There's an old humorous saying:
Catholics claim the pope is infallible, but no one believes it.
Mormons claim the prophet is fallible, but no one believes it.
It's more true than it should be. (Perhaps on both counts.) What we claim to believe and how we behave should be consistent.
Decades ago I realized the only way to reconcile the cognitive dissonance I felt over many church policies and practices (historical and current), was to recognize that the church is run by actual human beings. Not nearly-translated-in-a-constant-state-of-intimate-divine-connection humans. Not so-close-to-God-that-they-are-indistinguishable humans. Real, actual, flesh and blood humans. Normal humans. Human beings who are inspired (or try to be, most of the time). Human beings who are decent (or try to be, most of the time). Human beings who have a hard job to do, do it pretty well (or try to, most of the time), and fail miserably (sometimes), sometimes even spectacularly.
In spite of that obvious truth, the cultural pushback that comes when anyone questions a policy/procedure/program is astounding, baffling, and often really stupid. It's as if the general membership forgets agency and personal revelation over program suggestions. It's as if we are blind to all of church history, even very recent history. It's as if making irrational claims is a Christlike characteristic, as long as it defends the church (past, present, or future).
For the Strength of Youth Extra-specially Cancelled
A recent example is the status of FSY (For the Strength of Youth, formerly known as EFY or Especially for Youth). Due to sweeping fear of Covid-19 (and worldwide overreaction to the same), church-sponsored youth programs, camps, workshops, etc., were canceled for the summer of 2020.
All faithful church members, obviously, gave glowing praise for this inspired and godly decision. Canceling in 2020 was perfectly as God wanted.
In September, the church announced that the programs would resume in 2021.
All faithful church members, obviously, gave glowing praise for this inspired and godly decision. Resuming in 2021 was perfectly as God expected.
Wait, not so fast! Coronavirus hysteria is still with us! Last week it was reported that FSY would be canceled for another summer.
All faithful church members, obviously, gave glowing praise for this inspired and godly decision. Canceling in 2021 was perfectly as God chose it to be.
God (again, obviously) wanted the announcement about resumption of programs in September that would later be rescinded. (Probably as a test of faith…or something.) It's exactly, perfectly as intended.
Fortunately (also, complete, utterly, 100% in line with God's will), wards/stakes will have the option of holding their own programs in person or…wait for it…virtually. (Because what our children need most of all right now is some more virtual interaction!)
Let us rejoice in perfect, infallible, continued revelation!
The Vaccine “Example”
When the pushback comes over issues that aren't even at the level of policy/practice/programs, but something as insignificant as a photo op with a social media caption, it's mind-blowing.
[Please turn on your favorite rendition of Follow the Prophet in the background whilst reading the rest. Don't go astray!]
President Nelson chose to publicize his Covid vaccine. Now—in order to be a good and faithful latter-day saint—you must “follow the prophet” and get the jab. No matter your medical history. No matter your research. No matter what your own doctor says. No matter what the research says.
Just do it.
Because you'll be blessed for your obedience, no matter what. And if you concoct some crazy reason to ignore the inspired counsel, you are obviously a faithless twit. You'll probably burn in the telestial kingdom. Not that I would judge you or anything, it's just the obvious outcome.
Questions from Kristen
My good friend, Kristen Chevrier (who used to be a frequent commenter here, back in the Mormon Momma heyday), is the director of Your Health Freedom. She is an advocate of informed consent. In spite of the fact that we vaxxed all our children according to the recommended schedule without question—believing that doctors are actually experts on such things—I have always been a proponent of freedom and choice in medical procedures. So while I often debated Kristen on specifics (admittedly, now, from a completely uninformed position of trust), I have never supported mandates on vaccines or any other procedure.
In the light of this recent rash of virtue signalers—showing their complete obeisance to all things headquarters by praising the as-yet-unapproved vaccine at every turn, by clamoring to get in line, by ignoring side effects or studies or anything that might quell the elation that comes from being injected with unspecified substances—Kristen asked some sincere questions on Facebook.
Honest questions for my Latter-day Saint friends who are feeling an urge to “follow the Prophet” right now, on a particular health related issue. (I put it in quotes because the letter actually said it was a personal choice, so, whichever you choose, you can still follow the prophet.)Thoughtful, respectful responses only, please.
Did you feel the same way and respond with the same measure of dedication when the prophet said:
Below I will attempt to respond to each question she asked.
To read the Book of Mormon daily?
When hearing this admonition by Ezra Taft Benson, I responded initially by trying to do it, failing a lot, and trying again. At times I've very consistent. Other times, not.
This past year, I read along Come Follow Me with my kids still at home. Now we are studying Doctrine & Covenants (admittedly my least favorite book of scripture and the one the church most readily selectively studies). Likely, my focus will be on that this year in family scriptures, though I study other works personally as I feel inclined and inspired to do.
To have regular Family Home Evenings?
I grew up in a home that was absolute in the sacredness of Monday night. That was fairly simple to do in Utah (where I lived most of my youth), since the culture supported that practice.
Our family has been quite successful at regular home evenings, at least once per week. Over the years, we morphed from a formal church-like lesson format (per the FHE manual), to one that fit the interests of our children and the circumstances. It became much more activity oriented and less formal, but still very regular.
To pray individually and with your family morning and night?
Our family prayers have been all over the place. When our children were all young, we had family prayer at least once per day (usually with scripture time) and prayed together at meals. Generally the dinner prayer was more than a simple blessing.
As the kids got older and moved out, we were less successful getting everyone together. Prayers happen when there are opportunities and/or particular needs.
To keep your body clean and free from double piercings and tattoos?
Ugh. I swear I wrote about this in the past. Perhaps back when I wrote for Meridian? Anyway, oh, yes, I did this in spades.
When President Hinckley gave the counsel about piercings, I had both ears double pierced and had a prized (and painfully earned) piercing in the upper cartilage of my left ear. I had gotten that last piercing, strangely enough, as a symbolic gesture (when I was a student at BYU) to remind myself that I had made a renewed commitment to more fully live the gospel.
Years later, when living in Boca Raton, Florida, the statements were made. It just so happened that I was a leader in the Young Women. So, yes, I removed all the “excess” earrings and haven't worn them since. (You can still see the holes if you look hard.)
Do I regret it? Actually, yes. Those piercings did not make me a sinner. They did not harm anyone. They were personally important to me (at least the last one was).
Feeling obligated to give up something that has no eternal impact—without being able to make a personal and informed decision—didn't make me more spiritually capable, either. It made mer more dependent on being told what to do rather than thinking for myself and making my own decisions based on spiritual insight.
Not to watch R rated movies?
I started watching R-rated movies when I was in high school and my best friend and I decided to see if we could sneak into a movie, underage. We went to a theater in Provo and snuck into Cheech and Chong's Nice Dreams. Probably the dumbest movie I've ever seen in my life.
That became a habit for a few years. Watching dumb, usually raunchy movies (per the typical 80s garbage) whenever it seemed cool. But I knew it didn't effect me. Because I wasn't stupid or easily influenced.
One day President Hinckley (once again) made a comment about R-rated movies. Not doctrine. Not policy. Just a comment. But I decided to change my ways. I stopped watching them and haven't since.
Do I regret that? No. But also yes.
No, because a number of months later I was visiting my parent's house, scanning the cable TV channels. I came across a stand up comic. His routine was raunchy. I didn't like what I was hearing, so changed the channel. Only then did I realize that a few months earlier, it wouldn't have bothered me. I would have only changed the channel if I heard my goody-two-shoes parents coming. But this time, I changed the channel just for me, when I was home all alone.
I had been influenced, slowly but surely, until objectionable content didn't offend me.
Yes, because I have eschewed all R-rated movies without analysis. Ultimately (as with the piercing issue), this dulls my ability to make sound decisions and seek my own spiritual insight. We all know the movie rating system is far from divine direction. Why should that system and the utterly amoral movie industry people determine who I support or what I consume?
I need to take charge of this for myself. First on my list? The Passsion of Christ and Schindler's List. Yes, it's true, I have never seen either of them. No, I don't think I'm more righteous for having done so.
Not to drink coffee, or black or green tea?
I don't drink any of them and never have. I don't regret following the (parts of the) Word of Wisdom (that are currently stressed by the church). It has served me pretty well. Honestly, I think I'd be a problem drinker if it had ever seemed an option.
The emphasis of adherence to the Word of Wisdom as a marker for faithfulness, however, seems way, waayyyyy over the top. You can be a pretty scummy person and get a temple recommend…as long as you don't drink tea.
That mothers should be the primary nurturers of children?
That's a very, very long story. I've discussed it in the past at some length and don't have time to tell the entire story today.
In a nutshell, since I was 13-years-old, I had very vocally described my plan to get a master's degree and work when I had children, if I had children. (My oft-repeated lines to the dumb boys I dated was, “I'll have two kids…if I like the first one a lot.”) My sassy, know-it-all teen self told my mother that I was far to smart to stay home and do “menial labor.”
I have repented.
Anyway, when I was a few months pregnant with our first baby, a few months from getting my bachelor's degree, and ready to make my way in the world, Ezra Taft Benson gave a talk during a BYU devotional that I personally attended. It was later printed in a booklet called To Mother's in Zion. It turned my life upside down.
Again, in a nutshell, he said women had no business working outside the home. It was against God's will and the ruination of the family. And all that.
After much angst, I decided to follow the “counsel.”
Do I regret it? No and yes. There isn't time here to delve in depth into that question. Suffice it to say that I've come to the firm conclusion that this is a decision that should only be made by a couple—acting in complete partnership as equals, not with a “presider” and a “helpmeet”—who want what is best for their children and for each other.
As a nearly empty-nester, I can attest to the fact that placing almost all one's efforts and energy into only children who are, by divine design, destined to leave their parents, is not a complete plan. I'll add that this lopsided dependence is an enormous contributor to spousal abuse in the church. (A topic for another day, and one that I've become much more aware of through my own daughter's abuse, which was often done using authoritative church claims.)
That the Church opposed gay marriage? Or baptisms of children of gay marriages? (The second has been rescinded.)
This whole debacle largely played out with me as an observer. I watched the drama play out in the bloggernacle mostly just as one could predict. The “progressive” Mormons (many of whom aren't active in any real sense or only culturally or very selectively) and the ex-Mormons were enraged and used it as a club to beat the organization they don't really like anyway. The most faithful of the faithful defended it out of hand, claiming it to be God's ultimate will that must be embraced. (And when it was rescinded, the new policy was exactly the same.)
Given my penchant for promoting women's issues and welfare (particularly in the church, which is almost exclusively the place I have experience sexism), I find the push for general normalizing of homosexuality (and now transgenderism) to be problematic.
If women are expendable, then they are expendable. If all we need is Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, then that's all we need. To me, however, this is irrational. How could there have been a creation without Heavenly Mother? Even though she still is invisible in our creation story and even temple worship, I believe she was an integral part of it all. And, yes, I believe it is erroneous and sexist tradition that has removed her.
As for the temporary refusal of baptism for gay couples, I never came to a definitive position.
It seems problematic to official include minor children in a religion that explicitly teaches agains their parents lifestyle. Certainly, this idea never led to a universal baptismal ban (children of smokers could be baptized), but this is an obviously more significant issue.
On the other hand, why would you ever want to deny anyone baptism—a saving ordinance—if the parents would allow it?
The misstep was corrected. Evidence that our leaders are fallible, but sometimes willing to change course.
That the Church was in favor of policies that aided illegal immigrants and promoted illegal immigration?
I am not in favor of promoting or ignoring illegal immigration. Countries have borders because they have sovereignty. Without borders, you do not have a country at all.
What's so bizarred to me in the context of the Covid-19 fear-for-all is that the church shut temples, shut down all meetings, pulled missionaries home, and now (completely contrary to science) signals that we should mask up, shut down, and distance from each other—because that's what idiots like then-Governor Gary Herbert, now-Governor Spencer Cox, Governor Gavin Newsom, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the like “mandate” it—to be “good global citizens,” whilst ignoring immigration laws.
The Corona overreaction has devastated people all over the world. But that doesn't matter? The church is complicit because we need to go along with politicians?
That black male members could not hold the priesthood? (Also, rescinded.)
First, I'll note that it was not just a priesthood ban. It was also a temple ban for both women and men. Having lived my entire life without being ordained, I find the inability to be sealed far more problematic.
I've been opposed to this policy since I first learned about it, when I was five or six years old. It was startling and baffling to me. It made no sense at all. Given my experience with terrible treatment solely based on the color of my hair, I could not fathom that God had preferences based on the color of skin. How could that possibly matter in the least? For the love of all that is holy, it's just color!
Fortunately for me, my parents did not defend the policy that existed until I was 14. They knew my misgivings and simply said they didn't understand it or know why it was policy. When it was rescinded, I literally rejoiced in the streets with my neighbors.
The sad and strange thing to me is that so many who rejoiced that day, would have defended the policy endlessly the day before, claiming it to be God's ultimate will. Indeed, even today some claim the policy was correct “for that time” and that the change was “correct for a different time.” That happens even though the church essays pretty much admit it was a racist artifact with no doctrinal basis. (And they also kind of throw Brigham Young (rightly) under the bus for implementing it.)
Of course, now we have Critical Race Theory which brings racism full circle and dresses it up to pose as virtuous and good. Who knew that would happen? Mind boggling.
Did you agree with the (recently outdated) policy that women should not speak last, or pray last, in Sacrament meetings?
I have been told I was the first blogger to write about the women banned from praying issue. I'm so glad that this issue took hold and started a movement that got at least one small (stupid, sexist) practice officially addressed in the handbook. In my experience and from my research, to clarify, the prayer ban was usually over the opening prayer. But either way, now that women have (finally) given both opening and closing prayers in General Conference, any claim to following example or precedent is nonsensical.
So, to be clear, no. I never agreed with or supported the inane and sexist proscriptions with regard to speaking or praying. I've pushed against them for decades and will continue to do so. For example, iff women are so utterly distinct from men—as the church insists—that we must have gendered church assignments and offices, women should be fully represented in the church, in leadership, in speaking, in outreach, in authority. Men, even inspired men, cannot fully understand or represent us.
Do you try to understand the Word of Wisdom and follow it?
I'm old enough to have had grandmothers who both drank coffee and both had temple recommends. That occurred long after most people think it moved beyond a “principle with a promise” to commandment status—in spite of the explicit note in the D&C that it's “not by commandment or constraint.” (As an odd side note, in writing this I noticed that the church's gospel topic page about the Word of Wisdom actually starts with, “God has revealed the Word of Wisdom as a commandment for the physical and spiritual benefit of His children.” [Emphasis mine.] Weird.)
Still, I've always followed the parts of the Word of Wisdom the church pays attention to. No coffee, tea (black or green—and I think herbal tea is gross, so no temptation there, even if it was problematic, which it isn't), alcohol, tobacco (in any form), or illicit drugs.
I eat meat (without famine and in the summer). I do not use wine for sacrament (pure or otherwise). I do not use tobacco for bruises or for cattle (which I do not have). I drink hot cocoa multiple times a day. I eat oats (though not a horse), corn (though not an ox), also rye and barley, and lots of non-wheat grains.
I have consumed much caffeine (but actually avoid it most of time for the past few years to regulate sleep) because it has zero to do with the WoW, in spite of all the ado about it in the past.
Do you keep the Sabbath day holy?
Pretty much. We've always been pretty careful about Sabbath worship. I don't shop, go to movies/restaurants/theme parks, etc. We don't have assigned chores. We usually reserve the day for worship.
Over the years, I've become less dogmatic about it. I no longer have strange demarkations between a leisurely walk (OK!) and a brisk run (workout bad!). I no longer think we need to hunker down at home doing “quiet” things all day, avoiding jumping on the backyard trampoline or swinging at the neighborhood park.
Those things were cultural artifacts that I've been thinking more about. Still, I do value having Sunday be a different day, a break from work, a mental and physical rest from the typical labors. I'm still working that out.
Do you follow everything your church leaders tell you, without question or asking Heavenly Father?
No. And I think doing so is neglecting the most valuable and irrevocable gift we have: agency. There's nothing wrong with choosing to follow counsel. But there is nothing righteous about following counsel without thought.
Do you seek to foster agency and accountability for everyone—not just yourself?
I've never thought about it in those terms before. Agency is a given. God would cease to be God if it was taken from us. I've never thought to “foster” it, just to accept it and use it the best I can. I do talk about it (see above), so perhaps that counts.
Have you prayed about this policy to know what God would have you, individually, do?
Perhaps I don't pray as others do. Sometimes I pray about specific line items presented by church leaders. For the most part, I try to live a good life (whilst often failing miserably), try to do what I should, try to research issues and think carefully, try to be guided by the spirit.
The prophet's recommendation to vaccinate is not policy. If it was, I'd still object and still choose otherwise. But that's an important distinction right now. The implication (from so many) that Russell Nelson has the divine knowledge to give sound advice on a medical procedure for all members of the church is not only mind-boggling, but dangerous.
While the official statement (which was changed after being first published) does acknowledge personal choice, I think all the general authorities (and particularly the prophet) should know how such statements are interpreted by so many members. They will not think or research. They will simply comply and believe they are more righteous for doing so. That influence should not be used irresponsibly in suggesting a general medical procedure with a rushed, experimental, and unapproved vaccination. A vaccine that cannot be undone and has been lethal to some.
One issue still being studied is possible impact on fertility, pregnancy, etc. One source suggested men getting the vax should consider freezing their sperm beforehand. Fertility is likely not an issue to the over 70 general authorities, but it's of enormous concern to younger people.
After writing that paragraph, just this morning, a woman posted a comment on a Facebook post asking if people would take a vaccine. It perfectly illustrates the problem. She said:
I would pray about it and follow the prophet. If there was something wrong with the current shot I don't think the first presidency and apostles over 70 would have participated.
The first presidency modeling was all that was needed for it gain revelatory medical efficacy.
When much research is still to be done, it's unconscionable to
Do you feel that God's answer to you applies to others?
Not generally, although rationally-derived decisions should be considered by rational people.
How do you decide which church policies are of God and which are cultural?
All policies are cultural. They might (or might not) be inspired, but they are still situational. They are not eternal principles.
A blog post to come someday will address doctrine, with a little visual aid included. In my view, there are only four basic things that are true gospel doctrine:
- Atonement—at the center
The rest is just scaffolding.
What Do You Think?
These questions started an interesting discussion. I'd love to hear your thoughts.