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Mormon Privilege

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by Zenaida

Mormons often assume that everyone within the faith around them believes the same way they do, as evidenced by the way we talk about missions, politics, and other moral issues. We are also under injunction to not take offense to people, so how do we deal with insensitive comments, political statements, false doctrine, and other statements spoken from the pulpit? I recently attended sacrament meeting and heard a member of the bishopric take a swipe at our new president elect, which elicited a laugh from the congregation, but I was shocked and embarrassed. Aside from my belief that the pulpit is not the place for professing political preferences (which could be seen as heretical after the recent election), I do not think it appropriate to undermine authority in such a way to people who would be led by example.

This talk by Elder Bednar invites us to not only cease to be offended, but to invite those who are inactive due to offense to reconsider. From the beginning, this talk implies a direction specifically toward those who are less active. Finding myself drifting closer to this status by true doctrine, occasional assumptions about me, and my own defensiveness about my doubts and my relationship with a non-member.

He paraphrases Neal A. Maxwell: “Rather, the Church is a learning laboratory and a workshop in which we gain experience as we practice on each other in the ongoing process of ‘perfecting the Saints.'” I have always felt guilt over using others as guinnea pigs in my laboratory and prayed that they will be compensated for my short-comings. However, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and I wouldn’t want to anyway, but is there a place for people with different opinions? Where is the line between tolerance and expulsion?

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  1. S.Faux says:

    Zenaida:

    There is definitely a place for Mormons with differing opinions. My Bishop does not speak of politics in our Ward, but I know he is an active liberal. I cannot imagine that he didn’t vote for Obama. There is a place for all kinds of thinkers. I recommend my essay on Faithful Individuality.

  2. Caroline says:

    zenaida,
    How awful that your bishopric person said that. This may not be your style, but I heartily encourage you to write an email to him or call him and tell him how that made you feel. It’s time for him and the rest of the bishopric to know that it does no one any good to make blanket political assumptions about ward members, and that doing so is alienating and makes you feel you have no place. Hopefully he’ll feel shame and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    I think after this last political season, many of us are questioning whether or not there’s a place for us in this tradition. I believe there is, but it sure doesn’t feel like that sometimes.

    Please send that email to your leader. Don’t let him get away with making you (and others) feel that way.

  3. djinn says:

    The talk by Elder Bednar, though undoubtedly sincere, is as he himself tries to placed some large portion of people into this essentially superficial box–they left because they were offended. Does this really happen?

  4. Bree says:

    Thank you for this. I had the same reaction to Elder Bednar’s talk. I’ve never understood why “being offended” is so often used as a barometer of a person’s righteousness in the church. Isn’t it more likely that something truly offensive was said or done (whether intentional or not)? That’s not to say that compassion and forgiveness can’t mediate the offense, but demonizing (or questioning the righteousness of) the offended party seems to give a lot of people a free pass for bad behavior. At least that has been my recent experience with Prop 102 in my ward. I was extremely offended at some of the hateful, outright gay-bashing that was taking place in my ward, and by vocalizing that offense, my righteousness was immediately questioned.

  5. Vesper Holly says:

    My RS president sent out a political (anti Obama) email using the RS list a few weeks ago. I emailed her back and kindly reminded her that the church does not endorse political candidates and to please not use the RS list for those purposes. She wrote back, thanked me and apologized. I was pretty stressed out by the situation but it turned out well.

  6. Steph says:

    I don’t have any answers but would like to see more focus on members being held accountable for everyone they offend. I am beginning to understand why some people don’t go to church. It is not a welcoming, loving environment for everyone. It is not about always agreeing, but maybe about being less judgmental and allowing everyone their own growth at the rate that is right for them.

  7. Douglas Hunter says:

    I think the Church should be a place for people with different opinions, American Mormon culture would do a lot better with greater diversity of approaches to scripture and faith, to social and political issues, to historical understanding, to the social gospel, etc.

    However, the events of the past few months have revealed a picture of the Church I’ve never seen before in such a pragmatic way. It’s clear that for many in the Church difference is used in a very negative way. It is seen as a mark of unrighteousness, it’s seen as a sign of a lack of faith, or the wrong kind of faith, etc. So difference is seen as something that needs to be retreated from, it’s a threat. It’s difficult to know how to get past this destructive use of difference.

    In addition some things that are taken as signs of significant difference are not actually sings of difference at all. The way registered democrats either stay in the closet or use their status as Democrats as a sign of the progressive credibility is both strange, and humorous. The differences between Democrats and Republicans are far smaller than either party will admit. The fact is they are the only two parties that are in competition for American political power which creates a long list of structural similarities, that is of greater significance then their ideological differences. Of course both parties see it as in their self interest to make the most of the differences that do exist.

    The current Robert Rees case suggests that the Church is not a place for people with different opinions.

    But here is the thing, anyone who has sat through a few Sunday’s of lesson read directly from the manual, or who has seen how interesting Mormon doctrine gets when you look at it beyond a superficial level will realize that the Church has a real need for a diversity of opinions and approaches (political, spiritual, intellectual . . . ), and yet Mormon culture simply does not know how to handle difference.

  8. Noah says:

    It’s strange that we can all read the Book of Mormon and each leave with an entirely different meaning. It’s a mystery to me why any Christian would embrace the principles of Capitalism when, right from the story of Cain and Abel down to the warnings found in the Book of Revelation, our entire Standard Works seems to condemn them in no uncertain terms. It’s a mystery why Mormons would choose to vote for a party that exists to help those with the most power obtain even more power–serving Corporate interests at the expense of the environment, women’s rights, and human joy and dignity in general.

    I’m a Sunday School teacher in my ward, and if I even hint at what I believe to be the true message of the Book of Mormon, I feel beat-down and alone. So I guess the answer remains to keep politics out of our congregations. If we could do this, we wouldn’t see the level of divisiveness within our wards that were seeing over Prop 8. How to convey that the Book of Mormon people’s were only righteous when they had all things in common, equal rights, no oppression, etc., without waxing political…well, it’s a find art that I am yet to master.

  9. Zenaida says:

    Reading through this again, I realized a couple of things. I view authority with respect and don’t think questioning is appropriate. Maybe this comes from raising my hand to the square and sustaining my leaders for so many years?

    Caroline, I’m really nervous about such an approach, but I might try it out. Thanks for your example.

    Bree, I agree with you. If there is no room to call people on questionable behavior without feeling like your own righteousness is being called into question creates a very tense atmosphere and leaves the door open for poor behaviors to continue.

    Douglas, That is exactly what I am afraid of. This latest issue seems to be a closing of ranks and sorting the tares. I am not familiar with Robert Rees. ?

    I’ve also heard Elder Bednar say that we need to make a difference between doctrine and culture, and focus on the doctrine.

  10. EmilyCC says:

    Oh, good questions on a complex topic, Zenaida! As a person who tries really hard not to be oversensitive, I found this talk helpful when it came out. I like to think it addresses people who say, “Oh, that person said something mean to me this week. I’m not going back,” which I’ve heard happens from time to time. But, you and the other commentors bring up some good points. When does being offended become feeling hurt and isolated? And, what can we do about those who feel that way? (why is it so much easier to come up with questions rather than answers?)

    Right now, I’d love to see an apostle give a talk on loving each other and respecting each other’s free agency.

  11. mfranti says:

    I recently attended sacrament meeting and heard a member of the bishopric take a swipe at our new president elect, which elicited a laugh from the congregation, but I was shocked and embarrassed.

    i just had this fantasy where i stood up just as he finishing his comments and asked if that was meant to unite us and bring us spiritual enlightenment.

    oh…one can dream.

  12. kmillecam says:

    I agree that when things like this happen, we need to speak up and let the leadership know. I was upset when I was emailed about volunteering at a call center for Yes on Prop 102, and I had only been in the ward a few weeks! I wrote the sister back and she was very respectful. I also let the bishop know, and he was also very nice and respectful. After feeling so angry initially, I was happy to know that maybe the only reason some people do this is because they have never come across friendly opposition before. I would hope that the woman I emailed and my bishop are a little more aware of differing opinions now.

  13. E.D. says:

    “the Book of Mormon people’s were only righteous when they had all things in common, equal rights, no oppression, etc.,”
    In other words, the United Order. It’s true that Book of Mormon people were at their most righteous when there was no pride and they worked together for the common good. That really is the ultimate in pure unselfishness and righteousness. However, in order for the United Order, or anything like it, to work in God’s plan people have to be allowed to keep their agency. It also has to be voluntary. Even if the government sincerely tries to work for the common good (and that’s questionable given how much corruption currently exists in government), do we really want them deciding how, when, and whom we will serve?
    I agree with the statement made about the righteousness of the Book of Mormon people; I do not agree that it’s the government’s place to legislate the common good. Part of living the gospel and becoming a righteous people is being able to provide service and know when to step in and help people. Allowing the government to dictate those terms to us is communism and laziness.

  14. Bones says:

    Thank you for these great comments. I have enjoyed all that I’ve learned from you all. I, too, am bothered by talks and lessons about the evil offended people who leave the Church. The fight or flight response is a god-give reaction to protect ourselves from further hurt. It applies to physical and emotion hurts, right? We don’t know how many times they have “turned the other cheek” nor do we know how egregious the offenses have been. I vote w with those of you who would like us to be held accountable for our offenses and not judge the offended so harshly.

  15. Zenaida says:

    E.D. I agree that the government should not dictate to us how or when or who we serve. I believe the government’s role is to ensure availability of services to every person under its jurisdiction regardless of what church or other organization they are affiliated with.

  16. Kiri Close says:

    My personal opinion on what to do is to pull Mr. Insensitive off to the side, & tell him exactly how you truly feel.

    And if he gets dismissive of you, raise your voice….well, that is what I always do. I can no longer allow that kind of impertinence to remain staple & ‘regular’ in our church (or elsewhere I go).

    The truth is I always feel better when I do this (and let that idiot feel crappy, otherwise, he/she would never be on the way to personal reform). Consider this an act of service.

    ;o)

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