A friend sent me a link to Mormon apologist Daniel Peterson’s latest blog entry:
Heck, I’ll just repost the whole thing.
I readily acknowledge I haven’t read Kate Kelly’s essay in The Guardian (a left-leaning British paper), as I haven’t been following LDS news regularly. So, I have no idea whether the quote is out of context or not. But ever since I read the quote and Dr. Peterson’s response, I’ve been thinking about whether this is a fair characterization of the Mormons I know who “thrive” in the church. I don’t think it is. At least I don’t think that people who thrive in Mormonism are the “least talented, least articulate, least nuanced thinkers, least likely to take a stand against abuse, and the least courageous” of its membership.
I have known many brilliant, thoughtful, articulate, talented people in the LDS church, and they are thriving. I’ve known leaders of immense talent and intellect. As Dan Peterson’s sarcasm makes clear, Mormons are not a monolithic group of unthinking automatons akin to North Koreans at a party rally.
What I see is that thoughtful, intelligent people who thrive in the church are those who can, when push comes to shove, subordinate their own beliefs and desires to the goals of the organization. I’ve mentioned before that I know an LDS man who was a bishop in California during the church’s efforts to pass Proposition 8. This man opposed the proposition and supported the right of same-sex couples to marry. But the church not only asked its bishops to organize members in actively supporting Proposition 8, but had bishops call in members and encourage them to donate money and time to the cause. This man was asked, as bishop, to set an example to his ward members by donating generously to the campaign, so he donated $5,000 to a proposition that he voted against in the election. When asked whether his obedience meant he was “weak,” he responded:
A libertarian’s view of things is not some sort of “ethical” opposition. Libertarians believe in a lot of things people would otherwise find offensive. But, just like a Catholic might oppose capital punishment merely because the Pope asks him to do so, so did I oppose gay marriage because my Prophet asked me to do so. I know enough about politics to know that my libertarian views might not be right for policy reasons important to the Church which would otherwise not be apparent to me. By voluntarily joining a group which engages in politicking, I surrender some of my libertarian notions. Libertarian philosophy teaches, for instance, that labor may organize into unions and should do so without restriction, even though their objectives may lead to reduced competition.
This is as good an explanation of what I mean as any. Voluntary membership in an organization like the church requires members to “surrender” their personal beliefs and desires in favor of the organization. It’s fine, even encouraged, to be thoughtful, articulate, and so on, as long as those personal attributes are used to further the kingdom.
I am not saying this to be critical of the church. Many times I did things as a Mormon that I did not want to do, whether it was keeping a commandment that conflicted with my “carnal” desires or was simply an administrative duty I didn’t feel right about. I can remember only one time when I told the church “no,” and that was when I was asked to assign as home teachers a couple of mentally ill, potentially violent ex-convicts.
In general, then, I believe that what leads people to “thrive” in the church is their willingness to subordinate themselves to the needs of the church. I suspect that a lot of Mormons would agree with me. Gordon B. Hinckley once said that members could think freely and critically before joining the church, but once they had joined, they were expected to conform and “find happiness in that conformity.”
So, does that willingness to conform make Mormons inferior people? Does it mean that the leadership of the LDS church is populated with untalented, cowardly yes-men? I don’t think so. I understand Ms. Kelly’s point, but I think it’s overstated. Perhaps a little more nuance is required.