, I was drawn most to this quotation from Pris' inaugural post on the Manifesto:
"And so, we find ourselves on the edges of orthodoxy, walking the perimeter of the playground of the gospel."
I'll start by explaining a bit about myself, for those that don't know me (and those that do, at that). I'm a convert to the Church of two years. I'd consider myself a good bit short of being a "good" Mormon, but I don't do any of the "bad" things either. Translation: marginally worthy male that does his best sometimes and significantly less than his best other times.
I believe that the Church is true, although it is imperfect. In my estimation, imperfection is an inherent attribute of the influence of mortal man. Less than perfect people, even when inspired, can never do a perfect job all the time. Nevertheless, the Church does provide an invaluable guide to its members and to the world, as well as being the only organization on Earth with the authority to perform the ordinances of the gospel.
This idea led me to an interesting debate with a friend. Riana (pseudonym) and I could not be more different. She is a conservative Republican from Colorado, I am a liberal Democrat from Oklahoma. She is a thin young lady, I am a fat young man. She finds disagreement with the Church to be repugnant in nearly every way, I find it to be an essential part of intellectual and spiritual progress. I do respect her a great deal, but worry that her intelligence is not used well. She respects me some, and believes that I flirt with the high road to apostasy.
I do not believe that everything that is said by a general authority, apostle, or even the prophet can be upheld as doctrine, even when those words are spoken in general conference. Riana believes that if it is said in Conference, it is scripture. Aside from contradictions in Conference talks, my essential argument is the above: imperfection is a part of the human experience. If one wishes to argue that prophets and apostles do a perfect job of stating doctrinal truth, one must argue that they are perfect (at minimum, perfect in their calling). Then, if apostles are perfect in their calling, three questions immediately arise:
2) What of the obvious imperfections that we've seen in the Quorum of the Twelve in the past? The early history of the Church saw the disfellowshipping of a number of apostles and (I believe) one excommunication. Somebody had to be wrong there. Things have been taught in Conference concerning a number of issues that the Church no longer upholds. Do these things not count? Did we reach a point of perfection in the recent past? If so, when?
3) Where does the chain of perfection in callings end and why? We're all called to something in our ward or stake by the same priesthood that calls prophets and apostles. I know that I'm not perfect in my calling. I know the bishop isn't perfect in his. So where does it start? Are stake presidents perfect? What about area authority seventies? Maybe the Presidency of the Seventy? Or just the senior apostles? Asserting perfection seems to carry lots of baggage.
A couple of the things that Riana pointed out deserve some significant attention. For example, this talk by Elder Holland
in the April 2003 Conference brings up some difficult issues associated with being skeptical or questioning. Being too skeptical can lead to a broader apathy or apostasy. This I grant, with a few caveats:
1) Elder Holland is mostly talking about basic things. It is vitally important to be convinced that Jesus is the Christ, that the First Vision happened, that the Church possesses the authority of the priesthood, and the like. It isn't so important to be convinced of white shirts, the importance of a clean-shaven man, or other cultural things that have nothing to do with doctrine. It might well be a sin to drink caffeine (I'm lukewarm on this one), but it certainly isn't the most pressing issue in our journey to eternal salvation, unless you're a lot better than me.
2) Elder Holland's talk is entitled "A Prayer for the Children". He's dead right that you shouldn't be teaching skepticism about basic principles to your children. Intellectual discourse should be saved for a time when maturity is sufficient to handle it. One should teach the difference between doctrine and norms, but one should not teach skepticism that can be overblown. His argument is specific to parents and one's duty as a parent should be separated from one's duty as an individual.
The point that I want to make, before this gets too long, is that conformity with the standards of the gospel is quite important. However, we shouldn't mistake conformity with the culture, conformity with traditions, or conformity with norms with the "conformity" that Joseph Smith and Elder Holland reference (see D&C 128:13
The point of sustaining leaders isn't to assert their perfection, but to stand by them despite it. I know that my bishop has not given me perfect counsel. He wanted me to go on a mission at a time that I knew would not be right. Nevertheless, he cares a lot about the ward and does the best he can to make us happy. I don't owe him unquestioned or universal obedience when he isn't right. But I do owe him respect for taking a hard job and trying to make the best of it and I owe him the respect of not dragging him through the mud for imperfections.
I'll close with a paragraph from Elder Holland's talk that I think best illustrates what conformity ought to mean, especially when we're teaching others:
"Nephi-like, might we ask ourselves what our children know? From us? Personally? Do our children know that we love the scriptures? Do they see us reading them and marking them and clinging to them in daily life? Have our children ever unexpectedly opened a closed door and found us on our knees in prayer? Have they heard us not only pray with them but also pray for them out of nothing more than sheer parental love? Do our children know we believe in fasting as something more than an obligatory first-Sunday-of-the-month hardship? Do they know that we have fasted for them and for their future on days about which they knew nothing? Do they know we love being in the temple, not least because it provides a bond to them that neither death nor the legions of hell can break? Do they know we love and sustain local and general leaders, imperfect as they are, for their willingness to accept callings they did not seek in order to preserve a standard of righteousness they did not create? Do those children know that we love God with all our heart and that we long to see the face—and fall at the feet—of His Only Begotten Son? I pray that they know this."
Unorthodox probably does describe me, but I think the questions above form the heart of "the playground of the gospel". As long as you're on these slides, I think you're doing pretty well.