Friday, October 08, 2010

No Middle Ground

I've been thinking about this post for several months.  Years maybe.  I have held back from writing it, mostly because I don't wish to offend anyone.  And I assure you, offense is not my intent.  But I have felt strongly, for a long time, that I needed to write this, if for no other reason than to make my position known.  I most recently felt the need to write it while listening to General Conference this past weekend.

Consider the following quotes:
"With the right of choice comes the responsibility to choose. We cannot be neutral; there is no middle ground. The Lord knows this; Lucifer knows this. As long as we live on this earth, Lucifer and his hosts will never abandon the hope of claiming our souls." (Pres. Thomas S. Monson -- Priesthood Session)
"We will hold to the principles and laws and ordinances of the gospel. If they are misunderstood either innocently or willfully, so be it. We cannot change; we will not change our moral standards. We quickly lose our way when we disobey the laws of God. If we do not protect and foster the family, civilization and our liberties must needs perish." (Pres. Boyd K. Packer -- Sunday Morning Session)
And now, consider the following quotes:
"Prop 8 overturned. It's about time. My religious beliefs shouldn't be concerned with what others are doing. Being LDS doesn't mean being a [jerk]!!" (Jazz Blogger / Person I follow on twitter)
"We believe ALL families matter and we do not believe in discrimination, therefore, our family will vote against Prop. 8."(Barbara Young -- Wife of former BYU quarterback Steve Young)
I am constantly hearing and reading statements like this.  "I'm a member of the church, but I don't agree with the Church's position on gay marriage" or "I'm a member of the church, but I don't agree with the Church's position on homosexuality."  I have heard these statements made with increasing frequency, both from people I know personally, and from people who I am not acquainted with.  President Packer's talk at General Conference on Sunday morning stirred up a whole new wave of this type of statement.  And every time I hear something like this, the first thought that enters my mind is "careful, my friend.  That is a slippery slope".

How do you suppose the Great Apostasy came about?  Do you think that all of a sudden, one day, all of the members of Christ's church just decided that they didn't believe it anymore?  Or they all died at the same moment in time, taking the truth with them?  I don't think that's how it happened.  I think that it was a gradual transition.  Little by little, bit by bit, people started to change things about the doctrine in order to make it fit better with their lifestyles.  The Apostles of the New Testament spent a great portion of their ministries traveling from city to city trying to correct these deviations from the true doctrine.  But one by one, the Apostles either died, or were martyred.  And once there was no one left to correct those who were corrupting the doctrine, it quickly deteriorated.  The plain and precious truths were lost.  All that remained were philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.  What followed was known as the "Dark Ages" -- the longest span of time during which Christ's church could not be found on the Earth.

Going on.  (If you're still with me, *kudos.)

We have been promised that the Church will never be taken from the Earth again, so we don't have to worry about another Great Apostasy.  What we DO need to guard against is personal apostasy.  And I believe that those who question, and openly criticize the Church's position on any issue are putting themselves in a very precarious position.  There are some people who I love and care about for whom I am actually quite concerned.  This is why I say it's a slippery slope.  It starts out with, "Well I agree with everything the Church teaches, except this one thing...", but can quickly become, "I agree with a lot of what the Church teaches, except for these few things...".  Where does it stop? "...and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them carefully down to hell." (2 Nephi 28:21 -- emphasis added)  This is one way that personal apostasy can happen.

President Monson made it clear when he said "there is no middle ground".  It's simple.  Either you believe he's a prophet, or you don't.  Either you believe that the Quorum of the Twelve are chosen servants of our Heavenly Father, or you don't.  Either you believe what they teach, or you don't.  We don't get to pick which parts of the gospel we believe in.  It's all or nothing.  We may not see what the harm is.  I've heard many comments -- similar to the one I posted above -- to the effect of "the church shouldn't be concerned with what others are doing" or "what harm does it do me if two gay men decide to get married?"  I don't have the answer to that.  But I don't need one.  If you always need to be told "why?", perhaps you need to work on strengthening your testimony.  I'm sure people wondered why they shouldn't smoke or drink coffee anymore when the word of wisdom was first given.  Science hadn't caught up with revelation yet.

My point is that Heavenly Father sees the big picture, and we don't.  He tells his servants what we need to know, and they relay it to us.  Do you trust Him?  It does not matter whether YOU can see the harm, or whether YOU can understand the reasons.  If you have a testimony, then hearing it from a prophet of God should be enough.

And for me, it is.

*Seriously, if you made it all the way through this soapbox, thanks.  The first thing I do when I see a blog post this long is scroll through and look for pictures.  If there aren't any, the post gets skipped.  :)


K2 said...

Thanks for an insightful and great post. I agree with you that it is a slippery slope. Its interesting to me that people say that it is a civil matter and why should religion care? Today it is just a civil matter and next they will be protesting to get married in the temple. I am glad that President Packer reminded us and the world where the church stands in regards to this issue. Thanks again.

Samantha Kennicott said...

I couldn't agree more. Sad to see that some of the same people who raised their hands on Saturday to sustain Elder Packer then turned around and questioned him the next day. I'd rather be on the Lord's side than the popular, politically correct one, that's for sure.

Michael A. Cleverly said...

Vince, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Reflecting on President Packer's talk, his intent & the reaction in some quarters, a couple of scriptures came to mind: Ether 12:27, 2 Nephi 15:20, 1 Nephi 16:1-3, and JS-H 1:33.

Recommended reading: The Marketing of Evil (I have a copy if you'd like to borrow it sometime). Satan was clearly the world's first great marketer (cf. Moses 4:10).

Deano said...

Vince, I appreciate and endorse your sentiments. Issues such as homosexuality and same-gender marriage are clearly moral issues, and churches are supposed to speak out on moral issues. Besides the Mormons and the Catholics, where are all the other churches?

President Packer's talk was characterized in some of the media and by some homosexual advocates as hate speech. I defy anyone who actually heard the talk or has since read it to point out a single hint of hate.

I am grateful that the Lord is still willing to speak to His children through prophets, seers, and revelators. How utterly presumptuous to think we know more than the Lord or His servants! Among all the Brethren, President Packer clearly has the gift of seership; he "sees" things so many of the rest of us do not see.

Last night I started reading the book Michael referred to, The Marketing of Evil, and yes, we've been cleverly sold a bill of goods concerning an almost wholesale shift in attitudes toward and acceptance of homosexuality (you will note that I am avoiding any use of the little three-letter politically correct word that was co-opted as a part of this sneaky advertising campaign for homosexuals to gain acceptance and then to silence any possible opposition [hence the cry of hate speech the moment anyone dares disagree with them]). They and we have been done a horrendous disservice.

Liz Cox said...

My husband and I had a similar conversation the other night and your thoughts sum up our own conclusion. Thanks for not being afraid to convey your thoughts and testimony. It strengthens my resolve to follow the Prophet.

RCH said...

I haven't had a chance to read Pres. Packer's talk yet (crazy Conf. weekend followed by a crazy week, oops) so I can't say anything about that, specifically.

I did, however, see the talk about the two types of revelation, institutional & personal. I've heard it said that the Catholics have a doctrine of papal infallibility, but don't act like they believe it, while Mormons have a doctrine that prophets ARE fallible (plenty of OT prophets come to mind) but seem to believe the opposite. That's why personal revelation is such an important thing. Yes, we should ABSOLUTELY listen to the prophet and apostles. We should ABSOLUTELY take what they say with great weight. But then we should pray about it, PARTICULARLY if what we hear raises doubts or hurt feelings. (Which is not to say that doubts = the prophet is wrong -- only that you need to hash it out with the Lord, personally, until the two of you come to terms.)

I'm not trying to be contrary, but when you say I've heard many comments ... to the effect of 'the church shouldn't be concerned with what others are doing' or 'what harm does it do me if two gay men decide to get married?' I don't have the answer to that. But I don't need one -- I think, "Well, sure you don't need an answer; it doesn't affect you. You're not in that situation." Granted, I'm not either, lol, but I suspect it's not as simple as requiring an answer = weak testimony. Testimonies ought to be built on prayerful questioning, rather than on thoughtless obedience. (I'm totally not trying to call anybody thoughtless -- just making a contrast.) Where would we be if Joseph Smith hadn't felt anguish & asked questions?

None of this even has to be about Prop 8 (though I would prefer civil & religious marriage to be separate -- would have made missionary efforts MUCH easier with my ILs if they had been able to attend a civil wedding before our private sealing; nearly 10 years later, they're still angry). I just feel uncomfortable labeling all doubters as unfaithful. Faith is a spiritual gift, and the scriptures tell us we don't all come equipped with the same ones. Some people have to work harder for it but that doesn't make them automatic apostates. (Would it be wrong if I joked they're just born that way?)

Anyway. Not trying to be disagreeable, but as much as it makes DH roll his eyes when he can't get a straight yes/no answer out of me, I have a very hard time viewing the world in black and white. It's not a binary place to me; I can't help looking at multiple sides. Whether that's a gift or a curse, I don't know -- but I just can't think about this issue without seeing nuance and gray & thought I'd say so.

RCH said...

(Dude, sorry for all the repeat comments! I kept getting an error message that my comment was too long, so I thought it hadn't gone through and I tried a few times to revise it down. Sorry to be annoying!)

Susan said...

Vince - I appreciate your comments on President Packer's talk. I had a discussion with a fellow temple ordinance worker on Thursday. We both felt that one of the themes of the conference was "Follow the prophet!" It is rare to have counsel given in conference so quickly tested. Why do we need to make the decision to follow the prophet? So we are prepared - this minor uprising after President Packer's talk was NOTHING, or maybe it was the beginning! I'm grateful to have leaders who I can depend on to always say the truth, no matter how unpopular. I don't believe it was a coincidence that two speakers referenced the same President Benson talk about 14 attributes of a prophet. Just like the counsel on food storage, debt, and the importance of the family, we are being given a period of time, an opportunity to strengthen/reconfirm our resolve to follow the prophet.

Susan said...

Sorry to leave another post. I meant to include this in my previous one. There was a letter to the editor in the Deseret News today which said, "Most knowledgeable Mormons and ecclesiastical leaders know that homosexuality is experienced honestly and involuntarily and is not amenable to significant change. I'm confident they were uncomfortable with President Boyd K. Packer's most recent conference talk. It is disappointing, however, to see them remain silent." The letter continues, "I look forward to the day when LDS church leaders will reach out to our gay children, friends, and neighbors, and figure out a way to enfranchise, rather then disenfranchise them." I sincerely hope this writer is wrong on at least two counts: One - that members were uncomfortable with President Packer's talk and Two - That members remain silent because they are uncomfortable. We can disagree without being disagreeable, but we cannot compromise. Thanks for letting me sound off, again!

Vince said...

Thanks for your comment(s). ;)

A few things I’d like to respond to. First, I agree that personal revelation is an important – I’d even say indispensable – thing. Without it, no one could claim to know or have a testimony of spiritual things. And you’re right – prophets, while ordained representatives of Christ, are still human. They are fallible, and can make mistakes. However, everything talk that is given in General Conference is written beforehand, and approved by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency. I am sure that this process is done with much thought and prayer. I am also certain that this process is guided by revelation, and I trust that the Brethren are sufficiently in tune with the Spirit to know if anything in the talks does not accurately represent the Lord’s position. (I would also point out that the Lord has made His position abundantly clear on the particular issue in question.)

I am not advocating blind or “thoughtless” obedience. It is important to seek personal confirmation that the things you are being taught are true. However, the Lord will test our faith as He sees fit. Often times he asks us to obey based on faith alone. It seems a bit arrogant to be unwilling to accept instruction, council, or doctrine from the Lord’s servants unless we are explicitly told “why”. Who are we to make such demands from the Lord? He will tell us why (or the reasons will become evident) on His own timetable. It makes me think of the way that children often repeatedly ask the question “why?” when their parents tell them to do something…
Parent: Don’t touch the stove!
Child: Why?
Parent: Because it’s hot.
Child: Why?
Parent: Because it has to be hot to cook our food.
Child: Why?
Parent: Well, because the heat causes the atoms in the food to move faster, causing a chemical reaction and changing the consistency of the ingredients. This transforms them into something we can eat and enjoy.

The child will never be satisfied with your answers, and will likely end up more confused than they were when they started asking questions. I’d imagine that, as a parent, you can relate to how frustrating that must be to our Heavenly Father. While “prayerful questioning” is certainly a necessary part of the testimony building process, obedience is an equally if not more important part. I remember a talk given by President Hinckley (I searched and searched for it, but couldn’t find the exact quote). I can’t remember if it was given in conference, or a fireside, or what. But he said something to the effect of “If you want to gain a testimony of the law of tithing, pay it. If you want to gain a testimony of the Word of Wisdom, live it.” His point was that the sometimes the Lord requires us to obey a commandment, or accept a doctrine first.

It is one thing to question what you have been told, and honestly seek to find out whether or not it is true. It is quite another thing to immediately assume that what you have heard is false, and deem it inappropriate, or even go as far as to label it as “hate speech” – which is the position that some have taken in response to Pres. Packer’s comments on Sunday.
(continued below...)

Vince said...

Lastly, I just want to say that it is not my intention to ”label all doubters as unfaithful” or ”automatic apostates”. I certainly hope that I didn’t come across that way. My point was that this is how personal apostasy begins. Questioning, doubting, criticizing… these are dangerous things to engage in. I stand by that. That’s not to say that anyone who questions something that the Church teaches is destined to ultimately apostatize. But they are at risk. The quote I used from Pres. Monson said, ”As long as we live on this earth, Lucifer and his hosts will never abandon the hope of claiming our souls." Doubt is one of the most powerful tools Satan has at his disposal in order to accomplish that task. If we leave the door open – even just a crack – he has the ability to blow it wide open. We make ourselves severely vulnerable to his attacks when we allow doubt to creep into our minds. That is the point I am trying to convey, though I may not have done the best job of expressing myself.

Anyway, thanks for sharing another point of view.

RCH said...

I watched the DVRed talk last night after posting my comment(s). After all the controversy the talk has spurred, I was relieved / surprised to find absolutely nothing new in it -- simply the doctrine reiterated as it always has been. You're right; the Lord has made His position abundantly clear and nobody ought to have been surprised by the talk. I guess the ruckus is in the timing? (All the recent suicides that have been in the news, I mean.)

I don't actually disagree with you, is the thing -- I tried very hard to word things just right so that would be clear -- EXCEPT. LOL. Except for the part about questioning being dangerous. I think it's essential, particularly when an individual finds a given doctrine (this one or any other) difficult. What sounds like criticism may just be an anguished soul trying to work the issue out with the Lord in his or her own heart, and not be all the way through it yet. You never know where somebody may be on their spiritual journey. I worry that we (proverbial "We") sometimes push people off the path because their struggles make us uncomfortable. (Proverbial "Us," too, lol. Not talking about you or anyone in particular.)

I just think that everybody's faith -- even those among us who are rock solid (on this or on every doctrine) -- could be more vibrant with open, honest discussion of people's struggles along with the uplifting Sunday School manual stories. I kind of felt like you were saying the struggle was wrong, when really it may just not be where you are at the moment. If that makes sense.

Totally sorry if I've misunderstood or offended you, but I wanted to clarify. :-*

Ryan G said...

Thanks Vince. I agree. I also don't think you need to apologize for posting things like this. As you say, there is no middle ground and we need to know how we feel no matter how we think it'll be received. I'm sure Elder Packer felt that way when he received his inspiration for his topic and again as he stood to speak. He had to know what could happen and didn't back down. No apologies. We stand for the right.

Ryan G said...

Forgive a second comment, I posted my first one without reading the others. my sister had a great FB discussion going about this and one of her friends posted the following conversation between Elder Oaks, Elder Wickman and a Public Affairs guys about this very topic. It's excellent and well worth the time to read.

Paul said...

Wow Vince you struck up quite the conversation here. All I have to say is that I have a testimony that the Gospel that we are taught is true. I'm faced with temptations everyday and it's a battle. I've had questions at times about stuff, and done stuff I regret. All I know is that when I read the scriptures, pray and do my best to serve the Lord good stuff happens to me, I feel the Spirit and that battle gets a little easier. Maybe what I said here has nothing to do with this post, but I felt like saying something.

The Taylors said...

Hey Vince,
Obviously I have to say something here. I completely agree that Elder Packer’s talk was NOT hate speech. I believe his intention was and is pure. I will say though, that his word choice and phrasing left something to be desired. As Rachael mentioned, there have been several incidences of bullying and suicide amongst homosexuals, creating a very sensitive environment. If you’d like me to explain further, let me know. I’m more than happy to discuss my thoughts and feelings on his talk. I would hope that I’ve proven myself to be a reasonable, thoughtful, and non-confrontational voice in your eyes.

I would also like to second Rachael’s comments. I think there are a couple pit falls that we should all watch out for. When we elevate any issue so far that it becomes a litmus test of one’s faith, it can and often does, lead to opportunities for judgment. If your position on this issue becomes the litmus test of your faith it is easy for others to judge whether you are a "true believer" or not. I believe THIS is dangerous territory.

Continued below...

The Taylors said...


I am reminded of a letter sent in 1964 by the apostle Elder Delbert L. Stapley to then Governor George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father. Elder Stapley was very concerned that Governor Romney’s support of the Civil Rights movement because it ran contrary to the position of the church, and the brethren at the time. Shortly after receiving the letter however, Governor Romney intensified his support of civil rights, seemingly in direct opposition to the leadership of the church. One could say that Brother Romney was on the road to personal apostasy and should have had more faith that the brethren knew the mind and will of God on the matter. Brother Romney though, felt it his obligation to follow his conscience, and presumably, felt moved upon by the spirit to do so.

Please don’t assume that I am equating the current movement for same sex marriage, with the Civil Rights movement. I’m only trying to point out that honest people, who are honestly seeking inspiration from God on a matter, can and do arrive at different conclusions, and that shouldn’t be an opportunity for us to call into question the sincerity of their faith, or conviction in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Chris and Camilla

A link to the letter from Elder Stapley:

Vince said...

Chris & Camilla:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me. I really appreciate your perspective, and I'm grateful for your thoughful comment.

Eliza said...

I read a very well written official statement from the Church in response to the petition from gay rights group this evening and thought others might want to read it as well... the link is:

mama boss said...

Hi...came to your blog because your wifey mentioned it on hers...
I know this post is pretty old, but I just wanted to thank you for posting it. The things you mentioned reminded me of a conversation I had with my hub's uncle recently. It didn't have anything to do with pres. Packer's talk or the issue of homosexuality. It was more about his thoughts concerning the leadership of the church. Ummmm.. I don't really want to go into too much detail on the internet... I really just want to thank you for reminding me of things I know, but had..not forgotten..maybe, like, misplaced..?
Anyway, thanks. :)

ps: I think your wife is awesome, and you are a lucky man. :)

Torrie said...

Amen. And well said!

P.S. I'm an old wardie of Mary's and just came across your blog while reading hers. Thanks for the read! Couldn't agree more :)