Ballroom dancing is my hobby. Don’t worry. It’s not terribly contagious. But, it is great fun. Inadvertently and with serendipity, ballroom has also taught me precepts of general living. Recently, at the beginning of a lesson, my instructor, Lisa, and I had the following interchange:
Lisa: Today, I’m going act like your best friend.
Sam: What does that mean?
Lisa: I’m not going to let you get away with anything.
Sam: What does that mean?
Lisa: I’m going to be totally truthful. We’re working on your style and I want you to get it right.
Sam: Good. You know I prefer honest feedback.
Time for Best Friendship
In the LDS Church, the top leaders are called apostles. For all of my 63 years, I have held them in high esteem. I’ve attentively and earnestly listened to them, followed them, quoted them, loved them. However, I was not being a ballroom best friend. That has changed. As of last April, I have started acting like the best friend I should be. Three times, in April and May church conferences, general, stake & ward, I gave my honest opinion by raising my hand when “any opposed?” was pronounced from the pulpit.
Opposition vs. Disapproval
As part of the Mormon Church governance, 4 times every year, the names of the apostles are presented to the membership. We are given the opportunity to sustain or oppose these men as apostles. It’s a wonderful part of how the church should to be run. However, I don’t care for the wording we use. “Opposed” seems a little harsh. But, that’s the way it’s done. This procedure is based on multiple LDS scriptures contained in the book, Doctrine & Covenants. For example, in D&C 124:144 Christ gives Joseph Smith the commandment to get approval or disapproval of those selected for various callings. This is done by presenting the names at conferences of the church and asking for a showing of hands. I much prefer the wording Jesus used: approve vs. sustain and disapprove vs. oppose. I’m not opposed to the apostles. I simply disapprove of some of what they are doing. Most of their decisions, I do approve of. But, their is a fly in the ointment that has pushed me to dance onto the stage of disapproval. It’s time for me to be a best friend.
The Gay Policy
Last November the church leadership announced a new policy. If members of the church marry someone of the same sex, they are now labeled apostates and excommunicated. Their kids are to be excluded from baby blessings, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, priesthood ordination, & participation in temple worship. Only when these children reach the age of 18 can they be baptized. Two conditions are stipulated. 1) Approval of the First Presidency. 2) Disavowal of the lifestyle of their parents.
The purpose of this post is not to discuss all the reasons for and against such a policy. At this point, I’m just going to say that it’s disturbing to me on several levels. I disapprove and have done so in the manner set forth by Jesus and Joseph Smith in our LDS canonized scripture.
Although, I don’t want to discuss details of this edict, I do want to frame the mindset that has resulted in my disapproving conference votes.
The pinnacle of LDS worship is carried out in our temples. Therein, sacred ordinances are performed. Serious covenants of exaltation are at the very heart of these holy rituals. I have made these promises. I take them seriously. It’s in consideration of these very covenants that I feel compelled to manifest my best-friendship. Following are the three covenants in particular that relate to my decision.
- Avoid all lightmindedness. Not sure exactly what this means. But, at least, I take it that it I should be serious about serious matters. Jesus tells his leadership to consult me 4 times every year and ask for my opinion. Should I approach this opportunity with lightmindedness? If I’m not thoughtful, prayerful, studious about the sustaining process, I now consider it as breaking my covenant. A former apostle offers some support here, “It is clear that the sustaining vote by the people is not, and is not to be regarded as, a mere matter of form, but on the contrary a matter of the last gravity.” It’s my opinion that the Savior wants me to be a best friend to His leadership. It’s a vital part of the church governance that He established. From here on out, no lightmindedness from this poor dancer. I’m going to be a best ballroom friend. Totally truthful. As my instructor would say, I’m not going to let them get away with anything.
- Avoid all evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed. Again, I’m not sure exactly what this means. But, let’s take it that the Lord’s anointed are the church leaders. BTW, I don’t agree with the limiting nature of this interpretation. Never-the-less, let’s go with it here. Some have said that I’m breaking this covenant by voting opposed. Obviously, I don’t agree with that assessment. It just seems silly that Jesus would have them ask my opinion and then say, “Uh, uh, uh! You just broke your covenant by being honest.” For me, this covenant implies that I should be concerned about the welfare of the apostles. I am. This policy has created lots of evil speaking. Many have lost respect for the high leadership. The apostles have lost credibility and influence with many members. I’ve seen friends and family simply walk away. With them, the apostles have now lost total influence. I desire to help in the avoidance of evil speaking. Voting opposed works towards keeping this covenant.
- Avoid all unholy practices. Once again, I don’t know exactly what this means. Here’s what I’ve come to: Jesus tells us to do something…it’s unholy if we do something different. Jesus tells us not to do something…it’s unholy if we do it. This is the most important reason I voted opposed. For me, this exclusionary policy, especially regarding children, is an unholy practice. A clear and present violation of my temple covenant.
When I voted NO, I held a current recommend. I still do. After the first vote of disapproval, a 2 3/4 hour interview ensued with my stake president and bishop. I was asked, “How would you feel if you were to lose your temple recommend?” My response, “I would view it as an egregious example of unrighteous dominion. Christ has commanded the leadership to ask for my opinion. If I’m punished for being forthright and honest, that wouldn’t be right.” My recommend was not pulled.
But, if it had been, I would have been OK with that. Another apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, speaking of temple covenants, weighed in with this insight, “The law of sacrifice is that we are willing to sacrifice all that we have for the truth’s sake—our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men.” I’m OK with that assessment. Keeping McConkie’s words in mind, I’m certainly willing to sacrifice my temple recommend in order to keep my temple covenants.
Do I believe others in the church are violating their temple covenants by supporting our gay policy of exclusion? Absolutely not. There is something really divine about these sacred promises. We don’t understand them when we make them. We never discuss them openly. And, no one has been able to answer my covenant questions when I queried. So, I guess it’s up to each one of us to sort out their meaning. Well, that’s kind-a-cool. I respect your interpretation of your covenants. I ask that you do the same for me.
Do I believe others should vote OPPOSED? Not necessarily. I’m not encouraging anyone to vote one way or the other. Common consent is a vital, yet overlooked part, of the governance of the church. In my opinion, the church would be much better at self-correction if more would consider voting their opinion, if they are truly opposed. Unfortunately, those who are troubled about this and other policies often vote with their feet rather than their hands. That’s OK, too. If you leave the church, I wish you the very best. I respect and certainly can understand your decision. Godspeed and happiness on your journey. I will remain your friend, probably even better friends than before.
In the meantime, I’ll remain best friends with the apostles by giving them my truthful opinion every time they ask. My ballroom instructor has taught me well.