Sunday, December 06, 2009

God does not Micro-manage

There is a common belief in mainstream Mormon culture that once the church was restored, God would never allow his church to stray. This is an interesting idea that I would like to explore in detail with respect to our attitudes toward church leadership and specifically the Church’s chosen strategy regarding Proposition 8 and other anti-gay rights legislation. First of all if we believed this doctrine, we would all be Catholics. If God never allowed his/her church to stray it would have never drifted from the earth and back again in the many incarnations it has had throughout history. But even if we assume that this belief only applies to the post-restoration Church, the argument still troubles me.

In my discussions with Mormons, I have never heard anyone assert that the men who govern this church are perfect. Yet, somehow we believe that in matters of church governance they manage to make perfect decisions, free of cultural or political bias, or personal foibles. In the many, and often dizzyingly circular discussions I have had over prop 8; I have asserted the opinion that the church was tactically amiss in involving itself in opposition to a civil rights campaign, rather than insisting on being a stakeholder in a wider discussion on protecting our religious freedom in whatever legislation was achieved by the gay-rights movement.

Besides, what would be wrong with supporting the right of minority groups to define their marriage-relationships in ways that corresponds to their experience and deeply held convictions (sound familiar)? But as a religious institution that believes in the divinity of male-female marriage relationships, the church could have saved itself a lot of bad press by affirming the rights of others while voicing our strong convictions be protected in any new legislation passed. The point of bringing up an abbreviated version of this argument is that there should be room in Mormonism to voice constructive criticism of Church policy without being labeled unfaithful or apostate. It does not create a crisis of faith for me to assert the error of church leader’s tactics. They are imperfect men in an imperfect world. But somehow, when the church makes statements on a complex political issue such as gay marriage, which merit at least preliminary discussion, thought and debate, our brains shut down and group-think takes over.

Here is another example. I believe that the principle that we are all equal before God is an eternal principle. Therefore it causes me no mental anguish to assert as I often do that the Mormon Church was simply racist for excluding members of African descent from the priesthood. I simply do not believe in a God that would contradict himself and the scriptures so obliviously. But don’t panic, this assertion does not necessarily negate the truthfulness of the Mormon Gospel, the inspired qualities that church leaders attain, or God’s hand in our lives or history. What it does affirm for me is that God allows us, and yes even the church as an institution to learn from our mistakes. The church made a historical mistake that many of that era were guilty of, namely rationalizing a strongly held cultural belief in terms of God’s mysterious will; denying responsibility for our own hurtful behavior. The myriad folk-beliefs that arose around blacks and the priesthood are testament to members and leaders desperate attempts to shift responsibility for a sinful practice to God him/her self.

Both the more distant issue of blacks and the priesthood, and the very current gay-rights movement show that the church is part of a complex world. Learning from our mistakes is an essential part of what it means to be human, indeed it is our privilege. Let us not deny this opportunity to our leaders by assuming that imperfect people can somehow implement perfect policy. God does not micro-manage he lets us stray, fumble, fail, and correct. He trusts us perhaps more than we trust ourselves.

6 comments:

ani said...

This is very insightful and thought-provoking. Thank you writing out these ideas so succinctly. I can certainly think of many scriptural stories that back up what you are saying.

Kate said...

"there should be room in Mormonism to voice constructive criticism of Church policy without being labeled unfaithful or apostate"

Amen.

& Hallelujah.

Jill said...

I think that polygamy was a man made mistake too.

Peter Kornish said...

Gods Church has never strayed, only certain men and women of said church. Those men and women acted on their God given right to choose for themselves.

Mayan Mamma said...

I found this to be such an interesting take on a subject that has become extremely volatile to talk about freely amongst members of the church as a whole(as if there is one single true side to be on, and any mention of the other ought to be regarded as simply unfaithful and apostate). I think we don't like to see ourselves as bigoted or prejudiced, but it seems clear that there is something darker(that frankly reeks of intolerance) underneath our aggressive assertion that this is solely about our commitment to "protecting marriage".

Johnny 5 said...

Jason,

First off thanks for putting these thoughts in to words because I agree that there needs to be more room for dissenting opinions, especially when matters touch political concerns. I can understand that for many church leaders this is a doctrinal issue and I think I understand why it is threatening. This is a foundational issue, the idea of eternal increase, and it seems that homosexuality by definition threatens that because from a doctrinal standpoint this cancels out the possibility of eternal progression, or in the creation of spirit children for eternity. I don't know if we can understand what that means, but I think for now the idea is too foundational for Mormons and broadening this doctrine is too difficult. I would like to think the church will find a way to make room for faithful gay latter day saints, but for now this category, to use anthro jargon, is too liminal and dangerous to the current established order. I feel a great deal of empathy for my gay friends who are unable incorporate themselves in the church. But right now I can't seem to see a doctrinal way around it. I do think that the discourse around homosexuality has become more tolerant than in the past and I hope this improves. I do think it was a mistake to get involved with prop 8. I guess my main hope is that an inspired Church leader finds a way to deal with the issue. However, I think that if we include the doctrine of gay marriage I see no way around excluding plural marriages which I find distasteful, but philosophically I can't see why that isn't ok as well. (and I can include polyandry as well as polygyny). However, I get the point that polygyny tends to oppress women. So anyway, I guess I feel torn as I so often do with any of these issues. But I can admire and respect the stand that you take.