Criticism as Loyalty

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Due to recent events that have been discussed by many more capable than I, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be ‘loyal.’ Does loyalty mean support? Giving resources? Defending against smack talk? Are being loyal to individuals and being loyal to a group different things? And, most importantly to me right now, does criticizing an organization make you disloyal?

I am going to be honest with you all; I for sure have criticisms of the LDS church. There are things I disagree with, things that are upsetting to me, policies that I think are stupid, but I still feel loyal to the Church. It’s like when you have a crazy relative that drives you up the wall. It is alright complain about them yourself, but as soon as anyone else points out their flaws, you leap to their defense. It’s a curious paradox that I do not quite understand.

At any rate, I am not convinced that criticism is always bad or disloyal. It depends on the motivation. I read somewhere once (and I feel silly that I can’t remember where) that criticism that is rooted in concern is an act of loyalty; criticism rooted in bitterness is destructive. I think that is where I am right now. The church is important. It formed me in many, many ways. It does a lot of good for a lot of people. So, for now, my criticism comes from a place of concern. Maybe I’m wrong about things, but maybe I am right. Maybe my thoughts and concerns, if they were heard, would help make things better. Maybe yours would, too. Wouldn’t it be better to explore the criticism and see where it goes? If it is bad we can drop it; if it is good, we will all be better off.

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13 Responses

  1. Carolyn Nielsen says:

    Jess, you have shared valuable insight. Yes, criticism and disagreeing can be a sign of deep caring.

  2. Emily U says:

    “criticism that is rooted in concern is an act of loyalty”

    Absolutely. I have spent hundreds of hours writing criticism of the church, and I sure as heck wouldn’t spend my precious time doing it if I didn’t care.

  3. Cruelest Month says:

    Criticism gets such a negative spin in the LDS faith. I think of the loyal criticism you describe as information or feedback that improves communication. If no one tells me how my behavior or speech impacts them, it is hard to accurately determine from silence what changes I might make to improve the relationship. In examining the communication and relationship I shared with a former job, I realized that if that job were a boyfriend, I’d dump him. Loyal family and lovers give feedback on what is working and what it not working. Relationships are doomed where one partner won’t listen or shuts down all feedback. I hope the LDS Church is the kind of partner that listens and cares when they cause hurt.

  4. EmilyCC says:

    I remember when I first started learning about biblical criticism, and my professors were quick to say, “Now, we’re not putting down what’s written in the Bible…we’re analyzing it, looking at it to see how we can better understand it.” I wish we, as a society, could think of criticism more in that light.

    What does concern me is that I have been so upset by this policy that I do see a shift in my criticism…sometimes it is coming from a place of bitterness, and I need to find a way to make sure I don’t stay in the mindset. It’s not healthy for me and doesn’t do the Church any good either.

  5. Moss says:

    I had a professor in college who would say, “Criticism is what needs to be said”. There are things that desperately need to be said. And heard.

  6. spunky says:

    Yes! In church once when I answered someone’s query about my field of study (history), she responded by saying, “oh! I love history, but not the academic kind, You only want to analyse and expose the terrible things.”

    I was hurt by her answer– and confused. Because it is true– when you love something, and are critical of it, it is because you love it and want it to be more deeply understood, corrected and become better. Hate is destructive and holds little weight. But constructive criticism is all about love.

    Brilliant post. Thank you!

  7. Suzette says:

    Amen. To all you said.

  8. Caroline says:

    Yes, criticism can be very good and healthy. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once wrote an article for Exponent II about “sustaining” our leaders, and how built into the word “sustain” is the idea of nourishing and feeding. We do not nourish and feed our leaders if we are silent. They need our honest feedback.

  9. Ziff says:

    Great point, Jess.

  10. Libby says:

    I love Pres. Monson’s words about “strengthening the hands that hang down.” Sustaining someone can, in the secular sense, involve doing for them what they cannot do for themselves. I sustain the leaders of the Church–and by that, I mean that I see where their hands are hanging and I am working on holding them up.

  11. Scott says:

    So are we correcting errant leaders, or trying to convince them or way is better than the Lord’s? Seems to me that there’s a lot of desire for the Lord to conform to the ways of the world.

  12. EM says:

    I’m a psychotherapist, so whenever I hear the word “criticism,” I think of Gottman’s Four Horsemen, the four things that destroy relationships. He usually applies them to marriages, but I think they apply to our relationship with the church.

    He says criticism is an attack. The loving, concerned feedback you suggest is NOT criticism by Gottman’s definition… In fact what you suggest is Gottman’s solution to generalized criticism–it’s bringing up your own thoughts and feelings, asking for a change, and talking through it.

    Side note: sometimes I get the sense that church leadership is stonewalling–withdrawing, distancing, in order to avoid conflict. That’s another one of Gottman’s horsemen… It’s hard for us to voice constructive complaints and suggestions when our partner (leaders) won’t listen or engage.

    • Jess R says:

      I’m a psychologist too! I’ve read Gottman, but didn’t make the connection you did. I really like that. I’m going to have to think more about this. Thank you for sharing!

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