LDS Conference Talk Analysis: Dear Elder Oaks, Loving Others is Easy When You Don’t Focus on Differences
October 2014 LDS General Conference: Mind Control Overview
Last weekend, the Mormon Church held its semi-annual General Conference, two days of religious talks that all members are expected to watch.
I’ve listened to many Conference talks in my lifetime, both before I left the Church and since. This year, one talk stood out, because I saw lots of buzz about it on Twitter. It is talk, “Loving Others and Living with Differences,” by Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, given Saturday morning.
The overall theme of “Love” might seem to place this talk above reproach, yet it is a case study of LDS manipulation at its best. In just 15 minutes, Elder Oaks deployed enough thought reform to win a round Mind Control Bingo. So I’m here to break it down.
Some members will walk away from Elder Oaks’ talk feeling more unconditional love for their fellow man, with a better understanding of how to practice it.
But others will come away reaffirmed in their belief that they’re good, the outside world is evil, but in spite of this, maybe they should try to tolerate and endure all these horrible people as best they can. And that’s not love.
He starts by evoking one of the best lines Jesus ever said: “Love one another.” That’s some pretty obvious morality there. Difficult to argue with him, unless you’re a cartoon villain, or Ayn Rand.
To make sure you know he’s talking about love, he quotes the prophet, Thomas S. Monson: “Love is the very essence of the gospel.” This is an appeal to ideals, which generates euphoria and associates the organization with goodness. Anyone criticizing the Church will seem to be arguing against love itself. I’ve been accused of this many times: Why can’t you leave a good thing alone? We teach love and service!
After all this buildup, Oaks’ quickly flips love on its head, with a wince-inducing line. When I saw this quote on Twitter, I knew I had to listen to the whole talk:
“Why is it so difficult to have christlike love for one another? It is difficult because we must live among those who do not share our beliefs and values and covenant obligations.”
Sadly, this kind of thinking is pretty normal in Mormonism. Yet it’s a dangerous thought control technique. It reverses blame. Love is hard because of them. Mormons have a hard time loving because their fellow man refuses to accept the gospel. If only they’d join up, love would be so easy!
Blame reversal, like this, actually generates hate. Any Mormon who experiences difficulty loving a non-Mormon has a ready-made excuse: It’s the non-Mormon’s fault.
Love is actually quite easy. Unless dehumanization (or “othering”) has occurred. Quotes like this generate us-versus-them thinking. There are conditions to love via demand for purity, reinforced through a constant concern over “worthiness.” There are dozens of hate-generating scriptures and quotes from prophets and apostles, like this one from the Book of Mormon: “For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.” Moroni 7:11
The Church does not teach tolerance of the beliefs of others or acceptance of those who hold different values. It plays lip service to love while actively teaching intolerance. In my book, Recovering Agency, the chapters on “Us-versus-them thinking” and “Black and white thinking” offer many more examples. Some of them spoken by Oaks himself.
Here’s a fresh example. Today, I saw an article called “Rescuing the Wayward Soul,” posted prominently on LDS.org’s main page. It is not enough to leave “wayward” family members to their own beliefs. They have to promote seminars on how to get them back.
Any non-Mormon beliefs, no matter how sacred and meaningful they are to an individual, are not legitimate.
Oaks provides his own us-versus-them scripture:
“I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” John 17:14–15
This is the source of the popular LDS phrase, which Oaks repeats, “We are to live in the world, but not be of the world.” This is how Mormonism leverages the isolation technique, milieu control. Mormons don’t move onto cult compounds, but they are instructed to mentally compartmentalize the things of God, separate from the carnal worldly stuff they are forced to interact with. This keeps Mormons effectively isolated from worldly influences that could distract them from LDS influences.
Oaks goes on to explain why Mormons don’t practice total isolation. He refers to a New Testament parable of the Kingdom of God being like leaven, or yeast in dough, that raises “the whole mass by its influence.” In other words, Mormons could go off and live in a separatist compound someplace (maybe like Brigham Young did), but they have to spread their ideas to as many unbelievers as possible.
Since members must be exposed to external beliefs without being influenced in the same way they wish to influence outsiders, Oaks spends some time reiterating the commandments:
“The gospel has many teachings about keeping the commandments while living among people with different beliefs and practices.” Yes, it does. The gospel is full of mind control techniques that prevent members from thinking certain thoughts and that keep members compliant with the wishes of the leaders.
He then offers some practical advice about how to avoid these worldly influences. He moves right into an LDS doctrine that I think is one of the most manipulative: Contention is evil.
“Contention” is usually understood by Mormons to be anything that goes against what the ordained leaders have said. Any difference in opinion on policy, core doctrines, leadership methods, etc., are dismissed as petty murmuring and pointless complaining. Even very serious issues, like how poorly child abuse cases are handled, or how unequally women are treated, or the fact that homosexuals are regularly ostracized even by their own families, are never up for debate.
This doctrine prevents faith-damaging doubts of one member from spreading to others, no matter how legitimate the questions or how pressing the complaint.
“Avoid contention” is the banner under which members are instructed to not rock the boat. Any time the boat rocks, just a little, that must mean contention is afoot and it’s time to settle down, get humble, and remember who speaks for God (the leaders). It’s why Kate Kelly was excommunicated, supposedly not because she wants women to have the priesthood, but because of her “tone.” She was, according to the LDS definition, contentious.
Lest there be no misunderstanding that this is what he meant, he quotes the Book of Mormon, wherein Jesus himself lays down the law pretty clearly:
“…And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
“Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” 3 Nephi 11:28–30
Be compliant and uncomplaining, or you’re on the side of evil.
He quotes more scriptures, meant to suppress emotions, including: “Wise men turn away wrath,” (Proverbs 29:8) and “follow after the things that make for peace,” (Romans 14:19) and “…the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
It’s obviously not good to go around angry all the time, but anger has its place, as Christ himself showed when he chased the money-changers out of the temple. LDS leaders are motivated to suppress community anger that may be stirring towards them. After all, they have quite a bit of power and are not above abusing it. (The illusion that they are above abusing power is part of totalist mind control.)
Totalist systems rely on proselytizing, which he works in by quoting: “And thou shalt declare glad tidings, yea, publish it upon the mountains, and upon every high place, and among every people that thou shalt be permitted to see. And thou shalt do it with all humility, trusting in me, reviling not against revilers.” D&C 19:30
Here, he is also promoting humility and complete trust in God (and therefore, trust in the leaders), which is another mind control technique: doctrine over self. Preserving doctrine is far more important than the health or happiness of any one individual, or even collections of millions of individuals.
Then Oaks says something which hits on a number of mind control techniques:
“Even as we seek to be meek and to avoid contention, we must not compromise or dilute our commitment to the truths we understand. We must not surrender our positions or our values. The gospel of Jesus Christ and the covenants we have made inevitably cast us as combatants in the eternal contest between truth and error. there is no middle ground in that contest.”
Here’s a full list of what’s going on here:
- Invoking meekness is another use of the “doctrine over self” technique.
- He calls for members to not budge. Don’t be persuadable to any other position, no matter what! It is literally mind control: Don’t have any other thoughts other than the ones we have approved.
- He then reminds members of their covenants, which employs the public commitment technique.
- He refers to the Savior, which invokes the sacred science technique, that anything Oaks says is as a representative of God.
- He refers to an inevitable battle. There is no getting out of this. Everyone else is the enemy, and members of the Church are on the side of good. Us-versus-them thinking again.
- There is no middle ground, which is black and white thinking. You’re either with us, or against us, and being against us means you’re siding with evil (“them”).
He tells story of how Jesus defended the adulteress and treated her with love, but he then told her to “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) He uses this story to make the point, again, that true believers will never be swayed, not even if moved by compassion: “Loving kindness is required, but a follower of Christ, just like the Master, will be firm in the truth.” This further dilutes and distorts the true meaning of unconditional love, tolerance, and acceptance of others, even when their values differ.
Next he outright dismisses the validity of the beliefs of anyone who is not LDS: “Like the Savior, his followers are sometimes confronted by sinful behavior, and today, when they hold out for right and wrong as they understand it, they are sometimes called bigots and fanatics.”
This is reframing and loading the language, two manipulation techniques worth noting. To translate: When Mormons get pushy about their beliefs and try to convert others, certain people will take offense. No matter how nice they are about it, they are not respecting our beliefs. So we call them out for it.
Guess what? Mormons can be pretty bigoted and fanatical. Publishing your tidings from the mountains happens to be pretty fanatical, even if you do so with humility. In fact, I argue that it is completely impossible to do so with humility, because you think your beliefs are better than mine, and will stop at nothing (short of being impolite) to make me believe it. Mormons have been known to pester, act superior, violate boundaries, and fake friendships in their attempts to preach the gospel.
You cannot preach your “one and only truth” and be humble at the same time. It’s impossible. “Go and sin no more” is inherently judgmental. You place yourself in the position to judge what is a sin and what isn’t. Even if you’re quoting scripture. You are literally making yourself a stand-in for God, and for another individual’s relationship with God (or lack thereof). If you act like this, people will perceive you as a bigot and a fanatic.
He moves quickly into speaking about marriage equality. Some have called this part of the talk the “concession speech,” which is appropriate, given that the very next day, the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal in Utah.
“Many worldly values and practices pose such challenges to latter-day saints. Prominent among these today is the strong tide that is legalizing same sex marriage in many states and provinces in the United States and Canada and many other countries in the world.”
It’s hard for many true believing Mormons to understand this, but the Church’s position of fighting legalized marriage equality is bigoted. This organization has been literally trying to deny the rights of a minority to practice their own personal beliefs as they see fit. This goes against the 11th Article of Faith: “Let them worship how, when, or what they may.” Just because you don’t believe that homosexuals should marry doesn’t mean this isn’t a very important core value for other people. All we ask is the right to practice that value — a right you have worked very hard to deny.
This intolerance for outside values extends further: “We also live among some who don’t believe in marriage at all. Some don’t believe in having children. Some oppose any restrictions on pornography or dangerous drugs.” He talks about how challenging it can be for Mormons to be exposed to people who espouse and live these values, all couched in a context of how terrible they are.
He goes on to speak about laws that guarantee freedom of religion, except for those religious acts that harm others, like violence and sexual exploitation. Because of religious freedom, Mormons are, unfortunately, stuck with us: “Less grievous behaviors, even though unacceptable by some believers, may simply need to be endured, if legalized by what a Book of Mormon prophet called ‘a voice of the people.’”
The fact that it’s a “challenge” to live amongst us, something you must “endure,” is furthering intolerance and bigotry. Elder Oaks gives some good advice here, instructing listeners to love their neighbors and avoid contention and to be civil, to be a good listener and “show concern for their sincere beliefs.” But this advice is framed in all of this long-suffering patience.
This isn’t how open-minded belief systems work. I’m polyamorous, but I don’t feel the need to “tolerate” monogamous people. I’m bisexual, but I’m not patiently abiding the straight people in my life. I’m an atheist, but feel no need to convert others to atheism (though I do feel a need to criticize harmful religious practices).
For me, it is easy to celebrate the differences of my fellows. Even Mormons, at their worst, when they try to convert me, are merely annoying. Sometimes even hurtful. But I empathize with them, naturally, because I don’t have a totalist system constantly telling me what’s right and wrong. I don’t follow scriptures that label them as evil. I don’t have a proxy of God constantly trying to dehumanize anyone who thinks differently from me.
This advice from Oaks, to be civil and respectful, is too little, too late. LDS families are still, to this day, shunning homosexual family members, ostracizing loved ones who “live in sin,” and judging those who aren’t perfect latter-day saints. In this very talk, Oaks has spent more time “othering” those who are not LDS than he has spent asking for acceptance. So these few words about listening with concern? Well, it sounds nice, and provides plausible deniability, but they are heavily diluted with literal hate speech.
I am of the devil just for contending with you, Elder Oaks. You said so yourself.
To back up my claims, there is an excellent article in Rational Faiths, “Meet the um… Gay Mormons?,” written by a true-believing Mormon, about how LDS leaders are not doing enough to discourage ostracism. (One might almost think it works to their advantage?)
Oaks instructs listeners to reject all kinds of persecution, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religion, and yes, even *gasp* sexual orientation. This is the first time I’ve ever heard such a sentiment stated from the pulpit. Which may be why some are calling this a concession speech. The fight against homosexuals is over. Everyone put down the pitchforks and go home. It’s time to stop persecuting gay people and pretend we supported them all along.
I’ve got to give Oaks credit here. He speaks against Utah Mormons who alienate non-members by not allowing their kids to play with non-LDS children. I’ve seen this complaint quite a bit on Exmormon forums. It’s an epidemic problem. But again, I contend that this issue isn’t spontaneously combusting on its own. He just got done othering non-members in this very talk, literally calling worldly folk “evil,” the kind of evil the Savior himself prayed to keep his followers safe from. So of course Mormon mothers are going to protect their little ones from all those terrible ideas that could pollute those precious, innocent souls.
This is the sort of double-think that runs prevalent in totalist groups. They need to have it both ways. They need to isolate members from cognitive dissonance, but they also need to show how loving and tolerant the gospel is. This is how members can believe they follow a religion of love while not allowing their children play with the non-Mormon neighbor kid. And this is why, in spite of this admonishment, they will go on isolating their children from evil unbelieving nonmembers.
More credit to Oaks for speaking out against bullying:
“Many teachers in school and church have grieved at the way some teenagers, including LDS youth, treat one another. The commandment to love one another surely includes love and respect across religious lines…” He instructs the youth to avoid causing intentional hurt. Good. But doesn’t Elder Oaks realize how much hurt is unintentional? Shunning and elitist attitudes are instilled by the Church, which leads to behaviors that leave a wake of emotional turmoil.
In the For Strength of Youth pamphlet, given to all teenagers, it says, “Choose friends who share your values so you can strengthen and encourage each other in living high standards… As you seek to be a friend to others, do not compromise your standards… You may need to find other friends who will support you in keeping the commandments.”
Even though the same pamphlet tells you to befriend those who do not feel included, I’ve got news: If that lonely non-Mormon has values that are different from LDS teens, they will be seen as having “lower standards,” and that teen has now been othered. They aren’t worthy of friendship. The snubbing that will inevitably follow will be quite painful and will leave lasting wounds.
Oaks then addresses how to tolerate family members who live in cohabiting relationship. Even by calling this out as a problem helps to make toleration harder. This, by the way, is the situation I am currently in. I have struggled with one family member, who is still LDS, because she struggles to accept my life choice to live with my two partners.
I live by my values, and this immediate family I’ve built is very important to me. I’m living this way because I firmly believe it is right for me. It gives me fulfillment, and has for many years.
It is easy for me to accept her life choices, but difficult for her. Why?
The Church can solve this problem very easily, by saying, “Hey guys, lighten up. It’s not the end of the world if your sister makes a different kind of family. We don’t think it’s the right way, but whatever. Let her make her own decisions, and accept her for who she is. That, after all, is the meaning of unconditional love. Love without conditions! What a concept.”
But instead, they say what Oaks says: “Following the Savior’s example, we can show loving kindness and still be firm in the truth by forgoing actions that facilitate or seem to condone what we know to be wrong.” Judgmentalism is inherent in this statement. There is still this certainty that my beliefs are bad. Mormons are good, and I am evil.
Oaks has placed all of my LDS family into a position of trying to correct my sinful behavior, using a vague and open-ended admonishment to avoid “condoning” my choices. He has simultaneously given members permission to do whatever it takes, and placed himself above reproach for any ostracism or shunning that will continue to occur in LDS families the world over.
He tells a story about a woman with a non-member husband. It’s a heartwarming conversion story, leveraged on love bombing. The moral is: kindness converts. And that’s the major goal of every totalist movement: Get and keep as many members as possible.
Oaks concludes by summarizing his overall point: “We must live with differences. Where vital, our side of these differences should not be denied or abandoned, but as followers of Christ, we should live peacefully with others who do not share our values or accept the teachings on which they are based… that includes loving our neighbors of different cultures and beliefs as he has loved us.”
This is a nice sentiment, but sadly, the Church continues to promote divisive teachings, which includes such psychologically harmful manipulative techniques as black and white thinking, sacred science (the Church is the only true way), us-versus-them thinking, elitism, shame, doctrine over self, demand for purity, and isolating milieu control.
“As difficult as it is to live in the turmoil surrounding us, our Savior’s command to love one another as he loves us is probably our greatest challenge.”
But it doesn’t have to be difficult. These control techniques, which are regularly reinforced every spring and fall in General Conference, and in meeting houses each week, and in homes each day, are causing these challenges. Remove them, and loving others becomes remarkably easy.
Originally published at Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control.