What he DIDN’T say….

d-todd-christofferson-largeAs many of you know, the LDS church gave a press conference two weeks ago. The Bloggernacle has since exploded with commentary about what it means, what it doesn’t mean, who said what, who apologized and who didn’t.

I’d like to turn our attention for just a moment to what WASN’T said.

In more than one interview, when responding to questions like, “What about members who support a different political stance than the one you’re outlining?” Elder D. Todd Christofferson offered similar answers.



Quoting from Peggy Stack’s article, We can all be more civil…, 

What does the LDS Church think of members who back same-sex marriage?

“There hasn’t been any litmus test or standard imposed that you couldn’t support that if you want to support it,” Christofferson said, “if that’s your belief and you think it’s right.

Any Latter-day Saint can have a belief “on either side of this issue,” he said. “That’s not uncommon.” 

Problems arise only when a member makes “a public, sustained opposition to the church itself or the church leaders and tries to draw others after them,” he said, and that support swells into “advocacy.”

In a Trib-Talk interview with Jennifer Napier-Pierce: (watch about the 8:00 – 11:00 minute area)

JNP, reading viewer’s questions, “I’m an active member in good standing. I want to understand whether supporting gay marriage or groups like Ordain Women could cause me to lose my temple recommend? If I privately believe in these ideas, would I still be temple worthy, and if so, why would the act of public expression make me unworthy if a privately held belief does not? What is the difference between a belief and its expression?”

 DTC:  “Heavy question. We have members, individual members, in the church who have a variety of different opinions and beliefs and positions on these issues and other issues. You can reflect back on the Equal Rights Amendment years ago…this isn’t the first of that kind of thing where we might have different feelings or different positions but it doesn’t, in our view, it doesn’t really become a problem unless someone is out attacking the church and its leaders, if it’s a deliberate and a persistent effort in trying to get others to follow them, trying to draw others away, trying to pull people, if you will, out of the church or away from its teachings and doctrines. That’s very different, for us, than someone who feels one way or another on a political stance or a particular action to support a group, Affirmation or any of the others that you named.” 

(Emphasis mine)

Differences in doctrine aside, Elder Christofferson seems to acknowledge that members of the church may come to their own political views, not necessarily in agreement with the Church’s official stance, and that it “doesn’t really become a problem” (unless you’re also attacking the church while you’re at it.)

So, imagine if you will, what Elder Christofferson, thankfully, did NOT say: “For members who find themselves at odds with the official position of the church, we ask that they fast, pray and counsel with their Bishops in seeking a change of heart so their views may come in line with ours. Those who stubbornly stick to their own opinions may be subject to informal or formal church discipline.” 

I’m no Ziff when it comes to finding data and analyzing their statistics, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts that the above imaginary quote was not so long ago a reality. If not at the general level, then I certainly felt it in my local SoCal ward ’round ’bout Prop 8 time. Interesting also, in his original quote, how he mentions members of the church having a variety of opinions about the ERA. I’m very curious how leaders in that day spoke and acted toward members with diverging views on that legislation…… (Didn’t work out so well for some.) Political neutrality aside, do his remarks from two weeks ago represent a shift in what the church at the general level expects and accepts from its members regarding their official political positions?  Is it possible that our own wards may start to trickle down this ability to let others form political views that don’t necessarily agree with the official church position without community shaming or outcasting?

The razor’s edge we all walk is how our local leaders define “advocacy” and to what degree will our good standing in the church be put up against censorship?

Having a divergent view —–> okay

Attacking the church or leading others astray —-> Not okay

Blogging? Commenting on a blog? Podcasting? Posting on Facebook? Starting a website? Chatting with your Visiting Teacher? —–> ?????

Especially in the face of their outlining a very specific political position, I find this remark exceptionally encouraging: if that’s your belief and you think it’s right.”  I’m so grateful he acknowledged that some folks may come to different conclusions according to their conscience….and that it’s okay. 


Violadiva is an oxymoron, a musician, a yogi, a Suzuki violin teacher, a late-night baker of sourdough breads, proud Mormon feminist, happy wife of Pianoman and lucky mother to three.

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14 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    I hope you’re right that this signals a shift, Violadiva! I agree that it’s interesting that he points to the ERA, since as you say, it’s clear that opposing the Church on the ERA didn’t work out for at least some people. I wish he could have used Prop 8 as an example, but then I guess maybe he felt like it was too fresh (and/or there were too many obvious counter-examples of people who did get Church discipline for diagreeing).

  2. Caroline says:

    Thanks for isolating and reflecting upon these important quotes, Violadiva. I’m pretty happy about them. If nothing else, it seems like people who are facing uncomfortable talks with bishops, temple recommends being yanked, or disciplinary action because of the different opinions they have can use these quotes as protection against gung-ho bishops and stake presidents that want to punish heterodox thinkers.

    I am left with the same question as you have. What is advocacy? I certainly believe that Prop 8 was a disaster. Does posting a blog post about my opinion and why I think allowing same sex marriage in the state of California is ethical constitute advocacy? I wish that was clearer.

    • Violadiva says:

      Caroline and Em, exactly. We’ve all seen that what crosses the dotted line of “advocacy” according to one local leader is no where near the radar of another. Seems a really unfair disadvantage to “leader roulette” when a person’s eternal salvation and temple blessings are at stake.
      Elders Oaks and Christofferson did say that this nuance is decided by local Bishops and that additional training will always be necessary. We’ll see if they have any more to say to Bishops about that!

  3. Em says:

    I was also encouraged by these remarks, and also wondered what constitutes advocacy. I have a personal blog that pretty much only my family reads. It isn’t set to private, so in theory millions of people could read my thoughts, even though in actuality it tops out at around ten. So I can say very radical things (and have on occasion) but I’m really not reaching much of an audience, beyond who I might reach at a holiday dinner table anyway. On the other hand if I post something here there are far more readers, and the posts get shared on Facebook, pinterest and other places. So if I made the exact same post in both places, is one advocacy and one not? How could it really be fair if what determines advocacy has nothing to do with what I say or believe, and everything to do with how many other people choose to read it? While on one hand I like the wiggle room of not spelling out what advocacy is, I think it also leaves lots of room for abuse or overly rigid interpretation.

  4. Dave K says:

    I’m just guessing along with everyone else, but I think some important guidance can be found from the recent disciplinary councils against Kelly and Dehlin. The church does not base its judgment of “advocacy” on your words, or even your “tone,” so much as whether your words have an affect on others. You become an advocate if people change their mind because of you.

    If I’m correct, then writing a blog post in support of civil SSM will not lead to a meeting with your bishop just because it upsets someone in RS. But he may feel a need to take action if members complain that their children came out in support SSM because of what they read on your blog.

    • Liz says:

      I kinda think that takes away from the children’s agency, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t it our responsibility to take responsibility for our own thoughts and actions, rather than blaming the last thing we read on our evolving opinions and/or stances? I just don’t think we should be held accountable for what people might decide to do after reading what we write or hearing what we say. We’re responsible for our opinions, beliefs, and actions, regardless of what influenced us to arrive at those points.

      • Dave K says:

        I’m not defending the position, just stating that that is what I see happening. I agree it’s unfair. I also believe it is ultimately untenable. But that is the line the church is trying to draw. You can believe anything you want, and you can speak about your beliefs in the public forum, but you can’t speak if your words are persuasive to others.

      • Liz says:

        Thanks for clarifying – I agree with you. And I agree that it’s ultimately untenable. 🙂

  5. Naismith says:

    I wasn’t there for Prop 8, but I lived through the ERA era, because in the early 1980s my husband was attending grad school at a university in a state capitol, in a state that had repeatedly refused to ratify. I participated and helped organize various demonstrations against. I knew lots of LDS who were in favor of ERA, including a state legislator who also served on the high council, and a member of the YW presidency (or maybe Primary? And her husband was a ward clerk or something). There was absolutely no hint or question of their church membership being affected in any way, because they did not try to convert others (nor ridicule them as mindless sheep), nor did they criticize the church leadership.

    And I never heard any gossip from other members about them. More just a matter-of-fact “Don’t call Kathy, she doesn’t want to participate in this.” I had moved there from BYU, and every time I heard general RS president Barbara Smith talk about ERA, she acknowledged that others may think differently. She mentioned a judge in Utah. But she was clear that it was no problem to think differently. (BTW, Sister Smith was opposed to ERA for years before the church took a stance, so that may be an example of a woman influencing church leaders.)

    Sonia Johnson was excommunicated only after she encouraged people to turn the missionaries away, accused church leadership of being ‘a savage misogyny,’ and in other ways TAUGHT AND ENCOURAGED OTHERS to take action against the church. Not for her beliefs or doubts. Her excommunication letter was finally publicized in the March 1980 Ensign (we didn’t have the internet back then), so one can look it up on lds.org–and the wording may seem very similar to more recent actions:

    “That Mrs. Johnson had taken public issue with the Church’s opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment was not among the grounds for the ecclesiastical action leading to her excommunication.

    “But, in her advocacy of ERA, Mrs. Johnson expressed attitudes and views which went beyond that issue and constituted a direct and irresponsible attack upon the Church, its leaders, doctrines, and programs. In public statements she urged the obstruction of the Church’s worldwide missionary effort, demonstrated that she was not in harmony with Church doctrine, and misrepresented and held up to ridicule the leadership and membership of the Church.”

    To me, the story of Alma 30 is applicable here, that there is no problem with believing whatever you want, but when you teach others and lead them to follow you rather than the church, it can become problematic.

  6. Michael V says:

    I think there have been a lot of good comments here. There does seem to be more concern by Church leaders with someone who has a larger audience or who seems to be more persuasive. Definitely there is a big distinction between advocating a contrary position and making derogatory comments about the Church or its doctrine. What I didn’t see commented on here is that a key aspect of possible Church discipline appears to be in the step of a leader counseling with a possibly-straying member and asking for a certain limit what they are doing. If the member is not cooperative with the leader, especially after multiple counseling sessions, then the offense may have a lot to do with failure to honor Priesthood leadership—–I don’t think that step always appears in pubic statements or news. Unfortunately personalities can come into play with a certain person and a certain leader, as far as assessing an “attitude” toward Priesthood leadership. I think that’s the missing ingredient sometimes when the apparent “apostasy” (public) statements seem to vary in seriousness.

  7. EmilyCC says:

    I hadn’t put these pieces together, ViolaDiva. I’m so glad you have and Elder Christofferson’s words resonate strongly with the pieces of Mormonism that ring true in my heart…that we have free agency and we are entitled to personal revelation. It seems impossible that with those two facets of the Gospel so clearly defined that all members are going to agree all the time. And, I think that’s what makes Mormonism so interesting.

  8. I do not think that Christofferson was banning advocacy–it sounds to me like he was talking about advocacy for “a public, sustained opposition to the church itself or the church leaders.” Advocating against the church itself is very different from advocating for the Church to consider a particular policy change or course of action. To draw an analogy, would you call an American citizen who advocates for changes to current American laws anti-American? Of course not! Working to improve the nation, through advocacy, is a sign of patriotism. So why should anyone call a Mormon who advocates for improvements to our Church anti-Mormon?

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