Call Me Uzzah

I just saw Stephen M (Ethesis)’s post on complaints about EFY and I liked his list of reasons people complain (particularly about church stuff). For those of you who aren’t clicking the link to his article, here’s the quick summary of his list:

  1. Legitimate — Complaining about a demonstrable problem with a demonstrable solution.
  2. Compulsive mental illness — What it sounds like.
  3. Compulsive snarkers — “People who are just constant nitpickers…”
  4. Thematic — “People who have adopted a cause, and thereafter have a stream of advice and complaints that circle around that as a theme…”
  5. People in pain — “Some people complain out of their pain, which is often rubbed wrong by many things.”
  6. People looking for an excuse to analyze and talk about something — What it sounds like.
  7. Bullies, who are using a complaint as an excuse to try and push people around.

I’m fine with complaining as long as it serves a purpose (see #1 above). When I started a new college program a couple years ago, one of the Orientation Day activities was a personality test. The test determined that I am a “reformer”. I don’t mind that label. When I see institutional problems, I want to do what I can to correct them. The church parlance term for “reformer” is “ark steadier”. That one’s not quite so flattering.

Of course, everyone who complains feels that their complaints fall under the “1. Legitimate” category. If I’m honest with myself, I’d probably have to add #4 (I’ve got my hot-button topics), #5 (sometimes the status quo just isn’t working for me), and #6 (I really do enjoy a good discussion) to my list of reasons.

One thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I like to focus on one thing at a time. I can’t stand having a conversation while I’m watching a show. I’m happy to turn off the TV and talk, but I just don’t get the point of catching just enough of the show to not understand the plot and catching just enough of the discussion to not understand the point. Same goes for reading books, cleaning the house, exercising, playing with my kids, etc. I’m happy to do any of those (preferably in blocks of at least a couple hours each), but don’t make me switch between them.

So maybe part of my complaining comes from focusing too much on one issue at a time. Kind of a combination of #2 and #4. Speaking of which, I’m writing this post now because I have another post complaining about things, but it’s taking me too long to put it together, so you get this instead today.

One thing I don’t get is the concern about complaining when it comes to the church. A problem is a problem, whether in the church or out of the church, and the solution to problems isn’t “wait quietly until they go away.” One of the great principles of the gospel is work, and [effective] complaining is a form of work. I think that’s in the Bible Dictionary. Or maybe it was prayer. But that’s the story of the unjust judge. The line between prayers and complaints is pretty blurry.

I hope, though, that all complaints are accompanied by respect. The people on the receiving end of the complaints are generally good people, doing their best to make things work. It’s not like they said, “Hmm…I can implement this system the good way or the bad way. Let’s do it the bad way!” (Incidentally, that’s my complaint about demands for education reform, as though it were a simple thing to do. Do people expect the principals to suddenly say, “Oh, you mean you want me to stop doing things the ineffective way? Okay, I thought you had wanted the system to be bumbling along.” If they knew a more effective way, my guess is that they’d already be doing it. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t more effective ways, only that implementing them is non-trivial.) They’ve got a lot of other stuff to worry about too.

44 comments for “Call Me Uzzah

  1. Interesting post.

    “One thing I don’t get is the concern about complaining when it comes to the church. A problem is a problem, whether in the church or out of the church, and the solution to problems isn’t “wait quietly until they go away.””

    The premise here is that the complainer knows enough to understand the problem and that it needs a solution. In a church led by prophets, seers and revelators, they may also be aware of disagreement, but not consider it a problem.

    I’m not suggesting it is always so, but that it can be.

  2. Secular consciousness raising in the form of complaint and civil unrest was the apparent catalyst and motivation behind lifting the priesthood ban in spite of prophets, seers and revelators at the helm. Are we to go back to sleep in the belief that it cannot be repeated?

  3. Paul,

    I agree with you completely. For example (and not to change the subject), the singles program field folks over age 30 may be a concern in the Church. It is, for sure, a bit more than a concern for the singles themselves.

  4. To Howard: During 1976-1978, I was regularly visiting the Church History Library in the Church Office Building in Salt Lake, doing research for an article on the operation of Church courts to settle legal disputes in 19th Century Utah. I was there when the announcement was made about lifting the priesthood ordination restriction. There was a surge of joy among all the people I saw that day.

    One thing that was NOT around during the years leading up to the announcement weas any sense of public pressure on the Church over it. The various demonstrations and basketball boycotts and other exercises had taken place a decade earlier, and after the Church had affirmed it supported equal civil rights and economic opportunities for all people regardless of race, the outside activitism pretty much just faded into the background. Members still discussed it occasionally, and answered questions about it, but it was no more an issue than questions about ordaining women.

    Jan Shipps, the non-Mormon historian of things LDS suggested that the imminent opening of the Sao Paulo temple made the brethren consider seriously how to deal with the issue, since there were already many faithful LDS in Brazil who were of African ancestry, like Helvecio Martins. I think that is a good insight.

    From what I have read about what President Kimball was considering, it was his compassion for those members of African descent, like his love for the Native American LDS, that was a motive for him to entreat the Lord in long hours of prayer, hoping for a definitive answer that he could testify was unequivocally revelation.

    Nowhere in the context of the times, or in the experiences related by any of the First Presidency and the Twelve, is there any indication that they were feeling any kind of external pressure whatsoever. I certainly was unaware of anything of the kind, and I was meeting with Leonard Arrington every month to review my research findings. If there was anything historic about that window in time prior to the announcement, nobody at the Church Historian’s Office seemed to be talking about it.

    Let me offer a comparison. In 1980, President Kimball came out with his statement criticizing the proposed MX Missile nuclear weapon deployment, that proposed paving over Western Utah and Eastern Nevada with concrete bunkers and raillines connecting them in order to play a deceptive “shell game” with several hundred ten-warhead ICBMs. The idea was that to neutralize the MX, the Soviets would have to target every bunker with 2 to 3 of their own, making it a “sponge” to soak up the Soviet arsenal.

    Utah had a history of supporting US strategic weapons. Hill AFB did the maintenance on the Minuteman ICBMs, and a couple of the rocket stages in the Minuteman were manufactured at Hercules near Magna, Utah, and at Thiokol out past Brigham City. The Tooele Army Depot stored nuclear warheads (they would neither confirm nor deny it), and Dugway did research on chemical and biological weapons. The Pentagon expected that Utahns would be their normal patriotic selves and welcome the MX Missile to their bosoms. President Kimball’s Anti-Ballistic Missile statement was a totally unexpected, dead-center hit that suddenly made the whole thing politically infeasible. Ronald Reagan was already planning to kill the program (it would have used up all the concrete making capacity in the US for ten years, more than the interstate highway system), but when he saw Kimball’s announcement, he knew his decision would be anticlimactic (this was told me by one of my colleagues, the Air Force lawyer responsible for trying to defend the 6 foot long Environmental Impact Statement for the project).

    Now I know that a number of people within the Church who were affiliated with the political opposition to the MX deployment did talk to President Kimball. One of them was my law professor, Ed Firmage, who had also arranged for me to do my research in the Church Archives. But clearly, that did not involve anyone making any threats or attacks on the Church or President Kimball. It was communication, to which he responded in his own way.

    So I think President Kimball was fully capable of making decisions sua sponte that totally changed the playing field. The 1978 announcement was a major implementation of his 1974 statements to new mission presidents, about doing innovative things to make the Church capable of responding when the Lord opened new doors for our missionaries. He didn’t need demonstrators or anyone else to intimidate him into doing what needed to be done.

    As to making suggestions to the Brethren–Why not? The Lord has a way of giving us revelations when we ask questions. If we suggest a decent question to the Brethren, maybe they will get an answer for us.

  5. One other point. In 1974, I was a stake missionary in Colorado Springs and helped to teach the discussions to a black soldier. He was very aware of the priesthood ban, but told us that he had visited many churches in the city, and we Mormons were the first congregation that had made him feel at home. There was no anticipation by him or us that anything was going to change in as soon as four years. He knew he was accepting that limitation for the indefinite future.

    He was the first person I thought of when I heard the announcement in the lobby of the Church Office Building.

  6. Totally separate comment: I noticed my comments have a time signature that corresponds to Central Daylight Time. Any reason for that?

  7. RTS, Sometime between 1968 and his death in 1970 David O. Mckay speaking of the priesthood ban confided his prayerful attempts to church architect, Richard Jackson, “I’ve inquired of the Lord repeatedly. If you recall Martin Luther King was shot in 1968.

  8. Raymond Takashi Swenson — for what it is worth, Elder Faust said that issue (the temple in Brazil) was one that led to a great deal of prayer and consideration by the brethren on the topic.

    Paul — “the solution to problems isn’t “wait quietly until they go away.”” — at least not always, but sometimes it is. I’ve learned with children that often that is the best solution. The older I get, the more often it seems that the solution is just to wait quietly, though I appreciated your additional gloss The premise here is that the complainer knows enough to understand the problem and that it needs a solution.

    It’s not like they said, “Hmm…I can implement this system the good way or the bad way. Let’s do it the bad way!” Amen.

    Sometimes that is exactly the sort of thing that needs said more often.

  9. I am not sure I agree with the list. It’s too hot here where I live! I think that’s a legitmate complaint, but I have no ” demonstrable solution”. So is my complaint not a legitmate one? Am I just a bad sport, picking a fight, or what?

  10. Complaining about the weather is just nattering. Think of it as a number 6, but more “talk about” and less “analyze.”

    There is, btw, a lot to be said for talking about things.

  11. Here’s another big and important one to add to the list:

    7. Status & Identity – Complaining in order to establish the sort of individual I am; first that I complain (or constructively point out potential improvement!), but also how I complain (openly and abrasively in SS or anonymous and snarky on the bloggernacle or quietly but passionately with intimates, or respectively but firmly in good American taste, etc.), and what I complain about (which often gets at the above list, particularly 4 & 5).

    Complaining is definitely one of those speech acts through which we do normative commerce. And given that I’ve never met an individual (or collective!) who didn’t complain (note 1: God complains, as do the prophets and churches; note 2: the accusation that so-and-so is a complainer always concerns the “how” and “what” parts, or rather, is a complaint about the how/what of so-and-so), how we go about complaining and the sort of status and identity we constitute for ourselves in doing so, seem to be key issues.

  12. #5 RTS: Thanks for that response. My reaction to Howard was similar, but I did not have your personal experience.

    #8 Howard, read McKay’s biography. You’ll see he was working on this problem earlier than 1968. Assuming President McKay’s concerns about the priesthood ban were soley a response to outside stimulus is a gross oversimplification of the matter.

    #10 Stephen: The quote you attribute to me was in the OP. My comment #1 was to offer a different view on Dane’s original post.

  13. That’s a nice list. I think the issue is, when we feel strongly about something, we are very good at rationalizing our complaint to be of the #1 category.

  14. Jax: Well, all of my complaints are #1. Why wouldn’t they be? They are all legitimate, and I can defend everyone of them.

  15. Paul — sorry, I fugued in a reprise that eventually reached what you had to say and worked off of it. Did not mean to make it look like that was your comment, only used that for perspective. I suspect I was much too terse.

    James Olsen — you make a point about complaining as a social marker. When people do that I often think of them in the same way as I do when cats sprayed a bush on the corner of our old house or dogs mark the mail box. Except it is getting on me instead of an object.

    Whereas God’s complaints seem to be more of the #1 type.

    Guess I should add #9 — complaining as an educational act aimed at an educational purpose other than changing the problem complained of. Though that is more often a species of criticism rather than complaining, a related genus or phylum to complaining, but a different taxonomy.

    Dane Laverty — glad you liked it. I’d have been just as happy if AOL had not swallowed GNN and I’d kept SMarsh, but once I had a new handle, and once I realized there were a lot of Steves and Stephens and even a few SteveMs in the bloggernacle, it seemed best to just keep the old handle.

  16. Paul I didn’t use the word solely Brown vs. Board of Education was 1954 isn’t it obvious or do you intend to spin the civil rights movement into just a coinsurance?

  17. Howard, I’m not sure how to interpret your #8 because of the missing closing quotation mark. Does the quote close after the first sentence, with the statement about MLK Jr. being a personal observation, or is the statement about MLK Jr. part of David O. McKay’s own words? And either way, what is the source on the quote?

  18. In 1948 Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which states in part, “…there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.”

    Btw 22 should read just a coincidence?

  19. Howard, Brown v. Topeka Kansas Board of Education involved a GOVERNMENT action (public schools) that were held to violate the 14th Amendment’s requirement that “nor shall any state . . . deny the equal protection of the laws.” The 14th amendment does not speak to nongovernmental entities, including churches.

    When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, it addressed commercial activities and prohibited discrimination by race, color, religion, national origin, and sex in activities subject to the power of Congress to regulate interstate and international commerce under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Again, this does not reach private, noncommercial activities such as churches.

    In fact, because Congress is barred from limiting the free exercise of religion by the First Amendment, and this has been held by the Supreme Court to also restrict the States via the 14th Amendment, there is a specific prohibition on the Federal AND State governments interfering with how any church establishes its standards for membership or how it organizes itself and ordains ministers. Just imagine the government telling a church whether it can require people to be baptized, and what they can believe, or how much training they have to have before they are ordained as a minister.

    There is a good reason for this limitation. In the military, chaplains have to be nominated by the denominations they represent (based on the proportion of the military service members who belong to that denominiation), but the DOD also requires that they have a BA or MA degree in ministerial training or counseling or some other specialty that is typically associated with professional ministers. Since BYU refuses to give Bachelor’s degrees in “religious studies”, all the LDS chaplain candidates end up getting a Masters in counseling or religious history, etc. Imagine if the government could impose that same requirement on every LDS bishop and branch president. My guess is that only a couple percent of those currently in office would qualify, and maybe only Boyd K. Packer would qualify out of the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. An MD, engineering degree, JD, MBA, or PhD in some other field would not do. This just is not the business of the government, to tell a church who can serve as a minister.

    If you are old enough, you might recall that Jimmy Carter (president from 1976-1980) walked out of his former church in Georgia because it refused to be racially integrated. During the 2008 presidential election campaign, Mike Huckabee bragged that he had integrated his Southern Baptist congregation in Arkansas when he invited a black college student to attend his congregation–in 1980.

    While the Civil Rights Act explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex (a feature that was added to the bill by southern Democrats who hoped it would be a “poison pill” and dissuade other members of Congress form voting for it), that does not empower the Federal government to require any church to ordain women as ministers, including the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches and Orthodox Jewish congregations.

    There is simply no provision in the U.S. Constitution or any statute that required the LDS Church to change its policy on ordination to the priesthood. The change was made without any legal pressure from government.

  20. RTS You’re completely missing the point I brought up Brown v. Board of Education as a reminder of the status of civil rights issues by 1954.

  21. Howard, President McKay’s biography makes clear that civil rights were on President McKay’s mind for a long time, and there is little doubt that external factors influenced his thinking on the matter. His biography includes minutes of meetings with the brethren on whether the church should take a stand and what it should be, and some of the proposals seem horribly jaundiced by today’s standards.

    That said, President McKay’s view toward priesthood blessings extended far beyond the borders of the United States. He sought to INCLUDE (and did include) as many as he could in priesthood blessings without violating the ban on those of African descent. (I’m sorry I don’t have the Prince biography with me, so I cannot provide references.)

    If this matter were driven solely by US civil rights issues, the I would not have expected him to take such an international view toward the matter, particularly given the relatively small population off the church outside the US at the time.

    In any case, President McKay sought resolution to the matter within his capability and within what he believed his constraints to be, namely divine guidance.

    President Kimball’s association iwth the matter also stems from the same period, so he, also, was likely aware of all the external pressures. In fact, the McKay biography suggests that President Kimball’s view on the matter was stronger than President McKay’s.

    The fact that President Kimball’s revelation did not come until 1978, four and a half years after his call as president of the church, suggests to me that it was not simply his bowing to public pressure. The biography of his presidency written by his son (Lengthen Your Stride) has an excellent account of his process.

    Would President Kimball have acted as he did without the encouragement from outside sources (members and non-members)? I don’t know. Was his revelation solely a reaction to that catalyst? I don’t believe it was.

  22. Paul wrote “…civil rights were on President McKay’s mind for a long time, and there is little doubt that external factors influenced his thinking on the matter.” Thank you for making my #2 point.

  23. #29 Howard: If that’s your #2 point, then #2 wasn’t very clear, as you called the “civil unrest” “the apparent catalyst and motivation” for lifting the priesthood ban. It’s a far stretch for President McKay to have been aware and for President Kimball to have been moved primarily by that influence.

  24. Truman’s executive order, while certainly praiseworthy, did not eliminate racial discrimination in any other part of the Federal government. It did not, for example, eliminate racial segregation in the District of Columbia. It did not alter immigration laws, which still barred immigration by people born in Japan (like myself).

    The process of dismantling institutionalized racial discrimination was a process that, just within those things that are regulated by Federal and State law, took decades. And the ability of the government to intervene in private, non-commercial associations is still limited.

  25. Paul Secular complaint and consciousness raising in the form of civil unrest preceded serious inquiry of the Lord by LDS prophets suggesting causation in some form this and what you’ve added is what I mean by the apparent catalyst and motivation behind lifting the priesthood ban. Revelation since the D&C amounts to OD1 & OD2 one occasioned by an outside government threat the other apparently by outside civil unrest meaning the Lord hasn’t been coming to prophets for awhile they must petition Him and agitation as you pointed out has a motivating effect.

    RTS I agree it took decades what occasioned it?

  26. Howard, the obvious answer is that the work would have ground to a standstill in areas like Brazil and never gotten off the ground in places like Africa. The Church faced a HUGE practical barrier to its stated mission world-wide – very much like the ancient church faced when Paul received his vision and took it to the leaders of his time.

    Saying that American civil rights pressure was the catalyst to OD2 is like saying Jewish unrest was the catalyst for the cessation of circumcision as a requirement of conversion to the early Christian Church. The catalysts for OD1 and OD2 were VERY different. The first was fought fiercely and finally forced from the outside to avoid annihilation; the second was recognized as a need and desired then petitioned from the inside to ensure growth and the offering of blessings to already faithful members. The first was met internally with anguish and bitterness and splintering; the second was met internally, generally, with rejoicing and celebration.

    I really can’t understand how OD1 and OD2 can be linked as resulting from similar forces. They simply weren’t.

  27. Ray OD1 and OD2 are linked because prophets petitioned the Lord not the other way around so what motivated them? Brigham Young sent missionaries to South Africa in 1853 prophets had plenty of time to petition the Lord in advance of the civil rights movement but apparently didn’t. Are you arguing the overlap with the civil rights movement is just a coincidence?

  28. Armand Mauss makes the case that the decision to lift the ban on blacks holding the priesthood had to do with internal pressure from LDS members. The expansion of the LDS church in Brazil (the population of which has a lot of African roots) caused many missionaries and members a lot of grief since they found themselves turning down potential converts because they had African ancestry.

    D. Michael Quinn finds that the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve were divided (somewhat bitterly so) on the issue during the 1950s and 1960s. He speculates that Harold B. Lee was instrumental in blocking attempts to change the policy on the blacks. Hugh B. Brown was one of the biggest champions of policy change. But many traditionalist leaders feared that it would divide the church.

    Raymond, you’re looking at church history through rose colored glasses arguing that policy change was all a matter of what God wanted, and that it came about only as a matter of prayer. Policy change on the blacks came about only as a result of a long struggle within the leadership. It probably took a few key figures to die before progress could be made. Spencer W. Kimball should be given special regard for his leadership genius regarding blacks and the priesthood. He saved the church from continuing what was bad policy to begin with and what would have significantly hampered the growth of the church and led to major divisions in the membership.

  29. I feel like complaining about revisiting these same issues over and over, what category does that fall in? =)

    Seriously, though, I think the correct ‘answer’ to this thread is Z – all of the above.

  30. Wow, that list is a pretty comprehensive summary of bloggernaccle comments. It is a little painful to acknowledge which of the descriptions describe me.

  31. “The expansion of the LDS church in Brazil (the population of which has a lot of African roots) caused many missionaries and members a lot of grief since they found themselves turning down potential converts because they had African ancestry.”

    I am not sure this adequately describes the confusion factor of what a mixed-race society exists in Brasil. It wasn’t just turning down converts per se, it was not being sure of the status. You would meet a young white man with a Portuguese name, and go to the home that night to visit his family and teach a discussion, only to discover that his dad looked purely European but his mom had dark skin. So what did that make him?

    Unlike in the USA, the Brazilian colonials actually married their slaves back in the 1800s, giving legitimacy to those mixed-race children. The classic Brasilian woman is so beautiful because she has the high cheekbones of Indian ancestry, and the wide lips and curly hair from African, with lighter skin from European. There was one of those switched-at-birth hospital swap cases a while back when it took a while to sort out because the white couple took home the white baby, and the black couple took home the black baby. But they had the wrong ones! As a practical matter, when we found a kid wandering around during sacrament meeting, we were never sure who it belonged to.

    Added to the mix was that a fair number of Japanese migrated to the Sao Paulo area in the 1940s, when Italy cut down on immigration in order to justify expansion due to population pressure. The Nippo-Brazilians were considered white by the church and able to have the priesthood. Go figure.

  32. ‘Are you arguing the overlap with the civil rights movement is just a coincidence?”

    Of course not. I’m just saying it wasn’t the primary catalyst for the lifting of the ban – and that political pressures relative to the civil rights movement had almost nothing to do with it. I believe the situation described in #35 and #38 (and the extrapolation of that situation to world-wide reality) was a FAR stronger catalyst than the American civil right movement.

  33. Howard,
    You said,
    “Prophets had plenty of time to petition the Lord in advance of the civil rights movement but apparently didn’t”

    I’m curious what evidence you base that on? Is the assumption that if anyone had petitioned the Lord they would have received the same answer as Pres. Kimball, only sooner? Or is it based on a prophet coming out and saying they were the first to have ever actually petitioned the Lord? If it’s anything less than the latter, I’m not sure why it bares repeating.

    I think this issue is one where it seems we adopt the staunchness toward revelation that Anti-Mormons apply…. where no further light and knowledge is permitted and if something is true it needs to be present in its fulness from the beginning. It pretty much betrays the concept of revelation in general unless we think the only purpose of revelation is just to confirm what was already said is true, but never progress or reveal/add/change anything new. I get when non-Mormons who adopt this mindset in their own theology feel this way toward our beliefs, but I don’t know why we fall for it.

    It’s quite often the case in our own lives, God says no, and later says yes. Or he says yes, and it later turns out not to (appear to) be the “right” decision (but may have been “right” for other reasons we know not). In both cases, the revelation is real and what is lacking is our understanding of it.

    I know this can not adequately or fully explain the topic at hand, and it’s not meant to, but I think it includes one piece of the puzzle.

  34. I base it on a lack of evidence Chris and that is why I used the word apparently are you aware of evidence to the contrary?

  35. Definitions of apparently:

    “Used by speakers or writers to avoid committing themselves to the truth of what they are saying.”

    So you believe it to be true, just don’t want to committ to it. Or…

    “As far as one knows or can see”

    So as far as you know, they had plenty of time to ask, but just didn’t.

    It would seem just as likely, if not more likely considering all the various things that get prayed over, that they did petition the Lord and either received no answer, or the answer to continue their practice — and then apparently they extrapolated various rationales for that reason from all sorts of readings in the scriptures.

    This is apparent, because they did extrapolate reasons for the restriction using various and sometimes tenuous links to scriptures, and since they were studying, pondering, and presenting answers you would assume they would have thought to ask for the Lord’s help in moving forward on this topic.

    If you point is just that there was no evidence they asked, I’d say there is more evidence they pondered and asked than they just willnilly ignored the issue and floated along mindlessly repeating what so-and-so repeated without ever giving it further thought.

  36. “solution to problems isn’t ‘wait quietly until they go away.’ ”

    That was my solution to Traffic when I lived in China.

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