I have finally recognized the essence of why I can’t continue my relationship with the Church. It’s because we have an irreconcilable difference of core values.

The Church will profess that it promotes many admirable values, and indeed it does. I would list things like service, kindness, generosity, and even charity among those values. But when you strip things down to the core, what the Church seems to value more than anything else, is obedience.

There are innumerable circumstances that could be used to demonstrate the preeminence of obedience. Consider the Word of Wisdom. At first blush, this appears to be a teaching centered on the value of healthy living. But when repeated scientific studies reveal that people who drink coffee are actually healthier than those who don’t, the Church falls back to another value. This time, it points to the value of agency, which is presumably preserved by avoiding addictive substances. This claim, however, falls flat when we consider how many temple-attending Mormons are worthily addicted to substances like sugar and Diet Coke. When adequately challenged on these points, faithful Mormons will almost always fall back to the One True Value of obedience: “If you can’t be faithful in the small things,” they will say, “then how will God ever trust you with the larger things?” The implication is that what God really wants in His people, more than anything else, is for them to just obey. Damn science, damn moral reasoning, it all comes down to obedience, okay?

Take any Mormon commandment or teaching that withers under the scrutiny of moral reasoning, and you will encounter the same line of reasoning that inexorably leads back to the core value of obedience. Tattoos and multiple ear piercings? You’re going to end up having a conversation about obedience. Tithing before heating bills for the poor? Yeah, another test of obedience. Stabbing a knife into your kid? You’ve heard this one, haven’t you? Marrying another man’s wife, or a 14-year-old? Here we go again. The truth is, sometimes obedience just plain sucks as a core value.

The One True Value is also at the heart of Church disciplinary councils. You aren’t likely to be excommunicated for adultery, child abuse, or a host of other major sins, so long as you humbly agree to follow the steps of repentance outlined by the bishop or stake president. But what will get you kicked out on your butt faster than anything is to publicly disagree with a church leader. Just ask Rock Waterman, Kate Kelly, or anyone else who has been excommunicated for “apostasy”. It’s the same reason that a committed gay marriage is treated more harshly than gay promiscuity: because gay promiscuity could be chalked up to wandering in the wilderness of sin, but gay marriage is open rebellion. A declaration of war. It would seem that acquiescence to authority is the best measure for predicting the outcome of Church discipline.

Nowhere is the value of obedience enshrined more powerfully (or more detrimentally, in my opinion) than in the doctrine of following the prophet. Denver Snuffer brilliantly pointed out that there is only one core doctrine left in Mormonism: that “we follow a man whom we call a prophet”. Even in my short lifetime, I have seen this teaching rise to greater preeminence. I can still remember the blissful days before the Primary children started singing the drone-like chant of “Follow the Prophet.” And what I consider to be the most dangerous teaching I have ever heard in Church appeared in this year’s priesthood manual:

‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’

This is the same kind of thinking that enabled the Nazis to get “ordinary men” to commit mass murder. There’s no sugar coating this. It’s simply a disgusting and abhorrent idea.

So yeah, the obsession with obedience is really going off the rails in the Church today. But if I step back from this kind of crazy, I actually don’t hate the idea of obedience in all settings. When I’m ushering my four children around the cliffs of the Grand Canyon, for instance, I want them to be very obedient. The difference between me and the Church, however, is that I don’t want my children to be obedient forever or in all settings. And I certainly wouldn’t want them to walk off a cliff because someone asked them to.

As soon as possible, I want them to start making their own choices, and even making mistakes. There is no better way to accelerate learning than to make a lot of mistakes as fast as possible. I want children who learn to make moral judgements based on their own consciences. I don’t want my children to see obedience as an end in and of itself, let alone as the ultimate goal. I would be horrified if I had a child who would kill someone because I asked them to do it. And yet that is the kind of parent that Mormonism paints God to be.

If obedience is, in fact, the first law of heaven, it follows that it can’t be the last. Surely there is something better that God wants us to progress toward. But in Mormonism, there is no off-ramp from obedience. I can obey my way right into the Celestial Kingdom, and the greatest risk to my safe arrival is if I get off the Good Ship Zion and start steering my own vessel. The God of Mormonism doesn’t want moral captains, He wants moral passengers!

But the heaven I want to believe in has as many roads leading into it as there are people. And the main requirement for entry would be if a person has learned to follow their conscience.

You want to know what I consider to be worthwhile core values? How about unconditional love? How about open-mindedness and intellectual honesty? How about the kind of holiness that can only come through getting one’s hands dirty while wrestling with the moral ambiguities of life? Give me a Mormonism that values these things more than it values obedience, and I could find a faith that is worth being reconciled toward, even in the face of a deceitful and troubled history. But for now, the Church and I will have to go our separate ways.

William Law
William Law
Though once a counselor in the First Presidency, William Law fell out of the church's favor when he opposed several nefarious actions of Joseph Smith, including Joseph's repeated polyandrous proposals to his wife, Jane. After his excommunication, William published the Nauvoo Expositor which exposed Joseph's polygamous activities. The destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor printing press led to the incarceration and death of Joseph Smith.
  • ConcernedDiva

    Thanks, I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts about obedience. I see that there is no harm in coffee, tea, a glass of wine, a steak, etc, but was I missing the point- was I just supposed to be obeying because someone called prophet said that God said it? Or could I look at it from a logical angle? Thanks again. It really can be a mindfuck.

  • Kamis Dewey

    Every time I read a new Zelph post, my soul rejoices. Someone else knows how I feel and what I’m going through! Thank you for this. I left the church when I realized my moral compass had outgrown the box.

  • David

    Great post, Brother Law. Your writing has gotten better and better since the Nauvoo Expositor.

    Seriously though, this is a topic that I’ve thought about quite a bit. I ran across this Boyd Packer blip the other day:

    “There are those within the Church who are disturbed when changes are made with which they disagree or when changes they propose are not made. They point to these as evidence that the leaders are not inspired. They write and speak to convince others that the doctrines and decisions of the Brethren are not given through inspiration. Two things characterize them: they are always irritated by the word obedience, and always they question revelation. It has always been so.” (Packer, Ensign Nov. 1989)

    Well, I have to say that this is probably the most prophetic thing the man has ever said. He’s right, once somebody has their eyes opened by the “fruit of knowledge of good and evil”, he has a hard time accepting the old dogma.

    Keep up the good work, I enjoy your posts.

  • Joe Cooper

    Wonderfully said. I have been resisting for a while now but I can’t deny we are just one more of the many fundamentalist religions that have strayed from the core message that is possible through the teachings of Christ. I think the brethren are guilty of priestcraft in that they set themselves up as a light rather than pointing to Christ. they then follow up by encouraging the idolatry of placing more importance on “following the brethren” than following one’s own conscience. They obviously don’t think of it in those terms. That would take humility and they seem particularly arrogant on this one. As Elder Oaks says, “the Church neither apologizes nor seeks apology”

  • el-logo

    i clicked on the ‘priesthood manual’ hyperlink and read the entire lesson.
    To save you time from going to church or reading the lesson yourself i will summarize:

    The formula is very straightforward: (1) Scripture or GA Quote (2) OBEY!!!!!

    Here are 9 points for this week’s lesson.
    (1) Scripture or quote and then follow the brethren.
    (2) Scripture or quote and then today’s prophet > dead prophets and jesus.
    (3) Scripture or quote and then ph.d’s and science < prophet's opinion.
    (4) Scripture or quote and then stand with moral captain. Moral Captain = prophet

    (5) Scripture or quote and then prophet's do not apologize for being wrong
    (6) Scripture or quote and then Joseph Smith wasn't too smart. Ol' Joe = prophet
    (7) Scripture or quote and then if you don't like their message then you're guilty.
    (8) Scripture from D&C 132 – thus saith the lord, "Emma if you don't let Ol' Joe fuck whoever he wants the lord will kill you." And it came to pass Ol' Joe did fuck.
    (9) Story about Brigham Young telling man to double the thickness of his walls and him forgetting to tell the man that he owned lumber yard.

    I have a close friend who is completely inactive who's dad is in the First Quorum of the Seventy. Anytime the church comes up he will say, "Follow the brethren, follow the brethren, follow the brethren." Obedience is the only thing that matters to these rich old white guys.

  • Swagavad Gita

    “Sacrifice brings for the blessings of heaven. Earth must atone for the blood of that man.” – that should sum it up to anyone curious about whether Mormonism is a Joseph Smith cult. Ugh.

  • Nancy

    I was always bothered by the emphasis on unquestioning obedience. I always wondered how we could become gods and create worlds if they wouldn’t even allow us to decide how many ear piercings to have!

    • Sage

      We can’t do that any more either! Haven’t you read the latest edition of the unchanging doctrine?

  • Jonathan_Reid

    This is very well done. Obedience is, indeed, the first and the last law in the church. Each reference to “prophet” probably should read “living prophet”, because the church will throw the dead prophets under the revisionist bus in a heartbeat. If one of the dead prophets said or did something that is seen as troubling in the 21st century, no problem—just give them the historical/cultural context brush-off, and turn to the living prophet (who will one day join the dead prophets under the bus). The only thing that matters is what “the big man” said last.

  • Tom Miller

    The word of Wisdom is one of my favorite research subjects since it is so filled with colorful history, infighting between leaders and members, contradictions and putting words in god’s mouth. in verse 2 and 4 it is given with love and not as a commandment nor by constraint (dictatorship, guilt, shame…) as was in fact given as a warning against conspiring men who are to take over all of your food and herbs for health and healing, which had not happened when it was politically made into a a fake commandment 70 years after it was given, after many decades of infighting over whether the saint were ready for it to become a commandment (higher law – since god loves us by giving endless commandments and contradicting himself, to test you, your obedience, to BS…).

    Can you play, “follow the leader?” Worship the leader? Worship buildings? Worship the concept of obedience? The leaders always have had infighting and disagreement and always will, and therefore have to vote on what your next commandment (obedience) will be, since God has not revealed the invariable truth to them after all. That is the nature of man, not of god nor christ.

    After all, truth is truth, and truth is of god, christ and the spirit, and therefore the truth of god does not change yesterday, today or forever (Moroni 10). So, back to the WoW. Today we have thousands if not tens of thousand of refined and thus toxic foods and drugs far more harmful than are the 4-don’ts of the fake WoW. How can we get those promises of wisdom and health at the end of the WoW if we don’t see or choose to follow this advice and warning of our own volition, and instead chose to blindly follow the leader and pretend the bogus WoW (just 4-conts – blind obedience) is really all that matters? Is that why there are so many sick and having surgeries, all around us in church each week, who could heal those things quite handily if they would just listen to the covered over advice of early prophets (on using herbs and avoiding medical) and the real WoW? Are the 4-don’;ts therefore a highly refined version of the real intent of the WoW, as highly refined as most of our toxic foods and medicines today, which we worship?

    BTW, what refined toxic foods and desserts were served at your last ward party? What were you counselled to do in your last priesthood blessing for a serious illness? Seek the best wholesome and healing foods and herbs (which really can heal all illness like doctor or drug can even hope to), or seek the best doctors (taught by the AMA, FDA, APA who scoff (D&C 89:4) at god’s whole foods and herbs for health and healing which compete with their very profitable drugs and mostly unneeded surgeries)? Who are our gods then, perhaps the highly worshiped new holy trinity, the AMA, FDA APA? “Follow the doctor, follow the doctor, follow the doctor, don’t go astray…” Yep, right back to obedience, as an idol, just like our leaders and precious buildings have become, just like the Zoramites and the land of king Noah? Are we reliving the Book of Daniel? Ah, pesky history, rearing it’s ugly ever-repeating truths…

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