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A recent article was posted in which a woman struggling with her faith reported a “punch in the gut feeling” because Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Seventy told BYU grads:

A few of you may have run into some who cease to hold fast to the iron rod wandered off the straight and narrow path, and have become lost. …. We should disconnect immediately and completely from …those who have lost their faith” [Citation as provided, no text omitted] [1]

All is not well

Our first clue that all is not right is the presence of the ellipsis: the three dots that represent omitted material: …

The ellipses allow this author to assume the moral high ground:

Really? This? This is what we need to do? This is the example Christ gave us? To disconnect from those who might not agree with us completely? Did Christ teach us that we are superior to those with different trials then [sic] ours? Please tell me NO![2]

Since she asked, I will do so: “No.”

The unedited remarks

No, Christ did not teach us to do this. But, then again, neither did Elder Clayton. If we read Elder Clayton’s remarks in their entirety, it takes on quite a different tone and content. Here are his words unedited—notice the material in bold which was omitted by this author in her righteous indignation:

We should disconnect immediately and completely from listening to the proselytizing efforts of those who have lost their faith, and instead reconnect promptly with the Holy Spirit.[3]

This seems quite different. Elder Clayton tells his audience to disconnect not from people, but from listening to their proselytizing efforts. He tells them not to embrace or entertain efforts to spread doubt and faithlessness.

Nowhere, we note, does this say anything about disconnecting “from those who might not agree with us completely.” Nor does it imply that “we are superior to those with different trials then [sic] ours.”

Why might Elder Clayton say this? Ignoring the proselytizing is hardly advised because we are superior to their struggles. We avoid such preaching of unbelief because it cannot be accompanied by the Holy Spirit. And, without the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are all far too weak to keep our covenants.

C.S. Lewis once observed, in a similar vein:

I am inclined to think a Christian would be wise to avoid, where he decently can, any meeting with people who are bullies, lascivious, cruel, dishonest, spiteful, and so forth. Not because we are ‘too good’ for them. In a sense because we are not good enough.

We are not good enough to cope with all the temptations, nor clever enough to cope with all the problems, which an evening spent in such society produces. The temptation is to condone, to connive at; by our words, looks and laughter, to ‘consent’.…

Things we hold sacred will be mocked….We are encouraging him to believe that ‘those Christians’, once you get them off their guard and round a dinner table, really think and feel exactly as he does. By implication we are denying our Master; behaving as if we ‘knew not the Man’. On the other hand is one to show that, like Queen Victoria, one is ‘not amused’? Is one to be contentious, interrupting the flow of conversation at every moment with ‘I don’t agree, I don’t agree’? Or rise and go away? But by these courses we may also confirm some of their worst suspicions of ‘those Christians’. We are just the sort of ill-mannered prigs they always said.[4]

 Lewis, it seems, was exactly right. Elder Clayton advises us not to waste time listening to others attempt to talk us out of our faith. If we remain silent in such a conversation, they or others may presume that we agree. If we object, we will be seen as contentious and unkind. And, if we try to go away, we are told by our troubled author that we are disobeying Jesus.

 What did Jesus and the scriptures say?

 Jesus’ example matches the course advised by Elder Clayton. When confronted with temptation, Jesus replied simply by quoting scripture (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10Luke 4:4, 8, 12). He further instructed the tempter, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Luke 4:8). Jesus was not above using this type of language even to his closest friends. When Peter urged Jesus to follow a course different from that which his Father had ordained, Jesus rebuked him in the same terms: “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matthew 16:23; see also Mark 8:33).

So, to answer the troubled sister who wrote, we can simply say, “Yes, this is what Jesus taught. But, what you have claimed Elder Clayton said is false.”

 Text without context is error

 I once dabbled in New Testament Greek with a professor who would always remind us, “Text without context is error.” We have just seen why this may be so.

Let’s look at Elder Clayton’s remarks in even broader context—the entire paragraph that was so drastically edited:

 A few of you may have run into some who cease to hold fast to the iron rod wandered off the straight and narrow path, and have become lost. They started sometimes with online tours of the territory of the faithless. This indiscretion is often accompanied by failing to earnestly study The Book of Mormon everyday, and by the companion problem of gradually becoming lax in keeping other commandments.

 This sometimes leads to listening and then harkening to those who mock the church, its leaders, or its history. The faithless often promote themselves as the wise who can rescue the rest of us from our naivety. One does not need to listen to assertive apostates for long to see the parallels between them and the Korihors and Nehors and Sharoms of The Book of Mormon.

 We should disconnect immediately and completely from listening to the proselytizing efforts of those who have lost their faith, and instead reconnect promptly with the Holy Spirit. The adversary sees spiritual apathy and half-hearted obedience as opportunities to encircle us with his chains and bind us, and he hopes to destroy us. We escape his chains as we voluntarily chose to bind ourselves instead to God. In what at first may seem ironic, our choosing to bind or connect with Heaven frees and empowers us to become all that we possibly can in this life and the next through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

His meaning here becomes even more clear—he worries about those whose faltering faith often begins by those who take “tours of the territory of the faithless.”

Note too how his concern regards those who “mock the church, its leaders, and its history”—I suspect that those who misrepresent the teachings of Church leaders, and mockingly claim that they are violating what Jesus taught, might well be included here.

“The faithless often promote themselves as the wise who can rescue the rest of us from our naivety,” notes Elder Clayton. Indeed they do. The author we are exploring does precisely that, writing:

So here I am…. BEGGING you not to listen to Elder Clayton. and yes, I see exactly that many will read this and say, “See, she’s the one he’s talking about in his talk.” and maybe I am…. [the ellipses in this quotation are all in her writing; I’ve not omitted any text]

The author may be an example of the sort of advocacy about which Elder Clayton has rightly cautioned believers. Not only does she misrepresent Elder Clayton, but she urges us not to listen to him, but instead to listen to her. Her tactics and results seem an uncomfortable match to those he urges us to reject.

But, this does not mean we reject her—simply her tactics and her false claims. She, like all, is welcome to engage in the confession, repentance, covenant making, and enduring to the end to which all the Saints are invited.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed:

President Harold B. Lee said [that] in order to help someone else “we must stand on higher ground” than he is standing on. We must be careful not to abandon that ground—for the sake of the sinner as well as for our own welfare. There is a difference between assisting the wounded Samaritan who needed help and companying with those who are evil.

In similar counsel given to the saints in Thessalonica, Paul said, “If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14–15, italics added.) In refusing to keep company with evil people, we do it not because they are our enemies, but because they are our friends. If we became just like them and did the things they do, we could not admonish them or help them “as a brother.”[5]

Faith—but in who or what?

One must ask why this author misrepresents Elder Clayton’s remarks so egregiously.

There can be only two options:

a) She has been misled in her turn, and she has not been wise enough to check the quotation against the original—she does not realize how misleading her words are; or

b) She is willfully participating in a deception.

Neither of these options suggest that her message is one to which we ought to give much attention.

She begs us to “not lose faith” in her and others struggling with all manner of weaknesses, doubts, and sins.

But Christ does not urge us to faith in each other, regardless of whether we are strong or weak. He urges us to have faith in him, and to trust those whom he has called as apostles, prophets, and leaders. As we do this, our weaknesses and their weaknesses become strengths to the degree that we are, as Elder Whitney urged us, “free[d] and empower[ed]…in this life and the next through the atonement of Jesus Christ.”

Is it any surprise, then, that one of those leaders would urge us to give no heed to those arguing against faith in Christ and faith in the restoration? Without fidelity to these things, we are all lost, regardless of how much “faith” or regard we have for each other.

Conclusion

This troubled author—like all those who are troubled in the ways she describes, and a thousand more besides—will always find a welcome among the disciples of Christ if she truly seeks to follow him.

But, I fear she will never find the answers she seeks as long as she engages in publicly criticizing Church leaders and distorting what they say for rhetorical advantage.

Such acts block the Holy Ghost, and no revelation or peace can be found without him: “We cannot have the companionship of the Holy Ghost—the medium of individual revelation—if we are in transgression or if we are angry or if we are in rebellion against God’s chosen authorities.”[6]

And believers are under no obligation to silently entertain an attack on their faith from “assertive apostates” –however nicely phrased –or to endure misrepresentation.

[1] Joanna Smith, “Please Don’t Lose Faith in Me,” Ordain Women blog (29 April 2016). Smith is a member of Ordain Women’s executive board.

[2] Smith, “Please Don’t Lose Faith in Me.”

[3] L. Whitney Clayton, transcript of commencement address at Brigham Young University, 21 April 2016, copy in my possession, emphasis added. Further information and selections from the transcript in Benjamin Wood, “BYU grads encouraged to keep an ‘eternal perspective’ and avoid exes, pornography,” The Salt Lake Tribune (21 April 2016).

[4] C.S. Lewis, “Connivance,” Reflections on the Psalms (1958) as republished within C.S. Lewis: Selected Books (London: HarperCollins, 2002), 346–348.

[5] Neal A. Maxwell, Things As They Really Are (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978), 86.

[6] Dallin H. Oaks, “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign (March 1997): 14.



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