The LDS Church should stop curbing free speech and start embracing advocacy

Michael Otterson, managing director of Public Affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormons), reaffirmed the church’s hostility toward advocacy yesterday in response to a question from Kate Kelly, who was excommunicated for lobbying church leaders to consider women’s ordination.

“Having opinions, even about whether women should hold the priesthood, is certainly within the purview of any member of the church,” he said, before contradicting those words by adding: “However, when those opinions transfer into advocacy or lobbying, particularly when they’re clearly lobbying against what has been declared as clear doctrine by church leaders, that crosses a line, and in a few cases, and you mentioned your own case, in a few cases that has led to a disciplinary council.”

So there you have it.  Having opinions is okay; expressing opinions is not.  You can have ideas, but you can’t make suggestions.

Otterson’s comments come on the heels of officials at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University defending a policy to investigate and punish sexual assault victims for breaking rules such as being out after curfew or being in a bedroom with a member of the opposite sex—protecting rapists by creating disincentives to rape reporting. Heinous policies such as these demonstrate that all is not well in Zion.  The church is in desperate need of advocates to point out flawed policy and help the church better protect vulnerable people.

The LDS Church does not forbid advocacy outright. Taking an official, public stance against free speech would be fatal to missionary and retention efforts.  Forbidding free speech is rightly viewed as oppressive in the free nations in which most members of the church reside.

Instead, church leaders use passive aggressive hints to discourage advocacy, such as this statement in a First Presidency message directed toward the Ordain Women movement in June 2014: “We feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from Church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them.”  Expressing “special concern” is mild enough to avoid the censure of the press in democracies worldwide, but more than enough to set into motion efforts to curb free speech among Mormons.

LDS priesthood leaders can punish members for not “sustaining” priesthood leaders (themselves) or for failure to follow “counsel” of priesthood leaders (themselves).  In this environment, it’s just as easy to punish members for failure to take a hint as it is for disobeying an explicit rule. Using passive aggressive language leaves room for church leaders to let some acts of advocacy slide—to even consult with advocates who lobby the church if church leaders happen to want their input and expertise—but provides rationale for capricious and inconsistent punishment when silencing is a more convenient solution from the perspective of church leadership. Church leaders make examples of certain members and scare others into submission without requiring such a blanket degree of punishment as would interfere with the Church’s mission.

While this approach to stopping advocacy has some strategic advantages, it also has many deleterious side effects.  More importantly, it is simply not  ethical.

Ten Reasons To Stop Curbing Free Speech and Start Embracing Advocacy

2014-07-03-the-divine-mission-of-jesus-christ-advocate-eng1. Jesus Christ himself is an advocate.
It is ironic that less than a month after the June 2014 First Presidency statement expressing “special concern” about advocates, the July 2014 Visiting Teaching message was titled, “The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Advocate.”  It was part of a series of messages about the virtues of our exemplar Jesus Christ directed to all female members of the Church.

2. Advocacy is patriotism, not rebellion.
Advocating for the church to consider a particular policy change or course of action is not opposing the church. To draw an analogy, would you call an American citizen who advocates for changes to current American laws anti-American? Of course not! Working to improve the nation, through advocacy, is a sign of patriotism. So why should anyone call a Mormon who advocates for improvements to our church anti-Mormon?

3. Responsiveness is good management.
Advocates speak for large groups of people, saving church leaders from the time-consuming process of hearing individual appeals and providing means for people who lack official channels to communicate with leaders. By silencing reformers and whistle-blowers, the church creates the illusion that all is well in Zion, but cuts off an important tool for building Zion—the input of its members, especially its female members and other demographic groups that are unrepresented in priesthood leadership. The tension boils down to this: is it more important for the church to perfect itself or to create the appearance that perfection has already been achieved? Defending the faith must not be confused with defending the status quo.

4. Permitting speech and advocacy is low-risk.
Church leaders have a loud megaphone.  They have numerous effective channels to counter speech they disagree with simply through rebuttal instead of through discipline. Church leaders are under no obligation to implement suggestions they find contrary to God’s will or unsatisfactory for any reason.  Within the current system of church governance, there is simply no way for members to change church policy without approval of church leaders.  The church does not vote on platforms, holds no elections and offers no option for referenda.  Why should church leaders be afraid of hearing suggestions that cannot come into fruition without their personal approval?

5. Suppressing speech excludes female perspectives from church policy-making.
Suppressing advocacy cements gendered bias in Church policy and practice because public speech is virtually women’s only recourse for communication. Women are excluded or greatly limited in representation in church governance.  Auxiliaries are not designed to address women’s concerns.

6. Suppressing speech reflects poorly on church leaders.
A blanket refusal to allow members to make suggestions to church leaders gives the impression that church leaders are proud and petty, willing only to entertain ideas that are their own, regardless of the merit of the idea.  Some members even go so far as to express their belief that church leaders will retract a good policy to avoid the appearance of “caving to public pressure.” In other words, it creates the impression that church leaders care more about their own status and power than about doing what is right.  “If a son [or daughter] shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone?” (Luke 11:11)

7. Suppressing speech perpetuates hostile attitudes toward women in the church.
It’s not just that suppressing speech makes church leaders unresponsive to women, but that members follow suit. I have been told by multiple, authoritative sources that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are so inspired they don’t need women’s input.  The fact that such comments were meant as an endorsement of the apostles—in addition to an encouragement for women like me to stop meddling—says a lot about how Mormons view women.  A policy made without women is seen as more inspired than a policy that is responsive to women.

8. Punishments for speech are blunt instruments.
Advocacy is not the same as disobedience or fraud. But current procedures to silence free speech do not discern between someone who acknowledges and follows current policy while expressing the opinion that the policy should change and someone who disobeys policy or spreads lies about official positions.

9. Punishment for speech is based on factors that have nothing to do with the character of the advocate.
Since punishing all people who express their opinions or advocate change is not feasible, church leaders have prioritized punishing well-known and popular advocates—those who have a “following.” Thus, the ultimate deciding factor in whether someone is punished is not based on her personal choices, but rather on the actions of others. People may choose to “follow” (agree with) an advocate because she has personal charisma, speaking or writing talent, or access to effective channels to spread ideas.  These qualities are ethically neutral; possessing or lacking any of these qualities is no indicator of character.  People may also agree with the message because of qualities of the message itself.  The message may resonate because it is true—an ethically positive position—but the messenger may still be punished by the church.

10. Asserting that God will punish members without ethical reason is blasphemy.
While church leaders can and do invoke many earthly punishments on advocates, some disciplinary measures depend on God’s cooperation for enforcement: invalidating saving ordinances, barring someone from the Celestial Kingdom of heaven, and eternally separating them from their families. Shouldn’t we tread more carefully before assigning our speech suppression strategy to God?

April Young-Bennett
April Young-Bennett
April Young-Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at


  1. This is freaking brilliant, April! Totally spot on. I particularly like your point #4. Church leaders using discipline in place off simple rebuttal– using their loud megaphone, as you put it so well–seem like they must be really concerned that their positions are unbelievably weak.

    • Of course, the implication in both April’s post, and your reply, is that Church discipline is done without the Spirit.

      In all the DC’s I have attended, at both ward and stake level, the presiding officer has made a decision and taken it to the Lord for confirmation.

      In retrospect, looking at the life Kate Kelly is now living (posting pictures of buying a coffee maker for instance, and encouraging those who feel uncomfortable at church to leave the church)) it would appear that the important parts of the Gospel have been abandoned by Kate. I am sure she is a lovely person, but she does not seem to want to be a part of the Church any more.

      If I were excommunicated I would not take it as an opportunity to break the Word of Wisdom. So, I believe the Spirit made the right choice in her case.

      Unfortunately Kate didn’t want to be a member of this Church, she wanted to be a member of a Church of her making – one that would bend to all of her demands. We are not a democracy, we are a theocracy – and that means doing it God’s way.

      If we were a democracy, and a vote was held for Female Ordination – I believe it would be lost. I actually think it would lose if only women were balloted.

      • Andrew, you might want to think about how judging non members for drinking coffee reflects on your character.

        Please try to stay on topic. This post isn’t about whether Andrew likes Kate Kelly or Michael Ottserson or me or anyone else. It is about whether the church should punish speech and advocacy. (If you are trying to say that the church should punish people Andrew dislikes, than no, I don’t see that as a good criterion.)

      • My point was that Kate doesn’t appear to be unhappy about not being a member, in fact she has publicly said she is happier out. She seems to believe it is better for her.

        The point of my post, which you completely overlooked, was that DC’s are Spirit led – at least in my experience. Your post implies that are men run and for punishment. That is not my experience. Sorry if that isn’t what you want to hear.

        And for the record, I don’t know Kate Kelly, and I make it a point to not decide if I like, or not like, someone unless I know them.

      • “(posting pictures of buying a coffee maker for instance, and encouraging those who feel uncomfortable at church to leave the church)) it would appear that the important parts of the Gospel have been abandoned by Kate. ”

        Apparently the most important parts of the gospel are don’t drink coffee and go to church on Sunday. I guess I can throw out everything Jesus taught.

      • I believe the spirit once advised me to get a coffee maker. I can confirm it was the spirit, originally, because, well, the coffee it produces is delicious and makes me happy.

        • Cody – you can be sure of this confirmation if you use cream in your coffee. You will see right before your eyes the black coffee becoming “white and delightsome” as you add cream.

    • So you’re sure that local leaders are infallible too? You can’t imagine that leaders who decide to excommunicate someone and then pray about it might have their own personal biases creep in even just a little bit? That level of faith and confidence in such a very human process seems completely unwarranted to me.

      And your post-hoc justification of Kate’s excommunication is weak. Are you surprised that she might be unhappy with the vindictive and underhanded process used to excommunicate her? The fact that she has happily left Mormonism behind is no argument that she wouldn’t have remained a stalwart member had she not been so badly treated.

    • Absolutely Ziff on the point about rebuttal. I wonder if I needed to highlight that even more, because church leaders may wonder what do I do if I think their ideas are wrong? The answer is simple: rebut!

      • Also absolutely on your points about local leaders not being infallible, and how you can’t judge how someone’s Mormonism on the basis of what happened after the church forced her to stop being Mormon against her will. (Basically, I agree with you on everything, I was just trying to point to which comment I was referring to at a given moment.)

  2. I absolutely agree! Well-written, April!

    In my mind as I was reading this, I was reflecting on the recent Exponent blog anniversary series and the posts in 2008 that addressed the advocacy encouraged by the church in regard to Prop 8. The church seems fine so long as any advocacy is sanctioned by the church “against” whatever group or governing law might they deem an enemy.

    When I lived in a smaller Utah town 2 decades ago, I used to find it utterly ironic that many of the LDS folks in town who (at that time) were running about in anti-pornography and anti-not-Mormon-literature frenzy showed not even an ounce of gratitude that the “freedom of speech” and “freedom of press” they were advocating against gave them the licence in which to advocate. The dualism of the church and many of Her members still astounds me. I don’t believe it is of Christ, and I hope your post bring s some light to this.

  3. There’s a difference between advocating for a policy change and starting a movement that teaches that the Church’s doctrine is false (like Kate Kelly). Otterson specifically said, “particularly when they’re clearly lobbying against what has been declared as clear doctrine by church leaders, that crosses a line.”

    On top of that, the Church allows people to speak against Church doctrine way longer than we give them credit for. (See John Dehlin, Jeremy Runnels, etc.).

    • Dear “Anonymous,” if you were to peruse the OW website, you would discover that there is nothing that even suggests that church doctrine is false. OW is asking for equality and opportunities to serve in new ways. OW is asking to be part of the faith, not critical of it. Also, let’s read your last sentence out loud. “The Church allows people…” ALLOWS? THAT line of thinking is what’s scary.

      • I know that OW has toned things down lately, asking mainly for policy changes that promote equality. That’s cool! Props to them. There are lots of things that can change for the better.

        But I think where we might disagree is whether or not male-only ordination is doctrine. If it’s doctrine (as current apostles have said it is – as implied by Otterson in the quote), then starting a following that’s antagonistic toward one of God’s doctrines (while engendering distrust in the Lord’s servants) is worthy of at least some sort of intervention.

        If it turns out to just be a patriarchal, sexist, misguided policy, then the apostles are wrong and Kate is right. (But I’m not so sure I would want to be a member of a church where Kate Kelly is more receptive to knowing the mind and will of the Lord on behalf of the entire church, world-wide, than the Lord’s duly anointed apostles and prophets.)

        As far as saying “allows,” I meant that the Church is “allowing” those who are militantly antagonistic toward LDS doctrine to stay members of the Church for YEARS before ever taking disciplinary action. The Church is far more patient than many give it credit for.

      • And I’m sorry for crashing your forum. I really appreciate a lot of what The Exponent and FMH stand for. I just think we disagree on a couple things. Have a good night, everyone. 🙂

      • Anonymous, I appreciate that you disagree with the concept of women’s ordination, but what I am proposing here is that it does not matter if people agree with the suggestions advocates make, either way they should be allowed to make them. That is how free societies work. People will say things others disagree with but they would not be punished for expressing their opinions. They would only be punished for speech if the speech were fraudulent. So continuing with the example of women’s ordination, saying, “The church does not currently permit women to be ordained, but I believe they should” would be protected speech. Saying “President Monson called me on the phone and said it was okay for me to ordain women, so come to my house after church and I’ll ordain you” would still be punishable speech, because it is fraudulent.

  4. Nice job articulating this. Speaking out seems much more effective than disengaging does. I’ve tried both a little bit and sometimes though it’s seemed as if disengagement is all I can do and still cope.

    • I believe that the implication is that Female Ordination is not doctrinal – having an organisation with the aim of female ordination is exactly that.

    • Perhaps Otterson believes it is a clear doctrine that only women can ever be ordained, now or in the future. Many people do not see the issue as that cut and dry at all. These differences of opinion are among the many reasons why punishing speech is so problematic.

  5. April – Very well done.

    And in response to Andrew R – My understanding of OW was not telling the brethren they need to allow women to be ordained, they asked that it be brought before the Lord and asked. Not only was OW never allowed any audience (outside of PR – this wasn’t the “public”, it was “members”). If I imagine Christ I can’t see him doing what the top brethren have done. I can only see him saying, “lets talk about it and converse a bit.” Not silence and vague responses in conference talks. It seems to me my leaders are scared of a few women asking questions and feel they need to silence them in any way. I don’t see the younger generations tolerating this.

  6. After reading this article and all the comments I feel inclined to respond and I NEVER DO but feel the need here…

    Expressing an opinion and even disagreeing is totally allowed within the church…everyone has that right, however if you go about starting a movement, trying to convince others to your side, judging if others do not agree with you is definitely not within a Christ centered church. Do we want to change the church to match the world or do we want the church as Christ established it while he was on the earth…women did not hold the Priesthood while,he was here, if we were meant to it would have happened then under his direction….period!

    • 12 year old boys, or Europeans, didn’t hold the Priesthood while Christ was on the Earth, either, and yet, here we are.

      Also, the evidence for women holding the priesthood, especially in the Old and New Testaments, is much murkier than our current LDS understanding.

      I think we need to sustain our leaders but recognize that the restoration is ongoing- the church is not perfect. Clamping down on advocacy will slow down our progression towards Zion.

    • Terry, I appreciate that you are an inexperienced commenter, so this is a natural rookie mistake, but not very many doctrinal assertions are so cut and dry to be concluded “….period!” I am sure you will find, if you continue to read these forums, that there are a wide range of opinions that are just as valid as yours, even among faithful Mormons. For example, many people would challenge your assertion that women did not hold the priesthood during Christ’s day, and your assertion that Christ intended for only the same demographic groups that held the priesthood in his day to exclusively hold the priesthood in the future, or your assertion that the modern day church organization really is the same as the ancient church, etc. I am glad you are participating in these discussions. I think it will be a real eye-opener.

  7. I love this April. At the very least have some type of ombudsman office. I recently met w my priesthood leaders abt some of my issues re gender and it was like talking to a wall. All the while they tried to assure me that “they got it” and not to worry because “times they are a changin.'” There is no way to be heard. So people who love the institution are left with public works of advocacy. It’s maddening.

    • What were you expecting?

      I have always thought that despite being taught the principle from Primary upwards that tithing is uniformly fair, because it is always 10%, that it isn’t at all fair. It probably was when everyone grew things, and gave 10% of their output.

      But as nearly every tax system shows, those on the lowest earnings pay the lowest percentage, if anything.

      However, I see little point in advocating for a sliding scale for tithing. Why? First, we don’t declare our income. Second, if we tell our Bishop we paid a full tithe he believes us. So for some it may be on gross, others on net, and still others on the difference between income and outgoings. None is right, and none is wrong. It is an individual thing. And anyone teaching anything other than 10% if your increase annually is wrong to do so.

      It’s 10% and it will always be 10%. Speaking to my bishop would be taking to a “wall”, same with the stake president. Etc.

      “ombudsman office”

      Bishop = Judge in Israel
      Stake President = Judge in Israel

      They do not make the laws (God does). They do not enforce the laws (God’s does). They judge that the law has, or has not been, lived and help the individual to keep the law.

  8. I’m not one to assume genders have specific roles (women stay at home while men go to work). I do, however, know that men and women have specific, God-given responsibilities here on Earth. A woman has one of the greatest of all responsibilities: bringing children into this world. I say that simply, but it consists of so much more. Men have a different but equal responsibility: perform saving ordinances. Again, that consists of so much more.

    In order to obtain the Godhood we all want, we need both of these. I (nor any other man) won’t lobby to get pregnant, therefore, why are certain LDS women so set on having the Priesthood?

    That being said, I do believe in free speech (especially within the church). I just don’t understand the fuss. Someone please explain.

  9. A church is not intended to be a democracy and restrictions on what members can say do not infringe on freedom of speech or freedom of religion. Indeed, allowing a private religious organization to set conditions of membership and association is the very essence of freedom of speech and association. Organizations that cannot set boundaries on membership and acceptable discourse soon become muddled and lose purpose. The doctrinal, intellectual, and spiritual coherence of the Church depends on it being able to set boundaries and to invite those who step beyond those boundaries to either change or leave.

    Whether the Church has set boundaries in the right place or is somewhat too restrictive is definitely open for debate. I just hate when people suggest that “freedom of speech” is jeopardized when a private church sets conditions for membership.

    • Daniel, I am not arguing here that the Church has a legal obligation to support freedom of speech for its members. You are right; they don’t. I am saying that I think the church should choose to grant its members freedom of speech, because it would be strategically wise and ethically sound.

      • That’s fair. I think this is an inevitable problem in discussion of speech related issues because we use the same terminology to describe both the legal right and the privilege. But discourse on freedom of speech often conflates the two. So, you see people arguing that a private university violates a right to free speech, where there is no violation in a private organization doing so. As a lawyer very interested in First Amendment jurisprudence it is one of my pet peeves.

        My personal feeling is that the Church strikes the right balance to ensure doctrinal clarity on issues that it sees as essential. There are a ton of issues where advocacy on either side is completely acceptable (most political issues for instance) and relatively few where the Church has taken a hard stance against advocacy. To me, that indicates the importance of these issues and the degree to which the Church sees uniformity and clarity on them as vital.

  10. April, I think you need to be very careful when you endorse advocacy within the church regarding church policy and organization. If the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the true church of Christ here on the earth and is lead by those called of God then it follows that the organization and policies of the church are also from God. If a church member or non member advocates for something different than what has been restored, then they are advocating for something other than the will of God. If you don’t believe the LDS church is true or that it’s leaders are called of God then that is a separate issue.

    I accept that the Restoration is not complete, but change in the true church comes from the top down (ie from God) and not from members advocating for something that they would prefer. The prophet Joseph Smith was clear that only the president of the church was entitled to revelation for the church as a whole.

    So what do we do when we don’t really agree with something in the church. Jesus taught that we need to come to him and take upon us his yoke, because it is light. Giving our will to Christ and doing things his way is one of the biggest challenges of living the gospel, but we are promised it will be worth it. We are promised greater happiness. We don’t always see the big picture and sometimes our desires turn out to be mistakes.

    This does not mean that members cannot make suggestions about better ways to do things in the church, better ways to share the gospel, better ways to support struggling members, better ways to teach classes, etc. This type of participation is valuable and beneficial. But when you attack policies or the church organization you have to accept that you may be seeing the issue through your lens and not from God’s perspective.

    If someone truly wants to advocate for change in the church, you need to do it on your knees talking with Heavenly Father, to express your wishes and to hear and feel his answers.

    • Members cannot make suggestions if advocacy is banned and speech is punished; that was the point of my post. I see no problem with inspired leaders hearing suggestions from advocates and making inspired decisions about whether to implement, alter or refuse the suggestions. I do not believe the function of God is to act as my messenger boy, delivering suggestions to the brethren than I am perfectly capable of delivering myself. Certainly you have heard the mantra: We are God’s hands.

  11. This is so great! Thanks for writing this. I think in #6, you meant, “Some members even go so far as to express their belief that church leaders will [NOT] retract a good policy to avoid the appearance of “caving to public pressure.” I certainly feel that way often and often.

    • If you click through to the link I attached to that paragraph, you can see a great post that describes what I mean in more detail:

      A good example of this is the Let Women Pray campaign. A group of feminists advocated for the church to invite women to offer prayers at General Conference, a policy change because up until that point, they had exclusively invited men to do this. As Conference grew closer, rumors flew that the brethren actually were considering doing this, had been making plans to do so for awhile, but that they might change their minds and only ask men just to make it look like they were not listening to advocates even though, in this case, they happened to agree with the advocates that including female prayers was the right thing to do.

      • You cannot say it was a policy change without hard evidence of one. Just because a sister hadn’t prayed doesn’t mean she couldn’t.

  12. Oh, sorry, I was reading that mentally as bad policy, and thinking of the november policy. I feel like they wouldn’t retract that because they don’t want to cave to public pressure. Guess i should have click the link. : )

    • Whereas I think they wouldn’t retract it because it is correct and God’s will.

      I do not think every policy in the church is correct, or exactly as it should be, but I am willing to live with them.

      Just recently I went to the temple with my son, he was receiving his endowment prior to going on his mission this weekend.

      I have been an ordinance worker for 22 years. However, due to temple policy I was not allowed to perform any of the initiatory ordinances for him. I express my sadness at this to the temple president, who double checked the policy with the recorder. I have named and blessed him, baptised him, confirmed him and ordained him four times. But I could not wash him, or anoint him.

      I understand the reason why the policy is there, but I think it is silly. I am not going to be writing to the First Presidency and asking them to change the policy however.

      • I should say that we went back a week later and after he had baptised and confirmed me for two of our male relatives I then ordained him and performed some of the initiatory ordinances. So that was good.

      • It is too bad you are not willing to point out a silly policy to the brethren. The feedback could be useful to them and a change to policy could save other families from grief. But everyone has to choose their own battles. I think that others who would like to address this issue should be permitted.

  13. April, I am truly afraid for you. You and other leaders and “advocates” of this OW and other movements are heading down a dangerous path. Who do you think is the head of this church? Leads this church? The Prophet? …NO. It is Jesus Christ. The Prophet is his Mouthpiece and his Servant. Who do you think signed off on the Proclamation to the Family? Jesus did. In fact I would not doubt if the prophet meets face to face with Jesus on a regular basis. I can guarantee they’ve discussed the OW issues. You are so far out of line. You do not have all of these liberal rights you seem to think you have. Absolutely not you do not have free speech at church! In doing this non religious political propaganda you are infringing on the religious freedom of every single member who has to hear you advocate. There is nothing about that that is ok. Your advocating is your attempt to recruit members away from what they believe at their place of worship. Who does that sound like? Hint: we are at church to try to get away from him. No. The church leaders do not have to listen to this again. They have given Jesus’ answer. Accept it and repent or start your own church. You don’t seem to believe in this church or its leadership. Why do you want to be a member of you don’t believe it to be true or led by Jesus Christ?

    • The church IS lead by a prophet, who is inspired, but that doesn’t mean that they are perfectly inspired in everything they say, even in conference, or in the family proclamation (which has never been accepted as doctrine or an official declaration, as far as I am aware). Even doctrine declared by prophets and apostles has been found wrong later (like when they gave official reasons for blacks not having the priesthood in the 1940’s etc).
      So, yes, they can and should receive feedback, and then pray about that feedback and listen to it and reject it or accept it according to their inspiration.
      This is a good talk about doctrine:
      What Is Our Doctrine?
      Robert L. Millet
      Robert L. Millet is the Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding and former dean of Religious Education at BYU.

      “There have been times,” President Harold B. Lee pointed out, “when even the President of the Church has not been moved upon by the Holy Ghost. There is, I suppose you’d say, a classic story of Brigham Young in the time when Johnston’s army was on the move. The Saints were all inflamed, and President Young had his feelings whetted to fighting pitch. He stood up in the morning session of general conference and preached a sermon vibrant with defiance at the approaching army, declaring an intention to oppose them and drive them back. In the afternoon, he rose and said that Brigham Young had been talking in the morning but the Lord was going to talk now. He then delivered an address in which the tempo was the exact opposite of the morning sermon. Whether that happened or not, it illustrates a principle: that the Lord can move upon His people but they may speak on occasions their own opinions.”18
      In 1865, the First Presidency counseled the Latter-day Saints as follows:

      We do not wish incorrect and unsound doctrines to be handed down to posterity under the sanction of great names to be received and valued by future generations as authentic and reliable, creating labor and difficulties for our successors to perform and contend with, which we ought not to transmit to them. The interests of posterity are, to a certain extent, in our hands. Errors in history and in doctrine, if left uncorrected by us who are conversant with the events, and who are in a position to judge of the truth or falsity of the doctrines, would go to our children as though we had sanctioned and endorsed them….We know what sanctity there is always attached to the writings of men who have passed away, especially to the writings of Apostles, when none of their contemporaries are left, and we, therefore, feel the necessity of being watchful upon these points.19

      President Gordon B. Hinckley stated: “I have worked with seven Presidents of this Church. I have recognized that all have been human. But I have never been concerned over this. They may have had some weaknesses. But this has never troubled me. I know that the God of heaven has used mortal men throughout history to accomplish His divine purposes.”20 On another occasion, President Hinckley pleaded with the Saints that “as we continue our search for truth…we look for strength and goodness rather than weakness and foibles in those who did so great a work in their time. We recognize that our forebears were human. They doubtless made mistakes….There was only one perfect man who ever walked the earth. The Lord has used imperfect people in the process of building his perfect society. If some of them occasionally stumbled, or if their characters may have been slightly flawed in one way or another, the wonder is the greater that they accomplished so much.”21
      Prophets are men called of God to serve as covenant spokesmen for His children on earth, and thus we should never take lightly what they say. The early Brethren of this dispensation were the living prophets for their contemporaries, and much of what we believe and practice today rests upon the doctrinal foundation they laid. But the work of the Restoration entails a gradual unfolding of divine truth in a line-upon-line fashion. Some years ago, my colleague Joseph McConkie remarked to a group of religious educators: “We have the scholarship of the early brethren to build upon; we have the advantage of additional history; we have inched our way up the mountain of our destiny and now stand in a position to see some things with greater clarity than did they. We live in finer houses than did our pioneer forefathers, but this does not argue that we are better or that our rewards will be greater. In like manner our understanding of gospel principles should be better housed, and we should constantly be seeking to make it so. There is no honor in our reading by oil lamps when we have been granted better light.”22 Thus, it is important to note that ultimately the Lord will hold us responsible for the teachings, direction, and focus provided by the living oracles of our own day, both in terms of their commentary upon canonized scripture as well as the living scripture that is delivered through them by the power of the Holy Ghost (see D&C 68:3—4).

      “Elder Dallin H. Oaks, in a 1988 interview, was asked: “As much as any doctrine the church has espoused, or controversy the Church has been embroiled in, this one [the priesthood restriction] seems to stand out. Church members seemed to have less to go on to get a grasp of the issue. Can you address why this was the case, and what can be learned from it?” In response, Elder Oaks stated that “if you read the scriptures with this question in mind, ‘Why did the Lord command this or why did he command that,’ you find that in less than one in a hundred commands was any reason given. It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reason to revelation. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to the one we’re talking about here, and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that. The lesson I’ve drawn from that [is that] I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.”
      Then came a follow-up question: “Are you referring to reasons given even by general authorities?” Elder Oaks answered: “Sure. I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon that reason by others. The whole set of reason seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking…. Let’s don’t make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be mad-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that’s where safety lies.”24”

  14. I read the post several times. Reading my response this morning I do feel bad that I sounded so angry. I had read every comOment and was dismayed at my own gender for the gross disrespect shown to Jesus Christ. Needling him is not going to change his entire gospel plan. Please rethink this movement. It is not inspired.

  15. 1. Christ is our advocate to the Father.
    2. The analogy fails because the church is not a democratic republic.
    3. Who elected you (or anyone else for that matter) to advocate on behalf of large groups within the church? No one. Not to mention, the groups aren’t as large as you imagine.
    4. I haven’t heard a church leader say he was afraid of suggestions. But leaders only have so much time in a day (and in their life) to take suggestions. Everyone has an opinion on everything.
    5. Women bear the hands that rock the cradle. Surely there are a myriad of ways women can communicate their ideas.
    6. No such blanket refusal exists. You mean you’ve never been in a meeting with general church leaders and had a question and answer session?
    7. So, you’re saying only women can address the concerns of women? Maybe we should no longer allow females to raise sons.
    8. Speech is communication and reflects our thinking. To the extent one’s speech indicates lack of belief in church positions/doctrine, certainly discipline might follow.
    9. The church hasn’t focused solely on certain egos. In fact, go sit down with your bishop or stake president and express the same sentiments of Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, Denver Snuffer, etc. and my guess is that you’ll receive the same treatment.
    10. Church leaders have priesthood authority to bind and seal but no ethics? That’s a brazen claim.

    “So there you have it. Having opinions is okay; expressing opinions is not. You can have ideas, but you can’t make suggestions.” Opinion is not a synonym for suggestion. One is an idea of what should be done, the second an idea of what might be done. I don’t think anyone has been disciplined for simply offering a suggestion.

    • Your entire list is hilarious, but #5 in particular is unbelievable. Surely there must be a myriad of ways? Um, no. The entire structure of the Church is designed to suppress women’s voices. A few women are invited to ward council where they are outnumbered and presided over by men. A few women are called into general-level leadership positions, where they have time-limited callings, are always presided over by men serving in lifetime callings, and it makes big news when a few of them are invited to general-level councils. Where, naturally, they will be outnumbered and presided over by men. I’m sure that by serving as primary caretakers of boys, women can effectively make their voices heard decades later when those boys grow up to be general level Church leaders. That is completely ridiculous.

      • What exactly is ridiculous? The Lord? Just His Church?

        “The entire structure of the Church is designed to suppress women’s voices.”

        The entire structure that was restored to Joseph Smith by Christ.

        You see, the only conclusions I can take from your comment are that you believe:-

        1 – The Church structure is man made, not God’s will, and therefore not able to save since Men have usurped God’s power and are in Apostasy.
        2 – God only cares about men, and women’s voices are unimportant.

        I don’t believe either. I believe that the entire idea of needing to raise women to the level of Apostle in order for the Church to be balanced and work is utter foolishness. If that were the case then we are already in Apostasy because the current incumbents can’t be trusted with God’s authority and power.

        Every one of the First Presidency has, or has had, at least one wife of many, many years. The idea that the calling of Apostle comes to the man with no input from the wife is nonsense.

        Every stake president I have known has been told by the person setting him apart (An Apostle, a General Authority or Area Seventy) to use his wife as a counsellor. Not to divulge confidential information to, but to discuss ideas, implications, etc. with.

        Bishops do the same. We have a stake conference coming up and the Area Seventy coming to preside is coming with his wife. She will be visiting less active members with sisters while he visits others with priesthood. She will be speaking at the evening and general sessions of conference. And she will be meeting with the stake auxilliary leaders. And she is doing it all without having to hold the priesthood.

      • Try again, Andrew R. It’s a pretty big leap from “the list is hilarious” to “Jesus is ridiculous.” But then, you’ve demonstrated over and over that you believe that every move of every leader at every level of the Church manifests God’s will, so it kind of makes sense that you would think any criticism of any aspect of the Church (including a random person’s absurd defense of the status quo) is mocking Jesus.

        It’s also adorable that you think that having women be married to leaders is good enough to actually get women’s input to important decision making. Adorable and wrong. I suspect that if your sex were the one locked out of actual decision-making authority, you might have a slightly clearer eye to see the faults in the status quo.

      • Or on second thought, perhaps not. If it were only women who had the priesthood, you would probably found a group called “Mormon Men Stand” and write endless posts about how much you loved submitting to the ladies, and their infallible connection with God.

      • “It’s also adorable that you think that having women be married to leaders is good enough to actually get women’s input to important decision making. Adorable and wrong. I suspect that if your sex were the one locked out of actual decision-making authority, you might have a slightly clearer eye to see the faults in the status quo.”

        Wow – I wasn’t aware that such bitter comment was acceptable around here. You do realise that only a very small percentage of the men in the church ever get to be in the “decision making”. Granted the number of women is fewer.

        “you’ve demonstrated over and over that you believe that every move of every leader at every level of the Church manifests God’s will”

        Sorry that I have done that, it was not my intention. Of course there are leaders, from time to time, who exercise unrighteous dominion (there are sister that do it too). What I have said it that for major church policy 15 Apostles have to be in unanimity. And likewise in stake DC’s there is more than one person to cover the checks and balances.

        Last Sunday evening I attended a choir practice for our up coming stake conference. The director of the choir is the Stake RSP. One of the choir members is her second counsellor (the wife of the stake president). I am the stake clerk, and acting stake exec sec (since we do not have one). I plan stake conferences – the logistics, the venue, etc. I make sure the programme works, and all the bits fit together.

        The RSP (choir director) decided in the practice that she would like the closing hymn to be a particular hymn and that the choir would sing the first two verses and the last would be sung by the congregation. I was to “tell the stake president”. I pointed out they it is the stake presidency that makes the final decision. I was told by the wife – “I’ll get to him first”. And by the RSP – I work closing with him. Basically it was a done deal because of their relationships with the SP. I should point out at this point that despite all of the above I do I also play the organ for stake conference general session (because the venue is not a chapel and the organ is beyond most in the stake). Also we have an area seventy coming who could say no to all of our plans.

        My point is – these women have power, and sometimes wield it slightly inappropriately. But I love them both very much, and they are great in their callings. I don’t know what the church is like where you come from, but here (in Zion) men do not tell women what to do, and women are not seeking the priesthood because the men are no good.

      • Women get to choose hymns?? What more power could a person want?

        And yes, you’ve demonstrated over and over that you have complete faith that no mistakes are ever made even at a local level. You’ve complained that April hasn’t acknowledged that disciplinary councils are guided by the spirit, and so always reach the correct conclusion. Which is utterly absurd. And the idea that high counselors who are presided over by the SP can serve as a check is laughable. It’s great that you have so much faith that God guides every little step of what happens in the Church. From where I sit, that’s so obviously false and dangerous that I find it difficult to fathom how you can maintain such a position.

      • Ziff, that of course is the problem we have in conversing in this type of environment. I don’t know where you sit, and you don’t know where I sit.

        My point wasn’t about the hymns per se. It was that the Stake RSPy feel they have the ear of the Stake President and that he will change is mind, put things into effect, etc. based on their counsel.

        As to Stake High Councillors not being a check and balance. I have witnessed, and been the HC at times, HC challenging the stake president and his counsellors on many occasions over the past 30 years. And seen stake presidents back down, change direction, based on that.

        We have over 3,000 stakes – I don’t believe they are all led by corrupt men, and I hope you don’t either.

        I don’t have absolute faith in leaders. I have absolute faith in God and His Son. And I believe the Church is led by them, and that it is probably how they want it to be. If they didn’t they have the means to remove the entire First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

  16. Hi April,

    Two questions:

    First, I was wondering if you could give an example in the scriptures or since the gospel has been restored where grass-roots advocacy has changed church doctrine–not policy. In other words, when has bottom-up advocacy actually produced a change in doctrine.

    Second, I was wondering if you could provide a scriptural justification for advocacy, i.e., when has the Lord said that revelation comes from bottom-up?

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