I’ve been a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for over 45 years. I have also served a full-time mission for the church, and until recently, I’ve never heard of such a committee. I looked it up on Google to see what I could find.
“The Strengthening Church Members Committee (SCMC) is a committee of general authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) who monitor the publications of church members for possible criticism of local and general leaders of the church. If criticism is found, the committee may forward information to local church authorities, who may bring charges of apostasy, which can result in excommunication.”
Why would the church and prophets of God be afraid of criticism?
Christ criticized the religious experts of his day. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf even includes this observation in one of his talks, “This was one of the Savior’s criticisms of the religious “experts” of His day, whom He chastised for attending to the hundreds of minor details of the law while neglecting the weightier matters.” The Love of God, October 2009
If we were one of those “religious experts” would we have humbly received Christ’s criticism? Why does criticism have to be monitored? After all, enduring criticism is the price of discipleship.
Robert D. Hales gave a wonderful talk on this subject in the October 2008 General Conference. The whole talk is worth reading. I will only quote parts of it.
“We have gathered together as one, we have taken upon us the name of Jesus Christ, and we are Christians. One of the questions we would ask: why then, if we have that love of the Savior, would someone want to be an antagonist or to attack us? . . . One sister asked, “Why doesn’t the Church defend itself more actively when accusations are made against it?”
To her inquiry I would say that one of mortality’s great tests comes when our beliefs are questioned or criticized. In such moments, we may want to respond aggressively—to “put up our dukes.” But these are important opportunities to step back, pray, and follow the Savior’s example. Remember that Jesus Himself was despised and rejected by the world. And in Lehi’s dream, those coming to the Savior also endured “mocking and pointing … fingers” (1 Nephi 8:27). “The world hath hated [my disciples],” Jesus said, “because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14) But when we respond to our accusers as the Savior did, we not only become more Christlike, we invite others to feel His love and follow Him as well. . .
Some people mistakenly think responses such as silence, meekness, forgiveness, and bearing humble testimony are passive or weak. But to “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44) takes faith, strength, and, most of all, Christian courage.
The Prophet Joseph Smith demonstrated this courage throughout his life. Though he “suffer[ed] severe persecution at the hands of all classes of men, both religious and irreligious” (Joseph Smith—History 1:27), he did not retaliate or give in to hatred. Like all true disciples of Christ, he stood with the Savior by loving others in a tolerant and compassionate way. That is Christian courage.
When we do not retaliate—when we turn the other cheek and resist feelings of anger—we too stand with the Savior. We show forth His love, which is the only power that can subdue the adversary and answer our accusers without accusing them in return. That is not weakness. That is Christian courage.
Through the years we learn that challenges to our faith are not new, and they aren’t likely to disappear soon. But true disciples of Christ see opportunity in the midst of opposition.
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Abinadi was bound and brought before the evil King Noah. Although the king vigorously opposed Abinadi and eventually sentenced him to death, Abinadi boldly taught the gospel and bore his testimony anyway. Because Abinadi took advantage of that opportunity, a priest named Alma was converted to the gospel and brought many souls unto Christ. The courage of Abinadi and Alma was Christian courage.
Experience shows that seasons of negative publicity about the Church can help accomplish the Lord’s purposes. In 1983 the First Presidency wrote to Church leaders, “Opposition may be in itself an opportunity. Among the continuing challenges faced by our missionaries is a lack of interest in religious matters and in our message. These criticisms create … interest in the Church. … This provides an opportunity [for members] to present the truth to those whose attention is thus directed toward us.”
We can take advantage of such opportunities in many ways: a kind letter to the editor, a conversation with a friend, a comment on a blog, or a reassuring word to one who has made a disparaging comment. We can answer with love those who have been influenced by misinformation and prejudice—who are “kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12). I assure you that to answer our accusers in this way is never weakness. It is Christian courage in action. . .
More regrettable than the Church being accused of not being Christian is when Church members react to such accusations in an un-Christlike way! May our conversations with others always be marked by the fruits of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Galatians 5:22–23). To be meek, as defined in Webster’s dictionary, is “manifesting patience and longsuffering: enduring injury without resentment.” Meekness is not weakness. It is a badge of Christian courage. . .True disciples speak with quiet confidence, not boastful pride.
As true disciples, our primary concern must be others’ welfare, not personal vindication. Questions and criticisms give us an opportunity to reach out to others and demonstrate that they matter to our Heavenly Father and to us. Our aim should be to help them understand the truth, not defend our egos . . . To be guileless is to have a childlike innocence, to be slow to take offense and quick to forgive. . . To be guileless is to look for our own fault first. When accused, we should ask as the Savior’s Apostles did, “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:22). If we listen to the answer given by the Spirit, we can, if needed, make corrections, apologize, seek forgiveness, and do better. Without guile, true disciples avoid being unduly judgmental of others’ views. . .
To my inquiring sister and all who seek to know how we should respond to our accusers, I reply, we love them. Whatever their race, creed, religion, or political persuasion, if we follow Christ and show forth His courage, we must love them. We do not feel we are better than they are. Rather, we desire with our love to show them a better way—the way of Jesus Christ. . .”
As we work with people in and out of the church our response to them should be the same. It would be hypocritical to be kind, loving, and tolerant to those outside of the church and then threaten, exercise control, dominion, and compulsion upon the souls of members of the church D&C 121:37. You could compare the situation to being sweet and lovely to coworkers, friends, and neighbors while yelling and screaming, and abusing members of your family. Would such a man or woman be exercising Christian Courage?
After all, we as members of the church “claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men [in and out of the church] the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” Articles of Faith 1:11
What’s the big deal if someone chooses to believe something different than what everyone else believes? Would it be sinful to declare, “This man does not seem to believe what is being taught”? Would it be grounds for apostasy and excommunication to publicly declare your belief, even if no one agrees with you? What if you put your thoughts on a blog? Is there any law in the LDS church against someone’s beliefs?
The Book of Mormon teaches, “Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds . . . For there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes. Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds.” Alma 30:7,11
Why do you think God strictly commands us to allow each other the freedom of thought and expression? Why does the Bill of Rights in our God-inspired Constitution begin with, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”?
What would happen to us as a country or as a church if the freedom to express our ideas, ask questions, and think on our own was denied?
I wondered why the Church would set up a secret police, such as the Strengthening Church Members Committee, to watch its members. It sounds too much like the Zoramites:
3 And it came to pass that after the more popular part of the Zoramites had consulted together concerning the words which had been preached unto them, they were angry because of the word, for it did destroy their craft; therefore they would not hearken unto the words.
4 And they sent and gathered together throughout all the land all the people, and consulted with them concerning the words which had been spoken.
5 Now their rulers and their priests and their teachers did not let the people know concerning their desires; therefore they found out privily the minds of all the people.
6 And it came to pass that after they had found out the minds of all the people, those who were in favor of the words which had been spoken by Alma and his brethren were cast out of the land; and they were many. . . Alma 35:3-6
I found the First Presidency statement that cites scriptural mandate for the Church’s committee. Church News, Saturday, Aug. 22, 1992
The justification for this secret committee is D&C 123:1-5.
1 And again, we would suggest for your consideration the propriety of all the saints gathering up a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses put upon them by the people of this State;
2 And also of all the property and amount of damages which they have sustained, both of character and personal injuries, as well as real property;
3 And also the names of all persons that have had a hand in their oppressions, as far as they can get hold of them and find them out.
4 And perhaps a committee can be appointed to find out these things, and to take statements and affidavits; and also to gather up the libelous publications that are afloat;
5 And all that are in the magazines, and in the encyclopedias, and all the libelous histories that are published, and are writing, and by whom, and present the whole concatenation of diabolical rascality and nefarious and murderous impositions that have been practised upon this people—
I can hardly see the resemblance between those who were robbed, raped, burned out of their homes, and murdered; and church leaders who have suffered no physical harm. What's wrong with criticism and a difference in personal views? The early saints were petitioning the Government for a redress of grievances. It was their constitutional right to do so. They were also making a record of their sufferings so as to "claim that promise which shall call him [God] forth from his hiding place; and also that the whole nation may be left without excuse before he can send forth the power of his mighty arm" D&C 123:6.
On the other hand, privily finding out the minds of the people and casting members out of the temples, synagogues, and churches merely because of a difference in opinion does not sound like Christian courage. "Behold what the scripture says—man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay" Mormon 8:20.
According to the Book of Mormon there should be “no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done;” If men were punished for their beliefs, this would bring men onto unequal grounds Alma 30:11.
We just finished a series of three posts on Jeremiah. Verse four brings up the idea of leaders who cause the Lord’s people to fear. It sounds like the Lord is going to bring in some new shepherds: “And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:4
I read a lot of different blogs. I’ve noticed that when the topic becomes controversial, many people post as anonymous. There are some really good comments posted by Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous. Why don’t people want their name associated with their comment? I think I understand. Do they know about this secret committee and fear being reported?
I recognize a genuine fear among those who sincerely have a different opinion and belief than what is printed in the correlated church manuals. These members are searching the scriptures and find discrepancies between what is being taught and what the scriptures say. They still value their membership in the church, but want to talk about their sincere questions and concerns. It’s a sad thing to witness fear tactics, such as the Strengthening Church Members Committee, used in an organization that bears Christ's name.
Joseph Smith said, "I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine." History of the Church, 5:340