Bigots and Fanatics

In the most recent conference, Elder Oaks said:

“today, when [followers of Christ] hold out for right and wrong as they understand it, they are sometimes called bigots and fanatics.”

I expect that from the world.  What most depresses me is that too many of those calling Mormons bigots and fanatics are, well, other Mormons.

[I also find it interesting how Oaks and Packer have switched places recently among the more progressive set of Mormons].

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About Ivan Wolfe

Ivan Wolfe teaches rhetoric at Arizona State University. He has a PhD in English from the University of Texas - Austin, and a BA and MA in English (with minors in Classical Greek, Music, and Philosophy) from BYU. He has several credits on various Christmas albums aimed at the LDS market, several essays in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and various book reviews in academic and popular venues. He also competes in Scottish Highland Games and mud run/obstacle course races, and he can deadlit over double his bodyweight (his last PR was over 500 pounds). He is currently married to Lisa Renee Wolfe. He has six kids and four stepkids.

35 thoughts on “Bigots and Fanatics

  1. Which ones are the bigots and fanatics?

    The remedy to all the labeling/name-calling (uncivility) is not more finger-pointing. It’s patience and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, walking as he did, extending love and mercy to all.

  2. Also, a helpful first step for all of us is to do as Pres. Uchtdorf counseled and first ask, Lord, is it I?

  3. Absolutely true. Have I pointed the finger at anyone? Other than a very vague reference to “more progressive set” on a totally different point, I only intended a very general point.

    Are you claiming I lack the virtues you are extolling? (Of course I do – we all do, really). Does that make you a finger pointer? I’m not sure I get the gist of your post. I agree with the second half, but am unclear about the meaning behind the first part.

  4. I am suggesting it would help raise the level of discourse if we all modeled more Christlike love. And yes, I include myself.

  5. I’m hesitant to banter about things like ‘Christ-like love’ as a wide solution in the political realm like this in part because all too often its just being used as a weapon. I think Perpetual’s point is fine for self introspect. No, not just ‘fine’ but ‘essential.’ But I’m not sure it was all that useful a comment the way he actually said it.

    Instead, I would advocate tolerance — in the sense of actually disliking those you disagree with, but you tolerate them — as a more virtuous path than what most of us do most of the time. I’d be widely happy if we could just get there 20% of the time. So I’m not even going to try to shut down finger pointing for the moment. At least finger pointing is a decent place to start a discussion.

    For example, note that Perpetual said little that anyone could ever disagree with. Sure, of course we should all advocate Christ-like love. But did so in a context where immediately one’s mind assumes he’s implying the poster wasn’t using Christ-like love. (Indeed “not more finger pointing” might even be more than mere implication.) Yet since its only an inference (though precisely the one all human beings would assume) there is a pretty easy way to say ‘No, that’s not what I intended!”

    If Perpetual had simply said “Ivan is making the problem worse because he’s perpetuating the problem through finger pointing which I find to be unchrist-like” (assuming this is what he meant) it would have been more offensive to Ivan most likely, but at least we’d be able to stop talking in general terms and a real discussion could start about how to actually improve things. I’m advocating that. I don’t care if it offends Ivan so much — since frankly he was finger pointing. 🙂 So?

    I suspect its impossible to have any conversation without something that can be, from within some point of view, correctly labeled ‘finger pointing.’ So let’s finger point. Ivan’s right. Sometimes some Mormons call Mormons just trying to follow the Brethren “bigots and fanatics” for nothing more than following the Brethren. What are the ramifications of this. How widespread is it? Is it common to ‘liberal Mormons’ or just outliers? What does it mean for the Church if they are right? What does it mean for them if the Church is right? Discuss.

  6. Bruce, you’re right that some are labeled bigots and fanatics for trying to follow the Brethren. That goes for people who advocate for “traditional marriage” and “marriage equality.” (There are active, believing, Brethren-following Mormons on all sides of the issue, trying to live the gospel and follow the prophet as best they know how.)

    The ramifications of labeling and name-calling are that it fosters discord and hurts our trust in one another, among other negative effects. It is not informative, uplifting, edifying, or helpful, but I’m afraid it happens all too often across the political spectrum.

    We could improve the discussion by not using labels, finger-pointing, or otherwise using tactics that build up hedges between people. Ideally we would start from a place where we give one another the benefit of the doubt, recognize that we have different experiences/perspectives, and have our ultimate goal be to achieve greater understanding and unity above all.

  7. Ivan, I’m sorry if my original comment came across as accusatory. I don’t think you’re a bigot or fanatic, or anything of the sort. I was just worried that the comments to this post would head down a path of hand-wringing about the misguided “other” Mormons.

  8. From a personal stand point, I find the accusations from inside the church sting a whole lot more too.

  9. “[I also find it interesting how Oaks and Packer have switched places recently among the more progressive set of Mormons].”

    I believe this is due to the actuarial likelihood of Elder Oaks being the next President of the Church, or the one right after. He’s much younger (82) than his three seniors in the Twelve, all three of whom are now in their 90s (Pres. Packer 90, Elder Perry, 92, Elder Nelson, 90). Hence, Elder Oaks has many progressives losing sleep at night.

  10. I don’t think it’s realistic to think we can immediately like the people we strongly disagree with, especially in an on-line environment. So, asking for Christ-like love for all of your interlocutors is perhaps too much to ask (although this does not mean we cannot try). But I think all of us — and I really mean this — can find a way to tolerate people with whom we disagree. I continue to be amazed that so many people worry about what other people are writing at some other blog someplace. (Just for the record, M* has been around for almost 10 years and in that time we have had literally 40 to 50 (perhaps more) nasty stalkers who have spent hours upon hours of their time writing really hateful posts and comments about things that have been written on this blog). This is NOT tolerance.

    Tolerance would be polite disagreement or simply ignoring what other people write.

    As I say, I don’t think this is unattainable, and it should not be difficult for any Mormon with reasonable mental health to simply tolerate people expressing views with which he or she disagrees.

    So, returning to Ivan’s OP, yes, we have been called bigots and fanatics (and much, much worse) on this blog simply for expressing opinions and — get this — simply for defending modern-day prophets and the Church. And the worst of the stalkers are other Mormons.

    So, yes, Elder Oaks is on to something, and we see it take place on a regular basis on this blog.

  11. When we consider that we are all sons and daughters of God, and that each of us embraced the atonement of Christ as part of our decision to enter mortality, I’ve found that it becomes entirely possible to consider that I deeply, eternally love every fellow human who has been or is or will be on this earth.

    Come final judgement, I am sure that I will agree that some of my brothers and sisters ought not enter into the highest glory, but for each of these I will sorrow. When the scales have fallen from our eyes and we see as we are seen, I simply cannot imagine hating anyone.

    By way of clarity, however, I probably should mention that I don’t think loving someone is equivalent to giving them carte blanche to behave inappropriately while I”m forced to pretend nothing is amiss.

  12. From a certain perspective, I am reassured when some refer to me as “bigot and fanatic”. It is a sure indication that they have some small understanding of my adherence to inflexible moral standards, and unequivocal opposition to that which I know to be wrong.

    It can prove to be uncomfortable to learn how unpopular such ideals can be. The mocking from the great and spacious building has always had that effect.

  13. I am the only one of four siblings who has remained a believer. For more than sixty years I have tried to be civil and tolerant but since the death of my parents more than ten years ago I seldom associate with my sisters who routinely attack my most cherished beliefs. Recent events have added impetus to my desire to avoid them. I have been labled a bigot and a fanatic along with my faithful offspring for many years. I have tolerated incivility and rudeness but I avoid deliberately subjecting myself to abuse. I find my justification in the scriptures which all contain at least one major story of removing from abuse. Forgiveness is not an issue. I continue to pray for my siblings and their families and I have concern for them. Currently all of my descendants share my religious convictions although their political opinions are as varied as their personalities. After witnessing the rude behavior of some ex Mormons I have decided that if any of my offspring choose to leave the shelter of the Gospel and become militant about their new opinions I will treat it like I do smoking, drinking and various forms of sexual immorality. “Not under my roof!”

  14. One can disagree with a position or a comment without disparaging the individual who made the comment. That IS possible to do. However, when a person is frustrated, they sometimes (oft times) resort to personal attack out of the frustration of not being able to argue against a POV or opinion. While the opinion given may be based on false information or assumption, an opinion, however wrong-headed we may think it is, cannot be proven wrong.

    Hence the frustration.

  15. “[I also find it interesting how Oaks and Packer have switched places recently among the more progressive set of Mormons].

    Ivan, that through me for a loop. Did you mean “_according_ to the more progressive set of Mormons” ?

    As written, it literally says the two Elders’ places are among the most progressive set of Mormons.

  16. Jeff Spector, good point, but I think just about everybody knows the difference between polite disagreement and personal attacks. Polite disagreement: “So and so, you wrote this, but have you considered this?” or “I disagree because the writer is ignoring these scriptures and talks that contradict his/her POV.” In short, treat the writer as you would want to be treated.

    It is nice to see that lately we have a LOT more polite disagreement on M* than we have had over the years. It is literally painful to go back to 2005 or 2006 and read some of the threads back then filled with bile and hate.

    I agree with your point that most of the bile and hate is the product of frustration, but that is the source of most of the contention in the world, and one of our goals on Earth is to find ways to interact with those around us in ways that create less contention, not more. So, I return to my point (and I think Bruce’s point above) that it is not unreasonable that people show tolerance for those with other opinions, and that means either 1)polite disagreement or 2)simply ignoring opinions you disagree with.

  17. With all of this talk of Christ-like love, I think it’s also good to remember that Christ many times didn’t act like we picture a person who has Christ-like love would act. He was deliberately provocative and frequently pushed people to the point of wanting to kill Him.

    In His own words (Matthew 10:34-37):

    34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
    35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
    36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
    37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

  18. Perp wrote: ” (There are active, believing, Brethren-following Mormons on all sides of the issue, trying to live the gospel and follow the prophet as best they know how.)”

    One can _silently_ disagree with the Brethren while outwardly following the Brethren. But if one openly _advocates_ for an issue on the opposite side of the Brethren’s united, public, and official stance, then, according to the very definition of apostasy, they are not “Brethren-following.”

  19. Bookslinger: No, it’s intentional. I meant something like “the rhetorical function they serve among the more progressive set.”

    Everyone else: For the most part, good comments.

    I was somewhat inspired by a facebook discussion that went bad quickly (they pretty much all do, don’t they? – fb is not the place for constructive dialogue). All (or nearly all) the participants were Mormon, but one of them (A BYU professor, no less, who really should be more sensitive to ideas of good dialogue and avoiding straw men arguments) turned a discussion that had nothing to do with race into accusations of bigotry/racism (by a non sequitur about the Mark of Cain) and an accusation of fanaticism (self-appointed-orthodoxy-police). It was a near perfect example of what Oaks was talking about.

    As Joyce said, it hurts more when its fellow Mormons. I had high hopes about constructive dialogue back in the early days of the ‘Nacle, but eventually got worn down and driven out by the constant accusations of bigotry and fanaticism (I also don’t like accusations of apostasy, but I find those to be pretty much rare at sites like M*, despite what those in the bubbles of other blogs claim).

  20. Ivan, it is very sad to see how some people appear incapable of having polite discussions these days without resorting to personal attacks. As Jeff Spector says above, it is frustration, but one of our goals in life should be to control our frustration so we can get along with the people around us (or at least tolerate them).

  21. And you know what is really sad? I have almost 600 friends on Facebook, and the majority are not Mormon, and I have almost never had a mean-spirited argument with a non-Mormon even though I put forward all kinds of controversial viewpoints. (And my friends have all kinds of different beliefs). However, it appears, as Ivan points out, that some Mormons are literally incapable of having arguments without getting mean-spirited.

  22. I’m going to apologize in advance for any confusion that my comments may engender. It’s the first time I’ve put on paper an attempt to understand why we in the LDS church have difficulty relating to each other. From my possibly simplistic way of thinking about it, I believe that we are not all worshipping the same God.

    Ancient Hebrews had multiple names for God depending on how He was interacting with mankind. Jehovah is their name for God when he is dealing with us in a merciful fashion. In the first Sedra of the Torah, up until the time that He comes down and decides that he’s going to wipe out mankind in the flood, the name used is always Jehovah.

    When He gets annoyed enough with mankind to take action and execute judgment, the name used switches to Elohim. Once I understood this, the last part of the temple ceremony suddenly started to make sense. So the God we deal with when He decides mankind is too wicked and He’s going to flood the earth is Elohim. The God who nukes Sodom and Gomorrah is Elohim. One way it’s a little easier for me to think of it is to go to the sermon in Alma 42 and swap Elohim and justice and Jehovah and mercy.

    It appears to me that those on the progressive side of the church love Jehovah / mercy, but have little stomach for Elohim / justice. I can’t say I fully understand all of the reasons for this, but it appears that one of them is that Elohim requires that you suffer for your sins to the degree that you fully complete the repentance process. Only after you have had your own Gethsemane moment and come through the other side does Jehovah step in and pay the bill in full. Because many, if not most, of them have little stomach for human suffering, they reject that portion of the suffering that the violated law requires. Therefore they attempt to change the law to one degree or another to get rid of any suffering now or later. They love Jehovah, but they don’t seem to fully trust Him.

    Those on the conservative side of the fence appear to love Elohim perhaps a little more than they should and Jehovah a little less. I think there are at least as many reasons for this phenomena as there are for the liberal approach. Part of it may be the perceived abhorrence of sin and the difficulty of separating the sin from the sinner. There may also be a Pharisee/scribe/lawyer component of self-righteousness in some as well. That’s not to say that the left does not have its own component of self-righteousness as well.

    What’s interesting is the response of those on each side when they confront people with a differing point of view. The progressive elements in the church immediately flip over to an apparent love of Elohim (“lack of mercy”) for those who disagree with them because disagreement with them brings pain and suffering and pain and suffering must be avoided at all costs. Therefore, those who cause suffering must be evil and Elohim says we must shun evil. Based on what I’ve read in the ‘nacle, I’m of the opinion that there will be much rejoicing in certain quarters when Elder Packer, Elder Nelson and certain other undesirables leave the mortal coil.

    By contrast, the conservative side seems to go somewhat schizophrenic when dealing with progressive elements of the church. You’ve got a large cadre who make comments exulting over the excommunication of Kate Kelly. You’ve got another large group that seems to get involved in what appears to be excessive and inappropriate sympathy. Then there’s a final group, probably larger than the other two combined, who believe that the Lord can work it out in His own due time. They seem to be trying to find the proper balance between Elohim and Jehovah.

    At its core, the most extreme elements on each end of the spectrum reject that aspect of God that lies on the opposite end of the spectrum from them because it raises unpleasant issues that they appear to be unable to resolve given where they are in their spiritual development. At least until they encounter humans on the opposite end of the spectrum and then suddenly their god seems to occasionally be A.O.K.

    And in the meantime, we all still worship a God that frequently is at least partly one of our own making.

  23. Geoff B,

    I wonder, with some facetiousness, if it has to do with the fact that we can accept the “false God” of those outside the church because He will never have an appreciable impact on our lives or our eternity. But what if the “false God” worshipped in other areas of the ‘nacle does turn out to be the real God? Where does that leave me? This fear probably causes many to spend a good chunk of time trying install their own God, and their own “true prophet”, at the head of the church.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Catholics have similar problems. “Why is it that I can deal with those heathen Mormons without problems, but these miserable filth that want to keep nuns in habits are so obstreperous?”

  24. “And you know what is really sad? I have almost 600 friends on Facebook, and the majority are not Mormon, and I have almost never had a mean-spirited argument with a non-Mormon even though I put forward all kinds of controversial viewpoints. (And my friends have all kinds of different beliefs). However, it appears, as Ivan points out, that some Mormons are literally incapable of having arguments without getting mean-spirited.”

    We hurt most those we are closest to. That is why hurt from a family member, a ward-family member or lds-family member hurts more than those we have less association with.

  25. …Make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters; in the months and years ahead, events will require of each member that he or she decide whether or not he or she will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions…

    This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ.

    (Neil A. Maxwell, October 1978 BYU Devotional Address)

  26. I like spirited debate. I try to picture the other person as if we were sitting in church, on a pew, at the back of the chapel, about two feet apart, whispering our opinions in hushed tones. But I know both of us are thinking — “How can I kill this guy in the chapel and make it look like an accident — he needs to continue his gospel education in the next life.”

  27. Meg, I really liked your comment: “By way of clarity, however, I probably should mention that I don’t think loving someone is equivalent to giving them carte blanche to behave inappropriately while I”m forced to pretend nothing is amiss.”

    It’s tricky to deal with this within our membership and it seems to be growing due to the popular buzz phrases that include “Don’t judge me”, “How judgmental of you!” or “These micro aggressions are so offensive!” And so forth. Every single time I point out inappropriate false doctrine ever so nicely and carefully on a blog or Facebook post, I get barraged by members who say I’m so judgmental. Even when I only post quotes by Apostles. They hate it when their false doctrine or inappropriate believes that are mixed with world philosophies are pointed out by a quote by the Brethren. It’s like some suddenly develop extremely thin skin when someone testifies of the importance of following the Apostles and Prophets and using their words to explain why xyz behavior is inappropriate or against the commandments.

    Does this mean that within our own membership we’re forced to pretend that nothing is amiss? No. Do we give in by giving them carte blanche to keep on with false doctrine because we’re being labeled as “being judgmental” when we stick with the doctrine and words of apostles and prophets? No. But yet it is the catch phrase of modern society and playing the “we shouldn’t judge” card when it comes to false doctrine and apostasy is misguided.

    What is the solution when this happens within our membership? I’m seeing it more and more in the LDS blogging and social media community.

    This is probably why they all hated the awesome talk by Elder Robbins “Which Way Do You Stand?” 😉

  28. One of the things I used to do when I was originally involved in the Mormon online community back in the early 1990s was write so that I could honestly signed each post “Love, Meg.”

    I’m not sure I always do that these days, at least not explicitly. By after twenty some years it’s become somewhat of a habit.

    There is judging and then there is judging. Every time you make a meal selection, you are making a judgement. Every time you decide what to do with the next ten minutes of time, you are making a judgement.

    The judgement I think Christ condemned is declaring that person X can never be in heaven. We do this when we cease striving with someone, when we stop reaching out to them because we’ve given up hope, when we fail to do our family history because we’re so sure those individuals could never accept the gospel.

    Christ’s standard, I assert, is that we reach out to all mankind, that we never, never, never give up hope that each individual can return to God. This is why Christ had to be in the world, as we are in the world. But we cannot let the world take over, for the world doesn’t love, doesn’t hope, has no faith.

    As today is the day when we each stage our individual hunger strikes on behalf of our chosen causes, my daughter and I decided to forego food on behalf of those struggling with the Ebola outbreak. So we showed faith in a God that has taught us to fast, hope that He can help where we are powerless, and love for our brothers and sisters in pain on the other side of the world.

  29. I am reminded of the churchgoer telling his less religious neighbor about the service.

    “So what did your pastor preach about?”

    “Sin.”

    “What did he say?”

    “He’s against it.”

    We are all happy to tell anyone who will listen that we are against sin. The troubles come when we start getting a little more specific.

    And I don’t know any way around that. It’s no use preaching against sin if you don’t define your terms. And then you are immediately vulnerable to being accused of pointing fingers.

    And It’s no use preaching if it’s not against sin.

    And it’s no use not preaching.

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