A few months back, a faithful friend had someone in her ward report her to the bishop for swearing on Facebook.
It started to pick up around Wear Pants to Church Day; possibly because the event gave many Mormons a reason to start sharing their more unorthodox opinions openly with friends and family online. A woman reported a fellow ward member to her stake leadership for sharing articles critical of church policy on Facebook. A man was turned in for a blog post questioning the words of an Apostle. There have been at least a dozen incidents that I heard of since December: incidents where people I associate with online have faced a chat with the bishop because someone in their ward didn’t like something they shared on the Internet.
Do you know what we call this at my house?
“Moooooom, So-And-So won’t share her toy.”
“Mooo-ooom, she’s touching me!”
When Jesus encouraged followers to “become as a little child,” I do not believe this is what he had in mind.
How should an adult deal with an adult when they disagree?
Not like this:
“You obviously have no understanding of the Gospel.”
“If you really believed in God you would agree with me.”
“How dare you cause contention!”
And certainly not like this:
“You should be excommunicated.”
“You must be not love your children, because you obviously don’t value your role as a mother.”
“You don’t understand what it means to be a woman.”
“If you don’t like the church the way it is, you should leave.”
“You must be stupid.”
These are not words that a Latter-Day Saint should be using against anyone, even online, no matter what the offense. And we should certainly not be using them against each other. I have personally been on the receiving end of every comment listed above and more. As comments like this piled up during “Pantsocalypse,” the unexpected lack of empathy and the stress it caused wore me down. I hadn’t even considered that people would not only disregard my opinions but would turn so fiercely on me, their Sister, over something I had thought small. We were supposed to have a special bond and a certain respect for each other as Mormons, and to see people reject that so quickly and thoroughly left me in pain, spiritually and physically. I eventually gave in to anger, and spit daggers back at people who had not even asked for them.
The event ended up getting national attention. The nation watched us do this to each other. It was ugly. It was mean. It wasn’t worthy of Saints. And as more people have decided to be open about their beliefs, the ugly words have continued.
They need to stop.
I think the issue is best broken down as follows.
1 Stating one’s own opinion is not the same thing as arguing or “causing contention,” even if you believe that opinion goes against church doctrine.
“And the Lord called his people Zion, for they were of one heart and one mind.”
This scripture does not mean we are all supposed to have the same opinions, or even exactly the same religious beliefs.
“I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:340)
Telling everyone hold to their tongues and pretend there is only one opinion is not unity. It’s weird. It isn’t of God. It doesn’t actually encourage love. It encourages self-righteousness and misunderstanding on both sides, and it’s not what unity is truly about. The differences between us will be there no matter what, forming rifts, whether we allow for open discussion, or whether we pretend there is only one opinion. If we pretend, they remain hidden under a smiling friendly facade while each person continues on believing they are more righteous than those who disagree. No real growth happens. No real love develops. No true unity occurs. True unity happens when we can face each other, state our differences calmly and with maturity and compassion, do our best to empathize with the other party, and continue love and acceptance regardless of whether they change their mind. The Mormon belief is that Christ suffered not only for our sins, but every single thing every person has ever suffered, so that he can understand us and advocate for us. So shouldn’t we be doing our best to suffer with people who are suffering, who have questions or don’t want to question, so that we can understand them and comfort them, rather than turning on them? Rather than telling them they are foolish, apostate, ungrateful, and that their suffering is their own fault? Comparing them to sheep for refusing to see it our way? Or insisting they should be quiet about their questions so as not to disturb the “unity”?
2 Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
Don’t kid yourself into thinking you are showing love to God or to your neighbor by rebuking someone rudely, calling them to repentance for disagreeing with you, telling them they are stupid, and especially telling them that they should just leave. It is the most cruelly ironic thing to watch someone talk about how important obedience is and then, in the same breath, show such a lack of love to their fellow humans. Take a variation on the advice we give Kindergarteners: if you can’t respond with maturity and respect, then maybe you’d better move on or ask for a change in topic.
Showing love for others includes acknowledging their experiences, even if those experiences differ from your own. For example, just because it is hard for me to be a stay-at-home parent, does not mean I should insist that no one enjoys being a stay at home parent, or that people who do are somehow wrong. Conversely, just because you have never had a damaging chastity/virtue object lesson (see licked cupcake, nails in a board), does not mean they are not a problem. We show love for each other by respecting differences, using mature language, accepting that experiences outside our own realm of understanding still have meaning, and making an effort to reach out and understand the concerns of those we don’t agree with.
3 Don’t report people to the bishop. The end.
Bishops are there to hear our confessions, to keep the ward organized, and to see to the needs of the people in its boundaries. Tattling is completely inappropriate. That sort of behavior does not help anyone, short of situations that involve abuse, and in those cases it is better to take it to the police or other trained professionals. Matthew 18:15 says: “if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” In other words, do not try to resolve your differences by reporting them behind their back.
The issues being brought up by questioning members are not going to go away. The Internet, a previously unavailable window into the minds of our neighbors, is not going to go away. This is an opportunity for us to show what our church is made of; not by silencing unorthodox opinions or mocking those who can’t see things our way, but by showing a quality of patience, love, and humility fitting of a people who call themselves Saints. We need to take the opportunity, learn from our mistakes, and move forward together. Otherwise, we continue to rip the rift wider. And who wants to find out what happens then?