Evil speaking

When pondering the Church’s recent handbook changes on same-sex marriage, the thing that has made me most distraught has been the public reaction of so many of our brothers and sisters. Modern-day prophets have outlined in hundreds of recent talks how the primary test of our generation will be whether people can follow Church leadership even when it is difficult. How quickly people seem to forget!

Elder Christofferson has made it abundantly clear that the Church’s recent changes in the handbook of instructions are inspired Church policy and in line with the Savior’s teachings.

Regarding the issue of same-sex relationships, Elder Christofferson said:

We’re not going to yield on our efforts to help people find what brings happiness, but we know sin does not. And so we’re going to stand firm there because we don’t want to mislead people. There’s no kindness in misdirecting people and leading them into any misunderstanding about what is true, what is right, what is wrong, what leads to Christ and what leads away from Christ.

If you read many Mormon blogs and other comments on social media these days, it is clear that many people are very quick to question the prophets. In fact, I have read a lot of unfortunate criticism of the prophets from people who should know better. Many of these people have gone through the endowment ceremony and made a covenant to avoid “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed.” I daresay some of these people are breaking their covenant. I would like to bring to their attention a talk from Elder Oaks that directly addresses this issue. There have been many attempts to prooftext the meaning of the phrase “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed.” These attempts to minimize the importance of this covenant get it exactly wrong. Elder Oaks makes is clear:

“Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities, general or local. Jude condemns those who ‘speak evil of dignities.’ (Jude 1:8.) Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true. As Elder George F. Richards, President of the Council of the Twelve, said in a conference address in April 1947,

“‘When we say anything bad about the leaders of the Church, whether true or false, we tend to impair their influence and their usefulness and are thus working against the Lord and his cause.’ (In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p. 24.)” (Address to Church Educational System teachers, Aug. 16, 1985.)

I would encourage readers to read the entire talk, but I would like to highlight many passages:

Does the commandment to avoid faultfinding and evil speaking apply to Church members’ destructive personal criticism of Church leaders? Of course it does. It applies to criticism of all Church leaders—local or general, male or female. In our relations with all of our Church leaders, we should follow the Apostle Paul’s direction: “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father.” (1 Tim. 5:1.)

Church leaders need this consideration, since the responsibilities of Church leadership include the correction of others. That function is not popular. As the Lamanite prophet Samuel taught, when a prophet comes among us and speaks of our iniquities, we are made angry. We call him a false prophet and “cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him.” (See Hel. 13:26.) But if a man comes among us and speaks flattering words about our behavior and tells us that it is all right to “walk after the pride of [our] own hearts … and do whatsoever [our] heart desire[s],” “we will not find fault with him.” (See Hel. 13:27, 28.) We will call him a prophet and reward him.

And there is this:

This modern revelation from the Doctrine and Covenants is to the same effect:

“Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.” (D&C 121:16.)

The counsel against speaking evil of Church leaders is not so much for the benefit of the leaders as it is for the spiritual well-being of members who are prone to murmur and find fault. The Church leaders I know are durable people. They made their way successfully in a world of unrestrained criticism before they received their current callings. They have no personal need for protection; they seek no personal immunities from criticism—constructive or destructive. They only seek to declare what they understand to be the word of the Lord to his people.

President David O. McKay said this about what he called “murmurers” and “faultfinders”:

“‘Speak not against the authorities.’ What does it mean? Be not a murmurer; that is what it means. It is one of the most poisonous things that can be introduced into the home of a Latter-day Saint—this murmuring against presidents of stakes, high councilors, Sunday School superintendents, etc. …

“Better stop murmuring and build. Remember that one of the worst means of tearing down an individual is slander. It is one of the most poisonous weapons that the evil one uses. Backbiting and evil speaking throw us into the class of malefactors rather than the class of benefactors.” (Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 142–43.)

President McKay’s teaching against speaking evil of others is a principle of Christian behavior that applies to all people. But his companion counsel against “murmuring” is a teaching that applies uniquely to Church members and Church leaders.

Government or corporate officials, who are elected directly or indirectly or appointed by majority vote, must expect that their performance will be subject to critical and public evaluations by their constituents. That is part of the process of informing those who have the right and power of selection or removal. The same is true of popularly elected officers in professional, community, and other private organizations. I suppose that the same is true even of church leaders who are selected by popular vote of members or their representative bodies. Consistent with gospel standards, these evaluations—though critical and public—should be constructive.

A different principle applies in our Church, where the selection of leaders is based on revelation, subject to the sustaining vote of the membership. In our system of Church government, evil speaking and criticism of leaders by members is always negative. Whether the criticism is true or not, as Elder George F. Richards explained, it tends to impair the leaders’ influence and usefulness, thus working against the Lord and his cause. (In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p. 24, quoted above.)

What could be more clear than Elder Oaks’ counsel?

Well, there is this from Joseph Smith:

“I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives.” (History of the Church, 3:385; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on July 2, 1839, in Montrose, Iowa; reported by Wilford Woodruff and Willard Richards).

When I see the many criticisms of Church leaders on social media these days, I feel deep sadness for the people who are evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed. I give you my testimony that the Church is led by inspired prophets today. I wish I could impart that testimony to others, but they need to discover or rediscover that truth themselves. I pray that they will.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

26 thoughts on “Evil speaking

  1. First condition for “always having His spirit” to be with us is receiving His servants. Rejecting His servants is rejecting the Holy Ghost.

  2. D&C 84:36 and 112:20 apply, with Matt. 10:40. We cannot receive the Savior without also receiving His servants — or in other words, we reject the Savior when we reject His servants. I am saddened by the shrill and strident voices in opposition by some who represent themselves as Latter-day Saints. Do we need an 1850’s style reformation?

  3. Great post. Fortunately, the average member is no where close to the disrespect that makes its way onto the bloggernacle.

  4. Geoff, You know I fully follow the Brethren. However, I think the biggest issue here was not necessarily the decisions made, but how they came to us. I think the biggest problems arise on these:

    1. The Church did not announce this directly to the members or the public. Instead, we all learned about it from the apostate John Dehlin, who received the info from some stake president/bishop somewhere. Everyone got his spin on it first. The Church’s response only came afterward.

    2. There are still several unanswered questions. For example, what if parents are divorced, with one active and faithful, while the other enters a gay marriage. What then for the children? If a child lives with her faithful and obedient parent, are we to tell her she cannot be baptized or go on a mission without First Presidency permission? Issues like this, left unanswered, leave the membership without any exact response to give to their friends and families, who may have questions.

    3. The Church has been more open on issues in the last few years than ever before. To learn about this from another source can leave many of us perplexed.. I believe Elder Christofferson when he says this was inspired. That said, a few short lines does not describe all details of what we should expect as members. How can I defend something that I do not fully understand or have answers for? Hopefully more guidance will come from the Church within the next week, clarifying certain points of policy.

  5. Rame, I think you need to consider that the number of people affected by this policy change is extremely small. It is basic common sense that the handbook cannot address every possible eventuality without being thousands of pages long. Those of us who approach this issue in good faith can easily imagine scenarios where individual bishops and stake presidents will be advocates for the very small number of people who might find themselves in the situation you describe in your number 2 above. I believe we should have the faith in our leadership to believe that things will work out in the long run, even if it involves further tweaking of policy in the years to come.

  6. At dinner the other night I suggested that the PR on this could have been handled better. My son-in-law countered, saying that to do so would have, in a way, presented the impression that the Church was doing this for the world.

    It was a handbook change. In the proper order of things the change would have emerged slowly as individual cases occurred. For example, how many people know that a member who has a sex change operation performed is to be disciplined? Or that someone who is not a member when they have a sex change operation can be baptized, but cannot obtain the priesthood or enter the temple? This has been in Handbook 1 since at least 1985, when I asked my mission president what to do about a man transformed into a woman I had talked with regarding the gospel. I am not someone with regular access to Handbook 1, so I don’t know how the current policy reads, but I suspect it hasn’t changed much.

    I suspect that if one of the two parents is now in a same sex relationship, the Bishop who has a stewardship regarding the situation will call the Church hotline and talk with someone about how the situation is to be handled. It seems likely that the initial position will be that the children will need to wait for baptism, etc., until they are no longer potentially a dependent of the individual who has committed to living in a same gender relationship.

    I agree this would be a potentially negative situation for the parent who has been divorced by the one who decided to commit to being in a same gender relationship. Alternately, the parent who had remained faithful could cast themselves upon the Lord and learn of Him, meanwhile asking for support from their local congregation to support them through the challenge they now faced.

    Mung beans grow better (stronger, greater, more pure) under pressure. Within reason, people also grow better when they are tried. Particularly, they thrive when they know what the boundaries are. In a world of shifting mores and folkways, a Church founded on an unshifting moral basis is not a bad thing.

    Going back to the parent who now finds themselves divorced while the other partner is off in a committed same sex relationship. Is it not perhaps a blessing to have the Church say “What your partner did is wrong in the eyes of God. In fact, it is so wrong that we take this matter exceptionally seriously. We love you and your children, and we will work with them to ensure that if they wish they will lose no blessings. But in the mean time, this need not be a source of painful contention between you and your former spouse.

    My friend, Pat Chiu, likes to say/sing “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord.” In it’s way, this is like manna in the desert or quail during a time of starvation. One can see it as a saving blessing, or complain that the manna is bland, or the quails are stringy.

    Which goes back to Geoff’s point.

    For the part of me that might worry about a Church leader “getting it wrong,” I remember the advice I got once, to love new ideas. Because if the new idea is a good idea, then you get the credit for helping advance it. If the new idea is a bad idea, then the badness of the idea will be exposed earlier, and it will get changed or discarded.

  7. Remember, Meg, this was leaked to the press. The Church was blindsided, basically. I’m sure they would have had a better PR campaign otherwise.

  8. As Ardis Parshall noted in her excellent post, the Church should not have expected the lay leaders to maintain confidentiality on the policy change. It’s the old “trust but verify” situation.

    As my son-in-law points out, crafting this to optimize positive PR might smack of pandering to certain groups. Given how divergent the LDS position is from “right thinking” moderns, I’m not sure trying to optimize this would be possible.

    The way it happened makes it very clear that there are rogue elements in the lower levels of Church governance.

    I’m reminded of something I once heard about one military academy. It was said that a substantial currency note could be left on the path in open view and it would remain there. No one would think of taking it.

    In the case of the updated policy, someone stole the metaphorical money.

    By the way, who was the brilliant person who “leaked” the footnote in the polygamy essays, the one that caused world-wide headlines in November 2014? That “leak” took months to occur.

  9. I love, love love the Ensign article by Elder Oaks from the 1980s. I had never read it in totality. There is so much wisdom in it. Thanks for encouraging me to read it

  10. A few clarifications, as it appears that some of the commenters have not closely read or understand the policy changes:
    1. If one parent is cohabitating or married to a member of the same sex, and a child lives with the other parent, the child cannot get baptized until legal age and other requirements are met.
    2. Bishops and other leaders cannot even seek permission for baptism, ordination, etc. until the child is of legal age.

    So, for example, if children haven’t seen their homosexual cohabitating father for years, they still cannot get baptized at age 8. They’re not eligible to receive special permission from the First Presidency for another ten years, when they turn 18.

  11. Tim, thanks for the clarifications. I have slightly edited my comment above. I still would make the same points, i.e.: 1)we are talking about a very, very small number of people involved and 2)we may see other tweaks to the policy in the coming years and 3)faith in the Lord’s church also involves having faith that our leaders are inspired and will make the right decisions.

  12. I am of the view that the Brethren knew perfectly well that the changes could, and probably would, be leaked; and concluded that there was basically no better course open to them than to have a forthright statement followed by an interview with an Apostle who apparently has a gay brother who attends church.

    Sometimes there are no perfect alternatives. Sometimes the best alternative is still pretty rotten. That’s pretty much my view on both the policy and the P.R.

    Declaring that gay marriage is apostacy is a welcome clarification of just where we stand. Requiring extra care in dealing with children involved in such families is perfectly sensible. The only heartache I have is that the policy, as presently written, seems to require the child to wait for ordinances even when the child has no contact whatsoever with the transgressing parent.

    But I’m guessing that last part is a case of a rotten alternative selected because all the other alternatives were even more rotten. My guess is that the perversion of our custodial laws and parental rights laws played a role.

  13. I am sure this policy was carved out of their vast administrative experiences with lower leadership (bishops, stake presidents, etc), with members around the world, and in lengthy discussions among themselves. Practically anything LGBT-related these days is a media hot-topic, and I’m sure they knew the firestorm that would result. I am thankful for Church leaders that do not and cannot capitulate to worldly standards and who, as His representatives and witnesses, seek the Lord’s will and wisdom in all things.

    Like most Church members, I never considered anything remotely like this, and clearly the Brethren have had to address this issue enough times to issue a policy. Is the policy perfect? No, but those who are quick to cry “Foul!” cannot have it both ways. They want to ensure a foothold in the Church while trifling with sacred things (ie. priesthood ordinances), which is what this policy seeks to prevent.

    I am also impressed with the sensitivity to reduce polarizing within families affected by LGBT. For instance, I do not support cochlear implants for young Deaf children who cannot decide for themselves. If a decision is withheld until they are mature enough to decide, then it is a non-polarizing issue (well, not completely..,) within the family. However, I have seen many examples of conflict and contention over the decision to implant or not. No sacred ordinances are involved, but it is an example that causes great family consternation. Better to wait until children are of age, despite any inconveniences or discomfort.

    After the firestorm has passed, I believe, in time, many people will come to see the wisdom of this policy, as LGBT issues continue to inevitably evolve and expand in our society.

  14. A Catholic colleague and I were discussing the change in church policy this morning. As a devout Catholic, he saw nothing overtly alarming or strange with the new approach. Because he is a project engineer and I am a chemical engineer, the conversation naturally progressed with an engineering bent.

    Part of my job designing chemical plants and refinery units includes coming up with piping specifications that are then executed by piping designers. Within the constraints of temperature, pressure and corrosivity, most types of pipes can convey just about anything. I can get hydrocarbon through stainless steel or carbon steel pipe. High corrosion allowance vs. low corrosion allowance matters little. Insulated vs. uninsulated: no biggie. Old somewhat rusted pipe vs. brand new pipe: sure. 150# class vs 300# class, why not? All will convey hydrocarbons. We understand implicitly that the pipe is not the fluid and the fluid is not the pipe.

    Because I can’t see what’s in the pipe, I have to use other means to infer what’s going on. I might put thermocouples in to determine the temperature. I may need a flow meter. Depending on whether or not I’m doing custody transfer, I might use a Coriolis meter or a turbine meter. Otherwise, a simple orifice plate would do. I certainly wouldn’t use a pressure gauge to tell me what the temperature of the material inside the pipe happened to be. The right tool for the right job.

    In addition there are errors in any instrument I use. Most of the time they’re small. Sometimes they’re big. In a unit with hundreds or thousands of individual instruments, I have to fall back to a mass balance, energy balance and first principles in order to figure out where the problem might lie. Every engineer has heard or experienced countless circumstances where something wasn’t labeled correctly, measured correctly or connected correctly. You go back to the things that have the most intrinsic accuracy and reliability and move forward.

    It seems that the people howling the loudest over the latest change seem to have forgotten that the pipe is not the fluid and the fluid not the pipe. Or, the spirit is not the body and the body is not the spirit. The purpose of the pipe is to convey the fluid so that it can be refined and processed. The purpose of the body is to convey the spirit so that the spirit can be refined. In the case of the fluid, the energy required to refine and process comes from heaters, pumps, compressors and heat exchangers. In the case of the spirit, the power to refine comes from the Atonement. In the case of the fluid, the pipe constrains it so that it goes where it needs to and does not break free. In the case of the spirit, the body frequently constrains the true expression of what lies within. In the case of the fluid, if you’re not careful the fluid tends to want to break free from its confines. In the case of the spirit, the body wants to excessively confine the spirit so the mortal flesh can do what we want it to. In both cases, we look at the outside to try and determine what’s going on inside. In the case of the process, we wisely say there is a difference between the outside appearance and the things happening within. In the case of the person, we rarely say the external shell defines the internal reality. Except in one case.

    If you ask someone whether or not the Father is responsible for the fact that a baby is born with crack problems, they will answer you in the negative. If you ask whether Down Syndrome babies have Down Syndrome spirits, they will say no, if you can avoid the fatuous accusations of hatred and homophobia. If you ask whether autistic children have autistic spirits and the answer will again be no. Yet somehow, SSA people always have SSA spirits and they are that way from all eternity to all eternity. We concurrently blame the Father too much and give the Adversary too much credit.

    One of the things I continually try to teach my sons is that life is pain. In life, what matters is not whether or not you are broken. We all are or will be. The point in life is how you will choose to respond to the breaking process. God can’t make us into what He wants us to be until we are first broken. If we choose to respond positively to Him, we progress. If we get angry and turn away during the breaking process, we fall. The scriptures are replete with this pattern, along with warnings about false prophets and teachers. There is a direct correlation between the degree to which someone promises salvation without sacrifice and the degree to which he or she is a false prophet or teacher. There is also a correlation between the degree to which someone proffers a path that concurrently gives pain and growth and the degree to which he or she is a true prophet or teacher. Trying to get back to the Father by following the influence of those such as John Dehlin is about as worthwhile as trying to measure mass flow with a ruler. You may come up with an answer of sorts, but it’s guaranteed to not take you anywhere.

    Not paying attention to the proper metrics in a refinery or other chemical unit has a high likelihood of getting you seriously injured or killed. I’ve got a big piece of shrapnel sitting on my dresser at home that was a gift from some board operators who knew better than I did and didn’t want to listen to the people who designed the unit and the equipment that was installed in it. 30 seconds the other way, and that shrapnel could have had a very different outcome. In my case, I was fortunate to have walked behind a large piece of process equipment that took most of the heat. Metaphorically speaking. We are all going to face the potential for shrapnel and this life. Pay attention to the Designer of the system and you have a good chance of surviving, if not this life, in the eternities. Pay attention to John Dehlin and his ilk and you’re likely to find yourself looking for a gas leak with a Bic lighter.

  15. I love engineering metaphors, although I don’t always understand them. My ward is filled with engineers, and they are uniformly good, kind people with firm testimonies and hearts set on serving the Lord.

  16. A good post and I enjoyed reading the comments.

    Meg mentioned there were rogue elements in lower levels of church governance. This is an issue I am concerned with- how to be loyal to the prophets, while still respecting the authority of those who may be rogue? This is problematic for me.

  17. All are children of God. Even though there are rogue elements, if you will, they are good individuals. They might have snuck a copy of the handbook to a person they trust, who happens to be an excommunicated, but they will still largely preside in righteousness.

    And if they don’t, they can be released without anyone being the wiser as to why, since people get released all the time for no particular reason at all. Many of my favorite bishops were released and then assigned to something “modest” like teaching the young children.

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