Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

Honest Disagreement with Church Policy and Doctrine

Posted by Kerry on March 18, 2008

Last month, the Church released a statement regarding Peter Danzig’s (a member of the Church’s Orchestra at Temple Square in SLC) public disagreement surrounding same-gender marriage.[1] It appears that Peter and his wife were very active members of the Church, serving and attending in their local ward. But they disagreed with a 1st Presidency letter sent to local leaders back in 2006 “urging members to ‘express themselves’ on a forthcoming vote in the United States Senate relating to the definition of marriage.”[2]

Peter then sent a letter to the SL Tribune, saying that he “…was troubled that my church requested I violate my own conscience to write in support of an amendment I feel is contrary to the constitution and to the gospel of Christ.” It sounds like he also encouraged other members of the Church to oppose Church leaders on the issue. After 18 months of counseling with local leaders, Peter voluntarily withdrew his membership in the Church by his own formal written request. The Church stated that he was “not officially disciplined by the Church”.

The story is quite interesting. But what I find even more interesting is what else the Church’s statement mentioned:

“Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to study, learn and ask questions in their quest for knowledge.  Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th president of the Church said:  ‘This Church came about as a result of intellectual curiosity. We believe in education … we expect them (Church members) to think. We expect them to investigate. We expect them to use their minds and dig deeply for knowledge in all fields.’”

This is an incredible statement. I love it. I love that Pres. Hinckley said it. For some odd reason, those who search after truth, who dig, who investigate, are often shunned in the church as weirdos or apostates. Even though we are commanded to individually search after knowledge and truth (many references, for one see here).

The statement continues:

“However, it is not acceptable when their digging and questioning leads to public opposition against doctrine Church leaders are obliged to uphold.  That doesn’t mean that Church leaders don’t listen and consider opposing views.  Quite the contrary.  Local bishops and stake presidents love and are concerned about all members of the flock.  This is the purpose of counseling provided by local Church leaders who know and care for each individual in their congregations.  Honest disagreements are not the same as public advocacy of positions contrary to those of the Church. When disagreements arise, the principle of the Church is that local leaders discuss these matters with members with love and concern.”

Again, what a fascinating statement. Honest disagreements, when acted on appropriately, are perfectly fine. There is a designated channel for members with honest disagreements to counsel with and even question local leaders. The statement makes it very clear that “appropriate” means in counsel with local leaders, not in public opposition.  Also, it says that church leaders do listen and do consider opposing views.

Even though I consider myself an orthodox Mormon who agreeably supports his local leaders and their local mandates, for some reason I find these statements quite refreshing.

[1] LDS Newsroom – Danzig

[2] LDS Newsroom – 2006 Letter

Other Note: SL Tribune article


20 Responses to “Honest Disagreement with Church Policy and Doctrine”

  1. matthew said

    The problem is who defines what it means to act on an honest disagreement “appropriately.” Is it more appropriate to voice one’s concern in the privacy of the bishop’s office than in gospel doctrine? More appropriate in gospel doctrine than at lunch with work associates? More appropriate at work than in the editorial section of the paper? Or what about in an LDS blog?

    Is it not “appropriate” for me, a fully active Latter-day Saint, to openly state in this forum that I too disagreed with the Church’s stance on same gender marriage? Would such a public statement land me in the same boat as Brother Danzig?

  2. JB said

    I signed up for a new thing from LDS.org, called LDS Gems. It’s sent to my email every morning, and today I received one that seemed appropriate given your post.

    “[Today’s children] will see many events transpire in the
    course of their lifetime. Some of these shall tax their courage and extend their faith. But if they seek prayerfully for help and guidance, they shall be given power over adverse things. Such trials shall not be permitted to stand in the way of their progress, but instead shall act as stepping-stones to greater knowledge.”
    Boyd K. Packer, “Do not Fear,” Ensign, May 2004

    It may be more appropriate for “trials,” but it seemed to also address seeking out answers for ourselves about items that perplex us or challenge our understanding of the gospel and its place in society.

    The thing I love most about our church, and the gospel as I know it, is that I can pray for a confirmation for things that may seem meaningless to others. That involves directives from local leaders, first presidency and even something I read in the scriptures. These prayers have helped me a lot at different times of my life.

  3. Jacob F said

    I think part of what got Danzig in hot water was his mention that he was in the Orchestra at Temple Square. That got the Tab Choir leadership involved, and apparently it went from there. I bet he may have flown under the radar had he not mentioned the OTS.

    Separately, Danzig clearly misrepresented the 1st Pres letter by saying it encouraged members to “write in support of [the] amendment.” The letter actually said members ought to “express themselves.” In my book he loses credibility over that. I remember when that letter was read over the pulpit and specifically thinking “Wow, they’re not suggesting what to say; they’re just encouraging us not to stand on the sidelines.” In other words, Danzig was free to oppose the amendment; just not free to publicly call out the brethren (for something they didn’t say, by the way).

  4. Martin Willey said

    The Church’s statement that members should write their congressional representatives to express their views was preceded by a long and detailed statement regarding the Church’s position on marriage between one man and one woman. Anyone who thinks that the implied message was not perfectly clear is not really being intellectually honest. That said, I did not do what Danzig did. I just did nothing. Maybe that is not very honest, either. Maybe it is not very courageous. I don’t know. I do know that my views on the Church’s position on gay rights are not as importatnt to me as my testimony and my membership in the Church.

  5. Andrew said

    We should be clear about a few things:

    1. The Church did not take any formal disciplinary action against Danzig with regard to his membership standing. The MoTab leadership did, however, suspend him for many months from participating in the orchestra.

    2. In one of his editorial letters, Danzig referred to the General Authorities as “intellectual tyrants.” In my opinion, this is what got him in trouble with the MoTab leadership. Kind of hard to have someone playing in a Church orchestra that goes around representing the Church who publicly calls Church leaders insulting names.

    3. I personally don’t support the federal marriage amendment purely on constitutional grounds; I think marital laws should remain within the control of each state, just as the constitution was drafted. It’s funny to me that those of us who oppose abortion are crying out for the states to be allowed to set their own abortion laws now that the federal supreme court has taken the abortion issue out of states’ hands. In my opinion, it is unwise to put marriage in the hands of the federal government for exactly the same reason. If marital laws are taken out of the states’ hands and federalized, it could just as easily go the other way in 10 or 20 years with the federal government mandating that all states accept gay marriages. All around, it makes much more sense to me to allow each state’s citizens to determine the moral standards by which they live, rather than imposing the views of the more populous coasts on the Bible belt, mid-west, and mountain-west.

    I feel perfectly comfortable stating this disagreement with the federal marriage amendment publicly, and I am sure Elder Oaks would accept my honest difference of opinion. I have perfect liberty to speak my mind on this issue. The only thing that would get me into trouble is the kind of name-calling that Danzig engaged in. That’s a line that is completely unnecessary for any genuine, well-meaning critic to cross no matter how strong the disagreement.

  6. Shawn L said

    I think what this post, these comments, and the accompanying news stories show is that there is a whole mroe to this story than has been made public. I agree with Jacob F and Andrew that Danzig’s rhetoric, not his position, got him into trouble. That said, I do think that the handling of this situation could have (as Martin suggests) a chilling effect (how’s that for legalese) on the willingness of Church members to give voice to differing opinions.

  7. Andrew said

    Shawn, I’m not so sure about the chilling effect. If you take a look at the Bloggernacle, for example, you have members of the church publicly questioning church doctrines and policies all the time. Granted, much of it is semi-anonymous, but I haven’t heard of anyone ever getting hauled into a bishop’s court over their public disagreements with leaders so long as they avoid name-calling.

    That’s also what got the Toscano’s into trouble. They had radically different perspectives on some doctrines. But it wasn’t until they started calling the Brethren names in public and in writing that they were excommunicated.

    Personally I think the Brethren tolerate quite a bit of disagreement, but one thing they don’t tolerate is being called names. In that respect, they’re no different than the leader of any other organization. Try calling your boss some insulting names and see where that gets you.

  8. tiredmormon said

    I say talk is cheap. The church has rarely ACTED according to this cheap talk (I exclude McKay’s infamous remark about J. Brooks: “leave her alone”). When they hear something they don’t like, they do something about it. You just better hope your comments don’t strike a nerve.

    Another point, what sense does it make to say: ‘you can think all you want, just don’t talk about it’? That is intellectual tyranny.

  9. Shawn L said

    Andrew (#7) — point taken, perhaps “chilling effect” was not the best chocie of words. I agree that, as a general rule, taking an opposing position may not get you in trouble with the Brethren in SLC. But it still may leave you vulnerable to exclusion in your local congregation. In nearly every Ward I’ve ever been in, there have been 1 or 2 folks who are deemed the local “liberal,” although can quite remember why. They aren’t called to positions of leadership, and they often sit alone. So, the issue may not be formal discipline, but rather, are most members willing to tolerate those among their congregations with differing opinions? That’s a much closer call, in my book. For what it’s worth, when I was the EQP, I called our own sandal-wearing “liberal” as an instructor, and he did a fantastic job!

    On a related note, we can talk all afternoon about whether the Bloggernacle represents the larger Mormon population. To avoid a total threadjack, let me just say that my conclusion is that it does not, and leave it at that.

  10. Fifthgen said

    The anonymity and limited distribution of bloggernacle comments makes them very different from more public statements like letters to the editor, op ed pieces, symposia papers, etc. You really cannot compare the two. IF someone sufficiently identified themselves in a blog quote and IF someone then recognized the commenter and forwarded the comments to an ecclesiastical leader, I think the chances of the commenter being asked to come in for an interview are about the same (i.e., a lot depends upon your local leaders). But the likelihood of that happening is quite small, which may be one reason the bloggernacle is more interesting than Gospel Doctrine class! It certainly represents more diveristy of thought.

  11. What about Bob said

    So what if someone calls the leadership of the Church “intellectual tyrants” and even they disagree, is that any reason or cause for someone to be disciplined by the Church?

    The real question is to ask if “what this guy said was accurate.”

    I’ve heard from communication people that if you’re angry with someone else it says more about you than them.

    I’ve also heard that in order to have real growth you have to be willing to suspend your own current point of view to allow another thought. All real change in the world is caused by people who think differently.

    How can people think independently, and have different opinions if they can be thrown out of the tribe or “spiritual community” at any moment for disagreeing?

    If that’s the case then what you’re saying is everyone must say nice things in a respectful way all the time about the “brethren”…do as we say…or we’ll kick you out of the Church for having a different opinion. Better hope that “The brethren” really are representing God.

    Yeah, that sure sounds like the freedom to think for yourself. And if everything starts with a thought, and people are afraid to voice their real concerns for fear they’ll lose their membership then imagine how that affects the behaviour.

  12. What about Bob said

    Is the picture at the top of the page of the couple in question?

    Hey everyone…notice he has…..a beard! My gosh! Wow! The radical! Who let this couple into the Church in the first place?

    I know a fellow in my town who sported a beard for pretty much his whole life, until he was called to the stake high counsel. At that time he was asked by the Stake President to lose the beard. Imagine that! And to be “obedient”, the idiot shaved it off as if not having a beard has anything to do with spirituality.

    Another couple, recent converts had finally “worked their way” to be worthy enough to go to the Temple in Los Angeles. The husband had lived a rather “colorful” life prior to the Church and still shaved his head, sported an ear ring in one ear and had a tattoo. As a result he was told he couldn’t participate in the prayer circle.

    A room full of people…all in unison bow their heads and say “yes” at the exactly same time. Looks like mindless obedience to me.

    Disagreeing with the Church…calling them a name…and having a beard while being in a Church to boot and not changing their positions after 18 months of counseling?. Certainly anyone of those reasons is cause for dismissal.

    Yeah I can see how the Church allows for individual expression.

  13. Shawn L said

    Bob — just this once, I will forsake my “don’t bait the troll” rule to respond to your post. Simply put, your rants, while cathatic for you, have absolutely no basis in reality. First off, if you had taken a moment to get to know this community by reading some prior posts, you would know that I have a beard and am an active member of the Church. Second, I have no way of verifying your story re: the LA Temple, but I don’t doubt its veracity. Are there some in the Church who pay way too much attention to outward appearance? Of course. Does that mean the institution as a whole is rotten. Of course not. Third, your screed about “mindless obedience” betrays a total lack of understanding about the Danzig situation. Please take a few minutes to read up on the facts before spouting off again. I’m all for a reasoned, even heated, exchange, but I expect my fellow talkers to be well-informed. Otherwise, what’s the point?

  14. BJH said

    From my reading of the events behind this story, it seems that the Danzigs’ experiences were most hurtful in their local ward and in the community of the choir/orchestra. It was from members of the Church whose biases meant more to them than the compassionate commandment to love your neighbor, and who really had no authority to make any decisions regarding the family’s membership.

    I hope that this can serve as a lesson to all people, Mormons or not, to care more for others than their particular political positions.

  15. Brian Essing said

    You can tell he’s a rabble-rouser with that beard he’s sporting. And while we’re at it, why doesn’t his wife get a chair for the photo? Instead of being seated next to her husband, she’s half-stooping. What’s with that?

  16. Shawn L said

    Brian — “Presiding” obviously can have very odd results 🙂

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  18. Emily said

    I realize this is old news by now, but I just found your blog… I actually know Peter and Mary. I was a nanny in New York City and Mary then a Sister missionary. We became very good friends following her mission and during college. She also was in the Orchestra. Another friend from the mission related that they actually asked to have their names removed from the church records. It was kind of shocking and heartbreaking at the same time.

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