I was raised a Mormon in Idaho and have written on Mormon-related topics of all sorts for quite a few years.
The inviolable truth that is preached at the LDS General Conference is not a truth intended to straighten the world right out.
If such were true there would be a much greater frequency of Salt Lake-based preaching and revealed gems of wisdom regarding the larger scope of issues dominating the minds of humanity across the globe.
Although rhetorically the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints proclaims itself as the one true and living church on the face of the earth, and LDS conference archives abound with sermons proclaiming such, (for example, this sermon from current President of the Quorum of the Twelve, Boyd K. Packer, entitled The Only True Church,) Church leadership has never demonstrated any serious intent of trying to assert its true-churchiness by addressing the multiplicity of global problems to a global audience.
The role for such a spiritual public ministry to the world, positive or negative, has been asserted more powerfully by the Catholic Church (and most effectively these days by the Pope.) Furthermore, in terms of taking exaggerated public stances regarding issues of morality and/or politics, the Religious Right has made more noise than the Mormon Church and has in fact served as a lure to encourage the LDS to take more public stands.
Preaching to the Choir in the LDS church begins at the top. It is then modeled in lesser conferences and Sunday meetings by the junior local leadership which takes its instructions from the top.
Last weekend, two events of what appears the greatest notoriety seem to have been the membership voting to sustain its leadership after which newsworthy and social media uproar was focused on a small group of members who voted to the contrary of the proposition to sustain the Church leadership pyramid at its topmost level.
The second was the proclamation of a sitting Apostle of Jesus Christ, 92-year-old L. Tom Perry, (think the contemporary equivalent of Peter, James or John – Mormons see the members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles literally in that light) that some families are “counterfeit” and some are not.
In truth the weekend sustaining of leadership was a procedural moment in which the church membership was asked to affirm the leadership as it is constituted. It had very little to do with any change in church structure or leadership. The activity is almost entirely symbolic and encourages unity within the ranks of the membership.
Also in truth, a vote against the leadership in the context of general conference is also symbolic. Neither symbolic moment has eternal consequences, expresses positive or negative moral integrity or eternal salvific impact in the eyes of God. None who voted “No!” Saturday are going to hell for it. If you think otherwise you are identified with the choir to which Elder Perry was preaching.
The leadership, personified by the calm and un-troubled response of President Uchtdorf, reflected the un-troubled-ness of the moment.
However, in a Church that has relentlessly taught and continually teaches and emphasizes its very true-church circumstance, it is not the leadership that inflicts the most pain on its members. That is predominantly carried out by the membership itself which is the usual circumstance in any group strictly structured and guided by rigid and dogmatic narratives and perceptions.
Case in point is the surprisingly consistent viewpoints expressed by members who were more obviously offended by the dissenting votes than was the leadership hierarchy itself.
The two events are related in a way that requires understanding what the membership perceives as its role in belonging to the “True Church.”
In addition what belonging to the True Church is supposed to look like is based on almost 200 years of teaching and proclaiming that very elite supposition regarding the LDS vis a vis the rest of the world. (Again, think Boyd K. Packer, The Only True Church,)
One of the most common cliches from the membership is a slogan that was started years ago in another LDS general conference. The cliche goes something to the effect that apostates and others (essentially everyone) who have left the church have done so (left the Church) but not “left it alone.”
This cliche has been and at times continues to be tossed in my direction as one of the varied responses to my expressed perceptions regarding the Church. I don’t have much to say in rebuttal to the idea that ex’s or dissenters can’t leave the Church alone because I can not compete with eloquence of what you will find if you google
“leave the church but can’t leave it alone”
and read what comes up. The most common thread running through those many links is that even to those who left, there was rarely nothing casual about one’s membership in the Church.That was one of the reasons why the leaving was the consequence of emotional shock.
It was taken seriously, pleasured and worried over, stressed and conformed-to sincerely and with trust for many years. The official sermons and writings of the general authorities were not the sole reason for why it was all taken seriously. More significantly it was how such things – the standard dogma of the Church and the true-church narrative – were and are relentlessly emphasized. In addition, the principal reinforcement is done at the local level by the membership interacting one with another.
It is that world, and not the management-dominated procedural churchiness than is dispensed from Salt Lake, that eventually leads to disillusionment and a genuine and worrisome discomfort with fear, shame and guilt related to a sudden desire to reject conformity.
It’s what friends, family and ward members will think of the doubter that worries more than official disapproval.
That’s why a life of doubt is not unlike that of any minority toward which shame-based preaching is addressed. It is driven by and may for years cause a person with inner mental pain to stay in a closet of one’s own creation.
You won’t much see and hear a general authority stand up in a general conference and solemnly proclaim how he feels sorry for those who do not have the gospel truth possessed by the Mormon church.
You won’t much see and hear a general authority proclaim in a sacrament or priesthood meeting or relief society meeting in the presence of non-members that those who don’t belong to the Church will not be saved or return to God with the highest ranking of worthiness that Joseph Smith prophetically described.
I’ve heard such things in such meetings for the entirety of my life.
I talked that way at one time.
Most members with whom I was acquainted talked that way at one time or another in their lives in my presence.
We believed it was true and conducted ourselves accordingly.
Those who’ve read my blog posts here have read that I don’t seem to be in the closet in how I feel about the religion of my culture – especially regarding areas where I’ve challenged the leadership, doctrine and behavior.
Yet I have yet to hear one word from Salt Lake or my stake.
I have however, received an assortment of loving, shocked, even angry admonishments and exhortations from friends, family and local ward members. The last exchange with our home teacher six months ago resulted in his declaration – (with our agreement) – that he would not be willing to return to our home unless we were ready and willing to be taught.
So what’s with the emotional reactions to honest and public disagreement with Church leadership in general conference?
Those who voted no last Saturday owe no apologies. I’ve heard nothing from Salt Lake demanding an apology or implying corrective action against the no-voters.
Tell me why then is there so much preening in the true-believing-choir-talk encountered in social media?
I would also recommend a perusal of the following page at LDSliving.com where both sides of the discussion are present among the comments: Dissenting Votes at LDS Conference: Everything You Need To Know.
As for Elder Perry, whose apostolic declaration implies that if there are “true” families then there exists – in hs language – “counterfeit” families.
In the absence of universal acceptance that the LDS in fact is the only true church, Elder Perry was speaking to his choir.
More than likely Perry was interested in retention of his true-believing choir rather than declaring that some families worldwide are legitimate in the eyes of the Almighty and some families ain’t;
that some children don’t really have real mommies or daddies in their families;
that God accepts truly married and created families in some approved way that overrules the opinions of every other human being;
that any religious authority that disagrees or lives out of harmony with the ultimate truth and its source as proclaimed bi-annually from Salt Lake City will not be approved of by God.
If you take all that stuff seriously then the protests and objections from many directions and groups across the country are needful and reasonable.
If you understand that Elder Perry was expressing the LDS version of prophetic god-talk to a particular audience of deeply immersed, committed and and literal-minded members rather than as an apostle of Jesus revealing divine word to the rest of the world,
… then what he had to say ought not ruffle feathers.