Perils on every side

Our unhappy political moment has unfortunately corrected a longstanding asymmetry in ideologically-driven exit options.

It has long been apparent that some liberal and progressive members of the church experience tension between their religious and their political or intellectual commitments. After seeing enough people follow a path from internal critique to a left exit, and as someone who tends toward liberal politics and intellectual pursuits, I have to be honest with myself about the potential for secularism, intellectualism and progressivism to become deadly heresies for me.

Until relatively recently, there was usually no clear equivalent on the right. The primary pitfall for conservatives was if anything fundamentalism, an unyielding and inflexible commitment to particular or contingent teachings and secondary or cultural elements of the church rather than to the core doctrines of the gospel. Fundamentalist faith can be brittle and risks a major rupture whenever a program changes or new possibilities for interpreting scripture emerge. While fundamentalism might bind individuals more closely to the church, I have doubts about its viability as a vehicle for propagating faith across generations.

Secular intellectualism is not the left-hand counterpart of fundamentalism in any case. Instead, the pervasive brittleness of fundamentalism finds its opposite in the cumulative antinomianism of people who see themselves as happily committed members of the church, except for the things that (so they tell themselves) aren’t really essential anyway. For example:

  • I love the church, but coffee just doesn’t matter.
  • Not ordaining women is nothing but patriarchal culture that the church will soon outgrow.
  • The church doesn’t need the money, so I’ll use my tithing for other worthy causes.
  • The prophet and apostles simply aren’t prepared to receive revelation about gay marriage, or just haven’t asked.
  • The church needs to get away from a simplistic historical view of the Book of Mormon.
  • Obedience and following the commandments are antithetical to loving the Lord.
  • The concept of sin is harmful and causes psychic distress.

The ultimate conclusion is that there is no sin, no divine law, no need for a savior or a church to provide salvific ordinances. Maybe you find one of these points attractive. But two points define a line, and that line is sloping in the wrong direction. While the fundamentalist clings inflexibly to everything until one sudden movement disrupts the whole structure of belief, the antinomian pares back belief bit by bit until there’s no substance to it.

But creeping antinomianism differs from the tension felt by progressives or intellectuals between their competing commitments. While conservatives have largely enjoyed alignment between their faith and their politics, the rise of Trumpist populism has changed that. Now conservative church members too have to be wary of political currents that will distance them from the church, including

  • racism and white nationalism,
  • gun rights fundamentalism,
  • pandemic denialism,
  • conspiracy theories, and
  • the embrace of cruelty.

If you’re a Republican, you have to remain vigilant about ongoing changes in your political party. If you’re profoundly upset by the church’s support of immigration and condemnation of racism, or that you have to wear a mask and can’t concealed carry at church, you are in spiritual peril. Progressives have at least become practiced at living with their political and religious commitments in tension, but for you it’s new. If you’re dabbling in the alt right, cosplaying civil war with your AR, mocking Fauci, huffing Q, or delighting in owning the libs and separating families at the border, you may find yourself experiencing the novel feeling of being at odds with the church’s public statements or the target of the prophet’s rebuke.

15 comments for “Perils on every side

  1. I’ve lived a long time and sought diligently to grow in understanding in things of the Spirit. I’ve been reading in the bloggernacle since July 2007. I even started a blog of my own when one of the more liberal powers in the nacle blocked my comments because I would discuss things of the Spirit in a way that offended him. Then one day after a little over 10 years my blog disappeared without notice from That was about a two years ago.

    I preface my comment with the above to let those who read my comment have some background information.

    As I read Jonathan’s post it reminded me of the tension that exist between those who are born with a testimony and those who struggle to obtain a testimony. I wasn’t born with a testimony like some, but when I asked the Lord to reveal to me if the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith were the real deal. At the time I asked this question, sincerely I might add, because of the challenge of going to war (Vietnam War) in a few weeks. The weekly body count at the time was very high.

    In my simple, brief prayer, I promised Him if He would answer my prayer in a way that I could understand, I would give up the riotous life style I was living and serve Him for the rest of my life. A few hours after that prayer my spirit left my body and I encountered an angel, not one like Moroni. This angel wanted to destroy me. I called upon Heavenly Father to save me from the evil being. No, I wasn’t possessed any more than Joseph Smith was when encountered an evil power in the sacred grove. After my prayer for help the evil beings power ended as was the vile ugly words he spoke to me. I watched him slowly walk away into the night. I looked around and realized I could see things in a way that let me know I was in my room but my view was much greater and that side of the veil. After returning to my body, which wasn’t quick and easy, I knew a whole lot more than I did a few minutes prior to this experience.

    Since then, over 50 years, I have had many manifestations of the Spirit. Heavenly Father has been so kind and loving to me. I can’t understand why. Keeping the commandments hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve been reading “Insights” about Pres. Nelson. He has lived a life where the Spirit has guided him constantly, but I don’t think he has trouble keeping the commandments like I do.

    The greatest blessing of my life is to have a testimony, I might add, one that I realize is unusual. If I don’t share it often, I feel it is not pleasing to Heavenly Father. I hope the Spirit will testify what I shared is authentic and will provide added power in your life, even if it is only for a few hours.

    I plead with you to listen carefully to Pres Nelson talk about “Let God Prevail” and take up your cross and move forward to the goal of Eternal Life.

  2. Jonathan Green,

    Ideology is a function of modern priestcraft.

    I know of LDS family and friends who cannot see the world, except through an ideological lens:

    they share an appetite for the “sacrament” of media—television, internet, podcast, radio;

    they repeat political “liturgy” exactly as they hear it;

    they feel as outraged as the “priestly” commentators they revere;

    they scream loud for “justice,” but are quiet about mercy;

    The spell of political priestcraft overshadows the LDS priesthood. Divisive, contentious, distracting. If you cannot interpret the world except through spoonfed ideology, then smoke-and-mirrors already got you. It amounts to false worship.

  3. I agree with Bryan in Virginia that there is an element of finger-pointing in this post. I also enjoyed reading it immensely.

    I was a Goldwater-Reagan Limited-government conservative when I joined the Church, and became immediately and uncomfortably aware that there was a strong alt-right, conspiracy-fixated John Birch Society element in the Church—so much so that in Utah, the John Birch Society was matter-of-factly referred to as the JBS. This element has morphed over the years, and IMO is now largely a pro-Trump ethno-nationalism and racism that believes in conspiracies. I am reminded of a cult.

    Church leaders became aware of this problem in 1992, when Bo Gritz, the fringiest of minor-party candidates, got six percent of the vote in Utah. It is my belief that Church leaders are more worried about the right-Wing fringe in the Church, than the progressive Mormons. Disaffected progressives just tend to fade away; the right-wing fringe tends to set up survivalist communes in Idaho or polygamist groups in the desert.

    I pretty much agree with Green‘s assessment. But the problem, in my experience, is that when these people are confronted with being out of harmony with what the Church teaches, they come back saying that Church leaders don‘t dare say what they really think, so they are carrying the true flame for the Church.

    I am sorry if I sound angrier than I normally do in my comments, but the garbage from about four of my Ward members is getting to be a bit much, as Election Day approaches.

    Thanks to Green for his post.

  4. Thank you Brother Green. You hav described something I have seen, and which has concerned me for a long time, though I have never been able to fully put it into words.

    We’ve had an apostasy from the left, and many have left. Some of us have learned how to accept dissonance between our politics and our faith, and choose our faith, despite the pain that sometimes accompanies that decision.

    Now it appears it is the turn of our brethren and sisters on the right to face this challenge. As badly as the natural man in me wants to feel smug about this, I don’t. This is a miserable experience to go through, and I wish them well, may they be swifter to hear, and more willing to turn than many of us were.

  5. Living in Australia, I am only aware of Church culture from conference, and the blogs I follow.

     I understand there are reasons why church leaders could not explicitly say vote one way or the other(could they say I will vote for Biden)?  Were there any subtle messages, one way or the other?

    1. A group of people all social distancing, and wearing masks.  Not Trump

    2. Racism is bad and we must work to eradicate it.   Not Trump

    3. Demonstrations are constitutional, but violence is bad. 93% of BLM protests peacefull,  violence come with white supremacists, or heavy handed policing.  Not Trump

    4. Contention, and bullying and hatred of the devil              Not Trump

    5.Zion society, one mind, and no poor among them        Not Trump

    6. Remove our prejudices, and find our moral compass.  Not Trump

    7. Heal society by being Christlike, honest, peacemakers, living and respecting our fellow men, be kind, humble, caring.          Not Trump

    8 Racial and other Diversity, and love can go together  Not Trump

    9. Be subject to law, oppose anarchy.  Not Trump

    10.  Peacefully accept the results of elections.  Not Trump

    11.  Loyalty to established law, not temporary leader.  Not Trump

    12. There were no warnings about socialism.  Not Trump

    13. Nothing about masks = attack on religious freedom.  Not Trump

    These are all from the Saturday morning session. Because of time zones we usually watch Sunday sessions next Sunday.

    I’m sure you will have interpreted things differently.  I saw a Sumary of Oaks talk on a conservative site  as condemning race riots, so they did not hear what I heard

  6. I think you touch on something quite important, Jonathan. Those on the fundamentalist/right have been insulated in their interactions with the Church and have not had to actively manage the cultural disconnect many progressives have become accustomed to (and maybe even made peace with) over the years. But I think we shouldn’t overestimate any disconnect the fundamentalists might be feeling. While a few recent statements by Church leaders might not align with fundamentalist ideals, I find that those statements are dismissed as disingenuous reactions intended to assuage public pressure. Essentially, they don’t think those statements actually reflect the true sentiments of the Church. Unfortunately, many of those on the liberal end are also skeptical that these recent statements reflect the true sentiments of the Church.

  7. While I think that under almost all circumstances there is no justification for rebellion with ar15s, etc. I do have a hard time squaring that belief with the fact that the same was done by blustery colonists and stolen cannons.

    Under no circumstances can I imagine the leaders of the church supporting George Washington were he here today. The claims of abuses in the declaration of independence were not any more severe than what many face today in this country and certainly many others.

    The church just isn’t and has rarely if ever been a leader in the social, governmental issues of the day. Neither was Jesus, for that matter. The church broadly focuses on individual discipleship as the path to a better community.

    Of course the church is in favor of effective civil institutions, and encourages us to support and be involved in them. But a constitutional, “general welfare” sort of way.

  8. When the Spirit is telling you to buy an AR15, something is hilariously backwards. At least half the Church is in this deplorable place – in the Midwest sticks where I live, more like three quarters. Our next EQ function will be a gun shoot. I will literally not be surprised if one of my dear brethren shows up with a flame thrower. I am just waiting for a bumper sticker with Jesus holding an automatic weapon. These will be very popular hereabouts. We’ll fly them proudly from our bumpers on the way to the Temple.

  9. I love P‘s comment about a bumper sticker showing Jesus holding an automatic weapon. But I think even the rightest of right-wingers would interpret it as a mocking criticism of gun rights. So, I plan on getting one made, and placing it next to my Biden bumper sticker…..

  10. There are perils on every side. Not the least of which is confusing who suffers from motes and who from beams. Charity – especially that charity defined as the pure love of Christ – is the only true solution.

  11. I think many members cannot distinguish policy from doctrine. Progressives think doctrine is nothing more than policy and fundamentalist think all policy is doctrine.

  12. Lily, I think that’s an interesting point. While it’s a pretty big generalization, there’s some truth to it. But, I also think it brings up the issue that sometimes it’s difficult to detangle policy from doctrine. Could you give some examples of how you distinguish between them?

  13. Well naturally, I have the perfect compass and can EASILY distinguish the two. (HAHA). If its dealing with our particular earthly situation its probably policy. Such as, how long does Church last, political issues of the day, social customs – i.e. mother stay home. If it is something that would apply to all people, in all generations and all circumstances its probably doctrine. I am sure their are exceptions. The other thing I would look to is if its woven into the actual ordinances or just something we see in the Ensign.

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