“We do not need more members who question every detail.”

Spending too much time on Facebook, as usual, and a friend shared this link from the page LDS General Conference, a quote from M. Russell Ballard from October 1995 General Conference:

We do not need more members who question every detail; we need members who have felt with their hearts, who live close to the Spirit, and who follow its promptings joyfully. We need seeking hearts and minds that welcome gospel truths without argument or complaint and without requiring miraculous manifestation. Oh, how we are blessed when members respond joyfully to counsel from their bishops, stake presidents, quorum or auxiliary leaders, some of whom might be younger than they and less experienced. What great blessings we receive when we follow “that which is right” joyfully and not grudgingly.

The quote alone was enough to get my dander up. I had to quit reading the comments after three or four because it wasn’t good for my blood pressure. Fortunately there are some commenters on the thread saying, “Hey, wait a minute, let’s not throw our minds out the window,” and this post yesterday from Mike S. at Wheat and Tares about wanting to make “I believe” as valid a statement of faith as “I know” was encouraging.

Sometimes it gets hard to keep a tally on all the ways my experience with the Church was harmful, but this attitude that, “If what you think is different from what we think, we are right and you are wrong,” is definitely near the top of the list. As I’ve written on my own blog:

I think we all have an instinctive inner voice that can guide us toward a fulfilling life. The religion I grew up in taught me to override this voice if it conflicted with external authority….The underlying message: God (as represented by his appointed mouthpieces on earth) knows what’s best for you; you don’t. So just bequiet nice anddo what you’re told follow our loving counsel.

If something doesn’t feel right, you’re the problem. You need to pray harder and be more humble, and keep praying until the answer you get matches up with doctrine/your bishop/etc. My post goes through examples of questions I had about racism in the Book of Mormon, gender roles and gay marriage, and how I suppressed all these concerns to protect my testimony. The most vivid instance when I recall coming up against this “don’t question” attitude was when when I was 19 or 20 and told my bishop I wasn’t really sure godhood was for me. I couldn’t see the appeal in exaltation, didn’t understand why I was supposed to want that. His response: If I were more righteous, my desires would fall into line with what my Heavenly Father had planned for me.

I go through rather large stretches where I don’t feel any sort of hostility toward the Church, and feel I can just live and let live, sometimes even feel a bit of affection for the quirkiness of Mormonism. Then something like this crosses my radar. Yes, this talk is from 16 years ago, but it’s from an apostle during Conference, which I believe qualifies it as scripture, and it’s being shared and revered by many of the faithful today. Part of me wants to get in there and point out the fallacies, but the larger part of me knows it will be useless. So I just thank whatever deity may be out there for the fact that I’m not part of it anymore, and for the peace passing all understanding that I’ve found since relearning to trust myself.


Leah blogs at The Whore of All the Earth.


Writer. Poet. Teacher. Journeyer. Living in North Carolina @leahiellio www.leahielliott.com

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17 Responses

  1. Lisa says:

    I’ve made a semi-concerted effort to ignore the church lately, but this really rubs my fur the wrong way. THIS crap is why I left.

    The fact that members wriggle their way from this truth when confronted with it is absolutely maddening. But they will do it.

    Truly, their rhetorical strategies can be amazingly effective.

  2. PostMomama says:

    I can hardly read this without getting my panties in a wad – but that really is quite uncomfortable, so I ain’t gonna!

    “Part of me wants to get in there and point out the fallacies, but the larger part of me knows it will be useless.”

    I’m slowly learning this. *sigh*

    Thanks for writing what so many of us think!

  3. Macha says:

    So I suppose it means that the church is less concerned with membership numbers than is generally supposed. Going off of this, one would have to presume that they care much more about having a devoted and completely convinced membership than about numbers. They would prefer a smaller membership over a larger membership that only believed halfway. Perhaps it’s an attempt to stop the bleeding, to slough off all the questioning people who might make more devoted believers become questioners, and possibly leave subsequently.

  4. Mike S says:

    This part of the quote bothers me the most: We do not need more members who question every detail It appears they may be getting this. The growth rate is slowing – people are leaving. Maybe, as Macha stated, they don’t care. But clinging to non-essential things for the sake of ??? seems different from what Christ did when He was on the earth.

  5. Leah says:

    Mike, Aerin wrote recently about wishing she could stay, but not feeling like that was possible without large amounts of self-betrayal. It would be nice if there were more of a welcoming atmosphere for “middle way Mormons.” They really needn’t to lose members over minutiae.

  6. Lisa says:

    @Leah: It makes you wonder why they’re so insistent on it. Losing members, I mean.

  7. Leah says:

    Lisa, my best guess would be that they think keeping everyone in line is for their own good, that it’s not “loving” to “let” people go astray.

    But I’m not a priesthood leader, so can’t speak for what their reasons are for sure.

  8. Elaine says:

    This is exactly the biggest of the many reasons I left the church. They wanted everyone to shut up, shut their brains off, and follow the brethren like a bunch of sheep. This is not in my nature. I suppose the biggest problem was that my (non-Mormon) father brought me up to question authority. Not to flaunt it, necessarily, but to use my brain to make sure that no one was trying to con me. Which is what the leadership of the church is all about, at bottom: it’s a con to rake in those tithing dollars. They know they aren’t going to collect a full tithe from people who are prone to asking questions, so in order for the con to work, they have to convince the membership that asking questions is a bad thing when in fact it is a very good thing.

  9. chanson says:

    If something doesnt feel right, youre the problem. You need to pray harder and be more humble, and keep praying until the answer you get matches up with doctrine/your bishop/etc.

    It’s funny how often this “solution” has come up here lately. As I highlighted here, So Says Me found approximately the same advice (and precious little else) for people in abusive relationships.

    It’s another point Parker and Stone portrayed in the BoM musical too. As noted in their NPR interview, Hasa Diga Eebowai was their “Welcome to Vietnam” number. Parker and Stone went on to explain that the song “Turn It Off” portrays the type of advice they’d get from their church about how to deal with how upset and confused they are. It looks like they got it right…

  10. kuri says:

    I think there’s a deeply-rooted unspoken assumption among Mormons that the church wants everyone in the world to be a member. But it doesn’t. It only wants people who will shut up and buy in.

    In that, it’s no different than any other hierarchical organization. What hierarchy wants members who question every order and openly show that they think their ideas are just as good as their superiors’? Any corporation would fire an employee like that without a second thought. And if there’s one adjective that describes the LDS church, it’s corporate.

  11. chanson says:

    the church wants everyone in the world to be a member. But it doesnt. It only wants people who will shut up and buy in.

    I think the corporation wants both — it wants everyone in the world to join and buy in and shut up. Naturally, this is not a realistic desire.

  12. Holly says:

    Currently listening to the BOM soundtrack (I do occasionally listen to other things these days), and the line that jumped out at me is “Listen to that fat white guy.”

    That’s the church in one sentence.

  13. kuri says:

    I guess that’s another way of saying the same thing. It wants everybody to join, but only on its own terms. (And I’m not sure there’s anything particularly wrong about that.)

    But I think that many, many Mormons — covering the whole spectrum from unthinking TBM to hostile ex — believe that the church actually wants them (or should want them) no matter what. And that’s not necessarily the case.

  14. Leah says:

    kuri, that’s an interesting point. Reminds me of one of the interviewees on Helen Whitney’s The Mormons who talked about how hurtful Boyd K. Packer’s statement that the biggest enemies of the Church were gays, feminists and intellectuals to those who counted themselves in one or more of those categories. They felt like they were being told by their church, a place that should have been a place of acceptance and refuge, “We don’t want you.”

    The with-us-or-against-us, all-or-nothing mindset is far too prevalent in the Church for my liking.

  15. Alan says:

    I had to lol at chanson’s comment @11.


    And Im not sure theres anything particularly wrong about that

    No? The “if you don’t like the rules, then don’t be Mormon” mantra doesn’t just target non-Mormons (addition: by which I mean, choose-to-be-not-Mormons), but it hurts Mormons too. The Church is constantly in Inquisition-mode.

  16. kuri says:

    That’s my point. The church doesn’t want them (if they won’t shut up and buy in). I don’t understand why so many of them (or “us,” since I consider myself two out of three) think it does.

    I could be persuaded otherwise, but no, I’m not sure that there’s necessarily anything wrong with an organization deciding it essentially wants to be of assholes, by assholes, and for assholes.

  17. chanson says:

    Kuri — True, but I was kind of getting at a slight tangent: the CoJCoL-dS lacks clear, competent, consistent strategy. The management-by-committee coming out of the COB ends up simultaneously pursuing mutually contradictory goals (“everyone in the world should be a member” “every member needs to shut up and buy in”).

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