This is a guest post by Michael Davidson.
Have you ever been tempted to hang out with a group of edgy Mormons, like those who are bitter that the Church places greater value on a woman being a mother and wife rather than a doctor or lawyer? Do you sympathize with folks who have some weird ideas about the Gospel, like those who are calling for female ordination? Do you have a sibling or parent who thinks that the Church perpetrates “an antiquated and unequal model in both the domestic and ecclesiastical realms?” Be careful, you might just be flirting with apostasy.
“But Brother Davidson,” you say, “how can we know whether or not these friends or family members are apostates?” That is an excellent question, and while I don’t know your friends and family personally, hopefully this post will give you a clue as to how to judge a righteous judgment on this regard. Elder Faust, in his October 1993 General Conference address, gives some clear guidelines that you can apply to any situation. He quoted the Handbook of Instructions as saying, “among the activities considered apostate to the Church include when members (1) repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders; (2) persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority; or (3) continue to follow the teachings of apostate cults (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority.” This definition remains in the Handbook today with no alteration.
Elder Faust then expanded on the topic by warning against apostasy. He said “those men and women who persist in publicly challenging basic doctrines, practices, and establishment of the Church sever themselves from the Spirit of the Lord and forfeit their right to place and influence in the Church.” It’s ironic that most of the apostates in the history of the Church tend to want to influence or change the Church, but the act of apostasy strips them of any right to have influence in the Church that they might otherwise have enjoyed. Elder Faust also warned in this talk that “There is a certain arrogance in thinking that any of us may be more spiritually intelligent, more learned, or more righteous than the Councils called to preside over us. Those Councils are more in tune with the Lord than any individual persons they preside over, and the individual members of the Councils are generally guided by those Councils.”
Additionally, did you know that the Handbook says that “a disciplinary counsel must be held when evidence suggests that a member may have committed … apostasy?” According to the Handbook, your bishop and your stake president have no discretion in deciding whether to convene a disciplinary counsel if there is evidence of possible apostasy. They simply must do it. As a result, it is therefore pretty important to be careful to stay on this side of the apostasy line if you don’t want to end up in a disciplinary counsel.
To sum up, to determine whether someone or some group is apostate, in order to guide our own decisions as to whether we should support or sympathize with them, we should consider whether:
1. 1. they repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders;
2. 2. they persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority;
3. 3. they claim their ideas are superior due to their greater spiritual intelligence or learning in comparison with the Church’s governing councils;
4. 4. they claim to be more righteous than the Church’s governing councils; or
5. 5. they are polygamists.
“But Brother Davidson,” you continue, “these definitions are all good, but can you give us some real world examples to illustrate what they mean?” That is yet another excellent question. In talking about examples, let’s keep in mind that question 2 above will be hard to address. You will likely not know if they have been warned off their activities by their bishop or stake president. If they have, and they persist, the question is easy. For purposes of this discussion, let’s question whether something being taught or done is something that their bishop would likely warn them against. As for an example for illustrative purposes, I decided against several potential case studies before settling on the right example. I don’t want to pick on anyone in particular, so let’s try to keep these folks somewhat anonymous.
The first person I thought of was a lady who got excommunicated a little over twenty years ago for apostasy, let’s call or M. Toscano … wait, that might give too much away, we’ll call her Margaret T., but it was so long ago that it wouldn’t be too relevant. I wonder if she’s still around some where plotting some insurrection against the Church? Nah, that would be silly.
After that, I remembered attending a stake conference in Manti, Utah in January 1994 in which all sorts of interesting things happened. A whole group of people stood up during the sustainings and voted against everyone except for Pres. Benson. That group was colorful, and kept trying to break into the Manti Temple to perform rituals and ended up engaging in polygamy and a whole bunch of other stuff. I decided against featuring this group because they were too out there. That group was not really something most of our readers would be encountering or be tempted by. Manti has a great history of apostate groups. There might be another guest post in that.
Finally I settled on something a bit more contemporary. I don’t want to criticize anyone too directly, so I’ll stick with initials in talking about this group and its leaders. Hopefully that won’t be too distracting. Anyway, there’s this group called “O.W.” They’re kind of small, so you might not have heard of them, and that’s fine, we’re just using them as an example here so I don’t have to make everything up.
In setting up this example, let’s engage in a bit of a hypothetical. Suppose two members of O.W. came to your house (we’ll call them K.K. and L.W.) and started talking to you about the priesthood. How would you know whether these folks were apostates or not? Let’s use this hypothetical to explore the question. I’ll stop you at a few places and ask you to decide whether any of the questions above lean towards deciding they are, or may be, apostates.
First, L.W. shares with you O.W.’s mission statement. When reading it, you notice that it says that “God is male and female, father and mother, and all of us can progress to be like them someday.” This strikes you as a bit of a departure from the doctrine taught in the First Article of Faith, where it states that “we believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”
The mission statement goes on to say, “Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process. O.W. believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.” Again, you suspect that this might not be entirely kosher. You seem to remember a recent conference talk by an apostle in which he made it pretty clear that only men are to be ordained, and this seems to be suggesting that they believe that the Church is wrong on this point.
POP QUIZ #1: Are we in apostate territory yet? Think about questions 2 and 3 above.
Next, K.K. tells you:
“As a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I have authentic questions. While I am grateful that those who lead do their best to listen to the females they serve, I question why the governing structure of our church is almost entirely comprised of males. I question why we don’t speak often of our Heavenly Mother, although I am grateful that She is acknowledged in documents like The Family Proclamation. I am grateful for the opportunities my daughter will have to grow and serve in the church, however, I question why my son will be able to spiritually lead both men and women, baptize, bless the sacrament, stand as a witness at ordinances, bless his children, anoint the sick with oil and pronounce blessings, while my daughter will not have those empowering experiences.”
K.K. then continues and says, “The ordination of women would put us on completely equal spiritual footing with our brethren, and nothing less will suffice.” You listen kindly to this, but you wonder whether these ideas are evidence of apostasy. K.K. seems sincere, but she is advocating for a different characterization of the Godhead than is currently found in the standard works. Plus, she seems to be suggesting that the Church and the doctrines and policies related to the Priesthood are flawed or arising from some lesser understanding.
POP QUIZ #2: Is this apostate territory?
L.W. pipes in and starts lecturing, “To deny women access to decision-making authority in any community–religious or otherwise–opens up a space for the more extreme forms of discrimination and abuse that millions of women in the world endure. Mormonism teaches that our essential selves are uncreated. Thus, we are free agents responsible for our choice either to perpetuate this inequity by inaction or to embrace a moral activism that requires us to work for justice and equality.” K.K. then chimes in to explain, “O.W. has pulled back the curtain on the gender exclusivity of the priesthood, and opened up a new conversation. We have created this movement in an attempt to transform what has so far been a monologue about priesthood power in the church into an interactive dialogue. Although it can be frightening to challenge the status quo and the candidly acknowledge that the roots of inequality run deep, it is a necessary step. We have seen the man behind the curtain, and without the ordination of women, no amount of emphatic insistence that women already have an equal place in the church will make it so.” Now, these two ladies seem to be saying that they have some insight and understanding that is greater or higher than those of the governing counsels.
POP QUIZ #3: Apostate yet?
They then tell you that at the last two General Conferences they have marched a small group of women over to Temple Square to demand admission to the Priesthood Session. K.K. says, “We [wanted] to hear directly from the leaders of our church in preparation for the responsibility that comes with ordination and to demonstrate our commitment and readiness…. It is apparent that we need to express ourselves in a more public way—agitating faithfully—in order for our leaders to understand that we want both the blessings and the authority of the priesthood and that we are not happy being excluded. As we publicly break cultural taboos that silence women, we believe more women will find the courage to honestly express their righteous desire to participate fully with men in all aspects of church governance, service and sacred ordinances.” You again are uncomfortable with the idea of repeated public protests in which the ladies in O.W. claim to want to engage the leaders of the Church in some discussion to share their unique concerns and greater understanding of gender issues.
POP QUIZ #4: What say you now? Do these public actions constitute deliberate opposition to the Church and its leaders?
I know that there may be differences of opinion on each of questions. I’m interested in what responses people have to this “hypothetical.”