Sunday, September 7, 2014

By their fruits shall ye know them," they say. . . but they seem to be forgetting the bushels of rotten fruit.

The church has some interesting ideas about how we mortals can come to "know" things.  If we pray about something and then have good feelings, we can then know that the thing is truly true.  Never mind that the thing is often an object or institution, for which the adjective "true" makes no sense.

Never mind the fact that one can have those same feelings while watching a rated-R movie, or TV-MA television show.  That doesn't mean those movies or shows are "true."

Interestingly, members of the church often cite Matthew's treatise on fruit as a way of knowing that the church is true:

Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruits; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

The LDS church does in fact bring forth many "good fruits." If nothing else, the church  is full of wonderful people with the best of intentions.  Most  believing members of the church are dedicated to their cause, and are genuine in their desire to serve others.  These fruits are those that are held up by the believers as evidence that this is a "good tree."

However, there are many fruits that are simply ignored by the membership, fruits that many would see as coming from a "corrupt tree."  To continue the arboreal metaphor, the church is simply "cherry picking" the fruits it is most proud of, whilst hiding the rancid ones under its bushel.

If we are going to consider all the fruits of this tree, then we must include:

1) Families that are torn apart rather than strengthened.  This happens in a variety of ways:
  • Some family members are left out of temple marriages, whether it be for "unworthiness" or by virtue of simply not being members.  Regardless, the message sent is "you are not worthy to be with us, and you will not be with us in heaven."  
  • It is not uncommon for LDS parents to disown gay children, often as teenagers.  These teens often become homeless, and in some cases choose suicide.
  • Family members who express doubts about the church are often shunned and ostracized by more "believing" members of the family.  In some cases they are cut off completely.  
2) Prophets and Apostles who can't distinguish revelation from their own desires and biases.  The greatest example of this is the denial of the priesthood to an entire race for over 100 years, not because God commanded it, but because of the racist attitudes of those supposedly called by God as his mouthpieces.  If over a century of institutionally sponsored racism isn't a rotten fruit, I don't know what is.

In that same vein are the church's past teachings on homosexuality.  Boyd K Packer previously insisted that homosexuality is not an intrinsic attribute, but simply a selfish choice made by certain individuals.  If they would only stop being so selfish, then they could be cured.  The church liked what he said so much that it printed the talk in a pamphlet to be given to homosexuals.  Recently the church has softened its tone, and seems to at least partially admit that gay people can be born gay.  On the other hand, the institutional church seems to have a hard time even admitting that people are "gay," or "homosexual,"  choosing rather to label gays as people "suffering from same sex attraction."

I could go on and on about other teachings from past leaders which have since been proven or admitted false, but it would be beyond the scope of this discussion.

3)  A tradition of selectively retelling our history, resulting in "whitewashing," whether intentional or not.  At this point the church has been around for 180 years or so.  As time has passed, stories about the foundation of the church have been passed on, with emphasis on the positive, and disregard for the negative.  This has resulted in utter disregard for truth, in an institution that so strongly emphasizes the importance of truth-seeking.  In some cases there HAS been an intentional hiding of information- ie Joseph Fielding Smith tearing out pages from Joseph Smith's journal.

4)  Lay Clergy.  While the concept itself is not necessarily a bad fruit, the results have often been.  The term "priesthood roulette" has been coined, referencing the fact that ward and stake members are often at the mercy of the personality and personal beliefs of those called to "preside" over them.  All too often a bishop or stake president will impose his own, non-doctrinal beliefs onto those below him.

In discussing this, I've heard people exclaim, "The church is perfect, but its members aren't!"  In my opinion, you really can't separate one from another, at least when discussing leadership.  We believe that our leaders are supposed to be inspired and guided in the way they lead, and the decisions they make.  If they make horrible decisions, like it or not, those decisions are fruits that the church is putting out into the world.

4) A growing horde of members and ex-members who feel their lives have been tainted by their exposure to Mormonism, for all of the reasons listed above, and more.  One need only peruse any the many online exmormon communities to hear story after story of those who are angry and hurt by experiences they've had with the church. 

Certainly some of these people simply have "sour grapes" and are using the church as an excuse for their many problems.  That being said, too many of them have truly had negative, sometimes life-shattering experiences. 

Marriages have been broken up by bishops who recommend divorce if a spouse is an unbeliever.  Conversely, wives have been encouraged to stay in abusive relationships and avoid divorce if their husbands make even a token effort to participate in church.

Sexual abuse victims have been blamed for their own abuse (though sometimes their "portion of the blame" has been labeled as "lesser" as if that is supposed to be comforting.)  Bishops have outright failed to report abuse if the abuser is a church member.

Youth have been told that it is better for them to die than lose their chastity.  Girls have been told that their worth plummets if they lose their virginity before marriage. 

"None of these teachings are doctrinal," one might argue.  It doesn't matter.  If someone goes to church, and these are the messages they take home. . . then that is what "the church" is teaching them, and the harm that is done is real, regardless of whether or not the institutional church agrees or not with the message.

The growing number of disaffected members, in my opinion, is the greatest evidence that the church is bearing altogether too much rotten fruit.  If the fruit were so sweet and wonderful, then why are so many leaving with a bitter taste in their mouth?