Responding to Heresy and Apostasy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about diversity. We believe that we can celebrate diversity, and that there is room in this Church for everyone. And we mean that when we say it. President Uchtdorf, for two conferences in a row, has talked about the importance of diversity in the Church. He highlighted the fact that we need everyone, no matter their differences. I love his remarks and think that he is absolutely, one-hundred percent right.

As wonderful as diversity is, I think that we sometimes misuse President Uchtdorf’s remarks in ways that he did not intend. President Uchtdorf, for example, was certainly not saying that the Church should celebrate all diversities in opinion and belief amongst its members. This past General Conference, for example, made it quite clear that Latter-day Saints should not and indeed cannot condone same-sex relationships as moral. Yet I’ve seen bloggers use President Uchtdorf’s remarks as if they somehow vindicated those who clearly contradict established Church teachings in just these sorts of ways. That is, I’ve seen people act as if President Uchtdorf just signed off on their errant views on sexuality. This is just one example.

So I’ve been giving this subject a lot of thought. How do we respond to those who don’t just see things differently, but see things differently in a way that clearly contradicts established, core Church teachings? Is this diversity that we should celebrate and encourage? Or is this heresy that should be discouraged? Note: I’m not talking about being a Democrat. I’m not talking about believing that the lost tribes of Israel were abducted by aliens. I’m talking about central issues like the law of chastity, the Proclamation on the Family, the immorality of elective abortion, etc., and I’m defining these as “central” issues because they are what prophets and apostles have recently expressed concern about in recent conferences. Are they core doctrines in the same sense that the Atonement of Christ is? Maybe, maybe not — but when Elder Oaks and Elder Nelson explicitly say that Latter-day Saints cannot condone same-sex relationships, I feel like they are sending a clear message.

Heresy and How to Respond to It

I’m going to make a bold claim: there is really such a thing as heresy, and there really is such a thing as potentially dangerous and soul-destroying heresy. I think, for example, that the idea that same-sex activity is not a sin has the potential to be a soul-destroying heresy, if it begins to influence your actions and lifestyle. I think, for example, that the idea that the scriptures are inspired fiction, having no historical basis, can also be a soul-destroying heresy, as it can jeopardize our loyalties to scriptural teachings when we are under pressure from external forces. I think that the belief that elective abortion is harmless can be another soul-destroying heresy, as it can lead us to commit and celebrate something that, at its very best, is “like unto” murder. Others may disagree with any or all of these examples, but that’s what I think. By using the word “heresy,” I’m not trying to convey the “burn them at the stake” kind of heresy of times past when those with different beliefs were persecuted and killed merely for holding them — I’m just referring to ideas that directly contradict core teachings of the Church, and in ways that are potentially dangerous to the soul. I choose the word “heresy” because it’s a good companion to the word “apostasy,” which I will discuss later.

Now I’m going to make another claim: You can believe whatever you want and claim membership in this Church. You can, for example, believe that the Book of Mormon is “inspired fiction,” and be a member of the Church. You can, for example, believe that two men having sex really isn’t a sin, and be a member of the Church. You can believe that abortion is just fine and dandy. You can think that the modern prophets and apostles are kind of behind the times with the whole marriage and family thing. Whatever your favorite heresy, you can certainly still believe it, and come worship God with us in our meetings and find fellowship in our congregations. We want you to feel like you have friends here. We want you to serve with us, minister with us, and experience the joys of Gospel service, despite your eccentric and at times errant beliefs. Believing wrongly should never warrant mistreatment from others. We as Latter-day Saints should ensure that no one feels alienated for mere heresy alone.

After all, sometimes — not always, but sometimes — we’re the ones who are wrong and they are right. This can certainly happen when the heresy they commit is to disbelieve some favorite folk doctrine that actually isn’t revealed or official doctrine of the Church. But even if we’re dealing with genuine heresy, let’s open our arms and embrace our fellow saints anyways. We are all at different points in our personal progression. We are all at different points in our conversion to Christ and His doctrines. Joseph Smith is reported to have said:

I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like methodism and not like Latter day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels so good not to be tramelled.

Why, after all, should we chase people from the fountain of Truth for not yet having the truth? I firmly believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one place in this world where the doctrines are pure. I believe that this Church and its ordinances are a wellspring of revelation, a fountian of light and knowledge from the True and Living God. Why chase anyone from that fountain — even if inadvertently — because they haven’t been fully persuaded of those doctrines yet?

Because I believe that some heresies are dangerous, I sometimes do fear for some of my fellow saints who continually resist the teachings of the living prophets and apostles. But because membership in this Church offers the best context, the best environment, and the best chances of saving their souls, I’d rather they be here than anywhere else. I think we should carefully scrutinize our behavior and make sure that we do not do anything to alienate, distance ourselves from, or exclude other Latter-day Saints merely for believing differently. That’s the message, for example, that I got from President Uchtdorf and others this past weekend and last conference. There is room in this Church for anyone and everyone, no matter their belief system or background. Observers will note that the Church hardly ever — if not never —excommunicates someone for heresy alone. And we, I think, should be careful not to do so either with our words and deeds.

Now, I think that we have every prerogative to instruct, correct, and to teach, especially if we have a priesthood stewardship and a teaching calling. We can and must teach true doctrine, and we can extend gentle, loving correction to those who err. But I think we should be conscientious to ensure that those who err feel welcomed and wanted nevertheless. This Church is the place where they can and will learn true doctrine through the Spirit, and we must therefore ensure that our meetings are full of the Spirit of love, not the spirit of contention. If we can find ways to teach true doctrine without putting others on the defensive, we will be much better instruments in the Lord’s hands, and much less likely to alienate those who need Spiritual instruction from the one place where they are most likely to receive it. Let’s be meticulous about this. We should embrace heretics with love, fellowship, and friendship — and perhaps by so doing, we’ll be the instruments through which God sends His correcting, testifying Spirit.

The Line in the Sand: Apostasy

This, however, is not the end of the story. While I firmly believe that having a different opinion does not make someone a bad Mormon (because don’t we all have some way in which we aren’t fully converted?), there are behaviors that are simply unbecoming of members of the Church. President George Q. Cannon once said:

A friend … wished to know whether we … considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities of the Church was apostasy. … We replied that we had not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities constituted apostasy, for we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the Authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term.

When President Cannon uses the phrase, “enforce them upon the people,” I don’t think he means, “forcing one’s beliefs on others.” I also doubt he’s talking about a heretic who happens to express his opinion at a dinner party, or who, when asked, offers a different perspective on an issue. But I suspect that he is certainly talking about those who are earnestly trying to persuade their fellow saints to depart from the teachings of God’s spokesmen and to embrace contrary doctrine instead. President Cannon identifies these individuals as more than just heretics — he identifies them as apostates.

President Cannon’s quote has been repeated by prophets and apostles on multiple occasions, has appeared in Church manuals, etc., so I don’t think we can take his words lightly or as without weight. And observers will notice that while the Church does not typically excommunicate people for having errant opinions, it does sometimes excommunicate people for publishing and earnestly persuading others to depart from sound doctrine and to embrace heresy instead. Just recently, a man named Denver Snuffer was excommunicated for publishing a book that, in essence, teaches that the modern prophets and apostles have lead the Church into apostasy. So long as he held those views, he was a heretic. But the moment he published them in a book and started going speaking tours, he became an apostate.

But even then, the Church is really patient and awfully reluctant to even excommunicate these sorts of people. Why? Because they want them in the Church. It’s the Gift of the Holy Ghost and the instruction they receive in Church that gives them the best chances to be corrected and return to true doctrine. But sometimes, they starting causing more damage than the patience is worth. When apostates begin to have a large following and large groups of people begin to be swayed against true doctrine, the Church will then probably be more likely to take action, just as it did with Denver Snuffer. But that is a prerogative of the Church and its designated leaders, not you or I.

In short, if you have a different opinion, if you disbelieve certain core Church teachings, you are fully welcome to worship with us. It’s ok to have questions and doubts. That doesn’t make you a bad Mormon. We want you with us. But when you start to publish opinions that directly contradict the established teachings of the Church, and earnestly try to persuade others to believe such an opinion, you are engaging in apostasy. For example, if you believe that same-sex activity is not sinful, you might be a heretic, and that’s ok. We can accept you. We will try and teach you, but we will embrace you with open arms and fellowship nonetheless. If you publish a book about it, or write a blog post about it, in which you try to convince others that the established teachings of the Apostles on sexuality are wrong and misguided, you are not longer just a heretic — you are an apostate.

How to Respond to Apostasy

So how do we respond to the apostates among us? Actually, not much differently than we respond to the heretics. We welcome them with open arms. We embrace them in fellowship. We include them in our activities. We make sure they feel loved and welcomed in the Church, and we don’t alienate them with cold stares and unfriendly hearts. And, like heretics, we use opportunities to teach and to correct, as guided by the Spirit. The apostates among us should feel as welcome in our Church meetings as the heretics among us. It is the prerogative of priesthood leaders and priesthood leaders alone to sever those ties.

But there’s one thing I want to make clear: their public agitation against the Church is fair game for criticism. When you publish a blog post saying that Mormons can and should embrace same-sex relations, we can and will, in the same public venues, denounce your opinion as in contradiction to the established teachings of the Church. Once you take your heretical opinions public, you should feel no right to be free from public criticism of your opinions.

There are some who, taking their opinions public and trying to persuade others to join their dissent, argue that compassion and good will requires that the rest of us remain silent. If we speak out and say, “Actually, you are currently in open contradiction to the Church’s teachings,” and warn others to steer clear of your public advocacy, they respond, “They are trying to create a hostile environment in the Church for those with diverse opinions!” When their perspectives are publicly denounced by members as heresy, and their actions as apostasy, they sometimes cry, “Don’t we want diversity in the Church? Why are you trying to silence me for merely disagreeing or having doubts or questions about the Church’s positions?”

No — we are not trying to chase you out of the Church for believing differently. We’re not trying to chase you out of the Church at all. But we can and will respond with clarity when you contradict the teachings of the Church’s leaders and try to confuse our fellow saints into thinking that you are not (or that this is ok). Having doubts and questions is fine. Teaching others to doubt and question is not. Publicly spreading heretical perspectives using argument, persuasion, public advocacy, is not just “having a different perspective,” it is open rebellion against the Church and its teachings, and this will elicit a strong response from faithful Latter-day Saints. To think that it shouldn’t is rather silly.

So we’ll welcome you at Church. We’ll include you in activities. We’ll do everything we humanly can to make you feel loved and as welcome as anyone else. But we’ll not stand silently by while you lead our brothers and sisters to believe worldly doctrines and false ideas that the Church has repeatedly denounced as wrong. Once you take your errant views to the public, we have every prerogative to publicly respond to them. We have no obligation to sit back and silently watch. To claim that criticizing the prophets and apostles is fair game for Latter-day Saints, but to in turn criticize those who do this is somehow uncompassionate and unchristian, is just plain hypocritical.

A further note: there is a scene in a recent James Bond film in which the title character (played by Daniel Craig) shaves with a single-bladed razor. Single bladed razor sales increased by 400%. I have no idea if it was deliberate product placement, but the effect was enormous. So here’s my point: while a heretical opinion expressed over the dinner table is likely just run-of-the-mill heresy and not apostasy (as defined here), a heretical opinion expressed by a respected blogger on a public blog with thousands of readers might have much, much more weight and much more serious consequences. So while having a different opinion — and even expressing that opinion in everyday conversation — may not amount to public advocacy, blogging about that opinion, especially when your blog is highly read and highly respected, can very well constitute public advocacy.

So when you — a popular blogger — publish on your blog that you think that same-sex relations aren’t immoral, you can’t cry, “But it’s not wrong to just have a different opinion.” By making this defense, you are ignoring the immense power that you wield in your hands for both good and evil. You are ignoring the kind of influence that you have, and with that influence comes greater responsibility. This doesn’t mean you are unwelcome in the Church — quite the contrary, I’m trying to say that you are welcome in the Church and should be embraced as a fellow saint. But your publicly expressed views are fair game for public counter-criticism and correction. To imply that we cannot publicly respond to, correct, or contradict your views (because it creates a “hostile environment” for those with dissenting opinions), while you can publicly discuss and advocate opinions that are in contradiction to Church teachings, slants the playing field in entirely unfair ways.

When we publicly comment on your publicly expressed views, we’re not trying to chase you away or create a hostile environment in the Church. We respond publicly to your public writings for the sake of the thousands of viewers who might otherwise be swayed by your advocacy. We try to do so in as Christlike a way as possible, with as much compassion and gentleness as possible, but I know we are not always perfect. But this is our prerogative and, I think, our duty. That’s not creating a “hostile environment” or “discouraging diversity,” that’s simply fulfilling our ministerial duty to teach true doctrine and protect our brothers and sisters. Further, me calling out the sin of apostasy here doesn’t mean I want to exclude or hate people who commit that sin any more than it means that the people who read this and say that in writing it I lacked sufficient charity or sufficient good judgment means they hate me or want to exclude me.

I suspect that some will respond that the use of the word “apostate” is itself an insult that encourages shunning. However, when someone tries to publicly convince others to disregard the teachings of modern prophets and apostles, they are engaging in apostasy, and I don’t think that we can walk back on that in order to make them feel more welcome. In my view, public contradiction of current prophetic teachings by members of the Church may at times be tolerated because of charity, but it can never be considered acceptable and must be called what it is. But as long as their apostasy is labelled as such, they will consider it an insult (while knowing full well at some level that it is accurate) and will feel marginalized, because they know that in the mind of many members it delegitimizes their point of view. But by marginalizing their point of view through public criticism and counter-commentary, I do not think we are being unloving. Come to my Sunday School class, and I’ll make you feel as welcome as anyone else. Come to my home, and you’ll be seated for dinner as an honored guest.

Conclusion

There are some in this Church who believe that Zion is a open-minded collective pluralism where all worldviews and perspectives are valued equally. This is not true. Zion is a place where the Lord’s saints are knit together in love, with one heart and one mind, collectively unified with the will of God as taught by His chosen servants. Zion can certainly accommodate diversity on a lot of things — but not diversity that includes promoting false and pernicious doctrines that lead us away from God’s teachings. Now, as we progress towards Zion, we can charitably embrace those among us who haven’t yet been converted to the teachings of the prophets. They should feel as welcome in our meetings as those who haven’t yet quit smoking, or who have a pornography addiction, or aren’t paying their tithing. I mean, really, we are all sinners and none of us should feel superior to others. But this doesn’t mean that we have to publicly tolerate and silently accept public contradiction of God’s servants by our fellow members, and especially not in the name of building Zion.

In closing, I’m going to extend four invitations to those whose views on important issues differ from the established teachings of the Church — particularly those teachings that the current Church leaders have prioritized in our day (which we can gauge using General Conference):

(1) Consider reconsidering your views. Harold B. Lee taught: “You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views … [or] your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if [we] listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that … ‘the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.’”

(2) Don’t proselyte your dissent. Let’s say that you aren’t ready to give up your contradicting opinions and accept the core doctrines of the Church yet. That’s fine. It’s OK to have different opinions, and it’s OK that you aren’t ready to accept the teachings of the Church on some issues. People of all opinions are welcome. In fact, it’s even OK to talk about these views. We’re not advocating a tight-lipped silence. But the moment you publish your views, and try to persuade others to join you in your dissent in public venues, you are engaging in apostasy.

(3) If you do, don’t claim immunity from criticism. We will try to make you feel as welcome as possible in our services, our activities, our congregations. So even if you are engaging in public dissent, we have a duty to welcome you in our congregations. And we will do our best to do so. We’re not perfect, but we’re trying. But try for a moment to see our point of view: from our perspective, you are trying to lead our brothers and sisters away from the established teachings of the Church. So when you publicly try to persuade others to deviate from the teachings of the Church, we will respond. If you publish a blog post trying to persuade people that the Church is wrong on the law of chastity, we will welcome you into our meetings, but we will also write a blog post about how your perspectives are misguided and your behaviors inappropriate. That’s life. Deal with it.

(4) Come and worship with us nonetheless. Please, stay with us. Don’t leave. Don’t be chased away. We want you in this Church, because this Church is where you will find the words of eternal life. This Church has the saving ordinances of the Gospel. When you publicly dissent, we may publicly correct you — but please consider us brothers and sisters in the faith. Please stay and participate in the ordinances of the Gospel. We need you. We want you. And we love you.

And, finally, I’m going to extend two invitations to everyone else: Whether you think your fellow saint is a heretic or an apostate, embrace them in fellowship. Love them. Include them. Help them make the Church a permanent home. Those with priesthood stewardship may have to use moral discernment when extending callings of influence, but the rest of us can just do our very best to make the Church an inviting place for them. When they talk about their doubts and concerns, listen to them. Love them. And, as moved by the Spirit, share your own thoughts and testimony. Recognize that it’s OK to have doubts, to have differing perspectives, and to be at different stages in our journey of discipleship. It’s OK to discuss and have conversations about those differing views. When your friend begins to persuade others to share those doubts and concerns, recognize that this behavior is inappropriate — but love and fellowship them anyways, even as you respond with corrective clarity and testimony to their ideas for the sake others.

Note to commenters: If you are going to object to the use of the word “apostasy,” first explain how that is NOT the appropriate word for publicly contradicting God’s chosen representatives on central Church teachings, and attempting to persuade others to do the same. Further, as you do this, please answer this question: “Is there such a thing as apostasy at all, and if there is, how do you define it?”

59 thoughts on “Responding to Heresy and Apostasy

  1. Altogether, a good post, I say as one who holds what you would call heretical views. I appreciate the hand of fellowship.

    Is “heretical” the best word as it has connotations of burning at the stake? I prefer “unorthodox” as it has connotations of the the kind of fellowship you speak of.

    Regarding the propagation of views on blog postings and such, I can see how a heretic could corrupt the saints and be grounds for apostasy. However, I believe there is a place for unorthodox views to be presented as alternatives for members who otherwise would leave for lack of any flexibility. My own belief in the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction, does nothing to reduce my testimony of it as the word of God. For those unable to reconcile doubts about historicity using typical apologetic arguments, the inspired-fiction theory offers a space for members to not only stay in the church, but to love and learn from the Book of Mormon as the word of God. Without this, they would be forced to choose between two black and white options, and more would choose to leave and consider Joseph Smith a charlatan rather than an honest human prophet inspired by God.

    But i agree that the inspired fiction theory has no place in gospel doctrine class, or in most gospel discussions among faithful members. But it does have a place in blogs and Internet, where it gives an essential middle ground between violently opposed forces to be found everywhere. There, I believe it can be a positive and inspired force to nurture faith among those desperately trying to cling to their faith.

  2. Nate, basically, you are describing a need for communities of saints that legitimize views that contradict Church teachings, so that those who hold those views don’t leave the Church. I’m saying that we can extend the welcoming hand of fellowship, and love them into staying, without legitimizing their views. Personally, I think that building online communities that legitimize dissent from established, core teachings of the Church will eventually do more harm than good for the Church. Part of the test of discipleship is learning to relinquish our own reservations and embrace the teachings of prophets and apostles, and I think that providing a space that says, “You actually don’t need to do that,” is ultimately counterproductive.

  3. I don’t think you need to ligitimize our views. I understand the need for a strong doctrinal foundation, and when I serve in the church I stay within those boundaries, even if I differ in my own personal views. I disagree with fellow liberals who think their views should be accepted or permitted in church meetings by the mainstream membership. This is contrary to my definition of liberalism, which is to accept the rights of private organizations like the church to be conservative. A true liberal must inhabit both worlds, the orthodox world of his active service in a conservative church, and the unorthodox world of his mind, and his appreciation of the diversity of experience among the Gentiles. This diversity of experience is what makes a true liberal liberal.

    I only question the need to accuse such of apostasy in their blogging, when they may be providing a space for more liberally minded Saints.

  4. Try imagining it from my perspective: I have several real, close friends who have actually departed from sound doctrinal foundations after being persuaded by blog posts of that very sort, and have since decided that, at least on some crucial issues, the current prophets and apostles are just full of it. (Issues such as the immorality of same-sex activity, etc.)

    So when they are leading my friends and colleagues away from the teachings of the prophets and apostles, I don’t really see another good name for it except apostasy. It meets all the criteria outlined by Harold B. Lee, and their influence is real, and the consequences, I think, can be destructive. So I feel it is our duty to (1) respond, and (2) to call it what it is.

  5. My prediction is that this post will be hugely misunderstood, which is a shame.

    I guess I would ask: is there such a thing as apostasy? (The prophets all say yes).

    So, if there is such a thing as apostasy, what is it? How do you define it? I think this post comes up with a reasonable definition. If that is not the definition, then what is?

    I can’t imagine a true definition of apostasy that does not include publishing/promoting things that contradict the Church’s position on important issues. So, we get back to the fact that LDSP’s post raises real issues that must be addressed.

  6. I’m with you in that I believe that there is an absolute morality – that some things are eternally good and righteous and that some things are forever wrong. I also agree with you, that regardless of what may happen ‘tomorrow’, God’s revealed standards for ‘today’ are what He expects of all of His children. That being said, we don’t know all of His doctrines, and should not presume to try to limit what truths He can yet reveal.

    But I disagree with your post in two ways. First, if we’re supposed to love and be accepting of all, regardless of their current amount of acceptance of God’s standards (again, something I agree with), what good is there in applying the labels ‘heretic’ and ‘apostate’ to those that digress whatever amount we feel is too much? Doing so seems wrong to me, and I don’t see why I can’t live my life and make my choices based on the truths I know, regardless of what others may incorrectly believe without having to quantify or classify their level of righteousness or commitment.

    It’s not clear to me how you define ‘apostasy’, but to me it consists of rejecting a received truth. (‘Heresy’ isn’t a word I’ve heard much used in modern LDS doctrine so I’m not sure what a good ‘church’ definition would be.) It seems easy to say that, for example, someone that rejects the well-established law of tithing would be an apostate, but I don’t think that doing so is appropriate unless we’re in a position to lay judgment on them (such as their Father in heaven, their bishop or other higher-level church leader). It’s conceivable that though they’ve heard and even been taught and invited to obey the law, that they haven’t ‘received’ it (via a spiritual confirmation that it’s true for whatever reason). In short, I have no idea what you, or anyone else has received as truth from our Heavenly Father – only what He’s told me.

    My second concern goes along with this. Frankly, I think that our current understanding of marriage (and by extension moral, intimate relations) being between a man and woman lacks some expansive understanding. I suspect you’ll decry this as heretical, but please hear me out to understand my point. I haven’t chosen to believe such things because it’s convenient for me – I feel it in my heart, the same way that I feel the Spirit, that there’s more doctrine than we have now concerning gender and potential eternal intimate relationships. I don’t say this to convince you, and I don’t expect you to believe me since your truth seems different. But it’s the truth I have now and until God tells me otherwise, it’s the best I have to go on.

    I have a public blog with a few posts detailing my unique life experiences. I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the way I’ve explained that I feel that same-sex relationships are not the eternal ‘no’ that the church currently holds to. The point of my blog is to share my experience with those who may have had similar experiences to be there for help and information, and to also try and share to anyone interested that there’s more reality that our current doctrine doesn’t answer to very well. I would love to see more revealed doctrine concerning some of these issues, but looking back over patterns of revelation, I don’t think this will come if the issues aren’t brought to the table and discussed.

    I guess what I’m saying is I don’t think ‘apostasy’ is a matter of public/private action – I think it’s where one’s heart lies, and I think that’s usually only completely discernible to God or any other individual that He gives this information to (generally, a Priesthood leader that has a stewardship over said person). In other words, I think it’s unfair to assume that all who publicly disagree with a church matter are apostates/heretics out to destroy His kingdom. I also think it does us a huge disservice to go around labeling our fellow brothers and sisters as such, even those that obviously seem to have rejected truths they seem to have received. Does that make sense? Sorry the comment is so long!

  7. Oops. Just saw this note at the end of LDSP’s post:

    ‘Note to commenters: If you are going to object to the use of the word “apostasy,” first explain how that is NOT the appropriate word for publicly contradicting God’s chosen representatives on central Church teachings, and attempting to persuade others to do the same. Further, as you do this, please answer this question: “Is there such a thing as apostasy at all, and if there is, how do you define it?”

  8. I guess what I’m saying is I don’t think ‘apostasy’ is a matter of public/private action

    In the ultimate sense, you are probably right. And in that same ultimate sense, we are all apostates to some degree, because we all decline/rebel against/dismiss some commandment from God. What I’m describing here, however, is a more limited sense of the term. I’m making this delineation to highlight where differing from established Church teachings moves from “tolerable” to “inappropriate.” And I’m not the only one: President Cannon, for example, made that same distinction. For the sake of discussion, I labeled the first “heresy” and the second “apostasy,” to illustrate a qualitative difference in the degree of wrongness. I’m sure there are other technical definitions of the terms that I’m ignoring.

    I think it’s unfair to assume that all who publicly disagree with a church matter are apostates/heretics out to destroy His kingdom.

    I never made this claim. I don’t think most of them are intentionally trying to destroy God’s kingdom. But I do think those who publicly blog and speak about how they think the prophets are wrong on some core Church teaching (like chastity) are engaging in apostasy. If they aren’t, they what is apostasy? If you think that apostasy is something that is totally inscrutable, something that no one but God can see (which, I think, is your claim), something that people who are actively preaching against God’s servants “may or may not be engaging in” and “we can never really know,” then we’ll just have to disagree.

  9. LDSP, it does occur to me that there is one area where Capricornus and Nate may have a point, and it is the issue of authority.

    It is one thing for a bishop of the high council to investigate somebody who has committed apostasy and then, using priesthood authority, come to the conclusion that the person being considered has committed apostasy.

    It is a completely different thing for one member to look at the actions of another and conclude that he/she is an apostate *because we don’t have authority over that person and are just another observer.*

    So, I think it is important to consider whether certain actions *might be* leading people on the road to apostasy, but it is an entirely different thing to make the final conclusion that this person definitely is an apostate.

    This is where we get into the issue of judgement. We are given judgement and it is OK to be judgmental when you say to yourself, “I will not read or listen to what so and so has to say because I really think he/she is leading people to apostasy.” It is quite another to say that the person himself is an apostate because you don’t know all of the details. Some ideas are dangerously on the wrong road, and we can be judgmental of those ideas. We cannot, however, judge another person when we do not have the authority to do so.

  10. RE: Inspired Fiction?
    Just curiosity on my part: Do we have a First Presidency Statement that the Book of Mormon is actual history as contrasted with being the body of work (produced by human prophets) that God wants us to have as scripture for our day? Looking at the Bible and Book of Mormon we officially recognize them as: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” I don’t see anything in there about history.

    I think comparing the “history” contained in the Doctrine of Covenants to what we can find out from the secular history of the same period is very instructive. The Doctrine and Covenants as a history book doesn’t work very well as a history of the times, rather it is a documentary of God’s dealings with his Prophets and people. An historian would be at a loss if he or she tried to reconstruct history from the Doctrine and Covenants, likewise I’m not convinced one can reconstruct or understand history from the Book or Mormon (or of course from the Bible either). BUT I am convinced that all of these books are Scripture (along with the Pearl of Great Price). These are the books God/Christ has designated for our use and study in this dispensation. They contain Gospel truths and are profitable for our instruction. The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great price are particularly the result of the Restoration, the Bible is the result of happenstance to some degree, but certainly it is reasonable to assert that God/Christ had a hand in guiding that happenstance.

    I see no inherent contradiction in believing these books are not history and in believing they are inspired by God/Christ and that they are the scriptures God/Christ want us to have. Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, what is included in the Book of Mormon is what God and Christ want to be (or are willing to have) in there. The Book of Mormon exists solely because Chirst directed His latter-day Prophet to bring it forth. Similarly the Doctrine and Covenants is (primarily) a direct modern record of revelations from the Lord to His prophets. It is the *only* book of scripture we currently have which consists primarily of dictation from Christ to man. It has always seemed to me that the Doctrine and Covenants is much more of a testament of God or Christ’s dealings with humankind than any other of our “standard works” – but that is just my view.

    I believe anyone can receive a witness from God, through the Holy Spirit, that the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great price are inspired scripture and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet who either brought them forth under God’s direct instruction, or received them directly from Christ in the case of the Doctrine and Covenants. But I don’t believe, nor have I received a witness, that these books constitute history in the comprehensive modern day meaning of that term.

  11. Geoff, I see no substantial difference between saying, “X person is engaging in sin,” and “X person is engaging in apostasy.” I think that priesthood leaders and priesthood leaders alone can determine whether someone’s membership should be called into question/revoked/etc., but that is not the same thing as labeling and identifying actions as apostasy. The Church is full of apostates, and we see it all around us, and we have every moral right to discern apostasy when we see it. Only priesthood leaders, however, have the stewardship to know when the apostasy reaches a degree and danger that membership should be called into question. I make that point quite clear, actually: absent such a priesthood stewardship, we should welcome people in full fellowship and embrace them as fellow saints. But we can still label their actions apostasy.

    I think where you are getting hung up is that we sometimes take the word “apostasy” with such gravity that we think it’s tantamount to being told that they aren’t or shouldn’t be members of the Church. But that’s not the case, as I clearly said in the article. Actions can be apostate (which makes those who commit them, to that degree, apostate), without the individual’s membership in the Church ever being called into question. Heck, we are probably all engaging in apostasy to some degree, because in a broader sense, apostasy is any and all rebellion against God’s teachings — and we all do that to some degree. In the more narrow sense I’m using the term here, I’m using it to distinguish between simply differing in opinions (which is perfectly acceptable) and leading others astray (which is not).

    To me, the logic in your most recent comment is comparable to saying, “We can’t ever say for sure if an action is sin, but we can say that it *might* be leading to sin.”

  12. “Try imagining it from my perspective: I have several real, close friends who have actually departed from sound doctrinal foundations after being persuaded by blog posts of that very sort.”

    Were your friends swayed by blog posts like those on mormonthink, which present evidence against the Book of Mormon, or by blogs defending its inspired nature in spite of historical anachronisms? It’s true that I take anachronisms at face value, and perhaps that is an untenable position for some, like your friends, and just seems like further damning evidence.

    Maybe you are right.

  13. Personally, I think there is a difference between heresy and apostasy. Wherein any of us have an opinion that does not sit with perfect truth and doctrine (and we all do have such opinions), we are heretics. Yet that does not necessarily make us apostates.
    During Prop 8, there were many on both sides that spoke heresy (some taking the Prop 8 concept so far as to “hate” gays, for example; while other embraced immoral behavior). Today, there are many conservatives who disagree with the Church’s stance on immigration. So, we have heretics on all sides.
    Clearly there is some room for dissent and dialogue here. That is exactly what Pres Uchtdorf spoke about. As long as behaviors do not cast us outside the large tent the Church has set up to invite people into, they are welcome to stay.

    I think Maxine Hanks’ example shows us the difference between the two. In the early 1990s, she went against the counsel of her leadership and published heretical material. Later, she would admit that she looked down upon them, not seeing them as inspired nor as equals. When she returned to the Church recently, her support of the prophets had changed. Does she still believe in the things she wrote? Perhaps. The difference is, she is now willing to listen to them and defer to them when necessary, even while supporting some concepts that some may consider heretical today.

    Therein lies the key. The behavior of the person and attitude towards those in leadership. I believe all of the Ordain Women group are heretics (meant in a nice way), but not all are apostates. Only those who do not sustain and support the GAS, thinking them to only be old men who are keeping women in servitude, could ostensibly be apostates. These are those who have replaced their testimony with a social movement. They no longer have a set of beliefs that differ with the Church, while wholly sustaining the Brethren in the important things, but they have transplanted God’s chosen with their own.

    We have room for heretics. I know I’ve shared heretical thoughts on my blog and here on occasion. Yet, I’m still a member in good standing. If the Brethren were to ever ask me to take my stuff down and no longer teach it, I would obey – even if I didn’t fully agree with their reasoning or request. Why? Because, while I am a heretic in some things, I am first and foremost a believer and follower.

  14. I think both of those words are loaded. Heresy even more so. I’d just prefer to say it’s not true or incorrect. I understand that may very well be what heresy means, but language is more than a cold definition on a page. That word is loaded with history, and it’s a history that’s out of the LDS faith, and ironically, a history that itself was in apostasy from our perspective.

    I know it has been used in the past by various authorities… But it’s better to be as plain and clear as possible in our language when an alternative is perfectly usable. Not correct, contrary to the teachings of the brethren, etc. certainly works pretty well without having to call someone a heretic (which does have the contation of making a person sound either an insane lunatic or they should be burned at the stake and ostracized).

    I realize you’re not saying this. But I also realize that plenty of Christians like to claim we’re not Christian and use the same technicalities in describing why their choice of word is appropriate and when they say “cult” they don’t mean “goat sacrificing satanists”.

  15. Ditto to the Authority clause.

    As a fellow member I believe my response to “heretical blog posts is “I believe this is not doctrinal; This is what I believe; I believe this is a misinterpretation of the prophet’s words.” Gentleness, persuasion, love unfeigned, all the stuff in D&C 121.

    I believe I exercise unrighteous dominion by asserting that “This is wrong. This is the correct interpretation,” or exert any other form of power or influence on the basis of priesthood authority.

    PS. I believe you are correct in identifying these beliefs as heretical.

  16. Rameumpton, I’m interpreting your comment as being largely in agreement with my article, since I find little disagreement with your comment. Am I right?

    For me, the most defining line between heresy and apostasy is going public and preaching the heresy in public venues.

    Now, the world of blogging is a nuanced, complicated place with lots of gray areas. I included blogging in this article as having a *potential* for apostasy, because when you have hundreds of readers and are a respected opinion leader, posting a bog post can be no different than publishing a book. It really depends on the kind of influence you are exerting over others.

  17. Kevin L.,

    What is the difference between, “I believe this is not doctrinal; This is what I believe; I believe this is a misinterpretation of the prophet’s words,” and, “This is wrong. This is the correct interpretation,” besides the fact that the latter is more blunt than the former? I agree that the former is a more tactful approach, but I don’t see the difference being so large that the latter is “unrighteous dominion.” Untactful, sure, but I so no exercise of dominion whatsoever in the second. Merely an assertion of fact, which is precisely what the former also is (albeit the former is more tactful).

  18. nate,

    In my experience it takes a very rare sort of mental flexibility to believe that the Church is true while simultaneously believing that significant portions of it’s doctrines, traditions and social mores are false. And while some people’s church membership might be saved by finding an outspoken unorthodox group they can fit in with many other people will find the clashing wold views espoused by those groups to be confusing and conclude that believing nothing is easier than trying to reconcile the dilemma they have been thrust into.

    This is especially true for the vast majority of everyday members who don’t have extensive groundings in rhetoric and logic. An argument that you could easily recognize as weak and fallacious might be overwhelming to a man with less academic experience. Many a strong and simple testimony has been destroyed by convincing a man that his testimony is not sufficient unless he can also logically justify every aspect of his religion to the most demanding of rhetorical foes.

    So I think that what feels like a liberating expression of faithful but unorthodox beliefs to one man can actually be a spiritually dangerous rhetorical trap to another. And figuring out how to fellowship unorthodox group A without putting faithful but easily intellectually confounded group B at risk is a real challenge.

  19. ldsphilosopher,

    The latter is not only less tactful. It implies an authority assumed. As I read D&C 121, I do not read unrighteous dominion to be unrighteous conduct leading or dominion leading others to unrighteousness. I read the Lord declaring that no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood. I don’t get to use a position of priesthood as leverage. Ever. Any time we attempt to use our stewardship as a substitute for persuasion, we engage in unrighteous dominion. As a priesthood leader I may be called to persuade, etc, etc. But using priesthood status (whether my own or another’s–even that of an apostle) as a point of influence qualifies as unrighteous dominion.

    I am reminded of the commentary that Christ taught not as the scribes (who quoted the prophets) but as one having authority. He took upon himself the responsibility to persuade with kindness, meekness, love unfeigned. I believe we are called to follow His example.

  20. I agree that the second approach is less tactful, less persuasive, and in the end less productive. But I fail to see where priesthood is invoked in any way. For example, here I go: Same-sex activity is immoral, and those who believe it is moral are wrong. The correct interpretation of Church doctrine is that same-sex activity is immoral.

    Where did I invoke priesthood anywhere in that blunt statement? Or invoke stewardship? I’m just confused as to how omitting the words “I believe” from the beginning of the sentence constitutes and invocation of priesthood stewardship. I agree that using the words “I believe” are more tactful, but I am just bewildered at why leaving them out somehow means I’m standing on my priesthood laurels instead (which I really don’t have, having no calling in the Church whatsoever right now). In such a statement, I don’t see an unstated assertion of authority — I see an unstated assertion of belief.

  21. I’m sorry I’m not more clear. I don’t mean to be contentious. I would state that my claim is not that you are standing on your own priesthood laurels, but on someone else’s. I think the best way to explain is to ask:

    By what authority do you declare that same-sex activity is immoral? You own personal moral code? If so why is your morality binding on me?

  22. First: the same thing applies if I add “I believe” to my sentence. The question still arises: on what basis do you form that belief? On what basis do you believe that I should also believe this? The same thing holds true whether I omit the words “I believe” or not.

    Second: I see nothing wrong with an appeal to prophetic authority. I see nothing wrong with the final answer being, “Because men we believe to be prophets say so, and the Spirit has confirmed to us that they do indeed have the authority to speak for God. That is why I am saying that you are wrong, and that ___ is true.” Now, I agree that we should try to be more persuasive, tactful, and gentle than that. But I do not think that this is, in itself, unrighteous dominion.

    Otherwise, your claim is tantamount to saying that we can’t ever appeal to the teachings of prophets as our authority — that we must *always* supplement our assertions of belief with logical or empirical evidence. Otherwise we are resting our arguments on the priesthood laurels of men like Thomas Monson and Dallin Oaks. To me, it sounds like quite a stretch to say that we can’t ever appeal to their authority when persuading others and asserting truths, and so I must reject that interpretation of the D&C.

  23. Well said. I usually feel very kindred with the things you write. I may not have so strongly emphasized our right to combat those engaging in apostasy (those who actively promote ideas in direct opposition to Church teachings/positions), as it sounded almost a bit defensive rather than encouraging; but maybe you’re just trying to respond to several people you’ve encountered who have claimed you do not have the right to defend the church’s positions. I agree, we do have the right to defend those revelations, positions, or instructions given to us by those in who hold authority to do so, and even a responsibility when it endangers members of the flock. Overall, great post.

    One sentence that seemed not to match the overall sentiment was, “Zion can certainly accommodate diversity on a lot of things — but not diversity that includes false and pernicious doctrines that lead us away from God’s teachings.” If it was changed to “…but not diversity that includes promoting false and…”, I think that better matches the overall message of the post.

    One interesting thing that I also think could add to the post, or maybe be the subject of a complimentary post, is why apostasy, or promoting teachings contrary to the Church’s declared position, is not a moral course of action when viewed from the paradigm of the Church. 1) From the Church’s position, the logical reasoning of man is not sufficient to understand what is actually true. Therefore, opposing the Church’s position on the basis of human reasoning, is implicitly undermining the doctrine that truth is spiritual and thus can only be ultimately be known by the Spirit through revelation. Why do these opposing individuals believe their human reasoning is sufficient to show that the Church is wrong in any of their given positions? And 2) If they believe they have received revelation that shows them the current position of the Church is not correct or complete, they are under strict command only to impart that knowledge inasmuch as it has already been freely granted unto the children of men (Alma 12:9); they are not in a rightful position of authority to reveal new doctrines of the church – the order of God is that new revelation to the church as a whole is to come through those in authorized positions to do so. It is likewise opposed to the order of the Priesthood to use this personal revelation to command those at their head (D&C 28:6). So either way, whether their opinion is contrary to the position of the church through human reasoning or revelation, both are inappropriate reasons to publicly oppose/contradict the teachings of our current prophets, seers, and revelators. This is why publicly opposing the church’s teachings/positions is immoral for members of the Church, and why such actions are rightfully considered apostasy.

  24. Nate, you wrote: “My own belief in the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction, does nothing to reduce my testimony of it as the word of God.”

    Ok; but it may reduce the testimony of your children. Children tend to make simplified deductions (that is, *deducing*, not in the sense of nsubtracting) from their parents’ beliefs and actions. Things tend to evolve or devolve over generations if there is not some over-arching guidance, ala “iron rod”.

    Have you heard the story about the parents who disparaged their bishop at the kitchen table, and the attitudes that that engendered in their children caused the children to go inactive?

    Or maybe it’s like the parents who live their religion on Sunday but not the rest of the week. One may very reasonably argue that living one’s religion one day a week is better than not living it at all. And of course such parents are welcome in church on Sunday. But their children see it as the other six days outweighing the one, and make their decisions accordingly.

    You seem to be saying “Those things didn’t really happen, but it has nice teachings which I ascribe to and try to live”. One logical extrapolation or deduction from that would be “well, if its not true, why bother?” *That* would be then likely (IMO) take-away by the children of parents who taught “It’s nice, but those things didn’t actually happen in real life.”

    Another way of presenting the generational transition that I see in this, is via dynamic analysis, ie, “what direction is this going? and what are the next likely steps in the same direction?” IE, what is going to be the evolution or follow-on to the “inspired fiction” meme by the children of those who subscribe to it and pass it on?

  25. SteveF: I changed the sentence to reflect that. Thanks. You are right that it is better phrased that way.

    And you guessed correctly. We have encountered a number of individuals in the bloggersphere who seem to think that we are “stifling free speech” or “stepping outside our authority” when we call them to task for promoting ideas that are directly contradicting established, current Church teachings. Some have argued that we aren’t valuing the diversity of opinions that make up the Church, which include opinions that are contrary to those the leaders of the Church. They’ll usually rationalize it by saying that the Church’s doctrines on sexuality are the “opinions” of one or two (or maybe three) apostles, and not actually binding Church doctrine.

  26. I think I agree with the idea that declaring an action apostate is the right of the Church. Since apostasy is an action against the Church, and not against any one individual, it may not be an individual member’s right to label another individual’s action as apostasy, until that declaration has been made by the Church first.

    I think you can say, “What you are teaching is in opposition to the declared position of the Church” and therefore “I believe what you are doing is wrong/immoral, and may be detrimental to others who read/see/hear it”. So it may be more correct instead of making a definitive or declarative statement labeling the action as apostasy, to rather say: “it seems…”, “it appears…”, or “I believe… you are engaging in apostasy”. Then it is left to the Church, through a high counsel, or those in a rightful position of authority to speak for the Church, to declare if and in fact apostasy has been committed against the Church. A sin against the Church may more rightfully be ultimately declared a sin by the church.

  27. @ldsphilosopher. That’s unfortunate. Keep up the good work, I appreciate your willingness to defend the faith and the rights and authority of the Priesthood.

  28. Nate, Bookslinger’s comment reminds me of a talk by Elder Holland:

    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2003/04/a-prayer-for-the-children?lang=eng

    I would encourage you to read it (or watch it), and return and report. We’d love to hear your response to it. But if you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s a relevant quote:

    Well, never mind. The whole thing is a relevant quote. A directly relevant quote. I can’t speak for him, nor can I speak for you, but I personally feel like he is directly speaking to people in your very position.

  29. SteveF:

    You may be right. It’s probably better to say “I believe …” and “It seems to me …” etc. rather than making any definitive statements. And I think that in practice, that’s all I’ll ever do.

    But I also think we are using words slightly differently. A high council is called when an individual’s church membership is being called into question — that is, when the actions of an individual are severe enough to at least call into question their continued right to be members of the Church. That can only be determined by authorities of the Church. If that is what we mean by apostasy, then certainly no one without stewardship should ever even venture such a judgment.

    I’m specifically defining and using the term “apostasy” here to mean something broader than that, however. Someone can be engaging in apostasy without ever reaching that point. As I’m using the term here, the measures are *mostly* pretty objective and easy to discern. For example, while I can’t make any final judgments about anyone’s soul, I feel like I can confidently say, at times, “X person is engaging in sin.” That’s pretty clear at times, since the metrics are sometimes pretty objective.

    Sin is offense against God and His commandments — but does this then mean that we can never know if others are committing sin? Does this then mean God and God alone can make that judgment? No — what it means is that God and God alone can judge the eternal destiny of the individual’s soul. We can confidently claim that a person who is fornicating is sinning, but we can have no confidence whatsoever about whether that person will be in the Celestial kingdom. So even though sin is offense against God, we can at times know and say when others are sinning, even if we know nothing about the final state of their souls.

    I think something comparable can be said about apostasy. Apostasy can be described as a wrong against the Church. But we can still at times confidently say that someone is engaging in apostasy (after all, publishing a book that says that prophets and apostles are misguided homophobes can certainly qualify), even though we can have no confidence whatsoever about what this means about the person’s Church membership. That is something that only a High Council can decide. Do you see the comparison?

    Which is precisely the entire point of my post: we must and should befriend and fellowship both the heretics and apostates among us as members of the Church, because it’s not our place to excommunicate them, either officially or by word and deed. So, as you read my post, you’ll see that this lack of stewardship to determine the state of someone’s membership is one of the core messages I’m trying to convey.

  30. It does seem we are viewing the word with just a slight variation. To me there are degrees of action that at a certain threshold becomes apostasy. Apostasy to me is willful rebellion. There may be some times when you can see that this threshold has been definitively passed, but I think it many instances there is a degree of uncertainty. Does the person really understand the position of the Church? And are they fully aware that their words/opinions being expressed are undermining the Church and its position, possibly endangering others? I think sometimes people may be ignorant of the position of the church, and/or maybe unwittingly undermining the church not having fully considered the consequences of a blog post, etc (although I agree that there are some people – who fully understand the Church’s position, and openly oppose, teach, and try to convince others to believe contrary beliefs – who do not belong in this category). That is why I am hesitant in many cases to declare that apostasy has been committed. To me if the threshold has been passed, and it can truly be termed apostasy under my definition, then the individual is worthy of and ought to be excommunicated.

    So in some instances, where the individual does these things in at least partial ignorance, when their Priesthood leader comes to them and advises them that their post(s), book(s), public sermon(s), or whatever are in direct opposition to the Church’s position thus potentially spiritually damaging to others and therefore they should stop that action and admit publicly that these things are not in accord with the teachings of the Church – at that moment I believe it becomes a test whether true apostasy has been committed. If they acknowledge the instruction from their Priesthood leader, and stop the action, and publicly denounce their teachings as not being in accord with the Church, then it seems it was rather a mistake made in earnest (not apostasy). But if after advisement, they continue in their actions, we can now see definitively that their actions are in open rebellion to the Church – and are therefore guilty of apostasy.

    So to me there are cases where people might be engaged in apostate-like actions, but might not be truly guilty of apostasy just yet. For me then, to really say that a specific individual is guilty of apostasy, and is therefore an apostate, takes a level of Church involvement before I am comfortable definitively giving them that label. I feel more comfortable with the Church making that decision first.

    I think this slight difference in our definitions doesn’t make much a practical difference however. I still think it is appropriate and maybe even important to call out fellow members when they are teaching things contrary to the Church’s positions or doctrine, and to express why publicly opposing the declared positions of the Church is wrong as a member and how such actions could damage others.

  31. LDSP and Bookslinger those are great points. I know Elder Hollands talk well, and I absolutely agree with it. Children are black and white creatures who cannot handle nuance. I love my calling in primary, and I always surprise myself at how flamingly orthodox I become in the presence of a child, even a teenager, who needs unswerving clarity of direction. I won’t even corrupt missionaries, whom I see as having a very orthodox mission from The Lord, and would never want to introduce some of my ideas to them. When I am with a child, I speak as a child, and when I am with a man who views things as a child, I speak as a child, but with other adults, who suffer from too much intellect and worldly knowledge, I put away childish things, and speak about a very different God, a God who encompaces contradiction, whose ways are far higher than our ways. But as I believe God inhabits, and communicates on multiple dimensions, and varies according to understanding, so I also aspire to communicate and inhabit multiple dimensions.

  32. So I guess in my definition of apostasy, I’m simply adding a couple qualifiers at the beginning of your definition: ” knowingly and willfully publicly contradicting God’s chosen representatives on central Church teachings, and attempting to persuade others to do the same.”

  33. I understand and can accept that you don’t see a difference between the two. My emotional and spiritual responses to the claim that “____ is true” vs “I hold ____ to be true because men I believe to be prophets say so, and the Spirit has confirmed to me that they do indeed have the authority to speak for God” are very distinct. One has the seal of personal testimony and is simply unarguable. The other not only implicitly invites refutation, it brings an air of pride and condescension.

    You stated that my argument seems to suggest we cannot appeal to authority and must support our ideas with logical or empirical evidence. I actually feel like I’m stating the exact opposite. When I assert statement as truth, I believe it requires a level of logical or empirical support. When I acknowledge that the basis for my statement is personal spiritual confirmation, that *has* to be sufficient. That *is* testimony.

    And that is why the authority of the Prophets and Apostles is so paramount. Because it comes from their personal, owned experience. They speak with the authority of *their* experience. One of the best ways that I can persuade others is to in fact appeal to the authority of their experience. I believe it makes all the difference that I am transparent in why I ascribe them authority, i.e. my personal spiritual experience.

  34. What a great post! You said so much that I have been trying to express in recent days and weeks. One of the things that bothered me most during conference was the effort to distort and twist the words of the apostles or put them in opposition to each other. A common refrain during talks was to suggest that the speaker was in contradiction with Elder Uchtdorf’s remarks. The apostles speak with one voice to all who wish to hear. There is a truth and all of the philosophies of men can not change that truth.

    I also agree with everything you wrote about how to deal with those who disagree. Wonderful article all around

  35. In reply to ldsphilosopher @10:22am:

    What I’m describing here, however, is a more limited sense of the term. I’m making this delineation to highlight where differing from established Church teachings moves from “tolerable” to “inappropriate.”

    This proposed continuum doesn’t make any sense to me. Differing from established church teachings (the absolute moral standard) is never ‘appropriate’ in a moral schema, is it? And what sins exclude us from being Christlike and loving towards others? The standard is the standard, and with the issues you’ve discussed in your post the lines are very clearly drawn.

    In my second sentence you quote, ‘all’ should be ‘any’. My point is not that apostasy is inscrutable, but that to accurately judge requires an intimate and macro view of an individual that we generally don’t have. It actually does butt up against the concept of judgment, and I simply don’t think that it’s our place to morally judge others at all. We need to judge potential courses of action for ourselves of course, but I think that applying any sort of moral label to another is wrong to do.

    Where are we taught in the gospel that we are to actively point out or label the wrong-doings of others? Even in an extreme case like killing another person when it seems like such an action would be *always* morally wrong (and thus be seemingly safe to cast a moral judgment on) we have the story of Nephi and Laban.

  36. I agree with the gist of your post, the fine points between heresy, apostacy and judging others notwithstanding. No one likes to be told they are wrong. The struggle I have in addressing controversial issues on blog posts is that I’ve never gotten the feeling that I’ve really ever changed someone’s mind, no matter how well intended my comment. It’s difficult enough to persuade through meekness and love unfeigned in person, much less over the internet. Therefore, I don’t put a lot of stock into the positions taken online. Many people “feel pain” over issues like SSM, female ordination, modesty, women’s issues, etc. My litmus test is this: when you’re feeling pain with respect to the principles and ordinances of the gospel, something is wrong. If you’re attending the temple and you “feel pain” over the very wording of the temple ordinances, you have a problem. If you nit pick everything a leaders says, if you can’t accept what leaders say (like the POTF), you have a problem. I agree there are many cultural things that should be challenged. I think the further you get from SLC, the easier it is not feel the social pressure that exists when you live in a predominantly LDS population. But when I read blogs where the author and commenters are boo-hooing and crying, I wonder: Am I being insensitive? Are they over reacting? Do they have some bit of mental illness? Another litmus test with respect to my feelings on a particular matter: would I be comfortable expressing my opinion from the pulpit of stake conference? If not, then maybe I need to re-visit my position. Maybe I need to study more, ponder more, pray more about the matter. I don’t understand everything, and I have questions like anyone else. But, I’ve never been let down by following that approach. The core principles and doctrine are always vindicated, as is my faith in the inspiration of my leaders.

  37. Since you mentioned Denver snuffer, are you merely repeating what others have said or have you come to a conclusion based on your own review and study and prayer. And do you have actual knowledge of what Denver snuffer has said on his speaking tour? Brother snuffer has had four lectures now, what was said in them that contradicts the teachings of the gospel?

  38. IDIAT, I am very saddened to report that those of us who spent (too much?) time on line like myself and LDSP know of many, many cases of people who have lost their testimony because of the many on-line complainers/questioners out there. What might start as an innocent question (why did it take the Church so long to give blacks the priesthood?) can easily snowball into a faith crisis if people do not know where to get positive answers and information. This is, frankly, one of the purposes of this blog: to provide a safe environment for people to discuss the Church where people are not going to get a lot of airtime trying to drag down the Church. Over the decade or so that I have been doing that, I can report that I have gotten many requests, either publicly or privately, for information on different issues, and I have tried the best I can to support the Church as much as possible. So, it is possible to help people return to activity and “change their minds.” But the first step is to avoid the internet sites that have a lot of people questioning the Church. Much of the information on such sites is either incomplete or misleading or cleverly disguised to promote doubts. That is my take anyway.

    One other point: I can tell you from the traffic reports on this site that there are many, many lurkers, in the hundreds and sometimes thousands every day, who read what is written but do not comment. You may be changing peoples’ minds and not even know it.

  39. Geoff B.
    I am one of those lurkers that you speak of. Since finding this blog a few months ago, I have appreciated its tone and faithful attitude. It has become depressing visiting other Mormon blogs and see the relentless criticism and negativity on so many issues. Not to mention the outright pride and “heresy” that this post addresses. Don’t know that I will comment very often, but I will continue to visit the site for some of the reasons you outlined.

  40. Two quotes come to mind as I read this thread.
    The first is from Frances Lee Menlove’s “The Challenge of Honesty,” published in Dialogue in 1966: “To the extent that the Mormon assumes the values and goals of secular society, to the extent that the radical and revolutionary gospel of Christ becomes indistinguishable from current social norms, Christianity becomes largely irrelevant and this irrelevance tends to dissipate the impetus for self-examination and to blur the issues relating to it. What I am pointing to is the fact that in some crucial areas, Mormons have ceased to remain in a state of tension with secular society. When living the gospel becomes synonymous with social progress or mental health, when the amassing of wealth or power becomes an acceptable goal, when the church as a group becomes irrelevant as a force for peace and human brotherhood, then the individual’s need to examine his own commitments to God and the church and the society in which he lives loses much of its urgency. If there are no real discrepancies or conflicts in these commitments, then there is no real need for agonizing self-examination.”
    The second is from Elder Lance Wickman, general counsel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and an emeritus general authority of the church: “Secular thinkers and advocacy groups now seek to portray (traditional) beliefs as little more than ignorant bigotry that must be denounced and banished from public settings and confined to purely private places. In other words, a new closet is being constructed for those with traditional religious values on sexuality.”

  41. Some definitions of heresy only require that a belief or custom be established before it is heresy to contradict them. However, the definition in use here assumes that public advocacy for a heresy is apostasy. My understanding of apostasy is that it requires an explicit renunciation of a religion, or, by extension, a core belief of the religion. (The public advocacy is sufficient but unnecessary. For example, you can request to be removed from church rolls because you don’t believe in it privately.) Thus I can’t be a heretic if I think it is okay for little girls to wear sleeveless sundresses since I can’t reasonably be considered apostate if I advocate it. Too often an isolated comment by a leader, a widely adopted custom, a cultural more, or a policy is elevated to the status of doctrine in the minds of members.

    IDIAT: I sometimes get impatient with the ‘I feel pain’ response as well. However, I recently spoke with a woman I respect in the waiting area of our temple. Her husband has served in stake and temple presidencies and they recently purchased an apartment near the temple (it’s a 1.2 hour drive) so that they can serve there full time as workers. We were discussing the plight of some single members or our ward who feel alienated. She mentioned how hard it is for single sisters to go through the initiatory. She said she will see tears come to their eyes at certain points due to the current wording. My husband and I both feel uncomfortable with the current wording though I don’t personally feel pain over it. Even though I feel some people are just complaining, I hope to stay open enough to hear people when they truly are in pain.

  42. Cowgirl – thanks for the insight. My wife has never mentioned being uncomfortable or anything else negative with respect to initiatory. Will be in the temple next week and will ask presidency if they will let me read the language, or will query her once inside where we can freely talk about temple things. I know several endowed single sisters, none of whom have ever mentioned any kind of problem with the wording in the initiatory. Wording in the endowment that causes some sisters pain, I am fully aware of. But the initiatory? That’s a new issue for me to bone up on.

  43. I think she mentioned the initiatory specifically because it’s the one where there is a sort of intimacy between the officiator and the one receiving. You are in close proximity and can clearly see each other during the ceremony. I imagine seeing how people feel during an endowment would be much more difficult.

  44. Several places in the Book of Mormon make mention that there are some heavenly facts, observations and words that are not lawful for man to speak or write, even though the writer in the Book of Mormon (Nephi, 3rd Nephi, Mormon, Bro of Jared, Ether, Moroni) saw those things themselves, or read the words of a previous prophet to _was_ authorized to write them, but was commanded to seal or re-seal them.

    Therefore the “apostasy test” must not only take into account whether something is true, but whether it has been authorized for publication.

    I’m reminded of George W. Pace who was publicly rebuked by Elder McConkie for, among other things, using the phrase “personal relationship with the Savior.” Use of that phrase was not part of the way the church worded or taught doctrine at the time, but was something Pace apparently borrowed from evangelical Christianity, which used it quite frequently.

    But lo-and-behold, President Hinckley made “personal relationship with the Savior” part of his vocabulary, using it several times in public, including at least once in a media interview (with Larry King, I think.)

    I used to think “personal relationship with the Savior” was an acceptable paraphrase of _at least part_ of how the church presents the Plan of Salvation. However, once an apostle says “No, we don’t want you using that phrase” (for whatever reason) then we “salute-and-get-in-line” and adjust accordingly.

    McConkie’s rebuke came at a time when missionaries were under command to give exact *word for word* memorized presentations of the lessons. Things have relaxed, and the instructions from the Brethren now say that missionaries and members can put gospel principles into their own words.

    Times change, things change, as have lots of other things both big and small in the church. That’s just part and parcel of a church and gospel based on _continual revelation_.

    If the Brethren want to “rein in” things, even things which may have a particle or even a large percentage, or even be totally true, that is in their prerogative as prophets, seers and revelators.

  45. Book, unfortunately Bruce R. McConkie was out of line, and incorrect with what he did.
    Please don’t say that he was right, no prophet has said what you have, you speak too much without authority.

  46. Denver Snuffer’s books and lectures essentially posit that the Church is in apostasy (as a result of Correlation and its effect of giving so much control to General Authorities over what information is given to regular members, a control that has been used to detrimental effect, he claims) and that though the Apostles likely have not seen Jesus Christ, he (Denver Snuffer) has and wishes only to lead the Church back onto the right path of the Restoration, from which it has erred.

  47. Denver Snuffer wanted to lead the Church? What was his plan to overthrow the current church government?

  48. It was presumably enough that he published books declaring the Church to be in Apostasy and was going on a lecture circuit preaching this theory for money.

  49. Hmm interesting

    Well I guess even Erza Taft Benson said the church was still under condemnation, I wonder what the difference between apostasy and condemnation is?

  50. h_nu, maybe BRM was wrong in his rebuke, but the Brethren did not reverse or contradict, or contra-whatever him.

    On the other point, what part(s) of my comment are you referring to in “no prophet has said what you said” ? Because in fact, (if the accounts that I read were correct, and if I’m remembering them correctly) GBH did tell BYU religion profs and CES teachers that they were to teach as church doctrine only that which the church currently authorized for teaching. A related quote of his was “If I don’t know it, you don’t know it.”

    The Holy Ghost teaches many things to many members, including things which are not in the manuals, not part of correlated material, or explicitly clear in the scriptures. That is part of “being taught from on high.” The prophets, from GBH going all the way back to JS have said that we are supposed to keep those things to ourselves, and not teach them to others unless the Brethren openly teach them, or they are in presently published/correlated material. They are to be treasured up by the individual receiving them, and held sacred. One of the prophets, I think it was BY, mentioned that keeping those things to oneself was a pre-requisite for receiving further tidbits.

    The reason behind this is that not everyone is ready for the same “advanced” lessons, and not in the same sequence even. But perhaps the main reason is that it would otherwise violate the order of the church and how the Lord operates. Anything that is supposed to go out to the whole church has to go through the Prophet and the Brethren.

    A “type” of this is the 2/3rds sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. One or more prophets have said that we’ll get the sealed portion after we, as a church, live up to what’s been given in the published portion.

    Apparently, the Lord has deemed that we, collectively, are not ready for that 2/3rd’s part. But the modern prophets have been clear that any rank-and-file member can, as an individual, and at a personal level, be “taught from on high” when they: a) are ready to receive further light and knowledge, b) seek/study/ask to receive further light and knowledge, c) _live up to_ that additional light and knowledge (ie, don’t sin against it) once they receive it, and d) don’t blab about it.

    I’m not trying to tie any of this directly to Snuffer. I haven’t read his stuff, and I don’t know why he was ex’ed. (All I’ve read is what has been mentioned in above comments.) I’m just sayin’ that if you do get information or teachings or whatever truths directly from the Holy Ghost, or angels, or the Lord himself, then you’re supposed to keep it to yourself, unless the GA’s are already promulgating that information.

  51. Book, some of your most recent comment I agree with, the other part I disagree with.

    I agree with you that my first comment wasn’t clear. In my first comment I was specifically disagreeing with the church sanctioning BRM actions WRT Glen Pace.

    But I was certainly unclear about the rest, I was not disagreeing with whether GBH ever endorsed the personal relationship theories.

    If you think the church has to officially repudiate everything done, said, or thought by an earlier leader of the church (which was wrong), you must think about the church far differently than I do. For instance, when the church removed the “Oath of Vengeance” from the temple endowment, it was simply removed, not repudiated. So I guess, using your logic, we should all agree with it, even though it’s not part of the endowment anymore… Using my logic, I’m able to say, gosh, It’s probably not the best thing to do to bear grudges and pray to God to avenge my enemies… I don’t know about you, but I am far more comfortable with my take than yours.

    BRM did a lot of things that were wrong. Please don’t mistake his brethren trying not to embarrass him with placing a stamp of approval on his behavior.

  52. I have a number of questions after reading this post, but I think they boil down to one question.

    Your definition of “apostate” and, to some extent, “heretic,” hinge on the phrase “true doctrine.” Is that a fair summary of your point? If I understand your post, a heretic is someone who believes something other than “true doctrine,” and an apostate is someone who tries to get others to believe in something other than “true doctrine.”

    So, my question: how do you define “true doctrine”?

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