Leadership in Difficult Times:  Critical Thinking and Wisdom (Part II)

      Dear Reader: When I began this series of essays on leadership, I never anticipated the final installment would chronicle recent events that have triggered the biggest spiritual struggle of my life. So, this is personal.

Quem Iuppiter vult perdere, dementat prius

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first deprive of reason.”


      When I began my college career at Brigham Young University (“BYU”) in the mid-1970s, there was a creative writing professor who would give his students two essays on the same topic. The author of “Essay A,” the class was told, was a general authority of the Mormon Church while “Essay B” had been written by an Ivy League professor. After the students had finished reading both, the professor asked the class, by a show of hands, which one was best. Virtually everyone sided with the general authority. In some instances, it was unanimous.

     The professor then proceeded to dissect each essay, illustrating how the logic and reasoning of the Ivy League scholar was far superior to that of the general authority. But many students were reluctant to agree with their instructor, though they struggled to refute his analysis. They only yielded when their teacher revealed that he, in reality, was the author of each essay.

     The students, the professor explained, had succumbed to the most common logical fallacy in the church: the authority fallacy. This occurs when someone relies solely upon the status of an authority or expert, instead of the quality of their evidence and analysis, when evaluating their opinions. But the authority a person holds—be he a professor, president, prophet or pope—has no intrinsic bearing upon whether his words are true.[1]  

      This past summer I shared this story with a young man who had just completed his freshman year at BYU. His immediate reaction was, “Well, that wasn’t fair!” I was so taken aback by his comment I didn’t know how to respond. He had no clue as to what this professor was trying to teach his students. But a couple of days later it dawned on me that was the clueless one. My young student friend had been taught to believe that church leaders are not to be questioned, so his response was understandable. But it was also disconcerting.

      The church encourages reflexive assent to ecclesiastical authority, especially when it comes to defending the immutability of its doctrines and the infallibility of its leaders. It often does this by “Mormonizing” the scriptures, i.e., taking them out of context to discourage church members from questioning their leaders or to validate a particular doctrine. This is called “proof-texting,” a fine illustration of which is an oft quoted passage from chapter 1, verse 38 of the Doctrine and Covenants:[2] “… whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”

     This phrase is often cited for the proposition that anything said by a servant of the Lord (read: church leader) is the same as what the Lord would say. But when we read the entire verse, we discover it only means that what Christ has spoken will come to pass, whether it is stated by him or is repeated by his servants. As I have previously explained,[3] this scripture says nothing about whether everything said by one of God’s servants is the same as what the Lord would say.

     Another example of proof-texting is the following essay question seminary teachers are instructed to give their students in order to evaluate their understanding of the Old Testament: “What have Old Testament and modern prophets taught about marriage?”[4]

Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, with Ishmael in the Desert

     On its face, this question seems to invite a broad discussion of both ancient and modern marital practices, such as: (i) concubines; (ii) the Law of Moses requiring a woman to marry her rapist; (iii) Joseph Smith’s polyandry (marrying the wives of other men); (iv) Brigham Young’s policy of generously allowing divorce; and (v) church president George Albert Smith declaring, in 1947, that “intermarriage between whites and blacks … is most repugnant and … contrary to church doctrine.”[5]

     But the church doesn’t want any of this discussed. Rather, the seminary manual wishes the students to be taught how the stories of the Old Testament illustrate “why marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God” and why marriage should only “exist between a husband and a wife.” In other words, we are supposed to believe our latter-day prophets and their Old Testament counterparts have consistently taught the same thing about marriage.[6]

Holy Matrimony

      Marriage has played an outsized role in the history of the Mormon church and the evolution of its doctrines. What began as a traditional monogamous faith, soon became known for its practice of polygamy, polyandry, marriage rituals in its temples on behalf of the deceased, fierce opposition to interracial marriage which was abandoned in 1978 only to be replaced with even more fierce opposition to same-sex marriage. 

      The church has exhibited its disapproval of gay marriage over the past fifty years in many ways, but none more controversial than its Exclusion Policy (sometimes referred to pejoratively as “the POX”). Adopted on November 5, 2015, less than five months after the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, the policy consisted of two parts: 

      (1) a church member in a same-gender, legal marriage was declared to be in apostasy, meaning he would probably be excommunicated. 

      (2) any biological or adopted child living with same-gender parents, married or simply cohabitating, cannot receive the LDS equivalent of a christening nor can they be baptized nor can a male child receive the priesthood until the age of eighteen. (The normal age for baptism is eight; twelve for priesthood ordination.) Further, as a condition to receiving those ordinances, they must renounce the lifestyle of their parents.[7]

      According to LDS scholar Greg Prince, the Policy was formulated solely within the Office of the First Presidency of the church. The regular review and approval process was not followed: the proposed policy was not discussed within the Quorum of Twelve Apostles nor was it reviewed by the Correlation Department.[8] As a result, the church’s Public Affairs Office was unprepared for the ensuing media firestorm. 

      Law Professor Edwin Firmage, grandson of a Mormon apostle, wrote, “I don’t think Jesus gives a tinkers’ damn if I say, ‘Oh my hell’ when I hit my thumb with a hammer when fixing my roof. But I know he will punish those who invoke his name when we harm the innocents.”[9] The Policy also stood in sharp contrast to these words spoken by Pope Francis while he was an Archbishop in Argentina, “The child has absolutely no responsibility for the state of his parent’s marriage.”[10] And one Jewish Rabbi rhetorically asked, “[I]f … children are born out of wedlock, are they barred from being members [of the Mormon Church] until they turn 18 and run away from home?”[11]

      The stated rationale for the policy, according to Apostle Todd Christofferson, was “a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years.” When a child is given a name and blessing as an infant (i.e., Mormon christening), it “triggers an expectation they will be in Primary and other Church organizations,” Christofferson said, creating tensions, and perhaps, confrontation in the home.[12]

      But what evidence was there that any such friction existed? Prior to the Court’s decision in Obergefelle, 36 states and the District of Columbia had already legalized gay marriage, along with Canada and dozens of other countries.[13] Surely if this problem was as acute as Christofferson (and later Russel Nelson) made it out to be, it would have been well documented.     

      More to the point, the church never considered the harm the Policy might inflict. Nathan Kitchen, a gay man and lifelong member of the church, recalls gathering his children together to tell them that he was now an apostate and they could not be baptized until they were eighteen—and then only if they renounced his lifestyle. He vividly remembers tears streaming down his face when his youngest child asked, “Why do they want to do that to us?” That experience, he said, was both “confusing and crushing.”[14]

Post POX

      The Exclusion Policy, according to multiple sources, prompted many members to leave the church[15] and, according to one study, contributed to higher levels of disillusionment and inactivity among many others.[16] This likely factored into the church’s decision to rescind it four years later. But it has never apologized for the Policy nor said it was a mistake.[17] To the contrary, while speaking to the student body at BYU in September 2019, President Nelson exhibited no doubts regarding the wisdom of the Policy.

Russell M. Nelson, President of the Mormon Church

      He began by explaining the role of prophets in general, saying they “are commanded to teach truth,” even when their message is greeted with hostility. For this reason, “Prophets are rarely popular. But we will always teach the truth!” (Emphasis in the original.) With this as his premise, he goes on to defend the Exclusion Policy. Its adoption and repeal, he said, “were both motivated by love—the love of our Heavenly Father for His children and the love of the Brethren for those whom we serve.”[18]

      Two years later he went even further, stating that the teachings of all general authorities constitute “pure truth.”[19]And lest anyone doubt Nelson’s claim to the inerrancy of his teachings and those of his colleagues, Elder Kevin Hamilton, another general authority of the church, recently put the matter to rest once and for all. Last month, while visiting BYU, he urged the students to substitute the word “Jesus” for the phrase “the Church” any time they are inclined to disagree with a church policy or teaching.[20] In other words, when a church leader sermonizes or announces a new policy, that’s Jesus speaking.

      Even Latter-day Saints with only a passing acquaintance with church history know that our leaders do not always teach truth and that church policies, on more than one occasion, have caused considerable harm. I do not believe President Nelson or Elder Hamilton were being deceitful when they claimed otherwise. My concern is far greater: that they genuinely believe they and their colleagues always teach the truth and that every church policy has been endorsed by Christ. And they expect every church member to believe it.

A New Battlefield

       Though the Exclusion Policy had been abandoned, the war against gay marriage continued unabated, shifting to a battlefield where the church has a tactical advantage: the campuses of its universities.

      Two years after the Policy’s repeal, Apostle Jeffrey Holland, while speaking to the faculty and staff of Brigham Young University, referenced a letter he had received from a church member who said he felt “abandoned and betrayed by BYU” because some professors were criticizing church doctrines and supporting ideas contrary to church teachings. While Holland gave no specifics regarding the alleged heresies and admitted the church doesn’t receive many letters like these, the nature of his concern soon became clear: same-sex marriage.[21]

      After criticizing a recent BYU valedictorian who, in his commencement address, announced he was gay, Holland urged the faculty and staff to take up their intellectual “muskets” and defend the church, especially its teachings on marriage. Professors need to become advocates for the church, he said, even if their lack of impartiality results in the school’s loss of “professional associations and certifications.” And above all else, they must stop killing the testimonies of students with “friendly fire.”[22]

      A BYU alumnus who works as a college administrator at a Methodist university said this was “a disastrous message” to deliver to a university faculty. True scholarship, by definition, must “be conducted without bias, and results published, regardless of whether they confirm any particular hypothesis or doctrine,” he said. If you begin with a desired conclusion, you must ignore contradictory evidence. “That is not scholarship; it is propaganda.”[23]

      Lest anyone might think Holland had not made himself clear, last month BYU’s associate academic vice president of faculty development, Justin Collings, admonished the faculty to focus their research on advancing church beliefs, policies and practices.[24] (The school’s new “strategic plan” urges them to do the same in the classroom.)[25] He then issued an ultimatum to all department chairs: revise your criteria for promotion to better reward faculty whose work supports church teachings and do it now.

      Holland’s directive is premised on the notion that nothing good can come from scholarship that questions church policies and practices. But his premise was disproven fifty years ago when a member of the church began to question whether church doctrine prohibiting priesthood ordination of blacks and barring them from church temples originated with a revelation received by Joseph Smith. 

      Lester Bush researched the matter and found no contemporary records linking Smith to this restriction. Instead, the documentary evidence pointed to his successor, Brigham Young, as the source of the doctrine. Further, neither Young nor any other church leader at the time ever made reference to a revelation to justify this discriminatory practice.

      Church leaders pressured Bush not to publish the results of his research,[26] but he did so anyway in 1973.[27]  Five years later, the doctrine was repudiated. Subsequently, Bush was told by Marion D. Hanks, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, that his “article had far more influence than the Brethren would acknowledge. It ‘started to foment the pot,’” thereby contributing to the lifting of the Priesthood Ban.[28]

      Bush had not opposed church doctrine; rather, his sin was simply questioning its origins.  He wisely subscribed to Richard Feynman’s mantra— “There is no harm in doubt and skepticism, for it is through these that new discoveries are made.”[29]

Joseph Freeman, Jr., first black of African descent to receive the priesthood after the Ban was lifted.

       Five months after Holland’s speech, the Church Education System for the first time began requiring that all new employees at church universities, along with all existing adjunct faculty members, hold a current temple recommend[30]and it “encouraged” all existing employees to “opt in” to the new system.[31] Then, two months later, BYU began to require all new hires to sign what amounts to a loyalty oath.[32]  

      On top of the regular temple recommend questions, applicants are now being asked whether they support church doctrine on marriage, family, and gender, have used pornography in the past year, or said anything that would cause others to doubt the church’s doctrines and teachings. Further, bishops are encouraged to probe further into the personal life of an applicant to determine his worthiness. Finally, the job seeker is required to sign a statement waiving his right to clergy confidentiality and authorizing the newly-formed Ecclesiastical Clearance Office (“ECO”) at church headquarters to contact his local leaders to discuss his moral character.[33]

      Established in 2020, the ECO independently “assesses historical and current activity [of the employee] in the Church …, religious behavior, and support for the teachings, practices, and leadership of the Church.” It can unilaterally fire any employee in the Church Educational System. The facts it considers when making those decisions are unknown, and its determinations are non-reviewable. The ECO is run by Clark Gilbert, a general authority and the church’s Commissioner of Education.[34]

      In August of last year identical changes were made to the questions bishops are required to ask existing faculty (including seminary and institute teachers) each year as part of the annual ecclesiastical endorsement process. In other words, all BYU faculty members have essentially been compelled to “opt in” to the new system since a copy of every faculty member’s annual endorsement is sent to the ECO for review and final approval.[35]


      Having put in place policies designed to detect even the slightest hint of heresy while giving the university added legal protections for removing faculty, purges soon followed. Shortly before the start of the fall semester in 2022, dozens of adjunct BYU faculty members were fired.[36] Their dismissals all appear to have two things in common: (1) they were not told why they were shown the door, and (2) no one had objected to their professional conduct or teaching methods. 

      Sue Bergin had spent 28 years teaching at BYU as a writing instructor. Both her students and her supervisor had consistently given her top marks on her evaluations, and she was slated to be promoted to director of the writing center for the business school. Then she was fired. And she doesn’t know why. Nor does her supervisor, who told her: “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s going on.” The decision to let her go appears to have been made by an administrator, not a department chair, and the school has refused to tell her why her contract was not renewed. But she thinks she knows why.[37]

Sue Bergin in front of her home in Orem, Utah

      She always wore a rainbow pin on the first day of class to let her students know she is someone they can talk to. Two of her brothers are gay, a fact she sometimes shares with her students. Outside the classroom, she has been a member of the LGBTQ support group “Mormons Building Bridges” for almost ten years and she has volunteered at the Provo Pride festival. “I feel that my religion has taught me that I’m required to do these things, … that the marginalized are the ones Jesus wrapped his arms around first,” she said.

      Lindsay Call, an online instructor-manager and teacher of a course on family studies for ten years, at the BYU campus in Rexburg, Idaho, was told last November she had been fired. The caller from the university said he had received a list of names from the Ecclesiastical Clearance Office in Salt Lake who had failed to obtain ecclesiastical clearance. And she was on it.[38] Call’s modest salary as an adjunct faculty member accounted for a third of her family’s income.[39]

Lindsay Call and son

      Ben Buswell, another adjunct instructor at the Idaho campus, also received a phone call from the university informing him that his services were no longer required. Like Lindsay Call, Buswell was told the ECO had ordered his termination without saying why. Both of them, as it turns out, had several other things in common: their bishops had approved their ecclesiastical clearance certificates, they each had a temple recommend, and they had received high marks on their student evaluations. Further, the university bureaucrat who had handed them their pink slip made it clear the issue highlighted by the ECO concerned “ecclesiastical matters,” not job performance, but he wouldn’t elaborate.[40]

      Like Sue Bergin, the only apparent explanation for Call’s dismissal were concerns she had raised in faculty meetings about how the curriculum treated LGBTQ issues.[41] Buswell, by contrast, had never said anything at work or in church on the subject of same-sex relations—with one exception. 

      During a meeting with his bishop, he had privately expressed some concerns about the church’s position on gay marriage. While the bishop was completing the clearance form, this conversation was fresh in his mind, so he wrote: “Brother Buswell has expressed some concerns” about the church’s stance on gay marriage. But also noted, “‘he is honest in his desire to understand the Lord and will come to the right decision on this.”[42]

      In a moment of candor, his decision to raise a challenging doctrinal question with his ecclesiastical leader had cost him his job. The church has, on multiple occasions, admonished members to “doubt your doubts.”[43] But Buswell never thought he would lose his job if he shared his doubts with his bishop.

      The dismissal of Call and Buswell has had a profound negative impact on the morale of their colleagues, many of whom took this as a cue to leave before the axe swung their way. After seeing what happened to Call, Melissa Davis, an adjunct writing instructor who had taught at the Idaho campus for ten years, promptly jumped ship. “If she’s [Call’s] not safe,” Davis said, “no one is.”[44]

Ben Buswell and his wife, Amanda

      Buswell’s wife, Amanda, who also taught at the university in Rexburg, quickly followed her husband out the door. Her work included responding to inquiries and discussing LGBTQ issues, topics she believed a professional should present honestly and separate from her beliefs. So it was only a matter of time, she concluded, before she would get a call from the ECO. It’s difficult to avoid “crossing the line” when nobody has the decency to tell you where the line is, she realized.[45]

      At the end of the day, Buswell said, “I feel like I’m getting pushed out.” For her part, Call, who has struggled for many years with the church’s position on gay marriage and other spiritual matters and who had counseled students with similar doubts and questions to not give up on the church, wondered if she had made a mistake. “Am I not welcome here anymore?”[46]

Collateral Damage

      The church’s universities have a long history of trying to shelter students from worldly influences, sometimes in ways that border on the absurd. In 1997, BYU prohibited the display in a campus art museum of four nude sculptures by Auguste Rodin, including his famed “The Kiss.” The director of the BYU Museum of Art was concerned that “the viewer will be concentrating on them in a way that is not good for us.”[47] How the director knew what patrons would be thinking while viewing these works of art he never said. 

      The curator of the exhibit was taken aback by this decision since no other institution in the country had elected to censor these sculptures.[48] A few students protested the university’s decision carrying signs declaring, “We Can Protect Ourselves.”[49] The church thought otherwise:

      Over the past year the university, in tandem with its new constraints on the faculty’s academic freedom, has taken several steps to “shield” the student body from other sympathetic LGBTQ sources.

      New rules were adopted to prevent students from lighting the “Y” on Y Mountain above the campus in rainbow colors. Simultaneously, the university imposed new restrictions on protests or gatherings designed to raise student awareness on any issue.[50] Under the new rules, if two students don rainbow t-shirts and gather on the Quad for the purpose of raising awareness about their classmates who are gay without first obtaining a permit, they can be disciplined and/or arrested.[51]

      These actions, combined with the church’s draconian treatment of faculty members who crossed an “invisible line” while simultaneously requiring them, if they wish to be promoted, to be partisan advocates for church policies, will be detrimental to students.

      Directing professors to teach and do research through a pro-church lens will damage the reputation and credibility of the school and likely discourage many highly-qualified applicants from seeking employment at BYU. Further, a biased faculty is, by definition, incapable of teaching critical thinking and the importance of unfettered, open inquiry and objectivity—skills that are essential in the modern world. More to the point, the church wants professors to be advocates, not critical thinkers.

      For example, consider a young behavioral science professor who embraced the church’s challenge and decided to measure the academic performance of children raised by same-sex couples. But her research revealed that those children actually do better in school than those raised by heterosexual parents. Would she dare publish her results and risk being fired by the university? On the other hand, would it be unethical to suppress what she had discovered?

      In addition, sheltering students from certain opinions and ideas regarding same-sex marriage and other topics will ultimately backfire—just like it did when the church, for decades tried to conceal the less savory aspects of its history and doctrine.[52] This is especially true with respect to today’s young adults all of whom are internet savvy and have ready access to contrary opinions. More to the point, most college students have close friends or family members that are gay whom they love and respect. 

      Why would any university—especially a religious school—wish for its faculty and students to pursue anything other than the truth? If the church believes its leaders always teach the truth and its policies are Christ’s policies, why restrict the academic freedom of its scholars or threaten those who pursue knowledge outside of established boundaries? Why the fear?

      Clark Gilbert, in an essay published last fall, sang the praises of religious educational institutions and characterized Ivy League schools, such as Harvard, as “halls of reason” that threaten “temples of faith,” such as BYU.[53] He believes it is imperative for schools such as BYU to preserve their distinctive identities. And he’s right—up to a point. But what he fails to see is how the Republic of Virtue he seeks to establish at BYU is embracing the worst characteristics of the secular schools he so despises. 

A Republic of Virtue

      BYU’s retreat from academic freedom and disdain for critical thinking has been the norm at elite colleges in this country for quite some time. While the creed upon which Gilbert’s vision for BYU differs from that of elite private colleges, they both have several things in common.

      First, like BYU, elite private universities believe they are “already in full possession of the truth, … [and] there’s nothing to discuss, except how to put our beliefs in practice.”[54] Second, BYU, under Gilbert’s tutelage wishes to become just like its Ivy League counterparts: a place of consensus devoid of diversity. By “diversity” I mean diversity of thought, the only type of diversity that can advance the pursuit of truth. And finally, the intolerance exhibited by elite colleges for those who question or criticize their progressive ideology is now the norm at BYU.

      Over the past several years, we have all seen people get “cancelled”—fired from their jobs or expelled from school—for having made a seemingly innocent comment or for simply doing their job.[55] But I’ve always wondered why so many of our universities, businesses and the media have adopted a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to unorthodox ideas and opinions. Instead of firing someone when they allegedly say something offensive or that doesn’t conform to the institution’s ideology, why not give a warning?

      But then it dawned on me: every ideology is nothing more than a delicate system of ideas and ideals—a manner of thinking and perception—embraced by an individual, culture or group. None is without its flaws and paradoxes, but the best humbly acknowledge their limitations and are willing to make exceptions and adjustments, when necessary. 

      The worst, however—those that claim they are the sole repository of truth—are inordinately fragile, a house of cards that will collapse if dissent and questioning are allowed. Thus, nonconformists must be treated like cancer cells and promptly eradicated. For puritans and theocrats, forgiveness and second chances are simply not an option. When your dogma becomes the nonnegotiable center of true faith, heretics must be taught that resistance is futile. 

      In 1933, universities in Germany were purged by a process of enforced conformity that brought every institution of higher learning in line with the ideology of National Socialism. Over 1,200 professors were fired. Afterwards the new minister of culture of Bavaria, Hans Schemm, delivered this message to the faculty at the University of Munich: “From now on it will not be your job to determine whether something is true or not, but only whether it is in the spirit of the National Socialist Revolution.”[56]

      I am not saying the Mormon Church is run by Nazis. To the contrary, I believe our leaders are good men and women who care deeply about those they serve. But whenever your behavior or teachings bear even a passing similarity to those of one of the most despicable regimes in history, it should give you pause. 

      Moreover, a faith or ideology that eats its own not only prompts many to head for the exits; it sounds a warning to prospective converts. It is also unchristian, as noted by the Apostle Paul: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of sound mind.”[57]


      I am so troubled and appalled by the church’s inexcusable treatment of these BYU faculty members and its plans to convert its universities into partisan think tanks, I have stopped paying tithing and have returned my temple recommend to my bishop since paying tithing is prerequisite to having one. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, if treating loyal and dedicated teachers in such a despicable and malicious fashion is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.

      I know the church considers tithing to be a commandment of God. But I can no longer remit those offerings knowing that a portion of my donation will be used to subsidize universities and fund a bureaucracy that seek, in the words of Robespierre, to create a “republic of virtue” by administering “prompt, severe, inflexible justice.”[58] Acting otherwise, in my opinion, would put me in breach of the Lord’s second great commandment: to love thy neighbor as thyself. 

      I am not advocating that any one follow my example, and I freely admit I may be wrong. I will continue to pay fast offerings, since those moneys are distributed locally to help those in need. But from now on my tithing dollars will go to charitable organizations and to individuals who are in need of assistance, including some of the adjunct professors who were thrown to the curb by the ECO. 

      I realize that those who work at religious schools are rightly expected to act and live in accordance with the faith’s ideals and to respect its doctrines. I personally support the legalization of gay marriage and have doubts about the church’s stance on this issue. But I also know that whether the church’s policy on this issue is the will of the Lord is something that cannot be empirically proven or disproven. Science and empiricism are not the only way of knowing; indeed, religion, properly applied and understood, can add greatly to our knowledge, especially with respect to the most important questions of all: Who are we? What is the best way to lead a righteous life and organize a society?

      But a religion that constrains in any way sincere questioning or impedes any effort to ascertain the truth on any subject will always do more harm than good to those it purports to serve. As our hymnal reminds us, “Oh say, what is truth? ’Tis the fairest gem; ’Tis the brightest prize; ’Tis the last and the first.” 

The Truth (I Think)

      Finally, though it may not seem like it, I do have great affection for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and readily acknowledge the good it has done, and continues to do, in the world. For me, “little church” (i.e., church at the local level), where I have many close friends and a bishop and stake president who I respect and admire, is often uplifting.

      Last Saturday, I had the privilege of playing the piano for the baptism of the daughter of a family I home teach. The parents emigrated from Laos several years ago. They have a nice home and two beautiful children.  The father, in somewhat broken English, gave a moving talk about how he was first drawn to the savior: some statues of Christ had begun to appear in his homeland and so he asked, “Why are people worshiping this man?” 

Jesus and his disciples walk through corn

      I have reflected a great deal on this question since then, and I believe the answer can be found in the hearts and faces of those who followed him during his earthly ministry. It wasn’t because he healed them and fed them when they were hungry. And he certainly never answered all their questions or solved their problems. Indeed, he often left them with more questions than they had before. Rather, they worshiped him because he loved them. Unconditionally. He accepted them for who they were—disciples, prostitutes, tax collectors, and Pharisees alike. And he only asked one thing in return: that they love each other as he loved them.[59]

      The Savior did not give his disciples precise instructions, a list of rules to follow or a tally of goals to achieve. Given the uniqueness of every individual’s circumstances—his environment, upbringing, level of understanding, resources, and the inherent limitations of the human body and mind—there are an infinite number of ways for someone to love and care for others. 

      Alexis de Tocqueville, a brilliant nineteenth century political philosopher and passionate student of religion, grasped Christ’s message in a way few popes, prophets, priests, imams, rabbis and clerics ever have. And with his words, I will conclude:

      Men see the grandeur of the idea of unity in the means, God in the end. That is why the idea of grandeur leads us into a thousand forms of pettiness. To force all men to march in step toward a single goal—that is a human idea. To introduce endless variety into actions but to combine those actions in such a way that all lead via a thousand diverse paths to the accomplishment of a grand design—that is a divine idea.

      The human idea of unity is almost always sterile; God’s idea is immensely fertile. Men believe that they attest to their grandeur when they simplify the means; but it is God’s purpose that is simple, while his means vary endlessly.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. by Arthur Goldhammer, (New York, New York: The Library of America, 2004), p. 868.
Golden Rule, 1961, oil on canvas, by Norman Rockwell. A large mosaic of this painting hangs in the New York City headquarters of the United Nations.

[1] While appeals to authority are not valid arguments, it is unreasonable to disregard the claims of experts who have a demonstrated depth of knowledge unless one has a similar level of expertise.

[2] The Doctrine and Covenants is one of four canonical texts of the Mormon Faith. The other three are the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price.

[3] Eric F. Facer, “… whether by mine own voice…”, The Well Examined Life, December 31,2020, last accessed on February 24, 2023: https://thewellexaminedlife.com/whether-by-mine-own-voice/.See also Julie M. Smith, “A Closer Look at D&C 1:38,” Times and Seasons (blog), March 10, 2016: http://archive.timesandseasons.org/2016/03/a-closer-look-at-d-c-138/

[4] “Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual: Genesis–Ruth Learning Assessment, Form A,” (Salt Lake City Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2015), p. 22: last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/bc/content/ldsorg/seminary-institute/Assessments/PDFs/OT/PD10052273_ENGLISH-form_1A.pdf

[5] Correspondence exchanged between the First Presidency and Lowry Nelson, June-July, 1947, last accessed on February 24, 2023: http://www.mormonstories.org/other/Lowry_Nelson_1st_Presidency_Exchange.pdf

[6] Julie M. Smith, “A Rhetoric of Indirection,” Times and Seasons (blog, December 5, 2015, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.timesandseasons.org/harchive/2015/12/a-rhetoric-of-indirection/index.html

[7] Gregory A. Prince, Gay Rights and the Mormon Church: Intended Actions, Unintended Consequences, (Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 2019), pp. 257-258. The First Presidency did make a few exceptions regarding baptism—but not the other elements of the policy—if the child’s parents were supportive.

[8]  Ibid, p. 259. The Policy was not announced publicly; rather, it was done in private by simply adding several sentences to a non-public handbook accessible to only local and regional church leaders. But within a day or two it was leaked, posted online, and the mainstream media took it from there.

[9] Ibid, pp. 261-262.

[10] Alison Lesley, “Pope Francis Tells Priests: Do Not Deny Baptisms,” World Religion News, April 30, 2015, last accessed on February 25, 2023, https://www.worldreligionnews.com/religion-news/christianity/pope-francis-tells-priests-do-not-deny-baptisms/.

[11] Gay Rights, p. 262.

[12] “An Interview with Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” (video), LDS News Room, November 6, 2015, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEEMyc6aZms  Four years later, President Russell Nelson echoed those sentiments: “Our concern … was to find a way to reduce friction between gay or lesbian parents and their children.” Russell M. Nelson, “The Love and Laws of God,” BYU Speeches, devotional address delivered at Brigham Young University on September 17, 2019, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/russell-m-nelson/love-laws-god/

[13] David Masci, Elizabeth Podrebarac Sciupac, and Michael Lipka, “Same-Sex Marriage Around the World,” Pew Research Center, October 28, 2019, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/fact-sheet/gay-marriage-around-the-world/

[14] Carol Kuruvilla, “Queer Mormons: Church’s Exclusion Policy Did Not Feel Like ‘Love,’” Huffington Post, September 19, 2019, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/mormon-church-lgbq-policy-love_n_5d823b52e4b0849d4721ba88

[15] Gay Rights, p. 264.

[16] Jana Riess and Benjamin Knoll, “Did the 2015 Mormon LGBT exclusion policy drive a mass exodus out of the Church?” Religion News Service (blog), last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://religionnews.com/2019/05/29/did-the-2015-mormon-lgbt-exclusion-policy-drive-a-mass-exodus-out-of-the-church/

[17] This is not surprising since then Apostle Dallin Oaks unequivocally stated that the church doesn’t “seek apologies and we don’t give them.” Peggy Fletcher Stack, “We all can be more civil on LGBT issues, a Mormon leader says,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 30, 2015, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=2108746&itype=CMSID

[18] Russell M. Nelson, “The Love and Laws of God,” devotional address delivered at Brigham Young University on September 17, 2019, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/russell-m-nelson/love-laws-god/ The newly released diaries of Spencer W. Kimball add to the character of Russell Nelson. According to the diary, Nelson approached Kimball in 1979 asking him if he would write a foreword for a book Nelson was about to publish about his life. The foreword, as it appeared under Kimball’s name, spoke of Nelson’s “perfect family,” “sweet spirituality, and “skill as a surgeon” and described him as a great man.” But the diary reveals that Nelson was the one who wrote the foreword; Kimball merely reviewed and approved it. Benjamin E. Park, “Newly released Spencer W. Kimball diaries shine a light behind the scenes of modern Mormonism,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 18, 2023, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2023/02/18/newly-released-spencer-w-kimball/  

[19] Russell M. Nelson, “Pure Truth, Pure Doctrine, and Pure Revelation,” October 2021 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2021/10/11nelson?lang=eng

[20] Kevin S. Hamilton, “Why a Church?” BYU Speeches, devotional address delivered at Brigham Young University on January 24, 2023, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/kevin-s-hamilton/why-a-church/

[21] Jeffrey R. Holand, “The Second Half of the Second Century of Brigham Young University,” BYU Speeches, 2021 University Conference, August 23, 2021, last accessed on February 25, 2023, https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-holland/the-second-half-second-century-brigham-young-university/

[22] Ibid.

[23] Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Apostle Jeffrey Holland to BYU: Stop aiming ‘friendly fire’ at LDS teachings,” Salt Lake Tribune, August 23, 2021, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2021/08/23/byu-teachers-are-expected/ 

[24] Tamarra Kemsley, “BYU faculty members urged to align their teaching, research better with LDS tenets,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 29, 2023, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2023/01/29/byu-faculty-urged-align-their/

[25] Peggy Fletcher Stack, “BYU requires new hires to waive their right to clergy confidentiality,” Salt Lake Tribune, August 28, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2022/08/28/byu-requires-new-hires-waive/ (“BYU’s ‘strategic plan’ outlined this week, the university expects all faculty, particularly new hires, ‘to authentically incorporate gospel truths into all student interactions and to teach their subject bathed in the light and color of the restored gospel.’”)

[26] Gregory A. Prince. “The Long-Awaited Day,” By Common Consent (blog), last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://bycommonconsent.com/2010/06/08/the-long-awaited-day/

[27] Lester E. Bush Jr., “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview” 8, no. 1, Dialogue: Journal of Mormon Thought 11-73 (Spring 1973). 

[28] Lester E. Bush, Jr., “Writing ‘Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview,’[1973]: Context and Reflections, 1998.” Journal of Mormon History Vol. 25, No. 1 (1999): 264-265.Knowing his efforts had contributed to the revocation of the Priesthood Bans probably was of little consolation to Bush, who had been pressured by senior church leaders not to publish his article. When he declined, he was promptly marginalized by his local church community. According to one LDS scholar, this ostracization apparently was encouraged by a higher authority. The extent of his alienation and discomfort reached the point where he and his family simply withdrew from all church activity.

[29] Richard P. Feynman, “Letter to Mr. Amando Garcia J.” reprinted in Perfectly Reasonable Deviations: The Letters of Richard Feynman, (New York, New York: Basic Books, 2005), p. 396.

[30] Tad Walch, “BYU, other Latter-day Saint schools will require temple recommends for new Latter-day Saint hires, Desert News, January 27, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.deseret.com/faith/2022/1/27/22901919/byu-other-latter-day-saint-schools-will-require-temple-recommends-for-new-hires

[31] “Church Educational Systems Announcements Refinements to Employment Standards,” News Release, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, January 27, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/church-educational-system-employment-standards-refinements. This policy is not without its critics. “… this new policy creates a transactional employment relationship in what should be an opportunity for counseling and spiritual growth, …” “I Dissent: Questions Regarding the Efficacy and Repercussions of Dissenting Vote,” By Common Consent (blog), January 31, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://bycommonconsent.com/2022/01/31/i-dissent-questions-regarding-the-efficacy-and-repercussions-of-a-dissenting-vote/  

[32] Peggy Fletcher Stack, “New employment policy raises ‘loyalty’ oath concerns at BYU,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 10, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2022: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2022/03/10/new-employment-policy/

[33] Ibid.

[34] “Ecclesiastical Clearance and University Standards Compliance and Verification Policy,” BYU-Hawaii Policies, February 7, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://policies.byuh.edu/ecclesiastical-endorsement-for-university-employees

[35] “How to beat an autocrat: Fear not—i.e. don’t cave, friends,” By Common Consent (blog), September 2, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://bycommonconsent.com/2022/09/02/how-to-beat-an-autocrat-fear-not-i-e-dont-cave-friends/

[36] Ibid.

[37] Courtney Tanner, “A BYU professor says she was fired after LBGTQ advocacy. Are more faculty at risk?” Salt Lake Tribune, February 14, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2022: https://www.sltrib.com/news/education/2022/02/14/byu-professor-says-she/

[38] Colleen Flaherty, “New church office cutting faculty members at Brigham Young,” Inside Higher Education, December 1, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/12/01/new-church-office-cutting-faculty-members-brigham-young

[39] Tamarra Kemsley, “BYU-I Instructors fired for failing ‘ecclesiastical clearance.’ They can’t find out why.” Salt Lake Tribune, November 28, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2022/11/28/byu-i-instructors-fired-failing/

[40] Ibid.

[41] On one occasion, for example, she objected to a video that theorized maternal behavior contributed to same-sex attraction in their children, a position at odds with the church’s position, and that of much of the scientific community on the issue. 

[42] Ibid.

[43] President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come, Join with Us,” October 2013 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us?lang=eng  

[44] “BYU-I Instructors fired.”

[45] Ibid.

[46]  Ibid. Shortly after Buswell and Call were thrown to the curb, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that expands a ban on LGBTQ “propaganda” in Russia, making it a crime for anyone to promote same-sex relationships or suggest that non-heterosexual orientations are “normal.” Scott Shackford, “Russia Bans All Public Pro-LGBT Speech,” reason, December 7, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://reason.com/2022/12/07/russia-bans-all-public-pro-lgbt-speech/?utm_medium=email

[47] “Nudes From Rodin Exhibit Censored,” Associated Press, October 27, 1997, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://apnews.com/article/e2b379b41bd1172df0ed4c969ddce301

[48] Ibid.

[49] “BYU Bans Rodin Nudes,” Sunstone: Mormon Experience, Scholarship, Issues & Art, vol. 20:4, issue 108, (December 1997), pp. 76-78.

[50] Courtney Tanner, “A year after rainbow ‘Y’ lighting, BYU cracks down on protests,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 4, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.sltrib.com/news/education/2022/03/04/year-after-rainbow-y/

[51]  “A BYU professor says she was fired,” supra.

[52]  The problem was compounded by the mediocre quality of church manuals, which LDS scholar Terryl Givens described as “deplorable” and “full of errors, full of disinformation.” He went to say: If you’re 45 years old and you learn for the very first time that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon through a peepstone, you have every right in the world to feel betrayed. Why wasn’t I taught the truth in Seminary or in Sunday School? I haven’t heard a good answer to that.” An approach to Thoughtful, Honest and Faithful Mormonism,” (Mormon Stories #291); see also “Discussion of Mormon apostasy spreads,” Mormon Chronicles (blog), February 1, 2012, last accessed on February 25, 2023: http://mormon-chronicles.blogspot.com/2012/02/discussion-of-mormon-apostasy-spreads.html

[53] Clark G. Gilbert, “Dare to be different,” Desert News, September 14, 2022, last accessed on February 25, 2023: https://www.deseret.com/2022/9/14/23319209/elder-clark-gilbert-religious-universities-should-dare-to-be-different

[54] William Deresiewicz, The End of Solitude: Selected Essays on Culture and Society, (New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2022), pp. 106-107.

[55] See, e.g., “Firing an art history professor for showing students an image of the prophet Muhammad is out of line,” Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2023, last accessed on February 25, 2023:https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2023-01-11/hamline-univeristy-art-history-teacher-firing-mohammad-image

[56] Richard Hanser, A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Revolt Against Hitler, (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 1979), pp. 135, 137 (“… the authorities were never able to overcome a rankling distrust of what might be going on in placeswhere books were read, ideas discussed, and the working of the mind took precedence over the exercise of the muscle.”)

[57] 2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV).

[58] Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution, (New York, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), pp. 8, 324, 329.

[59] John 13:34 (KJV).

15 thoughts on “Leadership in Difficult Times:  Critical Thinking and Wisdom (Part II)

  1. An extremely well-written and courageous essay. As a lawyer is wont to do, your notes and references are documented and irrefutable. While some may disagree with your conclusions (I am not one of those), no one can find fault with your research or claim you misrepresent the ideas you present. Dad would be proud. I am too.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this. Parts of it echo conversations Scott and I have been having for years about our BYU education and the church’s policies both past and recent–but more thoroughly researched and better articulated. Thank you for the time you’ve put into writing it and thank you for sharing it.

  3. Thank you so much, Thorpe, for taking the time to read this piece and for your very kind words. Being compared to our father is the highest praise possible in my book.

  4. Thank you, Keena, for sharing your thoughts about my essay. I really appreciate it.

    Obviously, I spent an inordinate amount of time researching and writing this one. But it was both necessary and cathartic.

    It’s comforting knowing there are others who are reflecting on these questions and have some concerns about a church and university that have played important roles in our lives.

  5. I read this immediately upon receiving it and, as you had predicted in our private correspondence, my jaw dropped when I read it. I wanted to come up with some brilliant insight that would make the current situation less sad and more understandable. So I’ve been mulling it over for a while and just read the piece very carefully a second time.

    I don’t have anything to add to an extremely well reasoned and written piece. It is just very sad.

    I’m not sure, but you might be interested (and perhaps even encouraged) by the videos on TikTok by the group Black Menaces on Tiktok showing interviews of BYU students on a variety of issues, including gay marriage and gay dating. To me, at least, the responses show a refreshing diversity of opinions on controversial topic, not people simply falling in line. The group’s politics in some ways differ from mine, but it is good to see the openness of students to varying schools of thought.

    I don’t know if you permit links, but if you do here is one example of the videos (there are a lot of them):


  6. I read “Why the fear?” and immediately thought of the George RR Martin quote “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.” I grew up in a home where you had to believe in the strictest form of Creationism or consider yourself hell bound. Imagine my surprise when my first biology professor at BYU brought us on fascinating deep dives into evolutionary theory. It led to a desire to learn more, attending lectures that had nothing to do with my major yet opened up the world to me (i.e. “What gets in the way of peace in the Middle East, can it be achieved” or a lecture by Sigmund Freud’s granddaughter where she opened with,” Let’s get this out of the way, I’m neither fan or follower of my grandfather’s theories”) Replacing genuine learning opportunities with a limited agenda has a bad history of backfiring.

  7. I came across your site because of your comment on a recent ByCommonConsent posting. Thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned writings. I have had and wrestled with many similar questions, and appreciate your ability to articulate my feelings and analyze both context and consequence.

  8. Thank you so much, Jade, for your kind words and for taking the time to read my scribblings. Writing this particular essay was both cathartic and depressing. That it resonates with the feelings and experiences of others is reassuring. I may be crazy but it’s nice to know I am not totally crazy.

  9. Eric – I love your writing and this essay, but this statement struck a chord with me, “True scholarship, by definition, must “be conducted without bias, and results published, regardless of whether they confirm any particular hypothesis or doctrine,” he said. If you begin with a desired conclusion, you must ignore contradictory evidence. “That is not scholarship; it is propaganda.”

    This statement is a stinging indictment against any intellectual or spiritual endeavor that begins with the need to confirm what has already been decided. This problem, in my opinion, not only threatens “True Scholarship”, but also meaningful “Faith”. If my faith is pinned, at every turn, to confirming that “The Church is true”, then it already lacks what I think Moroni is teaching us in Moroni 7.

    Moroni seems to suggest that faith carries with it an ethical responsibility, which is, a willingness and humility to continually place my beliefs back into the experiment of mortalities crucible, to be tried and tested, to bring forth fruit meet for repentance. For as Moroni says, “Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith”.

    Faith is not a clinging to what I know, it’s taking the assurance I have and using it to hurl me towards the unknown. It’s exposure to the mystery of what God is and what I am capable of becoming.

    We might say faith is where rationality meets intuition. It’s when we have enough evidence to make things, not seen, plausible, and our common sense, moral compass urges us forward into the unknown. Thank you for your beautiful writing.

  10. Todd S — thank you for kind words and for your additional thoughts regarding the question of how we should seek the truth. Your reference to Moroni 7, I thought, was particularly insightful. I had never read this passage—“Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith”—the way you did. But I will now.

    And I especially like this formulation: “We might say faith is where rationality meets intuition.” I have always believed that Darwin’s intuition regarding the “origin of the species” was an act of faith directed by the Spirit of the Lord. Your words capture that sentiment beautifully.

  11. Eric – On a more personal note, my faith journey has taken a decidedly more personal track the past couple of years. I guess, midlife “crisis” really is a thing. I have gone through almost a complete deconstruction and am now attempting to reconconstruct something I can belong to, be calm with, and love the people who are part of my “Body of Christ”. I love the Church, on the local ward level, the egalitarian organism of members who are devoted to caring for each other’s needs. However, the Church as a corporation, with an address, balance sheet and org chart seems to be acting much more like the Pharisees of Jesus time.
    I’m curious how you have learned to belong and love your belonging?

  12. Todd S, you ask a question for which I have no clear answer. And it’s a question that damned angel and I have wrestled with for decades (I’m in my seventieth year now). But in the course of that struggle, I’ve learned a few things.

    First, the LDS church is not “the only true and living church.” The Lord is working through many different faith traditions to bring to pass the restoration of his kingdom on earth. I have written an essay on this subject, appropriately titled, “It’s Not All About Us.” Our church simply is not a good fit for many. And I firmly believe that God wants none of his children to remain with any church where they do not feel comfortable.

    Second, like you, I focus on “little church” and try to ignore the periodic nonsense emanating from Salt Lake. But sometimes, as I explained in the above essay, it’s impossible to turn a blind eye.

    In early December of last year, I decided to leave the church, primarily for the reasons enumerated in this essay. But before I communicated this decision to my bishop, I had a strong feeling that I should wait until Christmas before I pulled the trigger. At first, I resisted this premonition—what could possibly change my mind?—but then I thought, “What the heck—it’s only two weeks.”

    A few days before Christmas, I was in the presence of a young woman who I have been helping through college because of a horrific tragedy that befell her parents a few years ago. While we were together, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that if I were to leave the church, I would hurt her and many others. At the same time, I thought of a way to express my displeasure with what the church had done to those BYU adjunct professors—stop paying tithing—while remaining in “the fold.” (I was sincere when I said that I simply can no longer pay tithing for fear I would be indirectly violating the second great commandment.)

    While I was working on this essay, my spiritual life was in turmoil. My wife sensed I was quite disenchanted with church, but she didn’t know why. I felt I couldn’t coherently explain my feelings about the church to her—or even understand them myself—until I first put them down on paper. (Part of my personal philosophy is, “I never know what I think until I write.”)

    During this time, unbeknownst to me, she prayed intensely regarding my situation. For weeks she never got an answer. Then, one day, while on her knees and renewing her petition, she had a strong feeling the Lord was okay with what I was doing. (She told me none of this until after she read my essay.)

    Concurrent with the publication of this essay, I returned my temple recommend to my bishop. After he read the essay, he sent me an email that upset me. I foolishly responded in kind, which provoked an intemperate reply. So, I decided I would boycott church for a few Sundays to let him know how I felt. (I can be just as petty as the next guy, by the way.)

    When I awoke the following morning, I began to reflect upon the Tocqueville quote with which I concluded my essay. When I first read those words several months ago, I was in awe of the wisdom embodied in those two short paragraphs. And as I reread them over and over, I had this overwhelming sense of peace, a feeling that God is okay with the path I am on. That sense of spiritual calm has not left me since, and it has stiffened my resolve to become a better Christian.

    But the Lord was not finished with me that Saturday morning. Instead, he made it abundantly clear the he is also pleased with the path my bishop is on. And he expects me to sustain him regardless of whether he respects, or makes an effort to understand, my perspective on the church. So, I cancelled my boycott and went to church the next day. My bishop sought me out immediately and apologized for what he said in his emails and I did likewise. So, we’re good.

    If I were to give you any advice—though I am loathe to do so—it would be to reread, and meditate upon, that Tocqueville quote. If you are content with the path you are currently on and feel comfortable around, and, on some level, in harmony with the members of your ward and stake, then I think that’s the best you’ll be able to do. If that’s not enough, then it’s probably time to explore other options.

    Having said all this, there is still a possibility I will ultimately conclude the church is not for me, in which event I would begin looking for a different faith community. (I’m rather fond of the Episcopalians and Judaism). But for now, as the saying goes, better the devil you know ….

  13. Eric, 1000 thank You’s for taking the time to respond to me. I so appreciate your ability to articulate your thoughts and feelings.

    Alexis De Tocqueville captures in two paragraphs, what I believe, summarizes perfectly, the cycle of human failure. Shakespeare’s Hamlet says it this way, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. Human beings, and unfortunately, Latter day saints who tout themselves as truth seekers, have instead relegated themselves, without even knowing it, to “Proposition defenders”. We are no better than the corrupt version of science that Terryl Givens calls “Scientism”. Our seeking instinct has been obstructed by our loyalty to truth claims, instead of our commitment to God. And why wouldn’t it be? Why would one seek when what they know seems to be all there is?

    Tocqueville beautifully illustrates what Dave Brisbin expresses in his book “The Fifth Way”, he writes, “The quality of the means we use ALWAYS matches the ends we produce”. As I have read the New Testament this year, Jesus seems to constantly ask us to exchange ends for means. In the Lord’s prayer, he says “On Earth as it is in Heaven”. He empty’s himself of his divinity, bringing heaven to earth, so earth can be brought to heaven. It seems clear to me that, Heaven is not some arbitrary reward in the hereafter reserved for the ultra-pious and exact law keepers, but rather, the construction of the types of people and relationships that constitute heaven. In short, the gospel is not a way to be seen as acceptable to God, it is “The Way” to see as he sees, without bias, pretense, preference or prejudice.

    It often appears that we have made the Gospel an effort to perfect the imperfectible. The brilliance of our mortal experience is found in its imperfections, those are the very crucibles that draw out our capacity to become like God. It’s not meant to transform people into beings worthy of love. On the contrary, it’s the perfect environment to teach us to love as he does, not because things are perfectly lovable, but precisely because they are not.

    I am 50 years old, a born and raised Latter day saint, a skeptic at heart, and an ever-evolving human being. I also have debated the costs of staying or leaving. Currently, I choose to stay because I am imperfect myself, and if my aim is to love as he loves, without counting the cost, caring for the unlovable, I see the Church as ground zero for providing the environment for me to engage in that process.

    I look forward to reading much more of your material and possibly engaging with you in these small dialogues.

  14. Eric:

    Interesting and thoughtful as always.

    Two quick thoughts on a subset of your essay.

    1) I’m not defending the temporary policy on children of same sex parents, but you left out an important part of that policy. It isn’t surprising as almost everyone who addresses this topic does the same. Specifically, the missing part is that such children could in fact receive the ordinance of name and a blessing and they could be baptized without waiting to 18. They then would progress though classes and priesthood quorums as usual. Per policy, to do so approval was needed from “the office of the first presidency.” A natural reaction would be to assume that such approvals would never or seldom be granted. But in truth some might be surprised how many matters require that approval and how often that approval is granted. I’ll need to look harder to find it, but I believe it was Elder Christofferson who noted that such approvals were granted during the period that the policy was in place.

    2) I obviously wasn’t in the room when the policy was formulated, so I don’t know all the thinking that went into it. But I do know well a wonderful young person who went through part of primary and all of the youth program while being raised by loving, committed, same sex parents (a fact, by this young person’s choosing, that was know by very few people in the ward). Later, in a moving essay written shortly before departing for a mission this young person spoke about how wrenching that was. As long as the church teaches that marriage is in the image of our Heavenly Father and Mother, how could it not be? Be that before, during, or after the past policy.

    I’m very grateful that god extends more mercy to us than we might imagine, and has patience with my shortcomings while I learn and grow. And I’m comfortable with the idea that leaders of the church are learning and growing too. A friend of mine once said (and I’m paraphrasing), “you Mormons get too worked up when a prophet (meaning the first presidency and the apostles) makes a mistake. In Judaism we know that the miracle isn’t that god had prophets, it’s that they could be flawed and still be prophets.

  15. Jeff, many thanks for taking the time to read this essay, especially given its length and how important the subject matter is to me. In response to your comments, I offer the following.

    If the primary focus of this essay had been on the POX, I might have included a reference to the exception you mentioned, along with several other items (e.g., then Elder Nelson’s declaration in a televised worldwide conference two months later that the POX was in fact a “revelation from God” and the PR disaster that ensued).

    But more to the point, I do not share your opinion regarding the importance of this exception for one simple reason: as far as I can tell, the church didn’t think it was important.

    Elder Christopherson’s stage-managed interview on November 6, 2015 regarding the POX made no reference to this exception. A story in the Dessert News that same day likewise said nothing about any exception. Similarly, a First Presidency letter, intended to clarify the Exclusion Policy, sent one week later to all general authorities; area seventies; general auxiliary presidencies; stake, district, mission, and temple presidents; bishops and branch presidents is conspicuously silent on the question of requesting a dispensation from the First Presidency where gay parents would like their young child to go to Primary, be baptized etc. A press release issued by the church newsroom on the same day dealing with the POX is also silent on the subject.

    You attempt to excuse my omission by saying most others who have written about this topic have done likewise. But did you wonder why?

    For starters, the media and others who wrote about the POX did not have access to Handbook #1. So, if the church said little or nothing publicly about the exception, it’s not fair to expect others to know about it.

    I realize there are some in the media who have biased views towards the church. But most major news outlets would have corrected this factual omission if it had been brought to their attention by the church newsroom, and those corrections would now appear in the on-line version of those news stories. In my limited research, I have not discovered a single instance where the newsroom or any church official has asked others to correct this oversight. Maybe such requests were sometimes made, but I doubt they occurred with any frequency.

    So, I will refine my question: why did the church say little or nothing about this exception to the POX? I have no definitive answer, but I have a theory which is based, in part, on the story of John Gustav-Wrathall, who was an active member of the church who was married to a gay man at the time the POX was announced (I say “was” because I suspect he was excommunicated as an apostate shortly thereafter).

    When asked by the Dessert News about the portion of the POX affecting small children, he voiced doubts regarding its necessity: “I’ve known a number of gay parents who have supported their children on missions, who have supported their children in being active in the church, in going to seminary.”

    If what Gustav-Wrathall witnessed was the norm in the church pre-POX—which I suspect was the case—then it calls into question the rationale given by Christopherson et al. for the policy as it applies to children: “a desire to protect children in their innocence” from tension and confrontation in the home with their gay parents.

    As I noted in my essay, I believe the church’s rationale for the POX was a pretext, especially since it offered no evidence that the “tension and confrontation” they wished to avoid actually existed in Mormon homes with gay parents in foreign countries where gay marriage had been legal for many years. Publicly promoting this exception to the POX and the First Presidency’s liberal approval of the dispensation applications it received, would have undermined the church’s justification for the policy (as it applies to children) in the first place.

    You can quibble with my theory, but unless you can show me how the church made a conscious effort to let the world know about the loophole it had created for gay Mormon parents with young children, then I stand by my decision not to mention it in my essay. (If you can prove me wrong on that point, please do. My goal is never to “be right,” but rather to “get it right.”)

    Lastly, I too am grateful that God is patient “with my shortcomings while I learn and grow.” And I would expect him to treat church leaders with no less grace and mercy. But I’m confident your Jewish friend would discover that the frequency with which church members become upset when their senior leaders make a mistake would radically decline if those same leaders were willing to acknowledge and take ownership of their mistakes, apologize for them, make restitution where possible, and stop claiming infallibility (“We always teach the truth;” “Our words and policies are Christ’s words and policies.”)

    I know of no Latter-day Saint who would trust a co-worker, or any other person with whom they interact frequently, who behaved this way. So it’s nonsensical, in my opinion, to expect them to refrain from questioning, doubting and, in some instances, declining to support, the policies, teachings and actions of an ecclesiastical official who behaves similarly.

    While making mistakes raises questions of competency, even the best and the brightest leaders will screw up now and then. But refusing to acknowledge, and be accountable for, your mistakes raises questions of integrity, which is the only currency—apart from brute force—you can use to convince people to follow you.

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