Second to Murder

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by Elizabeth Siler Moore

It’s been a hard couple years to be a progressive Mormon.

It’s entirely possible it’s because I’ve been paying more attention, but really, the number of things that have happened in the last year and a half or so have been difficult to deal with. The excommunications. The lies about the Ordain Women movement. Millions of tithing dollars spent fighting marriage equality. Elder Oaks claiming the church doesn’t apologize for anything. Threatening to leave the Boy Scouts of America over the decision to allow gay leaders. Elder Ballard saying that women shouldn’t talk too much in ward councils. Elder Perry calling some families “counterfeit.” Planning on building a city in Florida. Gospel topic essays that – while admitting to many important facts – obscure and twist the truth.

As a result of all of this, I find myself standing in the doorway, toeing the threshold, and wondering if this is even the place for me anymore. I’ve never had testimony issues – I’ve generally liked the temple, I value the Book of Mormon, and I believe Joseph Smith, while hardly perfect, was divinely inspired. I’d like to believe there was some inspiration in calling the apostles and other leaders of the church, too, but the events of the last couple years have me wondering. How much inspiration is really involved, and how much of it is just business sense and trying to do what they believe to be right?

I’ve been labelled apostate for my beliefs before. I’ve had very concerned people counsel me not to lose my testimony as I stress over all these “little” details. But though it might not look like it, my testimony is still there in some form. On the days when I struggle most, I’ve lamented that I wish I could stop believing so I could move on, because this middle place is so hard to live in. On one hand, I feel attached to these quirky Mormon beliefs you can’t find anywhere else, and feel a niggling sense of “you can’t leave The True Church behind!” On the other hand, I feel as though I can’t continue to support an organization that behaves in this manner, with either my time or my resources.

I was reading the Book of Mormon the other day, and I came to the well-known chapter where Alma is upbraiding his son, Corianton, for running off with a harlot instead of tending to his mission work. The standard interpretation of this chapter being that sexual sin is second only to murder. Reading more closely though, I’m not so sure this is the case. In verse 4, Alma is not focusing on the sexual sin of his son; rather, he’s upset because Corianton “should have tended to the ministry wherewith [he] was entrusted.” He goes on to tell his son that he brought iniquity to the Zoramites, because “when they saw [Corianton’s] conduct, they would not believe in [Alma’s] words” (Alma 39:11). The Holy Spirit told Alma to teach his sons to behave “lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction” (Alma 39:12).

Alma isn’t focusing on sexual sin at all. Corianton’s poor conduct was the catalyst for Alma’s remarks. Alma didn’t expound on the power of creation, God controlling who goes into and out of the world, or any of the other justifications we have for the doctrine of sexual sin. Corianton’s sin could be replaced with any other sin and the passage would still make sense. Could it be that “the sin second to murder” is  leading people away from Christ?

While this seems a favorite accusation to lob at progressive Mormons, I’m not sure it accurately fits us. In the book of Alma, we see both Nehor and Korihor causing troubles for the nascent church; Nehor from within and Korihor from without. Alma condemned Nehor’s priestcraft and Korihor’s atheism, of course, but they were not told that their actions and teachings were “most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost” (Alma 39:5). The difference with Corianton, then, is that he is an official representative of the Church. When the Zoramites saw an official representative behaving as he did, they didn’t want to be associated with such a church.

General Authorities may be inspired, but at the same time they are also very human and make mistakes. Brigham Young introduced wild new doctrines we disavow today. Apostle Amasa Lyman was excommunicated for his adulterous conduct. Paul H. Dunn fabricated numerous stories in his Conference talks. In the recent Race and the Priesthood essay, the church essentially admits banning blacks from the temple and the priesthood was a mistake based on Brigham Young’s racism. Despite all the “follow the prophet, don’t go astray” talk, President Uchtdorf admitted, “there have been times when members or leaders of the Church have made mistakes” (“Come Join With Us”, October 2013).

The current church line is that if you follow the prophet, “if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it” (Conference Report, October 1960, p. 78). We’re told we need to stay in the Church no matter what. Realistically, though, there are many cases when leaving the Church is simply better for one’s mental health. While I haven’t left entirely, I have taken a step back because I’m tired. I’m tired of crying over the stressful things that filter down from the top.

I am done feeling guilty though. Based on my reading of Alma, I feel the guilt is on the heads of Church leaders for making harmful, non-doctrinal decisions; not mine. Indeed, in the New Testament Jesus Christ Himself even says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6, NIV).

I’m not accusing the leaders of the Church of apostasy – I don’t feel that’s a claim I can make. However, I can point to plenty of examples beyond my own personal experience where Church leaders’ arrogant words have caused pain for believing members. Elder Bednar tells us that “to be offended is a choice we make” (“And Nothing Shall Offend Them,” October 2006), but this shifts the blame to the victim, allowing for no accountability from those who lead us. Like Corianton, their behavior is “lead[ing] the hearts of many people to destruction” while they operate under the belief that they are infallible and cannot lead the Church astray.

We’ve all seen many people step away from the Church. If you have friends or family who have done so and have been worried for them, or if you are considering it for your own sanity but have been hesitant to follow through, take a deep breath. The sin is not upon the one who forsakes the Church in order to find Christ, but upon the leadership that led the one to believe Christ was no longer to be found in their institution.

 

Person Walking Alone on Beach, Image Catalog, licensed under CC0 1.0

10 Comments

  1. August 26, 2015    

    I agree with your interpretation. For me, the clincher is that in Alma 39:5, Alma says “these things”. Why would he use the plural there if he’s only talking about the singular sexual sin? I believe that Alma is saying that the combination of everything that Corianton has done is what makes it so grievous, not any one particular thing.

  2. August 26, 2015    

    Great post! This is such an interesting point about Church leaders that I hadn’t ever thought of before in this way. I think you’re spot on.

  3. August 26, 2015    

    What a painful position to be in. You know more than I did when I left for my mental health. It took me years to finally leave behind the belief system and discover none if it was true after all. At that point, I felt an immense amount of relief, because I didn’t have to do weekday you’re doing. I hope your exit is as painless as possible.

  4. August 26, 2015    

    Powerful message. My testimony of the scriptures is strengthened when I see the (sometimes strikingly precise) ways in which they condemn certain practices taking place in the LDS institution and culture. Perhaps this is an example of weak things becoming strengths, or of the Lord accomplishing great things through weak individuals—albeit not in the ways we typically assume. I’m reminded of D&C 136:19, which reads: “And if any man shall seek to build up himself, and seeketh not my counsel, he shall have no power, and his folly shall be made manifest.” (This was a revelation given to Brigham Young, which adds a hefty dose of irony to it.) Making follies manifest seems as legitimate a way for God to speak to us as anything. Sometimes those follies are our own, and sometimes they are not.

  5. W's Gravatar W
    August 26, 2015    

    Some great points! Reminds me of a Sunstone article I enjoyed years back:

    https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/143-34-43.pdf

    • August 26, 2015    

      Oh my goodness, thank you so much for sharing! I sincerely had NO idea about the existence of this article (though I did feel that surely I wasn’t the only one who had come up with this interpretation). I am looking forward to reading this!

  6. Austin's Gravatar Austin
    August 27, 2015    

    I am not a Christian, but was raised as one. I remember the first religious shock at about 13 years old. I’d been told that masturbation was a sin, that there was a passage in the old Testament about God punishing a man who had spilled his seed upon the ground. When I actually read the referred passage, it wasn’t about masturbation, it was about the man not wanting to bed his dead brother’s wife, and thus did not impregnate her. I felt manipulated and lied to. Over the next few decades I came to realize that no organization, be it religious or secular, has any claim to perfection. There will always be those who need to control and manipulate, and the most successful of those people rise to leadership positions. They always hide behind morality, superiority, and integrity, as their cover-story and justification for what is really nothing more than the intense desire to control other people and to distract the controlled ones from seeing their hypocrisy.

    I came across your article because I follow an ex-Mormon who discusses these same issues and occasionally posts other people’s blogs. It’s fascinating to learn about the Mormon religion and culture.

  7. Nelgin's Gravatar Nelgin
    August 27, 2015    

    As a former bishop, I found my way out 18 years ago as a result of some of the same questions and many others. You are a very smart lady. You will find your way.

  8. scarlett_girl's Gravatar scarlett_girl
    August 27, 2015    

    You write the words of my thoughts. I’ve finally made the decision to go. It’s not because I’ve had a faith crisis. It’s because the church has a truth crisis. I wish you well on your journey.

  9. Adibobea9's Gravatar Adibobea9
    August 27, 2015    

    I welcome an LDS member to think for themselves, but be careful not to think outside the box. You make a lot of valid points and I myself have had to separate the business side of the church with the doctrine of the church. Because so many friends and family have denied the faith, I too look from other points of view to better understand their reasoning.

    However, the values, morals, and most importantly the gospel principles have remained the same despite the faults of man. I know in whom I have trusted and I don’t put my faith in the arm of flesh. I understand many leave based on popular world views or label themselves as progressive Mormons but God is unchanging and if you study other parts of the scriptures you’ll find more things the church is still doing right than what you may consider questionable behavior.

    God is over all and as long as His church continues to be led by one of His prophets, I will continue to support and uplift. I will continue to spread the message of the good news. I will trust in my Savior and Lord Jesus Christ and forever stay true to the doctrine he established while on earth. The stone is rolling and nothing can stop it from progressing…

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