Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Apostasy in the Church

Elder Faust's general conference address is the classic definition --

James E. Faust, "Keeping Covenants and Honoring the Priesthood"
Ensign, Nov 1993, 36

Free discussion and expression are encouraged in the Church. Certainly the open expressions in most fast and testimony meetings, or Sunday School, Relief Society, and priesthood meetings attest to that principle. However, the privilege of free expression should operate within limits. In 1869, George Q. Cannon explained the limits of individual expression:

"A friend ... wished to know whether we ... considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities of the Church was apostasy. ... We replied that ... we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the Authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing these differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term" (Gospel Truth, sel. Jerreld L. Newquist, 2 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974, 2:276-77).

Among the activities considered apostate to the Church include when members "(1) repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders; (2) persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority; or (3) continue to follow the teachings of apostate cults (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority" (General Handbook of Instructions, 1989, p. 10-3).

Those men and women who persist in publicly challenging basic doctrines, practices, and establishment of the Church sever themselves from the Spirit of the Lord and forfeit their right to place and influence in the Church. Members are encouraged to study the principles and the doctrines of the Church so that they understand them. Then, if questions arise and there are honest differences of opinion, members are encouraged to discuss these matters privately with priesthood leaders.

There is a certain arrogance in thinking that any of us may be more spiritually intelligent, more learned, or more righteous than the Councils called to preside over us. Those Councils are more in tune with the Lord than any individual persons they preside over, and the individual members of the Councils are generally guided by those Councils. In this church, where we have lay leadership, it is inevitable that some will be placed in authority over us who have a different background from our own. This does not mean that those with other honorable vocational or professional qualifications are any less entitled to the spirit of their office than any other. Some of the great bishops of my lifetime included a brickmason, a grocer, a farmer, a dairyman, and one who ran an ice cream business. What any may have lacked in formal education was insignificant. They were humble men, and because they were humble, they were taught and magnified by the Holy Spirit. Without exception, they were greatly strengthened as they learned to labor diligently to fulfill their callings, and to minister to the Saints they were called to preside over. So it is with all of the callings in the Church. President Monson teaches us, "Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies" (Thomas S. Monson, Ensign, May 1988, p. 43).

A couple of formal terms that benefit from a bit of elaboration --

"Special pleading" is a specific reference to a type of logical fallacy. A good general discussion of this topic in Wikipedia .

"Sophistry" refers to a specious argument specifically intended to deceive. A sophism might be crafted to appear logical though actually wrong, could use difficult words and complicated sentences to intimidate the audience, or it might exploit an audience's known prejudices and emotions.

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