“However” organizations versus “therefore” organizations

President Boyd K. Packer tells an interesting story:

Professors from Harvard University who were members of the Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] invited me to lunch over at the Harvard Business School faculty dining room. They wanted to know if I would join them in participating in a new publication; they wanted me to contribute to it.

They were generous in their compliments, saying that because I had a doctorate a number of people in the Church would listen to me, and being a General Authority,…I could have some very useful influence.

I listened to them very attentively but indicated at the close of the conversation that I would not join them. I asked to be excused from responding to their request. When they asked why, I told them this: “When your associates announced the project, they described how useful it would be to the Church-a niche that needed to be filled. And then the spokesman said, ‘We are all active and faithful members of the Church; however,…’ “

I told my two hosts that if the announcement had read, “We are all active and faithful members of the Church; therefore,…” I would have joined their organization. I had serious questions about a “however” organization. I have little worry over a “therefore” organization.[1]

The above story is about a specific religious denomination and a specific organization, but that really isn’t what I want to point out. For Pres. Packer, his faith was his item of ultimate allegiance.

We all have one—and it’s interesting to think about what it might be. It can be useful to fill in the blank:

“I am [blank], therefore….”

There are many options:

  • A believing Catholic
  • A skeptical humanist
  • A red-blooded American
  • A police officer
  • An intellectual
  • A parent to my children

What would you put in the blank, such that you cannot picture yourself ever saying,

“I am [blank], however….”?

Ultimately, we have only one thing that always yields a “therefore”—everything else will, when push comes to shove, be a “however” that bows to that “therefore.”


 

[1] Boyd K. Packer, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1991), 113.

On bracketing the truth

It is common, in some circles, to hear people talking about “bracketing” truth claims—to lay aside any consideration of whether certain ideas (often with religious implication) are true, and simply talk about the ideas in an entirely secular context. For example, one might discuss the resurrection of Jesus without trying to address the idea of whether Jesus actually rose from the dead. Instead, one might focus on what early Christians understood by the claim “Jesus is risen.”

Such an approach can be appropriate, at times.

Unfortunately, those who adopt it have a depressing tendency to declare that their approach is the only legitimate way to do valid scholarship on the topic. Thus, anyone who does not bracket the truth claims or implications of the resurrection is said to obviously be engaged only in polemics, or apologetics, or narrow sectarian discourse unworthy of attention or respect. To challenge such notions in print is seen as boorish and unbecoming. Curiously, this perspective is generally just asserted—not argued with evidence and logic—and generally comes heavily larded with a large dollop of disdain. (I speak, on that front, from some personal experience.)

But, leaving aside the obvious intellectual problems which such a stance raises, there are substantial risks for the Christian disciple, for the covenant Latter-day Saint.

Check your religion at the academy door?

All too often, this type of approach is essentially “checking your religion at the door.” But, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was pretty scathing toward anyone who’d consider that, in any context:

We check our religion at the door”? Lesson number one for the establishment of Zion in the 21st century: You never “check your religion at the door.” Not ever.

My young friends, that kind of discipleship cannot be—it is not discipleship at all. As the prophet Alma has taught the young women of the Church to declare every week in their Young Women theme, we are “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in,” not just some of the time, in a few places, or when our team has a big lead.

“Check your religion at the door”! I was furious (emphasis in original).[1]

It is true that the “at all times” and “in all places” and “in all things” would seem to leave relatively little wiggle room—especially when the subject of one’s work bears directly on that witness of God. I don’t see how a Christian could approach the resurrection neutrally, and I think it would be spiritually dangerous to try, and intellectually self-deceptive to believe one could.

Let Your Faith Show

Elder Russell M. Nelson seems to be of the same mind as Elder Holland, and applied the ideas specifically to political, academic, and intellectual work:

Clinicians, academicians, and politicians are often put to a test of faith. In pursuit of their goals, will their religion show or will it be hidden? Are they tied back to God or to man?

I had such a test decades ago when one of my medical faculty colleagues chastised me for failing to separate my professional knowledge from my religious convictions. He demanded that I not combine the two. How could I do that? Truth is truth! It is not divisible, and any part of it cannot be set aside.

Whether truth emerges from a scientific laboratory or through revelation, all truth emanates from God. All truth is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet I was being asked to hide my faith. I did not comply with my colleague’s request. I let my faith show!

In all professional endeavors, rigorous standards of accuracy are required. Scholars cherish their freedom of expression. But full freedom cannot be experienced if part of one’s knowledge is ruled “out-of-bounds” by edicts of men.[2]

If that’s what he thinks about medicine—a subject relatively untouched by most LDS doctrines—what of fields that touch LDS truth claims more intimately?

Every essay a testimony?

Does this mean, then, that every written work need include a bearing of testimony? Hardly—the audience and venue may or may not make that appropriate. But, C.S. Lewis’ intellectual mentor, George MacDonald, gave a wise caution:

Is every Christian expected to bear witness? One who believes must bear witness. One who sees the truth must live witnessing to it. Is our life then a witnessing to the truth? When contempt is cast on the truth, do we smile? [When the truth is] wronged in our presence do we make no sign that we hold by it?… I do not say we are called upon to dispute and defend [against falsehood] with logic and argument, but we are called upon to show that we are on the other side… The soul that loves the truth and tries to be true will know when to speak and when to be silent. But the true man will never look as if he did not care. We are not bound to say all that we think, but we are bound not even to look [like] what we do not think.[3]

Sadly, too many are so worried that their faith might show, that they end up looking like that which they do not really believe, and do not really think.

This impression is only strengthened when they attack, ridicule, or with a sneer dismiss others who do let their faith show more overtly in their academic work. One wonders if this is to avoid feeling guilty for their own lapses, or if it is part and parcel of assuring others that they really are on the academic, secularized “team.”

“Satan need not get everyone to be like Cain or Judas….He needs only to get able men … to see themselves as sophisticated neutrals.”[4]

Such decisions cannot but have spiritual consequences—what one starts doing merely to avoid making academic waves soon shapes one’s views. That which we defend and advocate—or which we refuse to defend or advocate—affects what we end up believing. This should not surprise us, if we consistently exclude (or actively avoid) spiritual evidence, since such evidence cannot but bear on many questions of ultimate importance:

In our own time, Joseph Smith, the First Vision, and the Book of Mormon constitute stumbling blocks for many—around or over which they cannot get—unless they are meek enough to examine all the evidence at hand, not being exclusionary as a result of accumulated attitudes in a secular society. Humbleness of mind is the initiator of expansiveness of mind (emphasis added).[5]

Compartmentalization and citizenship

Thus, compartmentalization or bracketing has real risks:

The mind can become “hardened in pride” (Daniel 5:20; Habakkuk 1:11). And it can also engage in self-deception, as Korihor finally acknowledged (Alma 30:48–50). The mind can let itself become defensively compartmentalized, a fortress astride the path to faith (emphasis added).[6]

And, some of that risk derives from the “incessant requirements” of an academy jealous of our mental and procedural allegiance:

For the academician in his search for truth and in his efforts for its preservation or dissemination, the admiration and esteem of his peers is both useful and desirable. But these too can be easily corrupted into an inordinate desire for “the praise of men.” Sophistry can come to be preferred to simplicity. The language of scholarship, necessary in its realm, can come to be preferred to the language of faith. Once again, even for the person of faith, the incessant requirements of such associations can come to cloud one’s perspective.[7]

But, if we were to follow the apostles on this point, doesn’t that risk putting one’s academic career or reputation in potential jeopardy? Yes, indeed it may. But, we were warned about such risks:

For one reason, it is unfashionable to be spiritual. A genius possessed of religious faith is sometimes tolerated among colleagues in the business, academic, or political world. His bilingual ability to converse in the language of his professional realm and in the realm of faith is noted but not often applauded.[8]

Still, as Elder Maxwell cautioned years ago:

The orthodox Latter-day Saint scholar should remember that his citizenship is in the Kingdom and that his professional passport takes him abroad into his specialty. It is not the other way around.[9]

Ultimately, if my citizenship is not obvious, do I perhaps have a problem?


 

[1] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Israel, Israel, God Is Calling,” devotional address, January 2012.

[2] Russell M. Nelson, “Let Your Faith Show,” general conference, April 2014.

[3] George MacDonald, Creation in Christ (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1976), 142. Elder Holland quoted a portion of this, and replaced “think” with “believe”—I think either or both apply.

[4] Neal A. Maxwell, Deposition of a Disciple (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 88.

[5] Neal A. Maxwell, Meek and Lowly (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1987), 76.

[6] Neal A. Maxwell, Whom the Lord Loveth: The Journey of Discipleship (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2012), kindle location 813.

[7] Neal A. Maxwell, Sermons Not Spoken (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1985), 10–11.

[8] Sermons Not Spoken, 12.

[9] Deposition of a Disciple, 18.

The ninth commandment is neglected, being seldom discussed at any length. There are so many different ways to breach “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). We can spread falsehood knowingly and maliciously rather than inadvertently. Perhaps that is the worst form of breaking this commandment. We can also spread falsehood by simply passing it along in the form of idle gossip without malicious intent, which is somewhat mitigating. Either way, the innocent victim usually experiences a double blow: first, damage to his self-image/self-confidence; second, the diminished regard of others. Additionally, the victim probably comes to have diminished regard, even anger, toward those who so traffic in untruth.

- Neal A. Maxwell, That Ye May Believe (Bookcraft, 1992).

It is interesting, and telling, that the victim in this case also has the added burden of struggling against a sin that he or she would not have been liable to: harsh feelings toward the gossip. The victim of gossip must overcome these feelings, but that doesn’t mean the gossip is guiltless of inducing the sin either.

I always sobered by how evil–or even careless–acts tend to ramify and spread. One hopes good acts are as hardy.

Neal A. Maxwell on bearing false witness

Is delusional too strong a word?–Part III

Part III: A serious conclusion: What if I have questions?

 

The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve’s statement read, in part:

We understand that from time to time Church members will have questions about Church doctrine, history, or practice. Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding. We feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from Church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them.

Simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy. Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.[1]

Kelly, certain that this cannot possibly apply to her and her group, has now declared that this means that:

“Now questions [about women’s ordination] can be asked in every ward and every branch in every place in the world…. The prophet of the church said it’s OK.”[2]

In one of the drier moments of understatement you are likely to see this year, the Tribune then noted, “Few other Mormons read the statement in the same way.”

(Doubtless accurate, except Kelly is not a Mormon anymore, having been excommunicated. More properly, then “Few Mormons read the statement” as she does.)

But, seriously folks….

However, in an effort to help Kelly’s apparent difficulties with either honesty or reading comprehension, I close with the advice which Brother Otterson of Church Public Affairs offered to those who do have genuine questions or concerns about this issue.

Otterson responded directly to the concern that, “There is nowhere for women who don’t feel safe in their wards to have a conversation about some of their negative experiences that isn’t seen as subversive.”

This is a fair and legitimate concern, and I think much of the rather limited success that OW and Kelly have had is due to this type of issue—I think the vast majority of LDS women are not really comfortable with their goals, tone, or approach. But, they are at least saying something, and that can be refreshing to those who genuinely have concerns in this area—often with considerable justification, as Elder Ballard has been telling us for at least two decades.

So, what does Church Public Affairs (and, thus, those to whom it answers) recommend in such cases?

This is a serious question and I think is the kind of discussion that the Brethren welcome as they seek to understand the concerns of the members. My advice is to be patient, and trust in those whom we sustain as apostles and prophets and the revelatory process.

As we have said, most bishops, stake presidents and local leaders do a remarkable job. Sometimes, men and women in wards take offense when counsel is given. And, yes, sometimes we don’t handle things well.

First, local leaders should always be given a chance to listen. If approached prayerfully and sincerely, most will.

Second, every member, whether man or woman, should initiate such an interview with a willingness to take counsel as well as deliver a message.

Third, every ward also has a Relief Society presidency. While matters of personal worthiness must remain a matter between the member and the bishop who is a “common judge,” other matters of personal concern to a woman can be voiced privately to faithful Relief Society Presidency members and other local leaders. Without becoming an advocate, such a confidante could not only offer counsel but could be invited to accompany a sister to see a bishop or a stake president in some circumstances.[3]

Note the recommendations: these are private conversations (not held in media circuses), conducted locally (instead of trying to force events at the general Church level), and they are conducted in a spirit of meekness. We do these things individual to individual, and there is nothing about trying to drum up support or stir resentment or pool our grievances with others, in person or on-line. And so, unsurprisingly, this has not been welcome advice in some quarters.

None of that advice has been taken by OW and Kelly, which sadly—but unsurprisingly—has led to her excommunication.

(Indeed, the only ones who seem surprised at her excommunication seem to be Kelly and her supporters—which again makes me wonder about either delusion or dishonesty.)

The Lord’s way has never been about public spectacle, confrontation, unilateral demands, or posturing.

Instead, sincere members who love each other and the Lord seek only to do his will, and to help each other bear the separate burdens that come to all in different forms.

I trust my readers will be more perceptive and more teachable than Kelly has been. She has had ample opportunity, but seems unreachable.

It almost makes you think she wasn’t actually asking a question at all.


Endnotes

[1] The Council of The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, letter (28 June 2014).

[2]Top Mormon leaders repeat ‘only men’ qualify for priesthood,” Salt Lake Tribune (28 June 2014).

[3] Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church Public Affairs), “Context missing from discussion about women,” letter (29 May 2014), 3, emphasis and bold added.

Is delusional too strong a word?–Part II

Part II: Previous Remarks from Church Leaders

If Kelly wishes to stick to her guns and declare that anything Church Public Affairs says bears absolutely no relation to the Church’s official position on these matters, we could sigh heavily and pull out some recent—and not-to-recent—remarks from the leaders she claims to want to hear from.

Elder Neil L. Anderson

Elder Anderson directly addressed the question that Kelly and OW say they want an answer to:

Some may sincerely ask the question, “If the power and blessings of the priesthood are available to all, why are the ordinances of the priesthood administered by men?”

When an angel asked Nephi, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi answered honestly, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

When we speak of the priesthood, there are many things we do know.

We know that God loves all His children and is no respecter of persons. “He denieth none that come unto him, … male [or] female; … and all are alike unto God.”

As surely as we know that God’s love is “alike” for His sons and His daughters, we also know that He did not create men and women exactly the same. We know that gender is an essential characteristic of both our mortal and eternal identity and purpose. Sacred responsibilities are given to each gender….

While there are many things we do know about the priesthood, seeing through the lens of mortality does not always give a complete understanding of the workings of God.  But His gentle reminder, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” reassures us that with time and eternal perspective we will see things “as they really are” and more completely understand His perfect love.

We all willingly serve. Sometimes we feel underwhelmed with our calling and wish we were asked to do more. Other times we are grateful when it is time for our release. We do not determine the callings we receive.[1]

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Elder Oaks’ remarks in April 2014 conference got a great deal of attention (if you haven’t read them, you should read them all). Kelly and many others, however, seem unaware that this is not a “new” take on things, or something novel. Elder Oaks taught virtually the same thing (though in less detail) more than twenty years ago:

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the Prophet’s action opened to women the possibility of exercising “some measure of divine authority, particularly in the direction of government and instruction in behalf of the women of the Church.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1965, p. 5.) President Smith explained: “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, … that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. Authority and Priesthood are two different things. A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, p. 4.)….

Under the priesthood authority of the bishop, the president of a ward Relief Society presides over and directs the activities of the Relief Society in the ward. A stake Relief Society president presides and exercises authority over the function to which she has been called. The same is true for the other auxiliaries. Similarly, women called as missionaries are set apart to go forth with authority to teach the everlasting gospel, and women called to work in a temple are given authority for the sacred functions to which they have been called. All function under the direction of the priesthood leader who has been given the priesthood keys to direct those who labor in his area of responsibility.[2]

The answer that Kelly claims to want has been available the whole time.

Elder M. Russell Ballard

Elder Ballard likewise cautioned us against Kelly’s specific tactics more than twenty years ago:

In these latter days, we see people, increasing in number, who urge others to feel and voice dissent when frustration and hardship enter their lives. They would have us believe that the Church or its leaders are unfair to women, or that women are denied opportunities to realize their full potential within the gospel framework. Sisters, we know that the Church is made up of mortals, that priesthood leaders are fallible, and some may not always handle their stewardships with suitable sensitivity. However, I want you to understand this plain truth: the gospel of Jesus Christ provides the only way for women or men to achieve their full potential as children of God. Only the gospel can free us from the terrible effects of sin. Only by following God’s plan for us, with faith and determination to live ultimately in eternal families, can we qualify for eternal life in His presence. Ideally, the Church and the family do not inhibit our progress. They expedite it by putting our feet firmly on the gospel path that leads us back to God. We each have the privilege to carefully and prayerfully seek the Lord’s will for us regarding our individual challenges and dilemmas. Personal revelation is personal, indeed. It is not based on gender or position but on worthiness. It comes in response to sincere inquiry. However, revelation for the Church comes only through the Lord’s prophets, seers, and revelators.

In these confusing times, keeping our feet on the gospel path can be difficult. We hear many persuasive voices urging us to turn our backs on revealed truth and embrace the philosophies of the world.[3]

He also pointed out:

Let me also observe that none of the Twelve are shrinking violets. We each have strong personalities. So when we are unified in a decision, you can rest assured that we have counseled together and come to that decision after much prayer and thoughtful discussion. [4]

And, the leaders do not (contrary to Kelly’s caricature) need a massive sidewalk protest to help them realize that this is an issue:

I have heard that some people think the Church leaders live in a “bubble.” What they forget is that we are men and women of experience, and we have lived our lives in so many places and worked with many people from different backgrounds. Our current assignments literally take us around the globe, where we meet the political, religious, business, and humanitarian leaders of the world. Although we have visited the White House in Washington, D.C., and leaders of nations throughout the world, we have also visited the most humble homes on earth, where we have met and ministered to the poor.

When you thoughtfully consider our lives and ministry, you will most likely agree that we see and experience the world in ways few others do. You will realize that we live less in a “bubble” than most people.[5]

President James E. Faust

President Faust could have saved Kelly some tactics that could not work, had she listened. He spoke more than a decade ago:

Continuous revelation will not and cannot be forced by outside pressure from people and events. It is not the so-called “revelation of social progress.” It does not originate with the prophets; it comes from God. The Church is governed by the prophet under the inspiration, guidance, and direction of the Lord.[6]

Even if Kelly doesn’t believe this, she should at least be savvy enough to realize that those in charge do believe it, and so aren’t likely to respond well to her approach—as she was told over and over again.

Sister leaders too!

And, if Kelly even were to insist that she’ll only listen to women—no XY chromosomes allowed—even that message is available, were she willing to hear it. Said Sister Elaine S. Dalton, the general Young Women’s president:

Young women, you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous womanhood and motherhood. You will continue to be virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, and of good report. You will also be the ones who will provide the example of family life in a time when families are under attack, being redefined, and disintegrating. You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights.[7]

One really has to ask–what’s wrong with all of the above that makes Kelly think she hasn’t gotten an answer until now?


 

Endnotes

[1] Neil L. Anderson, “Power in the Priesthood,” Ensign (November 2013).

[2] Dallin H. Oaks, “The Relief Society and the Church,” Ensign (May 1992).

[3] M. Russell Ballard, “Equality Through Diversity,” Ensign (November 1993).

[4]M. Russell Ballard, “Be Still, and Know That I Am God,” CES Devotional for Young Adults, San Diego, California (4 May 2014).

[5]M. Russell Ballard, “Be Still, and Know That I Am God,” CES Devotional for Young Adults, San Diego, California (4 May 2014).

[6]James E. Faust, “Come Out of the Darkness into the Light,” CES Fireside for Young Adults (8 September 2002).

[7]Elaine S. Dalton (YW Gen Pres), “Prophetic Priorities and Dedicated Disciples,” BYU Devotional, 15 January 2013.

Is delusional too strong a word?–Part I

The tragedy that is now-excommunicated member Kate Kelly continues.

Today, a statement from the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was released that bears on her situation and the antics of her protest group.

Most people would see it as the stinging rebuke that it is, but not Kelly. She’s delighted, according to the Salt Lake Tribune (28 June 2014), and says:

Given that I have always sustained leaders of church, and Ordain Women doesn’t teach any doctrine — let alone false doctrine — this clearly exonerates me. I am not guilty of either of those charges.[1]

It’s hard to believe she’s a lawyer.

(Maybe it’s an example of the old legal maxim that He who acts for himself in court has a fool for a lawyer, and a fool for a client.)

It’s also hard to think of a kinder phrase than “verging on the delusional” for this kind of remark. It gets “better”:

Saturday’s statement, Kelly said, gives her reason to hope that when she appeals her case to the First Presidency, her bishop’s decision might be reversed. [2]

Kelly also claims that this statement represents progress because Church leaders have supposedly not spoken out before on these matters.

Part I: Church Public Affairs

Kelly and some of her allies are fond of acting as if Church Public Affairs is some kind of rogue operation that doesn’t necessarily speak for the leaders of the Church. Again, it’s hard to know whether this is a mark of delusion or staggering intellectual dishonesty. I suppose in some sense, it scarcely matters.

In my previous blog post, I discussed this ploy.

Given, then, that Church Public Affairs assuredly does speak for the Church’s highest leadership, it is worthwhile considering what Kelly has already been told about these matters.

On Ordination of Women to Priesthood Office

  • Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organization for His Church.[3]
  • I suppose we do not know all the reasons why Christ did not ordain women as apostles, either in the New Testament or the Book of Mormon, or when the Church was restored in modern times. We only know that he did not, that his leaders today regard this as a doctrinal issue that cannot be compromised, and that agitation from a few Church members is hindering the broader and more productive conversation about the voice, value and visibility of women in the Church that has been going on for years and will certainly continue….[4]
  • “Demands to ordain women are contrary to revealed doctrine, Church letter says.”[5]

Regarding “Ordain Women’s” Tactics

  • I do hope that you will try to understand how disappointed Church leaders are over the staged event of last weekend, and that you will find peace, comfort and confidence in the apostles and prophets who lead us.”[6]
  • Yet there are a few people with whom Public Affairs and General Authorities do not engage, such as individuals or groups who make non-negotiable demands for doctrinal changes that the Church can’t possibly accept. No matter what the intent, such demands come across as divisive and suggestive of apostasy rather than encouraging conversation through love and inclusion. Ultimately, those kinds of actions can only result in disappointment and heartache for those involved. [7]

Disregarding requests of Church leaders

  • However, no objective person could possibly argue that this was not a protest and rejection of a plea from Church leaders. That request was communicated in writing to the group ahead of time and repeated in the news media.[8]

Endnotes

[1]Top Mormon leaders repeat ‘only men’ qualify for priesthood,” Salt Lake Tribune (28 June 2014).

[2]Top Mormon leaders repeat ‘only men’ qualify for priesthood,” Salt Lake Tribune (28 June 2014).

[3] Jessica Moody (on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), “Dear Sisters,” letter to April Young Bennett, Debra Jenson, Kate Kelly, Hannah Wheelwright (17 March 2014). See also discussion on “Church Asks Activist Group to Reconsider Plans to Protest at General Conference,” mormonnewsroom.org (17 March 2014).

[4] Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church Public Affairs), “Context missing from discussion about women,” letter (29 May 2014), 5.

[5]Church Asks Activist Group to Reconsider Plans to Protest at General Conference,” mormonnewsroom.org (17 March 2014).

[6] Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church public affairs), “Dear Sister Reynolds,” letter (April 2014).

[7] Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church Public Affairs), “Context missing from discussion about women,” letter (29 May 2014), 4.

[8] Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church public affairs), “Dear Sister Reynolds,” letter (April 2014).

Church Public Affairs goes Rogue? Riiiight.

It is becoming strangely popular in Church dissident circles to claim that when the Church’s Public Affairs department speaks, this does not really reflect the opinions or positions of the prophets and apostles.

I know, I know. This is the same group who are often claiming that some apostle or other is power-mad and out of control, imposing his will willy-nilly (like making sure a dissident gets summoned to a disciplinary council). But this makes for a strange juxtaposition–an out-of-control Church department full of Church employees that the poor apostles simply cannot rein in or fire, while the apostles nearly simultaneously exert their autocratic influence into wards in Washington, DC or Logan, Utah staffed by volunteer clergy.

An odd claim, to say the least.

Section A: Statements from Church Public Affairs

Church Public Affairs has issued statements that make their role clear:

Church Public Affairs “does not act independently of church leadership,” spokesman Scott Trotter….“Official statements on the [LDS] church websites are approved at the highest level.” He added, “The church is naturally concerned when some members deliberately misrepresent its leaders and actions. In such cases, the church reserves the right to publicly correct the record.”[1]

In 2014, Michael Otterson (managing director of Church Public Affairs) wrote:

First, it’s important to understand that the Public Affairs Department of the Church does not freelance. For Public Affairs to initiate or take a position inconsistent with the views of those who preside over the Church is simply unthinkable, as anyone who has ever worked for the Church will attest.
As managing director of the Public Affairs Department, I work under the direct supervision of two members of the Twelve apostles, two members of the Presidency of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishop, and alongside a remarkable and devoted staff of men and women.
This group of senior General Authorities often refers matters of particular importance to other councils of men and women leaders, to the full Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and to the First Presidency for further discussion or decision.[2]

He elsewhere wrote:

Please also understand that no Church spokesperson…issues statements on behalf of the Church that are not either initiated or approved by members of the Twelve and, at times, by the First Presidency. We stand by the statement that was issued on their behalf, and which was accurate in every detail.[3]

Section B: Statements from Church Leaders

Ah, but my readers are a sagacious and clever bunch. “That’s just what a rogue Church PA office would say, isn’t it?”

Well, I salute to your powers of deduction, gentle reader. Bowing to your logic, I offer Elder Quentin L. Cook’s take on the matter:

It’s interesting. People who disagree with anything that is either sent by letter or put in the Newsroom, or however it’s done, can find interesting ways to say that it really doesn’t mean what it says.

You look back at the history of Wilford Woodruff’s announcement on polygamy in 1890 and there were still people quibbling about that for a long, long time.

The Church uses, the First Presidency and the Twelve use, whatever means will be most effective depending on what the issue is and who it affects. Most often that will be a letter to stake presidents and bishops, and it will be sent all over the world. But sometimes it’s for a particular area.

Sometimes we use news releases. Sometimes we use the Newsroom site to put those up, particularly with community issues that are important. When something is put up on the Newsroom or an announcement is made in a different way, that is the Church’s policy.

It’s interesting to me that the announcement that the priesthood would be available to all worthy male members regardless of race was a news release. Ultimately there was a letter sent out, but it was announced at a press conference with the Managing Director of Public Affairs. Some people have chosen to say they’re not going to believe it unless it’s in a letter. Others have said that the prophet will have to tell them personally. I think that kind of tells you where they are when they make those kinds of statements.

When something goes up on the Newsroom site, you can be sure that the approval process is such that those official statements have the complete support of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.[4]

Given the above, on second thought I think the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve could probably squash the sorts of claims we saw in section A–so my wise readers (all five of you–Hi, Mom!) should maybe not toss those out too quickly either.


 

Endnotes

[1] Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Some LDS conservatives now at odds with their church,” Salt Lake Tribune (28 April 2011).

[2] Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church Public Affairs), “Context missing from discussion about women,” letter (29 May 2014), 4

[3] Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church public affairs), “Dear Sister Reynolds,” letter (April 2014).

[4] Quentin L. Cook, “Understanding Our External Environment,” Leadership Enrichment Series (23 February 2011).