Minimalist Theology


A few months back I described myself in a post as being a “Mormon of minimalist theology”. This caught the ears (eye?) of some readers. Here are some more thoughts on what I mean by that phrase.

Let’s go back in time. I was raised a Protestant Christian and believed in Christ as early as I believed anything. At around 14 made a specific determination to live my life for Him. This is what traditional Christians (and folks who don’t get creeped out by the terms) would call “being born again” or “accepting Christ as your personal Savior.” Alma might call it having “having been spiritually born of God.”

One of the things I enjoyed most about my Protestant upbringing was that the basic principles were so, well, basic: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength (because they were three in one and one in three, you didn’t have to parse Everyone out); live a moral, compassionate life – which would come pretty much naturally if you were really doing number 1. Committing to Christ as the unique Way, Truth & Life was essential, but I never really felt compelled to buy into the “or else you’ll be damned to hell” post script.

During the last years of high school and my freshman year at Wellesley College, I wrestled with the question of whether I should be a Mormon. I’d taken the missionary lessons at the home of my high school best friend whose family was inactive at the time. I was so taken by Brigham Young’s claim that “all that is true is contained in the Gospel, no matter who has it.” What’s not to love about that? Who doesn’t want that?

Still, I didn’t want to be scammed. One evening in my first college year I had an experience that made it clear to me that God’s hand is in this Mormon place, that there’s something to the authority here that isn’t anywhere else, and that I should in fact become a Mormon. None of my intellectual concerns were answered and none of the quirky or disturbing things about LDS teachings and history I’d already heard vanished. But the message was still clear.

Fast forward to the early 1980’s. I heard about a talk that Bruce R. McConkie gave at a BYU devotional blasting poor George Pace for a book he’d written called “Having a Personal Relationship with Christ.” In this devotional McConkie very specifically detailed the three distinct aspects of members of the Godhead and told everyone what the appropriate feeling was to have toward each of them. Apparently he viewed Pace’s teachings as getting too chummy.

This sent me into a deep downward spiral. What exactly were these Mormons teaching? Since when was it inappropriate to have a personal relationship with Christ? This was a truth I’d known since long before the Mormons and I wasn’t about to toss it because some guy with “authority as he supposed” said it was “foolish and unwise.” I determined to re-read the Book of Mormon with an eye to all the references to Christ and see if I was going to have to bail out of this place after all.

What struck me most in reading the Book of Mormon was the familiar call to Christ that I’d known before I could walk. And when Christ finally shows up – the pivotal point in the Book of Mormon that marks time and focuses everything – what does he want to hammer home to his followers? He says it several times within a few short verses in 3 Nephi 11. First he describes (with no great persnickety-ness) the unity of the Godhead. Then, getting down to the nitty gritty: …ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in no wise receive these things…I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock…”

I cling to these basics. All the truth I had before is still true. Whew. Granted, there are a lot of loose ends. This doesn’t mention the temple, for example. But I’ve had my own confirmations about that and while I find it troubling, confusing, and head-scratching much of the time, I honestly believe there’s a living pulse under there. I put that into the “building upon the rock” category.

Maybe Elder McConkie thought his “doctrine” was also building upon the rock. Since I’m also cautioned in this same chapter not to have “the spirit of contention” or “contend with anger one with another”, I’ve had to do some major heart/mind/soul work to allow folks who think in that rigid way to have a place in what I consider the real true church. (Good thing, since I can’t really escape them.)

I still view the Gospel as all truth and our job as a church and as Mormons is to be open to and respectful of “the further light and knowledge” we receive. I’m just very wary about what I let into that core. I believe something dramatic and divine happened to Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove and with the Book of Mormon. (I am not so willing to believe that God actually told Joseph that all the other churches were “wrong.” Semantics will be the death of us all.) The rest I have to put into the “wiggle room category.” In my own personal wiggle room category, there are many mansions. I don’t want to be building on shifting sands after all.

So what’s false doctrine? There was no dramatic falling of scales off my eyes when I officially “received the Holy Ghost.” I think God is very generous with the way the Spirit moves on people. Does being sealed to dead church leaders so you can have a glorious kingdom in the hereafter sound like something we’re promoting now? It was a big deal back in the 19th century. And when early converts were searching for a church that followed the format of the church of Christ’s time, would they really find it here now? (Did they find it here then?) What about the sister who teaches that modesty involves dressing even her baby girls in onesies with sleeves and assumes we all agree on that? If I had to be a “sound doctrine cop” I’d be blowing my whistle all the time.

I want to be clear that while I am pleased to consider myself a Mormon of minimalist theology, I am NOT a minimalist Mormon. I consider myself to be a fully committed Mormon, a Christian walking my walk of faith here and continuing to develop a muscular, robust relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

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  1. RoastedTomatoes says:

    Linda, a thoughtful and, to my ear, very sympathetic post. I particularly enjoyed your statement that, “In my own personal wiggle room category, there are many mansions.” While I suspect this sentence may be a mixed metaphor, it’s the right kind of mix for me.

    Let me also echo your conviction that it’s possible to be a full Mormon while at the same time being a Mormon of minimalist theology.

  2. Deborah says:

    Linda, I have read through this twice now, moved both times. Thank you.

  3. Stephen says:

    hile I am pleased to consider myself a Mormon of minimalist theology, I am NOT a minimalist Mormon

    I really like that statement. When I consider the true mysteries of the gospel, love being the most important of them, and John’s statements that it does not yet appear what we will become, only that when Christ shall appear we shall see him as he is, for we shall be like him, I really believe that the core of the gospel is so minimal.

    Faith, hope and charity.

    Thanks for sharing your post.

  4. Wes says:

    I like the ideas presented in this post. I also think it is important to be a little more minimalist because its not as easy to loose focus of what is really important, which I think is the atonement. As Mormons we are often talking about home teaching, PEC, all kinds of meetings, primary, Sunday school etc, etc, etc. And we almost never say the word GRACE. I don’t think I had ever heard anyone say that word in my ward until I gave a talk on it in Sacrament meeting (with the exception of someone reading the scripture by grace we are saved, after all we can do). I think the minimalist approach would be better served if Mormons were not so shy of that word. Is it because we think we will be indistinguishable from Protestant religions? I do have a testimony of those other things I mentioned. But ironically, I don’t think I had a firm testimony of the atonement until my wife (who happens to be Baptist) convinced me that it was okay to accept God’s grace, even if I was a Mormon. Am I way off base here? Is it just me that has been going through that or is the lack of the word grace as common as it seems? Has anyone else struggled with accepting the atonement because of a lack of acceptance of grace?

  5. Linda H K says:

    Wes, I agree. Grace is absolutely key! We talk about it fairly often in our Relief Society, although I was a little chagrined to hear someone refer to my “ecumenical vocabulary.” I have even counseled my RS teachers to avoid the word obedience in their lessons. Not that obedience is bad, mind you; it just gets so much airtime everywhere else in this culture. All the LDS pressure to “obey”, “Keep the commandments”, and that little twist catch phrase you mentioned: “After all we can do” make God seem like a constant judge rather than a loving being. There’s always a whip hiding somewhere. Do we really need to think of ourselves as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”? How about “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God”? How I love the next to last verse in the Book of Mormon: “…if ye by the grace of Gad are perfect inChrist, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.” It’s time to claim the word and the concept as part of that “truth” in the core.

    Linda

  6. madhousewife says:

    You’ve perfectly described the sort of Mormon I am.

    I’ve been in discussions with people who wonder why “Amazing Grace” has never made it into our hymn book. I say it’s because we wouldn’t be able leave it alone. We’d have to insert little parantheticals explaining that while we are saved by grace, it’s only “after all we can do.” Without that clause, we experience such severe cognitive dissonance. The doctrine of grace is one of those small and simple things that confound the wise.

    That said, I hope my next calling is Ward Sound-Doctrine Cop. Especially if I get a whistle.

  7. Idahospud says:

    I’ve been having a paradigm shift of my own regarding grace lately. I was sitting in testimony meeting listening to someone bear her testimony of our individual worth in our Heavenly Father’s eyes, and the thought occurred to me (or was placed in my heart): Perhaps when I sin–particularly the sins I can’t seem to get away from–Heavenly Father isn’t put off from or frustrated with me, but instead smiles fondly and murmurs to Himself, “Ah, that Idahospud. Well, she’ll get it eventually–she’s just little.” If He knows my heart, part of His grace must be giving me the time and space (along with the commandments) to become the daughter He knows me to be.

  8. Wes says:

    Linda,

    “It’s time to claim the word and the concept as part of that “truth” in the core.”

    I think that sums it up quite well. Because I think grace is at the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think most Mormons are paranoid that if we hear the word grace in Sacrament meeting we will stop having a desire to continue living as well as we can. Grace can be taken too far of course. But that’s no reason to remove it from the vocabulary.

    Speaking of vocabulary, I had to look up the word ecumenical. I’ve learned something new today!

    Wes

  9. D-Train says:

    Linda, that’s a lovely piece.

  10. Dora says:

    Thank you Linda. I’ve been thinking about this very thing lately, getting frustrated with nit-picky admonitions about earrings and such. Not that I advocate going against the prophet’s counsel, but worrying that we are limiting our own ability to grow spiritually when we’re guided in such minutiae.

    An old Institute director once talked to us about pharisiacal nit-pickiness. The point was to protect the core group of ideals and beliefs. Rather like constructing an elaborate maze of gates and walls. The problem being that the emphasis was shifted to protecting and developing the fortifications instead of the core beliefs. Since then I’ve tried to live my life in accordance with my core beliefs, and live with minimal gates that keep the world at a distance. Besides, the closer the world can approach the core, the more they may be encouraged to learn more about them.

  11. mullingandmusing says:

    Not that I advocate going against the prophet’s counsel, but worrying that we are limiting our own ability to grow spiritually when we’re guided in such minutiae.

    But if a “core belief” is that God leads us through His prophet, then such “minutiae” becomes more than just insignificant, nitpicky stuff. It’s hard not to make the specifics into core beliefs (so I understand what you are getting at), but I don’t think that following a prophet limits our spiritual growth, regardless of what we are asked to do. Remember that once people rejected counsel to look on a serpent on a pole…just a simple thing. But it saved them.

    I guess what sticks in my mind is Elder Bednar’s talk to BYU students a while back. He uses the example of a young man who decided to stop dating a young woman because she wouldn’t remove that second pair of earrings. He says: “Now before I continue, I presume that some of you might have difficulty with my last example. In fact, this particular illustration of the young man being quick to observe may even fan the flames of controversy on campus, resulting in letters of disagreement to the Daily Universe! You may believe the young man was too judgmental or that basing an eternally important decision, even in part, upon such a supposedly minor issue is silly or fanatical. Perhaps you are bothered because the example focuses upon a young woman who failed to respond to prophetic counsel instead of upon a young man. I simply invite you to consider and ponder the power of being quick to observe and what was actually observed in the case I just described. The issue was not earrings!”

    Sorry, I know…long response. This concept of alleged “nit-pickiness” is a hot button for me. Because I think there is more to it than just the “rule” in question.

  12. AmyB says:

    m&m, we are on opposite ends of the pole on this one.

    Like Dora, I am deeply troubled by the focus on outward appearances. I’m also troubled by statmements from leadership that encourage being judgemental rather than showing love and undersanding.

    1 Samuel 16:7: “. . .for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

    I love the idea of minimalist theology and paring things down to what is really important. I like the thoughts on grace. I think many Mormons believe we are saved by our works. Growing up in the church I certainly had the idea that there was a discrete checklist to follow that would assure me entrance to the CK. Now I am much more concerned with increasing my ability to love than with worrying about earrings or whether or not it’s okay to eat coffee ice cream.

  13. Caroline says:

    Linda, great post. I definitely consider myself a Mormon of minimalist theology as well.

    I’m with you AmyB and Dora. Nitpicky statements about appearance by leaders drive me crazy. Not only do I think these things are unimportant, they are also, I think, culturally driven by Utah standards and ideas.

    Jesus had a beard. I don’t think that impeded his spirituality. And if a middle Eastern person today (or whoever) were converted to Mormonism whose cultural identity was perhaps in some ways tied to having a beard, let’s leave the guy alone. Why thrust Utah, white, American culture on people from around the world?

    I really liked the talk Holland gave a while ago about how cultural traditions are great and can be embraced by members around the world. So long as they don’t contradict core LDS ideas. And for me, nothing is more cultural than appearance, so I’m comfortable taking nitpicky statements by leaders regarding appearance with a grain of salt. I just don’t believe in a God who is going to care if I have one or two earrings.

  14. Dave says:

    No one every said a word about me having a beard when I was EQ President in Salt Lake.
    When I moved to So Cal was when I started getting flack about it – it was even worse after the move to Tampa. The Utah culture argument just doesnt seem to hold any water what-so-ever for me. Its a great catch-all explanation, but not really valid in my mind.

  15. Caroline says:

    Whether or not your particular SLC ward gave you flack about a beard, I still think it’s based in Utah white, American conservative culture. After all, the directives against facial hair originate with leaders who were raised in that environment.

  16. Melinda says:

    None of my intellectual concerns were answered and none of the quirky or disturbing things about LDS teachings and history I’d already heard vanished. But the message was still clear.

    That is so well-stated. I used to think I had to have all my issues neatly tucked away before I could really want to stay a Mormon. But I knew I was supposed to stay even in light of all my issues and the contradictions I’d dug up.

    There’s a lot of talk amongst the disaffected about “cognitive dissonance”, like everything has to make perfect sense before you can be a Mormon. Well, some stuff you just deal with while being a Mormon. I can sympathize with those who left, because I came close to leaving myself. But I’m getting better at dealing with paradox. It’s kind of exhilarating to decide you want to comprehend things you’re not really capable of understanding in detail, if that makes any sense.

    And honestly, why would I want to limit myself to belonging to only organizations that I understand completely? Then I couldn’t belong to anything bigger than myself, and maybe not even that, because I don’t even understand all my own quirks and inconsistencies.

  17. Melinda says:

    I meant to quote this statement for my previous post, but apparently I goofed up the html tags:

    “None of my intellectual concerns were answered and none of the quirky or disturbing things about LDS teachings and history I’d already heard vanished. But the message was still clear.”

  18. mullingandmusing says:

    Now I am much more concerned with increasing my ability to love than with worrying about earrings or whether or not it’s okay to eat coffee ice cream.

    AmyB, I understand what you are getting at with the heart and all, but Elder Bednar’s point was that nitpicking what the prophets say and dismissing it can also be a reflection of one’s heart. Ability to love is not the only element of the heart that God cares about. That said, I still understand the concern about appearances, because they can be made into the focus, which is wrong. But I don’t see the prophets doing that. Sometimes people use such things like that to judge, and the point of that scripture in 1 Sam. 16:7 is that we can’t judge each other’s hearts. But that doesn’t mean that what the prophets teach to help keep us away from the zeitgeist of Babylon — even if it appears nitpicky — is superficial or can’t be tied to our hearts. There’s heart-based merit on both sides of the pole.

  19. mullingandmusing says:

    p.s. I live in Utah and a member of our bishopric has a beard, and my uncle was a bishop in SLC with a beard. I also don’t fall for that “Utah culture” argument. Besides, our leaders travel the world constantly. They are not simply Utah-culture-puppets.

  20. Dora says:

    I think that as spiritual beings, we need to develop our connections with our Heavenly Father and Savior and to become more like them. Part of this seems to me to be developing spiritual maturity. And part of maturity seems to be being able to choose for ourselves, and learning from both our erroneous and correct choices. I feel that when we as a people are instructed in every nit-picky thing, we sometimes have little initiative to seek out personal spiritual growth. Yes, obedience is one off the things we are here to learn. But it seems to me that merely being obedient does not a creator-of-worlds make. It’s the base model, not the fully loaded one.

    I also don’t like the grooming guidelines because it makes spotting at-risk youth harder. I generally tend to think that youth often use appearance to signal internal conflicts. Which I would rather see than at-risk behavior such as drinking, promiscuity or drugs. Just my two cents. I will make the disclaimer that it’s been a long time since I was in YW’s.

  21. AmyB says:

    m&m, I can see the point in being humble and following counsel. I still think that piercings and tattoos just don’t really matter. And I still think that the brethren’s views regarding appearance are highly culturally informed. They want us to look consertative by Western standards. In India a nose peircing is probably comparable to one ear piercing here. There it would be conservative, in the US it would signify rebellion and be looked down upon by conservatives. In some Polynesian cultures tattooing is a celebrated right of passage. The cultural views of what it means are radically different from the U.S. What the brethren really want is for all of us to conform to conservative social norms, but when they try to quantify what that means it just doesn’t translate across all cultures.

    I agree with Dora about spiritual maturity. Many people want a checklist of things they can do because it assuages their existential anxiety. It’s scary to be fully responsible for one’s own actions. I think it’s the easy way out to simply follow whatever we are told without working it out for ourselves. It is a higher stage of moral development to make decisions based on an internalized set of principles rather than external do’s and don’ts.

  22. Eve says:

    Just to take this discussion on even more of a tangent, I think the young woman in Elder Bednar’s story was well rid of a young man so unable–or unwilling–to communicate his concerns with her directly. If there’s anything a marriage must have to survive, it’s honest, heartfelt, compassionate communication about difficult matters.

    But that detracts from my real point, which is to thank Linda for such a thoughtful and such an interesting post. I’m always inspired by reading about the faith of others, especially about how others deal with challenges, complications, and unresolved questions. It’s deeply inspiring and calls me back to consider my own grounding spiritual experiences.

  23. Caroline says:

    AmyB, Amen to your comments on appearance and culture. I agree – some directives about a (western) conservative appearance just don’t translate to other cultures.

    Eve, well said. That woman with the two earrings can breathe a sigh of relief that that relationship didn’t go any further.

  24. mullingandmusing says:

    The CityA businessman walks into a bank in San Francisco and asks for the loan officer. He says he is going to Europe on business for two weeks and needs to borrow $5,000. The bank officer says the bank will need some kind of security for such a loan. So the businessman hands over the keys to a Rolls Royce parked on the street in front of the bank. Everything checks out, and the bank agrees to accept the car as collateral for the loan. An employee drives the Rolls into the bank’s underground garage and parks it there.Two weeks later, the businessman returns, repays the $5,000 and the interest, which comes to $15.41.The loan officer says, “We are very happy to have had your business, and this transaction has worked out very nicely, but we are a little puzzled.While you were away, we checked you out and found that you are a multimillionaire. What puzzles us is why would you bother to borrow $5,000?”The businessman replied, “Where else in San Francisco can I park my car for two weeks for $15 bucks?”

    What the brethren really want is for all of us to conform to conservative social norms, but when they try to quantify what that means it just doesn’t translate across all cultures.

    What if — just what if — they want to give us ALL a way to show respect to the bodies God has given us in ways that transcend culture? (Not all of culture is to be embraced, after all.) That is what I think is going on here. Again, the Brethren probably know more about different cultures than any of us because they travel the world and interact with members everywhere. I feel that sometimes we don’t give them enough credit for their wisdom and inspiration that can transcend cultural influences. Besides, if local adaptations need to be made (let’s say, for food storage…since the staples will be different in various locations, or — who knows — for dress and grooming as well), then local leaders can make such adaptations. I just don’t think the answer is to dismiss what the leaders teach and counsel us about — big or small. But to each his/her own, I guess.

    I agree with Dora about spiritual maturity. Many people want a checklist of things they can do because it assuages their existential anxiety. It’s scary to be fully responsible for one’s own actions. I think it’s the easy way out to simply follow whatever we are told without working it out for ourselves. It is a higher stage of moral development to make decisions based on an internalized set of principles rather than external do’s and don’ts.

    So are you saying that those who ignore the prophet on things they think are insignificant are morally more developed? Not that I haven’t seen this argument before, but it always stuns me into near speechlessness. It has always been the pattern in the gospel to look to the prophets of God — His mouthpieces — to know how to come to be more like Him and His Son. God has never expected us to just roam on our own, relying on our own “spiritual maturity.” Yes, we are here to learn and exercise agency. But that can only happen with a backdrop of laws and guidelines and counsel. I do understand the principle you are considering, but I just think it’s misplaced. We can exercise agency and show spiritual maturity at the same time we follow the prophets with exactness. But I can see I’m in the minority here, so I suppose it does no good to argue about it. I suppose that probably also means it would be better for me to bow out of this discussion. (I will say that I do appreciate how y’all are kind to me in spite of the fact that we disagree….)

  25. AmyB says:

    What if — just what if — they want to give us ALL a way to show respect to the bodies God has given us in ways that transcend culture?

    I’m very uncomfortable with the implications of that statement. That would mean that grooming standards that just happen to perfectly align with consertative social norms in the United States are somehow better than everyone elses. It leads us to attribute meanings to the behavior of those that are culturually different that is not intended, and leads to judgements that are very misplaced. And if we are to believe every single thing that church leaders ever say, then we must also believe that we should not develop a relationship with Jesus and also that God’s love is conditional. I’m not willing to go there.

    Linda, I’m sorry to get off track from your original post. It looks like your minimalist theology won’t work for everyone. 🙂

    A concept that I find interesting is what Ken Wilber calls the pre/trans fallacy. It applies to various lines and levels of development, as is particularly relevant to moral development.

    Stages of moral development (ala Kohlberg) have been intensively studied and are generally agreed upon. At the most basic there is pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional. The center of gravity in the church is at conventional. When one is in the conventional stage, preconventional and postconventional both appear as simply nonconventional and can be easily confused.

    I think when one develops to postconventional moral development, minimalist theology will be more appealing. There is the drive to pare down behavior and belief to a consistent set of internal principles that are deeply meaningful. This is not the same as being hedonistic and doing whatever one wants or what is convenient. Confusing the two is the pre-trans fallacy.

  26. Mark Butler says:

    Is is not worth considering that some cultural considerations are adopted not because they are eternal ideals, but because of their temporal value as a symbol of cultural and spiritual unity?

    Once upon a time this symbol was having a beard – for various historical reasons (a *long haired* male friend of mine said the “hippies” ruined it for everyone) it now works better to adopt short hair and no beard.

    Insisting on doing your own thing in every little respect is a classic example of “it’s all about me”. Willing unity is of far greater value than diversity per se – willing disunity is the doctrine of the devil – the idea that one is too good to condescend to the general practices of ones fellow Saints, that there is some sort of metaphysical value to rebellion, to the Howard Dean-ish way of viewing the world, and ultimately little or none to humility and fellow feeling.

  27. Mark Butler says:

    Sorry, I meant James Dean, although there is something not to be said for Howard Dean-ism as well.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Linda, this is wonderful. Thank you.

    Randy B.

  29. Dave says:

    I think Elder Maxwell said it best. It is sometimes accept, but after much contemplation I have found that it is in fact one of the great truths:

    “Only by aligning our wills with God’s is full happiness to be found. Anything less results in a lesser portion. I am going to preach a hard doctrine to you now. The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. It is a hard doctrine, but it is true. The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him. And that hard doctrine lies at the center of discipleship.”

    Having been through the mumbo jumbo of the “pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional” myself, one thing becomes clear. You do eventually develop a “consistent set of internal principles that are deeply meaningful”. That being said, these internally meaningful principles generally dont lead you to complete salvation – they lead to a happy life of spiritual mediocrity. After a long deep investigation, Im going to stick with Elder Maxwell and try to surrender my will to the will of the Lord – Who teaches us his will through his mouthpiece, the Prophet.

  30. Deborah says:

    “the idea that one is too good to condescend to the general practices of ones fellow Saints”

    Ah, but if these “general practices” 1) aren’t core theology of Christ’s gospel

    AND

    2) truly do not sit well with someone’s spirit

    then let’s embrace the diversity of saints rather than get distracted by how we do or do not “fit in.”

    One of my favorite bishops told the congregation, in essence: “If we are doing our job, then I expect each Sunday you will encounter people whose appearance, comments, or habits make you uncomfortable. And the benefit of church attendence won’t just be for ‘them’ — but for each of us if we can open our hearts a little wider and judge a little less.”

  31. madhousewife says:

    I remember the infamous “one pair of earrings” talk and that when I first heard it–before I got anyone else’s take on it–the message I got was that our young people need to place *less* importance on their appearances, in the sense that they should get their sense of identity from *within* (from their relationship with God, really), that you shouldn’t rely on a tattoo to speak for who you are. I know that when *I* was a teenager (and young adult) I tended to use outward appearance to send a message–“I’m different,” “I’m cool,” whatever–because who I was inside didn’t speak loudly enough. It didn’t come off as a new nit-picky doctrine to me at all, but I found out later that people on both sides thought that was exactly what it was. I think it’s a shame that that was all they got out of it.

    Of course some people just genuinely like the way a certain fashion looks. It’s ridiculous to look at someone wearing two pairs of earrings and think, “Hmph. She’s not following the prophet!” It’s ridiculous to get all self-righteous because you only wear one pair of earrings, “like the prophet said!” (Am I even more righteous because I don’t wear earrings at all?) But I think it’s equally ridiculous to turn your outward appearance into an issue of honor, to insist that it’s inconsequential when it’s obviously important enough to you that you get all huffy about it. Believe me, I cringe, I *cringe* when I hear earring anecdotes over the pulpit, or read about them in the New Era or the Friend–but I also have to wonder why so many *American* Mormons choose to die on the earring or tattoo hill. That’s not culture. That’s something else.

    Personally, I am sincerely irritated by some of the “nit-picky” rules out there, and people’s obsession with following the nit-pickiness to the letter. I think, for example, that the “no R-rated movies” rule is too broad and doesn’t necessarily encourage people to develop a comprehensive moral philosophy re media. That rule is totally America-centric because other countries don’t have our movie rating system. But I’m not willing to die on the R-rated movie hill. If I weren’t married to a strict, letter-of-the-law type Mormon, R-rated movies might have made their way back into my personal wiggle room. I don’t judge other people’s personal wiggle room. But because of my personal circumstances, insisting that R-rated movies are “no big deal” would inevitably turn them into a big deal. That’s not minimalist theology either.

    I just think that people should have the courage of their convictions. If you’re comfy with your moral choices, that should be that. If you let other people’s judgmentalism irritate you to the point that you’re making big deals of issues that *aren’t* a big deal to God, that’s when you should reconsider your choices–because maybe they’ve acquired a different significance.

  32. Deborah says:

    [Personal Aside: MadHousewife — just looked at your blog. Good stuff. I hope you keep visiting us here!]

  33. Dora says:

    m&m ~ I’m sorry that you felt you needed to “bow out” of the discussion, because it seems to reflect poorly on commenters from both sides of the issue. As you can see from subsequent comments, you are not *so* totally in the minority.

    Deborah ~ Your comment gets to the heart of my irritation with the pettiness that I see surounding this issue. Many of the stories that raise my ire in the saga of the two earrings are those in which one saint takes it into their head to dissociate themselves from a friend (be the relationship romantic or not) based on the multiple earrings concept, then congratulating themselves on having escaped from a sinner. The very mote-beam aspect of it just rankles.

    I am very much in favor of personal contemplation, prayer and spiritual directedness, but I think we need to be very cautious about applying our own spiritual progression against others’.

    Madhousewife ~ Yes, I definitely think that people use their outward appearance to make statements that they feel they can not make any other way. Especially if we have members of our congregations who know what the “standard” is and choose not to follow it, maybe they need more from us than an, “Oh, rebellious people are bad” attitude. Maybe this will end up being a test, not only of our obedience, but also of our ability to open our arms and good works to those who need our compassion and empathy the most.

  34. AmyB says:

    Is is not worth considering that some cultural considerations are adopted not because they are eternal ideals, but because of their temporal value as a symbol of cultural and spiritual unity?

    I agree with you on this one. When small things get elevated to the level of “eternal principle” I have a problem. I’m perfectly willing to accept that as Mormons we do certain things to mark ourselves as part of the group. But sometimes that’s all it is, and in the big picture those things just aren’t that important to me. I don’t put them on the same level as loving my neighbor, helping the poor, mourning with those that mourn, etc.

    And if I’ve been offensive or unkind to anyone in this discussion, I apologize. Sometimes when discussions are online it’s easy to forget that the comments are made by real people with real feelings. I value differing viewpoints and hope I haven’t put anyone down.

  35. mullingandmusing says:

    I’m back only to say that I’m laughing my head off that that little joke somehow got pasted at the top of my post. Sorry about that! 🙂

  36. Eve says:

    m&m, I have to admit you had me stumped. I was scratching my head trying to decide if it was a morality tale (wearing two earings per ear= stiffing the city of San Francisco its legitimate parking fees?) or if you inteded the millionaire sneaky-parker’s cleverness to be emulated. Thanks for clearing that up. ;>

  37. Lynnette says:

    I thought it was a good joke, though I too was having a hard time relating it to the topic of the thread! 😉

  38. mullingandmusing says:

    m&m ~ I’m sorry that you felt you needed to “bow out” of the discussion, because it seems to reflect poorly on commenters from both sides of the issue. As you can see from subsequent comments, you are not *so* totally in the minority.

    Yeah, well, those comments that reflected that fact basically came today. 🙂 I just have found that it’s better when I’m sorta alone on an issue not to press it, just because I don’t want it to become contentious. Ya know?

    And if I’ve been offensive or unkind to anyone in this discussion, I apologize. Sometimes when discussions are online it’s easy to forget that the comments are made by real people with real feelings. I value differing viewpoints and hope I haven’t put anyone down.

    I have to say that this blog has been one of the most civil I have participated in, and I appreciate that.

    May I say one more thing re: the following? “When small things get elevated to the level of ‘eternal principle’ I have a problem.” I agree with this. But someone who wants to follow something like the one earring thing simply because that person has chosen an overarching principle of “obey the prophet” then I think that should not be criticized or labelled as morally “less mature.” That, I think, was what Elder Bednar was addressing. I think madhousewife got to a key point on the issue. I just don’t like it when someone plays morally superior by choosing to dismiss the prophets’ counsel and suggesting that those who choose to follow are somehow less “mature.” That’s no less judgmental or problematic than judging someone with two earrings or a tatoo or any other “outward” thing.

    (Alas, I can never truly be speechless, can I?) 🙂

  39. Lynnette says:

    I really appreciated this post. I think I’ve become more and more agnostic over the years about a variety of church teachings. But I keep coming back to my belief in Christ, in the atonement, in the reality of grace. Those are really the doctrines that keep me going religiously, and when I get frustrated about other things, it always helps to come back to them.

  40. Harijans says:

    Mark Said:
    “Insisting on doing your own thing in every little respect is a classic example of “it’s all about me”. Willing unity is of far greater value than diversity per se – willing disunity is the doctrine of the devil – the idea that one is too good to condescend to the general practices of ones fellow Saints, that there is some sort of metaphysical value to rebellion”

    Much Like Joseph Smith insisted on doing his “own little thing” when he went to pray in the grove.

    Much like Christ did his “own little thing” when he refused cultural norm of the time.

    Our history as Mormons is so closely tied to people who had the courage to do their own thing. To turn away from that now is to turn away from God. If people doing their own thing is threatening then it only reveals insecurities in your own testimony (sorry for the cheap shot). If you are secure in your beliefs then people who question do not concern you, because you know the answer they will receive, you know the confirmation of the truth will come if the person is open to having such a confirmation.

    Patience and support is what is demanded of the saints when faced with minimalist theology. If for no other reason than to admit that we are all minimalist theologians in our own ways. Me? I can’t stand how we all ignore or try to rationalize that whole Word of Wisdom eat meat sparingly thing. Thankfully, my hang-ups are all fairly minor at this time, and have little impact on my ability to follow church mainstream. However, I see people struggling with aspects of the gospel every day. Telling them to buck up and follow the rules, because to do anything else is narscisistic is wrong, and definitly not what Jesus would do.

    Those who push “the prophet is the mouthpeice of God argument” are leaving out two very critical details to that argument.
    1. The prophet is a mouthpeice for God, only when speaking in God’s name. Otherwise you have a hard time explaining how Noah was a mouthpeice while he was tipping back all that booze (other equally humerous examples available upon request).
    2. Every person in the world is promised that if the prophets say anything that the person has a hard time accepting, that person can go directly to God for confirmation on that particular point. In fact, that person MUST go to God for confirmation “If any of ye lack wisdom let him ask of God..” It does not say ask the prophet, it does not say to ask Mark, it says, to ask God and only God.

    By telling people that the must accept the word of the prophet as the word of God is wrong, and in my opinion an offense you should probably discuss with your bishop, especially if you do not understand why it is wrong. This is the same attitude that a cult leader expects his/her followers to have. This is the idea that obedience is the greatest of all doctrine, not love. Encouraging blind obedience not only stifles spiritual progression of the individual, it moves us farther away from the truth that God has blessed us with.

    Obedience is critical to the gospel, but obedience by itself is useless. Obedience must be coupled with faith and love and study if one hopes to receive confirmation of the prophets’ words.

    Mullings: If the leadership of the church wanted us all to transcend cultural norms then they would be giving the same talk about multiple piercings when they travel abroad. They do not. In fact, they encourage conservative social appearance and behavior that is specific to the culture in which they are speaking. If this were not true, the elders wearing dresses in the Philippines have a lot of explaining to do.

  41. mullingandmusing says:

    Since there are comments still coming to my comments, I’m here again. 🙂 Hope that’s OK.

    Mullings: If the leadership of the church wanted us all to transcend cultural norms then they would be giving the same talk about multiple piercings when they travel abroad. They do not. In fact, they encourage conservative social appearance and behavior that is specific to the culture in which they are speaking. If this were not true, the elders wearing dresses in the Philippines have a lot of explaining to do.

    Exactly. But the earrings/tatoo thing was given at the general level. That said, if they made local adaptations to even that, then fine. I don’t suppose any of us knows for sure what they say with regard to those things around the world. But when I hear counsel at a general level, I’m assuming there is some general applicability. I would be interested to see if those in other countries get as riled up as Americans do about stuff like this, though. My suspicion is that they don’t.

    For the record, I’ve never supposed nor suggested they want to eliminate all of local culture, nor would I want them to.

    Our history as Mormons is so closely tied to people who had the courage to do their own thing.

    Joseph did his own thing because there was no prophet to speak for God. That was in a period of apostasy. The Savior did NOT do His own thing — He followed God’s commandments. It just so happened that He was also the mouthpiece for God, so I’m not sure you can use Him as an example of justification for ignoring the prophets, if that is what you are trying to do.

    From the time of the Restoration, our people “doing their own thing” was in response to prophetic guidance. That’s how they knew how God wanted them to be different and how to follow Him. Of course we are to look to God personally for verification of what the prophets say, but the Lord has told us they are His mouthpieces. My experience is that what they teach is what feels right from God, so I find no reason to not follow them. Following them is an act of faith.

    “Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient. They are obedient because they know certain spiritual truths and have decided, as an expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God. … We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see” (Boyd K. Packer)

    Obedience is critical to the gospel, but obedience by itself is useless. Obedience must be coupled with faith and love and study if one hopes to receive confirmation of the prophets’ words.

    Of course this is true, but you seem to suggest that those who choose to follow “the little things” are faithless, loveless, and studyless? I’m a passionate prophet-follower…and faith and love and study are at the root of that choice. I get a little testy when someone seems to assume that, in following things that others deem “insignificant” it’s assumed that I’m just a blind, mindless, faithless puppet. That is far, far from the truth. I feel no more need to talk to the bishop about my passionate desire to follow the prophets than fly to the moon.

  42. AmyB says:

    By telling people that the must accept the word of the prophet as the word of God is wrong, and in my opinion an offense you should probably discuss with your bishop, especially if you do not understand why it is wrong.

    Wow, that is strong language. Perhaps I am reacting because I prefer to work out my own relationship to divinity, and I don’t want a man to mediate it for me. I do agree with your sentiment about telling other people what they should believe (although I know I am guilty of this).

    We are each working out our own path. I think each person here is honorably doing the best they know how and what is right for them. I like the minimalist theology idea as part of my spiritual path. It’s an idea that helps me live with the paradox and contradictions inherent in life and in the Mormon church. But it’s not the right path or best path for everyone.

  43. mullingandmusing says:

    I feel no more need to talk to the bishop about my passionate desire to follow the prophets than fly to the moon.

    Sorry for the flippant comment….

  44. Stephen says:

    Ah, that Idahospud. Well, she’ll get it eventually–she’s just little.”

    I really think God thinks that way about us, which is why I think he means it when he says the greater sin is in failing to forgive others.

  45. Melinda says:

    This was a pretty good discussion before it turned into yet another gripe about earrings and appearances. You know, I bet Elder Bednar regrets telling that stupid earring story. Maybe that’s why Elder Monson repeats his stories so often – he’s sorted out the stories that teach the principle he wants to get across without getting everyone’s dander up and he doesn’t dare throw a new story out there for fear of the reaction.

    Poor Elder Bednar – there’s got to be a learning curve for learning to speak as an apostle. That earring story probably wouldn’t have been much of an issue if he’d just been the president of Ricks College giving it to the Ricks student body. I think the man just wasn’t used to speaking to the whole world when he picked a story that only could have worked in central Idaho.

  46. mullingandmusing says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how some can make it a leader’s fault when some people don’t like what is said. I think he knew exactly what he was doing and saying, and that is why he buffered it with “don’t attack me for this — try to hear what message I am trying to give you.” Remember, he said it was not about earrings. So don’t make his message about appearance or earrings. Just as you want people to look past the surface, we need to look past the surface to see what he was teaching.

  47. Eve says:

    Melinda, good point. I’ve often thought that the visibility involved in apostleship and other high church callings would be difficult to manage Thanks for the reminder to interpret with charity.

  48. RoAnn says:

    Thanks for this very intriguing post, Linda. Reading it and all the comments has been a very interesting look at how minimalism is viewed by several bloggers whose opinions I have read elsewhere in the Bloggernacle. Someone mentioned to me just yesterday how small the Bloggernacle really is–we run into the same names, and the same issues, again and again.

    Thus it did not surprise me to read comments in which the Brethren are being taken to task once more for being provincial (or just inexperienced and inept). And once again I feel moved to disagree. In the course of my rather long life I have lived in eleven countries, on five continents. Members in all those counties seemed to find that the counsel from our top leaders was definitely applicable to the challenges they were facing in their country and culture–in the larger sense, if not in every particular. I never witnessed the kind of condescending criticism of their words which seems to surface regularly on some blogs.

    Mark Butler made a point I consider crucial when discussing the value of following our leaders’ counsel: “Is is not worth considering that some cultural considerations are adopted not because they are eternal ideals, but because of their temporal value as a symbol of cultural and spiritual unity?”

    Case in point: In Mexico, a moustache is often considered an important sign of masculine identity. The fact that most Mexican stake presidencies have sacrificed their facial hair seems to me to be a sign of their understanding the importance of cultivating that kind of unity.

    I also find that mullingandmusing has already expressed my reaction to some of the comments in this thread when she said, “I’m a passionate prophet-follower…and faith and love and study are at the root of that choice. I get a little testy when someone seems to assume that, in following things that others deem ‘insignificant’ it’s assumed that I’m just a blind, mindless, faithless puppet.”

    Once I got through my atheist phase, I found that for me, true spiritual growth comes far more easily when I try to accept prophetic counsel, than when I question it. To each his own. . . .

  49. Dora says:

    “Once I got through my atheist phase, I found that for me, true spiritual growth comes far more easily when I try to accept prophetic counsel, than when I question it. To each his own. . . .”

    Interesting. What type of behavior from others helped or hindered your return to your present stance? I believe that consideration and kindess tend to work best, and it’s what I expect and continue to hope for on our discussions.

  50. RoAnn says:

    Touché, Dora. My sincere apologies to anyone who was offended by my comment.

  51. Anonymous says:

    Enjoyed a lot! » » »

  52. Kiri Close says:

    Is there any way you can submit this article to the Ensign?

    super cool thoughts, Linda.

  1. February 1, 2010

    […] Exponent: Minimalist Theology (by […]

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