The Man Adam–A Moral Duty to Stand for Truth

 

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In the October 2016 General Conference of the Mormon Church, one man voted opposed in the Conference Center.  You can read his miraculous story here.

At this point, he still prefers to remain anonymous.  So, I have been referring to him as ‘The man Adam.’  He is an active, faithful member of the church.  Adam currently serves in a calling that requires high council approval and is extended by the stake president.  Today he sent me this excellent essay and gave me permission to publish it on my blog.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Blind Obedience vs. Open-eyed Servants of Jesus Christ

I had an interesting experience in Sunday School the other week. For years, I have heard on occasion the question raised of whether Mormons are guilty of just blindly following our leaders, i.e. if we practice blind obedience. On every occasion, the answer was no. We don’t believe in blind obedience. We believe in obtaining a witness for ourselves of the principle in question. After all, Joseph Smith, Jr. once said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves” (John Taylor, “The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851, p. 339). But I was very surprised on a recent Sunday when the question of blind obedience came up, and the group agreed—without argument to the contrary—that we do indeed believe in blind obedience.

It seems the controversy over the November 2015 anti-gay policies has got many of us thinking. Some of us do not take an interest in such issues and are pretty much unaware of the details of the policies and their potential sticking points. Others have read the policies and find them to be consistent with church doctrine. Still others have familiarized themselves with the policies and identified some issues, but have chosen—or felt guided by the Spirit—to put those concerns on a mental/spiritual shelf and follow blindly. I have actually had many people tell me things like, “just be patient” and “just put it on a shelf and decide not to worry about it.” But there are others of us—a fourth group—who feel compelled by the Spirit to object. We feel a moral duty to stand for truth.

To many, the moral duty to stand for truth is equivalent to standing with the prophet and the other apostles on the issue of traditional marriage. But to some, the moral duty to stand for truth means to stand in opposition to policies that we clearly see are harmful, unnecessary and against the scriptures. We are not—as many, including Dallin Oaks, have suggested—following after false gods in the wilderness (“No Other Gods,” General Conference, October 2013). Our motivation is not a desire to follow the trends of the world or to seek the world’s approval. Rather, we seek to be true to our understanding of God’s nature, Jesus’ teachings and our commitment to be his servants—not blind servants of the church or its leaders, but open-eyed servants of Jesus Christ.

It used to bother me a lot when I would encounter people of other faiths who did not affirm the teachings of their leaders. For example, I know many Catholics who consider themselves to be fully practicing and in good standing in their church, but who also reject many core teachings of the church that are affirmed by the Pope. These include teachings on birth control, divorce, etc. I feel that now that I have had the experience myself of disagreeing with my church’s leaders, I have a clearer, more mature understanding of the dynamic that exists between church leadership and church members, and that the seemingly simple answer of “just accept and follow” simply cannot work in every case.

As I have learned about LDS church history, I have encountered similar problematic situations where people objected and often separated from the church due to disagreements. I read with dismay how David Whitmer—whose testimony of the Book of Mormon was unshakeable—was driven out of the church, because he objected to issues such as the manner of church governance, the publishing of revelations, and the office of High Priest. I wondered at how so many church members, including the prophet Joseph’s own wife and children, could choose to reject Brigham Young and his version of Mormonism that held polygamy as a central tenet and a practice necessary for exaltation in the highest degree of heaven.

As I learned about other Latter Day Saint tradition groups, I found similar issues. I was again dismayed as I learned about how so many people left the RLDS church in the 1980’s and 1990’s over issues such as the ordination of women to the Priesthood, the building of the temple in Independence, MO, the move away from the President of the church being a direct descendant of Joseph Smith, Jr., and the change ofthe RLDS church’s name to Community of Christ. Interestingly, I even have a Community of Christ friend who left her church due to its being overly liberal and accepting gay people in its congregations and ordaining them to the Priesthood. This is the exact opposite of my own situation as a member of the LDS church. So, why can’t all these people just suck it up, listen to their leaders and get with the program? Well, it’s just not that easy. We feel our consciences, and even the very Spirit of the Lord, instructing us to stand for the truth we clearly see.

So many have left the LDS church in recent years over the issues of the church’s anti-gay agenda, as well as problems of history and truth claims. And yet, people like Sam Young, myself and many others are staying. I wish to assert again very strongly that we are not motivated by a desire to follow the trends of the world or to find the approval of the world. This is simply a false assumption. What we are trying to do is pull off something that many—as referred to above—have failed to do. We are trying to remain in our faith tradition while being faithful to the truth we clearly see. We are trying to manage complex conflicts between our commitments to an institutional church, an historical church, our fellow saints, our own selves, and the Lord himself. The advice to just put these conflicts on a shelf and follow along in blind obedience simply will not work in all cases. And so the question is, is there room in God’s church for the likes of us? I really, sincerely hope so.

The True Meaning of Christmas

img_0157Christmas Eve

Sitting in front of the fire.  Christmas tree with its twinkly lights.  Presents beneath. Soon to make the grandchildren smile.  Both beautiful & fun carols sweetly wafting from the speakers. My wife and two youngest daughters puzzling over a thousand piece puzzle.

I’ve been puzzling, too.

How could I make Christmas, and all it’s previously joyful accoutrements, the poignant and meaningful celebration that it once was?

Over the past 2 1/2 years, I’ve traveled a faith journey filled with many ups and downs. Last Christmas, for the first time in my life, I faced the season without knowing if Christ was real or just a real nice story.  It made for a hollow festivity.  Not one that I wanted to repeat.

My puzzle seemed much more difficult than the thousand jigsaws currently spread out on the table.  After months of trying to fit each piece into the Christmas picture….I think I’ve finally got it sorted out.

It all hinges on the choice choice that I made on a fateful February day.  I decided to put my faith in the teachings and example ascribed to Jesus Christ.  I didn’t know if Jesus was real, but I knew with certainty that his Way of Life was True.  A True Way to live a good, productive and fulfilling Life.

John 14:6 Jesus saith, I am the way, the truth, and the life.

New Meaning

On Christmas day, I now celebrate the birth of the gorgeous principles personified as the the baby Jesus coming into the world.  Teachings and example that are supremely appealing to me…and to most all of humanity.

So, this Christmas day I celebrate the birth of…

* The Good Samaritan
* The Prodigal Son
* The Golden Rule
* Charity that never faileth
* The greatest commandment–to love my neighbor as my self
* Love for the hungry, the thirsty, the strange, the naked, the sick, & the imprisoned.
* Peace on earth
* Goodwill toward men

The birth of this True Way of Life is now what I celebrate.  It was created, not in the stately halls of a grand palace.  Rather, it had the lowliest of humble beginnings. Among the commonest of people…like the shepherds who adored this beautiful way of life.  Even wise men and kings would come to recognize & honor its excellence.

Today, a plethora of nativities are displayed throughout the house. The center piece of each is the baby Jesus. In reality, the center piece is the embodiment of heavenly teachings and noble example.  The aspiration of my heart and all of Christianity.

And so, for me, the Christmas season and celebration has meaning again. A new and beautiful meaning.  More beautiful than it has ever been before.

Now…I wish you a Merry & Beautiful Christmas contemplation of the birth of the glorious way of life that the Christ child represents.

Conversations. Chapter 4: Merry Christmas George

merry-christmas

From George (For Context see Chapter 1)

Dec 23, 2016

Sam,

Hopefully you have a great Christmas and a happy New Year.

George

My Response

Dec 23, 2016

Greetings My Friend,

You’re growing on me.  I’m really starting to love you, my brother.  Thanks for the last two messages.  You made some great points and raised important issues.  The busy holiday season has prevented my response.  But, it will  be coming.

Now, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

-Sam

To All My Friends and Family

Along with my new friend George, I sincerely wish that you have a perfect and happy Christmas celebration.  May the magic of Love be woven in all your activies.  Thank you for enriching my life with the bonds of our friendship.

Merry Christmas!

Conversations. Chapter 3: George Invited

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From Sam (For Context see Chapter 2)

Hi George,

You had mentioned the Talkeria in your e-mail.  I’d like to give you a little flavor of what will happen at tomorrow’s gathering.

Most of the time, I have no idea who will walk in the door.  Usually, I have no advance notion of what they might want to discuss.  When I do know, I try to prepare.  Yesterday, I received the following email from a new couple.  I don’t know who they are, nor where they come from.  What I do know is that we’ll be fast friends when the night ends.

They included additional personal information that’s not appropriate to share. Apparently, they are currently active members.

Hi Sam,

 We saw your invitation for the Tannenbaum Talkeria this Wednesday and are planning on coming.  I’m a voracious reader, and have found many things that have caused me (us) a number of cognitive disconnects with the current church.  We’re looking forward to chatting with you and others with similar questions.

Since, it looks like they are active, I’ve reached out to some active members I know who are safe and non-judgmental.  These members have or previously had questions.  They have managed to come to peace with their doubts…at least enough to continue in faithful activity.  Of those I’ve invited, four plan to come.  Their current callings are:  counselor in primary presidency, counselor in elder’s quorum presidency, YW counselor, and seminary teacher.  None of these active, serving members have spoken to their bishops about their doubts.

Likely, there will also be others in attendance:  non-members, former members, inactive members.  All will be supportive of this couple.  But, I wanted to make sure that the newcomers also have support from those inside the church who can totally relate to their questions and queasiness.

You had also mentioned me giving advice.  I don’t like to advise people as far as what path they should choose.  The following sentiment appeals to me, “The difference between ‘advice’ from someone who sees you as inferior, and support from those with genuine respect for others is like night and day.”  Whatever path a person chooses, I don’t view it as inferior to mine.  I listen, validate and support them in their journey.

Ideally, this couple should be able to explore their religious questions within the walls of our own church.  Today, that is not a viable option.  The four active members who I’ve invited are safe.  I know from experience and observation that they are judgment free and full of love.

George, let me, again, extend the invitation to come to the Talkeria.  You have demonstrated a concern about members leaving.  That is a huge deal to me.  In the past 2 years, I have not found one single person who is willing to put action behind their words of concern.  So, thank you for your original communication.  It was certainly an odd way for us to connect.  But, we connected.  I’d love it if we could join forces in a good cause.

All My Best, Sam

For information on the Tannenbaum Talkeria click HERE.

O Tannenbaum Talkeria

tannenbaum-talkeria-invite

O Tannenbaum Talkeria—It’s Christmas!

Ok…we won’t have snow.  But, we will have great food & great conversation.  Friendships formed.  Connections created.  Stories shared.  Loneliness lifted.

The food has generously been provided for!!!  So, come and enjoy.

If you plan to attend, please send me an RSVP.  Either private message on Facebook or email me at liberty-sam@msn.com.

Over the past 6 months, 32 people have visited the Talkeria.  Ten more have told me they hope to come soon.  The largest gathering ever was 7 attendees.  We may have more or less this Wednesday.  If you have never come before, you are always welcome to join us.

What’s the Talkeria all About?

Gut-Wrench in the Closet

Over the past 2 1/2 years, I have undergone a gut-wrenching faith transition. I am still a faithful member of the LDS church. However, I look at the world much differently. I say gut-wrenching because my journey has been accompanied by a good bit of anguish, pain, anger, disappointment and loneliness. Navigation has been difficult for me…..and my family.

For the first 7 months, I thought that I was completely alone in searching out new truths. Little did I know that there were, and are, many treading the same path. But, that was not initially evident. There was a part the LDS culture that I was naively unaware of. Much of the history and doctrine of Mormondom is forbidden to discuss at church. Asking certain questions in public or in private yields judgment but no answers.

The suppression of honest discussion causes a number of unintended consequences. I have personally experienced several. I have also witnessed the difficult experience of others.   Two years ago, I started suggesting to my local church leaders that there was a need to find a way to discuss troubling issues. As the years have passed, I have watched as more and more friends and family walk away from the church that they had once been so committed to. All of them had basically grappled in private with their gut-wrenching faith transition.

So, absent any other venue for open & in-person discussion, I started the Mormon Talkeria.  A casual sit-down to kindly and respectfully talk.

Talkeria Topics

If you find yourself in any of these situations, let’s talkeria.

  • LDS history and doctrine are troubling you, family members or friends.
  • You have a child who is doubting or has left the church.
  • You have a parent, sibling or friend who is doubting or has left the church.
  • Your faith has changed, and you are having difficulty interacting with family or friends
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  • Your faith has changed and are having difficulty in your marriage.
  • The faith of your spouse has changed and you are having difficulty in you marriage.
  • You are LGBT, in or out of the closet.
  • You have an LGBT child, sibling or friend.
  • You have left the church, but still have Mormon issues to discuss.
  • You have left the church, but still want to maintain contact with Mormons.

Belief Spectrum

The Mormon Talkeria is meant for both believing Mormons, ex-Mormons and anybody in-between. Whatever path a person choses or has chosen, judgment has no place here. Discussions are not intended to try to sway anyone to leave, stay or come back to church. Rather, this will be a place of support for the journey each has chosen.
I am not an expert at anything.  I’m certainly not a professional counselor. That’s not the purpose of The Talkeria.  It’s simply a venue for talking face-to-face and friend-to-friend.

For more information on the Talkeria history, click HERE.

Conversations. Chapter 2: George Continued

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From George (For Context see Chapter 1 )

Dec 16, 2016

The Mormon Stories group is interesting. My friend has been watching it for almost five years now, and for all the claims that it is a “safe space,” it seems nothing of the sort. It seems to be mostly populated by people eager to help folks leave mormonism and a few individuals gullible enough to believe that it is a forum that is safe for questioning. The only safety there is in bashing the Church and your warm reception there is because they recognize you for what you are. To put it politely, you are someone trying to be an exit counselor, but you want to do it while simultaneously wearing the imprimatur of a member of the Church, ostensibly in good fellowship. Based on what you’ve written, you seem hopeful that your stake president will even give it his blessing. It seems clear to me, and I trust to anyone else who might read your extensive writing on the subject, that you have no interest in helping people regain their testimony and actually be productive members of the Kingdom. Instead, the impact of your efforts will only lead people to leave the Church or to hide in plain site as you are attempting to do.

Please inform me better if I am misreading you. Would you consider your efforts a success if someone you worked with returned to full fellowship and sustained the brethren? I doubt it. If one of your Talkeria crowd called you today and said, “you know what Sam? I was wrong. The Church is right on gay marriage. I’m not troubled by any of the historical stuff either. Thanks for talking with me, but I don’t find your advice useful any more.” Would that be a success in your book?

I wish I could wish you well in your work. I fear that you are accomplishing nothing of eternal value, and contributing great harm to the souls of those you influence. As your efforts seem only calculated to remove people from the Church and inspire insurrection among those that stay, I cannot wish you well with this. No good and honest member of the Church could in good conscience.

My Response

Dec 17, 2016

Dear George,

Thanks for responding in an attempt to understand where my heart is. That means a lot to me.

I really owe you a debt of gratitude. You have forced my hand. I’m going to lay cards on the table that I have hidden until now. I’m coming out of the closet to reveal my true intent.

This doesn’t have anything to do with coming out to the Stake President or the Bishop. I’ve been open with them. They know where I stand & how I believe. My Stake President has read my blog and watched the Mormon Stories interview with John Dehlin. They are both good men with good hearts.

This isn’t about coming out to my fellow members. Hiding in plain sight? Sometimes I wish I’d hidden. But, I didn’t. I’ve been naively open. Many members in my ward and stake have also read my blog and seen the John Dehlin podcast.

Nope. The people that I have not been transparent with are my friends who have left the church and those who are seriously considering it. I’m a little nervous about coming clean. But, I trust my friends who have made their exit from the church. I have found a safe place among them to sort out my journey. It was within the sheltered Facebook walls of the Mormon Stories Group that I made my decision to stay in the LDS church. Made my decision to embrace the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. Made my decision to go back to the temple. Made my decision to create a safe space for people to talk and stay in the church if possible.

George, during my faith journey, there were no safe spaces inside the church to discuss my questions and doubts. No one to empathize. Actually, no one I knew could empathize with my pain and loneliness, because they had not undergone this journey.

A year ago, if I had told my Mormon Stories friends what I’m going to tell you now, I likely would have been harshly judged. But, over that 12 months, we have built together, a relationship of trust, love and friendship that can endure the outing of what I have hidden from them.

Here goes.
1. When I talk to someone with doubts, my preference is that they stay in the church.
2. When someone decides to leave. My hope is that they can find a way to stay.
3. When someone has left, I hope there might be a way for them to come back.
4. Every time I hear someone’s journey out of the church, I tear up. Another empty chair at an empty table.

I don’t invite my friends to come back to church. I know why they left. I am acquainted with the damage the church has caused them. I honor, respect and understand their decision. These are good, intelligent & thoughtful people. They have made an excruciating decision to leave a place that has been an integral and vital part of their lives for years.  As rational adults, they have made the tough choice that walking away from the church is best for them and their family.

For those, who are in the process of leaving, I want to help alleviate the anguish and loneliness of their journey. Their dignity should remain intact. Not shred to pieces by judgmental pettiness. Hopefully, those who leave would remain friendly to the church. Instead, our current culture and methods are creating lots of enemies. You complained about the nature of the comments in Mormon Stories. They are actually mild compared to other social venues that are much larger and more vitriolic. The church created the unfriendly attitudes that are now on full display there. We blame it on them. The problem is us.

For 14 months, I have lived among what you consider the enemy. They are not our enemy….if only we would treat them with love, respect and understanding. When we throw condemnation. It’s hurled back at us. One of my favorite scriptures is John 3:17, “For God sent NOT his Son into the world to condemn the world.” I have chosen to embrace the teachings and example of Jesus. How can I possibly condemn anyone? Well, sometimes I do. It’s a slip up. Barring the slip ups, I’m not going to condemn anyone who has left the church, no matter the volume or the vitriol.

Nor do I condemn you, George. I see now what your motives are…and understand them. You are interested in people staying in the church. Well, you and I have that in common. We’re just coming at it from different directions. I’m at the back door. For that matter, I’m the lone man at the back door. That needs to change.

As you probably know, I voted opposed for the first time at April General Conference. I had a 3 hour conversation with my Bishop and Stake President. That gave us plenty of time to discuss my reasoning. They were good with it.  But, my wise bishop said this, “Sam, be prepared for people to misunderstand you.” Sure enough, most everybody has misunderstood and misjudged where my heart is. That’s one of the reasons that I really appreciate you seeking to understand.

As far as I know, not one person has left the church because of my writings. However, over the past 2 years, I have witnessed hundreds of people leave the church. Their journey was aided by joining the ‘safe spaces’ inhabited by the ‘enemy’ because there was no safe space of aid and understanding within the church. There are tons of support groups outside the church for doubting members and those who have left. There are exactly ZERO support groups for those struggling and attempting to stay. The closest thing to it is my Talkeria. But, it does not have any support from the church.

Although, I’ve seen scores leave, I have also assisted many in staying. I have now heard the following phrase several times, “I’m holding on by my fingernails.” Almost every week someone contacts me who’s struggling, but wants to stay. Here are some examples.

Last month a man in my stake invited me to lunch. He basically wanted to know how I manage to stay. His wife and he both have big questions but would prefer not to leave. They have several children. He had been extended a significant calling by the stake and was reluctant to accept. He has since taken the calling. His beliefs are non-traditional. I hope he can endure until a safe support group for struggling members can be established. Until then he is truly hiding in plain sight….and in silent loneliness. Fortunately, his wife is in the same place.

Last week another family contacted me. He sent a long letter. These were the final words, “Nobody in my ward knows. I don’t really know why I’m telling you all this. It’s just comforting to feel like I can talk about it. I think you are the first LDS member I have ever told. I go to church every Sunday. I want to keep going to church every Sunday. But, I don’t want to sit in during lessons.” He and I are going to lunch this coming week.

Today, this came in: “I’ve shared some of your thoughts with the bishop of the ward in which I used to reside. He now wears a rainbow pin on his suit coat and shuts down any discussion he hears about LGBT persons having less worth. This particular bishop also has a stepson who is gay. He has had to work hard to be accepting and not harsh where this young man is concerned. It has truly opened his eyes. If you get a friend request from _______ or ______, they are my daughter and son-in-law. They are trying to stay in the church despite a growing discomfort to the lack of respect shown to the LGBT community.”

George, I don’t really have a pathway all nicely laid out in front of me. My guide has been the gorgeous teachings of the Savior, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I am certainly open to suggestions, especially from someone as concerned for the welfare of the church as you.

Hopefully, this gives you a good idea of my direction and intent. There are several other topics that I’d be glad to address, like the Talkeria. But, this missive is already long enough.

All My Best, Sam

P.S. You are welcome to come to a Talkeria. I think you would be pleasantly amazed.

Conversations. Chapter 1: George

img_0155Today, I received this message from an anonymous George.

Dec 15, 2016

Hi Sam,

You don’t know me, but I know you. I know you have been lying to your stake president. Given your recent upset feelings regarding what you perceive to be dishonesty from the Church, the hypocrisy of your lies to your stake president are galling. You should know that almost everything you have written on the Mormon Stories facebook group over the last three months has been provided to your stake president. So, whether you like it or not, the next time you speak with him, all of your cards will be on the table.

My Response:

Dec 15, 2016

Hello George,

Thanks for the heads up. Hopefully, all my cards are already on the table. If they are not, I want them to be. I don’t fear my beliefs. I don’t fear my stake president nor the church. If you have followed me then you should know that I am attempting to follow the teachings and example ascribed to Christ. I’m certainly imperfect at it. What I absolutely know is that I have helped people in pain both in and out of the church. If you have read my posts you must have seen that.

All my best in what you are trying to accomplish. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you have only the best of intentions.

-Sam