Summary: America was built on the premise that men are free to believe or not believe in God according to their own desire, and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution grants its citizens the right to freely express whatever opinion they hold. One of the ways people do this is by peacefully protesting and it’s not unusual for people to protest the things that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches in an attempt to persuade them to change its position on certain issues. However, this can sometimes lead to certain members being excommunicated from the church. This article examines the reason why the church takes such action.
In the seventeenth year of the reign of the judges, there came a man whose name was Korihor, and he “began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ. And after this manner did he preach, saying: O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness” (Alma 30:12,13,18).
Korihor firmly believed in what he was preaching, and because of that he felt the need to share his deeply held beliefs with others and convince them to accept his way of thinking. “Now, there was no law against a man [expressing his] belief, for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God… [therefore] if a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege… but if he did not believe in him there was no law to punish him” (Alma 30: 7,9).
America was built on the premise that men are free to believe or not believe in God according to their own conscience, and this concept was enshrined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. More than this, that same amendment grants its citizens the right to freely express whatever opinion they hold. For this reason, everyone has the right to seek converts to their way of thinking by the use of peaceful, non-violent persuasive means.
We see this most visibly in the area of politics, where people vigorously contend with one another in an attempt to sway people to embrace their philosophies, and this is equally true in the area of religion. For example, most religions believe that marriage is ordained by God and is only to be between one man and one woman. However, there is a growing argument that such ideas are not only outdated but discriminatory. More than this, the argument has been made that those who oppose bisexual marriage relationships are homophobic meaning they have a fear of or hatred towards homosexuals.
Women’s rights is another area where there is much disagreement among people, with each side strongly advocating for acceptance of their ideas, and these are just two of many, many different views that are controversial. However, in America the United States Constitution allows everyone the right to freely express their opinions and even seek to convince others to agree with their position.
There are many ways people can do this, and one way that the First Amendment to the Constitution allows is for people to peacefully protest. For this reason, it is lawful for one group of people to gather together to publicly express their opposition to something that another group of people stands for.
Each religious faith has certain defined things they believe in, and this is just as true for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Therefore, it’s not unusual for people to protest the things that this church teaches, and that includes those who are both members of the church as well as those who are not affiliated with it. All of this is perfectly legal and permissible.
The idea behind these protests is to persuade the church leaders to change their position on certain doctrinal beliefs, and when the church chooses not to make the recommended changes, usually the protests become publicly louder, more insistent, and more hostile. And because of this, the public only sees the side of the argument that is the most vocal and the most visible, which can lead to a distorted understanding of the issue.
This is especially true when members who engage in protesting against what their church believes are then “excommunicated.” What this means is that a person’s name is removed from the membership rolls of the church and they are no longer considered to be a member of that religious faith. However, when this happens, the person who has been excommunicated will try to make it appear as though they were kicked out of the church against their will, or that the church is trying to silence dissent, or is demanding unquestioning obedience to their religious leaders, or their leaders are tone deaf and insensitive to the feelings of their members, but this is only one side of the picture. Therefore, it is wise to take a look at the other side.
When someone joins any organization, they do so because they want to, not because they have to, and for that reason they voluntarily are agreeing to abide by the rules of that organization. At the same time no organization is compelled to accept just anyone who wants to be a member. There are requirements that an applicant must meet before an organization will accept them. If later someone doesn’t want to follow the rules of the organization they belong to, they are perfectly free to do so, but the organization is under no obligation to allow such a person to remain associated with them.
When someone who considers themselves to be a member of Christ’s restored church goes around openly complaining about the teachings of their own church, it discourages others from wanting to become a member themselves. As such, these protestors are doing harm to the mission of the church, which is to bring souls to Christ, and in doing this, they’re working against the very faith they say they believe in. In the words of the Book of Mormon, those who do this sort of thing become “a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them” (Mosiah 27:9).
Then why would church leaders, who are committed to teaching what they believe is God’s truth, want to allow someone who is openly complaining about its teachings to remain being a representative of its faith? If someone doesn’t like what the church they belong to believes in, then they have the freedom to leave and become a member of some other church. But it is illogical to say that a member has the absolute right to leave a church if they no longer agree with its teachings but the church has no right to terminate its association with someone who no longer wants to follow its beliefs. That’s not only a double standard, but it’s also unfair and unjust.
However, what the protestors say they want isn’t to radically change what the church teaches, because for the most part they do agree with its doctrines. What they say is that their intent is to help the church make some necessary and needed changes by modifying some outdated ideas that are no longer relevant to today’s society. They point to how Martin Luther didn’t want to leave his Catholic faith but rather his intent was to make some needed reforms within his church. They further argue that since other churches are doing this, that the leadership of Christ’s restored church should be just as willing to consider looking at becoming more responsive to the needs of all its members. Their argument is that by doing this it will attract even more people, thereby increasing the number of those coming to Christ.
But there are a number of fallacies with these arguments.
First, it’s true that Martin Luther did initially intend to merely make some reforms in his church, but in reality, he ended up having to start his own religious denomination in order to implement his ideas, and this same pattern has repeated itself over and over again as more and more people began to insist on making their own reforms.
King Henry VIII of England wanted the Pope to allow him to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and when the Pope wouldn’t change the church’s doctrine to accommodate his wishes, King, Henry started his own church. In1530 there were members of the Church of England who wanted to “purify” it’s teachings, meaning they wanted their church to change their doctrines to agree with the pure teachings of Christ as they understood it. When the Church of England refused to do so, these reformers started their own religion, which became known as the Puritans.
In 1844 after Joseph Smith was martyred, a disagreement arose over who should lead the church, and it didn’t take long before the church he founded split into two factions, with one of them calling themselves the Restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, over time they kept changing more and more of their beliefs to fit modern ideas, to where today their teachings bear very little resemblance to the original teachings of their founder. And this same thing has happened today with many of the mainstream Protestant churches.
Those who say that they believe in the teachings of Joseph Smith but only want to make a few changes to suit their particular beliefs, are actually engaged in changing the teachings of the church they say they believe in. And as the church accommodates one group of people, it encourages others to likewise demand that the church make changes to accommodate their own particular ideas. If the church were to do that, then within a very short time the teachings of the church would be very different than what they are today.
The scriptures tell us that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The very foundation of faith in God is that we believe what God tells us is the absolute and unchanging truth, and it’s because of this that we then build our belief system on what we feel is a sure and firm foundation. But if the church we belong to keeps changing what it believes, then it destroys the foundation of faith that it’s members rely on and have faith in. Those who merely want to “reform” the church in order to suit their particular beliefs, are in reality, destroying the faith of all the other members of that church. For church leaders to allow that to happen would be a dereliction of their responsibility to preach the truth as they see it. And if they’re willing to change what they once said was truth, then they’re saying that what they once taught wasn’t the truth.
One of the bedrock beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that the Book of Mormon is the word of God to the same extent as the Bible. In it we read of a man named Korihor who went about telling people not to believe in the foolish traditions of what the church taught. Those who want to make “reforms” within the church of Christ today are making the same argument that Korihor made, because what they’re really saying is that the old beliefs are now merely “foolish traditions” that we should no longer follow.
The Book of Mormon explains that even though Korihor wasn’t a member of Christ’s church, his words had the effect of leading “away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness” (Alma 30:18). It’s one thing for an individual to have doubts about a particular teaching of the church, but when they begin to persuade others to embrace their thinking, and then encourage people to engage in protesting against the church, it’s hard to understand how they think that the church would react favorably to such behavior.
It was Jesus Christ himself who said that “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:29). If contention is of the devil then surely God considers protesting against his church, which is a form of contention, to be a form of wickedness.
But should such people be excommunicated from the church for exercising their right to protest? Some people think that such a policy is too extreme, however, the Book of Mormon answers this question.
We read where there were dissentions among the member of the church and “they did deceive many with their flattering words, who were in the church, and did cause them to commit many sins; therefore, it became expedient that those who committed sin, that were in the church, should be admonished by the church” (Mosiah 26:6).
However, at this time, the church was young and Alma, who was the head of the church, was troubled in his spirit “and he went and inquired of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter” (Mosiah 26:13). In response to his prayer, the Lord answered him saying, “Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also,” however he who “will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward” (verse 32).
To “not be numbered among my people” is the definition of excommunication. Therefore, when someone who not only disagrees with a particular teaching of the church, but who seeks to get others to likewise question it, and who protests as a way to have their demands met, are causing dissention in the church, and those who will not repent of this sin are “not to be numbered among [God’s] people.” If someone disagrees with this policy then they also disagree with the teachings of the Book of Mormon, which seriously calls into question s their supposed belief in the church.
In contrast, there are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are troubled by some of its teachings but who nonetheless live by them. For example, there are gay members who abstain from sexual activity and are faithful in following all the other church rules. As such, they are able to enjoy all the blessings of full membership, including going to the temple.
But there is one doctrine that is the most basic of all beliefs which is that Jesus Christ himself is personally involved in directing the affairs of his church, and that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are his divinely called prophets.
If someone believes that by convincing members of the church to protest against their leaders in order to pressure them into making changes to church policy, then they don’t really believe that Jesus Christ is the one who is making all the decisions, in which case they don’t believe in the most basic doctrines of the church
On the other hand, if they do believe that the prophets and apostles are guided in their decisions by inspiration and revelation from God, then when they protest the church’s teachings, they’re really protesting against God, hoping to change his eternal laws to suit their personal preferences. That’s the definition of rebelling against God.
A Christian is someone who has made a commitment to follow Christ and to serve him. Throughout the New Testament, the ancient apostles often referred to themselves as “a servant of Christ,” and servants do what their master tells them. They may not like what he says but they are still required to obey his commands.
A faithful servant doesn’t try to convince the other servants to go protest against their master, and no master would look favorably upon any servant who would do such a thing. Yet, those who claim to believe in Christ’s true church think it’s so unfair for the church to excommunicate them for behaving the same way, even though the disputed policy was given by God himself. If someone doesn’t believe that, then they don’t believe in one of the most fundamental teachings of the church. As such, their actions demonstrate that their claim to believe in the teachings of their church is insincere. And in that case, they have already informally excommunicated themselves from the church.
It is perfectly acceptable for someone to question a particular teaching and even request for certain changes to be made, but that’s an entirely different approach than gathering people to your side and then protesting and demanding that changes be made, and then publicly speaking out against the church they claim to believe in and want to be a part of. And then, when the church takes disciplinary action against such behavior, for them to complain about it and assign a false motive for the church’s actions, they are only adding insult to injury.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Mormonism