There have been several attempts over the years to categorize Mormon “belief-styles”: Orthodox Mormon versus Liberal Mormon, Iron Rod Mormon versus Liahona Mormon, and so on. In the online world of LDS blogs commonly called “the Bloggernacle”, Mormons are often categorized as being TBMs (True Believing Mormons) or NOMs (New Order Mormons).
One evening when my wife and I had the opportunity to reflect on the timeless story of Adam and Eve, it struck me that their different responses to God’s commandments, and to Lucifer’s “temptation”, perfectly exemplified the different mindsets of TBMs and NOMs, and symbolically portrayed the age-old struggle between Orthodox and Liberal in any faith. And as I meditated on their dramatic dialog with Lucifer, with each other, and with God, it donned on me that Adam and Eve were the perfect TBM-NOM couple.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the TBM and NOM labels, allow me to briefly explain. Generally speaking, the mantra of TBMs is “follow the Prophet” while the mantra of NOMs is “follow your conscience.” This is not to say that TBMs don’t believe in following their conscience, nor that NOMs don’t believe in following the Prophet. Rather, the main difference between TBMs and NOMs relates to who they believe holds the “trump card” in situations where their personal views differ from Church leaders’ views. In such cases, TBMs typically believe they must yield to the authority and judgment of Church leaders, while NOMs typically believe they must follow their conscience even at the expense of disobeying Church leaders. This deference to authority by TBMs, and deference to personal conviction by NOMs, is typically an outgrowth of their divergent views about Church history. TBMs truly believe the Church’s official historical narrative (which supports Church leaders’ exclusive claim to priesthood authority and their special status as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators), while NOMs disbelieve or seriously doubt the Church’s official history (and therefore seek a new order or approach that gleans all the goodness Mormonism has to offer while pruning away the doctrines and practices that don’t bear fruit for them). These divergent views about Church history are usually accompanied by differing views about the nature of prophets and apostles. TBMs typically view prophets and apostles as authoritative guides who “will never lead us astray” in spiritual, temporal, and even political affairs, while NOMs believe that even prophets and apostles unavoidably “see through a glass darkly” when it comes to discerning God’s will, and may therefore occasionally lead us astray despite their best and most sincere intentions — hence NOMs’ inclination to rely ultimately on their own convictions.
Because TBMs typically view Church history and prophetic accuracy as clear-cut, black-and-white matters, they typically view obedience to Church leaders as a simple choice between good and evil. By contrast, NOMs’ murky view of Church history and prophetic discernment causes them to view obedience to authority as a complicated challenge where one must constantly navigate through innumerable “gray areas” of inconsistency and ambiguity, continually confronting the dilemma of choosing between the lesser of two evils, or the greater of two goods.
With that generalized description of TBMs and NOMs in mind, let’s examine how Adam and Eve exemplified these two different approaches.
Adam’s “TBM Response” to Lucifer’s Suggestion to Eat the Forbidden Fruit
Adam’s response to Lucifer when he suggests that Adam eat the forbidden fruit reflects a typical TBM mindset. When Lucifer suggests that Adam eat the forbidden fruit, Adam’s has an instant, knee-jerk rejection. With almost child-like disbelief that Lucifer would even dare suggest that Adam break the rules, Adam responds to Lucifer that because God told him not to eat the fruit, he would not eat it.
Adam’s response to Lucifer exemplifies the typical TBM mindset where all proposed actions are screened to determine whether they would conflict with any pronouncement by Authority, and if so, they are immediately rejected. Adam’s almost-automated thought process resembles that of a computer that refuses to do X simply because it was pre-programmed not to do X. Adam’s response to Lucifer demonstrates that he does not condition his obedience on his understanding or agreeing with God’s rationale for forbidding him from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge; the mere fact that God has forbidden it is enough to persuade Adam not to do it.
Of equal significance is what Adam does not do when Lucifer suggests he eat the forbidden fruit. He does not carefully ponder Lucifer’s proposal before deciding to reject it; he does not weigh the pro’s and con’s of eating the forbidden fruit or consider how doing so might fit into God’s larger plan. Nor does Adam even consider the possibility that eating the forbidden fruit might actually be necessary to fulfill God’s other commandments. In addition, Adam does not engage in any dialog with Lucifer before deciding to quickly brush aside his suggestion to eat the forbidden fruit; Adam is clearly not interested in learning the rationale behind Lucifer’s suggestion. The mere fact that Lucifer is suggesting he do something that would violate one of God’s commandments is enough to cause Adam to completely distrust and discount Lucifer’s proposal.
In addition, it is interesting to note that when Lucifer tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, he did so with the enticement that it would make Adam “wise”. Adam’s instant rejection of Lucifer’s offer to become wise through unapproved means demonstrates Adam’s absolute trust in Authority; it displays Adam’s confidence that if there is something important to know, God will reveal it to him in due time, and that he therefore need not go behind God’s back and obtain wisdom from alternative sources.
Although Adam’s TBM approach is admirable for the absolute trust and loyalty to God that it displays, it is sobering to recognize that Adam’s unquestioning and absolute obedience –if not tempered by Eve– would have ultimately prevented their spiritual development and unwittingly foiled God’s plan for all mankind. But to be fair to Adam and his like-minded TBMs, we can’t really blame them for taking God and his Prophets seriously when they speak. Just as nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expects God to tell us, whether personally or through his authorized representatives, not to do something that is actually necessary for our eternal progression.
Eve’s “NOM Response” to Lucifer’s Suggestion to Eat the Forbidden Fruit
Eve’s response to Lucifer’s suggestion to eat the forbidden fruit is the polar opposite of Adam’s. Rather than immediately rebuffing Satan, she actually engages in dialog with the enemy of righteousness. The notable fact that Eve does not immediately dismiss Lucifer’s suggestion to break God’s commandment seems to indicate that: (1) Eve’s mind is at least open to the possibility that God’s commandments must sometimes be broken; and (2) she must rely on her own judgment to determine whether, when, and how she should obey, rather than absolutely and unquestioningly obeying all commandments at all times.
When Lucifer suggests that Eve eat the forbidden fruit for the purpose of gaining knowledge, Eve apparently sees some merit in his unorthodox proposal. Apparently recognizing that knowledge of good and evil is a necessary part of her eternal progression, Eve considers Lucifer’s proposal further by asking whether disobeying God and eating the forbidden fruit is the only way to obtain that knowledge. It seems here that, unlike Adam, Eve intuits the concept of “necessary evil” — situations where we must break one of God’s laws in order to obey a higher law or accomplish a greater purpose. In such cases, technical disobedience to lesser laws enables obedience to higher laws — although the Adams of the Church (TBMs) may interpret such measured disobedience as just plain rebellion at worst, or a lukewarm commitment to God at best.
When Lucifer assures Eve there is no other way to obtain knowledge than by disobeying God’s commandment and partaking of the forbidden fruit, Eve believes Lucifer and partakes. Of course, Eve’s decision to eat the forbidden fruit could be seen as incredibly gullible and foolish. After all, how could she trust that Lucifer was telling her the truth when he said there was no other way to obtain knowledge? And how could she use Lucifer’s assurance as a basis to disregard God’s clear and direct command not to eat the forbidden fruit? Accordingly, Mother Eve’s act of disobedience has been viewed by many as the Original Sin for which she and all mankind have been deservedly punished.
But LDS leaders have taught that Mother Eve should be lauded and revered as a heroine of mankind for her decision to disobey God, not chastised and vilified as a disobedient rebel. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks has explained:
When Adam and Eve received the first commandment, they were in a transitional state, no longer in the spirit world but with physical bodies not yet subject to death and not yet capable of procreation. . . .
For reasons that have not been revealed, this transition, or “fall,” could not happen without a transgression—an exercise of moral agency amounting to a willful breaking of a law (see Moses 6:59). This would be a planned offense, a formality to serve an eternal purpose. . . .
It was Eve who first transgressed the limits of Eden in order to initiate the conditions of mortality. Her act, whatever its nature, was formally a transgression but eternally a glorious necessity to open the doorway toward eternal life. . . .
Some Christians condemn Eve for her act, concluding that she and her daughters are somehow flawed by it. Not the Latter-day Saints! Informed by revelation, we celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall. (Dallin H. Oaks, “‘The Great Plan of Happiness’,” Ensign, Nov 1993, 72.)
Is it possible that one of the reasons God required a “willful breaking of a law” in Eden was to teach mankind the paradoxical principle that we sometimes need to disobey ecclesiastical authority and break “the rules” to fulfill God’s greater purposes for our existence? When I consider Brigham Young’s words: “I am fearful they [Church members] settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation,” I wonder, specifically what “purposes of God in [our] salvation” are “thwart[ed]” by “a reckless confidence” in our Church leaders? In light of the LDS doctrine that God’s purpose is to help us become like him, does Brigham Young’s statement mean that it is actually un-Godlike to give unquestioning, absolute Adam-like obedience to our ecclesiastical authorities? Was he advocating a more examined, Eve-like approach to decision-making that recognizes sometimes disobedience is paradoxically necessary to accomplish God’s greater purposes?
Adam’s Redeeming Love
Regardless of what people may think of Adam’s initial failure to recognize the wisdom of eating the forbidden fruit, his loving response to Eve when she informs him of her disobedience and inevitable expulsion from Eden more than redeems him. When Eve informs Adam of her disobedience to God, his choice is a stark one: become separated from Eve and remain innocent and uncompromisingly obedient in a sheltered paradise, or stay with Eve by joining in her disobedience and expulsion. Adam’s willingness to endure disapproval, chastisement, and exile to remain with Eve demonstrated that his love for her exceeded his concern for his own comfort, safety, and approval. By recognizing that the greatest good was to stay together with Eve, and that the greatest evil was to be separated from her, Adam demonstrated he ultimately understood what the Gospel is truly all about.
Adam the Head and Eve the Neck: Both Members of the Body of Christ
When I shared these thoughts with my wife after separately reflecting on the Adam and Eve story, she responded: “Those are interesting observations, but there’s one big problem with your theory: even though it was Eve who made the right decision, Adam was given stewardship over her.” And my wife was right. God’s decision to give Adam stewardship over Eve is another puzzle in an ancient story already filled with paradox. After all, if it was Eve whose “wisdom and courage” made humankind’s existence possible as Elder Oaks has explained, and if it was Adam who was too slow to figure out something as quickly as Eve, then why not just put Eve in charge?
My response to my wife’s valid observation was along the following lines:
You’re right that it seems unfair that Adam was put in charge when it was Eve’s wisdom and courage that led to the right decision and the right result, but that’s exactly how it works in the Church today too. Although the Adams of the Church are put in charge, it’s the Eve’s of the Church that ultimately set the Church’s course. Just about every major change in Church policy and practice has been preceded by a chorus of Eves pleading with the Adams in charge to implement a change of course. For example, Lowell Bennion publicly disagreed with the Church’s priesthood ban long before 1978 and was fired from his CES job as a result of his “rebellious” views. But when the Church abandoned the priesthood ban in 1978, Elder McConkie acknowledged to a conference of CES instructors that he and other prophets and apostles had previously spoken with “limited understanding” when they had supported the priesthood ban. So in effect, there you had an Adam of the Church acknowledging that the Eves of the Church had been right all along. So it’s like the mother said in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: the man may be the head of the family, but the woman is the neck, and she turns the head in whatever direction she wants.
In light of the lessons we learn from Adam and Eve’s divergent approaches to deferring to authority versus relying on personal judgment, perhaps TBMs and NOMs can show greater appreciation for one another. As the Apostle Paul said, we are all “the body of Christ, and members in particular.” (Cor. 12:27) Hopefully, none of us will ever be guilty of saying to another member of the body of Christ: “I have no need of thee.” (Cor. 12:21.) Hopefully, the Adams of the Church (TBM’s) can recognize the valuable role that the Eve’s in the Church (NOM’s) play in moving us all closer to a correct understanding of God’s will, even if occasionally it appears their calls for change seem to be rebellion, disobedience, or disrespect for authority. As the Apostle Paul taught, we must show proper respect to all members of the body of Christ, and particularly those members that seem less honorable: “those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour.” (Cor. 12:23.)
Likewise, hopefully the Eves of the Church can be patient and take hope in the understanding that the Adams of the Church have good motives: they want to obey God, they want to do what is right, and they want to protect and preserve the truths God has given us in times past. Although their role as guardians of truth causes them to view any proposed change of course with great suspicion, they do ultimately come to recognize the wisdom of the course changes proposed by the Eves of the Church, and on a timetable that, although not swift enough for some, hopefully occurs before large numbers of members of the body of Christ decide to amputate one another.
So here’s to Father Adam and Mother Eve’s opposing but complementary approaches to learning, to life, and to love.