Updating the Old Truths

Righteous Traditions of the Fathers

Anti-Nephi-Lehis burying their weapons of war. Artist unknown.

One of the hard lessons of the Book of Mormon is that the next generation does not automatically inherit the righteous traditions of their fathers. Worldly traditions propagate easily, spreading within and between generations like the common cold, but the Gospel is otherworldly. It takes constant energy and attention to thrive in the intrinsically hostile climate of a fallen world. This means that no matter how deeply one generation is converted, there is never a guarantee that the next generation will inherit the legacy. No matter how well they are taught, every generation has to rediscover the truth for themselves.

Although he was talking about the liberal tradition and not the Gospel, F. A Hayek’s description is extraordinarily apt. Here it is, lightly adapted:

If the old truths are not updated for each new age, they will slip from our grasp and lose our allegiance. The terms in which those truths have been couched will become hollow, potted mottoes, will fail to galvanize, inspire, and move us. The old truths will remain truths, but they’ll be dismissed and neglected as mere dogma, noise. And [we] will again face a crisis of faith.

One of the things that tends to confuse people about Latter-day Saint Radical Orthodoxy is that we talk both about loyalty and fidelity to the basic, essential truths of the Restored Gospel and we talk about exploration and innovation. How are these two things combined? 

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Church History and the Present

I’ve had several periods of deep gospel questioning in my life, and one period a few years ago, of crisis-level questioning. But years before that, in college, I first got some exposure to more complicated church history. I took a class on the Doctrine and Covenants that showed me that early members and leaders of the church had 19th century worldviews, and that was something I had not ever considered up to that point. I also learned that church leaders were not always right, which was another thing that had not really disturbed me until that point. I was happy in the church, but I also had a constant nagging feeling of being unsettled.

After graduating, I spent a summer in Southern California where I grew up. In my younger years there in California, I hiked Mount Whitney, which is the highest mountain in the lower 48 U.S. states. I had always wanted to revisit that place, and in my summer after college, I had a short window of time to try. I contacted the ranger station and asked if they had any available permits, and they did. So I got some backpacking gear and drove up to the trailhead to begin hiking the 11 miles to the summit.

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Is Politics Your New Religion?

Is our enthusiasm for politics stronger than our conversion to Christ? In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we have members throughout the world living and thriving under many forms of government, and participating in political parties that promote capitalist, socialist, communist, libertarian, and other political ideologies. In the United States, we are largely politically polarized and church members lean conservative. Outside the U.S., church members have very different political commitments that do not map neatly onto U.S. categories.

The list of considerations below is designed to help us assess if our political views are answering yearnings in our souls that should instead be answered by love of God and our neighbor.

  • When we ponder the question of how God’s purposes are to be achieved among humanity, our thoughts turn to political figures and parties.
  • We prefer political commentary to the current voices of God’s ordained servants.
  • We see people’s political views as the most important aspect of their identity.

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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.