Covenant and Speech

Membership in the Church is a covenant relationship. We repeat this to ourselves a great deal but generally aren’t clear exactly what we mean by it. Often, we imagine a covenant as a contract, a set of reciprocal promises. Given what the scriptures say about covenants, this isn’t a false way of thinking about it, but it is seriously incomplete. The most powerful image of covenant in the scriptures for me is the image of marriage. Israel, we are told, is like the (often faithless) spouse of God.

A marriage is a relationship that is defined by reciprocal promises, but it isn’t just defined by reciprocal promises. It is also defined by love, passion, and what I think of as habits of affection. We often think of love as a kind of Dionysian force that assaults us, but married love is more than simply Dionysian. It is also agricultural, something that one treasures, cultivates, and seeks to protect. I think it suggestive that in English “husband” can denote both a spouse and a farmer.

If we take the metaphor of marriage seriously as a model for covenants, then it should have an impact on how one speaks and thinks about the Church. Imagine that I subjected my wife to a constant stream of public criticism. It is easy to see how such criticism could be corrosive to one’s marriage, even if it was all entirely merited. My wife might be hurt by such criticism, but even if she was not, the speech could well change my own attitude toward her. Indeed, even if I did not vocalize the criticisms, a mental habit of constantly dwelling on her faults and misdeeds could be equally corrosive of our relationship. Rather, in a healthy marriage, I think that one cultivates a habitual tendency to accentuate the virtues of one’s spouse and treat their failings with charity and – as often as not – discrete silence.

Marriage as a model of proper speech is diametrically opposed to the dominant model provided by our society, namely the marketplace of ideas in a liberal democracy. This is a model that also imposes obligations on how we are to speak. In a democracy, we are to speak truthfully, fearlessly, and critically. Norms that seeks to circumscribe speech are inherently suspect, associated as they are with tyranny and authoritarianism. From the vigorous give-and-take of ideas emerges a world of greater truth and greater accountability for those who wield power, in short a better world. Notice that in this model, habits of affection play no role. Indeed, such habits are generally conceptualized as prejudices and condemned. The failure to vocalize one’s criticisms out of affection is to be a bad citizen, to undermine the social process of the intellectual marketplace.

Within the Church we often grasp towards something like a covenantal account of speech by saying things like “Don’t criticize the Brethren” or “Sustain leaders and others in their callings.” Viewed from within the framework of liberal democracy, such admonitions can only be seen as pathological or childish. They are either a troubling effort to insulate power from accountability or else a naïve effort to insulate one’s simple beliefs from the acids of adult thought. This, however, strikes me as a rather uncharitable way of understanding what these slogans are getting at.

Our covenant relationship with the Church depends on not only mutual fidelity to promises but also on habits of affection and charity. Such habits can be maintained or undermined by how we speak. The liberal democratic model of speech is inadequate for understanding proper norms of speech within the Church precisely because there is no place within that model to acknowledge the role of love and the emotional and linguistic habits that sustain love. The marketplace of ideas is not ultimately about love.

The metaphor of marriage, however, is only a metaphor. Like any other metaphor it both illuminates a truth and breaks down if relied upon too much. Hence, while I think that our speech about the Church should be governed by norms like those that govern speech about a spouse, I think that those norms should only be like one another. They should not be identical with one another. Hence, I think that it can be acceptable to speak critically of the Church or of the Brethren or of our fellow saints. The marketplace of ideas has many virtues and we would do well to cultivate some of them. However, the marketplace of ideas will always be an inadequate model because it is indifferent about that toward which covenants can never be indifferent.

I confess that I am not quite sure how to balance things out once one rejects the adequacy of liberal democracy as a model for speech within the Church. I do think that a useful rule of thumb is to be aware of our speech, and to realize that we are never only communicating or analyzing ideas. We are always cultivating habits of affection. One cannot continually berate one’s spouse and expect a marriage to be happy and fruitful. Ideally, the routine of worship and devotion generate sufficient positive speech to maintain habits of affection. The very routinization of such speech can, however, ironically diminish its power to maintain the habits of affection on which covenant depends. If one, as a covenanted Latter-day Saint, is going to embark on the experiment of critical speech – a project that can have a great deal of value – then it seems to me that one must consciously cultivate other, non-routinized modes of speech that maintain the habits that criticism erodes.

84 comments for “Covenant and Speech

  1. I thought the covenant was between Christ and the Church, not the Church and its members. That’s an important distinction that undercuts your use of the metaphor (though not necessarily your carefully drawn conclusions). I don’t like a metaphor of marriage that begins when someone is 8 years old, anyhow.

  2. That’s why you shouldn’t take metaphors too seriously. I think that we have lots of covenants. God covenant’s with His people, but I think that saints also covenant with one another. For example, the covenant to “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” seems to me to be a covenant both between God and the person being baptized but also between the person being baptized and the rest of the saints.

  3. Nate, the underlying principles you espouse resonate well with me. There is a time and place for criticism in marriage, but it must be balanced and done in the appropriate way. Tone matters. Affection and kindness are prerequisites to earn the right to admonish.

    But what the heck does this have to with the church? We don’t make covenants to the church. We make them with God. And we’re not in a marriage relationship with the church, but rather Christ. As Elder Robbins recently reminded us, our leaders face only one way. They speak to us. They do not take counsel. That’s no way to run a marriage. The appropriate metaphor for the church is a corporation. Actually, it’s not a metaphor. The church literally is a corporation.

  4. Dave K: I think that you are wrong. I think that we do make covenants with the Church. Also a corporation can be an object of covenant and affection. Indeed, the original idea of the corporation as a legal entity was as the legal personification of a community, generally one connected by bonds of solidarity or religious vows, e.g., a town, a religious order, a church congregation, etc.

  5. It’s a fair enough point that there is some sort of covenant of good faith or non-disparagement bundled in the marital relationship. But if that is the metaphor we are looking at, there is enough abuse of it on both sides. I am generally sympathetic to your viewpoint here, but can still see that the church often uses the world of ideas to disparage persons who may have felt they were in a covenant relationship with it. In this sense, the possible postmodern move, or partial abandonment of rationalism that may detected from the church in recent years is a positive move.

  6. Nate, I’m often wrong. Please help me out. I honestly can’t think of one covenant we make *with* the Church. We make lots of covenants with God. Some of those require actions towards church members and leaders. In the temple women make covenants to their husbands (that’s another ball of wax). But unless a member has some special secular arrangement – such as a paid snow removal contract for the chapel – none of us makes covenants with the church.

  7. Dave K.: I think that when we are baptized, for example, we promise to mourn with those that mourn. I think that this is not simply a promise made to God to do something. I think that it is also a promise to others. At a deeper level, I don’t think that a covenant is just a matter of making reciprocal promises, but rather of entering into a status-based relationship. What this means is that we can be in a covenant with other people by virtue of making a covenant with God. Hence, in the Temple one makes covenants to consecrate our time, talents, and property to the building of the Kingdom of God. We make covenants to avoid evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed and so on. All of these can be understood as covenants that run not only to God but to the Church and to our fellow saints. Contractual privity is a bad metaphor, in my opinion, but if you insist on it, I think that third-party beneficiaries to a bilateral agreement between disciple and God are part of the covenant.

    FWIW, I wrote a post a long, long time ago that I still more or less agree with that looked at this more closely:

  8. >For example, the covenant to “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” seems to me to be a covenant both between God and the person being baptized but also between the person being baptized and the rest of the saints.

    It doesn’t say “mourn with [the saints] who mourn,” though. Baptismal covenants stretch far beyond “the rest of the saints.” Jesus mourns with all those who mourn, and the covenant of baptism is a promise to follow Him. The Good Samaritan offered comfort to someone in need who was outside the boundaries of the religious group. Missionaries mourn with and comfort people who haven’t joined yet or might never join. Interpreting this as a covenant that a newly baptized person makes only to fellow church members is a mistake, I think.

    The real danger in seeing the relationship between a member and the church as a marriage type relationship is that a bad seed in local leadership can so easily turn it into an emotionally abusive relationship. I know I’ve been unusually unlucky in this regard, but I’ve experienced quite a few of these at the hands of local leaders:, in some cases bad enough that it would make perfect sense to leave a marriage where a spouse persisted in doing those things. The only reason to stay in the church or hold onto faith at all at that point is if the covenant was actually with God, and not with the fallible earthly partner whom one could legitimately decide at a certain point to divorce.

  9. Nate, Mosiah 18:9-10 (posted below) makes clear that the baptismal covenant is with God, even if many obligations of the covenant inure to the benefit of church members/leaders.

    Maybe this is just semantics. I do agree that church membership creates an important relationship bond. And I’ve even seen times when the bond grows to something approaching a true sibling relationship. But that is a member-member bond, not a member-church leader bond. Unfortunately, when it comes to the relationship between a member and church leaders, the church is very clear that the relationship is hierarchical with all power/direction/correction coming from the top down. It’s nothing like a marriage – at least a modern equality well-functioning marriage. Maybe a polygamous marriage gets closer (but again, a whole ‘nother ball of wax).

    9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

    10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

  10. Nate, I would like to suggest that covenants such as those to mourn with those that mourn are to all of humanity. I don’t think God has ever asked us to treat fellow Latter-day Saints better than those who are not of our faith. In fact, I feel the very concept is contrary to God’s plan of Salvation, wherein He hopes to save all His children if they repent.

    As others have said, using the marriage analogy, we are the church, and I think a healthy dose of self-deprecation can be enormously beneficial to an individual’s mental well-being.

  11. Dave K is spot on. The covenant that LDS people make is with God, not the church, and not the church leaders. Also, technically no formal covenants are made at baptism (at least not the ceremony), the confirmation, or at priesthood ordination. You could say that the covenant is formally made at the interview before the ceremony, but there are all sorts of problems with that. 1) There are usually no formal witnesses at the interview, just the interviewer and the interviewee. 2) The general LDS church leadership gives few instructions (they give some in the handbook, but they are generally vague) as to how the interviewer is supposed to explain the supposed covenant and what questions they are supposed to ask. It is quite likely that interviewers vary in interpretation of the supposed covenant and the questions that are asked. So if we consider the interview the time at which a covenant is made, then LDS members are making all different sorts of covenants. So what exactly the baptismal covenants are that initiates enter into is not entirely clear. It is only during the endowment ceremony at the temple that LDS people formally make covenants. But these are promises to God. And of course, if the LDS church isn’t actually representing God, then these covenants are absolutely meaningless. Furthermore the validity of the temple covenant is highly questionable since initiates are not told what exactly they are covenanting to before the ceremony, and are asked to make a covenant in an environment at which they are highly unlikely to say no and highly likely to feel great pressure to say yes.

    For example, the covenant to “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” seems to me to be a covenant both between God and the person being baptized but also between the person being baptized and the rest of the saints.

    That is a line that is mentioned only in the Book of Mormon, not at any LDS church ceremony. It could be that some interviewers ask initiates if they are willing to covenant to do that, but there are no instructions given by the general leadership to do that.

    I think that we do make covenants with the Church.

    The covenants with God involve commitment to the LDS church, yes. But in no LDS ceremony are we making promises specifically to any mortal human being.

    One last point. If you believe that you have made a covenant with God to build up the kingdom of God and you perceive an action of the LDS church leaders to be hurting the kingdom of God, then shouldn’t you be trying to correct the church leaders? After you are under covenant (at least, according to your perception in this hypothetical scenario.

  12. There is a relationship that members have with the church itself that is not the subject of a particular express contract. That this relationship can be covenantal in nature is intuitive and in accordance with a pre-modern view of human relations. It’s precisely because a covenant really isn’t an express contract (in spite of much Sunday School teaching to the contrary) that the metaphor is apt. So, I think we grant Nate this point without searching for particular contractual language somewhere, while acknowledging that one of the positive contributions of the “marketplace of ideas” is that it figured out how to shine a light on the many kinds of abuse present in traditional relationships, and show a way out of them. I still think the overall problem with this post is that it doesn’t articulate any fiduciary duties or covenants the church owes the members as part of this relationship. The church’s “never apologize” stance is not a good start in this direction.

  13. I actually disagree about how obligations to others work. I think that we have a universal obligation to try to seek to treat everyone as Christ would treat them, but I also think that we have a special obligation toward those over whom we have stewardship and with whom we are fellow laborers in the Lord’s vineyard. I am actually OK with the idea that we have local obligations that are different and perhaps more immediately demanding than our universal obligations. I have universal obligations to all mankind, but I have qualitatively different obligations towards my wife and children.

  14. I think that the LDS church (at least according to its doctrine, not always according to its practice) places no one under obligation. It is only supposed to be by invitation and persuasion. The LDS church is a voluntary organization. No one should feel obligated to do anything.

  15. But doesn’t it seem disingenuous to say that you make a covenant with God, and take upon Christ’s name, through the authority of Priesthood held in a very specific church, but don’t want to assume the responsibility of associating with said church? (“associating” being mourning with fellow-saints, sustaining appointed leaders, and not evil speaking, etc.)

    To add another layer to the metaphor: when I got married, I made a covenant with my wife. Is it not bad form to continually bad-mouth her parents, the dreaded in-laws? Its true that I did not make a covenant with them (man they drive me crazy). But doesn’t continual criticism and negativity towards THEM cut against the covenant with my wife? “I’m not attacking HER, I’m attacking her family,” is a pretty sorry excuse,

  16. Any language can be useful between any two or more people when one remembers that unpleasant hurtful statements are not about the listener but about the speaker. All speech that has a five to one nice to hurtful communications can survive. If each person is willing to acknowledge that all speech is colored by the speaker and most probably does not apply to the listener things just go better. It is still true that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

  17. Nate, I agree with you about general and special obligations, but the rub comes because Christ would have us treat everyone as if they have special obligations. He erased the traditional special obligations (eg. love your friends and family) and imposed a new special one (love your enemies).

    PS if you’re going to call the LDS approach to speech a covenantal one, do you worry about bargaining power issues?

  18. Nate’s point about how a relationship is poisoned if we cultivate habits of mind that are exclusively or largely critical is valid regardless of whether our relationship with the church is/is not like a marriage. Even in the civic domain social peace is put at risk if participants in the argument become too polarized and incapable of seeing any merit or reason in the views of opposing parties. A nation needs to have a measure of shared identity or its survival will be at risk. That is still more true for the voluntary relationship between a member and the Church. Habits of affection, a presumption of beneficent intentions are essential if the relationship is to endure. As for whether the Church listens to its members, it clearly tries to, though its size and institutional ontology shape how that is done. It clearly devotes substantial resources to institutional research (surveys, etc.) and top leaders try to get out and rub shoulders with the Saints and hear their concerns. And as a matter of policy, the relationship with members is mostly managed at the local level where people are individually known and where, therefore, the complexities and nuances of particular personalities and circumstances may be taken into account.

  19. “The LDS church is a voluntary organization. No one should feel obligated to do anything.”

    Joining, participating, and entering into covenants within the church is entirely voluntary, but voluntarily making covenants most certainly obligates one to do things.

    The entire premise of the church is that it was instituted of God and granted exclusive priesthood authority to perform ordinances through which covenants are made. The church isn’t God and its leaders and members may not always represent Him properly, but depicting it as simply a necessary evil doesn’t fit the pattern. Is marriage a necessary evil? Is a physical body a necessary evil? How about agency? We’re taught that these things are inherently beautiful and divine, notwithstanding obvious difficulties, and the church itself falls in the same category. The marriage analogy fits in many ways, most especially in the role contempt can play in severing the relationship.

  20. We join the Church and we raise our hands to sustain fellow Saints in different roles. Yes, we have a covenant relationship with the Church. One cannot reject the Church and still receive the Savior. See D&C 112:20 and 84:36.

  21. This seems right. I think the issue of whether we have a covenant relationship with the church is a bit misleading. The key issue is whether our speech is to be more like within a marriage or the ideal of dispute in an exchange of free ideas. I’ve long been very partial to that latter. But over time I can’t help but recognize that in practice it doesn’t work very well. While I love vigorous debate most people don’t. Further even in the academy where you’d think people could have debate while maintaining an intellectual distance that doesn’t happen much. Academic blood sport is an all too common practical speech resulting for the ideal. Twitter is probably its strongest contemporary exemplar. For every great dispassionate news report there’s some troll and eventually some outrage mob.

    As much as I wish we could have that ideal, in practice we’re human, all too human.

    While I can see those who see the marriage discourse also as dangerous, I think that tends to be those who simply abuse themselves over the weak. There are always some like that. It just seems to be there are far more in the public arena of battling ideas than there are in situations where people have to at least make an effort to worry about other peoples feelings.

    Getting back to the covenant issue.

    While all in the church have a covenant with God, it’s also true that we are a covenant people. I think there is, due to our American culture, a tendency to make the nominalist move. To reduce the covenant people to a bunch of independent covenanting people and miss how they are all related. Yet we are a people in a way that transcends the individuals in that people. I’m not sure we can understand the Church as Church if we just think it’s a bunch of individual people making covenants. The whole point of the covenants is to bind us into something more. Into a people.

  22. You’ve pushed this metaphor for years and it hasn’t improved with time. The idea that cultivating a habit of thinking and speaking badly about the church is corrosive to one’s relationship is fine. But trying to dress that idea up by comparing it to a marriage and couching it in terms of covenants doesn’t work for me for a couple of reasons. First I am generally resistant to my fellow saints’ attempts to shoehorn everything into the language covenants. It makes me suspicious the same way–and for the same reasons–as when a slightly empowered fellow missionary would tell me I should do something to demonstrate my obedience. This feels less about covenants and more about your dislike of carping about the church on the internet. You should write a piece explaining why this is a bad practice without the suggestion that people who do so are covenant breakers. Second if my wife pulled half the stuff the church does I would divorce her. Yet I happily remain both married and a Mormon because I have different expectations of marriage and church. On the whole I think people expect too much of institutions and Mormons expect way too much of their church. But those expectations didn’t just drop from heaven, rather just as a constant stream of carping is corrosive, so too is a steady diet of airbrushed perfection. If a spouse carefully manages her image so as to appear flawless you might well react the first time she farts in front of you. The church has made great strides towards remaking its relationship with the membership it exists to serve and for that it should get credit.

  23. Joining, participating, and entering into covenants within the church is entirely voluntary, but voluntarily making covenants most certainly obligates one to do things.

    Look, something becomes an obligation when a significant punishment or denial of rights and privileges is imposed on someone for failure to comply with a rule, law, or norm or carry out a duty that they promised to do. The government obligates me to pay taxes. If I don’t, government authorities maintain the right to impose a range of punishments on me and deny me several rights and privileges. I’m also obligated to obey the law, whatever the law happens to be in a given area. In today’s world there is almost no way I can avoid living under the authority of some government or another, to which I am subject to laws (or authoritarian rule in some areas) and taxes (unless I lived in Antarctica or the North Pole, and I could probably get away with not paying taxes and obeying laws and government authority in the Amazon rain forest or Sahara Desert, and some people do). I am also obligated to abide by social norms and customs. Society obligates me to not be constantly keeping my mouth wide open and sticking out my tongue. Constantly doing so is not illegal, but it is likely that people would avoid interaction with me if I did so. In Mormon society, people are subject to obligations like they are in all societies. However, no one is obligated to remain an active LDS person or continually profess belief in its doctrines. For any action on the part of a church leader or member to impose significant social punishment on another person for not remaining active or professing belief in LDS doctrine contravenes the LDS doctrine of agency. And it is agency that makes the LDS church completely voluntary at all times, no matter how long someone has been a member or how significant of callings they have held. According to Mormon doctrine if I make a covenant and do not do my best to keep it, God may subject to punishment in the hereafter (again the doctrine of agency conveys the idea that God withholds punishment until after you die). But no mortal being has the right to impose punishment on a person for no longer paying tithing, holding a calling, or attending church. At most, a bishopric will ask someone to not take the sacrament, release someone from a calling, and not give them a temple recommend. Mormon society may shame those who leave, but this goes against church teachings. In fact, if anything, current LDS policy is to always invite people to participate in church and persuade them to believe, but to never force anything. In this mortal life, covenants do not obligate you to anything. The covenant only creates the illusion of obligation and is often wrongfully used as a tool of shaming towards those who leave the faith.

  24. While we make our covenants with God, I think it is not a stretch to say that that creates a special bond with others who make the same covenant. Section 88 speaks of being received into fellowship in that covenant “in a determination that is fixed, immovable, and unchangeable, to be your friend and brother through the grace of God in the bonds of love, to walk in all the commandments of God blameless, in thanksgiving, forever and ever.” The “fixed, immovable and unchangeable” nature of that fellowship makes it sound like a marriage to me.

    As for whether we have special obligations to church leaders, it seems to me that that kind of relationship does give rise to at least some expectation of charity simply because they are part of that fellowship, regardless of their leadership status. If more than that of necessary, beyond that, though, if we accept church leaders as God’s lawful and authorized agents, then it seems to me that at least some of our covenant obligations would run to them, which makes Nate’s analogy (and it is only an analogy) apt for describing how speech should work in the church.

  25. Mathew: I don’t think that those who are carping on the internet are covenant breakers. Nor do I think that the relationship with the Church is just like a marriage. Rather, I think that covenants create relationships with communities and others that are qualitatively different than the kind of relationships that structure a liberal democratic polity, which is our main model for thinking about acceptable speech. Marriage is a a good metaphor or starting place for thinking about what is different, but it is only a metaphor or a starting place. I don’t see why your resentment of your mission companion should be transferred to my brilliant insight ;->.

  26. Nate, I’ve given more thought to your marriage analogy. Setting aside for now the issue of whether members actually have a covenant relationship with each other, I think we can still discuss the merits of the analogy in our relationship with the church.

    Here’s my new thought: what type of marriage are we talking about? I see two primary models in the church. The first – taught in temple prep classes – is a triangle with God at the top and man and woman at the corners. Both spouses are equally positioned. As they each walk towards God, they become fully unified. It’s a nice model IMO. The second model – what is actually taught in the temple – is a hierarchy where man covenants with and receives direction from God, and woman covenants with and receives direction from man.

    When I first read your post I had only in mind the triangle/equality model of marriage. That’s how my marriage functions and how most all of my peers view the institution. If, however, you’re actually talking about the temple/hierarchy model, then I tend to agree with you that there are significant parallels between that form of marriage and how we interact with church leaders.

  27. I, too, have problems with the marriage analogy. Indeed, I have problems with any attempt to prescribe norms that may impede our search for the truth, though I do readily concede that there are times when it’s important to keep your mouth shut (especially in a marriage) and that diplomacy and tact are important.

    Instead, I prefer a different approach: never, ever criticize an individual but never, ever hesitate to question an idea or policy. Personal attacks are never acceptable, but bad ideas should never be off limits—regardless of their source. The scripture warns against “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed,” not the ideas of the anointed.

    I am reminded of the amicable relationship that existed between President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neil, two men who were miles apart politically and often waged vigorous battles against each other over policy matters, but yet esteemed each other a friend and were willing to work together when they found common ground.

    The Reagan and O’Neil relationship worked because both men possessed two important character traits: (1) maturity, and (2) humility. They were mature enough to realize that there was nothing personal in their disagreements (i.e., they didn’t let their pride get in the way), and they were humble enough to admit that they might be wrong and the other guy might be right or that perhaps the truth lied somewhere in the middle. They didn’t always exhibit these traits, but for the most part they never allowed their political differences to diminish the affection they had for each other.

    Do the leaders of our church possess these character traits? Do we?

  28. I agree that complaining about how the spouse parks the car crooked and unloads the dishwasher “wrong,” etc is damaging to a marriage. I guess you are saying all criticisms of the church are this trivial in the scheme of things? I disagree.

    I think any marriage counselor would encourage one troubled spouse to say to the other: “when you do __, I feel ___,” “you are hurting me when you do that,” “if you keep treating this way, I will leave you,” and if it keeps getting worse then yes, tell your bishop how your spouse treats you, tell your friend you need a place to stay the night and why, tell your family the marriage is on the rocks and why. If the spouse’s response is to say “how dare you air our family’s dirty laundry?” it speaks volumes. I guess you think no one’s criticisms of the church are coming from a place of sincere hurt this severe. What would those people have to do for you to recognize that they aren’t just nitpicking, that in fact their souls are being crushed?

  29. “This feels less about covenants and more about your dislike of carping about the church on the internet. You should write a piece explaining why this is a bad practice without the suggestion that people who do so are covenant breakers.”

    Not to speak for Nate, but I personally feel there’s something wrong with the way many insiders criticize the church, even when I agree with the criticism itself. Nate articulates the way I feel better than I ever could have. To me, it is my “ward family” and the church is my tribe, literal blood-bonds being replaced by shared covenants. Nate just took it one step further with the marriage analogy. The tone and attitude of many critical insiders has a feel similar to that of a parent yelling at a teen that if she can’t even keep her room clean, she’s never going to amount to anything. Or a brother telling his teenage sister she’s fat. Or a husband coming home from a bad day at work, finding no dinner, unkempt kids running from mess to mess, and his stay-at-home wife reading a book, only to announce he’s going to a hotel for the night. Nate’s not calling people covenant-breakers to suggest there’s something not right in that. And, nobody should be surprised if there’s a slight pulling-away that occurs every time it happens.

  30. I think Nate’s original post has it about right.

    If one is committed to the LDS faith (some type of covenant relationship), one should feel some affection or nurturing disposition towards the organization. If one disparages the LDS church in one’s heart or in public, one should expect one’s relationship with the organization to ferment. If one is to find spiritual sustenance in the LDS faith, one should think about it in charitable terms. That makes sense to me.

    Now if one is on the way out of the faith … or working out some kind of compromise with the faith for personal reasons …

    Here’s a knot I’ve dealt with: The LDS faith’s narrative for the person on the way out is the “personal apostasy” narrative. That narrative does me no good. It puts me in a position of opposition where I feel obligated to rationalize or justify my opposition to the LDS faith. That opposition plays out in public and private discourse and it sours me. Just as if I was constantly harping about the weather or the local sports team.

    One should seek to replace whatever part of one’s heart was occupied by the LDS faith with something good, not discord.

    So I agree with Nate. If you’re in, your spiritual life will be better if you’re emotionally and intellectually “in” as well. Marriage isn’t a bad metaphor. If you’re out (emotionally, psychologically, or intellectually), you’re better off working to fill your time and mind with something other than disparaging the LDS faith.

    My .02.

  31. This is my favorite Nate Oman post of all time. I agree completely with what he says about speech. Furthermore, although the following extension of the metaphor will not be seen as apt by some ( or possibly even prurient by others), I think the passionate ecstasy one experiences in marriage is the aspect of the church covenant that is the most under pressure right now. For some, the passionate experience of church may have become routine, boring or completely avoided. It is much easier to have kind words for one’s spouse when one’s passionate desires are being met. The church gets the most praise when it is taking you there.

  32. People who get divorced often cannot stop talking about their Ex because they have spent so much time and resources—physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional—-with that person that a divorce is highly disruptive to the patterns of the psyche that have been established in that intimate relationship. One of the mantra’s I hear from members and leaders is that people who leave the church cannot leave it alone. They say this as proof of the truthfulness of the church. But as the marriage metaphor makes clear, when one spends so much time establishing a psychic structure with an organization and way of life like Mormonism, and then leaves it, the angst that it causes is a natural byproduct of the relationship.

    I like Nate’s initial post. The metaphor of marriage and covenant is imperfect but not inappropriate, and it follows that if one strives to have a good relationship with the Church then one will seek to speak good of it even in bad times, just as they would do in a marriage. The impulse behind this thought I think is right-hearted.

    It is true that the Church is not a spouse, and the covenant relationship is different, and the various arguments made on this thread simply point out that what is being discussed is a paradox—and that is why one can be correct in arguing both sides of the coin.

    For me, the paradox can be restated as: “I make a covenant with the Kingdom, and I work out that covenant within the Church.” It is true, an alarming number of Mormons, high and low, have not distinguished between the Kingdom and the Church, and this has led to a great many problems. I have personally witnessed, quite frankly more times than I can count, how people have put the Church in front of the Kingdom. For me, the Kingdom is the child. The Kingdom is the family. The Church is the corporate structure that builds a community out of the Kingdom. As such, the child and family were not born to serve the Church, the Church was created to serve the Kingdom. How very often has this been gotten backwards. . . as perhaps it always has.

  33. +1 “your food allergy is fake”

    I’m very interested if a psychologist following this thread can unpack #34 a bit. In a way that doesn’t disparage the LDS church, of course.

  34. Not a psychologist, but it seems straightforward to me. People tend to feel negatively toward and disparage their spouses when the spouse is failing to meet certain needs. #34 is referring to sexual needs in a marriage. But in the church metaphor, it would be spiritual needs. In most troubled marriages, there’s often room for blame on both sides. If one spouse slacks off in their efforts, the other spouse will feel hurt and want to slack off in their efforts and/or start disparaging, which only makes the first spouse less willing to make an effort, etc. And since there are humans on both sides of the church member / church relationship, such a human dynamic might develop.

    In my own relationships, if someone is bothering me, I try to work things out directly with that person in private, and only if that doesn’t work, I may feel the need to tell someone else–so that I can get advice on how to handle it better or get perspective on whether I might be blowing it out of proportion or to get comfort and support after someone has harmed me. In a marriage, surely there are times when you need to take your spouse aside and say, “honey, you probably don’t realize this, but it seriously hurts me so much when you ____, and I was wondering if you could try to ____ instead?” How does that moment of asking for your needs to be better met even happen when the other person is actually a church, though?

    If it’s a marriage, what is the equivalent of me and the church sitting down with a marriage counselor to put it all out on the table and work things out between us? That would involve both of us talking about the problem as we each see it, along with a well-trained neutral observer keeping us both accountable and offering insights. Maybe if some kind of mediation were available, so that these conversations could take place in an atmosphere of love and openness, of taking an honest inventory and making amends for any wrongs on both sides, then church members who have truly been ill-treated by local leaders or who feel soul-sickened by church policies yet nourished by the doctrines, wouldn’t feel the need to take their disgruntlement public?

    The disgruntled members referred to in the post are the very ones who are in need of comfort; that’s what their public airing of grievances is: a cry for help/comfort. They’re among the ones whom church members have covenanted to mourn with and comfort. I think it’s possible to do a massively better job of comforting them than simply criticizing the tone of their criticisms.

  35. Couple of things.

    For those Born in the Covenant, this whole marriage metaphor is a little icky. Babies are born into and raised by the church to become its spouse after coming of age. Kinda weird. Poor BiCs never had a chance.

    Also, in this marriage the Church is pretty much a sex-withholding spouse who promises all sorts of rewards and goodies–which s/he shall grant once you are dead if you totes do everything right by him/her for, like, 7 decades. Not everyone is cut out for that kind of marriage. People are gonna gripe. Can you blame them?

  36. One more thing.

    This marriage metaphor feels awfully presentist. Not so long ago I probably wouldn’t be so sanguine thinking about how my father gave/sold/bartered my virginal self to some dude who will own my body till he tires of me, gets an heir, and/or I die. And yeah, I’m just going on the assumption that the Church is the dude here, cuz how else can it really be thought of?

  37. he he. I should probably pick an anonymous name. Oh dear.

    So here’s my question from your #34 comment:

    I’m just curious if sex and religious worship are tied up cognitively. Religions tend to disparage sex, so my guess would be that the cognitive processes involved in sex threatens religious belief in some way, and religions generally emphasize long-term love, like marriage, so religions tend to promote that type of cognitive process. Maybe?

    We have plenty of hymns about the faith-as-war metaphor, but I can’t think of any hymns about the faith-as-orgasm metaphor. (From here on out I’ll be posting under something anonymous.)

    Today is the first time I’ve really thought about it. Thanks, Nate. If this strays too far from the original post, please feel free to shut down this line of conversation.

  38. Josh,

    Yes, best not to go there but there is this one:

    “In the cottage there is joy
    When there’s love at home;
    Hate and envy ne’er annoy
    When there’s love at home.
    Roses bloom beneath our feet;
    All the earth’s a garden sweet,
    Making life a bliss complete
    When there’s love at home.
    Love at home, love at home;
    Making life a bliss complete
    When there’s love at home.”

  39. Yep. I can definitely see it there. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll go to the entire 3-hour block this week. This could be revolutionary for me. Thanks, Martin.

  40. Martin James. Actually, there’s some covenantal aspects of the “passionate” bits you’re talking about above. Its in Chapter 7,”Verba Solemnia and Sexual Union: The Requisite Covenant-Ratifying Oath and Oath-Sign for Marriage. Its from Marriage as Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi by Gordon P. Hugenberger, Baker Books, 1994, pp. 216-279. The first sentence reads, “In the previous chapter it was argued that for marriage to constitute a ‘covenant’ [HEB letters] in its normal sense it must be accompanied by a ratifying oath and/or oath-sign.” I’ll let your minds go forward to what that “oath-sign” might be. Its actually a very good argument in my mind.

    Another book on covenants that might help establish the argument between the heavyweights above as to whether our covenants are with God or the Church is “Kinship by Covenant” by Scott Hahn. Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library, 2009. This is the best overview of the subject I’ve seen and the bibliography is full of amazing leads.

  41. Seems like an obvious post to slip in his clutch citation:

    See e.g. Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) (Scalia, J., dissenting) (“Expression, sure enough, is a freedom, but anyone in a long-lasting marriage will attest that that happy state constricts, rather than expands, what one can prudently say.”)

  42. Just to flip things on its head with this analogy I don’t agree with, doesn’t that mean leaders need to stop saying unkind things about Ordain Women, John Dehlin, etc.? And Jesus taught we should never divorce except for adultery, so doesn’t that mean excommunications should only happen if a person becomes a baptized, covenant-making member of another church? Otherwise, shouldn’t the church stick it out with all its members?

    Gordon Hinckley shared a story of a man who, whenever he and his wife would quarrel, he or she would leave the house go take a walk until they both cooled down. ( ). So, if it’s a marriage, when members are upset, shouldn’t the leaders leave their positions for awhile, and come back when everyone has cooled down?

    That’s how healthy marriages work. So if this is a marriage, the leadership is incredibly emotionally abusive, and is definitely not treating its spouse as his equal. And if we extend the analogy, Nate, would you be that friend that goes out for drinks with the abuser and tells him how his wife deserves every bruise she gets because she’s always nagging and criticizing him, and if she would just keep silent there wouldn’t be any problems?

    Good thing the analogy breaks apart from the beginning.

    I think it’s more like we’re all the polygamous wives of God. Some of us get along well, but some think they are more important or more favored than others, because she married him first, or has had more children, or just because she thinks she’s better than the other wives. What kind of wife we are has nothing to do with our position in the church—leaders are servants, and all are equal. All can be petty and callow. All can be jealous. All can not understand how God can love all those other wives with all their many flaws and edges.

    But the amazing thing is, God is the one person who has successfully made polygamy work. We as sister wives should treat each other better, it’s true. But that means listening to each other, not just “keeping sweet.” That form of polygamy doesn’t work at all.

  43. Someone writes a long sincere comment and gets “never mind” in return. You know what–you don’t have to read it or respond to it at all, Josh Smith. It would have been kinder to say nothing if you felt my comment was taking things in a direction you didn’t want to go. Keep giggling about orgasm instead of responding to heartfelt hurt. You’re all demonstrating such maturity, such examples of Christlike love.

  44. mirrorrorrim, sometimes a marriage just isn’t working and divorce is the appropriate response. I don’t think the analogy breaks down as you suggest.

  45. I’m sorry, Eve. I’m even more immature in person. For what it’s worth, I’m genuinely sorry.

  46. ““In the previous chapter it was argued that for marriage to constitute a ‘covenant’ [HEB letters] in its normal sense it must be accompanied by a ratifying oath and/or oath-sign.” I’ll let your minds go forward to what that “oath-sign” might be. Its actually a very good argument in my mind.”

    It was long a legal fundamental that a marriage unconsummated wasn’t a marriage. I believe that it still one of the grounds for annulment in most places.

  47. People keep raising this marriage analogy to show that liberal democratic/critical norms of discourse do not apply to the church. E.g., you wouldn’t criticize your spouse in public.

    …but the big big issue with this is that in a marriage, you still have to be communicative with one another *internally*. If spouses are not responsive to *each other*, or communication is only expected or allowed in one direction, that is not a good model for a marriage.

    For a lot of people, they find that their relationship with the church (or leaders, or institution, or whatever subset of the church that we metonymize) is not an equal and fair relationship. It is one-sided, or where one spouse holds the keys and power and has authority to speak, but the other spouse does not.

    For whatever it’s worth, I don’t really think that the church really believes in a model of equal and egalitarian marriage. For whatever it’s worth, I think that the church really does believe in a patriarchal model where the husband/father has ultimate authority and might sometimes ask the wife and kids for input, but does not have to, and certainly does not have to listen. So, there is no apparent conflict with using that sort of marriage as a metaphor for the church, since the lack of responsiveness, lack of two-way communication, etc., is seen as constitutive of the marriage and not destructive to it.

    But you know…if that’s what the church is really wanting to promulgate, can we get rid of the veneer of equal-yet-not-the-same complementarity about “equal presiders”, etc.,?

  48. I never made a covenant with the Church. I made eternal covenants with Deity. One series of covenants I made in partnership with my wife. But we made those covenants with Deity. The Church is not like a spouse. It is not a permanent party, perhaps not a party at all, in these covenants. It receives my support because that is a temporary condition of one of the covenants I made with Deity.

    The Church as a body is also composed of people from all walks of life who are attempting to make and keep those same covenants. They are my team. Sorry for yet another athletic fan metaphor, but I cheer and hope for my team, even if I know my team is not always perfect. But I do not make covenants with them. I make covenants with God to serve them.

    The Church provides the proper authority and teachings necessary for us to live those covenants. It disciplines members who endanger that authority or actively subvert those teachings. The Church is a temporary provider and temporary arbiter of the covenants. It is a temporal organization. It is more like a babysitter! (I hope I don’t offend with that metaphor.) It will not exist in eternity therefore it cannot be part of an eternal covenant.

  49. One would think no one ever attended the Temple where there indeed is a Covenant between members and the Church. Also, one would think no one here read the Scriptures where God and Christ compare the relationship between them and the members (i.e. Church) the Bride and the Bridegroom. Oh well. Makes for great theater.

  50. Jettboy, perhaps you would care to show us evidence in church doctrine or even in the temple ceremony of the LDS church being defined as the covenantee. God is always defined as the covenantee. The LDS church, at least according to its own doctrine, is simply defined as a body of divinely called leaders to whom God gave authority to perform necessary ordinances of salvation. As for the bridegroom parable in Matthew 25, the ten virgins (which you’re referring to as brides?) aren’t in any sort of covenantal relationship with the bridegroom before his coming. Those virgins who are prepared enter into the marriage (meaning they become Jesus’ people) when he comes.

    Here is an explanation about the parable from a church manual on the LDS church’s official website:

    Jesus is like the bridegroom in this story. Church members are like the ten women. When Jesus comes again, some members will be ready. They will have obeyed God’s commandments. Others will not be ready. They will not be able to be with the Savior when He comes again.

    Even if the parable were clearly alluding to a covenantal relationship before Jesus’ coming, it would still confirm that God, and not the church, is a covenantee. For Jesus is the bridegroom and he is God. So I don’t see your point.

  51. “Love is not blind. That is the last thing love is. Love is bound, and the more it is bound, the less it is blind.” G. K. Chesterton

  52. Just thought of another way of putting it. Saying that members are covenanting with the LDS church at covenant-making ceremonies arranged by the LDS church is much like saying that a home-buyers in areas where there is a homeowner’s association (which subjects homeowners to CC&Rs (covenants, conditions, and restrictions), which most of them do) are making covenants with a lawyer or real estate agent who arranges the signing of a covenant, which they are not. The home-buyer is the covenantor and the HOA is the covenantee. The lawyers and agents act as intermediaries who are authorized by the HOA to arrange the making of the covenant and prepare the proper paperwork that would make the covenant legally binding, thus obligating the home-buyer to certain actions contingent upon them buying the home and allowing the HOA to pursued a number of specified legal actions/punishments against the home-buyer in the event that they do not fulfill the covenants that they made upon signing the document. The home-buyer is given a chance to review the CC&Rs before buying a home in a particular HOA-governed area (i.e., the home-buyer/declarant covenants to landscape the front yard within 30 days of purchasing the home, and if they don’t they’ll be issued a warning, then a citation, fine, and at worst sued by the HOA). In LDS doctrine, the LDS church is best understood as the lawyers and agents whom authorizes to provide structure for covenant-making with God, and without whom God supposedly said that humans cannot be saved in the afterlife. However, in LDS doctrine, there is also the idea of agency, which in essence allows humans a space to learn by trial and error and repent out of their own volition while in the mortal life before being subjected to God’s punishment in full.

    What boggles my mind is Nate and others saying that we are actually making a covenant with the LDS church and even suggesting that the LDS church and its members have a right to enforce that covenant through social punishment. If you do not live up a covenant supposed made with God through the LDS church, no LDS person has the right to punish you according to their perception of God’s law, be it through excessively shaming, shunning, ostracizing, divorce, estrangement, etc. Perhaps some sort of social punishment could be deemed acceptable because of violation of a social custom or someone’s personal feelings (say if for instance the offender committed adultery) or take legal action against you for a violation of the law of the land, but in God’s law (or at least the LDS church’s understanding of it) there is agency, and punishment and judgment are reserved for God alone. No LDS leader or member has the authority to to take God’s law into their own hands. Punishments may come in the afterlife, but only then should they come. Furthermore, no one should presume to speak for God on another’s behalf. Suppose if I were a home-owner who didn’t landscape my property as I had covenanted to do and the real estate agent through whom I made the covenant came along and sued me for not landscaping. They wouldn’t have the right to do that. Only the HOA would. They could warn me that HOA might punish me for doing that, but it would the epitome of presumption for them to actual exact the punishment.

    I see the insistence that the members are making a covenant with the LDS church as merely a subtle way of shaming those who for whatever reason choose to discontinue participation in the church, particularly those who voice disbelief, critique, and criticism (some of which appears perfectly justified), and I thought I would take it upon myself to call you out on this.

  53. Brother Nate, I know this thread is over and done, but it’s Sunday morning and I finally have a chance to catch up. I grew up with the tradition and practice of using *marriage* as a metaphor (with all the over- and under- characteristic of metaphors) for one’s relationship with God, and *family* as a metaphor for one’s relationship with the Church and Church members. The latter to make the very same case you are making for (among other things) not using the liberal democratic model for discussion about and within the Church. In reaching for what might at first seem the stronger metaphor (marriage) I think you do more harm than good to your argument. The objections, the over- and under- aspects (that every metaphor has), come so quickly to mind that they drown out the message. As illustrated in part by many of the comments above.

  54. Nate,

    I wonder if all the objectors to your metaphor read your admission that it was only a metaphor. But more troubling, I think some of them were offended by any thought that church members should show any habits of affection towards the church.

  55. ji, I take it that I would probably number among the objectors to Nate’s metaphor. If Nate were only saying that the covenant relationship that LDS people have with God is like a marriage, I would agree that the promises made by a bride to a groom and vice-versa in a marriage, as we understand marriage throughout history and today, could serve as some sort of a very loose metaphor that could be used to illustrate the covenant relationship with God (the big differences being of course that we don’t see God and that the covenants are how they are fulfilled aren’t subject to negotiation like they could possibly be in a marriage). However, the idea that members’ relationships with the LDS church is like a relationship of a bride/wife with a groom/husband makes no sense either in terms of LDS doctrine or in terms of secular logic. For in LDS doctrine, covenants are made with God, not the church, not the other members of the church, and not the leaders of the church either collectively or individually. The metaphor could loosely work if he said that the relationship between the individual member and the LDS church were like that of the groom or bride and the person performing the marriage. In terms of secular logic, the metaphor doesn’t work because the church is a voluntary organization. The covenant is done according to God’s law, and no one but God has authority to punish violators of this divine law. In the developed world, civil marriages are institutions brought into existence through government recognition, and husbands and wives maintain the right to seek divorces and have the government impose penalties, such as alimony, child support, and restraining orders, on parties as per requests of plaintiff deemed by judges to be legitimate.

    I think some of them were offended by any thought that church members should show any habits of affection towards the church.

    This is a ridiculous way of putting it. As if liberal, less active, and former members are all just so prone to getting offended (and hardcore conservative members aren’t?). Offendedness aside, in LDS church practice members aren’t obligated to show habits of affection towards the church, they are invited to, and supposedly receive God’s blessings for so doing. Like it or not, the LDS church allows for people to opt out of it free of blame and shame. Many commenters appear to be in love with the idea of browbeating less active members over the head by foisting the covenant issue on them. I think the OP does so unwittingly. But many of the commenters are doing so quite deliberately. You have no right to do so.

  56. So, you object to the metaphor of a marriage — okay — what about the whole point of the original posting, that habits of affection make for a better relationship?

  57. Covenant or no covenant with the Church, I am rather partial to D&C 28:

    3 And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church.

    4 And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.

    5 But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;

    6 And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church;

    Our covenant is with God, and God as requested and required that we give heed to the individual who is at the head of the Church.

  58. ji, you’re missing the point of the post, which is that because membership in the church is a covenant relationship like unto marriage, our speech patterns in relation to church should be habitually affectionate. If we aren’t actually making a covenant with the LDS church, which we aren’t, then the entire point of the post is moot. If Nate wanted to make the case that habits of affection make for a better relationship without invoking the idea of covenant, that’s one thing (and a topic for a different discussion), but the title of the post is “Covenant and Speech,” and this line seems to capture the main point, “our covenant relationship with the Church depends on not only mutual fidelity to promises but also on habits of affection and charity.”

    Meg, you’re taking these passages out of context. This is part of a revelation from God that Joseph Smith supposedly received in September 1830 concerning Oliver Cowdery giving heed to supposed divine revelations that Hiram Page was receiving by looking at a seer stone. Note that it is said that Cowdery should be obedient unto the things which God is to give unto him in verse 3 (not obey Joseph Smith no matter what he says). Also note that speaking and writing by way of commandment is differentiated from simply speaking and teaching or writing by wisdom. It appears that speaking by way of commandment means telling people to do things because that is what God supposedly revealed to you (which would make sense given the context). It also appears that “thou shalt not command” could also be said, “thou shalt not speak by way of commandment” in verse 6. So Cowdery is to not tell Joseph Smith what to do and say because of a supposedly received revelation from God or because he believes that Hiram Page supposedly received a revelation by looking at a seer stone. However, this does not prohibit Cowdery from advising and correcting Joseph Smith based on his own good sense and judgment. It simply means Cowdery can’t command Joseph Smith. So better said, our covenant is with God, and it can be derived from God’s supposed words to Oliver Cowdery recorded in these passages in D&C 28 that we not command (in other words to tell the leaders that God told me to tell you to do/say x) the leaders of the church (provided that God actually authorized Brigham Young to lead the church after Joseph Smith, then John Taylor, then Lorenzo Snow, etc. up until Thomas S. Monson, and didn’t authorize Joseph Smith III, James Strang, Charles W. Kingston, Christopher Nemelka, and whole long list of other people who accept Joseph Smith as prophet, but claim that God gave them authority). So you’re taking a risk with God by not giving heed to the teachings of the Strangites, the Kingston Clan, or Nemelka.

  59. So, you object to the metaphor of a covenant — okay — what about the whole point of the original posting, that habits of affection make for a better relationship?

  60. I’m not taking any risks in following the Church that God Himself told me to follow (much to my decades-long bemusement).

    I descend from several people who were intimately familiar with Joseph and those of his followers who went west. I even descend from one of the two leaders who covenanted to murder Joseph (both of whom ended up with the Strangites). Speaking of Strang, he joined the Church at the same time the conspiracy to kill Joseph Smith gained momentum, the same month Thomas Sharp resumed editorship of the Warsaw Signal. So many of those who plotted against Joseph joined the Strangites that I tend to suspect anyone who joined that movement of having been involved in Bennett’s Spiritual Wifery.

    You appear to have an issue with the idea that the LDS Church should be able to command any level of commitment from those who covenant with God. Is this honestly a stance that God Himself has asked you to propone?

    I’m inferring that you haven’t been involved in any hierarchical organization where the power of the organization arose in part from the collective power of the members of the organization. If you have been a member of such an organization, did they take kindly to your assurances to fellow members of the organization that there was no need for order and fulfilling expectations? Did they like you questioning the fundamental legitimacy of the organization?

    I work for the Navy and we’ve had a few of that sort. One of them took a gun into my building and shot several of his co-workers. It is from that perspective that I am suspicious of those who don’t acknowledge legitimacy of rules or the wisdom in supporting the legitimacy of an organization to which individuals have joined themselves.

    Then again, if you aren’t actually a member of the LDS Church, then I can understand your questions regarding property order. But if that is the case, then perhaps you shouldn’t be presuming to instruct me on the meaning of LDS scripture.

  61. This escalated quickly in a very scary direction.

    Meg, I think the problem with using anecdotes to classify groups of disparate people is that it never works. I am sorry that you had the trauma of having someone shoot people in the building you work in—that must have been incredibly frightening and painful. But that person, and anyone who goes and kills other people of her own initiative, are thankfully incredibly rare, and therefore not representative of anyone else, even if she shares certain views with other people.

    Experiences like the one you had can easily color our views of everything, and I don’t blame you for relating many different things to it. But please, do not believe that all of humanity are just serial killers waiting to be uncovered. We aren’t.

    I promise.

  62. Ji, Eve of Destruction, in responses 9, 31, and 38, gives the response to what you’re be looking for. My own responses less eloquently addressed the same thing.

    Clark, Jesus said wives should only be divorced of they committed adultery. Do you agree with that statement? If not, that’s a separate discussion about the applicability of scripture to modern times, which this probably isn’t the place for. If you do agree with what Jesus is reported to have said, then do you disagree that the church divorces itself sometimes for things that fall far short of adultery? If so, then the analogy breaks down, or you are saying that you don’t think the church is a righteous, Christ-following spouse. I think the latter, and its ramifications, are an interesting consideration, but from your posts, do not represent a view I normally associate with you.

    Ji, once you agree that the metaphor of a covenant isn’t accurate, you can begin to question the fundamental underpinnings of the relationship without presumptions of whether they are good or bad. In doing so, as Clark suggests, even if you stick with the marriage analogy, some marriages need to be ended or changed.

    I think Eve of Destruction’s question about the equivalent of a church-membership relationship counselor is a profound one.

    Ji, what are your thoughts on the idea? Is there an equivalent to a marriage counselor? If not, should there be, to facilitate maintaining a healthy relationship, including promoting habits of affection from both parties? Or does it trouble you to think that this might be something other than an idealized, unchangeable covenant relationship? I’m really interested in what you think.

  63. You appear to have an issue with the idea that the LDS Church should be able to command any level of commitment from those who covenant with God

    I have an issue with people who misrepresent the LDS church’s doctrine and encouraged approach. The doctrine of agency is a prime LDS doctrine. According to LDS church doctrine, every individual is free to choose. This mortal life is a probationary state where people are free to learn through trial and error without having to face God’s punishments immediately after they make a mistake. They are given time and space to repent. The church leaders and members are to invite people to participate and persuade them to believe, but not to use any sort of force or coercion whatsoever. The LDS church invites people to make covenants with God, but God alone has the right to punish. Some degree of social expectation placed on members by LDS leaders and other members is fine. In all organizations and societies, there is some degree of social expectation. However, it is problematic when these expectations are raised to the extent that members feel the need to shame, ostracize, divorce, disown, and shun those who no longer desire to participate by invoking the words, “but, you made a covenant!,” which I have heard time and again from friends, family, and believers said in reaction to news that someone discontinued participation. My point is that the LDS church is a strictly voluntary organization. I would think that such a proposition would be pretty self-explanatory, but I guess I stand corrected.

    I work for the Navy…

    Really scratching my head here. Psychopathy and sociopathy are not the default psychological states of those who don’t believe in institutionalized religion. Look at the intentional homicide rates of the least religious countries (Japan, France, Czech Republic) and you’ll find that they are among the lowest in the world. In fact, a great number of seeming psychopathic murderous acts have been committed by those claiming to be fervently religious (suicide bombers in the Muslim world, Anders Breivik, etc.). Furthermore if you’re comparing the navy (US navy?) to the LDS church, it is an apples to oranges comparison. The navy is under the command of the US government. Its mission is to provide defense for a country (mostly in the sea) and attack enemies when commanded. The LDS church is a non-profit organization that operates more or less privately. People are free to join and leave as they please. I should add that I do believe that in a great number of circumstances that people should be obligated to honor commitments. Soldiers who are commanded to take a tour of duty have to go, and if they don’t, they should be subject to punishments imposed upon them by military tribunals. But that is because I don’t believe in anarchy and I believe that just governments should exist and that they should have the right to raise up a military and collect taxes through force (albeit also by informing citizens of their rights). But the LDS church is not an earthly government. In fact, Jesus Christ, to the chagrin of many Jews during his time who sought political liberation from the Roman Empire, never aspired for earthly power. His kingdom is not of this world. God’s laws are applied after we die.

    ji, cat got your tongue?

  64. I think practicing habits of affection is part of practicing charity, and I recommend acting charitably in all of our relationships. So yes, in my relationship with the Church, I think it is good to act charitably and with habits of affection, and I appreciate the original posting. I recommend a charitable approach for others who want to have a meaningful relationship with the Church.

  65. Hi Brad L,

    I agree that we have agency. I don’t agree that agency means that a covenant made to God may be lightly ignored.

    I would, in my own life, love all because from eternity they are worthy of love and honor, no matter what they have done in mortality.

    There is certain kinds of talk that I read in the Expositor, written by my ancestor, that at times resembles what I read here. From disclosures not captured in the Expositor, I am aware that my ancestor (Austin Cowles) was co-ring-leader of a group of roughly 200 men who had sworn an oath to murder Joseph Smith, that they came very close to securing the secrecy of their oath by murder (murder of the two teenagers who refused to take the oath, the two who it turns out had been giving intel to Joseph).

    Austin Cowles professed to love God, love the Book of Mormon, and be deeply committed to the principles of the gospel as restored by Joseph Smith. Yet he and others felt the time had come to separate themselves from the Church as led by Joseph (or so they said after they had already been excommunicated for undisclosed apostasy, all this following Joseph receiving intelligence regarding the murderous plot.

    When I study the tale of Joseph’s death, I see the conspiracy’s fingerprints all over the event.

    Jesus’ Kingdom may not be of this world, but neither is it a mere club, where members may wander in and out without consequence.

    Austin Cowles family continued to love him, even while many of them continued to follow Brigham and the apostles to the west. As soon as it was known that sealings properly should join families together (rather than merely “sealing” Church members into a heavenly “family”), Austin’s three grand-daughters assembled their 20 children and went to the temple in 1900, having the proxy work done to seal themselves to Austin. And though I now know things about Austin that they never admitted, my heart is with theirs in hoping that Austin will overcome the hatred he harbored in life and embrace God’s grace, salvation, and the love of his family.

    Going back to D&C 28, I don’t agree that this is a localized scripture that has no applicability to our times. I think this matter of modern members preaching against the Church and the prophet (Dehlin and others) and insisting on commanding the prophet (Kelly and others) is the reason for their various excommunications. In both the specific cases mentioned, the individuals were counseled for an extended period of time in hopes of reforming their rebellious views.

    I see much more similarity between organizations (such as the Navy) and the Church that others here do. There is a certain level of bad behavior and lack of loyalty that warrants formal action, in my opinion. But everyone is accountable to God for their own views, so feel free to believe what you think is right.

  66. Meg, interesting story about Austin Cowles. However, you’re going overboard by comparing today’s less actives with murderous mobs of the 19th century. At worst, there has been Tom Phillips who formally accused Thomas S. Monson of fraud in a British court. But that’s a far cry from gathering people and having them take an oath to kill.

    Jesus’ Kingdom may not be of this world, but neither is it a mere club, where members may wander in and out without consequence.

    In most areas of the world where there is an LDS congregation, people do just that. On my mission in Brazil, I knew a large number of people who were active for a bit and maybe held a calling, and then went inactive for a little while. Some missionaries and bishoprics acted very sternly with them, but often times this would backfire and turn the person away from the church even more. However, a good number of missionaries and bishoprics were kind and loving and extended invitations to return. I don’t speak for these people who stand to suffer little to no social consequences for going inactive. Instead, I speak for those in the Mormon belt and areas with somewhat large and deeply rooted congregations in the US and Canada who face potentially very large social costs for going inactive. They fear being ostracized by friends and family, threats of divorce from spouses, being treated as a traitor, and being told that they were better off dead than inactive (not uncommonly heard in LDS wards, and I personally know people who have been told this by offended parents) all because of a bad understanding of LDS doctrine on covenants. The LDS church claims to have divine authority to arrange for covenants to be made between humans and God. In LDS doctrine, making the covenant and living up to it qualifies an individual for salvation in the celestial kingdom when he/she dies. That’s it. If they don’t live up to the covenant, then they may face God’s punishment in the hereafter (live in the telestial kingdom, terrestrial kingdom, or in rare cases, banished to outerdarkness). The idea is that you don’t know when you are going to die, and you don’t know exactly how God might punish you later for not living up to the covenant, so it is best to be worthily living up to the covenant at all times. By not living up to the covenant, we take the risk of not being saved in the celestial kingdom, sure. But it is not much different from the risk we are taking by not converting to Islam. If the Muslims are right about God, then all LDS people are damned to an eternity in hell for sure (especially because they believe the heretical doctrine of Jesus being God’s son). And of course, if the LDS church isn’t actually representing God, the covenant that it arranges for individuals to make is absolutely meaningless.

  67. MirrorMirror (73), I think adultery is the main justification for divorce. I’m not sure we should take that statement of Jesus’ as complete. For instance if a wife attempts to murder you, is that grounds for divorce? To me the issue isn’t just applying scripture to modern times but what we might call new scripture which is (hopefully) inspired direction. That is it’s not just a question of exegesis and application. I should also add that it appears, at least going by the metaphors in the OT, that apostasy was a type of adultery. So I’m not sure adultery should be seen as merely sexual although I’ll confess I don’t know the details of Rabbinical views of the era. My limited understanding was that the rule at the time was a man could simply divorce his wife at anytime and send her packing. Which, given the poverty of the era, was devastating to the woman. So I think that cultural context should be kept in mind. My limited understanding is that Jesus’ statement should be taken as referring to the obligations of the husband to the wife which often were not done.

    All that said, I think there clearly are in a modern context good reasons to divorce someone short of adultery.

    Getting back to the metaphor I think there are good reasons for the Church to want to divorce someone. Apostasy as a kind of adultery are the obvious ones. I think however the analogy, since it is just an apology will break down in some situations.

    Brad (77) I suspect many here are assuming a perspective were the covenants are real. So I’m not sure the analogy to deciding between LDS or Islam is terribly apt. Of course we all must decide if the church is true. And for many struggling with that may lead them in and out of the church. That’s completely understandable. (I’ve no idea what the current stats are, but there was one study back in the 80’s that found 40% of active members had been inactive at one time)

  68. Hi Brad,

    Silly people who don’t acknowledge the primacy of family and who make unfaithful threats are not justification for saying the covenants loved ones had entered into weren’t real.

    I’m not sure whether I would find something to agree with you on if we were conversing in person, but it seems you are determined to diametrically oppose me in this forum.

    As I reflect on the history of divorce in my family, one sister divorced her Muslim husband for being a bad Muslim (drinking, financial mismanagement, and the fact that his persistent disregard for her was causing her to experience rage. Thus she mindfully decided to end the relationship). In another case, a sister married two men, the first a sceptic, the second an atheist. They both abandoned her, the second one explicitly because she was a believer. I left my first husband because of adultery, physical abuse, and financial incontinence (on his part).

    When people tell you of the reasons their spouses have left, is it not possible that they might be exaggerating? Telling you the reason they know will elicit your sympathy? Or at the least failing to admit to acts that would not show them to have been martyrs to the evils of Mormonism? For that matter, perhaps they were so wrapped up in their paradigm that they did not recognize the other behaviors contributing to the failure of their marriage. Or perhaps they had misunderstood history, such as the reasons Zina Huntington left Henry Jacobs, presuming that it is acceptable in Mormon circles to trade up when a spouse isn’t all you might wish.

    At the least, it appears that you do not regard Mormon covenants to be of any particular validity relative to any other covenant. There we will have to agree to disagree.

  69. Meg, it is because of the strong perception that many faithful Mormons have of the reality of being separated from their family after death because someone didn’t remain faithful to their temple covenants that they rather paradoxically resort to high pressure shaming tactics. I never said that the covenants weren’t real, it is just that there is no objectively verifiable proof that they are (unlike a covenant that one makes with an HOA). So it is on faith that you make a covenant with God through the LDS church. And since it there is no evidence that you are actually making a covenant with God, no one should have to have imposed on them significant social consequences for supposedly breaking the covenant.

    There are lots of reasons that people get divorced. Some are good reasons and some are bad. But divorcing someone simply because they decide to discontinue participation in the church and say that they no longer/don’t believe in the LDS doctrines (nothing more nothing less) is a bad reason.

    As for this idea that people who claim that their spouse left them because they stopped believing/participating in the LDS church being exaggeration, I don’t know. It could very well be that people who claim they felt an overwhelmingly powerful spiritual feeling confirming to them that the church’s truth claims were true were exaggerating as well. But I choose to take people at their word, first, and then if evidence emerges that contradicts or downplays what that person was saying, then I’ll accept that that person’s claim as an exaggeration.

    And lastly, nothing against you personally. I just think that you aren’t understanding my ideas very well.

  70. Thanks for the links, Eve. Yes, this selfish assertion of the right to criticize exists in many churches. It is regrettable everywhere. I agree with this sentence: While the Church isn’t perfect, I feel it is much more effective to celebrate the good that the Church is doing than the negative, which a lot of times isn’t even negative, it’s rhetoric.

  71. Thank you for the links, Eve. Very interesting to read the conversation going on in other religious communities. Thanks.

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