Critical Times Call for Critical Thinking: A Plea about a Policy

Photo credit: Elvert Barnes / / CC BY

Photo credit: Elvert Barnes / / CC BY

Worlds Without End is pleased to present this guest contribution from Benjamin Kelsey. After 35+ years in the LDS Church, Benjamin is now a member of Community of Christ and attends the Salt Lake City, Utah congregation.  The only things he loves more than music, movies, Diet Mountain Dew, and musing about Mormonism are his wife Melanie and his three intermittently charming sons.

A sincere message to my LDS family and friends:

On Facebook, I recently posted a response to the change in LDS policies that deny baptisms, baby blessings, etc. to the children of same-sex couples.  I was angry, and it showed.  I was not angry with any of you personally, as I trust you know.  But regardless of all of that, I hope you will hear me out now.  This is not a message of anger.  It is a heartfelt plea.  I do not ask you to be any more or less scrutinizing of my message than you would be of anyone else’s, nor than I myself would hope to be of another’s argument, whether that argument defended or opposed my own personal viewpoints.

I have seen a lot of defenses offered in behalf of the LDS Church’s new policy.  A handful of blog posts have been shared that seek to explain why and how it is that, despite any icky feelings the policy change may have stirred in a person’s heart, all is well in Zion.  Most of the defenses appeal to the idea that the policy change is in fact a way of loving and protecting the children.  I don’t intend to rehearse all of those arguments here.  All I can do is implore you to think critically about the defenses being offered.  Study them out in your mind, as you might say.  Don’t let the soothing rhetoric of “it’s all fine and dandy and loving and Christlike” be all you base your final judgment on.  If the policy change really is fine and dandy and loving and Christlike, critical thinking isn’t going to change that.  And before you dismiss me for encouraging you to rely on “the wisdom of men,” bear in mind that the very arguments people are using in support of the policy change are doing just that.  They are attempts to rationalize the policy.  If you’re going to accept them as rational arguments, it should be because you’ve thought about them rationally—critically—and not just because they endorse your particular view.  Thinking about them critically requires more than saying, “Yes, they have the appearance of being well-reasoned.”  You have to think about the implications.  If the argument says children should not be exposed to church teachings that contradict what happens in the home, consider the countless examples of children whose families do not perfectly match the teachings of the church but who are nevertheless included in the ordinances and blessings being denied to the innocent children of same-sex couples.  There is inconsistency there.  That matters, and it is telling.

As I see it, there are many, many holes in the arguments being offered in defense of the LDS policy.  They just don’t add up.  I can understand why people who are disturbed by the change but loyal to the LDS Church are desperate to feel comforted and find a way to view the policy change as “okay.” As such, I can understand why some LDS people are clinging to whatever sounds comforting and appears on the surface to put the issue to rest. But I also think people too often don’t want to think very hard about the issue because they just want that comfort to come.  They want the controversy and the uneasiness to be resolved, and they want it resolved right now.  For some people, the thought that the answers really don’t add up is too distressing to cope with, because it means the pain will continue with no resolution immediately in sight.  I fear that the unpleasantness of such a possibility is too often what motivates a person to accept an otherwise unsatisfying argument.

Not every defense offered on behalf of the policy change is rooted in rational argumentation.  Some people have defended the policy change by saying that, after prayer, they simply felt good about it and knew it must be right.  Don’t get me wrong, I encourage people to be prayerful.  I have no complaint with anyone who takes this issue to God in prayer.  But remember that, according to your own scriptures, you have been urged to study things out.  It isn’t merely about feeling good.  If something really bothered me, the thought of everything being fine and dandy would be extremely peaceful and comforting in comparison.  But feeling good about something and feeling bad about something aren’t the strict indicators of truthfulness and falsity that LDS people sometimes make them out to be.  If my house were on fire, that would be distressing.  That wouldn’t mean my house isn’t really on fire, just because it feels bad.  If I closed my eyes and thought about my house not being on fire, and if I had any hope of it really being the case that my house wasn’t on fire, I imagine that such a thought might give me a lot of peace and comfort and hope.  But the comforting feelings wouldn’t mean that my house isn’t really on fire.  I understand that feelings of peace are a benchmark of measuring truth in the LDS mindset.  But it’s more complex than that.  There are some truths that just don’t bring about peaceful feelings.  You can’t really wrap your mind around child abuse, sex trafficking, world hunger, terminal illnesses, and other unpleasant truths in a way that is going to feel comforting and peaceful.  If the Spirit needs to prompt us to take action, it won’t always be by telling us everything is A-okay.

This policy change, and all that it represents, is too important an issue to take lightly. Loving our neighbors, not casting the first stone, sincerely inviting everyone to the table, leaving the 99 to go after the 1, recognizing the divine nature in all—these things are too vital to let smooth words be all it takes to stop us from being true disciples of Christ and decent, caring, thoughtful human beings. I understand not wanting to feel uncomfortable or dissatisfied with this new policy, and so I understand clinging to the excuses. But feeling okay about things isn’t always the correct answer. It wasn’t okay with racial discrimination, and it’s not okay with this. Sometimes the truth of what’s happening is uncomfortable and upsetting because it is not good what’s happening. And we need always be prepared to recognize that. If we start with the assumption that whatever happens must be fine and dandy—because of the institution that is doing it, for example—then we are in grave danger of tolerating and even participating in morally abhorrent, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things.  It’s happened before.  Sadly, it will keep happening. But you don’t have to be a part of it. You really, truly don’t. Let love trump institutional loyalties.  You can’t possibly think Jesus, God, or any truly decent human being would want it any other way. Can you?

Can you??


Critical Times Call for Critical Thinking: A Plea about a Policy — 5 Comments

  1. Yes, I can believe the Savior wants this policy.

    The Savior made it clear He expects us to follow Him no matter what:

    “51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:

    52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.

    53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” (Luke 12:51-53)

    Even if we must lose our families. Side note: this policy doesn’t do that. The children must disavow the lifestyle, not the people. And there is a difference between lifestyle choice and person.

    The opponents of this policy seem to quote the Savior’s words about suffering little children to come unto Him. This policy does nothing to prevent that. All children are still welcome at Church and can still be baptized, either in this life or the next.

    Thinking critically, this policy is not the cause of the pain and suffering. That is caused by the parent or parents who chose to enter into a “particularly grievous sin” (Elder Christofferson). If this policy causes pain, shouldn’t the parents stop their lifestyle to support their child’s choices? Or is it the child who must suffer so the parents can live their lifestyle?

    Which choice will lead to the Savior?

  2. It is EXTREMELY insulting that the basis for your entire article is that faithful members of the church who support our prophet DON’T think critically. Talk about prejudice and judgment.

  3. Kristy, I am horrified to think that my essay can be taken to imply that those who support the policy change aren’t thinking critically. I can see how that might be something people get out of it, and for that I apologize. That was not my intent whatsoever. This post originated as commentary on Facebook, in a place where the context (I hope) made it clear that I wasn’t saying anything nearly so pompous and judgmental. It is true that I have seen a lot of justifications for the new policy floating around that I feel fall flat when scrutinized, but I am largely addressing those who are still mulling the new policy over or who haven’t invested a great deal of critical thinking into it. If you support the policy change and have given it careful, thoughtful consideration, that strikes me as much, much preferable to supporting it without having given it much thought at all or just because someone is speaking pleasingly into your ear about it.

    Thanks for giving me a chance to clarify and to apologize.

  4. Benjamine…. You’re way to polite about human behavior that is flat out wrong. This policy as well as many many Mormon doctrines and current scripture is vile! Not only is this policy wicked it is designed to be manipulative at the expense of children. The use of a child’s well being and an intire families cohesiveness to try and change targeted legal behavior is not only repugnent… it should be illigal! This is flat out child abuse and should be articulated as such by any and all morally grounded people. We should all share the responsibility to stop abuse when we see it… and I see it here by the Mormons.