Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Member teachings

Ever hear a talk at church that really resonated with you? One that you remember for years afterwards? I heard such a talk many years ago when my children were still preschool age. The speaker was a psychologist and he spoke of the different types of teachings we have in the church. He listed 3 main type of teachings
Gospel teachings - These are the eternal truths (e.g. the plan of salvation). These are immutable.

Church teachings - These reflect society and the times, such as policies. For example, when I first joined the church, women were not allowed to pray in sacrament meeting as it was considered a priesthood responsibility. This was a church teaching that has since changed.

Member teachings - These are the teachings that we need to be wary of. These are the personal opinions of people which may or may not be in harmony with gospel or church teachings. For example, I had a missionary companion who would tell investigators that they had to give up chocolate when we taught the word of wisdom.
This particular talk also resonated with my wife - and has been a topic of discussion between us throughout the years. Often when we hear someone say something that is just totally off the wall, we'll just look at each other and nod in recognition of a member teaching.

I recently talked to my wife about my reluctance to go get my temple recommend renewed. I explained that there are a couple of questions I'm not sure I can answer to the satisfaction of our bishop and/or stake president. As we discussed this further, she related some of the things she heard in church while visiting our daughter in California and said that she thinks proposition 8 make a lot of people in the church go crazy and say a lot of stupid things. I countered asking about leaders saying some of these same things. She then said that she believes even general authorities can be guilty of member teachings.

I understand what she is saying. For example, Bruce R. McConkie has gone on record and admitted that some of the things he put in his book "Mormon Doctrine" are wrong.

My concern is: How are we supposed to know the difference? When a general authority speaks in an official capacity as a representative of the church, how are we supposed to discern if it's a gospel teaching, a church teaching, or a member teaching? Yeah, I know, pray - read the scriptures - go to church. But what if we've done all that and conclude a particular teaching is wrong - but others discern the same teaching as "thus sayeth the Lord ..."? Who's right? Who's wrong? Can we both be right (or wrong)?

For many in the church, when a general authority speaks, it is as if the Lord himself had spoken. And, once God has spoken it - through his earthly representatives - the time for thinking is past. The only course of action left is to follow and obey. To disagree with a general authority is akin to disagreeing with God! For someone to speak up in a church meeting and disagree with the words of a general authority would be considered apostasy and blasphemous.

Others in the queerosphere have commented on the talk Elder Bruce C. Hafen, of the Seventy, gave at the recent annual conference for Evergreen International. I read his talk, and, without going into detail, I don't agree with much of what he says. Am I supposed to just shake my head and tell myself that he is just giving his opinion - his member teaching - to an audience of like minded people? That's much easier said than done - especially knowing that others will read his same words and nod in agreement, believing that he is speaking the will of the Lord.

This is the crux of a problem that is festering within me. These are men whom I've always considered to be men of God - and whom I trusted and sustained without question. But now - I can't just accept everything they say at face value anymore. And, I keep having the nagging thought: if they are wrong about one thing - then what else are they wrong about?

I feel like a little kid who just found out Santa Clause isn't real - wondering if he can ever trust his parents in anything. Like that little kid, part of me still wants to believe. But he can't - not with these nagging doubts haunting him. Because learning the truth has caused other things to fall into place - things that he previously chose to ignore, but that he can ignore no longer.

I just wish I could help my wife better understand my feelings - as she believes I should just dismiss those things I disagree with as member teachings - and then go in for a temple recommend interview answering the same as I always have. But I can't do that - it would feel . . . dishonest.


Chester said...

This is my bet on how the talk came about:

-First Presidency assigns Hafen to speak at the Evergreen Conference.

-Hafen goes to his filing cabinet and looks under "H" for "Homosexuality".

-Finds a talk on the subject he gave in the mid-90s as a Stake President.

-Recites it verbatim at the conference.

Everything about it seemed so....dated. That's why everyone is so angry, it seemed the church was past some of these things. Maybe we were mistaken.

As for the temple recommend - I feel for you. Scott at Dichotomy recently had a similar crisis of conscious at his recommend interview. Maybe there's some helpful advise there.


Pieces of Me said...

I have been struggling with the very same issue since the Hafen talk came out. I don't agree with the majority of it. This struggle was made even more difficult when the Church placed the talk on its web site. Without the talk on the web site it was easier for me to just reason it was his opinion. But now with the talk on the website, it gives it the credibility of being sanctioned by the Church. And as Chester pointed out in his comment, it seems very dated. Much of what he said is contrary to what the Church has been saying in the last few years. Are we going back in time?

I still believe in the gospel, the administration of the gospel? Well thats another story.

Quinn said...

Here is my opinion. General Conference talks are 'scripture'. Firesides, CES broadcasts, etc. are member teachings.

Although let me contradict myself. In conference once, Hinckley said, "In my opinion." So that is not scripture.

Listen to what they say. If they say, "thus saith the Lord..." That's gotta be hard core doctrine.

Like you said, things like Mormon Doctrine are pure opinion, I think a lot of the books the apostles put out are opinions. Even if some of it is true, its not doctrine, its just their views on matters.

Gosh I think I rambled, but hopefully it made sense.

I found some talks on this subject, and if you dont wanna read em them skip my comment. I found them interesting.

Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Callings

By Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85)
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Thus the opinions and views, even of a prophet, may contain error, unless those opinions and views were inspired by the Spirit. Inspired scripture or statements should be accepted as such. We have this problem, however. Paul was one of the greatest theologian-prophets of all the ages, but he had some opinions that weren’t in complete accord with the Lord’s feelings, and he wrote some of them down in his epistles. But being wise and discreet, he labeled them as such. He said, “This is what I think.” When he got through telling that, he said, “Now this is what the Lord thinks.” Paul’s views, his private opinions, were not as perfect as they might have been.

Prophets are men, and when they act by the Spirit of inspiration, what they say is the voice of God; but still they are mortal and they are entitled to and do have private opinions. Because of the great wisdom and judgment of these men, their views may be as good as mortal men can have, but unless they are inspired, unless they are in accordance with the revelations, they are subject to error on the same basis as the views of anyone else in the Church.

We need not wonder vainly if the General Authorities are speaking by the Spirit of inspiration or not—we can discover for certain. I remind you that one of Joseph Smith’s famous statements is to this effect: “The Lord will not reveal anything to Joseph that he will not reveal to the Twelve or to the least and last member of the Church as soon as he is able to bear it.

Beck said...

It's all "member teaching" unless it is preceded by "Thus saith the Lord".

Meaning, it isn't scripture, even if it's posted on the website. So take it for what it's worth... a man's opinion, dated and incorrect as it may be.

Goldarn said...

Do people believe that the church is run, day to day, by prophets, seers, and revelators? If so, then putting the talk on the website was an official acceptance of it as official church teachings.

Could a GA preach doctrine without saying "Thus saith the Lord?" Yes.
Could a GA preach "member teachings" while saying "Thus saith the Lord?" Yes. Just look at the prophets who spoke "In the name of God" that the blacks would never get the priesthood in this life. Brigham Young said that every word he preached was scripture, and he preached the Adam-God doctrine, which later prophets have called heresy.

Abelard Enigma said...

It's all "member teaching" unless it is preceded by "Thus saith the Lord"

Quinn & Beck, I appreciate what you are trying to say. But, as Goldarn points out, posting it on the official LDS church website constitutes tacet approval of the content and message. Now, whether that means it's a Gospel Teaching or a Church teaching could be a topic of discussion. Some might even consider it a Member Teaching - but, how many of the general authorities would agree that it is simply opinion and not official church and/or gospel teaching. In fact, if it were not official then it would include a disclaimer of sorts.

Also, how often do we really hear the words "thus saith the Lord" in these modern days? Very seldom - in fact, I can't think of a single recent example. By limiting gospel and church teachings to only be those preceded by "thus saith the Lord" or some variation thereof - you eliminate most of what we hear in general conference. You also throw out the mock interview with Elders Oaks and Wickman, the "God Loveth His Children" pamphlet, and just about everything else that has been said about homosexuality in the church.

I'm not sure which is worse: That the brethren are simply wrong about some of the things they say regarding homosexuality, or that most everything said about homosexuality is simply personal opinion and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Regarding my temple recommend dilemma, there is also the issue of affiliating and/or sympathizing with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the LDS church. In all honesty, I'd have to answer "Yes" to that question. I know many believe that it is referring to polygamous sects, I used to believe that way - but the question has been carefully worded to be more general - and in general terms, I affiliate and sympathize with people who are living a lifestyle that the LDS church teaches is sinful - a lifestyle that if I were living would result in my excommunication.

Beck said...

General Authorities are men with opinions. Sure, they are inspired and we should seek to follow their inspired teachings. But they are still men with opinions, and as such are still subject to change. They are not infallible.

The issue of sustaining the leaders goes to the issue of supporting and not subverting, sabotaging, undermining those leaders.

It's also the principle of supporting the current prophet and not some other prophet. It's the line of "the Lord didn't reveal to Adam how to build the ark", so follow the current prophet.

As for affiliating with or sympathizing with other groups, I think you are taking this one way out of context. When I used to issue temple recommends and I came across a University of Utah fan and they would answer "no" to that question, I would stop and say "yes you do!" kiddingly. And they would be stunned. I would then state how the University of Utah actively tries to subvert the church and its teachings (I know, I went to school there) and besides, their football team fights against the Lord's team (BYU) - all said in jest.

My point... we never were asked to only associate with those who are celestial spirits ready to be translated. We are told to live in the world and associate and love all people. That is what the Lord did when during his mortal ministry. How many times was he accused of hob-knobbing and breaking bread with the less desirables? I'm not implying who is less desirable, only to say that to use the words "affiliate" or "sympathize" do have specific meanings toward undermining or seeking to destroy the church.

I don't think anything you've done or are doing here as you struggle with these issues disqualifies you. You are seeking knowledge. You are striving to find answers. You are finding personal inspiration. You are cultivating friendships and brotherhood. Nothing in this is subversive or destructive.

Excuse my bluntness, but I feel you're trying to find ways to not answer the questions in the context they are being asked. You are assessing yourself too literally and too harshly.

Bottom line, do you want to receive the blessings of temple worship or not? Do you feel yourself worthy or not? Only you can decide. But I can't help but feel like you are seeking someone else to decline your recommend for you and declare you "unworthy" so that you don't have to answer those questions yourself.

Abelard Enigma said...

Beck, I appreciate your bluntness. I blog, in part, to solicit opinions and other points of view that I may not have considered.

I don't feel unworthy to attend the temple; but, neither do I feel a sense of loss or longing for not attending. Of course, it's only been a month or so since I last attended. But, if I felt unworthy, I would have not kept attending up until my recommend expired end of August.

Perhaps I am assessing myself too literally and/or harshly. But, I don't feel I can honestly go in and answer the questions with the 'right' answers without, at least, some discussion on my thoughts and feelings; and, I do not relish the thought of getting into such a discussion with my bishop and/or stake president as I don't know how I can really explain what I feel and why I feel the way I do without 'outing' myself. So, perhaps you are right - maybe I am trying to find ways to avoid having that discussion.

I think there is a difference between "associating with" and "affiliating/sympathizing with". We all associate with people who believe differently than we do and/or do things we don't necessarily agree with. But, I think my relationship with my gay friends goes beyond merely associating with. I got genuinely excited when I heard recently that the 2011 Affirmation conference might be held in Dallas (BBQ at my house anyone?). Do you really think my bishop would approve of me going?

Maybe I should just bite the bullet and schedule an appointment with my bishop and then go in - with my head held high - and declare "I'm gay, and I have some issues and concerns; so, let's get on with the temple recommend interview questions and see where it takes us ..."

Quinn said...

I agree with the fact that we don't hear "thus saith the Lord." But we do hear things such as, "I so testify..." etc. If we listen to what the brethren, and sisters (sometimes) say, we can discern if they speak opinion or doctrine.

As for affiliation with groups, I take that as, do you support, aid or further the causes of. If I were to have a friend who wanted an abortion, simply being her friend in a time of need does not lend me to having to answer yes to that question. Were I giving her money to have the abortion, that would be a different matter.

Would Christ have to answer yes because he talked with sinners and wept with them, no.

Even I struggle with attending the temple because... well that's a blog topic, but in talking with my pops/Stake Pres (same person) He said it is a place to gain clarity on the matters or covenants we struggle with.

Scott said...

I know many believe that it is referring to polygamous sects, I used to believe that way - but the question has been carefully worded to be more general...

Individuals (and individual local leaders) are going to interpret that question differently, but I think that we need to be careful not to interpret it too loosely.

"Do you support, affiliate with or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church...?"

"Agree with" might be specific enough, but what does it mean to "support", and how closely do I need to associate with a group (or individual) before I'm considered to be "affiliating" with them?

And then I have to examine both the "teachings" and the "practices" of everyone I affiliate with, to figure out whether they "oppose" (an active verb) or "are contrary to" (more passive) the teachings or practices of the Church.

Taken to an extreme, I could say that if a co-worker (someone who I affiliate with, and possibly support) drinks coffee (a practice that is contrary to the teachings of the Church) I'd have to answer "yes" to this question.

Of course, that would be a ridiculous interpretation. Not a single member of the Church would qualify for a recommend on the basis of this question if we were that literal about it--or if they did, it would only be by insulating themselves from the outside world (and wouldn't that be contrary to President Hinckley's call to reach out to members of other faiths? I'm certain there's a question about sustaining the prophet...)

I have a paper titled "The History of LDS Temple Admission Standards" by Edward L. Kimball (law professor at BYU, and son of Spencer W.). I don't know exactly when it was written, but it references some 1996 changes to the interview questions, so it was obviously written more recently than that.

The author is quite definitely of the opinion that this particular question refers specifically to polygamist groups, based on the time of its introduction and corresponding changes in the Church Handbook of Instruction. That's not to say that it can't be interpreted more loosely--just that it wasn't originally intended to be.

As I see it, the issue is more about whether I support the teachings than whether I affiliate with the people who teach them. In my case, I'd have to honestly answer that I do agree with some beliefs that are contrary to the position of the Church (e.g. that same-sex marriage is okay), and that disagreement clearly disqualifies me under a strict interpretation of the question, and so it comes down to whether, by the spirit of the law I am still worthy to enter the Lord's house.

In my case, I believe that I am, but my leaders believe otherwise. I know others who believe the same as me (and whose leaders are aware of their beliefs) who still have recommends, so it all comes down to what your Bishop and Stake President will decide.

I understand your desire to be honest, and your belief that honesty requires you to discuss these things with your leaders. I understand that a reluctance to have that discussion might mean going without a temple recommend. In the end, you just need to decide whether a recommend is important to you, and if it is, whether it's important enough to go through whatever you need to go through to try to get it. That's a question only you can answer.

Abelard Enigma said...

you just need to decide whether a recommend is important to you

That's the $1,000,000 question. Right now, my apprehension about getting into the discussion with my bishop outweighs my desire to go to the temple. But, as I said, it's only been a month or so since I last went.

Where this gets interesting is: My calling as seminary instructor requires me to have an active temple recommend AND I will now start showing up on the "endowed members without temple recommends" report. So, I may be forced into having the discussion sooner than I'm ready to.

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

I don't think there is a meaningful difference - the categories are in reality the one and the same.

Anonymous said...

Abelard, this was a really insightful post. You sound a lot like my parents.

My oldest brother is gay. He was an LDS poster-child throughout his childhood and collegiate studies. He was a Master Scriptorian every year of seminary with 100% attendance as well. He served a mission in Japan where he served in all capacities as well as Assistant to the President for more than a year. He returned to BYU to graduate with honors, and is incredibly successful.

All the while, he had an internal battle. No one could have known. He hid it so well.

So when he "came out", it was a BIG surprise. But we love him, support him, and KNOW, (the way LDS members KNOW it's a choice) that it's genetic. That he was created this way, and should not be forced into choosing between celebacy or "forced" love.

For the longest time my family coninued strongly in the church, hoping that the church would change. Hafen's recent speech, I believe, is a testament otherwise. And the church's decision to post it on their website, as someone else has already commented, gives their authoritative approval.

The church will not change. Like you, we struggled. Prop 8 was the fork in the road for my family. We could no longer support gays and be LDS. It is one or the other. We chose blood. And since then, we've been so much happier.

It's really hard for my parents still. But something that is odd...My dad wrote a several page letter to President Monson, pointing out some critical dilemas with the church's stance on homosexuality. He is too kind-hearted to write a pointed letter. It was extremely understanding, and quite literally a search for answers. Who better to ask than God's mouthpiece himself, right? This was 6 months ago, and he still has not received a response.

This is my opinion (so don't read further if you don't want to hear it).

The church is not true. It is a wonderful organization that aims to do good. And I support this. But the gospel, nor any other religion on this earth is a blueprint on how to return to God. Simply do what you know is right, and if there is a God, you will be fine.