The Dangers of Advocacy
I’ve been hearing a lot about advocacy lately. To my surprise, I’ve been hearing about it both in political and ecclesiastical contexts. I’ve even been hearing about it from members of the Church.
“Here’s a marginalized community that needs someone to speak for them. There’s a marginalized community that’s you’ve forgotten and ignored. Over there is a marginalized community on the fringes. They’re stepping slowly towards the precipice. HOW IS THAT OKAY WITH YOU?“
Those that aren’t promoting advocacy are touting their allyship. It’s in bios all over social media.
“It’s me! I love tacos. LGBT ally. [she/her]“
These advocates and allies see others struggling and hurting, and they want to offer help. While they are sincere, those who divorce advocacy from gospel principles invert the first two great commandments. At that point, one of two things follow. At best, disciples soften the commandments, and at worst, they abandon them completely. This distortion of Christlike love always – always – leads to unhappiness.
It’s of this kind of advocacy that Elder Holland warned against in conference just five years ago:
“Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds….
“At the zenith of His mortal ministry, Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” To make certain they understood exactly what kind of love that was, He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” and “whosoever … shall break one of [the] least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be … the least in the kingdom of heaven.”
“Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others. Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once).”
Which Way Do You Face?
In 1993, Pres. Boyd K. Packer gave a talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council. Because President Packer didn’t deliver this to a general audience, you can’t find it on the Church’s official website. (You can find transcriptions of it other places online, like here or here.) President Packer teaches that subtle turns away from the Lord that begin with a desire for advocacy and allyship.
“Thirty-eight years ago I came from Brigham City to the office I now occupy in the Administration Building to see Elder Harold B. Lee, who, next to President Joseph Fielding Smith, was the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve. I had just been appointed the supervisor of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. I knew there were serious problems in the system and I wondered why they had not appointed someone with more experience.
“Elder Lee had agreed to give me counsel and some direction. He didn’t say much, nothing really in detail, but what he told me has saved me time and time again. “You must decide now which way you face,” he said. “Either you represent the teachers and students and champion their causes or you represent the Brethren who appointed you. You need to decide now which way you face.”
“Then he added, “Some of your predecessors faced the wrong way.” It took some hard and painful lessons before I understood his counsel. In time, I did understand, and my resolve to face the right way became irreversible.”
We turn around so easily, President Packer warned, that it often happens without us realizing it. And our intent is pure enough! Rather than represent the Lord and His servants to those in our stewardships, we begin to turn. We may just turn sideways. There are people who are hurting, we think, people who need comfort. It’s easy to feel justified, even duty bound, President Packer tells us, to offer them aid.
However, when that happens, serious issues arise. President Packer continued:
“We then become their advocates — sympathize with their complaints against the Church, and perhaps even soften the commandments to comfort them. Unwittingly we may turn about and face the wrong way. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. Let me say that again. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. In our efforts to comfort them, we lose our bearings and leave that segment of the line to which we are assigned unprotected. The question is not whether they need help and comfort. That goes without saying. The question is “How?” The Prophet Joseph Smith, when he organized the Relief Society said, ‘There is the need for decisions of character aside from sympathy.‘”
Ministry, Not Advocacy
To what can we turn, then, if not advocacy? Who are we to be, if not allies? Elder Holland hinted at the answer himself, and it is simple enough. We don’t need advocates or allies. We need ministers.
President Packer taught:
“The comfort they need is better, for the most part, administered individually. To point out so-called success stories… is an invitation to many to stray from what has been taught by the prophets and thus cause members to reap disappointment by and by…. If we are not very careful, we will think we are giving comfort to those few who are justified and actually we will be giving license to the many who are not.”
He continues with a story about President Monson:
“I know of no one who maintains such a large private ministry of counsel and comfort in the midst of heavy pressures of office than does Brother Monson. He says very little about it, but he visits the sick, hospitals, homes, comforting, counseling, both in person and in writing. However, I have never heard him over the pulpit, nor have I read anything in his writings — not one thing — that would give any license to any member to stray from the counsel of the prophets or to soften the commandments that the Lord has given. There is a way to give comfort that is needed.“
We don’t dispense with offering comfort, but we offer it in the right way. True Christlike love balances the first two great commandments, and in the right order. We first love God, and then love our neighbors. This is essential to effective ministry. Elder Neil L. Anderson called this “holier” ministering. At BYU, he instructed:
“My first point is this: Remember the first commandment before you exercise the second…Your ability to bring a holier approach to loving your neighbor, to caring for and ministering to others, will rest upon how strongly you keep the first commandment.”
Along similar lines, President Packer added:
“Only when they have some knowledge of the plan of redemption will they understand the supposed inequities of life. Only then will they understand the commandments God has given us. If we do not teach the plan of redemption, whatever else we do by way of programs and activities and instructions will not be enough.
“God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption.” We face invasions of the intensity and seriousness that we have not faced before. There is the need now to be united with everyone facing the same way. Then the sunlight of truth, coming over our shoulders, will mark the path ahead. If we perchance turn the wrong way, we will shade our eyes from that light and we will fail in our ministries.”
Relativism and Apostasy
“Surely that could not happen to me,” you may think.
And yet, just the other day I saw this post on Twitter:
“leaving the church strengthened my testimony of spirituality and god more than staying ever could. research got me to the point i am and i found the set of beliefs that truly were meant for me. i know you’re looking st (sic) reasons to stay but i could only stay a believer if i left”
This is utterly meaningless tripe. There is no power, and certainly no salvation, in this religious devotion to moral relativism. It is completely worthless. This is a “smooth, comfortable god” that does not demand much, it’s true. Unfortunately, it’s also a god without power to bless your life and ultimately grant eternal life. At the end of this road is unhappiness.
I was disappointed to see that this wasn’t met with confusion, or concern – but with validation. One response said:
“This is one of the bravest things I have read today… & always never ever forget this”
Another Latter-day Saint posted about her desire to help other LGBTQ+ Latter-day Saints:
“A THREAD: The LDS church expects LGBTQ+ members NOT to act on their sexual attractions. This is an inhumane expectations–it’s unjust to ask members to suffocate their attraction/refrain from acting on their sexuality. We are LITERALLY asking them to be closeted.”
This is advocacy. Unsurprisingly, just five tweets later, she’s abandoned fundamental gospel principles and essentially drifted from the path:
“We need to abandon the glorification of nuclear families & learn how to be more accepting and loving of others. The homophobia within the Church is not Christlike, nor does it align with the teachings of our gospel that preach acceptance, love, and service unto others.”
What an abhorrent distortion of the saving, edifying, perfecting gospel of Jesus Christ. This kind of advocacy harms everyone involved, from the advocate to those advocated for.
What does the Lord tell us?
“Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments…That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and simple unto the ends of the world.”D&C 1:17, 23
Don’t advocate. Minister, with the two great commandments in mind. This is the only true and living church on the face of the whole earth. If you’re an advocate or an ally, you’ve turned and faced the wrong way. Whatever your stewardship, be a representative of the Lord and His servants, not the other way around.
“The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship” – Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, April 2014
“The First Great Commandment” – Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, October 2012
Mormon And Gay – Official Website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
You can follow Danny on Twitter @backfromthat.