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Question #93206 posted on 07/24/2020 10:30 a.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

I just wanted to know if any of you have felt attacked for more conservative views on church doctrine, and if so, how you have dealt with it? I appreciate how people at BYU with more non-traditional views or just honest questions about church policy or doctrine can be more comfortable sharing those views/questions and have been finding support or just been able to have civil, intelligent conversations with those who disagree. I tend to have more conservative views about the church(though I work to not be preachy or narrow-minded about it) and have been surprised by others shaming me for it. I tend to get labels of being "naive," "uptight," or "bigoted," and it can seem impossible to share my honest beliefs without giving off those impressions. It's a little frustrating, because, frankly, I have the beliefs I do for a reason. Most people do. And I have worked hard to try to make it clear that me having those beliefs does NOT mean that I disrespect, look down, or even would not stand up for those who believe differently. I know others on campus like me who have expressed similar frustrations, and so while I'm grateful that a group that hasn't felt due respect for their honest beliefs are being treated better, I'm not sure why others don't receive the same treatment. Or if I should even let it bother me. Sorry for the long question. If you relate, I'd love some advice.

-Honestly Just Confused

A:

Dear HJC,

The best thing to do, honestly, is to take shaming with as much grace and good humor as you can muster, acknowledge the imperfections and sometimes narrow-mindedness of others, and move on. You are ultimately only responsible to believe what God tells you is right. If civil conversation with others isn't likely or possible, disengage. Nobody has the right or the authority to compel you to believe something, and the Church isn't going to force you to take any particularly liberal or conservative stance outside of the few "core doctrines" which comprise the temple interview. Ultimately, God's approval of your belief is the only approval that really matters.

I won't pretend to be in your shoes precisely, but I have had similar experiences. Intolerance in doctrinal disputes is, as I'm sure you know, not merely a liberal or conservative issue. At one point on my mission, shortly after the official release of the new and updated Church history volume Saints, I expressed to my companion at the time that I wished the Church had put more resources into the project and gotten out ahead of the curve on a new approach to history sooner than sometime in 2018. It seemed to me, I said, that we had let critics argue that they were telling the "real story" of our history for too long. As welcome as Saints was, and for all the good I think it will do, I felt that more good could have come from a more proactive release, rather than allowing the Internet to shape the conversation for the preceding decade.

This seemed like a fairly innocuous opinion to me. I wasn't expressing a lack of faith in the restored gospel, or burning doubts about historical events, or direct and personal criticism of the apostles. I simply said that I felt the Church, as an institution, probably could have stood to gain from being a little more proactive in leading conversations about its history as it worked on the project.

My companion, to my surprise, did not like this at all. To him, I was suggesting in thinly veiled words that I knew better than the leaders of the Church, that they didn't know how to lead and guide the Church, and that I lacked faith in not only the history of the restored gospel but also the direction of the Church as an institution. At one point in the ensuing argument, he demanded to know why I was determined to "shoot down the Church that [I] claim to believe in."

It was probably the worst argument of my mission, and it was extraordinarily hurtful to me to be accused, essentially, of being a wolf in sheep's clothing simply because I had said that it would have been nice to see a project like Saints  released sooner than it was. To me, my critique barely even rose to the level of criticism of the Church. I said it not because I wanted to find fault with the Church History Department or denigrate faith, but because I sincerely felt it would have furthered the mission of the Church, which is of paramount importance. If my writing has not made it clear, I am very much a faithful and committed member of the Church, and I am firmly convicted of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. I am anxious to improve anything that I feel will better serve the teaching and sharing of the gospel, and in this one instance, I felt the Church could have improved an already good initiative.

Unfortunately, there are those who feel the need to attack, belittle, or tear down others who don't see eye-to-eye on doctrinal issues. Just as some hyper-conservative members are quick to see in any critique the seeds of apostasy, some hyper-liberal members are quick to attack even small differences in opinion as insufficiently informed, kind, or charitable. It really doesn't matter to me if someone subscribes to young-earth creationism in the Church, nor should it matter to anyone else--unless that person is actively damaging another person's faith in the gospel or otherwise undermining them over an otherwise insignificant difference of opinion.

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul counsels the Christians who are strong in the faith to refrain from eating food that has been offered to idols, not because it was intrinsically impermissible or wrong, but because those who were weak in the faith did not understand the distinction between eating meat and offering a sacrifice in one's mind and heart. Paul warned that those weak ones might be led to glorify the idol if they were to see others "sitting at meat in the idol's temple," even though the act of eating the meat did not require one to offer a sacrifice to a false god. By eating that meat, Paul says, those stronger members were liable to lead the weak into sin by causing them to ascribe power or efficacy to idolatrous offerings, and thereby stumble in the faith.

While we don't dispute over idol offerings today in the Church, I think there's an instructive principle here. Our faith should never cause another to stumble in that same faith. We are free to do, and to believe, many different things, but some things which might cause others to stumble ought to be kept to ourselves.

Now, to be absolutely clear, I am not staking out a political position and claiming one particular side is "strong" in the faith while the other is weak. As I said above, both conservative and liberal viewpoints on the gospel may cause others to stumble. I have my own opinions, which I don't feel are relevant to your question. There are members more liberal than I who I think are misguided and wrong on certain gospel or historical questions. There are also members more conservative than I who I think are misguided and wrong on other questions. But the majority of the time, I find that aggressively proselytizing my opinions about a pet historical or doctrinal question is liable to cause my brothers and sisters to stumble, rather than uplifting them. If it causes my sister or my brother no great harm to believe something I do not, I don't feel a need to cause them to stumble by introducing an idea that may be more correct, but too difficult, foreign, or complex for them to properly understand in their own faith. And I certainly feel no need to be hostile, mean, or hurtful. I'm sorry that you've had that experience with others.

As Anathema points out below, there are times where certain beliefs may cause harm to others, and there are times where I do feel a need to speak up. It is no offense to me, for example, that some members I know don't believe in evolution. I don't think starting an argument about biological science or creationism or dinosaur bones will benefit anyone's faith. But it is an outrageous offense to me that some members I know believe they would be better off castrating their children if they come out as gay, and I feel compelled--because of my obligation to love, comfort, and mourn with all my brothers and sisters in Christ--to correct those harmful, hurtful, wicked ideas. I'm not at all suggesting that these examples apply to you, or that they describe all, or even most, conservative Church members. That group, in my experience, is quite small. But there are those--on both sides of the political/theological/spiritual spectrum--who are all too willing to cause others to stumble and fall in their undue haste to ensure that a "correct" understanding of the gospel is being taught, without really trying to have a serious dialogue about why they disagree.

As the late, great Latter-day Saint scholar Hugh Nibley once observed, "The final relief of all our woes lies beyond all worldly politics." If we do not show forth afterwards an increase of love in those rare moments where we are moved upon to disagree or even reprove with sharpness, we have lost sight of the mission of BYU, of the Church, and of the restored gospel. All of us ought to do our best not to be narrow-minded or preachy, whatever our views on the gospel may be; be loving, be gentle, be kind. Allow others that same courtesy in expressing their views.

To your question, even if they don't allow that courtesy to you, and you feel misunderstood or hurt or marginalized, recognize that they, like you, are imperfect, and try to take what good you can from what they have to say. If you feel you're right with God, then the pointing, shaming, and mocking of others shouldn't matter. There are enough people in the great and spacious building who are all too willing to scoff at and mock us; those of us who are gathered together under the tree, or working together as we try to find our way there, ought to treat one another with kindness, empathy, and love in Christ rather than joining in with the jeers and scorn.

I hope something here is helpful to you. I know how frustrating it can be to feel as though you can't express yourself without being unfairly shamed, maligned, or misrepresented. If you'd like to talk more, feel free to shoot an email my way.

Genuinely,

9S

A:

Dear friend,

I'm far from conservative in my views, doctrinally or politically (I don't know, maybe economically). I try not to look down on people who are, but allow me to explain why I fundamentally disagree with being "conservative" in a gospel sense. 

I am a human being with a finite understanding of how things work in the cosmic and eternal sense. For me to believe I have the knowledge, love, and power to draw lines on who and what is acceptable seems fallacious and prideful. God is an infinite being with perfect knowledge who judges each person on their individual circumstances, intentions, and feelings. As such, They (and before you say that saying "They" when referring to God is very un-conservative of me, remember that Mormons canonically believe in Heavenly Parents, who, based on the Family Proclamation are equal partners) are the only ones qualified to give edicts on "gospel truth." 

Additionally, the Church changes its stances on things all the time. Never on the Christian Gospel (Christ is our Savior, baptism, repentance, etc.), but on the things where people can disagree, opinions and policies change. Because I know that, I prefer to be as open and accepting as possible because to me that seems like the more Christ-like thing to do. In my mind, you will never be doing wrong by loving another person. (The loving them part seems to be another place where there is disagreement about what is right... is it more loving to let them live the way they feel loved, or is it more loving to insist on teaching them the 'only true path,' since Christ, in His love, never made people feel comfortable with themselves? I think here, it's probably about balance too.)

While you obviously have your own reasons for believing what you do and don't intend to disrespect others, I hope it's also possible for you to see why a more conservative view of the gospel might be frustrating to others who don't see it the same as you. To them, these type of views feel like an unwarranted or even obstinate restriction on salvation or the love of Christ. In the ongoing paradox of mankind, it is often the case that people who try to be as accepting as possible can become antagonistic towards those who aren't as open about it. It's sort of a protective mechanism, regardless of whether the people they are 'defending' need 'protecting' or not. The thought process tends to be, "I love and accept everyone! Everyone is loved by God, Christ wouldn't turn anyone away!... except for those people who exclude others, they're evil and un-Christlike and we hate them!" 

It doesn't make a lot of sense to think that way, it's not productive, and it's really hypocritical. I think we all kind of know that though. 

What may help is if we all let go of our defensiveness over our own viewpoints. Instead of trying to be right all the time, it would be best if we tried to be nice - we're all trying our best in our own personal journeys. 

Cheers, 

Guesthouse

A:

Dear Honest, 

The older I get, the less conservative I am. Now the beliefs I hold about the Church and God are not very in line with the traditional, conservative viewpoint (in fact, they are often wildly different). Though people like myself are becoming more common, I am still very much the odd one out in most every ward I've been in. I feel deep in my soul that the changes my belief has undergone are right, true changes. Yet I've had to simultaneously deal with fears of being seen as a heretic for sincerely trying my best to follow God. I'm scared to speak up sometimes. I see members of my Bishopric proudly proclaiming things that grate against what I feel to be eternal truths. It is seriously so scary to have to wonder if because I'm different, I'll  be kicked out. If because I believe that we should not just say that we love, but act more like we do, that I'll be seen as someone who has lost the faith.

I share this with you as an act of solidarity. I am no longer a conservative member of the Church, but I know what it feels like to be terrified of opening my lips at times and to be attacked for what I believe.

Now I'll speak a bit as to why people might go after the more conservative beliefs, and condemn them as being bigoted or hateful. Personally, I rail against the beliefs that I see as having harmful consequences that spiral out to affect many people, or simply aren't true. Some beliefs deserve to be challenged. Even if we have good reasons for believing the things that we do, it's healthy to re-evaluate and deeply examine those reasons. Perhaps we'll come to the same conclusion as previously, but perhaps our beliefs will shift. Either way it's a good exercise to engage in.

If someone makes a comment about how working mothers are destroying society and don't love their children (a conservative view that I have heard), then you bet that I'm not going to let that statement rest. It's not because I wish to personally attack whoever said such a thing, but because that view is damaging towards women, and frankly, not at all true. 

I don't mean to imply that there aren't damaging and false viewpoints on the liberal side of the Church, because there certainly are. And they deserve to be opposed just as much as the damaging and false conservative viewpoints. Anything that is damaging and false should be challenged to help everyone get closer to God.

For my last point, I have no idea how relevant it is to you, but it is something that I have noticed in my own experience. When people disagree with me, it's easy to start feeling like I'm being attacked, even when I'm not. I think it's important to not internalize what may be a simple disagreement as a personal attack.

~Anathema