Radical Orthodoxy and Alternate Voices

This is part of an ongoing project to articulate and clarify the principles described in the Latter-day Saint Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto.

Speaking in the 1989 General Conference, Elder Oaks referred to “alternate voices” as:

those voices that speak of God, of his commandments, and of the doctrines, ordinances, and practices of his church…. without calling or authority.

This might sound like a bad thing, but in his talk, Elder Oaks stated that the Church is not opposed to alternate voices. As he put it, 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not attempt to isolate its members from alternate voices. Its approach, as counseled by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is to teach correct principles and then leave its members to govern themselves by personal choices.

Not only that, but Elder Oaks also made it clear that while some alternate voices have nefarious designs (such as the pursuit of power or money or the intent to deceive), there are also positive alternate voices:

Some alternate voices are those of well-motivated men and women who are merely trying to serve their brothers and sisters and further the cause of Zion. Their efforts fit within the Lord’s teaching that his servants should not have to be commanded in all things, but “should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”

This describes the intent of those of us who are participating in the LDS Radical Orthodoxy movement. We are not seeking to displace, supplant, subvert, or supersede the Church, but to “serve [our] brothers and sisters and further the cause of Zion.”

These efforts are no less needed now than they were three decades ago. Speaking to the FairMormon Conference in 2019, Elder Craig C. Christensen thanked that group in particular and said that, when it comes to defending the Church, the Restoration and the Gospel, “we need your voices.” He stressed “the importance of faithful members engaging online.”

Another important point conveyed by both Elder Oaks in 1989 and Elder Christensen in 2019 is that the Church has to maintain a clear distinction between its own, formal pronouncements and the freelancing of its well-intended members. 

“The Church does have a responsibility to point out what is the voice of the Church and what is not,” Elder Oaks said. “Members of the Church are free to participate or to listen to any alternate voices they choose,” he went on, “but Church leaders should avoid official involvement, directly or indirectly.”

Not only is the separation between the Church and friendly, alternate voices necessary to preserve the clarity of the Church’s official teachings, as Elder Oaks stressed, but it also allows alternate voices to work more effectively. Elder Christensen pointed out that, although the Church works in tandem with formal groups like FAIR, Book of Mormon Central, and the Interpreter, “If you look like an extension of the Church, you wouldn’t have the power to do what you need to do.” 

Radical Orthodoxy is not a formal group like those just listed. It’s a rallying point for a decentralized group of Saints–many of whom do contribute to those groups–and one of our goals is to encourage greater enthusiasm and coordination among these alternate voices. 

Perhaps the most remarkable thing that Elder Christensen told the Fair Conference attendees was that, according to senior leadership within the Church, the vast majority of the faith-affirming messages on the Internet need to come from alternate voices: “partners [like Fair] and other individual members engaged in the conversation.”

Our hope for the LDS Radical Orthodoxy manifesto and the movement as a whole is that we will be able to help build a supportive, creative, proactive community of alternate voices. We will have diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and interests. We will not agree on every point. But we can be unified nonetheless in our discipleship of Christ and our fervent support His Restored Church.

5 thoughts on “Radical Orthodoxy and Alternate Voices”

  1. I will remain skeptical of this venture since already having viewed alternative outlets like Dialogue or SquareTwo, find that some members make claims which do not correspond with revealed doctrine, like the Holy Spirit being Heavenly Mother, or the United Order being a form of socialism. They assert it, but do not prove it. Unless an outlet is provided to correct what people believe to be dubious interpretations, I will begin to wonder whether the signatories involved want openness at the expense they will not question their own views. As Christopher Lasch once warned, you cannot overcome fanaticism at the price of desiccation.

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  2. Hey, Nathaniel, since you’re one of the authors of the manifesto, I have two questions: You explain that the manifesto is “A public statement meant to influence the culture of the Church.” 1) How are you describing the culture of the church for purposes of the manifesto? 2) In what ways does this public statement (manifesto) influence that culture?

    Gracias!

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  3. Ecclesiastes advocates that the wise to figure out some kind of balance while they avoid unreasoned extremes, is my reading. It says @ 3:3 (adam miller’s paraphrase) that there’s the correct instance or “time to BREAK DOWN” and one “to BUILD UP.” It seems you guys & gals are trying to reason out for yourselves when & where they might be!

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  4. Apologies for commenting twice.

    It seems that progressives & traditionalists each have constructs of the gospel (which, the gospel itself, I define as “collective & personal revelations”) that contradict each other/are mutually exclusive, neo-fundamentalism’s & modernity’s defining themselves partly in a negative sense in that each views itself as a reject of the other — say, modernity of neo-fundamentalism as well as neo-fundamentalism of modernity. The foregoing formulation is derived from looking at a faith from the outside — or so-called “objectively”: the province of the academy.

    From this perspective, the term “radical orthodoxy” comes across as a bit paradoxical.

    Let me explain. When I hear the term, because, for me, /radical/ means “revolutionary” or quick to change whereas /orthodoxy/ conjures up the aspects in a faith of inherited “order” or tradition, in juxtaposition of the two, I assign the meaning “revolutionary order” (or else: quick-to-change tradition).

    But by shifting from a more rationally academic and into a more subjectively spiritual point of view I come to assign the compound-term phrase the related meaning of “steadfast in principles.” (Or, resolutely ordered.)

    Within the first view, I get the paradox. Adopting the analogy of an hourglass to represent change through time: when this hourglass is up-ended, sands of progress/Change filter down from the compartmentalization of Tradition into that of Modernity. But, the hourglass’s neck of collective understanding/Culture is made of malleable material making it able to be varied in width in order to accommodate — inasmuch as this sand isn’t of uniform consistency — whatever obstructions that retrograde its rate of flow. Within this analogy, team Modernity looks to team Tradition as wishing to conserve itself by keeping the neck narrow, impeding the progress of this cultural understanding. My recognizing a need for
    progressive change, I thus can perceive those seeking to energetically conserve its sands from flowing as doing something /bad/, not /good/, inasmuch as to do the most good, I must effect progressive change as efficaciously as possible.

    But, within the second point of view, privileging faith over reason, I look upon an hourglass of a different makeup altogether from the one just mentioned, this one with its sands of spiritual understanding/Truth that filter through its neck of collective & personal revelations/the Gospel from the compartment of chaos/the Unknown into that of order/the Revealed — and would look not to impede /these/ sands’ flow by denying collective revelation via genuine spiritual authority. Thus, from this point of view, in order to avoid doing bad and effect the most good, I would abide by these principles as devotedly as possible.

    Back from the first point of view, this second appears random, like a completely arbitrary path somewhere between enlightenment and retrogression but, from the second point of view, either the progressive POV or its polar opposite might appear, depending on context, obstructive or not to understanding & applying of certain spiritual truths.

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  5. I am in favor of a more minimalist official posture of the church on almost everything. Oaks making a distinction there is important and welcome. However, even the official positions of the church have left the church with little latitude on some issues and the membership with less intellectual diversity than is healthy for a global church. A more minimalist approach to official pronouncement would allow more latitude for the church while also promoting rich diversity of personal views, resulting in a bigger tent Mormonism in general. I am concerned that “orthodoxy” has been too narrowly defined, especially when it comes to alternate voices. Too many are working too hard to define what is the right kind of Mormon in a world trending to secularism. Finding a way to fit more voices into the orthodoxy of the church would be a net positive in my opinion. I would welcome clarification on the stance of the signatories on this point. Honestly, calling Fair Mormon an alternate voice seems too narrow to me when there are other voices that have consistently been marginalized.

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