Friday, May 30, 2014

On Missing Context

The Church's public affairs department sent an open letter to mormon blogs yesterday.  You can read it for yourself.  There are parts of it I like, and parts of it I don't.

First, the part that I don't like.  Otterson describes a criticism from the internet community at "By not engaging with the more extreme groups, the Church – and Public Affairs in particular – is not acting as Christ would."  Let me start of by just clarifying that the argument "public affairs is not acting as Christ would" is just stupid.  I get that much.  Public affairs is an entity meant to help develop and distribute messaging from the Church.  They shouldn't be expected to "act as Christ would."

That being said, if you're going to claim that you're not meeting with extreme groups, then don't meet with extreme groups.  And yes, Mormon Women Stand is an extreme group.  In response to Ordain Women, they describe themselves as women who "unequivocally sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles."  That may seem perfectly harmless at first, but unequivocal doesn't leave much space for doubt and concern.  The expectation of unequivocal stifles innovation and creativity in solving problems the Church and local congregations face.

Mormon Women Stand and Ordain Women are the opposite extremes in the discussion of women's issues in the Church.  So let's not claim that we're not meeting with extreme groups.

The part I did like: in response to the question of whether women (or men) are ever demeaned or marginalized in the Church, "Yes, of course....What this argues for is better training of leaders and members1."  As it turns out, I just had a brief talk with my bishop about this on Tuesday.  And I can't tell you how relieving it is to have a bishop to whom I can speak of my wholly equivocal support for how the ward is being managed without him calling into question my commitment to the Church.  But we talked about how so many positions in the Church require strong leadership skills, and the Church does next to nothing to teach those skills.  I mean that quite seriously: the Church does next to nothing to teach its members leadership skills.

Sure, we have "leadership training" meetings pretty much every stake conference.  There's one catch to those training meetings, though--you're only invited if you've already been called into leadership.  And most of the leadership training meetings I've been to end up with a public speaking format (ie, usually no interaction between the speaker and the audience) and focus on how we need to "listen to the Spirit" and "ask for and follow inspiration."

I won't argue against those principles.  They are certainly true and valuable.  But how about doing workshops that teach interviewing skills?  How about workshops that teach leaders how to ask questions that get members to evaluate and express their own beliefs?  How about workshops that teach leaders how to build a common vision and inspire people to want to contribute; to do better than manipulate them with "the Lord is calling you and you don't want to let down the Lord, do you?"  When  you possess these skills, the power of inspiration and revelation are magnified many times over.  We should be teaching them routinely.  We should be teaching them to people before they are called into leadership.  We should be teaching these skills to our youth, our home and visiting teachers, and our Sunday school teachers.

Screw it!  We should be teaching these skills to anyone who walks through the door.

So yes, we need better training.  Can we please start by recognizing that our ability to lead is not completely determined by our ability to hear the Spirit?  Can we admit, already, that there are practical skills that we aren't teaching our current and future leaders that, if they developed, would make for a stronger church?  Can we start now?

1 I'm going to ignore for now the fact that the problem isn't really that local leaders sometimes demean and marginalize members, but that there are systemic and cultural forces in the Church's teachings and structure that enable and perpetuate these things.

Friday, May 23, 2014

How to Break the Unbreakable Nalgene (Or, Why I Understand Those Who Leave the Church)

I don't know if Nalgene officially bills its water bottles as unbreakable anymore.  Truthfully, I don't know if it ever did.  I do know that they can withstand an incredible amount of abuse.  You can probably find plenty of clips on YouTube.  But it is surprisingly simple to break one.

Here's a decent video that captures the main points (it's only 50 seconds long).  When you watch, you'll notice that the bottle is full of, not water, but ice.  If you fill the bottle up to the cap, put the cap on, and freeze the bottle for a day or two, all of the water in the bottle will freeze.  The nifty thing about water is that it expands when it freezes.  So if the bottle was full before you froze it, all that ice is going to push on the inside of the bottle, creating a large amount of force pushing outward.  The second component is the drop onto a hard surface.  If the drop is far enough to create enough force, the combined forces pushing inward and outward will be enough to break that virtually indestructible bottle.

By Common Consent ran a post yesterday titled "Our Sisters are Leaving," in which the author discusses how some of the Church's public relations choices may influence some men (and women) to leave the Church.  Especially when the PR choices implicitly endorse hyper conservative positions on gender roles.

I believe the Church needs to make changes in how it addresses gender issues.  I'm convinced that there are several Church leaders who believe it needs to change the way it addresses gender issues.  The status quo is inadequate and many of the statements and policy changes in recent years lead me to believe that there will be more changes coming in the future.  But I also see how the Church tries to message these changes, and I also see how incredibly slow and hard fought these changes seem to come.

One of the comments in the BCC blog post stated
if the church is God’s church, however inadequately administrated, you don’t get to wander off and blame it on somebody else. You have to stay, to serve, to contribute, and even enlighten. You don’t really have a choice. What are you going to say? “Yes, God, I felt the BOM was from you, yes, I’ve felt priesthood power, yes, I made covenants, but people weren’t very understanding of my feelings, I didn’t feel valued enough, and your apostles don’t listen to you very well, so I left” I just don’t think that’s going to fly.
Unfortunately, change--kind of like breaking a water bottle--often only comes as a factor of internal and external pressure.  So I get it when people get frustrated that their voices aren't heard.   I can relate to how it feels to be marginalized because you have some of those 'crazy ideas.'  I understand the temptation to express myself with my feet, walk out the doors, and not come back.  I've sat on the precipice of leaving the Church twice in my life1.

Alas, I am a promote-change-from-the-inside kind of guy.  If you're feeling like you don't have a place in the Church; if you feel a desire to leave it, know this: I don't want you to leave.  I also don't want to you live in constant pain at church.  I want you to stay and help build a network of saints that can support change.  But I also understand if that is a burden too heavy for your soul to bear right now.

To you I say, "please, don't go."  But if you do, know that I still value you.  I will always consider you an ally and a friend.  And I hope that as I push on that bottle from the inside I'll see your familiar hands, opposite mine, pushing firmly from the outside.

1 And one time even had a full exit plan established.