A Matter of Conscience
In an earlier entry, I wrote about why history matters to those who investigate the claims of the LDS Church. I concluded that the history of the church matters to the extent that historical facts (actual history, not the whitewashed, “faith-promoting” version peddled by the LDS Church’s Correlation Committee) tend to establish that the church’s claims to exclusive divine inspiration and authority are spurious.
Ultimately, though, the history of the church figures only tangentially into my decision on whether to remain in the church or leave for pastures of a more verdant hue. I am not a member of Joseph Smith’s church. Or Brigham Young’s. I am certain that at the upcoming General Conference in April, there will be no talks expounding on the Adam-God doctrine or encouraging the members to “mercifully” spill the blood of heretics and apostates. It is not the historical “messes” that fuel my disaffection with Mormonism. Rather, my disaffection is fed by the expanding disparity between my personal values and a church whose doctrines, policies, and culture are diametrically opposed to those values.
I am a member of Gordon B. Hinckley’s church. It is the church’s current teachings to which my children are exposed in Primary and Seminary. It is the current church that demands 10% of my income and 100% of my “time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed [me], or with which he may bless [me], to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.”
My 96 Theses represent a variety of issues I have identified as problematic in the church, along with suggestions for improving things. Many of them, I admit, are minor. For example, I would not consider leaving the church over the way the church reports its statistics. At the same time, I am deeply troubled by some of the problems I see in the church, to the point where I question whether I can, in good conscience, maintain my affiliation with and membership in the church. Some ex-Mormons take the position that, as a matter of personal integrity, one who does not believe in the foundational truth claims of Mormonism should resign membership. I don’t think integrity demands that I discontinue my membership simply because I no longer believe some or all of the key doctrines. In that sense, I remain a New Order Mormon. I do think that integrity demands that I not profess to believe things I do not believe and to limit my participation in the church. For that reason, I did resign from my callings. But membership itself is a trickier proposition.
While I do not think integrity demands that I resign, I think morality might. Some of the church’s doctrines and policies so offend my personal notions of what is decent, fair, honest, and good that I don’t know if I can continue to lend my name to the organization.
In thinking about which of the issues I have with the church might be considered “deal breakers,” I have concluded that most of the things I have identified would fall outside that category. Thus, if the church were to adopt, say, 80 of the suggestions I have made in my 96 Theses, I could not say that I would be satisfied. It would depend on which 80 were adopted and which 16 were not. Considering things in this way has helped me identify my core values and where the church contradicts them.
First, I think it is important that I articulate my core values. Then, it will be easier to see how the LDS Church offends them. I have identified ten of my core values. Obviously, this is a short list of things I value, but to those who are familiar with Mormonism, it will become apparent fairly quickly why I am having issues with the church.
- I value the worth and dignity of every human being and consider all human beings equal regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, physical or mental infirmity, social status, national origin, or sexual orientation.
- I value individual conscience and freedom of personal expression in word, deed, and appearance.
- I value truth and the responsible search for truth, and I hold authority accountable to truth, not truth to authority.
- I value holding beliefs tentatively and subjecting them to revision in accordance with new light and knowledge responsibly obtained.
- I value science and reason and the quest for understanding the world in which I live.
- I value personal and institutional honesty, integrity, and authenticity.
- I value justice and mercy, the quest for a more just world, and the quest to understand and empathize with others.
- I value charity and love, the quest to alleviate suffering in the world, and the quest to inject compassion into human relationships and interactions.
- I value peace and the quest to create a safer, more tranquil world.
- I value life, appreciate the natural world, and seek to live with joy and enthusiasm.
I think that the LDS Church stands diametrically opposed to many, if not all, of the values I have just listed. It is for this reason, and not because of any historical issue, that I am feeling more and more like I have a moral imperative to dissociate myself from the LDS Church. Whether I do this through formal resignation or simply through diminishing my activity in the church to the most marginal of levels, I have not yet decided. In this post, I highlight just one of the ways in which the church stands opposed to my values: its stance on homosexuality.
The church’s teachings on homosexuality and its treatment of gays and lesbians stand in direct opposition to my values. The church teaches that homosexuality is, under all circumstances, sinful. It teaches that gays and lesbians are under the influence of Satan and need to repent. The church demands that homosexuals abstain not only from sexual activity but any public display of affection with someone of the same sex. Historically, and until very recently, the church sponsored “treatments” for homosexuals that amounted to physical torture. At least one member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has condoned violence against gays. The church continues to perpetuate myths about homosexuality that have been refuted by scientific research. Another Apostle recently suggested that parents of adult homosexual children are justified in declining to appear in public with them or introduce them to their friends. And the church actively promotes legislation aimed at denying gays and lesbians of full equality before the law and the church expends time and resources, and encourages its members, to oppose efforts to secure equal rights for homosexuals.
I believe that equal rights for gays is the civil-rights issue of our time. The LDS Church was wrong on slavery; it was wrong on desegregation; and it is wrong again as it opposes equality under the law for gays and lesbians. Its teachings are based on ignorance and fear, its past practices nothing short of despicable, and its current attitude regressive. Real people are being harmed every day by the church’s teachings and practices, and I am embarrassed to have my name associated with an organization that can only be accurately described as bigoted. If this were the only issue on which I found myself in disagreement with church teachings and policies, it would be of sufficient gravity to warrant my dissociation. Of course, it is not the only issue. I’ll cover some of the others in subsequent posts.Update: The LDS Church has published a new pamphlet designed, well, no one is really sure what it is designed to do, but the effect seems to have been further alienation and marginalization of gays and lesbians (to whom the church still can refer to only as "persons afflicted with same-sex attraction." The church is moving backwards on an issue on which the rest of the civilized world seems to be making at least incremental progress. For discussion of the pamphlet, see here and here and here and here.