My Thomas Marsh Experience

My Thomas Marsh Experience July 15, 2009

Edit: This post is in response to the Thomas Marsh discussion here.

I was recently present for the Thomas Marsh lesson in a ward not my own. Being aware of the larger context, that for Marsh, the milk issue was really the straw that broke the camel’s back, I felt compelled to speak up. The problem is always how to do so constructively, especially in a ward where they don’t know you at all. Here’s what I said.

“I’m uncomfortable with this story being used as a paradigmatic example of apostasy. It implies that people who leave the Church do so for nothing more than petty reasons. And certainly, people do sometimes drop their affiliation with the Church for petty reasons.

But I wish we had a better story, one that prepared us for the inevitable time in which someone will do something highly or publicly offensive, in which we’re legitimately wrong. So, Thomas Marsh shouldn’t have been offended, right? How silly and petty, right? What about when someone *is* legitimately offended and wronged in the Church? Are they justified then in breaking fellowship? I much prefer this story, which comes from Deseret Book.

There was a active LDS man, who had studied at Harvard and Cornell to be a clinical psychologist. He ended up working, in the 60’s, on a nationwide panel of 5 people deciding how to deal with sex education in the schools. There was another active LDS guy on the panel as well, so it was 40% active LDS (two of the three men on the panel.)
Well, at General Conference, one of the Fire Presidency gave a talk denouncing the members of this panel as evil and conspiring men, who were leading the nations youth astray. His son stalked out of the room, and said, “I don’t come to General Conference to hear my father get slandered.”

Now, he eventually met with the First Presidency and they cleared up some things. But think about him personally.

I think we’d all generally agree, that if the First Presidency denounced us as evil and conspiring from the pulpit, we might well have legitimate reason to be offended. This wasn’t a minor thing, but public and very personal.

This man, though, did not leave the Church, he did not take offense. He realized that his covenants are not contingent on good or reasonable behavior from others, including the FP.

I much prefer THAT as a story about the potential for apostasy, than one in which we all roll our eyes about what a silly mistake Thomas Marsh made.” The full story can be found here and is well worth a read.

Lots of people turned around to see who was making such a comment. The teacher paused and said, “…Thanks for that comment.” He did later ask me for the title and author.  Such was my experience.  I felt satisfied that my comment had been constructive and edifying.

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