James Faulconer, the Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, recently wrote the following on patheos.com:
Whereas an intellectual is duty-bound to criticize those in political power as needed and to use his or her learning to do so, intellectual members of the [LDS] Church don’t have that same responsibility. That doesn’t mean that the Church never makes a mistake or that it is beyond criticism. It means that if I believe that the Church is, on the whole, led by revelation, then I must be doubly skeptical of my opinions.
I’m not sure I know where to start:
- First, he doesn’t define the term “intellectual.” So, I’m not sure what audience he is addressing;
- Second, I agree with him that intellectuals, whoever they are, should be humble; and
- Third, skepticism is a healthy human trait and should not be dismissed or downplayed, even as it relates to the LDS Church.
I’m not sure that I would qualify as an intellectual. I do have too many graduate degrees, but I work more as a generalist than as a specialist. I don’t work for a university, I work for the Federal government. I’m not a scientist or a social scientist, I’m a planning engineer. Most of my writing doesn’t have footnotes and I haven’t written a book. But for the sake of argument, I will call myself an “intellectual.”
As such, Faulconer says that I need to be humble. That is a wonderful idea. My wife, my kids, my grandkids, my Mother, my colleagues, and my friends frequently tell me that I need to be more humble. And I sincerely appreciate their suggestions.
Faulconer lists many ways that I can be humble in a LDS Church setting:
- Sit in the pews with my family and friends, and enjoy the church service,
- Serve faithfully when called to serve, not expecting special treatment,
- Clean the chapel, do my home teaching, set up chairs,
Not once does he mention that I should help my neighbor, that I should assist the poor, or that I should help protect the Earth. I would remind Faulconer that “To whom much is given, much is expected.” But I do agree that I should “learn to love ordinary life.”
On the issue of what I should do with my opinions, Faulconer’s position is very troubling. Members can have a positive impact on the LDS senior leadership. It is my understanding that years ago, the GAs asked the membership to fast and contribute money toward relief in Ethiopia. The Church collected so much money, that they were forced to consider what their role should be in worldwide relief efforts. And that helped bring about the birth of the modern LDS Humanitarian Services efforts.
While many members can claim that giving Black’s the priesthood was done through revelation, pressure from the membership didn’t hurt. And by the same token, we can always hope that pressure from the membership can bring about a change in the Church’s attitude towards gays.
I suspect that strong opinions from some quarters helped shorten the lives of “Mormon” books like Man, His Origin and Destiny and more recently Mormon Doctrine. The former was just plain silly and the latter espoused some questionable information concerning doctrine.
Our individual opinions do count, they are important, and they should not be hidden. To imply that the membership should follow blindly, makes us look like a cult. And we are not a cult.
Faulconer ends his essay on an interesting note. He brags about his involvement with the Mormon Theology Seminars and Salt Press, and their projects that don’t “bring about anything at all.” Setting himself up as a wonderful example, doesn’t seem like humility to me.
On 25 Feb 2012, timesandseasons.org had a lengthy discussion on Faulconer’s essay.