Gordon Monson: Sorry, no, not sorry for sometimes criticizing the LDS Church

The church is run by humans. And humans don’t always get things exactly right, which means the church itself doesn’t always get things exactly right.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gordon Monson.

First off, I do not hate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Latter-day Saints themselves. Far from it.

It’s my lifelong faith. I am one.

Second, there are those who believe — strongly — that opinions expressed about the church that do not fall directly in line with what the organization prefers to profess about itself are deemed “anti-Mormon” and indicate, at least to some, abject opposition to the faith.

Ironically, that belief may be one that people who actually have real disdain for the church loathe the most about it — that it is perceived from within to be not just infallible but also beyond reproach.

And when it is reproached, even in relatively mild-to-moderate ways, those criticisms are responded to and countered by some hypothetical Jesus-following church defenders with vitriol and contempt. And if that’s the way it is, so be it. It’s just interesting to see the juxtaposition between the love that is taught from the chapel pulpit and the rancor that spews forth from the righteous upon those sporting any degree of dissent.

Criticizing the criticism is fine. No need for defensiveness in any direction. You dish it, you take it. Countering a slingshot with a howitzer, though, is insecurity rolled into holy contradiction.

I’m not sure from where such defensiveness, hypersensitivity and aggression originate. I know Latter-day Saints are instructed from an early age to be believing and obedient, to be fervent in following “God’s restored church.” The problem with blindness in doing that is this: The church is run by humans, at the general and local levels. And humans don’t always get things exactly right, which means the church itself doesn’t always get things exactly right.

Church is a work in progress

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson closes General Conference on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, by announcing a string of new temples to built around the world. Tribune columnist Gordon Monson notes that Nelson has said the Utah-based faith is a work in progress.

I’ve believed in this version of the gospel of Christ for six decades. I’m still a believer, one who perceives through the spirit that perceiving through the spirit is an inexact pursuit, not only for me but also for everyone.

You want to elicit a good laugh from top church leaders, ask them in a personal, private setting if they are perfect. They are fully aware they are not. Everybody messes up at varying points. That’s a matter of truth, a matter of historical record.

Even if you buy into the idea that God’s anointed overseers will not be permitted to lead the church astray … well, they and it have wandered off here and there. And God allowed it to happen. He also allowed correction — when imperfect minds got around to it.

Point is, there are things the church can and should change about itself, self-awareness it can gain about the way things are taught and done, improvements that can be made.

After all, even church President Russell Nelson has stated that the “restoration” is a work in progress. “If you think the church has been fully restored,” he declared in 2018, “you’re just seeing the beginning. There is much more to come.”

Latter-day Saints and the church they — we — belong to do a whole lot of good in the world. But that acknowledgment shouldn’t be a required preamble to every objection.

Latter-day Saints believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God and in doing the best they can to follow him. There are many other beliefs and strictures to join in on, too. All members are blessed with the agency to decide for themselves how to approach and/or embrace and adhere to every aspect of the faith. That is a foundational principle of the church.

It is left to individuals to ponder, interpret, discern gospel principles and how to apply them to their lives. It was Satan’s plan, according to church doctrine, to force everyone into certain beliefs, certain behaviors. Who wants to be like Satan?

If a policy, a practice or a preachment is disagreeable to any of us, does that automatically mean we are sinning? Are we supposed to keep our big mouths shut because doing otherwise would be an affront to God?

Even apostles don’t see eye to eye

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at General Conference on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. Tribune columnist Gordon Monson notes that church apostles don't always agree when they debate topics behind close doors.

Some of my favorite people on this planet are those with whom I can discuss issues, hash through them, argue over them. It doesn’t mean I don’t love them. I do. And that’s why we can be open and honest with one another, instead of submissively bobbing our heads up and down and squelching what we really feel.

Same thing with church members and leaders. Nothing wrong with tossing stuff around like dinner items being cooked up at Benihana before eating them. It’s faith-promoting. It’s invigorating. It’s healthy.

When criticism or simple suggestions are aimed at the church, at least from this corner, it’s not to tear down the faith. It’s to give a new idea about how it might be better. Even the church’s apostles debate things behind closed doors. They don’t always agree as individual minds and spirits. When they disagree, it doesn’t indicate that they want to rip the other side a new one. It just means their frames of reference have taught them different lessons.

Just like the words from one of my favorite songs: “Ain’t no good guy(s), ain’t no bad guy(s), there’s only you and me, and we just disagree.”

And, sometimes, that’s OK.

If I had five bucks for every time someone has accused me of hating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’d pay even more tithing than I always have and already do.

All humans, it seems, need to work on thickening our skin a bit. Latter-day Saints are no exception. I’m not sure if it’s a persecution complex left over from the pioneer days or simply part of the ideology impressed upon church members somewhere along the line, but, in many matters, the faithful have a tendency to circle the wagons when criticism arrives. Is it a measure of the human condition or a measure of being one of those flippin’ “Mormons”?

Beats me.

Either way, having alternative views isn’t of the devil. They can be used to create and construct, to spur further spiritual and temporal thought and growth, even when they’re not coming from any kind of prophet. Critical thinking and believing can bring folks draped in fresh honesty closer together.

Those who reject that concept are not necessarily the most faithful. Sometimes they’re the ones who respond in backlash with the fiercest un-Christlike anger and animosity. They might be the ones, therefore, who could benefit the most from giving it a whirl, or, at a minimum, allowing it.

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