Over the last few weeks, the Church has received a lot of attention due to the disciplinary councils of two prominent activists. People of all backgrounds have issued strong opinions. In effort to promote respectful discussions, here are 5 things to remember when having conversations relating to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
1) The Disciplined Always has the Public Relations Advantage
The Church does not comment on disciplinary councils. They believe these matters are private, which is absolutely fair. Just as an individual would not want their doctor or therapist to share details to the public, most would not want sensitive matters discussed in a disciplinary council to become public. What this means is the disciplined person will always have an advantage in public relations. Knowing the Church does not comment on these matters, a person can easily exaggerate, withhold, or outright lie about the details of the council. In a theoretical example, an excommunicated academic may tell the media the reason for discipline was a direct result of research which put the Church in an unfavorable light, when in reality the academic was actually disciplined for cheating on his or her spouse.
The point is to recognize the Church’s silence on these matters does not imply an admission of guilt. Likewise, the disciplined may not be telling the full story. The truth is most councils are very complex. The iceberg analogy, where only 10% is visible above the water, applies here. Acknowledging this should minimize unfair attacks and unnecessary speculation.
2) Give Fair Criticisms
Civil discourse can only occur if criticism is reasonable and fair. Too often people do not recognize the actual issue and instead cause tension by focusing on ridiculous angles. For instance, over the last couple of weeks, some respected bloggers have called excommunications archaic and unnecessary. While there may be valid reasoning behind that opinion, those same people praised Pope Francis for excommunicating members of the mafia. Do not misunderstand. The vast majority of disciplined Mormons in no way compare to members of the mafia. The point is excommunication is necessary at times. Instead of focusing on the value of excommunication, an elevated discussion would question what justifies excommunication. Along this same line, it is silly to question if the Church has a right to excommunicate people. How is it any different than a company who fires an employee for not representing the brand appropriately? A reasonable person would instead discuss if the process of excommunication is fair.
3) Faith Plays a Role, Respect It
When discussing Church related topics with active members, recognize faith will play an important role at some point. Over the last few weeks, people on social media have used phrases like “If I was [his or her bishop]…” or “There is no way [insert prominent religious figure] would do this.” Some, including me, simply cannot use those lines. Certain callings in the Church, including missionaries, bishops, and any calling that ends in “president,” are entitled to and have access to unique revelation. As a missionary in Wisconsin, I felt the Spirit prompt me to say and do things I ordinarily would not do. When I exercised faith and acted on those promptings, miracles occurred. There is no doubt in my mind that bishops and stake presidents receive unique and privileged revelation. Once again, please do not misunderstand. Nobody is perfect and mistakes are made, but it is hard for me to the judge actions of a Church leader who holds keys. Not all active members may feel the same way I do about priesthood keys, but everyone in the Church will eventually reach a point where faith will play a big role in the discussion. Please respect it, even if you do not fully understand it.
4) Church Issues are not Political Issues
I would like to think this post is fairly neutral. However, many know I frequently defend the Church, particularly in the area of finances. Notwithstanding, sustaining and supporting Church leaders does not change my views on the minimum wage, income inequality, or externalities. Actively attending Sacrament Meeting does not make one a liberal or a conservative. Trusting local leaders does not make anyone a political traitor.
5) Most People are Sincere
The optimist believes most people are good and honorable. Without exception, every single leader I have met in the Church has had a strong desire to help others grow spiritually. These leaders strive to help others come closer to Christ. It is unfair to label these people as heartless, unforgiving, or overbearing based on a single action, when the majority of the details are not publicly available. Likewise, proper respect should be given to the disciplined person as well. Giving people the benefit of the doubt will reduce contention on both sides of an issue.