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.