Anger managementYesterday my stake president offered up an impromptu talk about anger management, which frankly was one of the best homilies I’ve ever heard in church.

I’ve been aware of unresolved anger in my heart this summer, anger over some of the LDS Church’s decisions – such as excommunicating feminist Kate Kelly or Elder Nelson drawing an apparent line that suggests that faithful Mormons must oppose same-sex marriage.

It’s been a rough summer to be a Latter-day Saint.

In the talk, the SP told the story of one of his heroes from the Book of Mormon. But it’s not one of the usual suspects, like Nephi or Alma the Younger. It’s Pahoran, who is mostly famous for the way he responded to what the SP called the ancient equivalent of a nastygram.

In the story (Alma 59-61), a missive comes to Pahoran from Captain Moroni, a man of action who is justifiably incensed over government inaction and lack of support for the military.

Here Moroni is, risking his soldiers and his own life to defend his people, getting increasingly frustrated when the reinforcements he’s requested from Pahoran (the chief judge) never show. The Lamanites attack and many die. So Moroni writes Pahoran again, and this time he is really ticked (“great has been the slaughter among our people”).

And Moroni demands to know why. Why, he sputters, does Pahoran sit there on his throne in a “thoughtless stupor,” ignoring the very people who look to him for protection? Does Pahoran just think he can depend on the goodness of God to prevail, and do nothing useful to help the cause himself?

Moroni just might knock some sense into Pahoran the next time he’s in town, because oh, by the way? He’s on his way there, gathering an army of insurrectionists. He announces that he will seize what he needs by force from Pahoran if the judge and his cronies don’t “bestir” themselves ASAP.

Them’s fightin’ words.

But oddly, Pahoran does not receive them as such. Instead, he rejoices in the “greatness” of Moroni’s heart, in his passion and bravery. And he explains that the reason he didn’t answer the call earlier was not that he was basking in some life of ease, as accused, but because he’s been deposed.

Oops. The same marauders attacking the cities on the front lines have also put him out of a job. His is a government in exile now, a ragtag remnant that barely escaped the capital with their lives.

There’s a lot we can take from this story. For me personally, it’s a reminder that righteous indignation is important, but when I feel a rush of anger I don’t always have all of the facts or all sides of the story. I can be Moroni-esque in my passion for justice, which has its good points, but also its drawbacks.

This summer, as I’ve been praying about and for change in the church, I’ve been reminded time and again that there are beautiful children of God who oppose same-sex marriage, women’s ordination, and many of the other things I wholeheartedly support.

So I have to control my words when I am in Moroni’s shoes, when I’m pointing to what I perceive as injustice. But Pahoran’s response teaches me that I also have to guard my speech when I’m on the receiving end of other people’s fury.

Sometimes on this blog I get accused of all manner of things. One woman wrote me that I only blog to stir up trouble and dissent. A male reader thinks I am getting rich from my writing (a charge that can only be leveled by someone who is entirely ignorant of what it means to be a professional writer). And several times a month I get snarky comments from people who don’t think I’m a “real” Mormon because if I question leaders’ wisdom in some things then the zero-sum game of their faith insists that I have no testimony at all.

It’s tempting to lash out at these people – if they only had a clue how off-base they sometimes are. But “Mormon anger management” begins with me, with how I respond – or don’t respond — to people who disagree.

The Apostle Paul (or whoever penned Ephesians) once wrote that Christians are called to speak the truth in love. In my observation, just about everybody struggles with the second part of that statement.

Including me.

 

33 Comments

  1. Well said! It’s easy to slam someone who doesn’t agree with you, but that’s no way to forge a long-term solution. More patience, more empathy, more willingness to act with charity and restraint; this is what we need as a people. Going nuclear or withdrawing only separates us more, instead of creating the unity we need to solve the problems we face.

  2. Infinite power pure

    I have read and re read many of YOUR thoughts.

    When the day comes… that WE find ourselves … as these people…

    THEN all of the questions… the concerns… will melt away…

    “They suffered no manner of afflictions save it were SWALLOWED up in the JOY of CHRIST…”

    and why will they melt away….????? BECAUSE being filled with the Spirit of Prophecy we will understand the mistakes … LEADERS make…and the complete and utter stupidity… of ALL of us… is really quite funny….

  3. Mette Harrison

    Jana,

    This was something I needed to hear right now. I am so used to not being angry and pretending not to be angry that sometimes I forget that I really am angry and that I need to deal with it.

  4. Debbie Snowcroft

    Jana wrote: “This summer, as I’ve been praying about and for change in the church….”

    Jana, I think if the Lord could change the LDS Church He would have done it already. The very fact that He knows all the problems, and hasn’t seen fit to change them, shows me that He’s allowing those who control this man-man church to exercise their free agency.

    In other words, the answer to your prayers is staring you in the face. By not telling the “brethren” to change the church, the Lord is actually telling you that it is (and never was) His church.

    • That’s one possibility, but what if the people of the church are just not ready yet? And I am sure there are other explanations that would work, too.

      • Infinite power pure

        I really wish that MORE apostates would READ and PONDER JANA’S thoughts and ask the really important question. Which is ? DID God HImself come to earth and live the perfect life and did HE have and does He have INFINITE POWER… and is HE offering all of it to all of US today? And IF HE did and does… then WE are talking a lot about nothing… instead of seeking His perfect peace and perfect understanding… and SOMEDAY we are going to find that being FILLED with the HOLY GHOST is beyond words and all the questions, the debates…. melt away… Because the answers become very clear.

  5. Thanks for this post. I may disagree with some of your positions, but anger only drives us away from God. The internet and the real world would be a better place if everyone was working on conquering their anger with God’s help the way you are Jana.

  6. Jana, there are definitely disagreements at play here, but the context is really important. Moroni and Pahoran both upheld the standards of the religion they belonged to. If you were a PETA supporter who often blogged about her favorite pulled-pork recipes, don’t you think you’d get flack from other PETA supporters? If animal rights organizations endorsed meat-eating, what would be the point of having those organizations? Where would vegetarians go?

    It’s the same here. You’re a carnivore advocate in a vegetarian church (so to speak). If you want to call yourself a Mormon, don’t feel too much like a victim when you get flack for disparaging essential Mormon beliefs (following the prophet, the nature of marriage).

      • An interesting perspective. Here’s the problem I have with it: what exactly do you mean by “essential”? Following the prophet is often taken to mean that the leaders are infallible–an apostate (false) doctrine that Dieter Uchtdorf has discussed in conference. When you talk about marriage, you open up a real can of worms. Marriage for us as a people has changed. Do you mean marriage now? Marriage up until 1890? Marriage in the Old Testament?

        LDS doctrine, and the gospel, are expansive. People, however, tend to get very narrow in their thinking and their interpretation. Do you know how much of what you believe is cultural, and how much is actual doctrine? Are you sure? If you go back 50 or 100 years, would church members agree with you? How about if you made a time capsule and opened it in the future; do you think there would be no changes between now and then?

        Robert Frost wrote a wonderful poem, one that my husband loves, called The Star Splitter:

        If one by one we counted people out
        For the least sin, it wouldn’t take us long
        To get so we had no one left to live with.
        For to be social is to be forgiving.

        I worry about us as a religious people when we start saying too specifically what someone else has to believe, or saying that someone (Jana) who has sometimes been attacked shouldn’t care about it because she had it coming, so to speak. Really? She is not entitled to her voice and her integrity?

        I think the church is more expansive than you are giving it credit for.

        Jana seems to me to be a person who feels deeply and values truth. She is smart, she is able, and she has courage, or she wouldn’t be as successful as she has been as a writer and a blogger. You think she is disparaging essential Mormon beliefs. I respectfully disagree. The LDS church today has a lot of good in it, but it isn’t all good, and it isn’t wrong to speak up about matters of conscience. It isn’t right to attack those who do speak up, either.

        As the old saying goes, there is no paper so thin it doesn’t have two sides. There are a lot of important issues where the answers are not yet clear, and more respect for diversity of opinion would go a long way toward helping us figure things out better than we have so far.

        • I’m not trying to have the same debate all of us have had many times about following the prophets. The principle I’m illustrating with this analogy is that at some point, we become so loose with our definitions as to destroy the meaning of our identity. If we, like Jana, only accept prophetic statements as true when they accord with our political beliefs, then we’re just like a member of any Protestant church with respect to its leadership.

          Being a PETA member involves not eating animals or their milk or eggs. Being a Mormon involves following fallible prophets (against our own instincts and intuitions when asked) and believing marriage is a man-woman institution. Maybe in a moment of weakness you eat ice cream or question the prophets–everyone messes up–but if you’re publicly and unrepentantly advocating for PETA to approve of ice cream or saying that the prophets are wrong, are you really a PETA supporter, or a Mormon?

          No.

          • What are you defining as “prophetic statements”? Was the policy about blacks and the priesthood a prophetic statement? One thing I have always loved about Bruce R. McConkie. When asked about the revelation and the change of direction, he said, “We were wrong.” There’s greatness in that.

            You say that your beliefs are based on the solid ground of prophetic statements, and Jana’s are based on mere politics. Hmm. What about the founding fathers being inspired when they founded this country? What about Abraham Lincoln praying about whether slavery should be abolished? Or Reed Smoot being challenged as a senator, despite the fact he was not a polygamist, simply because he had the heretical belief that God sometimes answers prayers? You think there is no religion to be found in politics? I don’t think so. It is impossible to separate people from their religious beliefs. It is part of them. It affects what they do all the time, sometimes for good and sometimes not.

            I liked what Jonathan said a little ways down. It is my understanding that Brigham Young had a dream where he saw Joseph herding along a rag-tag collection of animals. Brigham started to laugh when he saw the ridiculous sight,and he asked Joseph what he was doing, and the response was something along the lines of, “They are all good in their places, and the day of separation has not yet come.”

            Yes.

            By the way, I know some really great protestants who would be surprised to learn about your judgment of them. We do not have the corner on the market when it comes to acting according to the dictates of our consciences. People are people, and we are all one family. But we don’t always act like it, except maybe for the squabbling.

          • No, Susan, I’m not saying what you’ve suggested I am. I’m saying that I changed my position on immigration when the church came out in favor of reform. Any Mormon should be humble enough to change his or her positions if they run against the church’s.

          • What I have always understood was that we are to seek confirmation for ourselves; that we are to change because we have a witness from the Holy Ghost (and ideally an intellectual understanding as well, although that is not always possible). So when the leaders of the church have said something that disagrees with what we think, we then change because of confirming personal revelation. I can think of two times when I experienced exactly that. However, I am really wary of changing absent that confirming spirit. I think it is okay to put a question on the shelf, because maybe we just aren’t going to get an answer in this life, and I think it is definitely okay to be silent rather than put a stumbling block in front of someone else, but I am not at all certain about saying I believe something when I really don’t, just to support. (You are not suggesting that, are you?) Of course the underlying question really is whether you have honestly been persuaded. I think we have an obligation to give others the benefit of the doubt, and to be open to the idea that we might be wrong. As you say, sometimes pride can get in the way. Being humble is important, and especially being humble enough to hear the entreaty of another person. But I also think that our integrity is incredibly precious. You will be held accountable for your life, and so will I. I want to be able to stand before the judgement bar and acknowledge that I may have been wrong many times, but that I always tried to act in accordance with truth as I understood it. I don’t want to ever end up saying that I did not follow the promptings of my heart or of the spirit because I was deferring to someone else’s conscience instead of my own. And that is true even if the other person has a high position within the church. Charity, wisdom, integrity. Worthy goals for all of us.

  7. “Follow the brethren” is all one needs to say for me to fly off in a rage (at least mentally). I maintain my obedient glow, however, as I look around for an ark to steady. My daily work is with Hasadim Jews and they argue and debate about everything and thus nothing gets done. For a while I wanted us to be more like them, but I have gradually concluded our tribe of Ephraim gentile ways are also very good for our own reasons. Until I started re-applying gratitude to my nation and church, apathy was my constant companion. I have repented. However, when someone asks me, “hey how about that Kate Kelly?” I reply with the question, “when did we stop believing the parable of the wheat and the tares.”

    • Jana Riess

      Wheat Woman, I don’t understand your comment. Can you explain? I actually thought the discussion here was pretty darn civil considering the differences between the commenters’ positions. Compared to the way some people go at it in the comments section, Trace, Susan, and Jonathan were respectful even though they don’t agree. Why would such behavior be condemned from the pulpit?

      • Because it’s tiresome and myopic. I think the vast majority of Mormons (including the 10-12 million who don’t regularly attend church) are sick to death of the totally predictable interplay between Liahonas, Iron Rods, and exmos. Also, I live way outside the Mormon corridor – sometimes the naval-gazing just gets to me.

  8. Jana: It’s also worth remembering how very good we are at constructing stories of grievance. Conservatives are very good at finding evidence of how liberals arrogantly dismiss them as ignorant troglodytes. Liberals are very good a finding evidence of how they constantly accused unrighteous faithlessness. Often these reactions tell us more about how good we are at bolstering our priors than anything else.

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    […] Friend-of-the-Report Jana Riess returns with her Flunking Sainthood column at Religion News Service, saying that she needs some “Mormon Anger Management.” She discusses how this summer has been a difficult one, with many of the Mormon-related issues that have occurred (from the excommunication of Kate Kelly to Elder Nelson’s commencement speech at BYU), but relates a story that her stake president recently shared about Mormon anger management, and states “This summer, as I’ve been praying about and for change in the church, I’ve been reminded time and again that there are beautiful children of God who oppose same-sex marriage, women’s ordination, and many of the other things I wholeheartedly support…So I have to control my words when I am in Moroni’s shoes, when I’m pointing to what I perceive as injustice. But Pahoran’s response teaches me that I also have to guard my speech when I’m on the receiving end of other people’s fury.” […]

  2. Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment
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    […] Riess drar parelleller  till berättelsen i Mormons bok om Moroni som lider stora nederlag i krig och som ilsknar till över att Pahoran inte kommer med förstärkningar. Moroni skriver till Pahoran med tillkämpad behärskning. Han är rasande och det kan man lätt utläsa i hans brev till Pahoran. När Pahoran skriver tillbaka till Moroni så låter han bli att kommentera Moronis ilska. Han berömmer Moroni för hans mod och berättar att även de har utsatts för angrepp, vilket gör att Pahoran inte kan komma till undsättning. Jana Riess.140825. I need Mormon anger management.  […]

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