Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Questioning in the Church

I am Mormon.  This is the only religion I am intimately familiar with, so my thoughts center around this religion.  I would be interested to know how this topic is addressed in other religions, as well as what my Mormon friends think.  Feel free to share your feelings in the comments.


What do you do if you are asked to do something by a spiritual leader but don't feel good about it?  What do you do if you hear something taught at church that doesn't feel quite right?  Or what if it all sounds okay, but you want to know for sure?

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), we believe in continuing revelation.  We believe God will communicate to each of us individually if we seek it and listen.

And yet, there is often a judgment that occurs if someone questions something.  This is not doctrine.  This is not taught in our church.  But is it practiced by many in the society of our church.  And it hasn't been uncommon in my life to find people so sure about what is right and what is wrong simply based on what is socially acceptable within the church but with no doctrinal basis -- and judging others based on those standards.

Questioning is often associated with apostasy.  If someone doesn't believe everything that is taught, if someone seeks for themselves, they are often seen as falling away.  And I can speak from my life's experience and say that questioning is sometimes a part of personal apostasy (probably most of the time, but my experience is limited and I don't want to make a broad judgment).

But questioning also leads to further light and knowledge.  It leads to a stronger testimony.  Questioning is what led to Joseph Smith's first vision which started the whole restoration of the gospel.

Where is the line?

And beyond questioning doctrine, what about questioning leaders?  We have often been counseled in our church to avoid evil speaking of the Lord's anointed.  I have heard this to be interpreted many times as "never say anything negative about anyone in a calling of leadership."

Well, I looked up evil speaking on the church website.  It is defined as "saying things that are wrong, hurtful, and wicked."

The commonly accepted definition, never say anything negative, would allow evil to thrive.  Abuse of all kinds would be allowed to continue for fear of evil speaking of the Lord's anointed.  In fact, it has in the past.  In our church as well as others.  Certainly we should be able to see that keeping our mouths shut when something doesn't feel right is not a wise choice.  And speaking up is not a sin.

So where is the line between disagreeing with a leader's decisions and saying so and challenging their stewardship and authority?

Many people in my life have expressed attitudes that support blind obedience.  I absolutely do not support it and don't believe God does either.  God wants people who will study it out with their minds and hearts and choose to follow Him.  He wants enlightened obedience.

He wants people to have the freedom to think for themselves and not be judged or excluded because of it.  He wants people to hunger and thirst after righteousness and further knowledge.  He wants people who draw near to Him, seeking answers and/or confirmation.

We each make mistakes or hurt people in our various callings at one time or another, even our leaders.  We are not expected to be perfect.  But hopefully we grow and become better.  Sometimes this requires the honest feedback of someone who doesn't think what we are doing is right.

Talking behind someone's back about all the things we think they are doing wrong isn't kind and won't solve anything (we shouldn't do it about anyone).  But I believe sometimes we need to talk things out with a friend to see things clearly.  Not all talk about what we don't like that someone else does is gossip or back-biting.  Sometimes it's problem solving.  An honest seeking for truth.

But I do believe all questioning in the church needs to involve God.  I believe we need to pour our hearts out to Him and seek His guidance and answers, with or without consulting friends or the handbook or scriptures.

And we need to quit judging others and allow the honest questions and struggles of a true heart.


jen said...

Well I for one wholeheartedly agree with you. I wonder if the reason so many people in the church grow up without ever having gained a testimony is because they were never encouraged to question when they were young. How else are you going to gain a testimony? The only problem with questioning the church is when you don't turn to God with your questions. It's also true that this church is led by imperfect people who sometimes need a little help figuring out what they're supposed to be doing. I was once asked in an interview if I paid tithing on my gross or net salary. I told him, "You're not supposed to ask me that." He was a good man who was trying to do what's right, but he had been given some bad information and didn't know he was doing something wrong. Anyway, if your heart is in the right place you won't be saying evil things about anyone anyway.

Scott & Luann said...

"He wants enlightened obedience". That sums it all up. Not sheep who blindly follow, but people who have opinions and work through issues and sometimes question why so that they can find the truth of something.

Bonnie said...

We are all learning to get our attitudes right. It takes a lifetime. I have been a very judgmental person in my life. I think I'm much less so now, and I'm sure I have much, much more to learn. I'm tickled by something Sheri Dew has often said. It was something someone else told her years ago: "Never let yourself be offended by someone who is learning his job." I believe it was Elder Faust who said it. I think our questioning is always productive when it is paired with humility. But I've had to learn that that's my job.

Foreverhja said...

Never let yourself be offended by someone who is learning his job. Thanks, Bonnie, that one has been committed to memory. Robin, I love the term "enlightened obedience."

AJ said...

"And we need to quit judging others and allow the honest questions and struggles of a true heart."

I love this quote. I need to remember it more often :)

Thank you for this post!

AJ | TheAJMinute

Michelle said...

Enlightened obedience, freedom to think for ourselves...I personally believe you've got it right. I get so frustrated when people judge...they are not God.

Mothering From Scratch said...

{Melinda} I agree. God is not afraid of us questioning Him and asking Him for answers to His ways that we don't understand. David did it. So did Jonah. Jacob, too. He invites a respectful wrestling and working out of our faith. And God is perfect. He really does know best. Always.

So if God invites our questions -- and He's the Creator of the universe -- then I think that humans should, too. It's called accountability and we all need it, and I'd say it's especially important for leaders. I agree -- being forbidden to question can lead to all kinds of abuses and bad things.

Unknown said...

I've never joined any religion because I have never liked anyone else telling me what to think or how to think; and I definitely appreciate the freedom of questioning everything. I know in my heart the difference between right and wrong regardless of what someone else says about a thing. I believe our conscious is the voice of God. That is how God speaks to all of us; and I for one don’t need an interpreter when God speaks because He speaks very clearly. I believe you know the answers to all your questions, so it’s up to you to listen to the voice of God, which might be a little easier to do if so many others weren't talking over Him and sometimes even contradicting Him.

Rachel Cotterill said...

Everyone makes mistakes, probably even every day... I'm with you that a healthy community has to allow and encourage its members to ask wise questions and seek the answers. An open dialogue is the only way, I think.

The Dose of Reality said...

I love this post. I actually left my church because I questioned their stance on a particular subject. I did it in a totally nice and open way, truly seeking answers, but was completely surprised when the response I got was so hateful and mean spirited.
To me, questioning leads to deeper understanding in most matters, including religion. --Lisa

Mandi Noel said...

I don't feel like you will ever agree with any church leader 100% on everything. Not if you have an inquisitive mind and like to search and verify answers on your own. Christianity is a particularly tough one, too, because although the basic tenants are pretty much the same throughout all denominations, other details are different from denomination to demonination. In the end, you choose the denomination that most aligns with your personal beliefs, but even then, not every single detail will add up the same for each person. Since we are all going through different things, I believe some parts of God's word can mean different things to different people, and that's okay. As long as we are seeking Him, we will receive the answer that He has for us as an individual. So, I definitely agree with you and say that we shouldn't judge others for disagreeing or questioning things. Only God is our judge.