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.
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.”
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.
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…
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)