Activism and the Church

I often like to go into each General Conference (a twice-a-year church wide meeting where church leaders give talks on a variety of topics) with a specific question in mind. We believe these people are led by God. What’s the point of modern day revelation if it doesn’t answer the questions you have about the modern day? Honestly, I have yet to do this and not come away from the meetings with a better understanding or feeling about whatever it was I needed clarification about.

This time, I had one real issue that’s been on my thoughts a lot. I’m tired. Tired of feeling like there are problems in the church that aren’t being addressed. Tired of having discussions with friends and family in the church who are struggling. Tired of trying to help them keep their faith. Tired of trying to help guide my children through difficult topics where the church’s stance can seem to conflict with itself. For the last several conferences, I’d hoped there would be a talk that would address these issues head on, since it’s felt to me like they just get ignored. So this time, that was my focus. I prayed I would hear something that would help me understand this better, and handle it better.

If you don’t know much about General Conference, it’s a lot of meetings. Three 2 hour broadcasts on Saturday and two 2 hour broadcasts on Sunday. We watch all of them in my family. It’s honestly a nice weekend where you get to just sit and relax, work on some small projects if you have them, and pretend that you didn’t take a nap now and then in the middle of the talks. By the end of it, I’m always pretty conferenced out. But I really wanted an answer on this issue, so I did my best to stay alert. I even took notes, which I often do not. Anything to keep focused, since I didn’t want to miss something that might help answer my question.

By the time the fifth session rolled around, I was still coming up empty. I did my best in the fifth session, but I began to drift off, especially toward the last half of the meeting. I did perk up a little at the third to last talk, given by Elder Ahmad Corbitt, since he used to work for my parents, and I’ve known him/known of him for a long time. So it was interesting to see him giving a talk on such a big platform. Even then, I lost focus after a few minutes. I couldn’t even really tell you what his talk was about.

Then, out of nowhere, a single sentence really jumped out at me. “Parents, if your child struggles with a gospel principle or prophetic teaching, please resist any type of evil speaking or activism toward the Church or its leaders. These lesser, secular approaches are beneath you and can be lethal to the long-term faithfulness of your child.”

Honestly, my first reaction was to bristle. Here I’d been looking for an answer this whole conference, and when something close to what I wanted to know about came up, it was just to say I shouldn’t criticize or try to change anything? Just keep on going on, as if there were no problem at all? I hadn’t been listening to his talk for a bit, so perhaps I’d missed some context to the statement. Being a librarian, my first instinct was to research it and see what else Elder Corbitt might have said about the topic. Googling “Corbitt activism” brought me to this article right off. In it, it’s clear Elder Corbitt wasn’t speaking out of context. He goes so far as to say that activism toward the church is one of the biggest traps used today to undermine faith.

Again, my first instinct was to dismiss the claim. How could wanting people to improve be a bad thing? Wasn’t this just telling people to shut up, even if there are valid issues? Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to fix those issues? But as I kept reading, and as I kept thinking about the issue, my opinion changed to the point that I was in complete agreement with it. He breaks the typical process down into three steps, showing how it can be harmful:

  1. “Focus the rising generation and the valiant generally away from the doctrine of Christ and onto real or imagined unfairness or injustice in the Lord’s Church and the imperfections of its leaders.
  2. “Use this shift in focus to stir up feelings of disillusionment, annoyance, resentment, anger and hatred toward Church policies, declarations, proclamations, principles, doctrines and eventually leaders.
  3. “Manipulate these negative impulses to instigate the use of worldly or secular activism or advocacy rather than the doctrine of Christ to effect change in the kingdom of God.”

He also clarified, “Please do not misunderstand. I am not at all saying ATC’s causes are not important or good or often pursued in good faith,” he said. “A light bulb must be changed to avoid darkness and restore light. My simple point is a hammer is not the right tool for that job. All needed and appropriate changes in the kingdom of God are God’s work to bring to pass.”

As I looked back on my issues with this topic, and on the arc I’d seen friends and loved ones travel, this really resonated with me. Once you start looking at one problem, turning all your efforts to change it or fix it, then you start to see other issues you also feel need fixing. Your focus shifts away from faith and toward criticism. You ignore all the good things about your church and judge it solely by the bad things. And after all, shouldn’t a church that claims to be true not have any bad things at all? Shouldn’t it be perfect?

Except I know it isn’t perfect, and the church itself teaches that. The people leading it are people. The people practicing it are people. And people have problems. If I have a friend who has one or two issues I don’t agree with, I don’t toss my friend out on their ear. I appreciate them for the good qualities they have.

Does the church have issues? Yes. Do I wish those issues were fixed? Yes. Do I know how to fix them? No. So what do I do about it? I will continue to do what I’ve been doing: try to practice my faith to the best of my abilities. Try to be forgiving and welcoming of everyone, regardless of their politics or orientation or pronouns or any thing else. And I’ll extend that forgiveness and understanding to church leaders, who I genuinely believe are trying their best to make the right decision and lead the church accordingly.

I realize this whole train of thought won’t help everyone. I also understand there will be a good chunk of people who start bandying about words like “blind faith.” I have no real refutation against it, except to say this. Before General Conference at the beginning of this month, I’d been upset about this for quite some time. I prayed for a way to understand it, and through this talk, something clicked for me in a way it hadn’t before. And now I’m not conflicted about it anymore. I have a much better idea how to talk to friends and family during those difficult discussions. How to give my children advice as they need it.

My prayer was answered, not in the way I expected at all, but answered nonetheless. Even with me snoozing when I should have been paying attention.

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