Why we need Mormon dissenters

A few months ago I bought an Instant Pot (which, yes, has revolutionized my life) and three new cookbooks to help me understand how to use it. Two of those cookbooks were terrific and the third was, well, awful.

That cookbook was full of errors, had few helpful instructions and no illustrations, and was organized in an incomprehensible way.

So why did I buy it? Because it had more than a thousand five-star reviews on Amazon.

I figured all those people couldn’t possibly be wrong. Right? Right?

Wrong. In my haste to purchase a cookbook amidst an overwhelming number of choices I ignored some potential red flags, like that the book was self-published and the author had no prior experience writing cookbooks or particular expertise in, you know, actually cooking. I just went with the crowd of five-star reviewers (some of whom, I am convinced, must have been paid).

That kind of experience is not unusual, says Berkeley psychology professor Charlan Nemeth in her new book In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business, which I just finished reading. Even though the book is not about religion, from my perspective as a Mormon, I was nodding along with many of her research findings about how readily human beings cluster around the safety of a majority opinion—and how quick we are to disbelieve or even attack dissenters who express a different point of view. I see this a lot at church, to be candid.

Not that Mormons are unusual in this way. People aren’t generally very open to changing our beliefs, and we’ll go out of our way to only expose ourselves to perspectives that confirm those beliefs. (This is what Mormons would call seeking out only “faith-promoting” materials.)

Such confirmation bias leads to consensus thinking, to “everyone knows that . . . ” ideas. But consensus thinking is often wrong, and Troublemakers offers example after depressing example of times when majority rule has led to unfortunate or even fatal outcomes, like wrongful convictions by juries and even a plane crash.

Majority “thinking” tends to be wrong because it didn’t actually involve much thinking at all. We didn’t have to think. We just went along to get along, as humans do. In the process we ignored any information that didn’t support the majority viewpoint.

But there’s good news too. Sometimes people’s minds do get changed, and that happens when we’re exposed to dissenters with different points of view. Galileo comes along and says, um, nope, the earth isn’t the center of the universe. Or historian Juanita Brooks writes a definitive book that reveals that the LDS Church’s official history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre is terribly inaccurate.

Dissenters, Nemeth says, help us to be better thinkers because they make us actually look at evidence more closely. We ask harder questions. We’re open to fresh strategies to solve problems.

Even a single dissenter can make a difference when he or she breaks up the power of consensus thinking. Edward Snowden leaked documents that challenged the majority consensus that the government’s collection of personal information was a benign, localized phenomenon. He acted alone, but he still changed the game, as evidenced by President Obama’s more nuanced post-Snowden reflections on the surveillance program he had once defended, and by the fact that ordinary Americans now express greater concern about how their private information is used. (Are you listening, Facebook? Yes, of course you are. Silly question.)

What’s more, dissent is valuable even if the dissenters are eventually proven wrong. The process of assimilating and trying to disprove dissent forces us to ask tough questions, so if we come to majority agreement we do so in a more informed and logical way.

But in the LDS Church, as in many hierarchical contexts, it takes courage to be a dissenter. To be that one person in Gospel Doctrine class who says, “I don’t agree with this part of the curriculum as it’s written, and here’s why.” (Been there.) To be the Young Women leader who bucks convention and says the rule against girls wearing butterfly-sleeve shirts to camp is just plain stupid. (Done that.)

Nemeth says we tend to punish dissenters, who make us profoundly uncomfortable:

Even on trivial issues, people become angry when a minority view is voiced, even more so if it persists. We argue with dissenters, questioning their intellect, their motives, and sometimes even their sanity. We often respond with punishment or ridicule.

Consider how punishment factors into the examples above: Galileo was convicted of heresy and placed under house arrest until his death, and Juanita Brooks was ostracized by fellow Mormons and banned from publishing in any official Church periodicals. Just for speaking truths that later generations would acknowledge or even embrace.

It’s difficult for dissenters, but it’s vital that Mormonism has them. The healthiest organizations are not the ones that shut down dissent or pretend that everyone is always in agreement. They’re the ones that allow multiple points of view to inform their decisionmaking process.

The book shows how in some corporate cultures, there’s a tendency, which is probably well-intentioned, to tell people not to criticize, especially in brainstorming sessions. You’d think that instructing groups to keep criticisms to themselves would actually result in people feeling freer to express their opinions, because they’d have no fear of seeing their ideas shot down in a meeting. But in fact, the “do not criticize” rule tends instead to stop the conversation before it’s even started, because fewer ideas are offered, and the ones that people voice are the same-old, same-old thing.

“Allowing debate and criticism led to significantly more, not fewer, ideas,” says the author. Shutting down dissenters imperils the organization. Her research shows that manufactured harmony is not the route to creative ideas or the finest solutions to problems.

So Mormons, bring on your dissenting voices. Let your divergent opinions be known in your church meetings, lessons, and potlucks.

Politely, of course. We’re still Mormons.

Comments

  1. Thanks, Jana. Another book to add to my reading list! I’m wondering if dissent is seen differently from a BIC member than it is seen from a convert. Anyway, great post. Best.

  2. When I was called to be a bishop many years ago the stake president counseled me “don’t just choose a couple of yes men to be your counselors, you need to hear different perspectives.” I followed that advice. However, once a decision was made I expected everyone to do their best to implement and make it successful, regardless of personal opinion. Ideas about how to implement better were always welcome, if respectful. I certainly have had my issues with leaders and policies over the years, but the last thing any organization needs, especially a church, is a public debate or rebellion every lesson in every class because somebody disagrees with some policy or doctrine. Can you imagine a primary class where every child thought it their duty to dissent every time the doctrine of reverence or obedience came up? It is a rare gospel doctrine class where I don’t hear a little false doctrine or speculation. A kindly phrased other view point occasionally is fine, BUT dissent is like salt, a little can bring out the flavor, but a lot is unhealthy and will ruin the dish.

  3. I agree. Another way of putting it would be that dissent and disagreement improve every situation, but resistance impedes progress. Dissent is appropriate when you want to right the ship; resistance only when the ship is headed in the opposite direction.

  4. “The healthiest organizations are not the ones that shut down dissent or pretend that everyone is always in agreement. They’re the ones that allow multiple points of view to inform their decisionmaking process.”

    By this standard the LDS Church is a very unhealthy organization.

  5. Appreciate this very good article!

    I do want to add, however, dissenters sometimes do not possess the nicest demeanor nor are very pleasurable to be around. They often have an outsized ego. Yes, it takes boldness and conviction to dissent, which could be confused for self-importance. But the force of the personality I have seen exhibited isn’t always effective in drawing people away from the majority.

  6. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I was the lone voice politely but firmly pointing out when folklore and American traditions had been injected into what were meant to be doctrinal discussions. I did so because I had to — I couldn’t let an untruth or half-truth remain unchallenged. In nearly every instance, one or more people would come up afterwards and tell me how glad they were that I had spoken up. But did they ever lend their support during the class? Did they ever speak up and agree at the critical moment? No, almost never.

    It was emotionally and at times even physically exhausting, and of course there were more than a few who thought of me as a troublemaker, even during my days as a temple recommend-holding member entrusted with several church callings at once. But in retrospect, I think the bigger burden was the undercurrent of awareness that people were afraid to be themselves, to voice their honest concerns, to ask hard questions, in a church that itself began because of questions.

    I was afraid, too.

  7. Ms. Riess makes a point that seems obvious to me (which is not to diminish her or her views in any way). What better way to learn what’s actually on the minds of your followers? Or what ideas or points the leaders and developers of ideology (theology) might be missing?

    The problem is that just about all religious organizations are afraid of dissent and people raising questions (or appear to be), and almost always take steps to shut down dissent and question-raising.

    Unfortunately, this seems especially strong in the LDS church. Gee, I wonder why…..

  8. “Not that Mormons are unusual in this way.”

    I repectfully disagree. The absolute top-down leadership mechanism of Mormon makes it far less tolerant of dissent.

  9. Very, very unhealthy. And worse, it’s damaging to kids and families that already struggle with real life issues. I know because as a kid, the LDS was very supportive of my abusive mom because she attended regularly, but was very critical of my less active dad, even though he was doing his best on his own and with no help or support to hold our family together. I can even remember being blamed by my Mormon bishop as a 7-year-old kid for both the abuse that I suffered and for my mom’s other emotional issues. She paid her tithing, went to church, and “Motherhood was her priesthood,” so of course the bruises on my young body were all my fault, not hers.

  10. The concept of “dogma” or “doctrine” does not allow for dissent, ecept in superficial ways.

  11. Following the truth – where ever it may lead. Difficult, but necessary.

  12. if your definition of dissent – in the church – is not to agree with every decision made at every level – than I have witnessed plenty of dissent in the church – i dont know how many leadership meetings you have attended – but you are always free to speak your mind and ive been to as many meetings as not – where everyone did not always agree – so than what is your point –

  13. It is the gas-lighting that needs to stop. Yes, you may be able to express a dissenting opinion, but at what cost? Many frustrated members just keep silent. Our history has proven that those who rock the good ship Zion may find themselves tossed out of it…or at lease ostracized. Being free to speak your mind does not mean being able to speak your mind without consequence.

  14. Jana,
    I have been reading your posts for several years now and appreciate the positive honing of your method of presentation. It has, in my opinion, been very helpful to the gradual changes we see happening churchwide.
    It’s quite difficult to differentiate the godly intents from the social intents because we are human and are here to learn from our mistakes. So, how can we learn if we don’t make mistakes?
    To me, the problem can be likened to people who go to a medical practitioner for a check-up. Some are hypochondriacs and complain about even the smallest discomfort. Others say everything is ok and so get no assistance with some life-threatening problems.
    I especially appreciated the comment of TomMars when he wrote, “dissent is like salt, a little can bring out the flavor, but a lot is unhealthy and will ruin the dish.”

  15. Readers should be aware that the LDS church has a special department or organization within it, composed largely of ex-FBI members, whose job it is to police dissent.

  16. And doing a terrific job as demonstrated by this article and all the comments.

  17. Dissent in the Church of Jesus Christ is voiced or acted upon millions of times daily. People do not obey the doctrine, people do not do things that they understand to be right.
    On all levels there is plenty of dissent.

  18. President Dallin H. Oaks, not too long ago, explained in a General Conference that the church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints is not a democracy but a Kingdom, even the Kingdom of God on this planet and, while dissenters are a good addition to any democracy to exercise good check and balances, they are not welcomed here. He referred to those who claim to be dissenters and members of the church in good standing as the ”Loyal Opposition.”

    I have occupied in my long life-as a lay-leader-some of the most important responsabilities or callings at ward and stake level and all the time, opinions and divergent view points emerge but, these disagreements are resolved in the manner and order of the priesthood that is held in the church.

    And I’d like to finsh my piece by saying that to dissent-in any thing- here in America is a very lucrative undertaking and many make good money off it.

    Besides…foolish are those who dissent aganist God, that is the ultimate expression of human madness.

  19. The big conundrum lies in the church’s claim to authority. If it is the “one true church,” what business does the rank-and-file have attempting to dictate policy to top-level church leaders? And if the church isn’t what it claims to be, what is there, really, to reform? Changes for the better do happen in the church from time ti time, but rapid, sweeping change (e.g., ordination of women, acceptance of same-sex marriage/temple sealings, definitive rejection of the doctrine of plural marriage, and acknowledging the non-historicity of the Book of Mormon) would completely undermine the faith of the vast majority of active members.

  20. This is a well-known fact. It’s been mentioned in several books by ex-Mormons and never-Mormons. Do some research and you’ll learn that it’s true. I think it might be called the “Correlation committee”, something like that, but that could be the wrong term. Understandably, the LDS church is not eager to talk about it.

  21. Not to mention some of the most fundamental doctrine (i.e. the eternity of procreating families and godhood, etc; things which just make sense to be honest). Historicity excluded – when I testify that the Book of Mormon is true I don’t mean it is 100% historically accurate, but I mean that it is the word of God.

  22. Except when the perspective is truth – such as the near spherical shape of the earth. I am 100% in support of questioning everything. My training (PhD) teaches me to be skeptical – I want to see evidence. The key is developing the tools to critically evaluate inconsistent evidence. Too many who question Mormonism aren’t looking for the truth and so they do not, as a part of their search, turn to the Ultimate Source, but give equal or greater weight to things they’ve read online …

  23. What do you want? do you want the Mormon church to stomp into your house with pitchforks and police and throw your mother in jail? Insinuating that because she paid her tithing, obviously that means YOU are the problem? What the heck are you talking about? Do you seriously want ANY church to do more than counsel? I dont believe your story for a SECOND!. You remember a bishop blaming you for the bruises? A bishop, stood there in front of God and everyone and told a 7 year old “Its your fault you get beaten, if you wouldnt cause your mother such emotional stress, its ALL your fault. You should feel terrible about how you cause it” What the heck kind of delusion are you living?

    Now you jump online and blame an entire church organization for your family issues that happened 60 years ago. A churches purpose isnt to go into peoples homes and force parents to perform in certain ways, which is what you are obviously asking for. Trying to get people to believe that if you pay your tithing, then a church turns a blind eye to abuse is absurd and disgusting.

  24. I dont believe that this is being a dissenter in the church. People who teach classes, or lead youth groups are only people who were asked to perform those tasks. Each person has a different level of interest, capability, and knowledge. Trying to equate the inability for a girl to wear a butterfly sleeve, with people believing in a flat earth is idiotic at best.
    In class, you have a teacher, given a book, who is supposed to draw upon personal experience, personal knowledge, and the lesson material to teach. They arent magical wizards who know every detail of the gospel, and sometimes they teach the wrong thing, or put too much importance on trivial matters. It happens. Acting like you need to be some warrior against the system to point this out is dumb. Equating individual experiences to say the whole church believes the world is flat, and you, only you, were the one capable of pointing it out, because you are enlightened and dissenting against the system. Good for you. Way to fight!. How about climbing down from the mountain of a pedestal you put yourself on, and realize that the person teaching your class is no smarter than you, is no more holy than you, and might not think the same way as you. People in class are encouraged to participate, express their views, and add testimony and insight. I have never once heard someone be shouted down when they add truth or insight to an argument. Claiming that when you add your opinion, you are suddenly dissenting, is at best a lie.
    The church doesnt teach people to be lemmings, or sheep. Everyone is encouraged to participate, grow, and develop their testimonies. Maybe you have one or two idiots teaching your classes, but that is a person. not the entire church organization. Everyone is a sinner, everyone makes mistakes, dont blame an entire organization for an individuals failings. If you think you are so superior, and can do a better job, ask to be the teacher! Everyone will think you are an arrogant douche, but hey, YOU get to teach the way you want, which you think is right, and everyone else can dissent against how you do things.

  25. Paranoid much? What rubbish! Produce your evidence, sir.

  26. Maybe they need to get a special department or organization within it, composed largely of ex-FBI members, whose job it is to police dissent. Might that be the answer?

  27. Nope. Thanks for your harsh, over the top defense of Mormonism. You prove my point better than I could.

  28. I only blame the church for making things worse instead of better. Their “counsel” was all BS and harmful while claiming to have the right answers. Your response is just more of the same. Thanks for proving my point so very well.

  29. Forgive me, but I was LDS for over 40 years and surely you’re not saying that I wasn’t looking for truth? You must be referring to evangelical critics. But as a former member, how do you square the overwhelming evidence that shows that the Book of Abraham was a fraud? I mean, every religion asks their members to turn to their God and ask him in prayer if things are true. Some take that spiritual confirmation and fly planes into buildings. Which brings me to an obvious question. Did you confirm through prayer that the LDS church is true? And if so, how do you respond to all the other people of various religions who also believe their faith is true?

  30. Brett, this is not an isolated incident at all. There are hundreds of stories like this. You can read some of them here: http://protectldschildren.org/read-the-stories-2/

    You’ve created a strawman and obliterated it. Well done. But for those of us who have seen this happen over and over again, church leaders shouldn’t be involved with cases of abuse at all. They have no formal training and when they do try to help, many do so saying they have the power of God behind them even when things go horribly awry.

    Bishops should only be involved when it comes to helping people repent for their sins, and that’s it. They have NO business acting as primary counselors in abusive households. When the bishop because aware of potential abuse, he should either report it to the police or advise the abused to do so.

  31. He sure did. So many more victims like you are created by ignorant attitudes like his because it is easier for him to go with the crowd, ironically the topic of the article. The church is broken and will continue to be until they take steps to make it clear to Bishops that they are not to be involved in issues that require professional training.

  32. Like when there were members upset about the blacks and the priesthood issue? Did that count as not the nicest demeanor? Or how about the prop 8 debacle? That kind of thing?

  33. Is resisting the church’s LGBT policy impeding progress? Because SS LDS is heading in the wrong direction.

  34. Believing that the Book of Mormon isn’t historically accurate would be heretical to say at church. I personally believe the BOM is fiction made up of various contemporary works from the time, but how can you say it isn’t 100% historically accurate yet say it is the word of God? Did God influence Joseph Smith to insist that it was the true history of the North American Indians?

  35. Well, it’s a good thing there’s many more of us than you that believe that if there is a God, it certainly isn’t directing .0001 of the world’s population in Mormonism. Dissent in the LDS church rid it of polygamy, racism and most recently, the fight against SSM becoming the law of the land. Believing you’re led by God and that everyone resisting your efforts is “mad” is ridiculous.

  36. There is absolutely zero room for dissent in the church when it comes to speaking about critical events that have happened in church history. That lesson has been learned by thousands who have dared to expose it.

  37. Mocking the fact that there is a special department within the church called the SCMC comprised of many former intelligent agents, doesn’t make it any less of a Scientology like thing for the church to do. https://youtu.be/PxT0X22Igh8

  38. I also believe the Bible to be the word of God. There are several stories, especially in the Old Testament, that are not meant to be interpreted as literal (and I mean many). Just as the parables are stories used to illustrate a specific point, I believe much of scripture is similar.

    At the end of the day, for me, I’m not concerned with historicity. I’m concerned about what will lead my family and I to the greatest happiness possible. I believe the teachings of Christ lead us there, and the Book of Mormon is filled with them.

  39. Common knowledge is commonly wrong. I believe that Matthew 7:13, where Jesus is talking about narrow gates vs. wide paths, is actually a reference this fact, not merely and solely an analogy to describe those in Christianity vs. those outside it.

    I’m not LDS, but I do appreciate that they codified their core addition to canon as a separate book distinct from the Bible, rather than blending it all together and insisting that canon is THE Bible, which is what’s done in denominations in general.

    I know Mormons with the fruits of the Spirit (per Galatians 5:22–23). I don’t know how orthodox they are, per LDS doctrine, but I’m not going to insist they can’t be saved. The fruits I’ve witnessed don’t match that, even though I’m a Christian who grew up evangelical. When I’ve been extremely ill and in need of help, it’s not the evangelical folks that have helped me, not even when I was an active member of evangelical churches. No, it’s others—Mormons, progressives, Greek Orthodox. Even atheists!

    “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” is a proverb for a reason. There are always folks who feel threatened by disagreement or even query into why things are assumed true.

  40. Great points. I agree with anyone who believes we should have an inquisitive, questioning mind. Those who seek truth with real intent and ask God will find it (maybe not right away, but they will).

    There is a lot of truth that is shared amongst people of all faiths. I’m familiar with many oriental philosophies and found many, many principles that overlap with LDS doctrine and the teachings of Christ. That’s not to say there aren’t differences.

    Ultimately there can only be one truth – it’s Boolean logic. Either the chemical formula for benzene is C6H6, or it’s something else – but it cannot have multiple formulas. Either God exists, or He doesn’t – but not both.

    Great discussion points.

  41. I was lucky to have a Dad with enough common sense to ignore Mormon Church BS counseling in holding our family together but they treated him like a plague for it.

  42. I solved the problem by blocking one more religious bigot.

  43. I believe it’s called the “Strengthening the Members Committee”, and it’s well-known, although of course “loyal” Mormon superiors deny it or claim lack of knowledge.

  44. See my amended reply above to Mr. Klinche.

  45. I have a theory about the origins of Mormonism.

    No one with any real knowledge of the LDS church denies that Joseph Smith was a con artist. I’ve often wondered whether one day he wok up and said to himself “I’m tired of doing these cons aimed at 1 or 2 individuals. I wonder what’s the biggest con I could pull off?”

    And thus was created the LDS church.

  46. That is it exactly. It’s called the Strengthening the Members Committee, and the fact that the church has, or needs, such a group, tells us about 95% of what we need to know about the church.

  47. Still, no evidence. More claims, no evidence.

  48. OK, so give me an example of something you would regard as evidence. The only thing anyone could supply is a statement–it’s hard to imagine the church would put something like this in writing. And in many conversations with Mormons over the years, my experience has been that statements from dissidents are automatically dismissed.

  49. Minjae, the church has actually acknowleged the existence of this committee. It just put a different spin on the committee’s purposes. To deny it exists is to deny the church’s own statements. A few references follow. Just a little research is needed.

    Quinn, D. Michael (1997). The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. Salt Lake City: Signature Books. p. 311. ISBN 1-56085-060-4.

    Henetz, Patty (October 25, 1991). “Church Evaluating Reports of Satanic Cults in Utah”. Deseret News. Salt Lake City. pp. B1–B2. Retrieved 2010-01-19.

    Sophfronia, Scott Gregory (June 13, 1994). “Saints Preserve Us: The Mormons are likely to choose another aged, ailing leader, but nevertheless their church is thriving”. Time Magazine

    England, Eugene (January 2002). “‘No Cause, No Cause’: An Essay Toward Reconciliation” (PDF). Sunstone (121): 39. Retrieved 2010-01-19.

  50. Again, the church has actually acknowleged the existence of this committee. It just put a different spin on the committee’s purposes. To deny it exists is to deny the church’s own statements. A few references follow. Just a little research is needed.

    Quinn, D. Michael (1997). The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. Salt Lake City: Signature Books. p. 311. ISBN 1-56085-060-4.

    Henetz, Patty (October 25, 1991). “Church Evaluating Reports of Satanic Cults in Utah”. Deseret News. Salt Lake City. pp. B1–B2. Retrieved 2010-01-19.

    Sophfronia, Scott Gregory (June 13, 1994). “Saints Preserve Us: The Mormons are likely to choose another aged, ailing leader, but nevertheless their church is thriving”. Time Magazine

    England, Eugene (January 2002). “‘No Cause, No Cause’: An Essay Toward Reconciliation” (PDF). Sunstone (121): 39. Retrieved 2010-01-19.

  51. I look forward to Minjae’s response (and the response, if any, to my comment just below). But somehow, I’m not gonna hold my breath.

  52. L. Ray, that is so sad. I’m so sad to read it. I hope you heal, at 61 I know that takes decades, but can be done. It’s tough, you should be warned.

    David Honaker
    Paradise Valley Stake
    Paradise Valley Ward
    Phoenix, AZ, USA

  53. I sometimes wonder about the motive(s) behind dissenters and “troublemakers”.

    When dissent is open, honest, in valid search of truth for questions; and not intended to drag others down or shine a spotlight on oneself – it’s healthy and welcome under appropriate circumstances (not talking about just church).

    Were it not for honest, humble dissenters we would have delayed the Renaissance.

    Were it also not for honest, humble dissenters race, ethnic, gender, cultural, and educational advances could never have happened. (Were it not for the greats like Susan B. Anthony, your opinion/article may not have been written.)

    History is filled with great dissenters: Rosa Parks, Bahá’u’llá, Galileo, the boy Joseph Smith, Ghandi, John Knox, Martin Luther King, Jr., Martin Luther, hundred of others (probably tens of thousands). I’m grateful for each.

    I just wish they weren’t linked with the emotionally-charged (but sometime accurate) “Troublemakers” word in bold letters at the top of the book title. To me, they represent two types of people (even when there is some cross-over) as follows:

    1. Dissenter: One who disagrees with most, or all, of what is considered acceptable or correct; the status quo.

    2. Troublemaker: One who disagrees, is rowdy or disruptive needlessly, one who disagrees with everything just to stir the pot without any positive or thought-provoking results in mind, just causing trouble.

    Finally, I wrote a self-published book, getting tons of five stars (unpaid!). Such books can be excellent, too! (Best part: Mine is free.) Were you not busy, and were this not your article – I hate it when people spam other’s articles – I’d share the link with you. I believe you’d really enjoy it.

    David Honaker
    Paradise Valley Stake
    Paradise Valley Ward
    Phoenix, AZ, USA

  54. Well, Minjae, still no evidence from you of what kind of evidence you’d accept in support of my claim above. From you, more words, no evidence.

  55. Thanks for the thought, but I don’t need any warnings. I have been living my life “glass half full” for my entire life. That’s why I have been relatively successful in life, despite all the many challenges that I have faced. I would have to write a book here and now to list all of the things that I have already overcome, so while I appreciate the sentiment, I don’t plan on “healing Mormon-style,” when all the Mormons have done is make it harder, not easier, for me to move forward.

  56. I don’t deny that it exists. I doubt that it is made up mostly of “former intellegence agents”. I doubt that the purpose is to somehow coerce members who somehow “get out of line” with sinister threats. I doubt that anyone has been attacked, tortured or otherwise forced to submit to the “hierarchy”. It is ridiculous and you have provided no evidence of any such things. You make a legitimate body sound sinister but have NO evidence that it is.

  57. “Strengthening the Members” – doesn’t really sound sinister to me. Does it to you? What, precisely, does this committee do? (Please, be prepared with evidence to back up your claim as to what they do. You could say they are cannibals but without evidence it’s useless blather.)

  58. Nice attempt at diverting the discussion, Minjae.

    Do you think the church would call it by its more accurate name–something like “rooting out dissent in the church committee”?

    Your comment here, and elsewhere, makes it clear that you know the committee exists, and what its work is. It’s clear that you, like most Mormons I’ve encountered, will say anything to stave off any kind of discussion of the less savory aspects of the church.

    Danny, below, posted info on where you can find a discussion of this committee and its work.

  59. Hi L Ray. I regret that I didn’t word my reply better. All I meant is that I hope you can put things/people that hurt you, behind you, in A way that best suits you. Your description of your life is so sad, I wish things could have been different with the adults you had to live with.

  60. Perhaps, but I take the sorrow with the joy. I am the person that I am because of the challenges. My mom was a terrible parent but actually a good-hearted, if emotionally fragile person. Had my LDS ward been up to the task that it advertised itself as being capable of, they would have supported her in ways that would have protected us without blaming us or my father. I am not a “would have, could have” person. I have a very “Polyanna” perspective on life. I have been playing the “Glad Game” my whole life because it works for me. Bitterness is a waste of time. I tell my story not to complain or boo-hoo but encourage other people to do better in the here and now.

  61. My heart still aches for you. I grew up (Roman) Catholic. I’m first-hand experienced with child abuse (both parents). I know the wonderful Priests and Nuns knew eventually. (They’d call the parent after school and on weekends to see if I could go help at the Parrish. When I got there I’d put away a few books or something, then they fed me and we talked, or watched tv, stuff like that. A neighbor elderly couple had me over to their house frequently. That’s where I learned to garden! I can’t speak to your situation at all. But, in my case (I’m 61 now) there was no Child Protective Services, or anything like that back then in COLo. I can’t possibly empathize with your unique life and experiences. But I may understand a little bit. I know you are not asking for sympathy, but you have mine anyway. If I could, I’d give you a hug.

  62. Exactly. There was no such thing as Child Protective Services back then. No one questioned when I went to school with bruises on both forearms and dressed in long-sleeve shirts on hot California days to hide the bruises. I would roll the sleeves and not hide the bruises and no teacher ever asked about them; they were still spanking kids in school back then and often caused bruises of their own. But I had a father who taught me two invaluable lessons: 1) like yourself no matter what anyone else thinks of you, while being honest with yourself about what you could do better; and 2) you can’t save people from themselves, but you can help make their here-and-now better. Both helped me deal with a brilliant but emotionally fragile and abusive mom, and both served me later in life to deal with life’s many challenges.

  63. Yeah, things are much better now. And the motto “Always Believe the Victim” should always be the standard. Sadly, sometimes it isn’t. (Now, I’m certain a percentage of abuse accusations are false, just to get back at an adult for a low grade, being grounded, etc. But I think best to take the victim at her/his word and get them to a safe place. Then, with civil authorities, therapist, etc., get it sorted out. Some,no doubt, are bogus, but they are few and far between.) I’m sure with you being in the LGBTQ community (if I read that correctly) it was worse than for most as said community didn’t really have resources to help youth. Well, take care. And the two things your dad taught you, good advice.

  64. Actually, I tried the whole “pray the gay away” nonsense during my senior year in high school, waited longer than usual to go on a mission, had the notorious third interview with a General Authority, served a mission, married in the temple, had three kids and stayed faithful to my wife for 35+ years of pure hell on earth with her knowing everything about me. I grew as best I could, but she did not. We separated and I filed for divorce, still just as gay as I was as a kid. None of the Mormon “magic” changed me one bit, and I lived an honorable life because I am an honorable person, no thanks for being treated like a second-class Mormon my whole marriage for being “different” by my wife and our local bishops. I stopped attending about 10 years before leaving the marriage because I was tired of having to “walk on broken glass” so to speak to get a temple recommend. I have no plans of ever being active in the church again because of how I was treated while trying to live by their rules. Now, I work actively for the “other team,” as in LGBTQ causes.

  65. Please provide evidence that it is “comprised of many former intelligent [sic] agents”. What is the significance of that fact if it is true? What do they do? Torture people? Water board them? Come on, get real.

  66. I don’t deny that it exists, I deny it is what you are desperately trying to portray it to be. So tell me, and back it up with evidence, what does this committee do? Can you produce someone who was put on the rack and tortured? Is it really the modern equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition? I have read everything that Danny referenced – no torture or putting to the rack. Sorry, ya got nuthin’ pal.

  67. Produce someone who was put to the rack. You can stop holding your breath now.

  68. Do they torture and kill dissenters? Is that your claim?

  69. In other words, Minjae, you cannot give me a reasonable example of something you would regard as proof. Thank you. Do you understand how much you’ve revealed about yourself, and about your understanding of logic and rational discussion–and about the LDS church?

  70. So a person who was abused by this insidious organization is not reasonable? Really?!! Do you understand how much you’ve revealed about yourself, and about your understanding of logic and rational discussion–and about the LDS church?

  71. Interestingly, you hit the nail on the head–it *is* a very rough modern approximation of the Spanish inquisition, in that it threatens Mormon dissidents with, in effect, being ousted from Mormonism–which mean s(very often) your family shuns you, and you lose your job, if you work in a largely Mormon organization.

  72. Clearly you’re gonna defend the LDS church no matter what it’s accused of, no matter what the facts, and you’re just not gonna accept any evidence of any kind of flaw or wrongdoing in the church.

    Nor have you addressed any of the points I’ve raised; and in typical fashi0n of “defend at all costs” folks, you’re raising nonsensical issues. All of this being the case, I will not respond to any additional nonsense you post.

  73. To amplify your comment a bit:

    If the leaders of the church were confident that it’s beliefs, history, theology, positions taken on various issues, etc were defensible, they would welcome questions or dissenting views, since answering them would be a good opportunity to present the church in a good light.

    This is relevant to an idea in selling: “the sale begins when the customer says no.” In other words, an objection that can be answered well is an excellent selling opportunity–for a product, or for a religion or organization.

  74. Clearly you’re gonna attack the LDS church no matter what, no matter what the facts, and you’re just not gonna provide any evidence of any kind of flaw or wrongdoing in the church.

    Nor have you provided any evidence for any of the points you’ve raised; and in typical fashion of “attack at all costs” folks, you’re raising nonsensical issues. All of this being the case, I will not respond to any additional nonsense you post.

  75. I don’t deny that there may be some families who “shun” family members who leave the faith but that is not what the church teaches not is it my experience in a large number of people that I know who have left the faith. You have erected a straw man and refuse to produce any evidence that the scenario that you present is usual or even common. Admit it, you’ve got nuthin’.

  76. Stop being hyperbolic. No one said anything about torture or waterboarding. The department exists and is staffed with many, but not all former government intelligence employees. I don’t care if you believe me or not. Their purpose is to gather information on members and former members of the LDS church who they consider a threat to the reputation of the church. They often work with others, including attorneys outside the church, to compile dossiers on their targets. This is what happened with the recent smear campaign they conducted on the character of the missionary sexually assaulted by the MTC President.

    They have every right to conduct themselves that way, however we have the right to criticize them for it.

  77. And if God exists, he certainly wasn’t guiding Joseph Smith on the Book of Abraham. I can understand that there are things you can’t prove one way or the other, however, a space organization that says the earth is flat can, in fact, be dismissed as false. For that reason, the Book of Abraham being the “flat” theory has overwhelming evidence that allows me to dismiss the truth claims of the LDS church.

  78. Your evidence, please. EVIDENCE! Produce the evidence.

  79. Bishops and Stake Presidents actually can consult a Church hotline that gives them advice and direction as how they should proceed in abuse cases. This is in area where the local leaders are specifically directed to not “Wing it” or otherwise claim calling-specific guidance, but to defer to the opinions and judgments of trained and experienced professionals. The bishop’s job is to make the Church’s resources available, and, where appropriate and most definitely where required by law, to report the matter to law enforcement. If there’s one thing that any Mormon bishop becomes quickly aware of it’s how on his own he doesn’t necessarily possess all the tools to serve the people in his ward that he’s a pastor to, but between the members and other resources, and, of course, the necessary inspiration that comes with the calling, he can facilitate great things.

  80. As an engineer and amateur astronomer (as for ancient history, even more of an “amateur”, so I don’t boast of any knowledge or credentials in that field) I can well vouch for how well the Book of Abraham stacks up with what we know of astronomy today. I’ve examined the criticisms of the BoA and have concluded that those that would ditch their faith over apparent “problems” with it are looking for the lamest of excuses to apostatize. If you don’t want to believe that the LDS faith is all it’s cracked up to be, fine, that is your free agency, but don’t cite utterly baloney in justifying such a decision that has eternal implications for yourself and your loved ones.

    I don’t respond to those that claim as I do to have received their respective testimonies and may or may not have reached a different conclusion. It’s not to be dismissive, but, rather, respectful. As the male part of a fine missionary couple that I knew when serving mine own mission in Italy back in the early 1980s put it, “Spiritual things must be understood by spiritual means”. All one can do is bear testimony and leave it to the audience (hopefully willing) to be touched enough to seek their OWN guidance. It’s not unlike the inspiring message that I was blessed to see on the Jumbotron at AT&T on Aug 7, 2007, when Barry Bonds hit #756, provided as a taped message by the man he’d surpassed for career dingers, one Hank Aaron: “My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams.” If only bearing my testimony could be as inspiring to other as Mr. Aaron’s speech was to myself and my kids that were there that night.

  81. IDK where you’d get the idea that the BoA teaches a “flat” earth or even a geocentric one, I’ve examined the astronomical part in detail and have a far different interpretation. The interesting part is why the text (Facsimile No. 2, Fig 5) mentions FIFTEEN particular Heavenly bodies when even Smith would know that there were far more up there in the night sky that he could see for himself. We don’t even know what this planet “nearest unto the Lord”, Kolob, is, as thus far among nearly 4,000 exoplanet candidates, let alone the eight major planets and a host of dwarf ones revolving about our own Sun, we have nothing yet that would reasonably qualify as “Kolob”, although I would postulate, as did the Physicist and Apostle James E. Talmadge that perhaps it’s not discernible to normal human vision. The very existence of X-ray stars and directional flare stars, unknown to astronomers in Smith’s time, would indeed ‘testify’ that there are many wonders out in the Heavens that currently our science knows very little about. Mine own hypothesis is that there is some undefined method that energy transfers to the Earth from Kolob that involves fifteen other bodies, and I’ll be darned if I can give an educated guess. Doesn’t mean it’s not so, just that we don’t understand. And part of the problem might just be that Smith, though a smart man, was simply not educated enough to understand what we take for granted today. Then again, few if any men were, and that’s not to denigrate them at all…they simply didn’t have the knowledge. Were I to attempt to explain to Joseph Smith the functions of a S8G nuclear reactor as used on an Ohio-class submarine, the Prophet would likely smile and say, “Brother Self, it’s a wonderful engine, and certainly it does propel that huge iron craft in a most remarkable matter”, but one could only speculate how he’d recount the briefing! Probably most of his time would believe that the Prophet was disregarding his own Word of Wisdom and had partaken of some powerful ‘hooch’!

    Therefore, if you relied on some anti-LDS jaundiced interpretation of the BoA that alone wouldn’t hold up to any scientific scrutiny, I would suggest that you’ve proverbially sold your “birthright”, that is, place in the Kingdom of the Lord, for what Esau himself sold out for, that is, “a mess of pottage”. Chow down heartily, losangelesute…

  82. When your children are little, you TEACH them, they don’t TEACH you (though indeed you learn quite a bit from parenting if you’re humble enough). It’s the job of the LDS leadership to teach correct principles and then the several members must govern themselves. This isn’t a market-driven organization, it’s hierarchical.

  83. That would be more like the erstwhile Geheimestatzpolizei (aka “Gestapo”) or the former KGB (which still carries on in a reduced role within the justice as the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) than the LDS Church that I’ve been a part of for nearly 40 years.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Security_Service

  84. Whether you believe that the “Strengthening the Members” performs a vital role in building the Kingdom of God or a sinister one in “policing” the LDS membership, certainly its participants and the LDS leaders that oversee it wouldn’t have the sense of humor to have it function as one Melvin Kaminsky, aka Mel Brooks, envisioned the Catholic Church’s one in Spain did in the late Fifteenth Century

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnF1OtP2Svk

  85. Torquemada: “How we doing? Any ‘con-voits’ today?”

    Guards (rather “Aryan” looking for Spaniards, btw…) “Not a ONE…Nay! Nay! Nay!”

    Torquemade: “We’ve flattened their fingers, we’ve branded their buns…nothing is ‘woiking’…send in the NUNS!”

    Seriously, please show me an example of WHERE someone lost their job as a direct result of apostasy from the LDS Church. I’m sure there’d be a number of attorneys in “Yew-Tah”, some of them active LDS members, that would jump all over such a case on grounds of religious discrimination.

  86. It’s as ridiculous as the late Dick Baer, reknowned anti-LDS activist, claiming that the CIA specifically target returned RMs to work as field agents in the countries they once served. While true that between the Church’s emphasis on education (which of itself tends to counter the idea that the leadership actively suppresses intellectual dissent) and becoming fluent in foreign languages and version in foreign cultures is a plus for such recruitment, there’s no pattern that shows a disproportionate amount of LDS agents in the Central Intelligence Agency. More (lack of) faith-promoting legends run amok.

  87. I suspect that most of these ‘former intelligence agents’ are in fact simply retired brothers, having once served an honorable mission, many of whom have extensive managerial, corporate, and government experience, and led an hand on an UNPAID, voluntary basis to assist the Church. Your claim is as far-fetched as would be claiming that the Church has it’s finger on the “nuclear button” simply because a member serves aboard a USN SSBN or on a USAF SAC bomber crew. Sorry, “la”, virtually EVERY member that I’ve known in some 40 years of association with the Church would be loath to do anything beyond the normal, “Come, let us reason together”.. However, when the Savior Himself warned of “False Prophets”…”Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves”, implying that many would be part of the Church themselves. Were the leadership not vigilant in this regard, I’d say they were incompetent and naive, and I can attest they’re anything but.

  88. Please provide a list of these “former government intelligence employees”, any copies of said dossiers, and while you’re at it, the names of the “outside” legal firms retained by the Church (which, BTW, not only has a rather impressive legal department of its own, but lacks not for the assistance of firms with LDS partnerships). While you’re at it, please check for any nearby open circuits…the tin foil on your hat is obviously conducting something that’s cooking your brains.

  89. The time for “different opinions” is during the discussion part of the morning staff meetings…but once direction is given, God and the XO will come down on you if you ‘dissent’ any further (and for all purposes, the XO is “Gawd”). It’s called obeying orders. If our own military, let alone that of any other country, has that principle down pat, then I’d think the “Lord’s Army” would likewise employ it.

  90. Appreciate the perspective, Misti. Evidently some LDS folk out there are doing a better job than yours truly!

  91. Your request is reasonable, as well as clever.

    I cannot cite specifics. My information comes from reading material on sites catering to ex-Mormons (and I’m sure you’ll find some problem with that), as well as conversations I’ve had in past years with Mormons whose names and details I unfortunately forgot to ask for…

    As to why they didn’t sue, I have no doubt whatsoever it would be difficult to find a lawyer in the area who would risk taking such a case.

    I can, however, cite a related matter. I was with a friend of mine, a Mormon convert, around 70 or so y.o., a serious Mormon, and his wife, also a serious Mormon.

    I mentioned the matter of Mormon apostates being shunned, and she denied that that actually happened. He gently corrected her. And I read a bit after that a statement from the Mormon church advising members that shunning was not appropriate behavior.

  92. See my reply above to Douglas Self. I agree that it is not what the church teaches today, or for the past few years, but a while ago–say, 10 years or more?–Mormons thought that shunning was appropriate, as there were many cases. Given how good the church is at collecting information on members, it is impossible to believe that “back then” the church knew about it and discouraged it.

    This is the first time I recall being notified of your comment, tho apparently I was notified, some months ago.

  93. You can’t because the stories are anecdotal, not FACTUAL. At least you’re objective in stating that the Church advises that “shunning” apostates (we’re not the Amish, for pity’s sake!) is not the best way to deal with them.
    Why a law firm, even one with active LDS members in its partnership, would “risk” anything by filing a valid lawsuit against the Church when there’s a legitimate cause of action escapes me. It’s a matter of being held legally accountable. It works the other way…for example, Jeremiah Films, Inc, got the proverbial pants sued off it some years ago in their follow up to the notorious “God Makers” film, wherein, in their sequel, the made a scurrilous accusation that the then Apostle and member of the First Presidency (and the only one that actually kept a regular schedule, as Presidents Benson and his other counselors were elderly and quite infirm) Gordon B Hinckley was involved in some salacious homosexual relationship. The very notion that “Gordo” would have been capable of such filthy conduct was itself shocking, let alone the mentality of anyone who’d seriously give such a notion audience, but that’s where this “Christian” movie production firm went.. It’s one thing to question the doctrinal or historical validity of the LDS Church…it’s quite another to make horribly slanderous statements, especially about a decent, gentle and loving man as was President Hinckley. I’m sure the late Gordon HInckley and other leaders prefer to not have to go to court at all if there’s a reasonable alternative, so if somehow the Church officials have fouled up, they understand quite well that it’s “fair game”…else why would the Church have a legal department at all?
    There’s always someone with an axe to grind…doesn’t mean there’s something for that axe to chop into !

  94. What the Church teaches and how some members and local leaders apply said teachings aren’t always consistent. A problem when you have to pick your membership and leadership from the “Hew-Mon” race. I could tell you some stories of mine own…but, at worst, they’d reflect the foibles of SOME gullible pussy-whipped idiots in one particular LDS stake in Northern California, not necessarily be a reliable indicator of how the Church conducts its affairs. And until I’ve served as a bishop and/or SP myself, it’s best to be humble and remember that these are lay leaders whom serve quite generously of their own free will and still have families, businesses, or jobs to attend to. The LDS Church faces organizational problems not unlike other organizations with the same general structure and management methods.

  95. Only your own salvation, which you don’t seem to give a fig about.

  96. Hey…I was investigating the Church and joined shortly after the whole “blacks and the PH” thing back in ’78…and if there was ANY dissent or grumbling, I seemed to have missed it! In fact, a huge sense of RELIEF seemed to be the prevailing sentiment!

  97. What it actually claims to be is a history of SOME Pre-Columbian peoples in the Americas. Long before any possible discussions of DNA or anything of that nature, back in 1927 the LDS writer Sodjhal, in an official statement for the Church, explained that there was no doctrinal declaration as to WHOM exactly we could suppose the Nephites and/or Lamanites were, even though it was vogue then (thankfully no more ,as I’d consider it condescending) to term Native Americans as “Lamanites”, where in the Americas they lived, nor that the BoM neither declared nor denied the existence of other peoples than those described therein before, during, or afterwards. In fact, much internal evidence from the work itself would indicate that indeed there were other unspecified peoples, such as whom the would-be debunker Sherem, when he “came amongst the people” as described, and had a lively discussion with the elderly prophet Jacob (see Jacob, 7:1-21), which description of “having a perfect knowledge of the language of the people” would be preposterous if only those descended from Lehi or Mulek were about, as it’s not reasonable to assert that their language would change that much in less than a century.

    There are many things left unanswered in any discussion of ‘historicty’ of the BoM, but there are things that aren’t well supported in the Bible either…like when the Exodus occurred and under which Pharaoh (and I doubt he looked like Yul Brenner). Never mind HOW in the world the Priests sounded their trumpets and caused the walls of Jericho to collapse (you can really get Grigorio Tsuokalas of “Ancient Aliens” going on THAT subject!), but either, as Joe Smith once put it, ‘Some old Jew put it there”, or we’d have to conclude that the Lord had knowledge of acoustics as a weapon that even we don’t quite fathom today..

    However, it seems in character for the Atheist or Agnostic, especially those that are “gay”, to presume that they know it all, or at least enough to presume to debunk thousands of years of human history and experience with Deity.

  98. 1. You are conflating the terms “anecdotal” and “factual”. ? Perhaps a maxim from science is in the back of your mind–“‘data’ is not the plural of ‘anecdote'” ?

    “Anecdote” refers to a single *story*. And I have no reason to doubt that the *anecdotes* I’ve heard and read, are true.

    2. I cannot say for sure that “shunning” is the term I heard used, but it certainly is an accurate description of the practice we’re talking about.

    3. I’ve read, several time and places of lawyers in different geographic areas declining to take a case because of what they thought the consequences might be, in terms of how they are treated by other lawyers.

    Given the control the LDS church exercises over so many areas of behavior, I have no reason to doubt that a Mormon lawyer in Utah might be extremely reluctant to take a case of the type we are talking about.

    4. Ultimately, the 2 key principles of the church are (i) control the behavior and thinking of members, and (ii) give power over the behavior and thinking of members to members of the hierarchy.

    Let us remember, the church was started by a con artist.

  99. I agree that the members of any church don’t necessarily apply the principles of the church accurately.

    That said…given the amount of information the church has over the lives and behavior of members, and given its power to shape that behavior, it’s always peculiar when “inappropriate” behavior occurs without being corrected.

    Obviously, I disagree strenuously with the idea contained in your statement (implicitly) about the amount of influence the church has over members’ behavior. It has enormous influence over behaviior. (NO doubt, this is related to the fact that members are *assigned* to their church.)

    (A point perhaps in your favor: even past president E. T. Benson, and many others high in the hierarchy, expressed clearly racist ideas, which presumably violated church teachings.)

  100. I agree in principle with your comments.

    That said..in principle, it’s correct that members (of all churches) “must govern themselves”. However, clearly that is closely related to the “guidance” of their bishop–who,m let us remember, has not been given professional training.

  101. LOL – Howard, after two months if that’s all you got, maybe you should not even reply. First of all, it is not a given that the church is all that good at “collecting information on members”, I have been in many leadership positions over the years and, frankly, we collect very little information on members. I will reaffirm that it has never been the policy of the church to “shun” people who leave the faith. Please, I ask again, produce evidence, beyond you simply saying it happened, for your accusation. Anyone can say anything, simply saying it does not make it true. Provide real evidence and I will reconsider my position.

  102. Minjae, laugh all you want. Your desire to defend your church is commendable (I guess), but doing “you’re wrong, I’m right”, won’t cut it.

    What kind of evidence would you like–perhaps a statement from the LDS church that it is very nosy about the behavior of members

    I have spent a few months in SLC every year for many years, and in that time I’ve met quite a few Mormons (both when they approached me, and when I approached them), and read even more about Mormons and the LDS church.

    My experience has been that Mormons are very well-trained when it comes to defending their religion. They routinely reject any statement critical of the church if it comes from an anonymous source, OR from someone who has left the church. And let’s be honest, where else are you gonna find info critical of the church, but from those 2 sources? (This is unlike, say, Catholics, who acknowledge the problems in their church.)

    Evidence? First of all, there is, of course, the “Strengthening the Members” committee, the members of which scan media to look for evidence of dissenting or dissatisfied Mormons. (What do *you* think this committee does?)

    Then there is the “tattletale” aspect of the church–members tattling on each other, to the bishop, about suspected “inappropriate behavior”.

    All of this, of course, is aided by the fact that members are obligated to attend the church in their ward, and not a church of their choosing. This, of course, helps others to know other members, and to know where to go to report suspicious behavior.

    Now, if you disagree with any of the 3 preceeding statements, please tell me why you think I am wrong.

    That said…my impression, based on things I’ve read by current and former Mormons, is that the problem is considerably less serious, the farther you go from Utah.

    And let me re-iterate that I find Mormons by and large to be sweet, gentle, polite people. If I had to choose betw having a neighbor who was SBC vs LDS, I’d choose the latter in a microsecond.

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