Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Unwritten LDS Military Order of Things: Insubordination

Unwritten LDS Church Rules

As a BYU student, I attended a devotional there in Oct. 1996 where Elder Boyd Packer gave a talk titled "The Unwritten Order of Things". It's worth the read. He outlined how, even though the LDS Church has an immense amount of non-scriptural instructions that leaders must exactly follow (known as the Church Handbook of Instructions, volume 1 of which is carefully controlled and not permitted to be published publicly), there is a whole other level of unwritten commandments that must be adhered to. They are learned by deference to higher LDS Church authorities and by imitation. We were instructed to learn them by watching and then following the Brethren. (LDS general authorities) According to Elder Packer, LDS Church leaders, in particular, are expected to be exemplary mimickers. And one of the most important parts of to be mimicked is deference to and obedience to what are referred to as "line of authority" and "proper channels". This is not only preeminent for any leader in the LDS Church, but also important for the rank and file to understand. In recent years, this modern LDS Church teaching has been a growing crescendo ringing in the ears of mere members, most particularly since the advent of its most recent president.

The Secret LDS UCMJ

The military equivalent of LDS "line of authority" and "proper channels" is the idea of "chain of command" and is the primary way it maintains order. It is a cornerstone aspect of how the military hierarchy governs. If a service member behaves in a way that disrupts the chain of command, he could be reprimanded by court martial for insubordination. The precise definitions of different types of insubordination are contained in Articles 89-92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). In general, a service member is guilty of insubordination against a superior officer (commissioned, warrant, or non-commissioned) if he disobeys or disrespectfully treats that officer, regardless of whether that officer is in the same branch of the military or even within that service member's direct chain of command. Insubordination is one of the very few crimes specific to the military that is not a crime among ordinary civilians.

But, some might claim, LDS Church members are not ordinary civilians. The institution has adopted this cornerstone part of the military code for its own, particularly within its leadership hierarchy. You will not find it, however, in its uniform code book of rules that leaders are directed to scrictly adhere to. It is entirely unwritten, as Elder Packer suggested, though very real.

That there are unwritten orders that proceed down the chain of command in the Church which supersede even rigid Church Handbook rules is no longer in question. For example, three years ago in early 2015, the late Elder Von Keetch directed local stake leaders to excommunicate undesirables by both bypassing the Church Handbook (try the husband and wife jointly at the stake level, when only men are ever to be tried there) and also disregarding the "strict commands of God" that there should be no one tried for their beliefs. (consider NC Alma 16:2) His leaked top-down directives to local leaders are here and here. If since that time in 2015 you were to see someone tried and excommunicated 1) jointly as husband and wife at the stake level, despite the Handbook's call for no joint trials and that women are only to be tried at the ward level, and 2) for their beliefs rather than crimes, you have identified the fingerprints of the secret LDS UCMJ.

In fact, implicit threat of "court martial" for insubordination is enough for members of the LDS Church not to break rank but to maintain formation. When sufficient deference is not given to a leader, it can quickly evolve into actual disciplinary action for that insubordinate person--or threat of excommunication for apostasy, as it is reclassified. Notice how the late Elder Keetch classified it as exactly this.

The Crime: Insubordination to a Superior Officer

It is ironic that it cannot be called insubordination but must instead be called "apostasy." Perhaps this could be because a public reference to something military-sounding could be embarrassing and would not "safeguard" the proper public image of the LDS Church, as it tries to do. (This is explained as a reason for disciplining some members in its Handbook.) The LDS Church has already had much trouble with the public thinking of it as a cult often due to its perceived focus on excessive adoration and following of leaders to now have to deal with people also likening it to the military. It certainly wouldn't help the next Church holiday campaign.

As an example, it was only after our bishop had discovered during an interview our use of a non-LDS sacrament ordinance (see the previous post) in the privacy of our own home, that he issued an order to stop. He insisted that only he could authorize such private religious observances, apparently whether an LDS one or any other. He was unwilling or unable to provide any scriptural authority for his demand other than claiming, in essence, that the Lord "hath given his power unto men," (NC 2 Ne 12:1), otherwise called "keys" in LDS jargon, and that any congregant of his ought to thus obey. In military jargon, this is referred to as the authority of rank. And it is enough that any subordinate officer must comply. It has nothing to do with that superior officer's ability or, in the case of the Church, his worthiness before the Lord. Not complying is grounds for being accused of the crime of insubordination.

What do the scriptures have to say about such ultimatums given? The Lord's warning in T&C 139:5 that use such of control, dominion, and compulsion would cause a leader to lose priesthood ought to be warning enough. But generally, when a superior officer either in the Church or in the military tells a lower ranking leader or officer not to worry about it and just proceed with the abuse, he will do so. The prophet Mormon anciently saw in vision that religious leaders in our day would direct their subordinates to "do this [e.g., follow orders] … and it mattereth not, for the Lord will uphold such at the last day." (NC Mormon 4:4)

"Intolerable Acts of Tyranny"

In one of many examples of irony between the public and private faces of the Church, consider how such counter-scriptural ultimatums given behind closed doors contrast with the public pronouncements. Statements such as these are generally met with great public acclaim and have often resulted in glowing press for the Church:
  • Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in a Church news conference Jan 27, 2015: "Certainly, religious rights must include a family’s right to worship and conduct religious activities in the home as it sees fit, and for parents to teach their children according to their religious values—recognizing that when children are old enough they will choose their own path."
  • Elder Lance B. Wickman taught as recently as July 7, 2016, at a BYU Religious Freedom Conference that barring someone from worshipping "in his own home would be an intolerable act of tyranny."
  • Elder D. Todd Christofferson broadened this when speaking at a Historic Religious Freedom Event in Brazil on April 29, 2016: "May we pursue peace by working together to preserve and protect the freedom of all people to hold and manifest a religion or belief of their choice, whether individually or in community with others, at home or abroad, in public or private, and in worship, observance, practice and teaching. … Full freedom is more than the 'negative' freedom to be left alone. It's also a 'positive freedom' that allows a person to live his or her religion in a tolerant, respectful and accommodating environment. … How can we claim the freedom of speech without being able to say what we truly believe?"
Of course, these more or less align with what the Church still claims to subscribe to in the 11th Article of Faith: "we claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." "All men" includes a lot of people.

So, have local leaders not gotten the memo? In many cases, including here, they have, in fact, read and considered these sorts of statements. But the hidden dynamic of the unwritten LDS version of the USMC is also at play. Publicly the LDS Church can state one thing, while privately local leaders who have been given secret direction via trusted "proper channels" understand that those public pronouncements are doublespeak and therefore will not take them at face value, trusting instead their secret communications. For example, in this case, LDS Church leaders understand these public statements and the 11th Article of Faith in reality are meant to exclude members of the Church, who are absolutely permitted to be subject to such "intolerable act[s] of tyranny" by their leaders.

Is it possible the Book of Mormon prophet-writer Nephi foresaw this when he wrote that the Gentiles (who include the LDS Church) "shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord and their works shall be in the dark"? (NC 2 Ne. 12:1)

The history of this tradition of contrasting public vs. private understandings can be traced back to the post-Joseph days of Utah-era Church practice and advocacy of polygamy, which was illegal in the United States (including its territories). At that time in the Church, "lying for the Lord" to one's "enemy" in order to protect others from law enforcement was considered acceptable. In fact, it was considered so normal a thing, that when Wilford Woodruff announced in a press release the end of the practice of polygamy in 1890 (also known as "the Manifesto"), no one in the LDS Church was surprised when it continued unabated, just more secret, as has been well documented by historians in recent decades. It, of course, actually was forced to end 14 years later with the so-called "Second Manifesto", where the US government wasn't willing to play word games anymore.

"By What Authority!?"

I believe it's worth noting some of what is taught in the temple, without disclosing anything participants are directed not to. (Although I accept that some like to extend that direction beyond the actual instruction to not discussing anything from the temple--if you're such a person, you should consider skipping to the next section.)

It is interesting in the cosmic creation drama of the temple what happens when Lucifer is confronted by followers of the Father, who have looked over his kingdom and, as he supposes, seem to him to want to take possession of all of it. It's worrisome. As a fallen angel, he has invested an awful lot of time building up his earthly kingdom, priesthoods, an army of oppressing false priests, etc. through blood and horror, and he's a little "concerned" (though not fearful, he might protest) and feeling threatened. Authority in the realm he has openly invaded and illegally occupied is always granted by his chain of command, Lucifer himself being at the top (bottom?). Any challenge to his believed authority to govern what he has built up is always met by the same query: "By what authority!?" (LDS old timers can't read that without hearing it and remembering the perfectly-acted visceral and utter disdain shown toward the messengers of truth) How dare anyone threaten his kingdom by bringing truth and light into this dark, occupied territory? The enemy of our souls cannot help but challenge their authority when confronted. Who do they think within the permitted chain of command could have possibly allowed them to disrupt his "great day of … power" by doing anything other than what he, at his sole discretion, will permit? Who do they think gave them any "keys" of authority here within his imitation he calls "religion"? (He always seems to suppose that those seeking heavenly messengers should be satisfied with "religion" instead…) The answer then provided by the messengers is upsetting to him in the extreme: by the authority, or in the name, of Jesus Christ, who literally sent them and gave them words to deliver. Christ's words and direct errand are their authority. And ultimately Lucifer's challenge to that authority--his demand to know what "keys" they think they have--is powerless when he is finally dismissed in due time.

How is this drama different in any age? How could it be any different in a militaristic situation of command and control where insubordination is a crime? How could a leader in such an organization doing as he feels directed (but rightly refusing to identify those feelings with the spirit of discernment) do anything other than fall back to questioning the authority of any individual who seeks to follow Christ? Or to disdainfully demand to know of an insubordinate subordinate "by what authority!?" the person does as Christ commands? To claim that member lacks authority without the leader's permission, even if the Heavens have directly authorized the man?

It is eternally the same in every age of the cosmic drama. It is witnessed as an essential part of the pattern in LDS temples, even if it's not often considered or understood.

Enforcing the Commandments of Men in the Name of Jesus Christ

Perhaps what is worse than the attempted top-down enforcement of proper rank and file formation by means of control, dominion, and compulsion is that it is consistently done in the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, directly in spite of Christ's forbidding of priesthood use for enforcement of anything in any degree (much less chain-of-command orders!), the whole idea is pinned on the Lord. It's claimed that it is His will. Now that's some considerable irony. The Lord Himself warned that "you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain." (OC Deut. 2:10)

Unfortunately, many pretended Saints (sheep's clothing helps with the pretense) instead speak idle words, gratifying their pride, exercising their vain ambition, while using the Lord’s name only in vain. Whenever someone proclaims their own agenda in the name of the Lord they take His name in vain. The commandment doesn't forbid swearing--it's when someone claims to speak for the Lord when they actually do not that violates the command against vainly using the Lord’s name.

Lots more irony there, when you consider how strongly LDSs look down on anyone using "profane language" while at the same time being happy to use the Lord's name to justify their abuses.

As Peter said, "we ought to obey God rather than men." (NC Acts 3:7)

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