It’s been a few months since I first came out to my family and friends. I’d been living a secret double life for too long, and I couldn’t stand the duplicity any longer. As I’ve continued to come out to more friends, I’ve learned I have to be careful and selective about when and to whom I reveal my secret. It makes some people feel awkward and uncomfortable when I tell them about it; others don’t know what to say and simply stare at the ground or abruptly change the subject.
If you’ve ever “come out” to your LDS friends and family about frequenting the “Bloggernacle,” you know exactly what I’m talking about. The blank or quizzical stares. The awkward silence. You can see it in their eyes. Within milliseconds you’re internally labeled as a kook, a budding apostate, or both. Some apparently feel that as long as you’re living the Gospel, you shouldn’t feel the need to think and talk about it for longer than the allotted time on Sundays. It reminds me of that Simpson’s episode where Lisa’s school principal gets concerned by something Lisa says and presses the hidden “Independent Thought Alarm.”
But fortunately, I sometimes get more thoughtful, sincere, and well-intentioned responses. One recurring concern expressed by my friends is that Mormon-themed discussions that occur “off Church hours” and “off Church property” may tend to focus on the “fringes” of Mormonism; on the “mysteries” or “controversies” that “have nothing to do with our daily lives.” Ultimately, our conversations about the appropriateness of Mormon-themed public discussions come down to the question of what matters we believe the Lord does and does not want us to spend our time discussing. Or to phrase that question another way: “What would Jesus blog?”
For those who believe in the inspiration and authority of Church leaders, perhaps the best way to answer the question “What would Jesus blog?” is to examine Church leaders’ statements about this general topic. There have been numerous of statements by General Authorities advocating a broad, all-encompassing, open-minded search for truth. Take these quotes, for example:
As a means of coming to truth, people in the Church are encouraged by their leaders to think and find out for themselves. They are encouraged to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby come to such knowledge of the truth as their own consciences, assisted by the Spirit of God, lead them to discover. (James E. Faust, Ensign, Sept. 1998.)
As a Church, we encourage gospel scholarship and the search to understand all truth. Fundamental to our theology is a belief in individual freedom of inquiry, thought, and expression. Constructive discussion is a privilege of every Latter-day Saint. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Sept. 1985.)
All truth, whether it pertains to the universe, to this earth, or to the individual and his environment, is a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Church News, Dec. 20, 1969.)
In all His promises and commandments about gaining knowledge, the Lord has never withheld from our quest any field of truth. Our knowledge is to be coterminous with the universe and is to reach out and to comprehend the laws and workings of the deeps of the eternities. All domains of knowledge belong to us. In no other way could the great law of eternal progression be satisfied. (First Presidency Message to Howard S. McDonald, Nov. 14, 1945.)
That the Church relies upon duplicity in the propagation of her doctrines, and shuns enlightened investigation, is contrary to reason and fact. Deceit and fraud in the perpetuation of any religion must end in failure. A system of religion, ethics, or philosophy, to attract and hold the attention of men, must be sincere in doctrine and honest in propaganda. (First Presidency Message, Improvement Era, May 1907.)
Although Church leaders advocate a broad search for truth, they distinguish between an individual’s private search for truth and his participation in public discussions. According to Church leaders, the appropriate topics for private, personal investigation are virtually limitless, while appropriate topics for public discussion have some limitations:
The Church warns its members against symposia, and similar gatherings, that include presentations that (1) disparage, ridicule, make like of, or are otherwise inappropriate in their treatment of sacred matters or (2) could injure the Church, detract from its mission, or jeopardize its members’ wellbeing. (Church Handbook, 1998.)
We appreciate the search for knowledge and the discussion of gospel subjects. However, we believe that Latter-day Saints who are committed to the mission of their church and the well-being of their fellow members will strive to be sensitive to those matters that are more appropriate for private conferring and correction than for public debate. (First Presidency Message, Ensign, Nov. 1991.)
There are sure to be many different opinions about which particular topics of public discussion Church leaders had in mind when they referred to those that “could injure the Church, detract from its mission, or jeopardize its members’ wellbeing.” As is usually the case, Church leaders have refrained from providing a specific list of topics they deem inappropriate for public discussion, relying instead on individual Church members to “recognize inappropriateness when they see it.” However, Church leaders’ past statements may give us some more clues about the types of topics they find inappropriate for public discussion:
We urge the Saints to refrain from the discussion of mysteries and to refrain from asking questions about matters and principles concerning which the Lord has made no definite statement. (“Dear Brethren” [letter from First Presidency to general, regional, and local church leaders] Dec. 19, 1951.)
There are questions relating to doctrine and principle that are proper subjects for class discussion, when that is conducted for the purpose of gaining information. There are topics, however, that are of no particular moment, or on which no definite conclusion can be authoritatively reached, and these ought to be avoided, as a waste of time and a cause of endless dispute. Let the light shine and be sought for in faith, but let contention have no place among the Latter-day Saints! (First Presidency Message, Improvement Era, Apr. 1912.)
Dogmatic assertions do not take the place of revelation, and we should be satisfied with that which is accepted as doctrine and not discuss matters that, after all disputes, are merely matters of theory. (First Presidency Message, Improvement Era, Mar. 1912.)
These statements seem to echo two of the Apostle Paul’s admonitions: “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes” (2 Tim. 2:23), and “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain” (Titus 3:9). It seems the overarching principle behind these statements is that some discussion topics are simply a waste of time, or worse, create contention and disunity within the Church.
The scriptures make it abundantly clear that contention and disunity are greatly displeasing to God. “If ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:27.) When Christ visited the Americas in the Book of Mormon, one of his first pleas was for the contention among those peoples to stop. (3 Ne. 13.) And Christ’s great Intercessory Prayer was ultimately a plea for unity–that we would all become one. (John 17.)
As a parent, I understand that sentiment completely. I absolutely hate it when my children fight. And I have to admit that when they’re fighting, I often don’t even care who is right and who is wrong–I just don’t want them to fight anymore. In my desire for family unity, justice can sometimes be a secondary consideration.
I’ve wondered whether God feels the same way. Could “unity” be God’s highest value? Does He ask each of us to patiently endure some degree of injustice–whether small or large–simply for the sake of unity? For that reason, does God ask us to speak with Church leaders privately about perceived injustices within the Church, rather than making public outcries, simply for the sake of unity? Is God trying to tell us that our patient endurance of injustice–turning the other cheek, loving those who hate us, blessing those who curse us–is paradoxically the most effective way to change hearts and rectify the injustices we suffer (perhaps over the long term) without creating further contention and disunity?
I do not have the answers to these questions, so I’m very interested to hear your thoughts about the following:
1. Do you see a rationale for making a distinction between appropriate topics for private inquiry and appropriate topics for public discussion about Church-related topics? If so, what is that rationale?
2. If you answer question #1 in the affirmative, what criteria do you use to determine when a public discussion about Church-related topics “goes too far”?
Or in other words, how do you respond to the question: “What would Jesus blog?”
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