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Mormanity:Intolerance in the Church
by Jeff Lindsay
Those who join the Church need to know that it's not a perfect place. Among our members are all the problems of mortality. We have majestic principles and ideals, certainly, and abundant teachings and helps to bring us to Christ in both doctrine and behavior, but fall and fail in all sorts of ways.
Be prepared for human weakness in your peers, in your leaders, and in yourself. Steel yourself for that, but soften your own heart and let your daily journey be one of seeking to follow Christ and love more fully, in spite of the failings of others.
One of the many failings you will encounter in the Church is intolerance. This is a difficult problem because intolerance sometimes is a divine attribute that we should emulate.
When Christ cast out the money changers and merchants from the temple, He was being a tad intolerant of the local business community. Weren't these pillars of the community merely helping people with their religious life, ensuring that appropriate Hebrew currency could be used to pay priests and that suitable sacrifices could be obtained? And surely God could not be opposed to trade. After all, had not God commanded that the temple be built with great finery and with specific exotic imports requiring much merchandising and trade?
The temple as an institution was an expression of great accumulated wealth, and its maintenance and daily rites involved large flows of goods and cash. Of course, it was not the wealth of the temple or that institution's need for cash, goods, and trade that was inherently wrong. It was the hearts of men who saw in the temple an opportunity to make unscrupulous profit for themselves, taking advantage of others.
Men, corrupted by the lust for wealth, had turned the temple into a center for exploitation and personal gain, not a house of worship and reverence. That was a situation demanding intolerance. Not rabid loss of control, but carefully planned, controlled intolerance expressed with the eloquence of a hand-crafted whip.
God, for the record, is intolerant of sin. He "cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (D&C 1:31). His endless, loving patience for us is an expression of wondrous mercy, but based on His hope and expectation that we will accept His miraculous gift of the Atonement and repent to remove all that separates us from Him.
We must not confuse His love for us with acceptance of our bad behavior. When it comes to our sins, He is always ready to enter our bustling courtyards and forcibly turn the tables on us, if we will only let Him in so He can drive a few things out. We each need a little of that Divine Intolerance in our lives.
Intolerance, though, has many human expressions that are ugly. The Church teaches us to be kind and patient with others, even though we need to take a stand against the various sins that we all struggle with.
Healthy tolerance means being civil and loving of fellow sinners, not cheering them on in sin or teaching them to abandon all hope of repentance. This requires sensitivity, soul searching, gentleness, but not abandonment of principle.
It means leaving people alone when they want to be left alone and respecting differences. It means being friendly and loving toward friends and family who choose to leave the Church or who struggle with the Church, not pressuring them or withdrawing our friendship, but also being ready to help, encourage, or answer if they are open to it. It also means being able to tackle complex issues with both sensitivity and wisdom, not simply accepting the viewpoints the world would have us conform to, but understanding how to apply divine principles and standards in the chaos of mortality.
There are some voices in the Church who accuse the Church and its members of intolerance. This can be because of our stands on particular moral issues, or for our claims to have restored truth or authority. It is in the name of promoting tolerance where I have personally encountered some of the least tolerant people in the Church. Some people get so worked up over the Church that they do and say things that seem far out of line with the principles of love and kindness that they espouse. It's one of those human failings that we need to be prepared for, though it may catch you by surprise.
I'll share excerpts from an email exchange with a fellow Latter-day Saint. It illustrates a tone and attitude that I have encountered from a variety of LDS people over the years. It is an expression of great discomfort with the core of LDS religion and even intolerance of those who take it seriously. In the name of tolerance and love, the speaker pleads with me to just shut up and quit writing.
Apparently this Mormon champion of tolerance can accept freedom of expression in all of its forms except when it comes to a fellow Mormon saying that maybe The Book of Mormon really is true, maybe God really does speak to prophets, and maybe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in spite of all the human flaws of its members, is the result of a majestic Restoration that involved real prophets, real angels, and real gold plates. That, dear friends, is just too idiotic to tolerate, so it's time to get out the verbal whip and silence the speaker.
For those of us with any remaining testimony towards the authenticity of The Book of Mormon, please, please quit writing. Your stated views, concerns, responses to questions and inquiries continue to entertain us--but not enlighten anyone but the uneducated and naive.
It appears that you are genuinely concerned and honestly engaged in your quest to defend the authenticity of the LDS history. It also appears that you are becoming an embarrassment for those truly interested in the truth: not hollow excuses of probable and possible circumstances validating what you already believe.…
You will never be able to "prove" your views. Regardless of how ridiculous one's ideas and belief system are, reason, common sense and intelligence are no match for superstition and faith….
Please stop writing.
Hold on--are you saying that you have a testimony of the authenticity of The Book of Mormon, but don't want me to write on that topic? Or are you just pretending to accept The Book of Mormon? What is this "testimony" you're talking about?
Forgive me if I'm taking your message the wrong way… Would you mind pointing out what facts I have wrong, or what facts I have overlooked? The use of sweeping accusations without details, based more on name calling than reason, is a characteristic of traditional religious bigotry and calls into doubt the premise of your email.
So who are you really and what's your beef?
You write as if you have read much of my writings, but the statement about never being able to "prove" my views again makes me wonder. I have repeatedly emphasized that we can't prove matters of faith or the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon, but we can argue the cause for plausibility, or refute some of the arguments against plausibility. So what is so embarrassing to you? But I don't think embarrassment is what's motivating you at all.
Sorry, but the nature of this email makes me strongly doubt what you say. But I could be wrong and missing the real story. Let me know.
To be blunt Jeff, your attitude and often flippant responses reflect much of what is driving people away from what can be positive about a belief system. …
Your writings continue to foster these attitudes as you present a very sharp edge in expressing your views. I will never attempt to change your views or faith system. It is far too personal and important to you. However, the reason that I asked you to quit writing is because your often flippant manner reflects all that is currently driving people away from religion. One could argue almost any issue, defend any cause, Hugh Nibley any issue to death. My beef is that you have obviously bought into a cause, and defend it in its entirety to the point of ridiculousness.
…your writings go far beyond ration and reason. By accepting platitudes of absolute truth, you have bought into the belief system that you hold all the keys of the truth--and others don't…. you add greatly to this religious bigotry and self righteousness.
"By accepting platitudes of absolute truth, you have bought into the belief system that you hold all the keys of the truth--and others don't. "
Where did you get this? That's not what I've been writing. We have the restored Gospel and many great truths to share, absolutely, but we do not have all truth or a monopoly on truth--a common theme in my writings. For example, my recent blog post at http://mormanity.blogspot.com/2008/01/busting-mormon-monopoly-on-truth.htm is one of many on this theme. I have been a strong advocate for recognizing the insights and truths that we can find among other religions, Islam included, and am simply puzzled by the thrust of your attack.
More insight in his next response:
Inevitably, as conversations turn to Mormonism many of my colleagues refer to information that they have gleamed from various sources on the internet. FARMS dialogs are discussed at length. Sunstone articles are another source of information that are debated. And unfortunately, your web pages are quite often the topic of open discussions.
Although I believe that you are honestly trying to deal with and debate your concepts of truth, the manner and attitude displayed by your writings are creating a very negative reaction on a very broad level. You have posted comments on your web pages, apparently from individuals with very negative impressions of your writings, and then proceeded to tear them apart using what is commonly referred to as "FARMS" apologetic tactics. I believe that you know these by heart, therefore I don't have to delve into many details concerning literary combat techniques. Suffice it to say, that when people say that "Lindsay wouldn't know the truth if it bit him on the a**" is a fair statement that resonates on a larger scale than you would imagine…
The "I know this to be true" syndrome is very unfortunate. You know as well as I do that this attitude is fostered and refined in every fast and testimony meeting of the LDS Church. "We are right and you are wrong" is the very dangerous attitude that has been the catalyst and excuse for hatred and killing for centuries. My question: why can't we simply admit that we really don't know who or what God is, and simply try to understand that we are all in this together as humans.
You asked me directly what my beef is. To answer simply, my beef is that you are becoming a reflection of who the LDS Church is. And this reflection is evolving into a joke.
Please stop writing.
There is an anti-apologetic reflex among some Mormons who are quick to make a caricature of all apologetics as being crude, idiotic, ad hominem attacks based on embarrassing ignorance. These insults are hurled at the Maxwell Institute, at FAIRLDS.org, at me and at others, but when pressed for specific examples of such errors in what has been published, I've only been greeted with silence. I asked for specifics from this person and sincerely wanted to know where I needed to improve. I would get nothing.
My patience was wearing thin at this point:
Look, I'm trying to listen. I've only got the sweeping accusations so far. Statements I've made in the past have been too harsh or whatever, and I've made efforts to correct problems and modify posts or pages that were unintentionally offensive.
So can you point to whatever you feel is a classic example of what I'm doing that is harming the Church? Is it something from 10 years ago? From last week? Is it, for example, my early post on ex-Mormons at http://mormanity.blogspot.com/2006/11/cutting-little-slack-for-ex-mormons.html? It's not helpful to say, "Everything stinks; you're a nasty person." Maybe that's true, but it would be much more civil and persuasive to point to specific examples of genuinely inappropriate behavior (hopefully not just differences in style or a dislike of attempts at dry humor) that are driving sincere people to disdain the Church.
And with all your talk about tolerance, why is it so hard for you to tolerate someone who actually, sincerely believes in his religion? I fully recognize that we do not have a monopoly on truth and that others have much to offer, including Islam, etc.--a common theme in my writings at Mormanity--but I do believe we have something that can really help the world and that comes from God, not just the lurid imagination of Joseph Smith.
It's OK to differ, and to explain where I have made errors and stepped over the line, but the condescending call to just shut up isn't what I would expect from someone of your stature.
Perhaps it is not your intent to belittle by telling me that my writing is a joke, that I'm harming many people, that I'm an embarrassment, etc., all of which has a certain belittling nuance to it, though you may not see it that way, but that's pretty much all I've gotten from you. I'm sincerely asking for guidance about the problem spots.
I know the RFM antis mock me, and I get plenty of email saying how stupid I must be to believe in God and the Church, or how I'm going to hell for not believing the way others do, but I've had hundreds of emails from people within and without the Church who were struggling for information, looking to understand doctrines, seeking for something, who have thanked me for the content. I've got many dozens of emails from people who say they joined because of my writings, and many, many more saying they came away with better respect for the Church.
And I've got three that I can remember like yours from current or former members who say that I am harming the Church, including one who claims he--or I think it was someone he knew--left the Church because of what I wrote. And that anonymous person didn't give me anything more to suggest he was really serious.
So while I have no doubt that some critics and some cultural Mormons don't like me, I've got a stream of feedback saying that what I've written has been helpful to the Church. But please point out areas where I've said something misleading and harmful and I'll sincerely look to correct the problem and improve the tone.
I know you can't accept the idea of a real testimony, but I have one. There is much I don't know about God and religion and so forth, but I truly know that He exists and that Jesus Christ is my Savior. And my testimony of The Book of Mormon is relatively strong as well. Much remains open for debate, and there is truth and goodness everywhere, but I sincerely believe we have something precious to share.
At this point he said he would get back with specifics when he had some time. He never did.
There are times we need to speak out and be a tad intolerant, but more often, perhaps, we need to be patient with the inappropriate intolerance of others. As devout Christian religion becomes more embarrassing to the world and even to some of our own members, we'll need increased patience in the future.
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