not in Primary anymore

questions

Guest post by Justin Anfinsen

Is it right to question the church?

I think it’s a safe bet to say at one point or another every member of the church has asked this question. It may be another safe bet to wager that most of us struggle with this often. It comes with the territory, and it’s perfectly understandable. Due to recent events, it’s probably a good idea to explore this more.

i'm not allowed to ask questions

For one, we are taught from a very young age that Priesthood power comes directly from God and God is perfect, therefore, the doctrines and principles established by Priesthood power are perfect. It’s a circle of logic that’s tough to refute. Except when you consider at some point the chain of command must pass through mortal hands, and mortals, as I can attest to being an example of, are not perfect. In this light, the direct line we thought was irrefutable may be closer to a game of telephone. I remember an occasion while serving a mission I was reading a copy of Joseph F. Smith’s “Doctrines Of Salvation,” and I came across a few teachings that were- bizarre, to say the least. He defined sex as only to be used to create bodies for children, and if you had sex not with that intention it would have eternal repercussions (this is not how it is taught today, and that is only one example of the crazy things that he says). I was told by my mission president that sometimes you have to distinguish when a church leader is speaking as a priesthood holder, and when they are speaking as a man.

When I see this doctrine of ask no questions being enforced in a church setting it saddens me. What good has ever come from enforcing a culture of blind followers?  We all follow of course, to one extent or another, but there is a huge difference in being a willing, assertive, follower, and a blind one. Normally this is voiced in the question “Who are we to question God’s plan?”

WWJD? Jesus was a fringe thinker. He openly and frequently questioned the status quo of his time, and in doing so he exposed that the doctrines of his day do not stand up. If the doctrine is unsound, it generally tends to fall apart under criticism. The church leadership does seem to understand this, and even embrace it. They have a popular and open invitation to all critics to read the Book of Mormon and find its faults. But have we seen this same invitation extended to all church policy on a local level? I certainly haven’t.

To quote directly from the church’s missionary manual “Preach My Gospel” pg. 183:

“Jesus Christ often asked questions to help people ponder and apply principles. His questions prompted thought, soul searching, and commitment…Learn to ask questions as prompted by the Spirit.”

BOM you got questions

Quite often when we are discussing church policy or doctrine more often than not the scripture Moses 5:6 is brought up. This scripture finds Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden, they are living it up growing plants, naming animals, and makin’ babies. We then find Adam hard at work making sacrifices when an angel appears and asks him why he would do such a thing:

5 And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.

6 And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.

Boom. Case over. Goodnight everyone. It’s right there in black and white, don’t ask questions, just be obedient, if the Lord commands you, who are you to ask what is it for? But just for arguments sake, let’s read the next verse…

7 And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.

Oh dear…that changes things. The angel tells him why he is sacrificing. So we really don’t have a story that advocates a “Do as your told because who are you to ask?” mentality at all, if anything the story is really “If you are unsure of a doctrine, practice obedience, and the Lord will show you why.” That’s not the same context I usually see this scripture shared in. One could even make the case the Angel was rebuking Adam for his response.

For those curious, verses 8-12 goes on to say the Holy Ghost falls upon Adam he begins to prophesy with Eve, they learn about all the families of the earth, resurrection, and repentance. They even learn why they had to fall to gain salvation. It’s actually a very touching end to their character arcs; unfortunately it’s almost never talked about because verse 6 is so often taken completely out of context and the rest of the verses are skipped over.

As far as why this is generally frowned upon in the church, my suspicions are that when you question someone’s intent, this may be misunderstood as questioning the person’s authority.  Especially in a patriarchal system where priesthood power is though to be personal power (it isn’t) asking a question would seem to implicate you are questioning the priesthood holders relationship with God. Even though that certainly is not the case. To quote Emerson “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”

If you ever find yourself with an internal feeling of guilt about raising critical questions – DON’T! Criticism is an important part of human nature, it’s the reason we no longer live in caves and eat raw meat. Someone, somewhere, said, “Folks, we can do better than this.” It’s also an important part of church culture, it’s the reason Jesus was successful in gaining disciples, it’s what led Joseph Smith into the sacred grove, and it’s why the Book of Mormon still stands today. Despite what people incorrectly read as disobedience, raising criticism is and always should be welcome.

When I (or anyone) ask if women should be given the Priesthood, I do not hate the church, I do not disrespect our leaders; I do not discount the importance of revelation. I love the church, I love what it teaches us and I love what we can become through Christ. Asking questions is not subversive to any of this, and I, nor anyone else loves the church less for doing so.

“Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.

These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is – I repeat it – a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.” – Charlotte Bronte (in Jane Eyre)

For more by Justin, see his posts on Adventures in a Singles Ward and Mostly Modest.

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6 Responses to “questions”

  1. Sír Jeff Meadows

    You’re right about Adam did get an answer, but you also miss the point of verse 6 as well, it says “And after many days”; which means that for some undetermined amount of time (Whether a few weeks, months or a few years) Adam was sacrificing to the Lord without knowing the why of it. Had he most likely prayed to know why, had he most likely questioned? Yes. But up until the angel of the Lord came, Adam had no answer. But despite the lack of an answer, he didn’t demand of the Lord, he didn’t stop the sacrifices.

    But up until the moment that the angel did tell him what the sacrifices meant, why Adam was commanded to do them, he was as many might say a blind follower.

    Yes, he got an answer. But not in his time frame. The same happens with us, sometimes we have to operate in blind faith before (and if) an answer comes.

    So obviously we are meant to question. We pray to know the Book of Mormon is true, we pray to have personal testimony that the prophet is called of God, that the instructions he gives us are inspired. We pray to know how best to act in our callings. But the scriptures do not say to not act until you have answer. It does not say you demand an answer. We are told to seek out answers and pray diligently that the Lord might answer our questions.

    And that is all the difference.

    Reply
  2. justinanfinsen

    Thanks for the thought Sir Jeff,

    You are very correct that the answer did not come on Adam’s time. When I look at this scripture I’m not too much concerned with the amount of time that passed (as subjective as that might be) I’m more concerned with using the scripture to show is it unbecoming of a faithful member to ask questions of God.

    Many (I can’t speak for all of us) in the feminist movement are following Adam’s example. We demand nothing, but even without answers we are diligently asking and seeking for more truth. I’m sure we wont figure this out today, tomorrow or perhaps in the next 5 years. But for myself, and I’m sure many others we are willing to see this through to the end, whatever that might be. Even under a presumed silence that is not stopping me from seeking.

    Reply
  3. weedlord bonerhitler

    Joseph Smith is the OG quotation: “‘A Prophet is not always a Prophet’ only when he is acting as such”

    I like this post, though I think my immediate reaction is to go ahead and eschew the prophets in general and concentrate on controlling my own spirituality and faith and allowing the words of the prophets supplement and affirm what I have a testimony of. I’m not much for sticking around in frameworks which cause me to wonder if I am, in fact, crazy or evil.

    On another tangent and slight non-sequitur: I liked you analysis of the angel perhaps rebuking Adam for doing things without full understanding of why he was doing them. It makes me think of Abraham and Isaac. We have a very clearly defined and generally accepted of this story/parable that is predicated on Abraham understanding God’s instructions PERFECTLY. Abraham gets a kid, finally, and then God apparently very clearly tells him to kill the kid, whilst lying to him about it. Then God saves Isaac and PSYCHE, test of faith, obedience is next to godliness, whatever. But I always think, “What if Abraham just didn’t get what was going on and misinterpreted it? What if God saving Isaac was an act of mercy and safety to ensure the future of Israel because his really old, crazy ass dad misunderstood?” Abraham isn’t really at fault for following his convictions, but God was there to correct and protect Isaac from Abraham’s old-ass antics.

    I don’t even know if this comment is worthwhile. Probably not. YOLO. Do whatever you want, consult with God, the prophets are just old ass dudes who are trying hard to do right and sometimes forget Christ in their quest to perfect the world. They mess up too, in HUGE ways, and drive people away from the truth. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a PRETTY big sin, to be responsible for alienating people from Christ and perpetuating hate and misery. But, you know what? Just like God will forgive us our foibles and sins, so will God forgive them.

    Reply
  4. JOHN GALT

    Not sure why it matters who holds the priesthood whether its men or women. Whomever holds the priesthood cannot use it to benefit oneself. The priesthood is only use to help and bless the lives of others. Because women enjoy the same blessings that men receive from the priesthood I am not sure where the hangup is? Women can produce children, does that mean they are more important than men? Probably. Do I wish that I could give birth? No. At the end of the day its impossible to make every thing equivalent, but thats okay. If society did an objective appraisal on both the male and female I think females would win that battle. If women weren’t valued more than men why doesn’t heavenly father speak of heavenly mother. Its clear through LDS teachings that heavenly mother is respected above heavenly father, hence the secrecy. At the end of the day I wish women would embrace their feminine qualities and attributes, instead of trying to be more masculine. And motherhood is the most important role in society, no competition to it.

    Reply
    • auriparker

      Hi John,
      just wanted to answer some of your questions (assuming you actually wanted them answered). People who support the ordination of women do not do so because they want to benefit themselves or because they want authority. You may be interested in checking out the Ordain Women’s FAQ: http://ordainwomen.org/faq/
      Some people support women’s ordination because they would love to see women have the priesthood so that they can serve others with it. It may also be because people believe that we need more women’s input in matters that affect all of the members of the church.

      I also think that there is a big problem with a couple things you said: “Women can produce children, does that mean they are more important than men? Probably.”
      “If society did an objective appraisal on both the male and female I think females would win that battle.”
      “If women weren’t valued more than men why doesn’t heavenly father speak of heavenly mother. Its clear through LDS teachings that heavenly mother is respected above heavenly father, hence the secrecy.”

      No, no, and no. Women are not more important than men. All are equal unto God. Putting women on a pedestal is not right, helpful, or true. It is definitely not clear Heavenly Mother is respected above Heavenly Father. I really have no idea where you get these ideas from. I am kind of hoping this is a joke.

      And who said women were trying to be more masculine? I think you have a lot more to learn about mormon feminism.

      Reply

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