UU Mormon

Sacrificing Conscience to Obedience

Posted on: February 12, 2010

I’ve been a fan of Orson Scott Card for many years.  I’ve enjoyed his books, read his columns and forums, and gotten great recommendations from him (it’s thanks to him I discovered my beloved Firefly).  I’ve tended to steer clear of his political posts though, because they’re so strident, even to the point of arrogance.  It’s always amazed me how indisputably right he believes he is.

One of the things that Card knows he is unquestionably right about is that our society’s viability depends on its basis in the 1950s style nuclear family.

American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.

Part of protecting marriage is making sure that LGBT people understand that they don’t have a valid place in society and must suppress or hide their sexuality.

Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those whoflagrantly [sic] violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.

The goal of the polity is not to put homosexuals in jail. The goal is to discourage people from engaging in homosexual practices in the first place, and, when they nevertheless proceed in their homosexual behavior, to encourage them to do so discreetly, so as not to shake the confidence of the community in the polity’s ability to provide rules for safe, stable, dependable marriage and family relationships.

So should gays become accepted in our culture or gain rights to marriage, it would fracture stable families and lead to the collapse of our society.  We would be left to flounder in the same social chaos as, say, Canada.  Or Belgium.

Honestly, I never gave gay marriage much thought before Proposition 8, and my support for gay rights was actually a byproduct of the main issue that I had with that whole fiasco.  See, what upset me, primarily, was that the church leaders invoked their authority as God’s spokesmen to influence a civil election.

Initially I tried to defend the church.  “The prophet didn’t tell people to vote for prop 8,” I said, “He just encouraged them to vote for it and donate their time and money…”  As my husband then pointed out, what’s the difference? He’s the Prophet.  You obey the Prophet.  Every child in Primary knows that much.  It made me uncomfortable to think that there might have been people out there who voted for something they wouldn’t have otherwise, who gave money to a cause they wouldn’t have supported, who went door to door and made phone calls because their church leaders told them to, not because they were inspired to by their political convictions. Especially since I heard church members express ambivalence with phrases like “I don’t see what the harm would be in allowing them to marry, but church leaders say…” and “I know I’m supposed to be against gay marriage…”

A recent column by Card in the Mormon Times talks about a group of young people who were active in the campaign for Proposition 8. He says they were raised to reject bigotry, and many had close friends who were gay. He compares the pain they underwent in supporting prop 8 with that of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac.

To their friends, these young Latter-day Saints seemed like any other bigots, and friendships ended or were severely damaged. Sometimes harder to bear was the self-questioning, for during their many phone calls to strangers, they ran across vehement supporters of Proposition 8 who were haters and bigots.

What am I doing on the same side of the issue as these pitiable people, these young single Saints asked themselves.

Yet they had faith in the gospel, in the prophets, in the “Proclamation on the Family.” And they acted on that faith, at great personal cost.

I am not wrong to compare them, or some of them at least, with Abraham, who was asked to violate everything he had fought for by sacrificing his son, or with the early church members who were shocked to find that they were expected to practice plural marriage.

These young people sacrificed friendships, some of their values, maybe even their consciences.  For the sake of obedience.

Card finds this praiseworthy.  If it’s true, I find it tragic.  And scary.  Do we really place so much value on obedience that it’s a virtue to do something that we believe is wrong because a certain group of men says it’s God’s will?

When my own state had a mean-spirited marriage amendment on the ballot I was relieved that it didn’t get any attention from the church (probably because they figured it would pass easily, which it did). No statements were read from the pulpit, so I was free to vote my conscience.  Yes, I actually believed that the “right” thing to do would be to vote however the church wanted me to, even if I disagreed with their position.  I don’t think I would have changed my vote; I think I would have still voted my conscience, but I certainly would have felt guilty about it.  And if I had voted the way I had been told to, voted for something I felt was wrong, I certainly would have felt guilty about that too.

I’ve been told by some (probably — hopefully — not representative) church members that if your conscience tells you something that is in opposition to what the Prophet says, then you’re in error and have been deceived by Satan.  So don’t trust what your heart tells you about right and wrong, listen to the Prophet.  And if it turns out that the Prophet tells you to do something that is wrong, he will bear the responsibility for it, not you, so you’re covered.

Think through that line of reasoning for a bit.  And imagine if 5 million people in the United States actually believed it and applied it beyond personal belief issues to political and social action.

Prop 8 has been nearly as controversial and polarizing within the church as without.  The church’s position has caused contention within wards, it has caused shame in church members, it has inspired acts of defiance by local leaders. All of which I find reassuring.  It means people are thinking.  Some may have sacrificed their consciences, but many others — on both sides of the issue — haven’t.

And that’s far more virtuous than obedience for its own sake.


12 Responses to "Sacrificing Conscience to Obedience"

Thanks for this post. I was trying to say something similar recently, but you did a much more eloquent job of it here.

Philomytha – You did such an awesome post here. I am cross-posting it at my blog for anyone who might not follow you.

[…] an interesting point-counterpoint, Philomytha takes on Orson Scott Card’s gay-rights-Abraham’s-sacrifice analogy, while Chris Smith is nonetheless still […]

Can’t remember how I even found your blog. But I did and have been enjoying it immensely for a few months.

I live in AZ, where a similar prop was on the ballot. I had this very internal debate you write about: follow the church leaders (aka “God”) or follow my conscience??

Ultimately, I voted against amending the state’s constitution to allow gay marriage. But I had absolutely zero conviction for such a vote. It was more of a guilty vote than anything. And then I started thinking about how much my vote bothered me and how I would be mortified if some of my friends knew how I’d voted. I couldn’t even defend it with any sort of conviction.

I’ve come to regret my vote. But the whole thing did stop to make me think: when the LDS church and my conscience are in conflict, my loyalty is to my conscience. For me, that’s a much clearer indication of God’s will.

It puts you in such a bind though, because even if you’d voted the other way you’d probably still be dealing with guilt. The way it’s set up, if you vote “wrong” you’re fighting against the kingdom of God, disobeying God by disobeying his anointed Prophet. If you’re not with Christ (i.e. the Church), you’re against him. I mean, that’s serious stuff! I know everyone has to pick and choose what to believe and what to discard, but the church makes it very difficult (intentionally, I’m sure) not to either accept or reject the whole package.

OSC needs to take a sabbatical from political commentary. That’s the most charitable thing I can say at the moment.

I know this is an old post, but I happened across it in a google search for Orson Scott Card. I understand that he’s fairly vehement in his positions so when I read the first paragraph, I understood, even agreed, with what you were saying.

Then I realized what it was Card was talking about and what you were standing up for. And while I applaud you in writing your own opinion, that which you think is right, your views are scattered and twisted and only appeal to an irrational mind. The truth will always appeal to a rational mind, but most of us aren’t rational on our best days, therefore we always seek for the easy, irrational solution that appeases are carnal mind.

Mr. Card, on the other hand, slashes deep into the heart of the matter, right where the truth bleeds freely. And in his stance, he is correct. America will not stand if the institution of marriage is desecrated so flippantly.

You’re trying to justify your own conscience in its opposition to the leaders of the church (I’m assuming you’re a member). But following your conscience is said with the assumption that it will lead you to make the right choice, regardless of what the leaders say, even though what they say is what your conscience SHOULD lead you to do. They say it so that you bear your own responsibility in your choice, not to do it because they say to do it, but to do it because you choose to. We’re promised that the prophet of the church will never lead us astray and if he does, the Lord will remove him from his place. He hasn’t been removed. And if you’re an upright, faithful member, then you sustain the prophet, which means you follow him, which means you believe that what he says comes from God and not his own mouth. Take from that what you will.

There’s also a saying (not sure how official it is) in the church that says if we obey those in authority, we will never be wrong. If what is done is wrong, then it will be on the heads of those who commanded us, but, for us, we can rest assured that we fulfilled our duty to obedience.

In the Bible, Christ comes right out and says that only those who will sacrifice everything (including their families and friends) are worthy to follow him. No matter if it wounds them. No matter if it upturns their entire life until the day they die. Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice Isaac in the end because God had promised him posterity through Isaac. It wasn’t Isaac God wanted. It was Abraham’s obedience. And you can rest assured that if Abraham HAD ended up sacrificing Isaac as God commanded, God would’ve blessed him an hundredfold for his obedience.

I know it’s not what anyone of the world wants to hear because it’s hard and it cuts to the core. The lie is always easier than the truth. Not to say that the truth is always hard, but it will inevitably be harder to accept than the lie. That’s how Satan works. He gives us the easy out, the thing we want to believe because it appeals to our carnal mind. But the choice to believe what he says is yours. He can have no power over you, only the power that you give him.

I think you’re onto something there, Mr. FakeEmailAddress.

The lie is always easier than the truth. Not to say that the truth is always hard, but it will inevitably be harder to accept than the lie. That’s how Satan works. He gives us the easy out, the thing we want to believe because it appeals to our carnal mind.

The easy out is to say “I did what the Prophet told me to, so I’m not responsible for the consequences.” It appeals to the carnal mind to evade accountability by saying “I was following orders.” You’re right, it is easier to accept than the truth.

Apostle Samuel Richards said:

And none are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the priesthood. We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark, that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly.


To take your line of thinking, to be a “good” member of the church, you have to lay everything on the line including your family and life. Also, you say blind obedience to God’s prophets is also required. Therefore, you are saying if Pres. Monson asked you to sacrifice your son on an altar, you would have to obey even if Pres. Monson was wrong in asking? Think about that for a second… Because you say a prophet cannot be questioned or disobeyed, you would have to kill your son. You would then be carted-off to jail and likely spend the rest of your life there, or potentially killed for your crimes. All because you obeyed the prophet.

I know, I know, you will say “Pres. Monson would not ask me to do that!” But, with your line of reasoning, it is possible.

Let’s take a less extreme example. The church gets behind a new ballot initiative to repeal federal and state laws banning plural marriage. It is time to take back the cause of the founders of our religion and re-institute the practice. In your mind, every “good” church member would have to get behind the prophet and go along? Even if it meant the breaking up of their current marriage and separation from their own children and extended family, if necessary? Only those that truly followed his counsel would be considered the “elect?” All others would be following Satan? Let’s say your husband or wife did not agree and dealt you an ultimatum: leave the church and its new polygamist agenda or I will divorce you and take the kids. You would go with the church and leave your family?

Groups with similar belief systems and level of requirements, my friend, led to situations like Waco, Jim Jones’ group, etc.

Who has twisted and irrational beliefs, here?

[…] Sacrificing Conscience to Obedience […]

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