Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Matters or Tatters?

The Salt Lake Tribune broke a story Saturday (2/23/08) about the Danzigs, a married couple who resigned from the Church over what they termed matters of conscience. I suggest you read the Tribune article and the official Church response. As both a participant and an observer of Mormonism, the story has grabbed my intense interest. Here are some thoughts about the participants.

The Reporter. Peggy Fletcher Stack is a casual friend of mine, a former employer (for about a month 23 years ago), and my wife has worked with her off and on for about 15 years at the Tribune. She is a lifelong active Mormon with a son on a mission. She is probably a better Mormon than I will ever be. She has a tricky job. She has to cover the Church in a manner that satisfies her employer, her readers and herself. She has to report objectively (as she sees it) but not push the envelope too far. I think she does a good job and I read her stories as much as if not more than anything else in the paper. The Church response to her article is strongly worded and is pointed directly at her. That must put her in a very uncomfortable spot.

The Church. I have been a member all my life and attend my ward regularly. I am deeply interested in how the Church operates as an institution. Sometimes you have to read between the lines to understand what is really happening within the Church because it has such a cohesive, unified appearance. I am a small little piece of the Mormon Church. I read about how the Church is run and watch the wheels roll, but I have almost no part in how and what it does as an institution. This is not that strange given the size of the Church and its hierarchical nature. An average Mormon can have a great deal of impact on in their local congregation in terms of service and community. But greater matters of policy and action are made at much higher levels. For a lay person like me, the article was a glimpse (albeit an incomplete one) into what goes on behind the scenes when someone runs afoul of the institution.

Although the Church is a top down institution, I believe the Church can benefit from the pleas of dissenting members. For example, take the extension of the Priesthood to every worth male. I believe that dissenting voices caused the hierarchy of the Church to think very hard about its denial of the priesthood to blacks. Those at the top of the Church then inquired of the Lord about the rightfulness of the position. The Lord eventually said told them that the ban could be lifted and the terrible policy was done away with. Without pressure from the bottom, the top may not have been prompted to seek guidance and the policy may have remained in place much longer.

The Danzigs. The Danzigs were returned missionaries, temple recommend holders, and active participants in their ward. They appear to have been (and may still be) sincere believers. They volunteered their time and efforts to play in the Orchestra on Temple Square. Mr. Danzig felt strongly that his position was one he could not in good conscience abandon. The situation snowballed until he and his wife felt that they had to resign from the Church or be excommunicated. Mr. Danzig followed the courage of his convictions.

Should Mr. Danzig have kept his concerns to himself? I don’t know. I admire his courage. I certainly don’t have his guts. Was he wrong to accuse the Church of engaging in “intellectual tyranny”? Yes. Those words were unnecessarily inflammatory. Had he used gentler language, he may have been able to make his point without picking a fight he was unlikely to win. Was standing by his conscience worth losing his membership? You tell me.


jupee said...

I find it all so strange. While a agree with you that an accusation of "intellectual tyranny" is inflammatory, the church's response was equally inflamatory, perhaps even more so ("because of the blatant, inappropriate editorializing by the Salt Lake Tribune in what was purported to be a news story.") Danzig is a person and had an emotional response. I think we can forgive him --or at least understand what was going on there. But, what is up with your institution? It seems very un-Hinkley. Do you think it reflects a new tone of the new administration? Cause they way I felt when I read the Church's response was like the way I felt when I saw those pictures of Monson's bride in the SL Trib about a month ago. Viva the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

kpeaslee said...

Sanfy, you've got serious writing chops. Structured, articulate, interesting--not words you can apply to many blog entries.

So I've got a question: did the dissenters who nudged the church toward priesthood for Blacks get booted? If not, how did they soft-pedal well enough to keep membership, yet make enough noise to move a rather immobile church?

Fifthgen said...

I find Danzig's claimed "crisis of conscience" over being asked to write a letter about the marriage amendment to be curious and disingenuous. I, too, heard the statement and the request for letters in sacrament meeting and did what I expect about 98% of the church did - - nothing. After 40+ years as a Mormon Democrat, maybe I just have more practice than Danzig at proving all things and holding fast to that which is good.

I guess I sort of agree with Robert Kirby. See http://www.sltrib.com//ci_8411996?IADID=Search-www.sltrib.com-www.sltrib.com. And, I note that Harry Reid, who took about as public a position as one could against the church on the marriage amendment, was not disciplined. But then, he did not call church leaders tyrants.

pb said...

What does it mean to "win" a fight like this? When you pull out that "divine mandate" card, there's no winning or losing, and no fight. The conversation is just over. Luckily, the Danzigs are now free. Odd that they allowed themselves to be tyrannized for so many years.

jupee said...

Fifthgen: What was the basis of Reid's opposition? Does he publicly support same-sex marriages being given the same protections as marriages between men and women?

Fifthgen said...

Jupee: To answer your question, I believe that Harry Reid believes that marriage should be between a mna and a woman. But, the gist of the Tribune article, including Danzig's quotes, is that Danzig got into trouble for expressing his opposition to the marriage amendment. Reid certainly expressed opposition to the amendment (as have many members of the LDS Church) and voted against it. Danzig claims that there is no room in the Church for the expression of views different from those of LDS Church leadership, using support of the marriage amendment as his example. My point is that Danzig is oversimplifying, and Harry Reid is proof of that.

Sanford Barrett said...

To pb. The Danzigs may be free as you see it but I wonder if they see it that way. They were by all accounts true believing Mormons (and may still be) who greatly valued their Church membership. They struggled to stay in the Church and probably didn’t see their exit as liberation, just a release from a horrible situation. That is why the story is so compelling.

pb said...

sanford barrett: I'm sure you're right. Nevertheless, they are free. Free doesn't equate to happy, secure, comfortable, or content. In fact, as my boy Kris Kristofferson says, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." But it is free. And ultimately it's what the Danzigs picked over what they themselves described as tyranny, even though had they chosen to not confront the tyranny, they would likely have remained happy, secure, comfortable and content. Nevertheless, their choice seems reasonable, as would the other I suppose -- but then there would be no story. That would just be called daily life.

Matt "The Bull" said...

A certain question comes to mind. A question I am asked every couple of years about sympathizing with groups etc. (can't remember the rest) you'd know it if you heard it.
The only reason I can see for the "the churches" response; was that they thought; Danzig call on others to "come forward" must have been some kind of rally cry. VIA the Tribune??
Awful flattering of the Tribune then I say.
If I wrote the same thing on my blog they would probably not care or even know. So what makes this singular form of medial such a threat to them.

Kinda goes against the never negotiate with hostages theory. What I am trying to say is; They should have just ignored the whole thing. I am dissapointed they didn't. They (the church) flattered the Trib by giving such credence.