Sunday, August 29, 2004

A Few Thoughts on 'Believing' and 'Doing' 

by John H
Over at some other blog, in a topic that seems to be winding down, a comment made by Jared really grabbed my attention. He said, "As Nate Oman and others never tire of pointing out, the church mostly cares about what we do rather than what we believe."

Upfront I have to say I'm not familiar with previous threads or discussions that have touched on this topic. So I'm most likely misunderstanding what Nate and others have been trying to say and what their perspectives are. (Nate's obviously a very thoughtful fellow and I have no doubt he's put a lot into his reasoning, as always.)

That said, this notion that the Church cares more about doing than believing is pretty much foreign to my own experience. I'm one who wanders through Mormonism wary of saying precisely what I believe in Church. I don't want to suggest that my experiences or my perspective are somehow evidence that my paranoia is correct. I'm truly very curious as to what others' experiences are and if people think my concern about speaking out is without merit.

My experience tells me: If I don't show up to help someone in Elder's Quorum move, no one says a word. If I miss my home teaching, no one calls to chastise me. If I don't sign up to do a cannery assignment, not a word of disapproval is uttered in my direction. I've had times in my Church activity where I couldn't (or wouldn't) participate all that much. No one talked to me, no one criticized me, no one approached me and asked me what my problem was. I showed up to Church each week and coasted by.

On the occasions I've dared venture my beliefs in Church, it hasn't gone so well. When I introduced the Book of Mormon to my Gospel Doctrine class, I touched very briefly on Joseph's money digging. I suggested that Joseph used his seeing talents to try and provide for his poor family before realizing that he had a much higher calling and that there were more important ways to use his gift. One woman a week later told me how disturbed she had been at what I said and pointedly told me not to stray from the manual, since that's all the Brethren had approved. When I mentioned that the Melchizedek Priesthood was probably restored in 1830 and not 1829, two people were so angry I thought after Church they'd be heading to the hardware store to pick up torches and pitchforks.

During a discussion while I worked at Deseret Book, the topic of progression between degrees of glory came up. I mentioned President McKay's letter that said we don't know if it is possible, and I also pointed out that some leaders had said it would be possible, while others quite strongly insisted it would not. One man (these were employees chatting in the breakroom - not customers) became very uncomfortable and said he didn't think it was appropriate to talk about this. Another woman actually began to cry and said this was the reason her brother had left the Church, and why did people like me refuse to believe the truth (in this case, the truth was that you could not progress between kingdoms).

I could go on, but I won't. Suffice it to say I'm not persuaded that these are just a few anecdotal stories that prove nothing. These kinds of disagreements are hardly over fundamental points of doctrine. So here's my problem: Given the experiences I've had and the experiences I've seen others go through, I proceed through Church convinced that if I spoke up, I would not be accepted. Perhaps it isn't fair to assume how people would act. But I can't see it being too well received if I said that I didn't believe the Book of Mormon was a historical record, or if I mentioned my support for gay marriage.

The temple recommend interview, which seems to be the primary criteria for determining worthiness in the Church, seems to be mostly about belief. Yes, many things involve both believing and doing, such as the Word of Wisdom. But I suspect one's condemnation would be the same regardless of whether they actually broke the Word of Wisdom or whether they said they believed it was ok to break it.

In short, the Mormon community I've grown up in and lived seems to have repeatedly demonstrated to me that it's beliefs that get you in trouble or get you accepted. I've seen it as my father's left the Church, as friends in Sunstone have been looked upon with suspicion, and as I've garnered more raised eyebrows than you can count. If you stray from the orthodox perspective, someone will be there to correct you or remind you that you're wrong. Granted, most people probably won't say anything. But we don't pay attention to those who don't come up to us, while we tend to make a pretty big deal out of the ones that do.

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