The Rhetorical Burden of Authority

Authority is a key concept in Mormonism. Two really obvious ways in which this shows up are the concepts of priesthood and modern revelation. Priesthood suggests that certain people have the ability to do certain acts on behalf of God that other people do not have the authority to do. Modern revelation suggests that modern prophets have the authority to produce texts that should be added to the scriptural canon, which purports to offer us some sort of heightened understanding of God’s ways unavailable in other texts. In other words, authority matters within Mormonism; it is a central not a peripheral feature of Mormon theology.

It is also a deeply problematic concept for a liberal society. Liberalism suggests that authority comes from two sources only: reason and consent. In other words, the only legitimate basis for claiming that another must believe or do as you say is to offer a rational argument in defense of your position or else demonstrate some previous voluntary commitment to your position. Neither of these basis for authority work particularly well for justifying the sorts of claims that one finds within Mormonism. This is not to suggest that reason and consent are concepts that are somehow absent from Mormon thought and experience. Far from it. On the other hand, they simply do not provide an adequate account of Mormonism’s claims to authority. In particular, philosophical liberalism suggests that so long as attacks on authority are based on reason and do not involve coercion they cannot be illegitimate, and indeed may become obligatory. The result is that we have strong philosophical and social pressures to criticize authority where ever we find it, and this extends to Mormonism itself.

From within the context of liberalism, there is nothing wrong with criticizing Mormon authority. The question for a Mormon, however, must be not only whether or not criticism is justified as a citizen of a liberal polity, but also whether it is justified as a Mormon. Generally speaking, Mormons involved of vocal public criticism of the Church insist that they are not precluded by Church authority from doing so, or alternatively that Church authority over them in this case in illegitimate. In both cases their rhetorical stance pushes them towards a negative view of Mormon authority, defining it in either miniscule terms or else as illegitimate. The problem, of course, is that this raises a suspicion that the rhetorical stance is basically dishonest, and that in reality what is involve is a rejection of any Mormon claims to authority at all, save those that exist by virtue of the supposedly universal liberal warrants of reason or consent. In some cases, I think that this is actually true, and that the critic’s rhetorical stance is basically dishonest. However, in many — most — cases I do not think that this is the case. Nevertheless, I am frequently left scratching my head as to what to make of the criticism. How do I make sense of it in relation to Mormon claims of authority?

Which leads me to my suggestion: Any Mormon who wishes to offer vocal public criticisms of Mormon authority should explain not simply why Mormon authority doesn’t cover this situation or why it is illegitimate. They should also offer — or at least gesture meaningfully toward — an understanding of why Mormon authority works and where it does extend to. In other words, the burden is to show that the criticism amounts to more than a rejection of Mormon authority simpliciter.

76 comments for “The Rhetorical Burden of Authority

  1. Howie
    April 23, 2006 at 10:55 pm


  2. Kimball L. Hunt
    April 23, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    Wow! Brilliant.

    And actually no matter the context, a critic’s burden is to provide some model to more effectively replace what she criticizes?

  3. El Jefe
    April 24, 2006 at 12:22 am

    Well, our liberal society is not quite as you portray it. For example, our liberal society accepts the US Constitution as the authority, and our whole system of law is based on that founding document. Of course, it has been amended, and can be changed by interpretation, but the vast majority of Americans move throughout their lives acknowledging the primacy of the US Constitution as the basis for law and government.

    And if, within the classroom or in the halls of government, you choose to assert your right to say what you would like to say, the government will curtail your right to do so. So do not paint a picture of this idyllic liberal society, where anyone can challenge authority at any time, and have everything determined in the marketplace of free ideas. The US Constitution has its rules, and so does the kingdom of God.

  4. April 24, 2006 at 2:43 am

    Does the full view of LDS authority (to run the Church and Kingdom, as opposed to merely officiating in ordinances) recognize any limits on its own authority? In practical terms, I’d argue that Joseph and Brigham tended to exercise as much authority as they could get and weren’t really concerned with self-imposed limits. But on paper (at least publicly) it seems that the LDS view of authority recognizes the US Constitution, recognizes the right of all men and women to worship according to their conscience, recognizes that the Church is subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates; and believes in being honest. In the 20th century those statements are arguably a fair description of the mainstream view of LDS authority. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the sort of personal freedoms that are the essence of the liberal state? So maybe your distinction between how the liberal state and how the Church views things is overdrawn.

    If you agree those statements imply that the Church is endorsing something like the limits that the liberal state would impose on churches, that implies an endorsement of the personal rights that go with that view, such as rights of conscience and speech (as in “we believe in being honest”). And if honesty and conscience are universal values espoused by the Church, that implies some tolerance for good-faith dissenting views voiced by Mormons. So I don’t think those voicing dissent have to justify their actions or their right to speak — the public position of the Church (endorsing honesty and conscience) implicity recognizes that people will sometimes speak out in ways that appear to run counter to what is said by leaders.

  5. Mark Butler
    April 24, 2006 at 2:50 am

    I definitely support the idea that a critic carries the burden of presenting a balanced perspective as well as a realistic theory of how things might more successfully be done differently.

    However, that doesn’t mean that the “take it or leave it” perspective on religious authority is the only one available. For example one can certainly honor, obey, and sustain civil leaders while trying to persuade them of the benefits of alternative policies.

    The issue is not generally one of legitimacy per se, it is one of information flow. A private business, for example, is not a democracy, but successful businesses generally actively solicit input from all levels of the organization, foster debate regarding the most effective policies and procedures, and openly discuss alternatives and the relative pros and cons to each.

    For a variety of reasons (some definitely economic), the Church doesn’t operate that way. The general appearance is that the considerations governing the most trivial of policies and procedures is strictly on a need to know basis, input is decidely unwelcome, disclosure of the most trivial details is forbidden, and that anyone who expresses an opinion other than unwavering support of the status quo is on the verge of apostasy.

    The D&C ideal for a relationship with the Lord is to become trusted enough to be considered his friend. In other words, instead of “do this, do that, your salvation depends on it” ones relationship changes to something considerably more bilateral – as if your opinion actually counts, and the Lord will take it into due consideration in the furtherance of his administration.

    The Church on the other hand tends to give the impression that it doesn’t consider even active, faithful, and supportive members as its friends – more like unruly and untrustworthy children – resources to be exploited sometimes, but definitely not anyone whose input should be sought.

    This makes a great deal of sense when one is talking about fundamental doctrines. But the more insignificant the policy or procedure, the more ridiculous it seems. It is as if the Church operates solely under conditions of military exigency, and has no time to develop the civil accoutrements that characterize virtually every large organization in the world from General Motors to the Catholic Church.

  6. Mark IV
    April 24, 2006 at 6:35 am

    Nate, I think Mormonism itself is a little bit more ambivalent about authority than you allow for.

    Section 121 recognizes that there are illegitimate abuses of authority and even acknowledges that it happens in “almost all” cases.

    And I think there is something to the idea of consent in the exercise of power in the church. My impression of the recent advice about councils has been that leaders should try to achieve consensus before acting. And although it doesn’t happen often, the fact remains that a bishop will be released if the ward does not sustain him.

  7. April 24, 2006 at 7:12 am

    Mark IV and Dave: To say that authority is central is not to say that it is unlimited or that one cannot acknowledge its illegitimate uses. Indeed, my post presupposes that there are limits to authority, otherwise the only adquate account of authority would be to assert that it is without limits.

    As a historical matter, Dave vastly overstates the case with regard to both Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. To be sure, they made claims of authority that far exceeded the bounds of propriety for most 19th century Americans, but they certainly recognized limitations on their authority that were more than simply practical.

    Dave’s point about liberal rights is, I think, mistaken. If I understand it correctly, he is claiming that Mormon claims of authority are co-extensive with liberal claims of authority, so any claims to the contrary are illegitimate, abusive, etc. etc. This would satisfy any requirement to offer a theory of Mormon authority, but it would be a mistaken theory. The reason is that the Mormonism makes all sorts of claims that cannot be reduced to a matter of liberal rights. For example, Mormonism regards certain kinds of speech as blasphemous such that the saying of blasphemous things is wrong and constitutes either a sin or a denial of authority. Yet blasphemy is not a concept that one can make sense of in the terms of liberal philosophy. The best bet for the Mormonism-as-a-liberalism argument is not to deny that Mormon authority makes claims beyond those of the liberal polity, but rather to assert that all of its claims are based on consent via the idea of covenant. In other words, blasphemy is wrong not because it is some sort of extra-liberal authority but rather because we have promised not to blaspheme. I actually think that that there is a lot of merit to this approach. The problem comes in two directions. First, it is not entirely clear that covenants are the same thing as a liberal contracts. Second, it is not clear that our covenant formulas are sufficiently broad to say that Mormons meaningfully consent (in liberal terms) to all of the claims of authority over them that Mormonism makes. Now, one can understand this second problem as simply being evidence that Mormonism makes overweaning, illegitimate claims of authority. However, it might also mean that one simply has a defective theory of Mormon authority.

  8. DMS
    April 24, 2006 at 8:03 am

    So can you give me an example of what it might look like to criticize and then gesture toward a statement about how far authority extends?

    How about plural marriage? Latter-Day Saints today don’t really have to make a decision about it. What would your scenario look like for someone that lacked a testimony that plural marriage was a commandment from God and had the inkling to criticize leaders for practicing it – yet they would still articulate to what extent they felt that the prophets who taught it otherwise had authority? Would it be different for someone today to do this compared to someone actually living during the time the Saints practiced plural marriage?

    Can you give another example or expand on mine?

  9. Frank McIntyre
    April 24, 2006 at 8:20 am


    I agree that you’ve found an interesting way to think about dissent and authority. You are using the word “reason” in a way that is consistent with how many people use it, but I am still not sure how it can be usefully seperated from other ways of knowing something. I think of reason as taking me from assumptions A to conclusions B. But it does not provide me any way of knowing what assumptions A to start from. It can do that if I assume Z, which takes me to A. But that sounds like begging the question.

    So I am guessing that when people say that arguments in liberal society be based on reason, they mean not just the deductive following of assumptions to conclusions, but rather that there are certain assumptions that one is either allowed or supposed to be making, and from which one’s conclusions may follow. Other assumptions are considered illiberal (and therefore bad in some sense).

    Here’s an example: scientific inquiry into past behavior often uses some version of uniformatarianism to make things fly (the assumption that past laws governing things are in some sense the same as current ones). This assumption is considered to be reasonable and so is acceptable as the basis of deduction. The assumption has many nice features. For example, if you let people assume whatever they want about past laws, they can reach lots of crazy conclusions. This nice feature constrains the debate in a useful way, but since the assumption is only an assumption, you may be using these useful limits on what is reasonable in a way that exclude what is true.

    Which is the sense in which religion need not be reasonable even when it’s conclusions follow from its assumptions.

  10. DKL
    April 24, 2006 at 9:41 am

    Nate, I disagree with the way that you frame the issue. Given the fact that church ecclesiastical authority is, in fact, abused and often used in cavalier ways more expressive of arrogance than of anything related to the exercise of Godly power, the issue is accountability.

    In 1976, Ezra Benson equated “historical realism” with “slander and defamation” in a conference talk. IN 1989, Bruce McConkie said in a letter to Eugene England, “It is my province to teach to the Church what the doctrine is. It is your province to echo what I say or to remain silent.” Examples of these kinds of statements are everywhere, if you want to find them.

    More than just manifestly false, these kinds of statements are just arrogant, self-serving tripe, and we must lose no opportunity to say so. Indeed, Mormons who remain silent over these kinds of outrageous public statements foster the kind of environment where church leaders feel comfortable saying this kind of thing. Thus, keeping these kinds of secrets (or confidences) enables and encourages otherwise good men to overstep the bounds of righteous authority. Ultimately, this is far more harmful to their authority than any criticism offered by faithful saints.

  11. Frank McIntyre
    April 24, 2006 at 9:53 am

    And lo, DKL et al were given authority to watch over the leaders of the Church, to ensure that the leaders said nothing which was outside the “bounds of righteous authority”. And it was given unto DKL et al to know these bounds, and to know whether such overstepping was more or less harmful to the Church than criticism by its members. And thus DKL et al did regulate the affairs of the Church, and did watch over the Church, to ensure that there was no iniquity among its leaders.

    As Nate has pointed out, Dave, your view fits wonderfully into classical liberalism. But it does not fit so comfortably into the gospel.

  12. April 24, 2006 at 9:56 am

    “the issue is accountability”

    DKL: I don’t think that there is a single issue here. Nothing in my post is meant to suggest that authority cannot be abused or even that authority cannot be criticized. I am not trying to make any kind of claim about the harm that criticisms may cause. My concern is with trying to make sense of how one makes conceptual and rhetorical sense of criticizing authority. I have read lots of criticisms of Mormon authority over the years. Some, I think, are well taken and some are not. That is not the issue that I am interested in. Rather, I am interested in understanding how one might criticize an authority while still understanding it as authoritative. The problem arises when one offers a criticism that does not seem to make ANY sense out of authority. Furthermore, since I suspect that strictly speaking LDS authority is incoherent from within the paradigm of philosophical liberalism, criticisms that trade on the rhetoric of philosophical liberalism seem to have a burden of showing that they amount to more than a rejection per se of Mormon authority. (Note: There is nothing inconsistent with rejecting Mormon authority and simultaneously thinking that there are lots of things about Mormonism that are just nifty.)

    Put another way, you refer to a distinction between “arrogant, self-serving tripe” and “righteous authority” or “godly authority.” Even if I agree with everything else that you say, I am still puzzled by that distinction. You are a really, really, really, really smart guy. Help me with the puzzle.

  13. XON
    April 24, 2006 at 11:15 am

    I can’t help but reduce Nate’s argument down to, essentially, the sort of gotcha that makes the explicit recitation of venue in pleadings necessary (because , at the most technical level, if you don’t, the other side will use that to dismiss your case without getting to the merits.)

    The problem with your question is that it pre-figures the answer because religion, especially Momonism, is not philosophy. Assertions of liberality and illiberality are well and good when discussing the abstract, or considering alternatives. Religion is one variation of power. It operates in much the same manner as politics, war, and economics, which is to say that authority comes from the ability to carry one’s will into action. Philosophy is something different. (Not to say that there is not powerful philosophy, or that certain philosophies haven’t led to great historical events.) If it weren’t, we would have the Philosopher-Kings, and we would have no need to discuss these things, or even blog, from our everlasting Utopia. . .

    So, while it might be a good thing for a critic to remain silent until they have a ‘better way’, or to apologize in advance for offending anyone, (and I explicitly and profusely apologize if I’ve completely misunderstood Nate’s point,)it would also be equally thus for McConkie, or Benson (DKL’s #10), and the obligation would be likewise.

    Unfortunately, the difference between philosophy and power is that philosophy can de-legitimate that which does not follow the established rules. Power makes the rules, and until confronted by a greater power, needs not ‘assert venue’ or make pre-amble.

  14. Kimball L. Hunt
    April 24, 2006 at 11:41 am

    The McConkie “v” England paradigm seems self-evident to the whole “cavalier-Church” enterprise; if we’ve a sustaining by members of those set apart by those in authority, then those set apart are by definition given “province to teach to the Church what the doctrine is [while the laity’s] is to echo what [is said] or to remain silent”! If liberal society makes up a system wherein the public’s consent via democracy legitimizes civil authority, the cavalier-Church operates by members’ accepting the apparatus a undemocratically ecclesiatical sovereignty. And the only way to make this apparatus liberal would be to storm this ecclesistical bastille.

    If ‘de gurl’s ones ya likes, ya’s careful hows ya tells her ‘det hers skirt’s stucks in her underdrawers. And that’s the same way ya gotta act towards those ya accept as having cavalier ecclesiastical authority over you. Hence Nate Oman’s corollary ‘det ‘de concept of blashemy is a marker of non-liberality (the honorable senior senator from Utah’s proposed amendment banning the burning of our nation’s noble standard the contrary).

  15. DKL
    April 24, 2006 at 11:42 am

    Frank, If you’re saying that we should err on the side of cutting leaders some slack, then I agree. Indeed, we are faced with a continuum that has a large grey center rather than clear-cut boundaries. We might argue about the size of this grey area, but I know that you realize that this does not change the fact that there are rather obvious examples of action that are well outside of the grey area. To suppose otherwise is to be guilty of the slippery slope fallacy.

    But it’s funny that you use the term, “watch over the church.” That’s actually a duty that is given explicitly to all those who have been ordained to the office of deacon. Though I realize that it was an attempt at humor, if you substitute the term “deacon” for “DKL et al” for a part of your psuedo-scripture, then you’ve got something very close to actual scripture.

    Nate, what you’re asking for a normative distinction; viz., when we should and when we shouldn’t criticize authority. My answer is that it should be criticized when abused, and we should tend to play it safe when there are grey areas. When you ask what constitutes abuse, that’s probably best expressed by third parties that have spent some time trying to articulate this, like the Mormon Alliance.

    But “abusive” is a moral classification, so that argument isn’t ever really about the morals of the situation. What happens is that a common moral outlook is assumed, and the argument proceeds along one of two lines:

    First, the form in which we try to convince each other that some fact not being taken into account.
    Second, the form in which we try to show that each other that the outlook entails endorsing some activity that we’re sure cannot be endorsed.

    Aside from this, there is simply nothing to argue about when it comes to moral issues. Thus, on some level, all I can say is just that statements like the ones I site above by Ezra Benson and Bruce McConkie are quite obviously self-interested tripe. If you don’t agree, we can pursue one of the above two courses, but aside from that, we’ll just need to agree to disagree and each act according to our conscience.

    But as to why I think that criticism is necessary even in the Kingdom of God, that’s quite simple: Power without accountability cannot last. It is the very nature of accountability that it strengthens and legitimizes those who use power correctly.

    Nate: You are a really, really, really, really smart guy.

    You don’t have to say this. I’m going to like myself anyway. (But, geez, thanks. I mean, you’re pretty smart, too.)

  16. greenfrog
    April 24, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    …how one might criticize an authority while still understanding it as authoritative. The problem arises when one offers a criticism that does not seem to make ANY sense out of authority.

    I fear that the problem you identify is with the nature of the variety of authority, rather than the nature of criticism. That still may, as you suggest, indicate that the simultaneous criticism of and submission to the LDS Church’s authority is impossible.

    But to reach an “it’s impossible” conclusion, we have to have a pretty clear idea of what the authority of the LDS Church is. I read DKL’s comments to suggest that there are varying notions of exactly what the authority of the LDS Church is. You also suggested that you aren’t crazy about narrowly construed conceptions of authority. Those perspectives may be right (or conflicting), but whatever the “right” approach is to authority, it seems to me that without common ground regarding the proper nature of that authority, we can’t reach the question of whether a criticism may or may not be asserted from “within” the fabric of that authority.

    It may be instructive to examine an easy case for when criticism is offered from “within”: that occurs when the criticism is elicited by a Church leader. Though I’ve no contact with general leaders of the Church, in the local situations I have inhabited, on many occasions I’ve had leaders request feedback — What are we doing well? What are we doing poorly? Is X consistent with our principles? Is Y a practice we should continue? Stop?

    In response to these requests, criticism of a practice is, I think, well “within” the authoritative context presented by the LDS Church. Should such a situation be understood to be limited to those situations in which a specific leader has requested specific criticism from a specific person? Are there any situations in which such a request can be reasonably implied? I know that in the few and limited situations in which I have had authority for a particular function, I have welcomed criticism of my actions. In that sense, I think that I impliedly requested such criticism. I doubt that my general willingness is mirrored by all or at all levels. Is that a normative question or a factual one?

    Just some ideas….

  17. April 24, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    “I explicitly and profusely apologize if I’ve completely misunderstood Nate’s point.”

    I think that you have misunderstood my point.

    I am not saying that a critic must apologize for offending anyone (I am not offended by criticism). I am not saying that a critic must offer a better solution to that which they criticize (Sometimes it is best to simply say, “Hey! Here’s a problem; let’s think about this…”). Rather my point is how to make sense of a situation like this:

    Authority (A): As an authority, I say we should X.
    Critic (C): (1) I don’t deny A’s authority, but (2) I think X is evil and we ought not to X.

    I’m puzzled as to how C reconciles 1 and 2. I suspect that there are some who would assert 1 and 2 in order to make their appeal more rhetorically appealing to rubes like myself who subscribe to the notion of A’s authority, while in reality they simply deny 1. A related problem is that the conclusion of (2) (ie “we ought not to X”) may be logicaly inconsistent with (1). I actually don’t think this is necessarily the case because one can offer an argument about the limits of A’s authority. On the other hand, I am supicious of a certain circularity that says that A is an authority iff A claims things that I agree with already on non-A-related grounds.

    Hence, if C is going to make statements like this, I would appreciate it if they were to make clear — or at least suggest how they might make clear — what they mean by “A’s authority.” I am particularly interested in such an account of A’s authority in situations when — but for A’s authority — I am inclined to agree with 2. The reason for this is that I take the sine qua non of a claim to authority is that it purports to override beliefs like 2 in cases of statements like A’s. In other words, authority seems to be an important concept most particularlly in those cases where I am inclined to disagree with it’s purported claims. That is the time when I am MOST interested in a coherent account of its meaning and limits. Yet this seems to be precisely the point at which we are least likely to offer a coherent account of authority, falling back instead on rhetoric from philosophical liberalism that may render the entire conversation incoherent.

  18. April 24, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    greenfrog: I think that you have hit upon one of the main problems, ie making sense out of what is or is not authoritative. I agree with you that we need some sort of common ground and understanding to make sense of claims about the relationship of criticism to authority, but isn’t this a good reason for making one’s concept of authority more explicit, or at least acknowledging the difficulty of the problem involved?

  19. April 24, 2006 at 12:36 pm


    I’ve actually been thinking about this issue a good bit lately. If one simply interprets authority as a legitimate power and right to direct the affairs of the Church, a lot of the need to reconcile disagreement and authority goes away. In other words, if Gordon Hinckley is the prophet, this means that he decides the Church position on things and the buck stops with him in Church matters. This doesn’t mean that he has a monopoly on knowing what’s true or that he doesn’t err; rather, it means that nobody but him gets to decide what the Church has to say about a given issue (or that if multiple people have spoken, we defer to the position of GH as the position of the Church). In this sense, you acknowledge authority by saying “I know that my position is different than the Church’s position, but I think the Church is wrong because of X, Y, and Z”. You might be questioning GH’s claim to prophetic revelation, but not necessarily his authority. Does that make sense?

  20. April 24, 2006 at 12:43 pm

    Also, in our personal actions, we’re subject to GH’s authority in that he (or those who are in his chain of authority) are empowered to subject us to organizational discipline if he doesn’t like what we’re doing. For example: we go against his counsel to not drink coffee, we don’t get a temple recommend. He can even kick us out if he’s so inclined. We’ve accepted a sovereign over the organization, and he runs it (not us, not Sidney Rigdon, not anybody else but him and those whom he chooses). We’re free to disagree, but he’s free to punish us as he sees fit within the parameters that we and the civil law have established. This includes criticism. He’s not going to bother us for thinking bad thoughts or talking about them with our friends (or probably even on blogs). He might if we bring it up in Sunday School. It’s all about his decision. I think this is the best conceptualization of authority within the Church.

  21. Kimball L. Hunt
    April 24, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    I love this discussion. David K., in the cavalier church vs pure moral philosophy epitomized by your referencing Bruce v Eugene, the eternal power of words also must come to bear.

    If a diplomatic Voltaire can retire for a season to Geneva while a Rousseau’s whipped pillar to post, really it’s the latter’s words that in the end inflame the coming generations’ passions. Yet were such radical factions to seek to impose Deism in the place of the holy and catholic church, the masses would be sure to contra in re-revolution (and the ballet and operatic display of the interplay of such of religious and intellectual powers I think is best watched from a safe distance!)

  22. Frank McIntyre
    April 24, 2006 at 1:21 pm


    Yeah, I used it because it was a scriptural phrase. And as you may have noticed, that Deacon’s priesthood responsibility is well known to operate along lines of stewardship and jurisdiction. And I do recognize that there are abuses of authority. I admit that I am not convinced Elder McConkie telling Br. England to pipe down counts as one of those (although, I’d be perfectly willing to believe that if it was said by somebody with authority over Elder McConkie).

    Mostly I though it was funny to imagine how the Church would be if you or I were asked to “regulate all the affairs of the Church” as Alma did.

    Actually, “tragic” might be more apt than “funny”.

  23. Mike
    April 24, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    I’m a bit of a Liahona to say the least.

    I was the EQP many years ago. I asked one of these ramrod up his rear authority types (who was always telling me what to do) a question that shut him right up so fast:

    Does my quorum have to do everything I want them to do?

    (I was attempting to convince the stake to let me try and can home teaching all together, and put equal effort into some other half-baked ideas of mine)

    Three principles undermine Mormon authority.

    First and foremost- lay leadership. Elder Oaks says we don’t move up and down in this church we just move around. My calling as Stake Ancestral Dutch Oven Recipe Specialist has as much authority as his apostleship. Any one of us can be put in “authority.” What that means is we are suppose to figure out how to help people, not lord it over them. And what goes on at the ward almost always trumps what goes on at Salt lake. When you taste one of my morsels of hot food you will forget all about apostles and prophets, at least for a moment. Considering this, the Brethern in Salt Lake currently have been given by us amazing influence and it might not always be like it is now.

    Second, it’s about service. If you exercise authority over me in ways that threaten me, I will not allow you to serve me. We both loose. Amen to your Priesthood over me. You only have as much authority over me as I give you. If the Brethern are ever seen as not of usefulness to us because they are not serving us, see how long their authority lasts. Priesthood is more about service than government because we true Mormons govern ourselves. You really have no authority over me. None. Especially if I allow myself to lie to you, mighty church leader, because you deceive me. (In the sense that you are my brother but are acting like my father, or at least trying to.)

    Third, really a variation on the second, charity. If you don’t like me or visa versa then your religious authority goes- puff! Without charity religion doesn’t work. love is the first principle of heaven, not obedience which is not even an independent principle, but a means to an end.

    I love J. Golden Kimball’s remark: “If you follow your church leaders to hell, you will go to hell.” (with emphasis on you)

  24. Costanza
    April 24, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    What is interesting about the McConkie quote, at least to me, is that he failed to follow his own advice in relation to the President of the Church and the publication/re-publication of Mormon Doctrine (at least if Greg Prince’s bio of McKay is accurate).

  25. HP
    April 24, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    “IN 1989, Bruce McConkie said in a letter to Eugene England, “It is my province to teach to the Church what the doctrine is. It is your province to echo what I say or to remain silent.â€?”

    As Elder McConkie had been dead for four years as that point, I would think we would take this quote more seriously.

  26. Mark Butler
    April 24, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    This question is related to a classic theological issue – are God’s commands to be followed because they are good, or are God’s commands good because they are God’s?

    Or in this context – In the end, are Church policies to be honored because they are good, or are Church policies good because they are the policies of the Church?

    There appears to be a healthy contingent on both sides of the issue. However, even if one strictly takes the former position – it does not follow that one must advocate social upheaval, i.e. complete disregard of any policy one thinks is unfounded or ill advised. There are an enormous variety of strategies that can be adopted, – stoic acquiesence, leaving it in God’s hands to correct the problem, perfunctory compliance, giving feedback to direct superiors, writing treatises on the subject, establishing discussion groups, sowing discord and discontent, disparaging existing authority, and so on.

    However, practical experience has demonstrated that the Church has an extremely narrow theology of participation in matters like these – basically that if you sit on the appropriate council, your opinion counts, and that if you do not it is irrelevant. And that once a properly constituted council or authority has made its decision (no pretense of relevation necessary) it is as the voice of God to all inferior authorities. Sort of like a military command and control structure, with councils instead of individual officers in many cases.

    There is very little scriptural support for the idea that this is the way that it has to be. The closest example I can think of is in the Old Testament where the ground swallowed up those who did not respect Moses’ authority, among other similar incidents. Where is the scriptural or theological basis for the idea that the law of common consent is strictly a matter of yea / nay with respect to constituted authority?

    What about the scriptures about consecrated resources being administered according to both needs and wants? Isn’t that a dead letter if there is no recognized forum for those needs and wants to actually be expressed?

    Josepth Smith said that there should be give and take in the practice of consecrating properties, or the bishop would have more authority than a king. One hundred and sixty years later, isn’t that precisely the authority than many argue that every bishop has, and rightly so?

    For example, there is some semblance of due process with regard to excommunication or disfellowshipment. But apparently there are no checks or balances on the bishop’s authority (or apparently any of his superior’s authority) with regard to temple recommends. If somebody is denied one on a questionable basis, is there any right of appeal? Is the appeal likely to be taken seriously? Is there any theological basis for a higher authority to determine that a recommend was denied inappropriately? In practice, there is no possibility of due process at all – it doesn’t matter whether the bishop is a knave or a saint – his word is the voice of God on the matter.

    That is just one example of many where if the practice of the Church is to have any rational basis at all, as opposed to simply relying on a radically hierarchical version of the Divine Command Theory, reasonable people can differ about both the substance of church policies, and the means by which they are established, without necessarily rejecting the concept of ecclesiastical authority en toto.

  27. XON
    April 24, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    Sorry I’m chiming in late. Hard to get to the internet.

    Nate, thanks for giving my post arguably more consideration than it deserved. I think, though, that I might just stand by it in the face of your response; but not just for the sake of my customary ornrey wrong-headedness.

    Mark Butler says: “However, practical experience has demonstrated that the Church has an extremely narrow theology of participation in matters like these – basically that if you sit on the appropriate council, your opinion counts, and that if you do not it is irrelevant. And that once a properly constituted council or authority has made its decision (no pretense of relevation necessary) it is as the voice of God to all inferior authorities. Sort of like a military command and control structure, with councils instead of individual officers in many cases.

    There is very little scriptural support for the idea that this is the way that it has to be. . . .”

    I agree with him, and my point is that you’re saying that (C) doesn’t follow the rules (creates a paradox), when I’m saying that the answer to your question is whether or not (A) has the power to unilaterally dictate the rules to (C), or if there is a different mechanism from which (A) derives its authority. It’s really a re-posing of your previous authority questions (all of which I really appreciate, BTW). I read DKL as sort of taking on the issue of relative authority between (C) and (A), but of course, there will never be a resolution because the actual practice of church authority will always be compromised by Mike’s critique.

  28. DKL
    April 24, 2006 at 5:18 pm

    HP, good point. The year should have read 1980 rather than 1989. To my knowledge, Eugene England never purported to have heard from Bruce McConkie subsequent to his alleged death.

    Frank, the lines of stewardship were quite different then than they are now. For example, sustaining votes were not simply rubber stamps at that point, they were actually used to conduct church business.

    Moreover, England was an employee of BYU at the time, which gives Bruce McConkie more influence over his life than over the life of the average Mormon (since most mormons aren’t employed by the church or by church owned entities). If I ever had a boss or a leader in any volunteer organization that I participated in who said that to me, I’d resign right there. In my opinion, it is an irreparable breach of professionalism. Even allowing that apostles can’t be held to the (comparatively low) standards of professional conduct observed in western business, I’m inclined to say that I’m not interested in following a deity who desires his followers to abase themselves before his leaders by putting up with such treatment.

    Moreover, I’m not asking for control of anything at all, and if I were given any (which, as you well know, is highly unlikely–I’m not what you’d call “church leadership material”) I’d certainly expect to be held accountable for my actions.

    This bears on the issue of Abraham in some sense, and I must confess that I do not chalk it up to righteousness or obedience that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son. I accord it up to ignorance, and it troubles me that his behavior is used as a model. I look at it like this: When my daughter was 6, she asked if she could stay in the car while my wife and I went into the mall to run an errand. I jokingly told her that she could, provided that she stay in the trunk. When we got out of the car, she was prepared to get into the trunk (but of course, she went into the mall with us). This is not because she’s especially obedient–she’s not (though she’s not especially disobedient either–she’s got an agenda of her own just like any other human being with parents). It’s because she didn’t know any better. She’s now 9, and she simply would not do it now. If Abraham was willing to sacrifice his child, it was either because he was evil or because he was ignorant or because he was a nut-job–same as anyone who’d try to do it today. How many readers would stand up for someone who was caught trying to kill their own child (even if it were Gordon Hinckley or Thomas Monson)? Shoot, Abraham was willing to argue with God to save his nephew, but one word about sacrificing his son, and he marches straight up the mountain?

  29. Frank McIntyre
    April 24, 2006 at 5:44 pm


    The fact that your child trusts you (a fallen person) is not a particualrly good analogy for Abraham’s trust in God. But we can hash that out another day, rather than divert Nate’s interesting question about the rhetoric of dissent.

    Seeing your (almost certainly wrong) view on Abraham, your view on England and Elder McConkie seems reasonable. I mean, if you don’t even think God can tell you what to do all the time, why in the world would you defer your right to public dissent from somebody who was just an Apostle?!

  30. Dan Richards
    April 24, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    Mark Butler said–

    if you sit on the appropriate council, your opinion counts, and that if you do not it is irrelevant

    I don’t find this to be the case. I attend PEC each week, and our bishop is genuinely interested in what the ward members want. I imagine most bishops have that same interest. It’s simply impossible to have the entire ward attend PEC each week. I think that those who do attend are expected to represent the members of their organizations, and although they are obviously not elected representatives, there is a very democratic undercurrent in everything we do. I also think that a loose cannon bishop who denied temple recommends for non-standard reasons would get a stern talking-to if the stake president caught wind of it, and would quickly get himself released if he persisted. Maybe that’s just the sense I get from my own (remarkably liberal, open-minded) stake and ward, but I doubt it.

  31. DKL
    April 24, 2006 at 6:11 pm

    Frank, if you’d kill your son based on a revelation from God, then you’re a nut. If someone in your ward tried to kill their son based on a revelation from God, defending their revelatory powers would be only slightly less nutty. Abraham doesn’t get a free pass just because he lived thousands of years ago. Child sacrifice may well have been a moral blind spot for Abraham (the same way that slavery was for many founding fathers), but his willingness to sacrifice his son is a sign of that blind spot, not a sign of righteousness.

    Let’s say Mark Peterson had spent the last 5 years of his tenure as an apostle telling Mormons to kill their children. Would you object? I would. And in doing so, I’d be exercising the conscience that God is holding me accountable for using.

  32. DKL
    April 24, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    Mark Butler, I agree with Dan Richards. Everything that I’ve ever witnessed among my local leadership points to the fact that bishops do generally care a lot about members needs and opinions.

  33. Mark Butler
    April 24, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    Dan (#30), I agree that ward councils are often an exception, perhaps largely due to the close association of the council members with those they govern. However, the idea of the opinion of a member, no matter how well founded, counting at the general level is borderline unheard of. And when so much of practical significance is dictated from the general level (not just ecclesiastical leaders but their supporting staff organizations) to all units of the church, that is a considerable weakness.

    The particularly annoying matters are the ones with little or no doctrinal significance – things that have to be done in a certain way just because we say so – no theology, no rationale, no justification, no explanation – either our way or the highway (to hell).

  34. Mark Butler
    April 24, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    Or in other words, I would say that the very things that make the relationship between ward leaders and ward members so conciliatory are the ones that are completely missing from the relationship between the general leadership and the general membership of the Church.

    In most denominations, the “Church” refers to the collective membership, aka “the body of Christ”. I do not think it is an accident that in LDS contexts “the Church” more often refers to the organization located in a square block of downtown Salt Lake City than to the collective membership. The Church is not an “us” it is a “them”. An authorized “them” of course, but definitely a “them”. Few feel about their ward council that way.

  35. Adam Greenwood
    April 24, 2006 at 6:59 pm

    You’re certainly free to feel that Abraham was a nut, but as a Mormon I just don’t find that feeling of yours very interesting, absent some acknowledgment that God can make claims on us.

    Abraham claims God told him to kill his son. You feel confident that Abraham was mistaken (or, less nicely, deranged) on the basis of your conscience. It seems to me that you must believe one of the following:

    1. God has no claim on us. We do what is right according to our conscience and that is that.

    2. Your conscience and what God wants and thinks are so closely aligned that you can be sure God wouldn’t command something contrary to your conscience.

    3. God is conscience–its the light of Christ or the Holy Spirit or whatever. But though your conscience is almost certainly telling you not to sacrifice your children, I don’t see how you can be so certain that God didn’t tell Abraham to.

    4. Conscience trumps what God wants, because your access, indeed, everyone’s access, to the revelation of God’s will through the Spirit is murky and clouded by prejudice and desire, but your conscience (which would have to be something like your ethical reason?) is much more clear and reliable. So “what God wants” would have some claim on you, in that you would give it heed when you were otherwise in doubt about what to do.

    like you, I’m fairly convinced that authority has some claim on me and that authority will sometimes tell me to do things that are in conflict with my own reason. The ideal solution would be, as you point, some method for putting bounds on authority. But I cynically suspect that, practically speaking, everyone’s method for putting bounds on authority amounts to little more than saying, the boundaries of authority are where it conflicts with what I strongly think is right. This is because I see no way of coming up with a system for limiting authority other than (1) with reference to the statement of some authority or (2) with reference to what areas I think it would be right for an authority to be authoritative in. But neither one resolves the problem of conflict between reason and authority–its just removes it a level: if I accept #1, I am accepting that authority trumps my reason (and, incidentally, if I accept #1, I still seem bound to accept authority that is outside the limits imposed by the authority-limiting authority, unless I have some reason to view the authority-limiting authority as superior); if I accept #2, I am accepting that the claims of reason are superior to those of authority. There is no resolution of the conflict between authority and reason. The only stable positions are that I will do what God asks, no matter how mad, or I will only follow God to the extent what he asks suits me.

  36. Adam Greenwood
    April 24, 2006 at 7:03 pm

    Mark Butler,

    I have always thought of Salt Lake as an ‘us.’ I haven’t been personally consulted, but it wouldn’t be practical to do so. Your view is also reasonable, of course. I wonder whether emotional identification, or lack thereof, explains a good deal of the variance in the Bloggernacle.

  37. annegb
    April 24, 2006 at 7:12 pm

    I’ve always thought the Abraham/Isaac story was a crock. Not as much as other crocks, but it never washed with me. It doesn’t make sense with the way I believe God works. I wonder if that’s really the way it happened. I mean, didn’t Abraham fight off the priests who were going to sacrifice him?

  38. Mark Butler
    April 24, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Adam (#36),

    I agree that it is natural identify Salt Lake as an ‘us’ in many contexts – as soon as an unpopular policy comes down it tends to become a ‘them’, particularly because so many directives are delivered without rationale or explanation. This would presumably not be the case if everyday members felt that they were (or could be) participants in the decision making process.

    A comparable example is in a typical ward leadership meeting – it is very often the case that leaders will say “the Stake told us to do this, or this directive has come from the Stake, instead of defending the actual merits of the initiative in question. i.e. its from the Stake (not from us) so no point in debating the question.

  39. Mark Butler
    April 24, 2006 at 7:35 pm

    Abraham: I’m sorry, Isaac, I have to kill you.
    Isaac: Why?
    Abraham: God told me to.
    Isaac: Can we have a sustaining vote first?

  40. April 24, 2006 at 8:27 pm

    Adam: I actually think that DKL has rather muddied the issue by bringing in the story of Abraham. The questions that I find interesting are less about what to do when God himself commands that I do something that I think is wrong. Rather, I am more interested in making sense of what to do when some human authority says to do something that I think is wrong. On one hand, I think that any adequate theory of authority must generate at least some cases where I should follow authority even when I would otherwise come to a different conclusion. On the other hand, I certainly don’t think that we can substitute “human authority” for “God” in your final statement and say, “The only stable positions are that I will do what an authority asks, no matter how mad.”

    As for how to think about this question, I would suggest that we start by thinking about the authority of law, simply because it is a complex system in some ways analogous to ecclesiastical authority about whose authority a great deal of sophisticated thought has been done. You have to be careful or else the analogy falls into absurdity, but I do think that it is useful to start thinking about how you generate your understanding of legal boundaries, ie how do I know if some disputed proposition such as “restitution damages are never available for breach of contract where expectation damages are available” is or is not the law.

  41. S.
    April 24, 2006 at 8:32 pm

    Nate writes:

    “Authority (A): As an authority, I say we should X.
    Critic (C): (1) I don’t deny A’s authority, but (2) I think X is evil and we ought not to X.

    I’m puzzled as to how C reconciles 1 and 2.”

    Of course, much of the time the answer is that C doesn’t know how to reconcile 1 and 2. C is a conflicted soul. C wants to believe in A’s authority. But C can’t accept X and feels that it would be wrong to remain silent about it.

    If we interpreted Nate’s post as saying, “Shut up, C. We’re not going to listen to your griping about X until you explain how you reconcile 1 and 2,” then that would be terrible.

    C may have a legitimate point about X. C may be in genuine pain. We should treat C with respect and consider C’s complaints on their merits.

    A kinder interpretation of Nate’s post would be that Nate — for charitable reasons — is trying to learn more about what makes C tick and whether it is actually possible to do anything to make C happier. (Or will C be angry no matter what?)

    So then, C, I have a feeling you’re reading this post. This would be a good time to explain yourself. How do you reconcile 1 and 2? Are you conflicted? Or do you have an interesting new doctrine of fallible authority that you’re dying to explain? Either way, let’s hear your story.

  42. DKL
    April 24, 2006 at 9:23 pm

    Nate, the way I see it, we should understand the authority of LDS leaders the way that we understand the authority of a tutor or a piano teacher or a coach. I didn’t get this as the main thrust of your question at first.

    When you mentioned the law analogy and where it broke down, it reminded me of this cartoon.

  43. Adam Greenwood
    April 24, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    I don’t think Nate O. means either. He’s talking to C about what C needs to do if C wants not just love, sympathy, and listening, but to persuade.

    Nate Oman,

    On the other hand, I certainly don’t think that we can substitute “human authority� for “God� in your final statement and say, “The only stable positions are that I will do what an authority asks, no matter how mad.�

    So I’m thinking what difference introducing the element of human authority makes. Two, it seems: First, humans are fallible–but I actually don’t think this changes things from God being the authority much, because if prophets are perfect interpreter’s of God’s will, neither am I, so in either case you have some uncertainty about what God wants.
    Second, with human authorities you have the possibility of a higher authority (God) putting explicit limits on their authority. So is that your question? What limits has God put on prophetic authority?

  44. Mark Butler
    April 24, 2006 at 11:26 pm

    The ability of a leader to interpret God’s will, even perfectly interpret it, does not resolve the question. There is abundant scriptural evidence that God’s will is not so narrowly specified as to pre-decide every question of eccelesiastical administration. Or in other words there are no doubt a wide variety of alternatives that would meet with his approval.

    Given that the Lord does not command in all things, the question for a leader is would the Church operate more effectively casting an information gathering net as wide as possible, or by keeping as few people in “the loop” as possible?

    Proverbs 24:6 states that “in the multitude of counsellors there is safety”. That is certainly not the present practice.

    Another classic, perhaps more relevant scripture is D&C 28:13: “For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith”. Current practice reduces common consent in “all things” to a periodic vote of confidence where everyone is practically intimidated into voting one way.

    It is worth noting that D&C 28:13 is a logical extension of the verses in D&C 107 that explicitly state that the unanimous voice of the Twelve or of the Seventy is equal in authority to that of the First Presidency. In other words, the general membership of the church forms a quasi-quorum that is supposed to at a minimum have veto power with regard to all significant changes in church practices – not to command the leaders to the church to do this or do that, but to ratify each major change. Otherwise “all things” is a nullity.

    In practice, of course, the law of common consent has been reduced to a formality, more pointless than the average shareholders meeting – certainly with much less information – one where everyone has had drilled into their heads the proposition that dissent is disloyalty, and have been persuaded to trade their birthright for a pot of porridge.

  45. SL
    April 25, 2006 at 12:36 am

    What about being obedient to sometimes irrational things for the sake of “taking one for the team”? Maintainig unity and solidarity within the church is important enough to forgoe one’s private opinion no matter how well reasoned. There are a few policies or pronouncements that I find arbitrary or ridiculous. But it is more important to move forward with an imperfect policy or idea than try to arrive the “right” one through endless debate and criticism.

    This does fine with things like beards and dress codes, but it falls apart if the consequence of obedience, or lack thereof, is extremely significant (as in taking life, or taking an extra wife). But such cases are so rare as to hardly require theorizing. Nor do I think a theory can contain them. It is impossible to make complete sense of them removed from their contexts.

  46. Mark Butler
    April 25, 2006 at 1:26 am

    SL (#45) I agree that obedience to properly constituted authority is generally required even if only as a matter of social order, on the same principle as the eleventh article of faith and those enumerated in D&C 134. There are of course many further reasons as well – natural information asymmetry, the dis-economy of disruption, respect for volunteer service, simple faith in ones leaders, transitive confidence in their legitimacy as successors of Joseph Smith, and so on.

    To me the question revolves around not disregarding authority per se, as to the most effective and/or scripturally specified means by which an ecclesiastical body should be governed. To me it seems that the D&C lays out a pretty comprehensive, even liberal ideal of Church government that is not captured when people say the Church is a kingdom and not a democracy. I daresay God himself rules his dominion more through common consent and participation than by arbitrary decree (c.f. D&C 121:46).

  47. greenfrog
    April 25, 2006 at 8:34 am

    Nate Oman wrote: …I am more interested in making sense of what to do when some human authority says to do something that I think is wrong. On one hand, I think that any adequate theory of authority must generate at least some cases where I should follow authority even when I would otherwise come to a different conclusion. On the other hand, I certainly don’t think that we can substitute “human authorityâ€? for “Godâ€? in your final statement and say, “The only stable positions are that I will do what an authority asks, no matter how mad.â€?

    At its most fundamental: isn’t designation or acceptance of an “authority” an act embodying the conclusion that either (1) in a division of labor sense, someone else is more likely to have and provide the right answer to a question than I am able to do; or (2) individual perception of and action on right and wrong are irrelevant, as transcending such decision-making through submission/subjection/subjugation of individual will is a greater good; or (3) the authority is in a position to inflict harm on me if I do not conform to his/her/its demands?

    If (1) is correct, then whether and to what extent I should subject myself (or am in fact subject) to another’s authority is a function of my own acquired confidence in the other. I don’t mean to discount non-analytical ways of reaching conclusions, but if I work with a financial advisor, shouldn’t I examine both the quality of the guidance I receive, as well as the end products, and decide whether to place additional confidence (such as discretionary trading authority) in that person? Once I have developed a sufficient degree of confidence in my financial advisor, if she recommends that I invest a certain amount in hedge funds, I might do so, even though if I had to make that decision for myself, I would not, since I don’t fully understand the trading strategy of hedge funds. The analogous situation in a spiritual sense could lead me to accept and follow my religious leaders’ instructions even if I, based on my own analysis and information resources, would reach a different conclusion.

    If (2) is correct, then to the extent I believe (2) to be correct, subject myself to another’s direction. The quantum of obedience is identical to the quantum of belief or faith I hold.

    If (3) is correct, then I submit because I conclude (rightly or wrongly) that the disutility value(punishment multiplied by probability of incurring the punishment) for non-compliance is greater than the utility value of the non-compliant action.

    As for how to think about this question, I would suggest that we start by thinking about the authority of law, simply because it is a complex system in some ways analogous to ecclesiastical authority about whose authority a great deal of sophisticated thought has been done. You have to be careful or else the analogy falls into absurdity, but I do think that it is useful to start thinking about how you generate your understanding of legal boundaries, ie how do I know if some disputed proposition such as “restitution damages are never available for breach of contract where expectation damages are available� is or is not the law.

    I’m not sure that this framing actually helps answer the question. It seemed to me (as I’ve tried to outline above) that when you raise the question of “authority” and “individual,” you weren’t really talking about the rightness or wrongness of a particular objective description of reality or a particular normative description of intended action. Instead, you were asking a variety of Lenin’s point (Kto kvo? or “Who governs?”). Shifting the discussion focus to how to determine whether a particular statement of law is “authoritative” seems to me a significant shift in emphasis.

    Do I misunderstand your point?

  48. greenfrog
    April 25, 2006 at 8:52 am

    (Note to self: html boldfacing always seems like a good idea in drafting, but looks way overstated in print.)

  49. Mike
    April 27, 2006 at 10:43 am

    I have followed this discussion on authority with interest. Last night a timely event occurred that vividly demonstrates how authority works in the Mormon Church. It is sort of along story. You might want to skip this if you are more interested in theoretical than the practical considerations.

    About 4 years ago we visited another ward. The Bishop of that ward was so strange, very sweet and kind in an over-the-wall way. It struck me that he acted exactly like I imagined a child molester might act. I thought to myself, there is no way in hell I would let my then 11 year old daughter in a room alone with that guy. I was so glad I didn’t live in his ward. Then I realized I was just being judgmental and that he was probably a really nice person and just came across wrong. I am no stranger to being misjudged myself.

    But then it struck me like a lighting bolt from the sky; it is the guys you never suspect who are the most dangerous. My own bishop not excluded! I thought about it and talked to my wife and then a number of friends. I prayed about it. I recalled a handful of times women told me of irregularities associated with these interviews when I was younger. I compared what goes on in medical practice when young women have health problems of a private nature. They always have a nurse present. I came up with what I thought was a reasonable approach to the situation. I could not dictate church policy or even ward policy. But I could determine what was best for my own children.

    My wife and I agreed that our daughter would not be allowed to talk to middle aged men about their sexual behavior alone behind closed doors, even in the context of a personal interview with the Bishop. We require that an adult female be present. I would not dictate who the female would be; it could be the Bishop’s wife, an YW leader, a mother of another girl, her own mother or any other adult woman.

    One of my relatives told me that those classes in the YW were just like offices in the Priesthood and without the proper interviews my daughter would not be allowed to advance through the ranks. She would be stuck as a beehive or even a pre-beehive forever. I tried to imagine the scenario; a 24 year old girl presents herself to a Bishop for a temple marriage interview. The only problem is that she was not properly interviewed as a youth. They refuse her a temple marriage over this? It sounded ridiculous to me.

    Another idea is that the presence of a second person might make it more difficult for the Bishop to ferret out any sins. This idea does not withstand scrutiny. Police interrogators know it is an enormous advantage to have two. They play various games; the most common and perhaps the most effective is good cop-bad cop. A strict Bishop and a compassionate woman together would get more information out of a young girl than either one of them alone. In every case I am familiar with, where a young woman repents of a major transgression, the confession to the middle aged man who is the Bishop comes long after the desire to repent. It is much closer to the final steps than the initial. I think having a woman there would enhance, not inhibit this process and the determination of worthiness. I bet no controlled studies in a Mormon context have ever been conducted to answer this question, one way or another.

    We had a new Bishop and I should have brought it up with him first. But the Stake President was a friend and I had an opportunity to talk to him about this. He just waved it away with the statement that it is entirely up to the Bishop and not his concern. I approached the new Bishop and he asked me if it was like an emergency because he was really busy. Since it wasn’t we delayed discussion. This happened several times.

    Eventually it did become a little tempest in a teapot. One Sunday when I was at work, suddenly they had to interview all of the youth because they were going to do temple baptisms that week. My wife stood firm and told the Bishop that I would not allow him to interview my daughter alone. He insisted he must. She said; then our 12 year old daughter won’t be going to the temple this week. He said to wait while he asked the Stake President who wasn’t home at the moment. Finally after several hours of tension and conflict the Bishop agreed to interview the barely 12 year old with her mother in the room. I went and did the baptisms with them later that week. The water was cold and other adults didn’t want to get wet and I thought it was a wonderful experience.

    But the Bishop wouldn’t leave it alone. He called me in for several discussions and insisted he must interview her again alone. I refused to allow him to interview her at all. At one point I told him that if he really thought there was a problem he needed to notify the temple president that he had allowed a 12 year old into the temple without the proper interview and they would need to do the ordinances over. He didn’t think that was necessary and I agreed. So why is it a problem?

    This low key harassment ended one night when the Bishop called me in and seemed really serious about forcing me to allow him to interview my daughter “properly.� He told me that my stubbornness on this issue was causing him to start to believe the rumors that were floating around the ward that there was something inappropriate in my relationship with my daughter. He basically threatened to accuse me of some nebulous act of child abuse if I did not allow the private interview. I way dumbfounded. I wanted to smack him in the mouth.

    Instead I picked up the phone on his desk and handed it to him. He looked at me perplexed and said: What is this? I stood up and said firmly and loudly: Do you know, Bishop, what you are suppose to do if you even suspect someone is abusing their children? Do you even know? The laws of this state are very clear on this matter. You are to notify the police or some other authority. You can call your little hot line to Salt Lake and talk to the church attorneys if you want. But if you do not call the local authorities, then you are violating the laws of this state. This very mistake has already cost the church millions of dollars in more than one instance.

    Then I sat down and I said that if, on the other hand, you make a complaint without any basis in fact at all, what is that called? Lying? Gossiping? Backbiting? If you call the police, they will come and take my kids away from me until they find out I am innocent. And if you are just making this shit up, then I will file a complaint against you and take you to court for slander /libel. I just might get 10 years of my tithing back. It’s your decision, Bishop. Do the right thing.

    He looked scared and timidly said, “Can we pretend this conversation never took place?� I said: Yes, that is fine with me. I do think you owe me an apology. He didn’t offer one, but he just stood up and opened the door and perfunctorily thanked me for coming to see him. After that he stopped harassing me. I really think he was following some bad advice from someone who thought he could intimidate me by making these accusations.

    A year later he interviewed my daughter with her mother present. Later he used this as an example in the course of some other discussions about our lame scouting program that he was a flexible and compassionate Bishop and tried to see both sides of the picture. I felt satisfied that I had helped him be a better Bishop in some small way that might save him a heap of trouble in the future. But he also “forgot� to interview her when she turned 14 and again at age 15. She was allowed to do the temple baptisms without any interview at all.

    That brings us up to the events of last night. Two guys from the Stake were there, I think the two counselors to the Stake President. The Bishop and the Stake guys both had to interview all the youth during their joint activity. The activity was a game and the interviews were highly disruptive of it. My daughter told the Bishop that she was not allowed to be interviewed alone and he said that since the Stake was here now it was different. One of the adult women actually took her by the arm and gently pulled her into the room and left her. She can be a little tiger and they are lucky she didn’t fight back. But she just sat there and sent messages on her phone and I can only image her expression; the way teenagers can look off into space and communicate to you that they are not engaged. She dodged the second interview completely. All of the little girls have cell phones so she spent the rest of the evening disrupting these interviews with constant calls and messages to the girls during their interviews.

    I was not pleased to say the least. Rather than engage in another long conflict, my wife simply called the police last night. The detective asked if it was an emergency and we said no. He said that he will look into it tomorrow, which is today. The school where my daughter attends has several police stationed there and one of them who more or less knows the kids will interview her during lunch at school today. The Bishop will get a call right about now, I imagine, from a detective and he will be asked to explain his actions. I have a friend who works for the police and a favorite tactic is that they take you out and buy you lunch to soften you up first. I believe it is against the law for a middle aged man to pull a 15 year old girl into a room and against her will and the expressed will of her parents to ask her personal questions. I think that church leaders might keep this in mind; they should never do anything that they would not be ashamed or afraid of telling the police about or reading about in the newspaper or on the internet.

    I hope that the police decide to not press charges. I really don’t think anyone needs to go to jail over this. Since it is a criminal complaint however, it is out of my hands. I won’t sue him or the church over this, but I am disgusted at the lack of integrity and poor leadership displayed. I would not have a problem if the Bishop believed that he must interview these kids alone behind closed doors. I would be willing to accept the consequences of that and my daughter might miss out on some important sacred experiences. I can respect progress and growth; that a bishop thinks one way and later after some experience comes to another perspective, even if it is painful to me. What I can not fathom is the wishy washy way of saying one thing and then another, then capitulating back to the first under pressure from higher authority. What ever happened to Do What is Right Let the Consequences Follow? Authority can not compromise integrity, when it does then you have moved over into the kingdom of the devil.

    What message does this send to the teenagers? My daughter knows that her parents may be wrong but they will stick to their guns and that I am not a spineless jelly fish that is tossed to and fro by every wave. I will not stand for some behaviors. What conclusions do they make about the Bishop and church leadership and authority in the Mormon community? How effective is this community in teaching about character and integrity? Does anyone else see a connection between this kind of treatment of our youth and the hypocrisy of BYU students going to Vegas to get married for the weekend only? Or the little girls getting up to bear their tearful testimonies the night after making it with some young guy in the church loft during the dance? Authority doesn’t work; it is a position of weakness not strength.

    One final concern: These are teenagers, fond of pranks and tricks. I only hope my daughter does not take this opportunity to get all the other little girls to make up the same little false accusation that might really get the Bishop in trouble. But they could do that. Can you see the terribly vulnerable position the Bishop puts himself into when he takes a sassy little girl like mine (who is more like her father than I wish to admit) who is not very mature or merciful at all, and insists on being alone in a room with her? I have changed my perspective on this matter. I think the Bishop needs to have another person in there for his own protection. Perhaps after the detective gets through with him we will both share this perspective.

  50. DMS
    April 27, 2006 at 11:34 pm

    “It struck me that he acted exactly like I imagined a child molester might act.”

    Mike: I think your imagination is getting the best of you.

  51. Mike
    April 28, 2006 at 7:26 am

    You are right in this specific case. You had to see this guy though, my wife had the same thoughts.

    Go down to the court house in this county or your county. Hanging on a wall of shame are the names of 6000 convicted sex offenders and the police say it is the tip of an iceberg. Six thousand!!!The Proclamation on the Family says one of a father’s primary duties is to protect his children. Women as a rule are more trusting, men more paranoid and territorial. Thus it falls on us men, although I am in favor of a team effort. In the world today we can not be too careful. About 25% of girls will be molested before they reach 18. Prevention has to be comprehensive. More later.

  52. DKL
    April 28, 2006 at 7:44 am

    Mike, local leaders get a ton of grief for doing a difficult job for which nobody pays them and for which there is no financial reward (it seems to me that becoming a bishop is a demotion; you’re given more work for the same pay). I think that they deserve the benefit of doubt at the very least.

    It is way more important to sustain local leaders than it is to treat GAs with respect. Unfortunately, my experiences indicate that most members do not behave this way. A lot of people that wouldn’t utter a negative word about a GA (or even a stake president) are all too willing to deride their bishop. But if we compare disagreeing with Gordon Hinckley about gambling and saying something bad about a particular calling a bishop made, then in my book, one is far better off doing the former than the latter.

  53. Elisabeth
    April 28, 2006 at 8:06 am

    Mike raises some important questions in his story. Is there a Church policy that requires a Bishop or other priesthood leader to interview a young man or woman without another adult present in the room?

    DKL: I strongly agree with your statement that we should sustain our local leaders and give them the benefit of the doubt that they are acting righteously and in the best interests of ward members. That said, the gravity of the sin and the consequences of sexual abuse to young children and teenagers mandates universal precautions to prevent any inappropriate conduct. I think having two adults present – one of the same sex as the interviewee (maybe along the same lines as the missionary rules) – should be in place to protect both the children and the priesthood leaders from abuse and from false accusations of abuse.

  54. greenfrog
    April 28, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    For those with concerns about interviews, one way of providing for the need for witnesses while maintaining the confidentiality of the interview is to conduct the interview quietly in a corner of a very much larger room — the cultural hall/chapel overflow area of most standard LDS chapel designs work for this. The witness can also be present in the room to verify that no inappropriate physical contact occurs, while being far enough away as to not overhear the content of the discussion.

  55. DKL
    April 28, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    Elisabeth, I completely agree that there is nothing wrong with a parent wanting to be present or wanting someone else to be present whenever any adult leader is with a child. This is important to protect the specific child from abuse and to protect the leader from false accusations. Protecting the leader is nearly as important, because the specter of high publicity cases that stem from false charges haunts every instance of real child abuse.

    But I do not think that it’s reasonable to suspect someone of pedophiliac tendencies without reasonable cause, especially a local church leader, since they’ve got enough grief to deal with just the regular hassles involved in the thankless task of helping people move closer to the goal of salvation.

  56. DMS
    April 28, 2006 at 10:58 pm

    Even though I did make a bit of a snide comment about Mike’s imagination above I do think prudence is good.

    A few weeks ago one of our bishopric reiterated to the congregation that when they assigned two Sunday School teachers to the same class they wanted both in the class when possible. I don’t remember exactly what they said but they did intimate that one of the reasons was to avoid having an adult alone with kids to avoid any potential problems. Since then I’ve invited my wife to join the class I teach when my co-teacher is out of town. The ward leaders did not set a hard and fast rule though. I believe this was said as the result of a letter received from SLC. I understand the letter also said classroom doors should have windows on them whenever possible – which ours do not.

    When my kids were younger I always preferred to have my wife drive the female teenage baby sitters home so that there was not any possible way some sort of question/accusation could arise. There were times I drove them, but most often my wife did.

    My family’s general rule is no sleep-overs for the kids. They can do “late-overs”. Many of our neighbors have the same approach. The other day my 11 year old daughter’s friend had a birthday sleep-over. About half of the kids went home at about 11pm rather than sleep over.

    Times are different from when I grew up – that’s for sure.

    While I would hope that I could deal with the situation in such a way that results in less confrontation than Mike described in his story – I do tend to agree that there is nothing wrong with prudence for both the kids’ as well as the adult’s sake. It’s the same reason that church policy requires two individuals to count the tithing – not just to avoid temptation to steal – but to protect someone from an accusation of stealing if the money and paperwork don’t add up.

  57. Martin E. Lee
    April 29, 2006 at 12:53 am

    The issue of men finding themselves in compromising situations is not restricted just to situations or experiences in LDS classes, interviews, activities. Fathers, grandfathers, bosses, coaches, teachers, sales representatives etc (the list is too long too list every relationship) should guard against the possibility of being accused of impropriety. A boss interviewing someone at work. A grandfather being alone with a child in a car, at home, shopping. Men could things years ago that we would never do today. We must have other people around to verify our activities.

    The advice to church leaders interviewing members (male or female) is to have another adult male in an office immediately adjacent to the office where the interview is taking place unless the interview is during a time when large numbers of people are present in the building – such as during scheduled church meetings or activities.

    We must have very strong deniability.

  58. cchrissyy
    April 29, 2006 at 11:04 am

    a a catholic, confession was usually in a tiny room, but I did ocasionally have it as you describe- whispering in a public chapel.

    Maybe the LDS church has similar historical expectation- that interviews are be alone and in an office, but really, we could get past that and have them in chapels, or outdoors, just like Catholics are realizing is possible.

    Mike, though I might not have done that 100% as you, we’re rather protetcive as well, and I salute your effort to be a good parent as you see it.

  59. Adam Greenwood
    May 4, 2006 at 7:42 am

    Comment #49 is a case study in how not to act on one’s concerns in the church. Too often we think that unrighteous dominion is merely something people in leadership do, but its something that can happen whenever people feel they have rights to insist on or obligations owed to them.
    “What message does this send to the teenagers?” What message indeed.

  60. DKL
    May 4, 2006 at 9:23 am

    Adam, I strenuously disagree that Mike’s comment #49 is “a case study in how not to act on one’s concerns in the church.” Moreover, I really find it offensive that you classify Mike’s obligation to protect his family among, “rights to insist on or obligations owed to them.”

    Mike’s obligation to protect his children trumps any obligation that he has to the church–by a mile. The church leaders were clearly in the wrong, and our commitment to building and protecting the Kingdom of God begins with our obligations to our own family (which, as it happens, the basic organizational unit of the Kingdom).

    That said, you’ll note that I have commented to the effect that I would not have reacted in a similar way. I’ve had to depend on other people cutting me slack far too frequently to afford me any piece of mind in handling the misdeeds of a bishop so summarily. Besides, those in bishoprics and stake presidencies have the hardest (and in some sense, the worst) jobs in the church.

    There is a range of appropriate reactions to the kind of situation that Mike describes. Reasonable people can disagree about the boundaries of this range, but even if Mike’s fall outside the bounds that you or I consider appropriate, that hardly makes it “a case study in how not to act.”

    Your reaction is an extreme one, and it is irritating insofar as it seeks to exert some authoritative (negative) moral judgement based solely on your opinion on an issue where there is a fair amount of room for disagreement. It’s as if instead of merely disagreeing with you, I were to assert that your comment is a case study in how not to treat our familial obligation to our children. Such an assertion very probably violates the spirit of the Times and Seasons comment policy.

  61. Mike
    May 4, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    Me again. Sorry for the distraction.

    My computer went out last Friday. Accident or God’s wrath? Tell the world about calling the cops on the Bishie and He slaps your computer?

    Anyway, I thank you for your input. I did not want to turn this into a discussion on the merits of this specific case. What I wanted to illustrate is how authority functions (or doesn’t function) in the Mormon community, when there are conflicts.

    For the record, the defective let the Bishop off with a warning. What a great opportunity for the Bishop to share the joys of the Restored Goepel with the detective. I bet the missionaries are teaching him the third discussion right about now. I don’t know what you call it legally when you drag a teenage girl into a room against her parents expressed will and ask her about her substance use and sexual purity. (Kidnapping comes to mind?) I really am glad he didn’t get into any more trouble. I think my lack of enthusiasm might have been a factor. If I was ranting and raving it might have been a different matter.

    The Bishop paid a heavy price for not standing up to the Stake and letting them throw their weight around and not doing what I thought we had agreed to do. I don’t know what his convictions are about this matter because he lacks the backbone to allow his actions to indicate his convictions. He again demonstrates where his loyalty lies, with those above him in the leadership chain over his word of honor and those he is supposed to serve in the ward.

    He has lost any ability to govern or serve me for the time being. How much authority does he have over me now? Do you think I have much respect for a leader who clearly cares so much more about his superiors than he does about me? Perhaps these are the chief qualifications for leadership in this church today.

    That said, I am quick to forgive. Saturday we had a sort of a sudden wedding in the ward and my daughter was asked to play her musical instrument. My wife was over there and the Bishop told her he had little experience with weddings and he really didn’t know what to do. The bride abd groom didn’t seem to have any plans and their mothers weren’t there. My wife loves weddings, the more extravagant the better. She helped the Bishop with the specifics of the wedding; who walks in when and where, etc. She helped him make this the best wedding he could under the circumstances. He even used the chapel, although I have been told that is not allowed. All seems to be forgiven. He was very nice and seems to want to put this in the past. So a week later, I ask the same questions; how much ability does he have to serve or govern me? How much respect do I have for him? How much trust? From whence does it come?

    I have thought about my daughter’s little stunt of calling her friends constantly while they were being interviewed. Rather childish. But it just might suggest the answer for us. Leave it to the youth to think of new and creative solutions. Next time she has an interview, she will call her mother’s cell phone just before going in. She will leave the phone on during the interview. My wife (or I) can be listening in on the entire conversation from another part of the church building. In the rare event that something inappropraiate happens, one of us can storm the door. Since before she was born I have carried a ten pound sledge hammer in my trunk. Electronic recording of conversations is easily possible too.

    Adam: I never demanded that my daughter be allowed to go to the Temple without the proper interview. I never insisted on any right or obligation. I was always willing to take whatever institutional consequences that the Bishop was willing to dish out. I never asked them to break their rules. I expected that she would not be allowed to go to the temple and maybe not be officially advanced. I knew that most of her friends would stay with her and I imagined a class of 18 year old pre-beehives in a few years.

    I simply tested their rules and found that they were unwilling to live with the consequences of their rules. Authority based systems are weak. I exposed an institutional weakness. They want two things: my daughter to comply with the interview as they dictate, and they want her to go to the temple. But they can’t decide which of the two is the most important. One other factor; she is de facto the leader of the nine girls of that age and they make up about half of the entire ward young women. So they might not just be dealing with one girl, but many if not all of them. If she boycotts the Temple (unlikely, she likes the Temple) she might get most of the others to join her for a short time. She easily gets them to sluff boring church meetings with her.

    DKL: I never accused my Bishop of being a pedophile; he accused me, without reasonable cause. Lets keep this straight. (Why did you mix this up?) There are many ways that a Bishop can be inappropriate. Including verbal questions and comments. Being in a large room but out of earshot is not good enough for me. Most of the time the presence of another adult woman will provide a measure of protection, but not always. I dislike the entire idea of these youth interviews as much as I dislike enemas. I am aware of several examples were young vulnerable people were serious damaged by them, emotionally, and spiritually. None involved pedophilia but more along the lines of male stupidity. I personally know of no case of lasting damage from receiving an enema. I feel like I am already compromising quite a bit even allowing her in there at all with a chaperone. If my Bishop had the attitude expressed in a couple of the responses above, she would not be interviewed. Period. Amen to your Priesthood over me.

    What message? I think after seeing this, my sassy young daughter is more capable of taking care of herself. She is to the point that if a Bishop tried to pull anything on her like what I know can sometimes happen, he would suffer wrath near hell itself. The other young women who admire her see this strength and I think they are less vulnerable to unrighteous dominion just having associated with her. The Bishop is a big boy, he can take care of himself.

    We program vulnerability into our youth when we say: never be alone in a room with a member of the opposite sex, especially an authority figure, then make exceptions. Exceptions for health care are worth it and carefully guarded by chaperones. Exceptions for Bishops are usually not that dangerous. But then it is a slippery slope to exceptions for other ward leaders and then school teachers and others. The risks go up.

    The church does not own my children. We Mormons claim to be family centered and we claim to support a father’s stewardship over his family. But when the rubber meets the road those lofty goals are subservient to the whims of Ward Priesthood authority. And you are a very bad bad little boy if you question your leaders, even on serious matters.

    Back to the original question of authority: It has been my experience that the modern correlated Mormon ward lacks effect mechanisms for dealing with conflict. When we all are in agreement, which is generally the case, then things work well. Like on Saturday when everyone wanted a nice wedding and everyone trusted that my wife had the best plan. But when legitimate differences arise, we do a poor job of resloving them. We do not instinctively use democractic methods which are messy and often involve compromises. We do not use councils as some leaders have suggested. We quickly resort to authority based power plays. They don’t work. People get hacked off and leave. People get passive aggressive. We wonder at the apathy and lack of commitment and lack of passion that permeates some wards. We never connect our unrighteous dominion as leaders with our inability to get people to do even the easiest things.

    “…it is the nature and disposition of almost all men…” I think that includes 90% of
    Bishops and 99% of the rest of us.

    Finally for those who strongly disagree with what I did: I would like to know what in the hell I was supposed to do when the Bishop falsely accused me of having an inappropriate relationship with my daughter? Is this standard procedure when Bishops run into differences of opinion? And this was done as part of a persistent effort to try and manipulate me to do something against my convictions. Am I the only Mormon who believes that some principles are above the specific authority of the Bishop’s opinion?

  62. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 4, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    Hierarchical structures must possess rigidity to counter forces rendering them fragmented or disunified (but how much is a balance thing, too much throwin’ off anti-bodies too paranoid-ly, quick to see the slightest dissent a threat?)

  63. Mark IV
    May 4, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    “…what in the hell I was supposed to do when the Bishop falsely accused me of having an inappropriate relationship with my daughter?…

    Mike, did you know that one of the indicators for a man who molests his children is that he insists on being with his child all the time when another adult is present? Kids that are being abused act differently when the abuser is in the room. Give him some slack, I probably would have thought the same thing.

  64. May 4, 2006 at 9:02 pm

    Mike: A word to the wise. If you record a conversation with someone, tell them you are doing it. Recording a conversation without someone’s consent is a crime in most states.

  65. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 4, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    “I’m testing out this great new digital answering machine I just got. And It even has this feature on it to record calls — you don’t mind if I test it out here do you?” and recording your saying this to along with no matter what the person’s response as long as he doesn’t ask you to turn the machine off (or, of course, for him to hang up!) — I’ve heard is a way to smoothly and legally record telephone conversations with people — Smiles.

  66. Mike
    May 5, 2006 at 4:04 pm


  67. Mike
    May 5, 2006 at 4:12 pm

    Mark IV;

    I just accidently deleted a really good response except the nd, Sorry.

    I never insisted that I be with the youth all the time. I insisted that another adult woman be in the interview. Quoting myself from above:

    I would not dictate who the female would be; it could be the Bishop’s wife, an YW leader, a mother of another girl, her own mother or any other adult woman.

    How do you connect the dots, from me insisting on a female chaperone in a Bishop’s interview as is the custom in medical practice to me displaying the characteristics of a child abuser?

    Do we Mormons assume that anyone who questions authority is guilty of sexual transgression?

  68. Mike
    May 5, 2006 at 4:42 pm


    I am not an attorney but I checked into this. I was told that it is illegal for a third party to record the conversation between two other people. It is not illegal for a person to record a conversation they are having with someone else. In this example, it would be illegal for me to record the interview between the Bishop and some one else without their permission. It would not be illegal for me to record the interview between me and a Bishop without him knowning. I can act as an agent for someone else and record the conversation with the permission of one of them. Since I have legal custody over my children, that complicates it. I might or might not be able to get away with recording a conversation between my teenager and another adult without permission.I could be wrong but…

    Aside for Nixonian considerations, why are y’all so nervous about recording Bishop’s interviews? What is going on in them that I am not aware of? I can understand going in there and me ‘fessing up and me not wanting it to be in the public forum. The law recognizes clerical confidentiality to mprotect the person on the weak end of the power relationship, (which we Mormons often violate when your Bishop tells the Stake President about your confession, but we don’t care about that). But where does the Bishop get this protection? Maybe it is in the new HIPPA act?

    I can think of many examples when conversations are recorded without permission. 911 calls come to mind. Calls to the police. Many businesses are recording calls and a few are courteous enough to tell you. Media snoops have powerful microphones and frequently catch pieces of conversation and put it on the nightly news. A British paper recently published a picture of the bare ass of the German prime minister they took of her changing at the beach and entirely without legal permission. When some famous person walks out of the courthouse and tells the reporters, no comment, do they ask permission to record that?

    I am thinking this through. The Bishop doesn’t say anything wrong in an interview; a teenager records it; the Bishop finds out; he calls the police and reports the teenager; the teenager is charged, with what? Lack of permission of recording a legally meaningless conversation? Or we assume the Bishop does say something incriminating. The Bishop insists they charge the teenager with recording it? How is that going to help him?

    Back to the question of the rhetorical burden of authority: How much iniquity will the strongly authority-conditioned modern Mormon justify in a Bishop? More than I thought.

  69. Mike
    May 5, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    Bro. Hunt:

    Where do I get one?

    Let me check DW’s cell phone first and her other digital toys. They might already have this feature.

    I don’t know how they work. I only know that when I take them away, she shapes up real fast.

  70. Aaron Brown
    May 5, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    “It is not illegal for a person to record a conversation they are having with someone else.:

    Wrong. At least in many jurisdictions. Nate had it right.

    Aaron B

  71. DavidH
    May 5, 2006 at 4:59 pm


    You might want to look at this article re taping of conversations and Linda Tripp. Of course, it may be perfectly legal in your state.

  72. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 5, 2006 at 8:14 pm

    (brotha Hunt here): Yo Mike. Sorry (laughs) but I don’t possess one achyilly. Although I’ve heard that reporters generally still use tape cassettes anyway (due reliability when jostled while its being carried in hand or on a bumpy road and the price differential of tape vee es analog [sic (lex.?)] chips. Smiles.

  73. DMS
    May 6, 2006 at 12:18 am

    Sorry, there is no legal privacy protection in a personal face to face conversation. A party to a face to face conversation can legally record it without the other person’s permission. Telephone conversations are different and depend on the laws of each state.

  74. DMS
    May 6, 2006 at 12:26 am

    I stand corrected. It appears 38 of the 50 states allow one party to record a face to face or telephone conversation without the permission of the other. 12 states require the permission of everyone involved in the conversation – even face to face conversations.

  75. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 6, 2006 at 2:25 pm

    I clarify that my voice above’s “__QUOTE__”-ing a THEORETICAL taper’s having a new answering machine but not me unfortunately. :’^(

  76. Mike
    May 8, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    Now that wwe have that all cleared up, what are the penalities? Slap on the wrist or 20 years in Wyoming or Siberia?

    It still might be worth it. They give you 5 years in this state on average for murder. Teenager first offenders playing with a cell phone? Pretty serious crime.

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