God doesn’t micro-manage

19

December 7, 2009 by Jason Brown

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.

Advertisements

19 thoughts on “God doesn’t micro-manage

  1. Molly says:

    In response to “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.”

    In our human state, we probably will never fully understand the complicated reasons for this priesthood ban. In a press conference shortly after Pres. Kimball became the Prophet, he made this statement with respect to this topic:

    “I am not sure that there will be a change, although there could be. We are under the dictates of our Heavenly Father, and this is not my policy or the Church’s policy. It is the policy of the Lord who has established it, and I know of no change, although we are subject to revelations of the Lord in case he should ever wish to make a change.”

    In Genesis we can read: “10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s ablood crieth unto me from the ground.
    11 And now art thou acursed from the bearth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand;
    12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a afugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
    13 And Cain said unto the Lord, aMy punishment is greater than I can bear.
    14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall aslay me.
    15 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a amark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.”

    President Kimball prayed fervently for this ban to be removed.

    Perhaps some Prophets have been racists, but the fact remains that this lineage was cursed because of Cain. There are several “friendly” sources available to explain this tough topic at http://www.mormonstories.org/top10toughissues/blacks.html

    FAIRmormon also gives an excellent response at http://en.fairmormon.org/Blacks_and_the_priesthood

    Continuing to seek to understand the details of this curse is natural, but for now, all we have is our assumptions and the word of a Prophet of God that it was direction from the Lord.

    • fishstilldie says:

      Hey Molly, thanks for the reply. I think my argument applies equally to the prophets of the old testament. I simply don’t believe that God curses people with dark skin. This is again a cultural explanation for difference, a justification for racism. As far as the statements by conteporary prophet, I believe that they were sincere in thier belief that it simply was not time to give people of African Descent the priesthood, however, I maintain the belief that it was a result subconscious cultural beliefs.

      Thanks for reading,

  2. Tariq says:

    Good article.
    As for the curse of Cain nonsense, give me a break. Joseph Smith ordained black men to the priesthood. The racist ban that stopped what Joseph Smith started was instituted by Brigham Young, who not only opposed black men holding the priesthood, but also opposed black men holding public office in the secular government. I don’t know why it’s so hard for so many people to just admit that it was racist. Instead of admitting what was obviously the case, people come up with silly justifications like the curse of Cain story or the idea that “black people were less valiant in the pre-existence”. Both of those childish ideas were taught by past presidents of the church and both ideas have been rejected by current general authorities who now say, “I don’t know why the Lord wanted it that way”. Well, Brigham Young claimed to know why the Lord wanted it that way. Brigham Young’s predecessors claimed to know why the Lord wanted it that way, but current general authorities say they “don’t know why” the Lord wanted it that way. Gee, maybe the Lord had nothing to do with it. Maybe racist white members of the church wanted it that way and they used religion to justify their own prejudices. Just as today many church members use religion to justify their prejudice against queer people.

  3. TJ Shelby says:

    I see the same things you see but I just can’t reconcile the ‘God allows us to grow’ theory. I struggle to see the value in having living prophets if we can’t trust what they tell us.

  4. J. Madson says:

    Molly

    its pretty clear that ban was about racism and the scriptures were merely used to justify what was being done and not the source of the ban. Your citation of cain as somehow justifying the priesthood ban is morally bankrupt and furthermore a very poor interpretation of scriptures. The only link between cain and the ban is the link made up by racist men claiming there is some divine link.
    you state

    “the fact remains that this lineage was cursed because of Cain.”

    really? where does this curse on cain say anything about blacks? anything about his lineage and descendants having a curse? The whole mark being confused with race began in the 17-18th century when racist ideas became prominent in Europe. Frankly, the mark put on cain was one of protection so that no one would kill him creating a cycle of revenge and violence.

    What does the text you cite actually say? I suggest a more careful reading will reveal that Cain felt that being a wanderer and vagabond who could not produce through agriculture was too hard and so the Lord gave him a mark of protection. If you dont like protection pick another word, but it is clear that the mark is to make clear to everyone that Cain should not be harmed. Of course he doesnt take away free will but he certainly makes it clear that both murder and this revenge stuff isnt gonna fly. The mark is self-explanatory in the scriptures and it makes it clear what the mark is for. Sevenfold is not on Cain but anyone who kills him. I think its pretty clear that the Lord is letting everyone know that even though Cain is a murderer and even though we all might think he should be killed, it is forbidden. A better translation for you:

    “My punishment is too great to endure! Look! You are driving me off the land today, and I must hide from your presence. I will be a homeless wanderer on the earth; whoever finds me will kill me.” But the Lord said to him, “All right then, if anyone kills Cain, Cain will be avenged seven times as much.” Then the Lord put a special mark on Cain so that no one who found him would strike him down

    Its time we put away childish notions of prophetic infallibility and realize that mistakes can be made, were made, and perhaps still continue. There is no reason to believe nor defend the priesthood ban in my view as anything but racist.

  5. Molly says:

    JM re: “where does this curse on cain say anything about blacks?”

    If you’ll notice, I DID NOT say the curse was the color of Cain’s skin. I am not sure any of us know what the curse was. As for the mark, it very well could be that the “mark” and the “curse” were completely different. We just cannot be sure.

    I do believe our prophets are human and being so, transgress, etc; however, we are counseled to follow the Prophet.

    I certainly am not one to assume that the ban was racist. Any negative assumptions re Prophets and their statements are dangerous, and I’m not one willing to put myself in this position.

  6. J. Madson says:

    Molly,

    if we dont know what the curse was and if we dont know what the mark was then why would you even cite the passage in the context of priesthood denial unless you are suggesting something? So yeah you didnt say it was his skin color but you sure insinuated it.

    You wrote in your own words that the fact remains that this lineage was cursed. So if you were not referring to Cain’s skin color or to his lineage (since the text never curses his lineage) then what are you referring to?

    Yes we should follow the prophet when they speak God’s will but does that mean we follow them even in error?

    I would also suggest that maybe people aren’t assuming things about the ban since the historical record is pretty clear that it was a policy, not revealed, instituted by Brigham in the context of his and others own racism. You can go read Lester Bush’s article in dialogue that was also highly influential in affecting SWK and the other brethren in opening their minds to change. Lets not forget that David O’McKay stated that the ban was not doctrine and was policy and that he actually tried to remove it but a couple of apostles refused to budge.

    When we had apostles running around saying that civil rights was a communist plot, suggesting that God would kill men who supported civil rights, and lectures at BYU where not only were blacks painted as fence sitters but we were told that the real purpose of civil rights was so that black men could marry white women then its no surprise it took so long for the ban to be lifted.

  7. Reed Winters says:

    This is ridiculous. If you’re going to believe the mormon faith, then just believe it. I used to think I could morph and twist and justify my way out of just PARTS of the gospel too. Oh, the church leaders are imperfect men, and when the first presidency involves itself in certain matters I disagree with, that’s just because they are imperfect men.

    What a joke.

    Ezra Taft Benson, in 1980, addressed Brigham Young student, and out line 14 principles for following the prophet. Number four?:

    “The prophet will never lead the Church astray. ”

    (http://www.lds-mormon.com/fourteen.shtml)

    Here’s the deal: you either accept and follow and believe in EVERYTHING the prophets say, or you don’t believe the church at all. Because if the church has ANY imperfections, ro the leaders have ANY imperfections (regarding their leadership of the church) then the church is not true.

    You all want to sit here and make excuses. Just pick and choose what parts of the church you believe. It comes as a whole. Take it or leave it — ALL.

  8. Molly says:

    JM: “So yeah you didnt say it was his skin color but you sure insinuated it.’ Thank you for telling me what I’m thinking and what I ‘insinuated’. I believe my original post and my follow-up response to you were clear about my thoughts.

  9. great post jason. everyone remember to be polite. thanks!

  10. J. Madson says:

    Molly,

    I dont want to dwell to much on this. You’re right that I dont know what you are thinking but again I can only infer that you citing the mark of Cain in the context of the priesthood ban was done for some reason. Given that this is one of the most prominent reasons cited for why the ban was in place coupled with the assertion that the mark affected lineage as well (which it didnt) then it seems logical to conclude you are making such an assertion.

  11. J. Madson says:

    Reed,

    you wrote that

    Here’s the deal: you either accept and follow and believe in EVERYTHING the prophets say, or you don’t believe the church at all. Because if the church has ANY imperfections, ro the leaders have ANY imperfections (regarding their leadership of the church) then the church is not true.

    Aside from the fact that it is not really my place or anyones including yours to define what constitutes belief in the church, you set up a standard that would lead any rationale person to conclude the church is not true. The leaders themselves do not hold the church up to such a standard. Any basic survey of prophetic and other statements would show contradicting statements, doctrinal assertions that we no longer believe and are defined as apostate, and imperfections. Elder McKonkie himself was wise enough to state in conference that the apostles and prophets spoke in error and did not understand the ban and that everything they said should be forgotten on the matter. I guess he didnt believe in the church under your standard.

    Of course the church has imperfections, of course leadership has perfections, of course we all are deeply flawed. If you want to disagree on certain topics thats fine but when any of us seek to define the boundaries of acceptable faith, covenant, and membership we are turning what God intended as an inclusive faith into an exclusive one. It is perfectly acceptable for someone to see imperfection in church and leadership and still believe in the church and the church still be true.

  12. Joseph says:

    Nice to see this blog up and running again.

    I don’t want to get too distracted by the “mark of Cain” thing, but I do want to share some of my experiences. You can infer whatever you want to. I’ve known people with large amounts of pigment in their skin whose countenances and beings were glowing and beautiful. I have also know individuals clearly of Caucasian descent with very little pigment whose countenances and beings were very dark with little to no light about them. My interpretation of the scriptures is that since all the descendants of Adam and Eve have gotten mixed up anyway, we are in whatever lineage we are adopted into based upon our actions and good or bad deeds and choices we make.

    Of course, the crux of the issue here is whether Church leaders make mistakes. I am in total agreement with the title of this post: “God doesn’t micromanage.” Everyone makes mistakes. The danger is in getting too judgmental of the mistakes of others, regardless of their position in the Church. I’m not saying fishstilldie’s post does this, I’m just pointing out the dangers. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about the Mormon Worker is that more time has been spent focusing on positive political ideals of those associated with the Mormon Worker, and less time focused on criticizing the politics of others. In fact, I seem to remember a part of the Mormon Worker’s mission statement was to not criticize leaders in the LDS Church, but instead focus on the politically radical implications within LDS doctrine and scripture.

    There is also danger in taking up the position that we have to believe every word someone called to a certain position has to say. It destroys the idea of listening to the Holy Ghost, which I feel is a crucial part of following Christ. Ultimately we are accountable to the Lord for our judgment, not to anyone else. In the LDS Church, we make covenants directly with the Lord, not with anyone else.

    Also, basing any faith or belief on the infallibility of a prophet or leader or anyone else is ultimately going to lead to a loss of faith, since no one is perfect. No philosophy or way of life, religious or political, stands up to that test. Christianity certainly would not hold up because, while I love the New Testament, there are things Paul said in letters I feel are way out of line, and certainly aren’t practiced today. But I don’t hesitate to consider myself a believing Christian (and at least trying to be a practicing one), because of my belief in the more important things taught in the New Testament.

    Proposition 8 is a difficult topic, but I personally tend to agree with fishstilldie’s position: the LDS Church should focus on defending the belief in marriage between man and woman being a fundamental part of ultimate salvation as being a part of our right to religious freedom, and less time trying to impose that belief on others. I haven’t found anywhere in LDS scripture or doctrine support for the idea that we should be forcing anyone into the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom. I also feel disturbed by our seeming to have forgotten that Joseph Smith explicitly taught that we should not interfere with the consciences or religious beliefs of others. The only condition he made on that statement is when such beliefs hurt or interfere with the rights of others. But again, I’m not comfortable rising up and judging others unless I know them more personally, and I don’t pretend to know everything about these things. I have definitely lost my faith in the legal system in this country, and I don’t really feel confident that the LDS Church would be left alone to have our own beliefs, even, or especially, if the LDS Church had backed away from Prop 8. Voices in this country, whether left or right, are tending to become more shrill and less reasonable, and respect for the rights and beliefs of others is disappearing in all directions. Whether legal or illegal, lawsuits and false accusation are overwhelmingly expensive to deal with, and political leaders and courts seem to be swayed more and more by the shrill voices on both sides rather than trying to be reasonable, fair, or just. So yes, I’ll just explicitly state that I’m not so sure that were the LDS Church to back off the official stand on the legality of same-sex marriage, that we would necessarily be left alone to practice our own beliefs.

    Anyway, I’ve already gone on too long, but I hope somebody was able to get something out of these ramblings…

  13. Tariq says:

    Reed Winters,
    Nobody is trying to “twist their way out of parts of the gospel”. Just as discriminating against black people was never part of the true gospel, but rather, was part of a racist church policy, discriminating against queer people is not part of the gospel, but rather, it is a homophobic church policy. The gospel and church policy are not always the same thing. You say members of the church have to unquestioningly believe “everything the prophets say” in order to be true Mormons. Well, what about when prophets say things that contradict one another? Joseph Fielding Smith said that black people were less valiant in the pre-existence. Gordon B. Hinkley said that black people were not less valiant in the pre-existence. Obviously one of these men, both who were presidents of the church, was wrong. Bruce R. McConkie said that black people will never get the priesthood, then, within his own lifetime black men did get the priesthood, so he obviously was wrong. Don’t use religion as an excuse to shut off your critical thinking functions. You can and should think for yourself rather than letting church leaders do your thinking for you. Unquestioning obedience to authority may be a good quality for a dog to have, but it is not a virtue in human beings. It makes society stupid and cruel.

  14. Forest Simmons says:

    Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was the most correct book, but did not say that it was entirely free from error.

    Nobody loved the Book of Mormon more than my grandfather who served a full time mission to Holland from 1900 to 1903, and was an enthusiastic member missionary all of the rest of his long life. But he took exception to Amulek’s answer to Zeezrom who asked if there was only one god. Amulek said, yes, only one. My grandfather said, “We have to excuse Amulek; he’s only been a missionary for a few days, so he doesn’t know the real answer.”

    Mormon and Moroni were humble about their imperfections:

    In the title page: “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.”

    Also ..

    Morm. 8: 12, 17
    12 And whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these. Behold, I am Moroni; and were it possible, I would make all things known unto you.
    • • •
    17 And if there be faults they be the faults of a man. But behold, we know no fault; nevertheless God knoweth all things; therefore, he that condemneth, let him be aware lest he shall be in danger of hell fire.

    Morm. 9: 31
    31 Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.

    Ether 12: 24-26
    24 And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.
    25 Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.
    26 And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness

    Various BoM prophets have said, “If these are not the words of Christ, judge ye.” And then go on to say, basically, just remember to judge wisely, not rashly, because the quality of your judgment will have consequences.

    Life is a test to see how we exercise our judgment.

    The words of prophets are tools that we have to help us judge in many matters, but the final responsibility remains with us.

    TJ Shelby said, “…I struggle to see the value in having living prophets if we can’t trust what they tell us.”

    The value is that there is much hard work to do in building up the Kingdom of God on the earth, and that these faithful brethren are working with all of their heart, might, mind, and strength towards that end. “The harvest is great, but the laborers are few.”

    Closeness to the spirit can give them spiritual insights into controversial issues. We need to remember that fact and take it seriously, especially when presented to the body of the church and ratified by common consent.

  15. Ron Madson says:

    Reed,
    You quoted the Fourteen Fundamentals in a speech by ETB. What you and most members are not aware of is the fact that the then President and Prophet Spencer Kimball required ETB to apologize to the Q12 for that speech. Pres. Kimball stated that it was wrong to assume the brethren are never wrong or that the members should not do their own thinking and seek their own answers. Pres. Kimball further required ETB to apologize to all the General Authorities. The Fourteen Fundamentals is unsound doctrine and borders on catholic inerrancy/infallibility.

  16. Jami says:

    I sure am glad we’ll be studying Gospel Principles in Sunday School for the next two years. Sounds like we could all use a little “back to the basics.”

    • Jami says:

      Oops … I mean Priesthood and Relief Society. We get to delve into the Old Testament in Sunday School (my personal favorite!).

  17. Joseph says:

    Jami,

    I enjoy Sunday meetings and the Spirit I feel there. I personally believe there are things that are not and should not be discussed in those meetings, because they are contentious and there are no absolute answers that should be taught as the final word on the subject. Politics is one of those (and I mean that for both sides of the political fence).

    Enter a blog like this one, where such issues can be discussed outside of church meetinghouses, hopefully still with respect. Having been treated rudely and out of line by individuals seeking to use my membership in the LDS Church as a way to control my politics, I personally am very grateful for this blog and the paper.

    I see nothing in this post questioning the actual revelations of the LDS Faith, nor is there anything in the post itself that questions leadership succession in the Church. Joseph Smith himself pointed out that not everything that came from his lips should be taken as canonized scripture. I remember reading a talk of Elder Oaks given at BYU about Gospel hobbies that could lead to apostasy. One of those hobbies that he said would lead to apostasy was following a particular prophet too closely and taking every word they say as the final word on a subject. Ultimately, I feel that’s all that’s being said in this post. But if you feel called to judge, go ahead, just make sure of your sources because as you judge…(you should know the rest)

    I personally have enjoyed the Brigham Young and Joseph Smith manuals for Priesthood and Relief Society the most, but I am sure I will enjoy discussing the new Gospel Principles manual. I feel that everyone, regardless of their personal politics, should be able to feel safe going to Sunday meetings without being attacked for those politics, except in extreme cases. Again, it’s a good idea to be careful how you judge.

    Oh, and J. Madsen, thanks for pointing that out about the 14 Fundamentals talk. I seem to remember reading about Elder Benson getting in trouble for that, but do you have a source? It’s okay if you don’t, because I do remember reading about that talk being discredited elsewhere, but if you do know the source that would be great!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 257 other followers

Categories

Archives

%d bloggers like this: