Many people, Mormon or not, have followed the recent events in the Mormon Church with a keen interest. For the last couple of months, disciplinary councils, excommunications, and church resignations galore have sat in the forefront, the effects of intense debates and often major conflicts in a mostly peaceful American religious movement. This post is the first of what could be many, where my intentions are to air out my own concerns, struggles I continue to experience because of what I see as a mishandling of men and women, people’s salvation (by their church standing), and a lack of clear guidance from church leadership in many of these matters, despite the best efforts of many true-blue-Mormons (TBMs) to wrest the scriptures and the words of the prophets into their own persecutive agenda. And why persecute? Why treat women and men whose beliefs don’t perfectly align with theirs? Why play the same role as many early persecutors of the Mormon Church? It’s simple. For Mormons, it’s all about the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the King James Bible (KJV):
“Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people. Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment” (Matt 7:1-2 JST).
And here’s a reminder of these exact verses in the KJV:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
Too many Mormons see themselves as privileged to provide that righteous judgment because, after all, they know “the truth.” So here I begin what will at best be a series of focused posts with continuity and a clear narrative structure that is easy to follow, or at worst, it will be a chunky mess, a patchwork of all the thoughts parading through my mind the last couple of months—all the things I have wanted to write about exsanguinated into one long (hopefully coherent) series of statements.
Yes, I am Mormon. Yes, I judge people. I am not immune to this cultural misconception, but I often recognize it, nowadays, and try to understand it, to understand why I feel compelled to judge someone. It often leads me to ponder the prejudices with which Mormon culture and traditions have imbued me. After decades of indoctrination, paradigm shifts can take a lot of time and effort, regardless of how fast we want them to happen, regardless of how enlightened we feel.
The biggest frustration about the JST scripture quoted above is that it is a singular piece in a narrative filled with conflicting examples. Jesus didn’t just speak powerful words, he performed powerful acts. In his words, yes, but much more often in his actions, Jesus shows people how not to judge. Have these judgmental Mormons forgotten the woman taken in adultery? According to the law, she should have been stoned, but in perhaps the most powerful moment in Jesus’ mortal ministry, he demonstrates exactly what he meant by not judging others and what he meant by tending to the beam in one’s own eye. As he drew in the dirt at his feet, perhaps many of us have imagined Jesus spelling out the sins of every individual present until she or he left:
“When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:10-11).
Yes, Jesus, though choosing not to condemn the woman, did judge her. However, lest we forget, Jesus is a god, God the Son, and as modern Mormon Scripture declares, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:10). Also, he performed his sacred duty in private. Everyone else had left. Ultimately, the woman’s sin was between her and the Lord, with whom we are all to work out our own salvation, not the salvation of others.
So who are these people the Lord commands us not to judge? E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E. This includes, on my part, doing my best not to judge leaders whom I think have made wrong choices. I understand that ours is not a professional clergy. I understand that all of us are human and, therefore, prone to mistakes. However, I always believe it is far more important to err on the side of caution, on the side of the individual when what that leader does can impact that individual’s salvation.
Also, we should not judge women and men we might conceive as apostates, simply because they don’t follow long-held cultural traditions and performances. Condemn neither John Dehlin, of the Mormon Stories Podcast, because he seeks for all walks of Mormons to share her or his story regardless of the potential fallout, nor Kate Kelly, of Ordain Women, simply because she has serious questions about clear inequality in the Mormon Church and has sought to address it logically. Condemn not Rock Waterman, of Pure Mormonism, because he wishes to hold the Mormon Church accountable in situations where it appears to ignore its own doctrine or policies, nor a friend, who recently resigned from the church, because, despite “a deep love, affection, and testimony of Joseph Smith, a very personal relationship and testimony of The Book of Mormon, and most of all, … in Jesus Christ,” he “cannot in good faith, and for the betterment of [his] family, continue to be associated with the church as it stands in the 21st century … [or] justify staying because of a growing divide between [him] and it both religious [sic] and morally.”
Such things break my heart.