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August 17, 2012
Dealing with Our Personal Dissent
by Jeff Lindsay

For many Latter-day Saints, there will be times when we disagree with a Church leader or even with a Church policy. This is natural and inevitable. We do not believe in the infallibility of anybody or anything other than God, so even inspired prophets chosen by God are prone to mistakes, as are the rest of us in the Church.

Unfortunately, we sometimes forget that infallibility is not doctrinal. As a result, when there is a difference in views, we tend to find that our own opinions are (surprise!) much superior to those of the Brethren or anyone else who disagrees with us, and forget to consider that we might be wrong, just this once.

On the other hand, those who disagree with the leaders in the Church on some particular issue may be right. We actually may understand something better and have more scholarly or “real world” insights and more progressive views than those in charge. They real question is what to do next.

The natural man in us is always anxious to criticize and proclaim our moral superiority. After all, to bring about needed change, don't we need to create awareness and public pressure to help enlighten the Church? Aren't we doing God and the Church a favor by turning up the heat on human error, including antiquated perspectives and aging doctrines that need to be refreshed? Isn't it all about spreading Truth?

I offer my experience that those who begin to publicly criticize the Church, even with good intentions, in many cases swiftly find themselves caught up in currents of hostility. They develop a mindset, enhanced with abundant social reinforcement, which increasingly looks down on the Church and its leaders. As they become more vocal in criticizing its leaders, past or present, the beauty and power of the Gospel becomes a faint echo drowned out by louder voices or, in some cases, war drums.

Step back and consider this: If the Restoration really took place, if God really did authorize living but fallible prophets in our day, what attitude would He expect us to take in light of apparent mortal error from His servants? Can there be any doubt that He would expect us to be patient, forgiving, lenient, and still supportive? Could He possibly be the inspiration behind snide remarks, name calling, anger, and public denouncements?

Ponder the impact of our criticisms on those investigating the Church or on those struggling with the Gospel or, perhaps, on our own family members, especially children. Ponder the impact of campaigns of criticism on our own relationship with God. Is what we are doing really what He would ask of us? Is it the humble, loving, Christlike thing to do?

Consider the problematic case of Abraham. Yes, a great prophet, but also a mortal man with mortal issues. There are many unanswered questions and some moments that seem to justify harsh criticism, such as sending his concubine and child out into the desert without adequate supplies and other symptoms of the challenges of polygamy.

Yet when his name comes up in the New Testament, it is with respect and deference. James writes that Abraham was called "the friend of God" (James 2:23). Christ speaks of him with respect. His problems are left between him and God and not made the subject of harsh criticism.

Perhaps the same kind of respect, in spite of knowing of his mortal weaknesses, is something we should have for the Prophet Joseph Smith and others, including our own Thomas S. Monson, an amazing man but still a mortal. We might disagree with the Church and its current or past leaders on one or more issues important to us, but may we be very careful in how we express that criticism, if at all, that we may be acting the way God would have us act in building up His kingdom and advancing His purposes, and not our own proud will.

I think each of us needs to be aware of the dangers of taking our differences too far and being too confident in our own wisdom, too sure of our own agenda, and too harsh or unforgiving in our attitudes when we think others have erred. Faith and patience may be more important in the long run than boldness and activism, even when we are right, and also when we, due to our own mortal weaknesses, are not.

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