Not the Same Mormons

cowboy

 

When I was a kid I loved to read fiction and non-fiction books about the Old West. There was always a colorful blend of characters: cowboys and Indians, mountain men and pioneers, gunslingers and prospectors, Anglos, French, and Mexicans. One character type that occasionally appeared was “the Mormons.” These were an angry mob of bandits led by their mustachioed outlaw leader, “Joe Smith,” who went around robbing and harassing everyone else. I was and always have been LDS, but I didn’t recognize anything of myself, my fellow ward members, or the teachings of the Church in these Mormons that I read about. In fact, I didn’t even realize until years later that the authors were even attempting to depict members of the LDS faith in their books. I just assumed that there was another, unrelated group out there also known as the Mormons.

I’ve recently experienced a similar cognitive dissonance. I’ve been following closely news related to the Ordain Women movement, particularly that group’s recent effort to attend the priesthood session of conference. Even though sad experience should have taught me to know better, I still sometimes can’t resist looking at the readers’ comments section below the news articles that I read. Sometimes what I find there confuses and distresses me. Here is a recent example of what I’m talking about. It’s a comment by “underhill” on Joanna Brook’s piece “Equality is not a Feeling” (http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/joannabrooks/7334/):

Believing that it’s up to you (not God) to convince the church leadership through protests like this = trusting in the arm of the flesh. No other way to slice it. Seriously, who’s in charge here? God, them, or you?

There are of course variations on this. Some call the OW members “apostates,” and some, working completely at odds with the Church’s missionary and retention efforts, go so far as to suggest that they leave the Church. But the central logic is always basically this: if God wanted the Church to be doing this, then the Church would already be doing this, so to even ask about it is wrong.

I grew up in the Church my whole life, and this “asking is wrong” attitude is as foreign to me as the idea that Joseph Smith wore a mustache and held up stagecoaches. It makes me wonder if these internet trolls belong to a different group of Mormons unrelated to mine with a different set of teachings. I can think of no scripture to support it. I grew up believing in the scripture that says, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). The scriptures and Church history are full of people doing just that. Here are few examples:

  • Nephi did not wait for the prophet, Lehi, to tell him where to hunt. He went and asked (1 Nephi 16:23).
  • I don’t recall Jesus ever looking for people to heal, but numerous came to him. Some had to get his attention by pulling a roof off of a house (Mark 2:4).
  • The Doctrine and Covenants did not come all at once. As its introduction says, it came “in answer to prayer, in times of need, and came out of real-life situations involving real people.” Many were given because individuals asked Joseph Smith to seek answers for them (see, for example, the heading to D&C 5).
  • Many Africans accepted the gospel, formed congregations, and requested that the Church send missionaries to Africa during the years before the Priesthood Revelation.

Here are a few examples even more directly related to the OW movement because they involve women:

  • The law of Moses originally only allowed men to receive a portion of land. A situation arose that the law hadn’t contemplated: Zelophehad died without sons. His daughters asked Moses for their fair share, so Moses took it up with the Lord and was instructed to change the law so that they could own land. (Numbers 27: 1-11).
  • D&C 89, the famous “Word of Wisdom,” was received after Emma Smith complained to Joseph about the tobacco juice on the floor of the School of Prophets.
  • Emma, Eliza R. Snow, and other women came up with the Relief Society on their own and asked Joseph Smith to approve it after the fact.Emma

Having attended numerous ward council meetings, I’ve observed repeatedly that not all ideas originate with the bishop. It is standard practice for members to bring ideas and ask the bishopric to consider or act on them. This is what OW is doing now at the Church-wide level. They are in the tradition of the daughters of Zelophehad, Emma, and Eliza.

My message to the internet trolls, then, is this: You can be opposed to female ordination if you want to. You can state your beliefs in the comments sections if you want to. But if you do, at least have the decency to recognize and make explicit that they are just that—your beliefs. Do not continue to damage the Church with the false claim that asking is somehow sinful. Do not deny this Church’s defining characteristic and greatest strength: its recognition that God’s will is too big to fit into one book of scripture or one set of policies. Please recognize that the pattern has never been “stand outside and wait,” but rather “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

 

Submitted by Charles Patterson