The arm of flesh

When the church commissions an opinion poll and then, as a result of that poll, concludes that some program or position is popular, or would be accepted by the Saints without complaint – and then adopt that position in a public statement – has a “revelation” been received? I do not think so. I think an opinion has been obtained, and a policy or statement has been adopted.  Therefore, I do not think there is one thing wrong with disagreeing with the policy or statement.

When the church endorses something or some position, I do not think it is right to simply “fall in line” behind the statement without also thinking the same issue through and reaching my own conclusion.  The first question I ask myself is what the statement is, and does it imply a revelation from the Lord. 
I can think of two examples.  One was a public announcement that was heralded in the press. The other was the subject of a letter from the First Presidency read in sacrament meetings.  
The public announcement was regarding the housing and employment of homosexuals in Salt Lake City, using the force of government sanction to prevent an employer or owner of property from refusing to grant equal access or rights to homosexuals.  I’ve previously commented here in a critical way about that announcement.  This is an example of how I view things. 
Since the church’s position on the matter had absolutely nothing to do with revelation, and the church did not make any attempt to claim the position came through revelation, I do not believe it is immune from question or criticism.  Indeed, the defense of the policy to the press involved a public relations/opinion poll driven justification.  It was expected to “resonate on the basis of fairness” with all those in the middle, and only offend those at the two ends of the spectrum.  This is opinion gathering to inform a position, then announcing the position because of the results of opinion gathering.  It is what a politician or a marketing firm would do.  It is not at all akin to a revelation, and should not command my respect.  I am under no obligation to alter my view based on what the church’s opinion gathering has concluded.  If that were the case, then the church’s ability to control everyone’s thinking would be based only upon prevailing opinion at the moment.  This is the “tossed about by every wind” concern which Paul addressed in one of his letters.  (Eph. 4: 14.)  Shifting opinion is not revelation.  I am free to point it out, disagree with it, and explain my contrary view.
Another example is the letter from the First Presidency asking speakers in sacrament meetings to no longer ask those in attendance to open their scriptures.  No explanation was provided in the letter.  It was just an instruction to the Saints to no longer let sacrament meeting speakers tell those in the meeting to open their scriptures and read along. Perhaps it was as a result of someone being irritated by the noise of rustling scriptures.  Perhaps it was someone with a hearing aid, whose aid frequency was tuned to pick up the rustling so well that it drowned out the rest of the speaker’s voice.  Perhaps it was because the meeting got delayed and disrupted by the folks struggling to find their scriptures, and open them up to the relevant page.  I can’t say for certain.  But I did raise my eyebrows when the letter was read in advance to the High Council. 
My candid reaction to that letter was that it diminished the office of those who signed the letter by the petty micro-managing of opening the scriptures during a sacrament gathering.  I wondered in amazement that someone in the Church Office Building got the First Presidency to sign such a letter.  I wondered at how, with all that threatens us today, opening scriptures in order to read along in sacrament meetings managed to become so important that the First Presidency would write and send a letter worldwide to be read in the stakes and wards.  It was perplexity on stilts.
Beyond that my approach has been twofold:  First, I have NEVER asked anyone to open their scriptures in a sacrament meeting since then.  However, I have said in talks during sacrament that “I cannot ask you to open your scriptures and read along” in order to call attention to the policy.  I have also said, when teaching outside of sacrament meetings, that I was free to ask them to read along in their scriptures “because we are not in a sacrament meeting.”  I do this to call attention to the policy.  I think to call attention to it is to cause people to wonder at the pettiness and inconsequential nature of a letter from the First Presidency addressing the opening of scriptures in sacrament meeting.
These are just two examples.  There are many.  As I have said before, I pay very close attention to the church, what is said and done, and how relevant or irrelevant some position, letter, emphasis or program is in an absolute sense.  I try to take it all in and reach my own conclusions.  Looking at it all, I am quite concerned.  Faithful, tithe paying and active, nevertheless quite concerned. 
I believe if enough people were similarly concerned that eventually the “opinion polling” might obtain reasonable results.  That is, the top would hear about reasonable concerns and learn of reasonable opinions, and then promulgate policies and send out statements accordingly.  That, however, will require a great effort to call attention to the things that matter most, and clarity in pointing out the things that do not matter at all. We fret over trifles while things are burning down all around us.  I wonder how long it will take for the polling to inform the Saints of the fire burning around them.

16 thoughts on “The arm of flesh

  1. I remember so well, when the aformentioned letter was read in Sac. mtg. I was shocked, disappointed and felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I was so disappointed that it took me several weeks to become non-judgemental and question the powers to be. Since this all took place, I have come to the conclusion, that from now on, I will take everything to the Lord. I will not rely on the arm of flesh any longer. I teach Gospel Doctrine and I feel my hands tied in so many apsects. I truly study and seek to teach with the spirit and to teach what H.F. would have me teach. Sometimes I have been questioned or maybe repremanded. Doctrine in Doctrine and when the spirit of God speaks, I do my best to listen and obey… to heck with the physical consequences from man.
    Thank you Denver for your willingness to give ‘meat’ to all of us. I am certainly tired of the ‘milk’.

    A G R

  2. I was in a bishopric meeting when the letter from the FP (about scriptures) was read. Our thoughts/opinions at the time were that the intent was to help improve the spirit of our meeting…. and not distract from the spirit.

  3. …because, naturally, the flipping of pages and opening of scriptures will detract from the spirit of the meeting.

  4. Yes, how could you possibly come to the conclusion that opening scriptures would be a hindrance to the spirit of the meeting? How far can we really go?

  5. “In order to maintain an atmosphere of reverent worship in our sacrament and stake conference meetings, when speakers use scriptures as part of their talks they should not ask the congregation to open their own books to the scriptural reference. Also, members should not use visual aids and their sacrament meeting or stake conference talks. Such teaching methods are more effective in classroom settings and leadership meetings.

    “We believe these adjustments will enhance the spirit of our worship services.”

  6. Thanks, DKD. I have the same reaction. It strikes me that opening the word of God up could not possibly detract from the Spirit of Truth. Though, perhaps, it may detract from the “spirit of our worship services” which I do agree may be disrupted by the intervention of the scriptures being opened.

    It continues to amaze me that the letter was sent.

  7. Denver…. I too was a little puzzled at the letter when the bishop read it…. there were a few raised eyebrows in our meeting too. :)

  8. I took it to mean I was vindicated from never opening my scriptures when the speaker tells me to. Yay! No more sideways glances from the self-righteous peanut gallery!

  9. I’ve always remembered a part of a talk from Henry Eyring that he gave during a BYU Devotional:

    “A professor of mine, Ray Bauer, years ago corrected me when I put the label of ‘irrational’ on someone’s behavior. He said: ‘Hal, you’ll understand people better if you assume that people’s behavior is rational, at least from their point of view. Try to see what they see.'”

    It might be that the last “Anonymous” inadvertently hit on one possible explanation. Maybe there was concern that first time attendees to our meetings, or long-time inactive members who were on their way back were made to feel uncomfortable, or that they weren’t allowed to fully participate in our most important of meetings, Sacrament Meeting, because THEY didn’t have their scriptures with them. They also might not have known where “D&C 121: 37” was found fast enough to keep up with long-time members. Or maybe the poorest worshiping among the more well off might not be able to afford the premium copies of the scriptures and were occasionally looked down on for this.

    Not saying in any of this that the letter necessitated revelation, but looking for the rational instead of assuming error is a more useful exercise, I think.

  10. Bravo!
    A voice of reason crying in the wilderness!
    Add to these examples the incredible prospect of INVITING Zbigniew Brzyznski (co-founder of the Trilateral Commission along with arch gadianton David Rockefeller) to speak to the impressionable young students at BYU…or the prospect of General Authorities honoring and fawning over Dick (don’t scramble the interceptors) Cheney with an honorary doctoral degree at BYU…more examples on the lengthy (and growing) list of things the “Front Office” is doing these days which bewilder, confuse and amaze the wee people in the hinterlands.

  11. Denver you differentiated between something just now in your comment that I found VERY interesting.

    You said: “It strikes me that opening the word of God up could not possibly detract from the Spirit of Truth. Though, perhaps, it may detract from the “spirit of our worship services” which I do agree may be disrupted by the intervention of the scriptures being opened.”

    You mean the “spirit of our worship services” and the “Spirit of Truth” might not be the same spirit?? :)

    Boy that’s worth pondering a while on.


  12. Haha, I love reading all these posts and comments every day! They make me ponder, they chasten me, they make me rejoice, they fill me with gratitude, they tick me off and today they make me laugh. I love all you people!

  13. If the spirit says, ask them to open their scriptures this time… I would just do it.

    I like the spirit fed talks in the JD’s. The early church use to teach to NOT prepare talks, but go by the spirit. They could go on for hours, even quoting scriptures and revelations word for word… but they were living much more than we do, always learning; their time was actually mostly spent “building the kingdom”. We are sure far from that today in our day of ease and distractions.

  14. I go to an institute class where we always follow along in the scriptures and the rustle of turning pages is the most beautiful thing sound.

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