You’re either with us or against us

You can’t work for change outside of an organization.

Or can you?

I think most of the regular posters here on MSP have faced this decision. Many seem to be current (or former) LDS members.

In general, I don’t really understand the “with us or against us” philosophy. I’ve encountered it in other places too – outside of the LDS church.

On the one hand, I think there’s something to be said for someone who works hard and pays their dues. Someone who shows dedication and service. Someone who doesn’t just “run for the hills” when things get tough.

On the other hand, I think there’s also a point for each individual to take stock of their own beliefs and feelings. If you feel like an organization is not meeting your needs, and you disagree with the direction it’s going, I think it’s absolutely acceptable to make a change.

Resigning membership, quitting a job, switching political affiliations – I believe all are valid responses and absolutely essential for change.

In terms of membership in the LDS church, there may be some (on either side) who remain angry or frustrated, some for very valid reasons. Yet in the end, who can say which direction is “right”? I think everyone needs to follow their own conscience.

I believe it’s just as important to know when to take a stand and fight for something – as it is to know when to withdraw.

I think it’s also important to note that just because some former mormons may critique LDS policies, leadership or direction, it does not mean they are “anti-mormon”. I’m not suggesting that some people are anti-mormon. But I think it’s overly simplistic to dismiss any critique by someone who is not a temple attending mormon as negative or harmful.

In her post about raising the bar Chanson notes that keeping NOM, feminists and intellectuals in the Utah LDS church could actually benefit the church. Or at least keep the discussion lively.

Personally, I believe that well-placed criticism can actually be very helpful. I think it’s important for all organizations to remain in the cycle of continuous improvement.

Not only that, but for me personally, I feel very differently about individual mormon members than the LDS leadership. The vast majority of active LDS members I know (many of whom I’m related to) are good people just trying to do the right thing. Many individuals who remain mormon work hard to show tolerance and understanding. To give an example, when I left mormonism, I was prepared that some of my extended family (particularly my grandparents) might never speak to me again. Since that time, I have spoken with them often. We both actually share a passing interest in genealogy. Our relationship isn’t perfect, and I believe it’s different than it would be if I had remained mormon. But it is something and it’s still there.

I know many of these members who believe that change needs to come from within. But with the hierarchical structure of the Utah LDS church, I’m not sure the change will happen until the leadership changes. When I offer feedback or commentary about different LDS policies or cultural norms, that’s what I’m referring to. Change that needs to happen from the top down.

I am about 99% sure that my opinions will go nowhere – but I still feel it’s important to at least speak up. There are many people who have misconceptions about mormonism. I don’t intend to clear up that confusion – but to offer additional perspective and sources for study.

I think that the Utah LDS church could change and really become a radically different organization – one that would honor the service and sacrifice of the individual members. Until that time, I’ll remain a voice of dissent – but not necessarily anti-mormon

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20 Responses

  1. Seth R. says:

    Hugh Nibley got away with it. Read his “Leaders vs. Managers” essay sometime. That was a direct slap in the face of LDS hierarchy, including the very top ranks.

    The reason they let it slide is that he’d just provided a very valuable service to the church in defending the facsimiles to the Book of Abraham. I guess there was some sense that his LDS bona fides were beyond question. So he had latitude to be extremely critical of the institutional Church on several occasions. And he was.

    The principle seems to work with a lot of criticism of the Church. For instance, I am much less likely to respond positively to a critic if I don’t consider him capable of EVER acknowledging anything good about Mormons or Mormonism. This hostility to a critic is reinforced when they pick, pardon my French, chickensh#t issues to nag us over.

    Like the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor printing press.

    Who gives a flying leap anyway? Honestly.

    Which means that when you come to me complaining about, say, the current inequities of women’s role in the Church, you’re less likely to get a sympathetic hearing from me. Not all issues are equally worthy of my time or yours. Attacking all LDS defects equally just makes a person look like a brainless ideologue with a suspect agenda.

  2. dpc says:

    Uhh…isn’t someone supposed to go into a tirade about steadying the ark and all that…

    One thing I’ve found is that if you’re far away from Utah, criticisms of the General Authorities seem a bit over-dramatic. I’m not saying this to disparage those who may feel that way. I can’t remember the last time I heard a GA speak live here in Florida. They just seem don’t seem to have much influence over here I guess. And I guess that’s why is appears a little overdone to me.

  3. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    COB / GAs allow Very Few insiders to work for change in Morland.
    Just about NoOne outside Ever gets anywhere

    (small exception): a VERY LARGE buildup of public opinion has changed Momism over a LONG period of time: e.g. Polygamy. Mostly, the drawbridge is UP, due to no small degree thanks to the inet.

  4. chandelle says:

    i’ve left the church and i think i’m very far from being anti-mormon. i didn’t leave because i didn’t agree with this or that but simply because i didn’t believe in the most basic doctrines anymore. nevertheless, i remain very interested in seeing change occur within the church, because most of my friends and my husband’s family continue to move and fight and work within it. i have always compared this to expatriating – if i leave the US, i will always remain interested in the various fights for social justice here, and i will support the cause and assist where i can, if only to give an ear as somebody who has been there. i don’t view it any differently as an ex-member of this church. i don’t believe in the church anymore but i wouldn’t say that it’s wrong or evil or anything. i just don’t believe, but millions of people do, many of them my close loved ones, and i wish to support their cause, if they have one. i hope that makes some sense.

  5. Hellmut says:

    Seth, since you don’t want to care about the Expositor, does that mean that you don’t give a chickensh*t about Joseph Smith’s arrest and his subsequent lynching?

    Given how Joseph Smith perished, it would seem to me that this episode is an essential part of his biography.

  6. Seth R. says:

    Wrong take-home message.

    If you want to mention the event fine. If you want to include as a very important part of the Joseph Smith story, the Nauvoo history, and Mormon history, fine.

    What I’m talking about is people who through up indignant posts about the episode and use it as a club to smash Joseph with. Now, when you are talking about using it as a device to criticize Mormonism, yes, it is trivial and stupid. There are much better things to criticize Mormonism about without being petty.

  7. Seth R. says:

    Oops. “throw up indignant posts”

  8. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    “You’re either with us or against us”

    Yup; that’s Black & White, Up or Down mentality.
    NO Gray area, None Whatsoever.

    Is it an ‘essential part’ of the ‘Mormon Mentality’? I think it is.

    (also) I think (average) TBMs are people who thrive on a Highly-Structured Environment.

  9. Hellmut says:

    Thanks, Seth. But what’s wrong with holding Joseph accountable for his actions?

  10. Seth R. says:

    Because it so rarely seems to be just about holding a man accountable for his actions when this old standby gets raised. It always rather seems to be about some bigger narrative of discrediting a prophet or a religion.

    Now, am I making my point here? This really isn’t about the printing press. It’s about how a critic can engender suspicion in the minds of people like me. The suspicion that the person you are talking to really isn’t interested in a dispassionate and objective look at history or facts, but is rather bent on attacking my religious identity at any cost, and with whatever tool comes to hand, no matter how petty, irrelevant, or ugly it might be.

    Basic point: you’ve got limited ammunition before it loses its punch. Use it on stuff that counts.

  11. chanson says:

    It’s true there’s an amazing amount of polarization. It seems like (on both sides) as soon as someone’s church affiliation (LDS or post-LDS) is mentioned, most people are already gearing up to agree or disagree before even hearing what the person has to say. (As I recall, Helen Whitney’s PBS special deliberately avoided identifying church affiliation of the people being interviewed for just that reason.)

    It seems to be changing a bit though, at least on the Internet. After a few years in blogspace trying to carry on a reasonable cross-belief discussion, I feel like a lot of faithful LDS are no longer immediately suspicious of my motives when discussing Mormonism.

    For me, it’s very much like Chandelle said (quite literally, in fact): I have left the U.S., but I discuss U.S. politics far more than I discuss European politics, largely because U.S. politics still affect me and my extended family. Plus I understand American culture and retain a very American outlook in general. Similarly, it seems natural that I would retain an interest in my Mormon roots.

  12. aerin says:

    Seth – I will read that essay by Hugh Nibley. I’m a little disappointed that you would not be interested in discussing women’s role in the modern LDS church. I think this is a very important issue. Frankly, I think it’s an important issue for women and men. These types of policies have a lot to do with many choices that women and families make. I think there are a handful of concrete things that the LDS leadership could do that would make this situation better – particularly for women in the US. That doesn’t mean they will.

    I think the point of my post is that when I am bringing up these questions, I’m not trying to make anyone suspicious. I’m not trying to bring the LDS church down.

    For example, I have a lot of criticism of my current place of employment (as most people do with their own respective employers). That doesn’t mean that I think it’s a bad organization or one that doesn’t do some good. I think there are some things that could make it better. And so I’ll ask questions/speak up about those things.

    However people want to react to those statements – that’s really their business. And what advantage would it be for me as a former LDS woman to de-convert anyone? If everyone agreed on all topics, life would be very boring.

    dpc – I don’t really understand what you’re writing. When I was growing up LDS, we also rarely saw the GA leadership. But that didn’t mean that we didn’t feel the impact of overall church policy in every Sunday meeting, MIA activity, youth dance and in seminary. Teachers in each ward are encouraged to teach from the manual – created and maintained by the LDS leadership. Letters are often written from the first presidency to wards about various topics and read aloud (for example, last year’s Book of Mormon challenge). The bishop of each ward has a handbook to assist him in counseling members and presiding over meetings. The guidelines of this handbook (which contains topics from resigning membership, baptisms, therapy to family size) are determined by LDS leadership – specifically the priesthood leadership, who claim to be guided by God.

    I remember countless songs and talks (in meetings and in conferences) about following the prophet, following the leaders, sustaining the leaders, etc. While you may disagree that the leadership policies from SLC have influence on places outside Utah, I don’t think you can deny that these policies are far reaching. I can’t speak for other countries, but I can’t imagine that there is a different bishop’s handbook or different teaching manuals for those countries. For example, here in the US women cannot be ordained to the priesthood, but in Asia, they can be.

    Chandelle – thanks for your thoughts. I think it’s important to share the wide diversity of thought within the mormon (and former mormon) communities.

    chanson – As you know, I also feel it’s important to listen to an argument/opinion, without automatically dismissing it as from the opposing side (and therefore invalid). I also think you can leave an organization, job, country – but that doesn’t mean you’re not interested in it or still care about it. Or still care about the people left to deal with the fallout.

  13. Seth R. says:

    “I’m a little disappointed that you would not be interested in discussing women’s role in the modern LDS church.”


    Where in my post did I ever say that?

  14. aerin says:

    Seth R wrote:
    Which means that when you come to me complaining about, say, the current inequities of women’s role in the Church, you’re less likely to get a sympathetic hearing from me. Not all issues are equally worthy of my time or yours. Attacking all LDS defects equally just makes a person look like a brainless ideologue with a suspect agenda.

    seth – that’s not what you meant? It sounds to me like what you’re saying is that you’re less likely to listen to someone who might bring up the fact that Joseph Smith destroyed a printing press?

    If you are saying that you’re up for discussing the role of women in the LDS church – I think that’s great.

    I think it’s valid to bring up the current leadership’s attitude towards history and historical perspective as well as current attitudes towards women and families. I would hope that just because me (or someone else) wants to discuss attitudes towards history means that my argument about treatment of women (and men) would be dismissed (I hope I’m making sense here).

  15. Seth R. says:

    I’m less likely to want to engage in someone who I think is just out to tear down Mormons, yes.

    But I never said I’m not willing to listen to criticisms of women’s role in the Church. In fact, I’ve made a few of those criticisms myself personally. I’m actually a regular over at Feminist Mormon Housewives.

    But if a person comes to me just making dumb attacks on my faith, no, I don’t really want to talk to them about problems with Mormonism, legitimate or not. I just wouldn’t feel like I had an honest partner for dialogue.

    Does that make sense?

  16. Guy Noir Private Eye says:


    Is there a website I can make a copy of SW without – ignoring Your pagnation (assemble my own fonts, type size, & page numbering)?

    -OR- is it ONLY available in the online format you post (sorry I don’t have ipod )

    Thanks, GNPE
    (I’ll send my email if u need it)

  17. aerin says:

    Seth – yes, that makes sense. Thank you for the clarification.

    GNPE – I have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you referring to chanson’s novel?

  18. chanson says:

    GNPE — if this is the SW you’re talking about, then yes it is available in other formats. Just email me (chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com) and I’ll send you the entire novel as a pdf. 😀

  19. Guy Noir Private Eye says:


    Sorry, I thought it yours.

    Does ANYONE know how to do that?

  20. Hellmut says:

    I don’t know about limited ammunition, Seth. While Mormon leaders claim to be divine agents, episodes like the suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor document that they are just as likely to abuse power as the next guy.

    From Joseph Smith destroying the printing press to Gordon Hinckley demanding that scholars lie to preserve their membership in the church, there is an illiberal pattern that continues to assert itself throughout Mormon history.

    It is important to recognize that enduring feature of our tradition because it is ultimately rooted in the view that prophets do not need to be accountable since they are servants of the almighty.

    That attitude of the members is the foundation of the abuse. Joseph Smith would have been able to destroy the printing press if people had not put too much stock into his “authority,” the Mormon militia could not have committed the Mountain Meadows Massacre if the soldiers had not been so eager to follow the prophet and keep their temple covenants, and missionaries would not baptize decrepit, senile, and mentally disabled people if they had not allowed their faith to suspend their conscience.

    Mormonism is essentially a pre-modern institution that has failed to learn the lessons of America’s founding fathers and is thus unable to hold its most powerful officers accountable. Nothing could illustrate this issue better than the suppression of the freedom of the press by the founding prophet.

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