“Who’s on the Lord’s side?”: Mormon apostle’s comments generate discussion, questions

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Mitch Mayne

Mitch Mayne

A guest post by Mitch Mayne

Earlier this month, LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks spoke at a meeting in Boise, Idaho. Media coverage has speculated that the impetus was to aid Mormons with concerns or questions similar to those expressed by Denver Snuffer, who was excommunicated for apostasy by his local leadership two years ago.

I’m grateful for a leadership that responds to Latter-day Saints who need a little extra tender loving care. For those of us outside Salt Lake, that kind of “hands-on” approach helps us connect more to a Church that can sometimes feel a little distant when we’re not on Utah soil. In fact, shortly after Proposition 8, Elder Marlin K. Jensen (now emeritus) held a similar meeting in the San Francisco Bay Area where I reside. As a result , much healing took place. Having our general authorities make a personal effort to be among us when we’re troubled can be incredibly reassuring—we feel heard, recognized, and loved.

The title of Elder Oaks’s talk in Boise was, “Who’s on the Lord’s side?” and I like that! All of us want to be on the right side—there is an innate desire among us to do the right thing, even though we do it imperfectly.

At the same time, I squirm in my chair a little bit when we answer that question with a single acceptable response: Only those who believe and behave exactly as we do.

You don’t have to venture far to discover what happens when this viewpoint is played out. Believing that Mormons are the only ones on the Lord’s side quickly pits us against the rest of the human race, who—if they’re not on the Lord’s side—must be on the side of the other guy. Our non-Mormon friends, coworkers, and neighbors can transform from being our spiritual brothers and sisters into a sinful, wicked mass, ready to victimize us at every turn.

Inside the Mormon community it also drives a divide: It muzzles any commentary other than unwavering support, and suffocates any potential question before it can even be asked—independent of how innocent or relevant that question might be.

And then any uncertainty—no matter how small—becomes apostasy.

On social media we see this play out every day. On Facebook, a gay Mormon woman shared her pain about being uninvited to family functions with her married partner. Instead of being included by those she loves, she was told her relationship was counterfeit—and she and her wife were no longer welcome.

Another man questioned the recent decision to excommunicate a couple from Washington State, and was met with this comment: “I pity you, and everyone like you. Christ distinguishes between the sinful and the wicked with the judgments of His prophets. You sound like you’re going to be next.”

Above all, I worry that when we proclaim ourselves the only righteous humans, we plant the seeds of pride. When we are proud and certain of our righteousness, we lose our humility. And with it, our ability to understand that constructive criticism can sometimes be a form of our Savior’s correction—whether it comes from the top down or the bottom up.

But there is another approach.

When we ask the question “Who’s on the Lord’s side?” we could take our Savior at His word when He promised to save all of humanity.

When we do that, we no longer live in a world of “them vs. us”; instead, it becomes a world of only “us.” We recognize that our Savior’s reach is infinite, His quest for human souls unending. We release our view of a limited Savior, and begin to grasp the depth of His love and atonement—not just for us, but for everyone.

Then let us ask again: Who is on the Lord’s side? The answer: A lot of us.

  • People of other faiths and cultures: Truth, like our Savior, doesn’t hide. If we watch with open eyes and open hearts, we can see Him active and very much alive in the paths of those who belong to other religions and who have different cultural beliefs.
  • LGBT individuals and families: Despite often being shunned and exiled from both family and faith, many LGBT people have a seemingly unending capacity for kindness, forgiveness, and compassion. And more importantly, they extend those Christlike qualities to those around them—including those who have rejected them.
  • Intellectuals, scientists, and philosophers: Historical literature is rich with philosophers and intellectuals, many of whom share profound and touching wisdom about our Savior. And in our current day, His hand is evident in science (like that of the Family Acceptance Project that keeps our Mormon LGBT youth safe)—as another way He shows His love for us.
  • Those who have left Mormonism—by force or by choice: I’ve often seen those who’ve left the faith (including members of my own family) continue to blossom as disciples of our Savior—doing kind acts not because they’ve been assigned to do them, but because they’re the right thing to do.
  • Feminists: Seldom do I find a richer source of spiritual nourishment than when I visit the site of my sisters in the Feminist Mormon Housewives Society. In fact, on their page today is a fundraiser for refugees of the FLDS, and a post about the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
  • Atheists: This might seem like an odd one to include, but I think it belongs—for a very important reason. My self-proclaimed atheist friends don’t worry about an afterlife full of punishments or rewards. Instead, they’re concerned with doing the right thing here and now. That sometimes makes them better Christians than many of the actual Christians I know.

But perhaps the best approach of all is to use the question, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” as a chance to be introspective. Maybe the next time we hear it asked, we regard it as a cue to inventory our own thoughts, words, and deeds toward our fellows listed above—and the rest of our human family.

If we fall short of flawless adherence to our Savior’s second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves (and we will—we’re human and imperfect), then we already have a great improvement project right in front of us: Ourselves.

 

Mitch Mayne is an openly gay Latter-day Saint in the San Francisco Bay Area who works with the Church on outreach to LGBT members.

  • Porte

    Mitch, I want to quibble with the title of your post. I listened to the recording and was struck by how many references there were to following the current leadership. The message was not about “staying on the Lord’s side,” it was staying on the current leadership’s side: “When you follow false prophets, when you start toward apostasy, you are on the wrong side. Stand fast with the leadership of the church.”

    Why so much emphasis on following leaders rather than the Lord Jesus Christ? I’m not sure that is the right priority. I’m not sure that following the Lord and following the leadership are necessarily the same thing.

    In fact, this type of emphasis is precisely what is causing people to leave.

  • Robert Slaven

    I fear that this emphasis on “Just trust us and don’t bother asking hard questions” will split the church in ways that no other issue could. I joined this church because I saw truth in the idea that a teenage boy could ask a question, and get an answer that would have been seen as an abominable heresy by most of his neighbours, and yet pursue that answer to his death because he knew he had seen and heard God and Christ. For today’s church leadership to imply that not only orthodoxy but even one’s MEMBERSHIP in the church requires unquestioning obedience is NOT congruent with Joseph Smith’s First Vision. Honestly, I now fear for the future of the church: Will it splinter into pieces as in the 1840s? Will all who have open minds and curious souls be excommunicated or otherwise forced out?

  • Eric Facer

    Porte, I came away with same impression as you did.

    I’m fine with equating the leadership’s side with the Lord’s side—so long as they prove themselves to be as infallible as our Savior. But until that day comes, I will continue to ask questions and jealously guard my agency, especially when confronted by those who believe that I should just shut up and conform and sit the prescribed distance from the campfire.

    Also, attaching the “false prophet” label to anyone who publicly takes a stance on doctrinal or policy issue that differs from that espoused by Salt Lake is akin to calling someone a racist just because they oppose affirmative action or otherwise don’t embrace the labeler’s idea of how a non-racist ought to behave. This type of rhetoric both drives people from the church and makes it difficult to attract new members.

  • Jen K.

    I do not like the “Who’s on the Lord’s Side?” analogy. It is war-like to me, an expectation of unhealthy loyalty (in a ‘for or against’ way – “you’re either with us or against us. Choose one.”) War, fighting, & side-taking analogies should be relics of the past.

    I am especially averse to it because I’m in a family who thinks this way. Family members who remain in the church view family members who have left the church as quite literally “in Satan’s power”. It is very divisive, self-righteous, and damaging to familial relationships. We are one family – or I’d like us to be – we are supposed to be one family, but it seems the church encourages this demarcation, this pitting against one another. I think it’s antithetical to the God I wish to worship.

    Thanks for the great article, Mitch.

  • Jen K.

    Reminds me of the Rudyard Kipling poem “We and They”

    Father and Mother, and Me,
    Sister and Auntie say
    All the people like us are We,
    And every one else is They.
    And They live over the sea,
    While We live over the way,
    But – would you believe it? –They look upon We
    As only a sort of They!

    All good people agree,
    And all good people say,
    All nice people, like Us, are We
    And every one else is They:
    But if you cross over the sea,
    Instead of over the way,
    You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
    As only a sort of They.

  • Porte

    Robert, I am with you on that. I used to think that gay marriage would be the biggest threat to the Mormon Church, but this may be bigger. People are seeing a growing gap between what the church preaches and what Joseph Smith and the scriptures taught. Denver Snuffer and others are drawing more and more people out of the church on the conservative end, and John Dehlin is pulling out all the progressives. Who will be left?

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  • Matthew

    Compare Luke 9:50 (Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.) with Luke 11:23 (He that is not with me is against me:). Jesus seems to be saying opposite things, except that the latter is not Jesus’ teaching but his characterization of the demonic worldview. I fear Mormonism and other exclusivist religions have taken on the latter view without realizing that it was never sanctioned by the Lord, but rather a summary of what not to do.

    ~Former Mormon, Returned Missionary

  • Cat

    Well written. I hold out hope for 3 Nephi 18:22 – 25, 30 & 32. Each of them commands us to meet together oft, forbids us from denying any to come – believer or not. “But ye shall pray for them and not cast them out.”

    “And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away.” These are the words of our Savior unto a deeply divided Nephite/Lamanite nation. If they were good enough for them, they should be good enough for us.

    He invites all to the banquet.

  • Brent

    I would also offer that “Who’s on our side?” is a better title. At the end of the day look at Mr. Oaks explanation of “Apostasy” and ask yourself, “Am I pushing an apostate position?”

    Depending on your Bishop you may be.

  • ron

    The 2 great commandments were to love god and fellow man. Jesus qualified that with the statement that if you love him to keep his comandments.

    He has promised that if we remember him we will have his spirit to be with us and that same spirit will always council us to follow the prophets.

    I pray all those that disagree or simply lack understanding of the prophets desires for us will pray for a greater understanding and see the lords will in the prophets conduct. Counciling us on the lords will is their calling and we can be blessed to the extent we heed their advise.

  • Doc Anthony

    I’m sorry, but this sounds a lot like the religion of Universalism, folks. I’m not Mormon, so I can’t say what Mormons should or should not do about this situation. But I can say that the religion of Universalism does not fit with the New Testament (and not the Old Testament either).

    All roads do not lead to God.

  • Brent

    Ummmm. Do I follow Brigham Young’s “advice” on blacks and their premortal behavior or do I follow his doctrinal teachings…which are the same?

  • robert Hubble

    Reading your article today, I must make a few remarks concerning the philosophy of it all. I believe we don’t really think much about things. We just go on the wind and allow ourselves to be socialized into responding like everybody else. In this instance we need to ask some important questions of ourselves. When I first read the question, “Who’s on the Lord’s side?” the following reflections came to mind: who is the Lord?, what does he do to expect conformity from us?, what side is he on?, what’s the issue?, what does ‘side’ mean?, and what does it mean to be on the wrong side? After I read the question, my response was that the asker of the question is just copying some well worn phrase from his cultural viewpoint trying to get some agenda across to me…he wants me to believe like him and not test the waters first by asking questions. He pulls rank by bringing the Lord into it like he knows which side the Lord is on. The ‘WWJD’ phrase is along the same thing.

  • Eric Facer

    The manner in which I follow the prophet is governed by the following prophetic advice:

    Brigham Young: “Live so that you will know whether I teach you truth or not.” Suppose you are careless and unconcerned, and give way to the spirit of the world, and I am led, likewise, to preach the things of this world and to accept things that are not of God, how easy it would be for me to lead you astray! But I say to you, live so that you will know for yourselves whether I tell the truth or not. That is the way we want all Saints to live. Will you do it? Yes, I hope you will, every one of you.” Journal of Discourses 18:248.

    John Taylor: “Do not, brethren, put your trust in a man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a president. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone…” Journal of Discourses 20:264.

    Our prophets and apostles are good men who often provide good counsel. But the only person we should fully trust is…

  • Mo

    The article was evident in its objective to promote service, non-judgements & supporting a layer of love the Savior would exemplify. However, I’m left feeling a somewhat bait and switch occurred here. I read ‘apostle’. I’m teased a bit when I learn it’s Dalin H. Oaks- the seemingly most deep thought and articulate of many decades past leaders, in my opinion, yet only four lines in the opening paragraph give him any mention. If you’re going to make him your ‘tease’ then please rise up and sprinkle some of his actual quotes within the piece. He certainly presented a fair question that made it to your overall message. Did nothing he spoke regarding this topic resignate enough to cross reference? It’s like waiting for a link to a master orator of careful spiritual speak and coming up with, ‘Oh and ditto with Denver Snuffer.’ C’mon!

  • Anyone with a wit of intelligence would conclude human beings invent the sides on which they place God for if God is then surely in God’s view there are no sides. http://thelastwhy.ca/poem/

  • Old Guy

    you mean “whit of intelligence”

  • maddy

    Hey Mitch. I agree with so much of what you said, including:
    “Above all, I worry that when we proclaim ourselves the only righteous humans, we plant the seeds of pride. When we are proud and certain of our righteousness, we lose our humility. And with it, our ability to understand that constructive criticism can sometimes be a form of our Savior’s correction—whether it comes from the top down or the bottom up.”

    I think we all have so much to learn from each other–all God’s children. Sometimes I think we would be better served if, instead of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” it was “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Sinners.”

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