What the Middle Way isn’t

I think there are a number of misconceptions about the Middle Way.  Because the middle way is a considered, disciplined path based upon centered emotions and values, many think it is a compromise between positions.  It is not.  I address here a few misconceptions.

First, the Middle Way is not lukewarm.  For example, the writer of the apocalypse wrote:

 “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.  So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16)

This verse is not speaking of a Middle Way but rather ‘indifference’.  The Middle Way is not indifferent — It’s hard work and it’s decisive: One must decisively establish what one believes, and be confident enough in it so as to not be bothered by others’ beliefs.  This is not lukewarm.

If you are an independent voter, and carefully vote based upon issues and what you feel to be right, does this mean you are indifferent? lukewarm?

The Middle Way is not “middle ground”.  Ted Callister gave an October 2011 conference address in which he said the following:

That is the genius of the Book of Mormon—there is no middle ground. It is either the word of God as professed, or it is a total fraud. This book does not merely claim to be a moral treatise or theological commentary or collection of insightful writings. It claims to be the word of God—every sentence, every verse, every page.

What is really interesting about this comment is that it is entirely inconsistent with the internal claims of the Book of Mormon, as well as the claims by it’s translator, and the process whereby revelation occurs.  The Book of Mormon is a spiritual record of teachings — a set of ‘conference reports’ and abridged historical logs from a people over time.  They were humans — they understood truth in part, and taught truth as they understood it.  They were uniquely insightful in terms of defining the Doctrine of Christ and testifying of Christ.  It is a spiritual witness.

We profess as LDS that the Bible is the word of god as far as it is translated correctly, and the Book of Mormon as the word of god.  Such profession requires a specific definition of ‘word of god’, such that it be not confused with the Word of God, being Jesus Christ.  Scriptures are not the Word, but rather, words of men inspired by god as they try to deal with their realities day by day.  To make scripture something that it is not: a word-for-word dictation from god representing the definitive Word is inconsistent with the internal claims of all scripture and borders on idolatry.

The Middle Way does not play this game of splitting between it’s either the Word of God or “all fraud”.  There is no middle ground on this because the proposition is flawed to begin with.

The Middle Way is not neutral.  I have seen numerous talks that speak of ‘no middle ground’.  For example, Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of loyalty to the church in the following way:

“Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.” Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Address April 2003.

In this talk, President Hinckley laid out the history of the Church with respect to prohibition — that in repealing prohibition, the residents of Utah, predominantly LDS, voted to repeal when the Church leadership asked the members not to support repeal.  This was a great disappointment to the Prophet at the time, Heber J. Grant.  It “broke his heart”, according to Pres. Hinckley.

President Hinckley then directly stated that members in the church should have “uncompromising loyalty to the Church”.   I absolutely agree with President Hinckley that I should be uncompromisingly loyal to the Church, and I will defend it and sustain it to my dying day.  Part of that loyalty is ensuring that the Church does not err in teaching or enforcing doctrines and principles that are harmful to others.  My uncompromising loyalty does not allow me compromise when I feel that the Church’s position is wrong — I need to stand as a witness at all times and in all places to the truth.

I think it important to properly interpret President Hinckley’s teachings on this matter.  To demand an “all or nothing” position from authority is called “Splitting”, and is a type of emotional and spiritual abuse.  I give President Hinckley the benefit of the doubt that he did not mean to force people’s hand in following church practices that are wrong and harmful.  The church has repeatedly said that it does not require members to adopt a specific political position, and on politics, the Church remains neutral.  But in the specific case as mentioned of Prohibition, of the case of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70s, and in the case of Gay Marriage and Proposition 8 in 2000 timeframe, the Church has taken a position of strong opposition to a political issue.

To be “Middle Way” does not mean that I am neutral on these issues.  I am not.  However, the Middle Way does not mean that I must accept or reject the Church because I do not agree with the politics of the leaders of it.  As stated in the Middle Way of Faith, when we aggregate teachings of the church into a single proposition that must be tested as ‘true’ or ‘false’, we fail to have a testable proposition.   The premise that the Church is “All true” or “All false” is a false dichotomy, and untestable proposition, and by itself, false.

Likewise to demand uncompromising loyalty when a teaching or political position is harmful is to promote evil in the name of religion.  In four ways during my lifetime, the Church took positions that I cannot morally support:

1. Blacks in the Priesthood.  I had to teach a black man during my mission that he would never be able to be a full member of the church and enjoy temple blessings.  I felt horrible about this — immoral, yet I taught it because I was uncompromisingly loyal.  Now, as I study church history, there is evidence that David O McKay believed as a prophet that there was no doctrinal or revelatory support for the heinous practice.   I was not neutral, but I was on the wrong side of this.

2. Opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.  The Church took a very aggressive position in supporting Phyllis Schaffley’s opposition to the ERA, even to the point of spreading false information to scare people in the church that the ERA would cause women to have to fight in battles or have same sex bathrooms and the like.  Such information was false, but for whatever reason, the church promoted the false in order to preserve the status quo.  Neutrality in this case is to side with the aggressor.

3.  “Some things that are true are not very useful.” In 1972, Leonard Arrington became Church Historian, and opened up the archives for true scholarship into church history.  Boyd K Packer’s 1981 address entitled “The Mantle is far greater than the intellect” created a divide between scholarly research and study of history and faith-promoting history.  Within one year, Leonard Arrington was released without public acknowledgment, and within 11 more years, historians and those with open views of church history were systematically excommunicated from the Church.  This systematic rendition of inconvenient and unuseful truth to a memory hole is not a topic on which I can be neutral.

4.  Marriage Equality.  Gay marriage is a human right.  When two people desire to care for each other and have the same rights as those who happen to have heterosexual attraction rather than homosexual, then denying them the right to marriage on the basis of gender is a fundamental violation of human rights.  Restricting Gay Marriage is a violation of the first amendment.  When a religion other than LDS teaches that a committed, loving marriage is infinitely superior than casual, multipartner sex, it is teaching and practicing what they believe to be right and true.  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  Restricting Episcopal and Unitarian ministers from conducting gay marriages is prohibiting the free exercise of their religions.  I cannot remain neutral on this either.