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“Yeah, but” Discipleship

Salt LakeIn recent months, the Church has issued statements on three issues of public concern.  The first dealt with Syrian refugees, the second with handling same-sex marriages involving Church members, and the third with the occupation of a federal building in Oregon by an armed militia composed partially or totally by members of the Church.

In each case, the Church’s statements were unambiguous.  And in each case, some Church members were rubbed the wrong way by what our leadership had to say.  I’ve spent some time (more than the situation merited) reading comments online from purported members of the Church regarding all three of these statements (one a letter, one a change in the Church handbook, and one a press release), and I’m surprised at the level of “Yeah, but” discipleship that those responses reflect.

The Church says to love and support the refugees.  “Yeah, but, I think Muslims are all terrorists, and I can’t support this invasion of America.  The Church leaders are being naive.”

The Church reaffirms that same-sex marriage is inconsistent with Church doctrine and puts rules in place for handling children of such marriages.  “Yeah, but, I think Church is behind the times on this.  I think people have a right to marry who they want.  The Church leaders are being homophobic.  And this isn’t consistent with how I think the atonement works.”

The Church unequivocally states that an armed takeover of a federal building is contrary to revealed scripture and inconsistent with Church teachings.  “Yeah, but, I only need to support Constitutional governments, and I don’t think that the federal government is complying with its own laws.  Besides, the federal government was nasty to the Church in the 1800s, so they should be supportive of what these patriots are doing.  The Church leaders don’t understand their own scriptures.”

There is nothing new about “Yeah, but” discipleship.  All of us engage in it at some level or another.  “Yeah, I’m supposed to love my neighbor, but that guy is such a jerk!”  “Yeah, I’m supposed to pay my tithing, but I’m broke.”  “Yeah, I’m not supposed to cheat on my wife, but this is only pornography.”

Or, my personal weakness:  “Yeah, I’m supposed to go to high priests, but those meetings drain my soul like a dementor’s kiss.”

All of us doing it, however, doesn’t make it right, and “Yeah, but” discipleship is a particularly dangerous form of doctrinal diversion.  It amounts to a rejection of core elements of what makes us Latter-day Saints.

First, it demonstrates a distorted view of our relationship with God.  The Plan of Salvation is our Heavenly Father’s gameplan by which we have the best (and only) opportunity to become like Him.  The rules of the mortality game are well-established by our Father, but our arrogance and pride elevate our self-image to the point that we believe we know a better way.  We are wiser, more modern, more progressive, more compassionate, more “whatever” than our Father in Heaven, and consequently we demand that He conform to our expectations of Him.  It is the equivalent of Christ entering the room and us demanding to see his driver’s license.  But our progression in this life is determined by our following the path that the Father has set out for us, not by blazing new trails based upon our limited view of the landscape.

Second, it rejects what we teach about priesthood authority and acting within the scope of our stewardship.  Too First presidencymany well-intentioned members of the Church believe that they have had more relevant revelation on certain topics that the established priesthood leadership.  They invoke overused hypotheticals (what if the prophet claimed to have a revelation that you should jump off a cliff/kill your neighbor/marry a monkey?) and conclude that not only should we seek personal confirmation of what priesthood leadership tells us, but if we don’t get such confirmation, we need to convince our leaders of the error of their ways.  Church leaders are too old, too white, too stodgy, too bald, and too male in order to really know what they are talking about.  I, on the other hand, am educated, enlightened, and good looking.  Therefore, I know the way.  Such is not the “wisdom and order” that our Father in Heaven has established for His church.  While asking questions, even challenging questions, is wholly appropriate, imposing our own answers on the Church is not.

One of the interesting things about “Yeah, but” discipleship is that expressions of its dogma are almost always followed with the word, “I.”  It becomes, “Yeah, but. I” discipleship.  I think differently.  I don’t agree.  I have had more relevant experiences.  I understand the scriptures better.  It is an unequivocal announcement of our own pride, in which our views, thoughts, and opinions are placed higher than the expressed word of the Lord.  It is a declaration that we have written and intend to follow our own preferred plans of happiness and expect to get the same result (or better) than we will get from the Plan set forth by an all-knowing and all-loving Father in Heaven.

GethsemaneNo mortal ever has been faced with a more difficult celestial chore than  Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.  If ever there were a time for “Yeah, but” discipleship, this was it.  “Yeah, but there has to be another way!”  Instead, our Savior demonstrated perfectly how to respond to difficult directives:  “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me:  nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”  Even the Great I AM placed His will second to that of the Father.  If Christ was unwilling to overwrite God’s instructions, we should be far more hesitant to do so.

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181 thoughts on ““Yeah, but” Discipleship

  1. Great points. I appreciate what this author is saying. If you are one of the children of Israel and you still are wondering if Moses is even a prophet at all as you reluctantly follow then yeah, you would be having a lot of “yeah, but” moments, until you figure out that God has a purpose for prophets over sources like yourself not being called of Him to speak for Him, BUT if you know and accept who God has chosen to part the Red Sea at the word/request of said prophet in faith, you having already continually received confirmation of the truths those chosen servants bring (above and beyond the common man’s such trivial understanding by comparison), than you will seek to understand why God is saying what He has said through His prophets rather than questioning why He doesn’t speak through you and/or seeking how to make what he says conform to your own way. If the Israelites followed their own understanding they would have never left slavery or else returned back one of the many times they questioned whether it was wisdom in God for them to continue to traverse the desert/wilderness those forty years. The sad thing is we can understand for ourselves, but we have to first acknowledge that truths, especially as they relate to God’s church, are meant to be first given through prophets. Any scripture you have ever read, yes comes from God (it is His word), but it came through prophets/apostles.

  2. I don’t think there will ever be a time where everyone will agree with the decisions of the Prophets and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is up to us to pray for humility, pray to understand and TRUST what they ask us to do. When we are faithful to our covenants and our baptism, reading our scriptures every day and attending our meetings we will not struggle on these issues like others do. We have been promised that and it will all be worth it in the end.

  3. How do I reconcile this with the fact that prophets have been wrong in the past on things that they have declared as doctrine? The LDS.org essay on race and the priesthood and temple ban states that the church disavows racist teachings from the past. These teachings were said to be doctrine. If this could happen before why couldn’t it happen again, particularly when it comes to matters of counsel and policy?

    • I suppose it is possible for it to happen again, but I alosx believe God will bless us for obedience no matter what the circumstances. I’d rather that than try to wade through the prophet’s words looking for what I think may be overturned in some future day. Too risky. Staying on the straight and narrow path is always best. I stray enough from it without compounding the problem by doing it willfully.

    • Of course it could happen again. They are human, after all. And they have this agency thing that God has decided is important not to interfere with, for the most part. Anyone whose served in a leadership capacity and seen that the God let’s you make dumb decisions that sometimes affect others has seen this.

      I liken this to how my teens view me. I am certainly wiser than them, for now, yet they often dismiss my advice, which is very frustrating at times when I’m 100% certain, from painful experience, that I’m right. However, I am occasionally wrong too. Would they be better of assuming I was wrong all the time or assuming I was right?

      I see a lot of people throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater by dismissing a prophet as completely wrong when they just don’t understand that, because of the Atonement, God is totally cool with church leaders making the rare mistake. I assume He’s counting on it! A lot of church members think that God moves the prophets around like dumb marionettes, instead of letting them work things out through gradual revelation (e.g. weeding out culturally indoctrinated racism over the course of a century!). And he certainly waits for them to ask the questions when they are ready. How do reconcile? Like most sticky subjects in the church, it all comes down to a correct understanding of agency and the Atonement and rejecting non-doctrinal assumptions that have crept into church culture over the years.

    • The Lord has always been in charge of His Church. If the Prophets presented something that we think is ‘politically uncorrect’ now, it doesn’t mean that the Prophets were wrong. We are told many times to “Wait patiently upon the Lord” and “Be still and know that I am God”. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts…” Just because we can’t explain something with our finite minds doesn’t mean that the Lord’s Prophets were wrong. “A prophet will never be allowed to lead the Church astray.” Back in Noah’s time, people could have lived and died believing he was wrong until the floods came.

    • millenialpostmormon, it’s important to understand the difference between doctrine and policy within the church. The policy in regards to blacks and the Priesthood was just that…a policy. It was never declared as doctrine. Doctrines do NOT change within the church. They never have and they never will (ex: Marriage being only between a man and a woman is doctrine. It always has been doctrine and always will be doctrine…unchanging). However, policies within the church (ex: blacks being denied the Priesthood) have and will continue to change as we grow and progress in the church. It’s hard for us to understand why blacks were denied the Priesthood at that time. Even the current leaders of the church admit that we don’t know why that policy was in place at that time. But we can find comfort in understanding that it was just a policy, and not doctrine. The leaders of the church are not perfect, but the doctrines are. Policies will change over time (including possibly the policies mentioned in this blog post), but I have faith enough in my leaders to follow their counsel (both policy and doctrine) because I realize that they are the watchmen on the tower and they see the big picture in ways that we don’t. They have understanding that we don’t, and I would never claim to know better than a Prophet of God. I may not fully understand the “whys”, but that’s okay. The mantle of “Prophets, seers and revelators” has been placed upon their shoulders to which they are able to receive revelation for the church, and I fully trust in that.

      • This isn’t a matter of doctrine vs. policy because the first presidency themselves and other church leaders specifically called the teachings doctrine in authoritative settings. Here are two examples:

        “The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.” (The First Presidency on the Negro Question, 17 Aug. 1949)

        “The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes…..

        “Man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam’s transgression. If this is carried further, it would imply that the Negro is punished or allotted to a certain position on this earth, not because of Cain’s transgression, but came to earth through the loins of Cain because of his failure to achieve other stature in the spirit world.” (Official Statement of First Presidency issued on August 17, 1951)

        The current Race and the Priesthood essay on lds.org says that they disavow these teachings. This sets the precedent that prophets can be wrong on significant things. I’ve never had the expectation that prophets are anywhere near perfect, but when it comes to teaching things that significantly harm others (ie the November exclusion policy) then I cannot stand by accept their actions.

      • Also, that is a very bad example to use marriage being between only one man and one woman as an unchanging doctrine. I’m sure your aware that it used to be between one man and more than one woman in many cases (prophets also said that this a necessity to reach the highest kingdom in heaven). That changed.

  4. I really like your article. I do think we should pray for confirmation of what Prophets say or declare, but not to the point of deciding they are wrong when I don’t get an answer. I’ve found I’ve had to go back to the original questions that I base my faith in. Does God love me? YES. Does God still want me to be a part of this church organization? YES, then how does this new principle/doctrine/whatever fit in here? Sometimes I don’t have the proper information before hand to receive an answer. Kind of like, God can’t tell me how to do calculus and algebra if I haven’t learned how to do the smaller stuff, like adding, subtracting and the like. Thanks for the post.

  5. The example given of the Malheur refuge protest was a poor choice. The Church PR department was responding to the news of the hour when the protest first began. The words they chose were a direct echo of the words the leftist media chose to describe the protest, but did not accurately characterize what was really happening on the ground. The protestors didn’t drive up in trucks with Gatling guns it 50cals mounted on the back and kick in doors with AK-47s as the press commonly painted the picture (and which the PR department took as truth, not having its own reporters on the ground). They simply walked in, carrying openly, as is legal to do in Oregon, and as is protected and guaranteed by the 2nd amendment, and began a peaceful protest. Everyone was welcomed, including law enforcement, and the protestors made improvements to the grounds and inside the building. It was also not a federal building, though it was a public one that anyone had access to for any reason. Some yayhoos showed up later and caused trouble near the end, but Church members were not making direct threats on anyone. LaVoy was murdered in cold blood, his hands in the air, and now the FBI is being investigated for wrongfully ending his life.

  6. Great points. One thing I’d like to note: The church’s refugee statement dealt with loving and supporting refugees in your community. It did not endorse or call for a specific immigration or peacekeeping policy. “Yeah, but” discipleship would be refusing to love refugees in your community, but good disciples can love those refugees in their communities while still disagreeing on particular public policies related to immigration, war, etc. It’s important not to confuse those issues. Church statements usually take a moral position and call on people to show an increase of love, while skirting around far-reaching declarations of public policy specifics. Often, I find that we roll those statements up with our own policy preferences and beat other members over the head with them in political disagreements. Thoughts?

  7. I think there are a lot of points here and we are all entitled to voice and opinion but when it comes to telling others what to do and not do to me is wrong we are all GODS CHILDREN and are born with a sense of right and wrong so who has the right to dictate.

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