The Dangers of Advocacy
I hear a lot about “advocacy” in an ecclesiastical context, either from members using the word itself or simply just expressing the idea.
“This marginalized community needs someone to speak for them. That marginalized community is forgotten and ignored. Over there is a marginalized community on the fringes, stepping slowly towards the precipice, and HOW IS THAT OKAY WITH YOU?“
And those that aren’t specifically talking about advocacy are certainly touting their allyship. It’s in bios all over social media – “It’s me! I Love tacos. LGBT Ally. [she/her]”
And while their hearts are in the right place – these advocates and allies see others struggling and hurting, and want to offer help – advocacy divorced from gospel principles is incredibly dangerous. This distorted version 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).”
Advocacy is dangerous precisely because what follows is, at best, a softening of the commandments, and at worst, a complete abandonment of them.
Which Way Do You Face?
In 1993, Pres. Boyd K. Packer gave a talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council. Because it wasn’t delivered to a general audience, you can’t find it on the Church’s official website, but you can find transcriptions of it other places online (like here or here). He discusses this idea of subtle turns away from the Lord that begin with a desire to advocate, to be an ally, and shares a story from early in his time in the church educational system.
“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.”
It is so easy to get turned around, President Packer warned, so easy it often happens without realizing it. Rather than representing the Lord and His servants to those in our stewardships, we begin to turn, “maybe just sideways.” And our intent is pure enough! There are people who are hurting, people looking for “a champion, an advocate, someone with office and influence from whom they can receive comfort.” It’s easy to feel justified, even duty bound, President Packer related, to offer them aid.
However, when that happens, other issues begin to appear. President Packer counseled:
“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.‘”
When we lose ourselves in advocacy and allyship, we aren’t a help to anyone.
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 the answer is simple enough. We don’t need advocates. We don’t need 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.“
That is what ministry means. Ministry is Christlike love, of course, but Christlike love balances the first two great commandments: to love God and to love our neighbors.
Not long after the ministering adjustment, Elder Neil L. Anderson spoke at BYU about how we might be more effective, “holier” ministers. 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:
“The one who supposes that he ‘understands the mindset of both groups’ needs to understand that the doctrines of the gospel are revealed through the Spirit to prophets, not through the intellect to scholars. 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 – a “smooth, comfortable god” that does not demand much, certainly, but a god without power to bless your life and ultimately grant eternal life. At the end of this road is unhappiness.
The worst part is that this wasn’t met with confusion, or concern – but with cheers. Here are some responses:
“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.”
Advocacy. And then, and the end of a six-tweet thread, we get an abandonment of fundamental gospel principles and what essentially amounts to individual apostasy:
“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 and if you’re an ally, you’ve turned and faced the wrong way. In whatever way makes sense with 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.