through it. Hang in there Stephen! Your a great guy with a big heart.

  17. I spent all my spare time, in a 2 year period, reading through church history books by anyone I could get my hands on and realized that the faith promoting Mormon history I was used too was biased, propagandized and most importantly didn’t tell the whole story.

    I never had much trouble with the LDS church in the sense of feeling it had hidden “the whole story” from me. I was a voracious student of church history and doctrine, and if anything, I had a bit of a superiority complex with regard to those who didn’t bother to learn “the whole story.” Rather than being troubled by “bad events” in church history, I contextualized them because I was convinced that Mormonism, in itself, was true. My disaffection came only after I became convinced, from my own examination, that the truly foundational history claims were untrue.

    I credit Stephen’s distress (and many others like my best friend) to feeling duped finding out about the facts of Church history AFTER the mission when you suffered all kinds of abuses from people you were trying to save.

    I think this is really perceptive, Peter. As one who no longer believes, I only really resent two things. First, I sometimes resent the fact that if not for my belief, I would have lived with integrity as a gay man many years earlier. Second, I resent that I devoted (“wasted” is ultimately true, but there is some sense of that) two full years of my life to the LDS cause.

  18. Couldn’t it be that some people are just idiots. That they:

    o Have no leadership skills
    o Have no social skills
    o Lack organizational skills
    o Lack maturity
    o Have a bloated sense of importance and entitlement
    o Can’t control their temper
    o Aren’t terribly bright
    o etc.

    Could it be some of those things and not this worldwide conspiracy of the Church to make everyone’s life miserable and only appoint leaders that abuse people?

    I know, you are going to say that the leaders in the church are inspired or supposed to be in other picking leaders. Well, a lot of times, they goof.

    Also, can anyone name any other WW organization, past or present, that does not “sugarcoat” its history and summary it in a positive manner?

    Or, is the church alone in that category as well?

  19. To me, the Church is a matter of faith that the Lord is behind it. Its a choice to choose that the Holy Ghost is leading you by the gift of the Holy Ghost along your own destiny. It is faith that promises in the next life will be realized because of your own performance and your own conviction in Jesus Christ. It should never be faith in men who will fail you. That is the classic trusting in the arm of faith thing. Your faith should never be in the Church as a man made institution, because it will always fail you. Your faith should be in the fact that behind the scenes, the general direction the Church is going in is being piloted by Jesus Christ. It isn’t faith in leaders, because they will fail you. It isn’t faith in history, because you will be disappointed. Its faith that the Lord gave keys to men to lead it in a general direction he wishes it to go. I never get hung up in the specifics, because I know there are all kinds of bumps along the way. I know that the history of this Church was crafted by flawed men doing the best they could to follow the way the Lord was guiding them. The fact that they were being led is something I have never doubted, and is a fact I have always had the spirit to confirm.

    So if you get hung up on the arm of flesh, you will indeed be disappointed. My faith is in Jesus Christ and in his promises to bless me according to my keeping of my covenants in his house with him. I don’t get hung up on what these guys do that have the keys. They have the keys because Christ has put forth a certain order that somebody has to administer ordinances and lead.

  20. Jeff,

    No one is saying there is a “worldwide conspiracy” to abuse people, just that it happens.

    If abuse does happen, as you suggest is likely from the list of potential individual failings above, isn’t it rational for a person exposed to that degree of negativity in an organization to want to find out more about the organization? It seems like that’s what Stephen did.

  21. John,

    “No one is saying there is a “worldwide conspiracy” to abuse people, just that it happens.”

    I am not so sure about that! Some folks seem to find a negative to everything. I was exaggerating to make a point. I also agree with a comment above that the “abuse” word is way overuseed in this context. When you see what real physical and emotional abuse really is, a lot of what is discussed here is someone being stupid, not abusive.

  22. The other night my daughter asked me if George Washington had owned slaves, which is something she heard at school. I said “yes”. “How could he do that?,” she asked? She was deeply troubled that the person she had been told was a great man could have done something as horrible as owning slaves. I told her: “Honey, sometimes even great men can do some really bad things, especially when the things we think are right and wrong change over time.”

    I hope she got it.

  23. Post

    Guys, your responses have been amazing!! I am going to have to save them on my computer to read and future points. I cant tell you how much the empathy and understanding are to me along with your similar experiences to know that I am not alone. I was afraid that opening up so much would leave me too open (feelings I have felt before from other church members) but I have found that I am in fantastic company and that you have all been great.

    I agree with 95% of what I have read. Nate, thanks so much for the support and true explanation that I am not trying to be cynical but using this post as an honest cathartic experience to relieve the pain that remains. You know the kind of missionary i was and the person I am. I always looked up to you mate. You are awesome!

    Despite everything I am hanging in there. I am a positive person and was hoping that this post could yield positive fruits although it is about a uncomfortable subject matter for some. Thanks so much guys…and if anyone else would like to share their feelings and experiences I would love to hear them.

  24. Stephen,

    You know, we are all in this together, the good, the bad, the ugly. Yes, do hang in there. It seems to me to be worth it.

  25. When I think of church leaders “abusing” their power I consider the callings that I have been given over my lifetime. I sincerely doubt that I have ever been given a calling where I was absolutely the best person for it.

    Was divine inspiration involved in giving me the callings? Yeah, I think so.

    Callings can serve multiple purposes, and perhaps someday I’ll learn the reasons as to why I was given some of the callings I’ve had. Possible reasons I received some of my callings:

    The best person for the job was doing some other calling at the time, and I was # 2 or lower on the depth chart, but the best available.

    I’m given a calling because the Lord is trying to teach me something. That must’ve been the reason I was once the Boy Scout Comittee Chairman, when I really didn’t like the scouting program much at the time…

    I’m given a calling because I can reach “someone” in that calling that others can’t. Unfortunately, the rest suffer until I help whoever that “someone” is.

    Point being, it is probably a rarity that the “best” person has a calling, including leadership positions. Maybe the Lord gave other people callings so I could learn to deal with abuse, who knows.

    I trust that He is in charge of what is going on; that He is not asleep at the wheel, and I hope that someday it will all make sense to me.

  26. MANY church books that an orthodox mormon would call “anti-” but I found them historically accurate and fairly honest.

    Not my experience, but to each his or her own. I would note that I did like Californians and Mormons but wouldn’t consider it anti.

  27. Re: “the nature and disposition of almost all men”

    My first year at college at a public university was pivotal in my overcoming the mixture of the good and bad elements of local church youth leadership and the good and bad mixture of LDS youth I was thrown in with during high school. Bonding with a group of true blue LDS college students that I who lived in but not of the world anchored me. They lived their standards not because of any school honor code, but because they believed their lives would be better for it. I was never that rebellious as a youth, but liked to have fun and be sarcastic. The mission experience was a return to some of those good and bad leadership elements that I had known and learned to make the best of. I was blessed to avoid mission leadership positions and was able to do my missionary work and exist fairly naive to mission politics. In spite of the potential to become disaffected, I think of those great college roommates and the individuals in every ward I have been to that are just the salt of the earth. Isn’t developing our “nature and disposition” a major purpose for the gospel? Isn’t overcoming the the tendency to abuse power a theme of the Book of Mormon? There will always be past events in any religion or organization that do not show the organization at its best. I guess I don’t need to be able to justify every questionable act by past church leaders, because I look at the fruit of the people I identify with in my own congregation. (Granted I don’t identify with everyone). In my professional dealings, people generally report favorably from their interactions with me, but there are always some that will think unfavorably with me even though I have provided the same general type of interaction that I have with everyone else. I realize that my best effort to be congenial won’t be enough to secure the trust of someone who doesn’t hit it off with me. I also see “anonymous” #3’s point, as there are some who will be in the Bishop’s position that I may not feel the connection and may not share certain things that I would with another Bishop. I guess I have that kind of wall inside me too. I know that God’s answer for certain problems may not come for a few years or, perhaps, may not be explained in a full during my lifetime. That is where the principle of faith works for me.

  28. Great post, Stephen. Thank you for sharing it.

    “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    Which is a more effective government for individuals and for a nation-state long-term: constitutional democracy or arbitrary dictatorship? The answer’s a no-brainer. For individuals, taken at random, liberty is only guaranteed insofar as the rule of law functions. Under dictatorships, some individuals profit, of course, and most can often be fine, but none are actually as safe from arbitrary whimsy as the average person who lives with legal guarantees. (For nations the picture can be slightly more mixed: democracies are capable of exceedingly stupid acts, and smart dictators are capable of making smart choices that sacrifice a nation’s short-term comforts for the sake of its long-term goals. However, while dumb democracies are unfortunately common, smart dictators with their nation’s interests at heart are extremely rare. Also, even dictatorships with smart dictators have a host of stability problems that are bad for everything.)

    The corollary to your truism above is that “In order to be exercised with maximal justice, power needs to operate within the bounds of checks and balances.”

    You can call these principles “nature” or you can call them the “human condition,” but if you believe in God, it stands to reason that these are divine principles. I presume that the theistic universe functions in concert with God. God isn’t making individuals who live under dictators suffer in order to illustrate that God loves dictators. Democracies are more effective because leaders operating with checks and balances are more in harmony with God’s plan than leaders who are unchecked.

    You’ve heard that it’s the gospel that is true while the church is fallible because it is made up of fallible humans. True enough. But what is not said is that the church is clearly functioning out of harmony with divine principles. That democracy is more in harmony with God’s plan than dictatorship or oligarchy is just as true for a church as it is for a nation or the universe. If it were in harmony with God, inspiration would flow directly from God to the membership, which would use theo-democratic principles to discern God’s will for the church and also to select its leaders. And the membership, through the medium of personal inspiration, would exercise oversight of the leaders, in harmony with the divine principle of checks and balances.

  29. I have been pondering for days on a line from Kiskilili’s most recent post at Zelophehad’s Daughters:

    Instead I made a concious shift to a focus on fidelity or commitment to God, which certainly is volitional;

    Faith isn’t knowledge; people who “know” by definition lack faith. Being faithful doesn’t necessarily mean to be believing, either. In our case (for I am in the same boat as you) it can mean simply a commitment to follow the principles we’ve learned.

  30. Stephen – Can I first say I sympathize with some of what you described? If you have experienced leaders who were pushy or manipulative or worse then I am sorry. But can I also offer my perspective? As a convert I left on my mission with less than two years of church experience and zero support from family. They nearly threw me out before I left. In the MTC I had a companion crying on my shoulder frequently because he missed his girlfriend. In the Mission field I had to settle companionship disputes, deal with truly sinful elders, complaints about leadership, all the while all I wanted to do was help people….preferably who weren’t missionaries. I wanted to share the gospel. And all the while many of these Elders were getting care packages galore and were being praised u and down by their families for their service. All I got was 3 letters in 2 years from my family, no gifts at Christmas, etc, blah blah blah, poor me. But honestly, I often wanted to tell other missionaries “grow the freak up”.

    I am not saying that you fell into this category I am describing. I bet you cared and wanted to serve as well. But were the abuses so bad that you couldn’t chalk it all up to a few immature 20 year olds or a bad President?

    I definitely had my own pity party from time to time. But my mission was great because I wouldn’t let anyone ruin it for me.

  31. #28 John Hamer….that is exactly how I feel about the organizational structure of the church and how ecclesiastical democracy would function. But I have to be careful with these things. I am glad we are on the same wavelength on that. We have to do our article about decentralization of religion and the benefits and costs dont we!? E-mail me your number or something and maybe we can have a chat. I spoke to William Van Wagonenen and he is quite interested in it but justifiably wary.

    #Steve-O….thank you for your post. Through this post I hope I havent given the impression that I didnt enjoy most of my mission. It was a blast most times and I have fond memories. The “abuses” were not bad enough for me to not finish my mission. And to be honest I am not trying to make my mission into a sob story because it wasnt for the most part. It was painful…but growing up is painful!!? Cheers again for your kind words Steve-O.

  32. Interesting way to invoke Eden in this essay — I must say I think it is slightly off.

    “Life is not intended to be lived in an idyllic Eden” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Not My Will, But Thine.” (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 8.).

    One can argue about whether humanity could have persisted in Eden but for the Fall, but since the Fall happened, Eden has never been a destination for the bright ship Humanity, sailing far away. Eden is the naive past. We are now reflective beings, having obtained an awareness of good and evil and, as we choose the good, we strive for a home on a plane far above Eden, where our fulfillment will be complete because we will have chosen it.

  33. John,

    As far as I know, little has been done with LDS and type besides my presentation, which is available for a free listen at the Sunstone site. As I recall, I quoted from standard books by Isabel Briggs Meyers (Gifts Differing), Please Understand Me, Type Talk (particularly a passage on a study of what happens when types are concentrated. Blindspots are concentrated as well.) Plus there is a valuable book called Survival Games the Personalities Play. I have a couple of interesting studies on type preference related to spirituality. Worship styles. Tendencies in the four Gospels to emphasize interests relating to the four basic types. Matthew, SJ, Mark, SP, Luke, NF, and John NT.

    Benjamin O. says “
    The gross categorization of individuals into the types is a deceptive and simplistic way of examining personality that does a lot to perpetrate misconceptions about the complexity of human interactions.”

    I don’t happen to think that MBTI is a gross characterization. I don’t find the claims excessive, deceptive, or simplistic. It doesn’t try to explain everything in the complexity of human interaction. It doesn’t try to diagnose illness, pass judgments, subvert culture, religion, or fully account for a range of biographical, developmental, or biological influences on behavior. It offers merely the pragmatic, observable tendencies that correlate with certain innate preferences. There is a very high correlation between Type and Career (Law, for example, being heavily TJ), particularly downstream in life, when more self-selection occurs, which makes it very useful. It could have saved me a lot of grief when I started at University, by steering me away from Business (heavily STJ), and into English, where I (INFP.. the opposite of the managerial type) eventually prospered and got my degree. MBTI simply describes general tendencies resulting from the interaction of preferences, akin to handedness, for Extraversion vs. Introversion, for getting information from Sensing vs. iNtuition, for deciding based on Thinking (logical) or Feeling (value based, including, but not limited to emotion), and living with Judging (liking to have things decided) or Perception (tending to put of deciding until there is more information).

    When my wife and I were undergoing counseling while in California, many years ago, I took the MMPI, a more professional, broader, respectable, instrument, which took hours to work through. According to that instrument, I’m not assertive enough. Too deferential to other people’s feelings. I knew that already. I didn’t find it particularly useful on a day to day basis. Nor can I remember anything else about it overall. However useful the counselor found it, for me, in practical terms, it was a wash.

    With MBTI, however, I do have 16 types to consider. It offers much more complexity than the binary “Men are From Mars/Women are from Venus” characterizations (really T versus F). It helps me to appreciate the talents and tendencies of people whose preferences, and therefore, whose gifts differ from mine. (My Bishops, for example). It urges me to consider how and why a minority type (ISFJ, abut 6-9% of women) comes to function as a stereotype for a gender. It urges me to consider the relation between a concentration of type preferences (NT among programmers) and the emergence of something like the “Hacker Ethic”, which struck me as correlating to type preferences. (Focus on sharing information, valuing competence over appearance and degrees, etc.) Plus I do recognize the implications of non-preference in complicating things. (My next older brother is xNTP, combining entrepreneurial and theoretical tendencies.) Plus, Eve Delunas’ interesting observations on what happens with the different basic needs of the types are not met. (Survival Games the Personalities Play, which I think neatly extends the use of type). Plus things like Joe Butt’s web research into the how types interrelate. (My INFP to Shauna’s ENFP he has as “pals”, which I find spot on.) All of these things, I find helpful literally on a daily basis. For me, reading my own INFP type profile was profoundly liberating. It validated who I was, and provided a reason for my oddities. I participated on an INFP mailing list for a couple of years, and found that I had much in common with those people. Yet the differences were also apparent. Type is clearly not everything. That is why I also mentioned the Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth. I recognize that Type is only one tool, only one perspective. Yet I don’t think it criminal to benefit from what it provides me. I’m not about to stop using it.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  34. Kevin,

    I agree. Compared to the Color Code and other simplistic personality models, the MBTI actually delivers concrete results which my students at the university can use to make sense of their major and career direction. I often interpret the Strong Interest Inventory first, and the MBTI if the Strong doesn’t provide a fundamental enough view.

    If I had understood I had a sensing preference, I probably never would have wasted my time earning advanced degrees in the humanities in the attempt to break into an intuitive academic discipline. My current job allows me to function in an academic environment and also use my ‘S’. Although my ‘N’ is highly developed, knowing my preferences helps me avoid burnout.

    MBTI is theoretically speaking very modest. It doesn’t claim to supplant birth order, environmental influences, or any other factor as the exclusive way to get at personality.

  35. I was always taught that those personality tests are approximations and not absolutes. That people can conform their own image of themselves to the test results. I’ve taken the MB tests twice at 7 years apart and in different jobs, and the latest came out polar opposite of the first one.

    Also, I didn’t really believe the test I took with the Scientologists and their interpretation of the results.

  36. Almost every LDS Church leader I have personally known at the local or regional level have been “good men.” Better men than me, for sure. Despite their positions of power and authority, most have balanced and exercised the high demands of their callings with remarkable restraint and humility. But despite such checks and balances as scriptures that warn against “the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority…” the church’s hierarchical/authoritarian model is fundamentally flawed, and therefore will always be subtly “abusive.”

    Besides the points made by John Hamer in #28, the major systemic “flaw” to me is in our inability to publicly question our leaders, or the church in general, (as evidenced, once again, by a recent church press release), without risk of censure or dismissal from one’s community and family. This seems like such a fundamentally important liberty for the self/soul, (to say nothing of its importance to the health of the institution itself), that its absence frankly shocks me. I don’t understand why more people aren’t bothered by this? When we hear of such a policy in North Korea or in Scientology, we shake our heads with with sadness and disgust. But we not only put up with it in our own community, we embrace it, and members act as co-conspirators with leaders to keep everyone in line.

    We do this, in part I suppose, because contention is of the devil. But if contention is of the devil, what do you call a false, Stepford-like, sense of all-is-well harmony?

    I’m not trying to be provocative, but what gospel principle outweighs the seeking soul’s right (I would argue “need”) to question God, let alone “men”? Why aren’t more people bothered by this?

  37. I’m bothered as well. I think that our lack of right to “question authority” is one thing that makes us seem like a cult to the outside world.


  38. Post

    John f and Matt Thurston…you both raise good points. I had responded to them but unfortunately I lost them when my IE page shut down. Thanks for the input and for the different perspective of looking at things.

  39. I’m bothered. That’s why I talk to others about it. Can we do more than talk?

    You could have some sort of organized resistance/protest. However, unless you and the majority of your organization are willing to lose their membership over this it will not work. Excommunication is a very big trump card. By the way, I wouldn’t sign up for it, so don’t think I am volunteering.

    If a few hundred or thousand Mormons simultaneously got themselves into excommunication proceedings, all over being critical, and made a huge stink about it, and made the church look really bad in the media, the authorities would likely back down permanently. It might work. However you would have to ask yourself 1) Could you live with the consequences if you were excommunicated? and 2) Would the church recover from such a stunt?

  40. I think there is a way for faithful Mormons to lobby for change within the Church. In his 1989 Ensign article entitled “Criticism,” Elder Oaks suggested that those who disagree with Church leaders or their policies should send the General Authorities a private letter. A lot of people gripe on blogs, but I wonder how many have taken Elder Oaks up on his suggestion to write them a letter. I have to imagine that if Elder Oaks started receiving hundreds and thousands of private letters on any given topic, it would cause the leaders to reevaluate the issue at hand.

  41. Elder Oaks suggested that those who disagree with Church leaders or their policies should send the General Authorities a private letter. A lot of people gripe on blogs, but I wonder how many have taken Elder Oaks up on his suggestion to write them a letter.

    Not likely to be effective. Most of those letters simply get forwarded back to local authorities. Some probably get canned responses. Very few likely make it to the apostles themselves as any organization likely has filtering methods in place to make sure that the higher levels don’t have to deal with stuff like that.

  42. Post

    Interesting points David. The Anglican church is currently weathering a potential schism over gay marriage. They are doing all they can to keep the American and English branch affiliated with one another. I think if enough people wanted it then “the church” would have to make concessions….just as they did with blacks and the priesthood or polygamy. Mormons are not ones to protest though I have found.

    I would like to believe that Elder Oak’s offer is genuine.

  43. The more I think about it, the more my “Why aren’t more people bothered by this?” (#38) question seems naive. If you don’t disagree with your leaders, you aren’t going to be bothered by the inability to publicly disagree with them. Mormons aren’t going to question their leaders if they don’t have questions. Those that do are easily ameliorated by such virtues as patience, humility, empathy, etc. and by such strictures as not questioning the Lord’s annoited, contention is of the devil, and so forth. And if neither of those work, there’s the “shelving” technique of learning line upon line and enduring to the end when all will be made known.

    All of which makes being one of “bothered” in a community of the “non-bothered” all the more maddening.

    John asks if we can we do more than talk? Probably not. I don’t think there is a successful precedent for any other form of protest.

    Still, talk is good, and can bring about change. Pressure, (in the form of talk), from inside and outside, lead to changes in our practice of polygamy, our prejudiced priesthood policy, our temple ceremonies, etc.

    Outside pressure (from the world) is very important. The Church can only afford to be so many degrees removed from the general mores of the world and remain successful, as the polygamy and priesthood ban chapters of our history demonstrate. Armand Mauss, in The Angel and the Beehive, talks about an “optimal tension” between the forces of assimilation and respectibility on the one hand, and repression and separateness/peculiarity on the other.

    This is why I believe the church will ultimately reverse course on the women and priesthood issue, and the Gay issue… it will HAVE to, to maintain that “optimal tension” with “the world.” Otherwise, in future generations the Church will be seen as barbaric and prejudiced, the same way churches that practice polygamy or exclude members based on race/color appear today. It is inevitable.

    Whether or not such “civilizing” pressure, as Levi Peterson calls it, can lead to a reversal of the don’t-publicly-question-leaders issue is another matter.

  44. Should I be bothered by the fact that I’m not bothered by a lot of the issues agonized over in posts like this one? Like others, I was introduced to scholarly texts on Church history when I was a teenager, but they never shook my faith in the fundamental truths that the Holy Ghost had confirmed to me. Should I be bothered by this?

    Also, the Church’s most recent news commentary doesn’t really bother me at all. And I read it very carefully. Word for word, in fact. Yet it didn’t bother me. Should I be bothered by this? Is there something wrong with me? What I’m reading here is that there is. I would acknowledge that abuses of power are common among all human beings and that Church leaders are, in fact, human. But I don’t think they’re guilty of the gross sins some people would have you think they are.

    In a Church with a lay ministry, in which even the top leaders never asked for a calling, shouldn’t empathy go both ways? I know a woman who once got to interview President Hinckley back in the 1980s. She was researching a book about the history Young Women organization, and President Hinckley’s mother had been one of the leaders. At the time the media and anti-Mormon publishers were having a field day with the goings-on related to the Mark Hoffman affair, and President Hinckley was bearing the brunt of it, including some nasty comments from supposedly faithful Church members. When this woman entered his office, President Hinckley said with a laugh, “You aren’t going to twist my words and quote me out of context, are you?” She replied by expressing her sincere appreciation to President Hinckley and acknowledging how difficult and lonely it must be for him in his position. He became quite emotional and had to hold back some tears as he thanked her for her support. All I’m saying is that Church leaders are human—in every sense of the word.

  45. Matt:

    I was always brought up with the understanding that if two people think the same way then one of them is useless. I guess I think that it should be common sense that disagreements can develop and not be serious. I think that is how we grow: through opposition, challenging and testing beliefs and ideas.

    I can’t see any reason why a church would be any different. The church is led by people, just like any other church or government. There are good people (even really, truly genuine and great people) that lead the church, just like there are crazy cats and unadulterated losers too. The leadership, I suppose, protect themselves in their position through a strong emphasis on obedience. Heck, running an autocracy is a lot easier than running a democratic organization. Governing by consensus (by common consent, if you will) is really tough, especially if there isn’t anything concrete that can bind the people together in a common direction. The way I see it, the leadership inserts obedience for its own sake to replace a common vision.

    The emphasis on obey and obedience in church publications since 1970 and from 1993 is truly dramatic. I find it troubling. Granted, nothing in the governance of the church says anything about the foundational claims of the church being true or not. The main point is that there has been nothing (to me anyway) to really inspire me to become better, nothing that has helped me identify where to improve or even clarify the need for the church or even the gospel in my life. I have had much more success finding that inspiration elsewhere (in fact my wife never stops pointing out where I need to improve). The main message, aside from some quality talks by Eyring, Holland and Tingey, has been very proscriptive ‘thou shalt not’ sermons in the strain of the evangelicals among whom I served my mission. In any case I assume the emphasis on obedience is due to the lack of clear vision or inspiration (in a leadership and creative sense), but I haven’t got any of that since about 1990.

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