Express an opinion. Divide the room.
But man, some Latter-day Saints do not want a room divided, not even in matters of discussion. Not their room. Not our room, since I am a lifelong follower of that same faith.
Thing is, I have no problem with folks disagreeing with my points of view, including my recent column about considering the possibility of injecting younger voices into the mix of leaders at the top of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What concerns me is a propensity among more than a few church members to shut down even mild conversation about what the faith does, why it does it, what it could improve. And to accuse those who do have questions about this or that of being apostates, of being less faithful, of being unworthy, to the point folks in the faith are afraid to speak out about what they are really thinking or feeling — that’s more than unhealthy; it’s dangerous.
For me, some blowback was and is expected, as always, regardless of the topic, even a gently tendered one, in this case a suggestion that it could be a good idea to gradually replace — not all, just some — older members of the governing First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. There often is wisdom in old age, and that’s to be valued. But when a large number of leaders are in their 80s and 90s, particularly the most powerful ones, such as church President Russell Nelson, first counselor Dallin Oaks and second counselor Henry Eyring, all nonagenarians, perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea for younger, fresher perspectives to be breathed into the group, and for some of the oldest ones to be granted emeritus status — especially for a global church moving through not just a modern world filled with challenging problems but also a church affected by them, too. It’s at least worth thinking about.
OK, that’s what I wrote.
What critics told me
The responses were positive and negative, none of them surprising. Yet, one thing I’ve noticed among some Latter-day Saints, especially the ones who are convinced that they are the most firm in the faith, the most righteous, the most Christlike, is that they can be the most offended and go on the attack.
Some of Christ’s supposed keenest followers are lousy at taking what they consider criticism and at entertaining new ideas that may run counter to what they’ve been taught since they were kids in the church’s children’s Primary. As a result, they see offense where none is intended. They see a church hater where there is a regular church dude just trying to make sense of it all.
It’s not everybody. Alongside those who lash back are a whole lot secure enough in their faith to at least consider new, even imperfect approaches. But the self-appointed defenders of that faith swing hard. And they frighten some Latter-day Saints away from giving words to their own thoughts.
Here are just a few of the disapproving responses from the righteous regarding the aforementioned column, titled “Is it time for aging LDS apostles to pull a Pope Benedict and step aside?”:
• “Stop writing about the church, Gordo! Makes you look awful.”
• “It’s time for Gordon to step aside.”
• “C’mon, Gordon Monson, you used to be a professional.”
• “Ask Jesus. It’s his church.”
• “You can stop with your ridiculous articles anytime now. You know it doesn’t work that way. I pray that you’ll be forgiven for this nonsense.”
• Four clown face emojis.
• One middle-finger emoji.
• “Monson, you’ve been pretty butt-hurt ever since KSL didn’t retain you when they bought ‘The Zone.’ You were only ever as good as your co-host, and you don’t have a co-writer for your articles. … At 99, Nelson is still smarter than you’ve ever been.”
• “You’ve always crossed the lines, but this one is out of bounds and disrespectful.”
• “It is time … for Gordon to stop writing.”
• “The apostasy is strong with this one.” (Picture of Darth Vader.)
• “Come back to church, brother.”
• “Wow, really working hard to keep the ex-Mo happy.”
• “Gordon, you might notice that the only ones who agree with you are the ones who hate the church.”
• “We get it. You hate the church.”
Some responses were more fierce and foul.
And so it goes.
Silencing the seekers
As a columnist, I expect pushback and am all right with it. But wouldn’t the church be a better place if rank-and-file Latter-day Saints could ask questions and express heartfelt opinions without fear? Ideally, they could discuss them during their Sunday classes with fellow members, but too often that safe space can become unsafe, unfairly labeling sincere seekers as defiers, defilers, even dissidents. I feel for those who want to speak up but instead are left to quietly wonder.
It’s forever interesting to see the way some of those who strongly believe they are faithful and fervent followers, who don’t have questions and/or suggestions, react to those of us who do have them. Questions, I’ve always figured, can help faith grow or at least pave the road to truth.
Even if the accusers assume I and nuanced others are on the wrong road, here’s to trusting it’s a stairway to heaven, not the highway to hell.
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