“What good are prophetic voices that maintain total silence on the most pressing moral matters of our time?”

“What good are prophetic voices that maintain total silence on the most pressing moral matters of our time?” August 17, 2018


California's 2nd temple
The Oakland California Temple (LDS Media Library)


Here’s an item that I posted on this blog back in December 2014 that, I think, still says something that I want to say:


In a thought-provoking article posted yesterday on her blog, Flunking Sainthood, Jana Riess raises a very interesting issue:


When our general leaders combine an intense focus on young women’s shoulders with near-silence on war, torture, racially-motivated violence on the part of police, and crimes against humanity, we should understand that as a problem. As the author of one of last week’s blog posts argues, “What good are prophetic voices that maintain total silence on the most pressing moral matters of our time?” 


This question is well worth a discussion, and I would like to see such discussions occur.


A few quick observations before I need to head out the door to meet some people:


1.  The reference to “an intense focus” by “our general leaders . . . on young women’s shoulders” is a caricature, and seems to me rather unjust.  Still, I get the point.


2.  One explanation for their “near-silence” on the enumerated “most pressing moral issues of our time” is the fact that statements from the Church on such issues would have minimal effect.  Vladimir Putin, the Islamic State, and Kim Jong-un aren’t hanging on every statement from the First Presidency.


3.  By contrast, the daily lives of those who actually do pay attention to First Presidency and other Church declarations are much more heavily impacted by such seemingly mundane and unglamorous matters as cultivating strong marriages, raising children who will make wise choices, encouraging honesty in business dealings, cultivating mutual kindness,  providing service to neighbors, and other sorts of issues that the Church routinely discusses (or on which the teachings of the Church have an actual effect).


4.  The list of “most pressing moral issues of our time” is an interesting one, with an implicit but clear skewing in a particular political/ideological direction.  The reference to “racially-motivated violence on the part of police,” for instance, plainly draws its force from the recent deaths of two black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, and from the failure of grand juries in those cases to return indictments against police officers.  Yet it’s far from obvious — to put it mildly — that either killing was racially motivated.  And I say that as someone who finds the death of Eric Garner in New York City quite problematic.  Sometimes, discontent with Church silence on public issues is simply unhappiness that the Church hasn’t officially endorsed a politically liberal agenda.


5.  Frankly, I’m generally unimpressed when Catholic priests, Catholic bishops, and Protestant reverends and pastors attempt to “speak prophetically” (as it’s sometimes called) on matters of public policy (e.g., immigration, minimum wage legislation, Israel and Hamas, and so forth), and not only because they very commonly do so without really knowing what they’re talking about.  Such statements typically come off as simplistic moral posturing, and they do little or no actual good.  They often come from the left, but I’m just as unimpressed when they come from the right (e.g., Jerry Falwell laying out a “biblical” position on the Panama Canal Treaty).  [August 2018 Update:  Lately, a small but very vocal number of Latter-day Saints –presumably Trumpists, for the most part — have been extremely upset with the Church because of its (non-political) assistance to refugees and its (non-political) encouragement to members to serve them.  Additionally, my article on Islam in the April Ensign, written at the request of Church leadership, earned me a fair amount of angry mail (which has subsided since then), and it seems that Church headquarters itself has received a notable amount of such mail, too, from Church members — at least, so I was told late yesterday afternoon during a phone call from Salt Lake City in which a General Authority wanted to know how I was holding up and to assure me of the Church’s support for me.]


6.  But didn’t Israel’s prophets routinely speak out on issues of social justice and politics?  Yes. But they lived in a polity that was expressly theocratic and that, according to its own self-understanding, had been created by God in order to live in a covenant relationship with him.  And their economy was more “feudal” than it was free-market.  The LDS Church, by contrast, functions in a society that is religiously pluralistic, more or less secular, and more or less market-based.  It’s apples and oranges.  That said, though, the Church operates its own welfare and humanitarian aid systems, and, by teaching kindness, love, and charity, encourages its members to go out and act on their own, as well, both locally and globally.


7.  What about torture?  Two LDS men were implicated in the recent Senate document about the CIA and torture.  This is, indeed, an opportunity for reflection.  But opinions differ on this subject, and I don’t think that moral posturing from the Church would be especially useful (see above).  What is useful is what it actually does:  It emphasizes kindness, love, the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity, charity, and so forth.  In matters of war and conflict, just as in matters of abortion when the mother’s life is in danger, the Church teaches its members correct principles, and they must then govern themselves.  Each member must work out his or her own response to difficult issues such as this within the private chambers of the soul and with the guidance of the Holy Ghost.  Sorry, but that’s mortal life.  Jesus made very few overt statements about politics, either.  If, indeed, he made any.



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