Balancing Religious Tensions - Mauro Properzi
Finding a balance between loyalty or commitment to one’s faith and sympathetic openness to other faiths is one of the biggest challenges Mormons face in an age of inclusiveness.
The classic “theology of religions” view of other faiths known as “inclusivism” broadly fits what Dr. Mauro Properzi thinks this balance should look like in an LDS context.
The idea is that one’s faith is unique, most effective, and overall preferential (or one could use the term “truest”) in leading to our eternal destination. Other religions, however, while being positive paths that move as a whole in the same direction, lack some elements that characterize the faith you embrace. Perhaps other paths take unnecessary detours, perhaps they have holes that cause slower progress, perhaps they are not as scenic. Still, these roads are going in the same general direction as your road, not in the opposite one. In short, if your road leads to God, the other roads don’t lead to Satan; they are also oriented toward God.
Inclusivism is the middle ground. Two other positions represent the ends of the spectrum of religious tolerance. On one side is exclusivism, which in its bluntest form is the message that only my religion is good, true, divinely inspired, and salvific. At its opposite is pluralism with the message that all religions are true, divinely inspired, and salvific since it is believed that they teach the same message in different cultural contexts.
What is clear is that in our postmodern Western culture many people, whether religious or not, lean in the direction of pluralism and exclusivism is not very popular. Exclusivism, however, is an important component of Christianity, and of Mormonism in particular; in fact, in the pursuit of truth in general. It is not the whole of the answer but it is a significant part of it.
The challenge for us, and for any other person of faith who feels these tensions, is to be reflective about them and not succumb to pressures that aim to eliminate them. For us these pressures can come from social interactions both within the church and outside of it … pressures that want to obliterate one side or the other of the spectrum.
LDS Perspectives Podcast
Episode 32: Balancing Religious Tensions
Laura Hales: Hello, and welcome to the LDS Perspectives Podcast. This is Laura Harris Hales, and I am here today with Mauro Properzi, and we are going to discuss an article he wrote for the Religious Educator entitled “Learning about Other Religions: False Obstacles and Rich Opportunities.” Hi, Mauro.
Mauro Properzi: Hi.
Laura Hales: How are you doing today?
Mauro Properzi: Good, thank you.
Laura Hales: Mauro is an assistant professor of church history and doctrine at BYU. He received a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a masters of philosophy from Cambridge University in psychology and religion. A PhD in the study of religion and Mormon studies from Durham University in the United Kingdom, and a post-doctorate diploma in Interfaith Dialogue: Catholicism and Islam from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy. Let’s just throw into the mix that he’s also an award-winning author and a native Italian.
Let’s dive right into this article. You begin it by stating the gospel of Jesus Christ generally requires balance between true principles, such as balance between a sympathetic approach to other faith and loyalty to one’s own and balance between openness to learning from the religious other, and the ability to share Mormonism’s truths in love. What would this type of balance look like?
Mauro Properzi: Yes. Thank you, first of all, for giving me this opportunity to speak to you about a subject that I hold very dear. You’re starting really with a tough question. This is really the most difficult question we could begin with. It’s much easier to say what something shouldn’t look like than what it should look like. So, I guess what I can do is just draw some broad boundaries and kind of paint a sketch in attempting to answering this question. Then, the specific journey will change based on people’s personal experiences, really.
Before I say something about the balance between loyalty or commitment to your faith and openness to other faiths, I should say also what I mean by using the term balance. About ten years ago, Terryl Givens published a book that, in many ways was key to my development theologically. A book entitled People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture. In the first four chapter of the book, Terryl highlights paradoxes — four of them, specifically — or tensions that exist between gospel principles that appear to be in contrast with each other. Hence, they’re called paradoxes.
For example, he speaks of authority versus freedom, the tension that exists between the great emphasis we place on individual agency, on the one hand, and church authority and prophetic priesthood on the other. Although it is a human tendency to want to resolve tensions, what Terryl argues is that our objective should be to find balance in these tensions, as opposed to resolution. The tension, the paradox, the co-existing poles of the two sides, are part of our experience in the gospel, and working through them is what can be ultimately sanctifying. Tension is not the problem; imbalance is the problem.
What does this have to do with loyalty to our own faith and turning to other faiths with sympathetic openness? The classic theology of religion’s view of other faiths distinguishes between different perspectives. One is known as inclusivism. This is a broad category. This fits what I think that balance should look like in an LDS context. The idea is that if one faith is unique, most effective, and preferential over all; or if you want to use the term truest, other religions, they have some value.
They are positive paths that move us as a whole in the same direction, even though they lack some elements that characterize the faith that we embrace. Perhaps other paths take unnecessary detours or perhaps they have holes that cause you to drive slower. Perhaps they’re not as scenic, if we want to use this image of driving towards a certain destination. But still, these roads are going in the same general direction as your road, and not in the opposite one. In short, if your road leads to God, the other roads don’t lead to Satan. They’re also oriented toward God.
I’ve heard Grant Hardy put it in terms of viewing all religions as legitimate as opposed to being equally true. The second image that I give is one that I heard expressed by Houston Smith, who is a great scholar of comparative religions, recently passed away at the venerable age of 97. He named it the basketball analogy. A basketball player, who’s close to the basket, often tries to evade the defender to score or pass by pivoting on one of his feet and moving around on the other. If he moves the pivoting foot, he is whistled for a travel violation. So that foot has to stay firmly on the ground. Smith said similarly that we need a spiritual and religious home: we need a foundation, a faith that represents our pivoting foot, where we are firmly rooted. Then, with that foot so rooted, we can pivot on it and use the other foot to discover whatever other spiritual beauties and truths are around us. I like this images as a way to kind of sketch this illusive balance that you’re asking about.
Laura Hales: I love your basketball analogy. I know it is a tension for a lot of people, people in my own family. We have this heritage of exclusive truth claims and exclusive ordinances that must be performed in order to obtain exaltation. So how do we balance that? You noted that, culturally, some members see obstacles to learning from other religions, which don’t actually need to be obstacles. The first obstacle that you describe is the fullness argument. Can you describe this argument and why it is a faulty obstacle?
Mauro Properzi: Yes, and before I start with that, I should say that the labels that I’m using for these arguments are my own creation. It’s a way to frame particular attitudes or claims that I’ve encountered among members of the church, even positions that, personally, I have held. I guess I’m offering them not in the spirit of accusation but of refection. When I talk about the fullness argument, I mean the general claim that there is no true teaching, practice, experience in other churches that is not already present in the Mormon experience because the LDS church teaches the fullness of the gospel, namely the complete gospel.
Hence, the justification of this argument, for lack of interest in other faiths, is that whatever they have to offer is either likely to be false or at best redundant, because we already have it. Now, of course I agree with the statement that the church teaches the fullness of the gospel if that means that Mormonism offers the necessary teachings and ordinances that give us access to the atonement of Christ and the good news of eternal life. We do have what is sufficient for salvation, and we don’t need to look any further for these foundational principles that are so liberating.
But if this formula, fullness of the gospel, is used to claim that we possess all truth, that we have nothing to learn from others, that all which needed to be revealed has been revealed to us, then I don’t agree. I think it contradicts the principle of continuing revelation as we believe it. It reduces the gospel to a set of propositions and maybe rituals as opposed to a more fully embodied truth, which is manifested in actions, in experiences, in spiritualties, in stories and emotions, in rituals and doctrines. All these are part of truth. I don’t think that Christ and his gospel can really be enclosed in a box.
Some of their manifestations will be clearer or more unfiltered, if you will, within our church boundaries and the boundaries of Christianity more largely. Additional truths will not contradict this core. But the gospel’s influence will appear at many different levels of life, I think. In different times, in different cultures, in different faiths. It’s expansive within these boundaries that are foundational. I think of Wilford Woodruff saying, for example, “If any man has got a truth that we have not got, let us have it. Truth is what we are after.” So, a Fullness of the Gospel argument that pushes me to ignore goodness and truth because it doesn’t come from within my church building is not compatible with a lifelong pursuit of truth, of goodness, and excellence, whatever its source.
Laura Hales: In debunking this obstacles, you mentioned that you believe that any manifestation of goodness and light, whatever its specific source, is of some salvific value in as much as it embodies a witness of the Divine’s connection to the word. This statement gets to what I believe most struggle with. Why then the specific ordinances? What is the weight and value of them in relation to salvation?
Mauro Properzi: Yes. This is another important question and another difficult one, a question of Mormon sacramental theology. I have heard Elder Bedner talk about the importance of maintaining the unity of the gospel as opposed to separating it artificially into different categories. Sometimes we are prone to do this with ordinances, especially the ordinances necessary for salvation. If we just take the ritual itself and focus merely on the requirement of the ceremony, we end up with a checklist of sort that includes baptism, confirmation, ordination, et cetera. And so, you say, “Done that. Check. Done that. Check,” and so forth, whether we’re talking about the living or the dead.
But the ordinances are more than symbolic rituals or legalistic actions that must be fulfilled. Otherwise, God’s requirement that we should perform them appears to be quite legalistic. The ordinances embody experiences of transformation, of inspiration, of sanctification. They function as initiations of covenants that begin and punctuate our consecrated lives. An ordinance without the associated sanctification is ultimately only a nice experience. It’s what the ordinance does, how it focuses the individual, how it leads to repentance, recommitment, and surrender to God’s will that makes it truly necessary.
My belief, as I understand it, is that whether we’re talking about the living or the dead, the process of deification — or transformation into a being who’s more like God — is what ultimately represents the final requirement, and ordinances facilitate this very process. They do so partially by opening the door to true teachings and additional opportunities through life in the church. That is the path that we are to teach individuals. In our missionary endeavors, for sure, that’s the trajectory that’s been revealed to us. But there are many who perhaps are starting the process in a different direction, and mainly through a degree of sanctification that may be facilitated by other religions, and the entrance into the restored covenant may happen in the next life. I think we need to allow meaning to contribute to our discussions of ordinances.
Laura Hales: You mention that .2% of the current world population is LDS. Many of us have thought, a time or two, why me? Why us? Not only in relation to religion but also in relation to living in a country that is safe and economically stable. You turn this question around a little bit and ask readers to contemplate why would it be just us? Can you elaborate on that thought?
Mauro Properzi: First of all, I should say, “Yes indeed, we are blessed, both spiritually and economically.” My main point in bringing up this percentage is to lead us to reflect on whether it’s possible that God, a universal Heavenly Father who loves all of His children, operates on this earth only within the church. I don’t think we can say so because that would severely limit His work and His presence on the Earth. We can claim that He operates preferentially through the LDS church or more intensely through it, but we have no monopoly on miracles, on inspiration, on answered prayers, on insights, on beauty.
In other words, if we’re interested in God, if we are in love with God, so to speak, if we have deep faith in Him, I don’t know that we can dismiss the manifestations of His hands in different context that may not be familiar to us. By definition, God is not provincial and His love is infinite. So those who don’t belong to the church also fit, in some way, into His plan. But we often don’t know exactly how they fit there. It is our responsibility to offer the restored gospel to them, for sure. But if they don’t accept it, we can’t assume that God will turn His back to them.
I have a quote here from President Hinckley, taken from his book Standing for Something. If I could share that, I think it’s a good way to answer this question. He said, “The learning process is endless. It therefore behooves us, and is our charge, to grow constantly toward eternity in what must be a ceaseless quest for truth. And as we search for truth, let us look for the good, the beautiful and the positive.” Now, there’s no reason why all this good, this beautiful, this positive that President Hinckley is talking about should only be found within the boundaries of the church. I’m also thinking of 2 Nephi 28, where the Lord says something like, “Woe be unto him that says we have received, we don’t need anymore,” right? That, I think, is the principle behind it.
We can find God in many different context, in many different situations, different religions, different times in history of the world, different places. It may be filtered. It may not be the fullness of truth, but why disregard them? It can all help us to come closer to God in some way.
Laura Hales: Thank you. I think you referenced a statement by the First Presidency as well. They said, “These spiritual leaders were inspired.”
Mauro Properzi: Yeah. The 1978 Declaration of the First Presidency where they say, “We believe that religious leaders,” and I’m paraphrasing here, “such as Muhammad, Confucius, and the Reformers,” I think they’re singled out in particular, but those are just examples, “received a portion of God’s light to enlighten whole people in mortal truth.” So I think we have a good foundation for that belief in this First Presidency statement.
Laura Hales: Once a month, guaranteed, we hear this phrase, “I believe that this is the only true church.”
Mauro Properzi: I’ve often say, kind of tongue in cheek, that I fully agree with the statement, as long as we can agree on the meanings of only of true and of church. I guess what I would say is, pragmatically, I don’t find it to be the best way to describe our belief in the exclusive nature of priesthood authority or in the fullness of the gospel, because of how this statement is likely to be understood. Only true, in itself, sets up a kind of dichotomy, right? It suggests that everything else is false. It doesn’t highlight the gradation of truth that we believe in. Namely, that our faith is really the truest, but that other faiths also have truths. If we want to emphasize the exclusive nature of our priesthood and of its associated covenants, we should always attach an explanation to it. That’s something that I think would be helpful.
Secondly, the statement, which is taken from section one of the Doctrine and Covenants, is really truncated in this formula. If you look at these scriptural text, verse 30 of section one adds, “The only true living church with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.” These are all qualifiers that possibly contextualize this statement somewhat. For example, God could be with well pleased with only the LDS Church, but somewhat pleased with other churches. Also, the caveat in the word collectively should remove any kind of Rameumptum-style pride that we may feel for our church membership. In other parts of the Doctrine and Covenants, God expresses his disappointment for the abominations seen in the churches that profess My name. And he’s not talking of traditional Christianity here. I’m thinking of section 50 of Doctrine and Covenants in particular.
The question becomes what do we mean by “church”? Is it a collective body of members? Is it an institution? Is it a set of teachings? Is it all of the above? We don’t have time to get into eschatology here, of course. But my main point is that we need to be careful in using this expression just as a quick formula, especially if it emerges in a context that dismisses truths found in other faiths.
Laura Hales: Now, the last argument you list is creedal abominations. We know that comes from the Pearl of Great Price and Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision, and there’s some historical context there. He was probably referring to the Methodist creeds. I’ve often thought that in the Mormon Church we have our own creeds, namely the Articles of Faith and many other things that we spout off in our youth as well. What did you mean about the Creedal Abomination Fallacy?
Mauro Properzi: This is one that is specific to traditional Christianity, and it goes back to the very account that you were indicating. Where Joseph Smith makes reference to the Sons’ words to himself that he summarized as, “All their creeds were an abomination in his sight.” This is not a direct quotation; this is kind of a summary by the Prophet of what the message was. That quotation I’ve heard used as a way to disparage the creeds of traditional Christianity, even though those who have taken this approach sometimes have not even read those creedal statements themselves. Now, I agree that portions of the creeds are, at best, puzzling. But much in them actually agrees with our doctrine.
Again, it’s good to look at the text a little deeper before we use this text as a way to just condemn. Actually, this may be considered kind of a unique interpretation, exegesis of this passage of scripture, but I should say I got it from the faculty member whose place I took here at BYU, when he retired, Roger Keller. In fact, I can quote him. He said in one of his books, “There is a tendency to understand the word creed here as a confession of faith, such as the Apostles’ Creeds or the Nicene Creed. The whole context negates this interpretation, however, for that which precedes and follows this passage deals entirely with a religious people of Joseph’s day. Thus, their creeds were their professions of faith, which had few outward manifestations of love.”
That’s one way you can look at it. Also, it’s interesting that, when you look at the 1842 account of the same event, of the First Vision, it doesn’t use the term abomination. But he focuses on church’s incorrect doctrines. Perhaps Joseph used a stronger word in the 1838 account because of what he was experiencing in terms of persecution from so-called Christians, who should have known better based on what they were preaching. The point again is that we need to be careful in using Scripture to justify an attitude of complete negativity towards other churches. I don’t find this perspective to find into the overall picture of the gospel.
Laura Hales: Historian Steven Harper, who is sort of a specialist on the First Vision, has also mentioned that the Missouri War and Joseph Smith’s experience in Liberty Jail could have influenced that 1838 version of the First Vision. It has that strong language of creedal abomination. And it also says that he was, again, paraphrasing, persecuted almost from both. Of course, he wasn’t persecuted almost from birth. So that could maybe account for the variation there. Also, I think you mentioned 1842. That version softened it as well.
Mauro Properzi: Yes, because the focus again there is on churches teaching incorrect doctrines as opposed to teaching abominations.
Laura Hales: When we label individuals, sacred texts, and religions as either perfectly inspired by God or deceptions, why is that a false dichotomy?
Mauro Properzi: I could talk about this for a long time because it’s really a deeper philosophical issue that applies to many aspects of life. I’ll just say that one of the most difficult things to accept, in my life personally, has been the reality that nothing on this earth is perfect. I don’t like that. I am a perfectionist, and I naturally look for it, but Christ was the only perfect being who ever lived on the planet and everything else is really filtered through our human, fallen, imperfect condition.
This is not to say that everything is imperfect in the same way or to the same degree. This is also not to say that there is no absolute truth or that everything is relative. It’s just recognizing that our capacity to apprehend truth is, to some degree, limited. And the filters we experience through our minds, our bodies, our social circumstances, cultures, whatever, they can only be diminished, but not eliminated. So in this context, for me, the loss of a certain expectation of perfection in the church, I think it was something that I kind of mourned. There’s much I don’t like about the fallen condition, and I could say that, to put it in different terms, occasionally long for the Garden of Eden, if you will. At the same time, I—
Laura Hales: What do you mean by that?
Mauro Properzi: For that perfection, for that innocence, for things being excellent, for everything being clear. There’s something really attractive about that.
Laura Hales: The innocence?
Mauro Properzi: Yes.
Laura Hales: The purity?
Mauro Properzi: The purity. But it’s not this life. I feel that this loss, on the one hand, is difficult to accept or can be difficult to accept. At least, it was for me. On the other hand, it can be a protection against a number of disappointments that could lead people away from the church. What I’m trying to say is that the church doesn’t need to be perfect in order for me to love it and to find its unique value in my life. It can be just excellent. It can be very good.
In the context of other religions, I prefer to look at things in terms of heavier or lighter filters, going back to this discussion, as opposed to something as being purely from God or purely from Satan. That dichotomy, I think, doesn’t fit the mess of the human condition. The beauty and the miracle is that you can still find God in this mess and, in some cases, quite powerfully. He hasn’t left us without guidance, but we need to learn to find Him in these ambiguities as well.
Again, I want to echo Elder Anderson when he said in a general conference talk, “We don’t know everything, but we know enough.” We need to find a balance in this tension and not be overly anxious about its open nature. On the one hand, recognizing that we know enough should give us comfort, but also keep pushing us to pursue more. On the other, accepting that we don’t know everything and never will on this earth should not make us cynical about knowledge, but lead us to be humble and appreciative towards it.
Laura Hales: I have found that the exclusive truth claims have been more disturbing for some people and testimony-shaking than you would think because it goes against their own observations. They see good people trying to seek God, doing their best.
Mauro Properzi: Yeah, and that’s why I like more the image of gradations of light and truth as opposed to light and darkness in this context. It’s kind of like where you have those switches with a knob, and you can just roll it and the light becomes brighter and brighter. You can say the fullness of the gospel, the restored gospel, is that way of turning the light up, right, increasing it. I think it was President Hinckley who used to say always, “When you come to the church, don’t abandon any of the good things that you have. Just, let’s see if we can add it more to it.”
Laura Hales: It’s one thing to talk about being more open and appreciating other faiths. It’s another thing to have tools. We’ve spoken in the past about Krister Stendahl’s three rules for religious understanding on this podcast. Most recently with Professor Robert Eaton. Can you briefly go over them again and how they can help us balance the truth claims of the LDS Church with the reality of the truth and light found in other religions?
Mauro Properzi: Krister Stendahl appears in an introductory video at the temple’s visitor centers. I think that’s where a lot of Latter-day Saints have become familiar with him. In this video, he really exemplifies these rules by expressing his admiration for Mormon temples and temple work and the works that we do there. I should say, the late Stendahl, by the way, he was a Lutheran bishop of Stockholm and a professor at Harvard Divinity School and a friend of Truman Madsen, which is probably how we got him involved with this video.
Now, he said that when we look at faiths that are different than our own, we should follow three simple rules. The first one is gather information from a great source. The second is compare their best with your best and not our best with their worst. The third is leaving room for holy envy.
The first rule simply states that we should be careful when it comes to the sources that we use to learn about a different faith. Does the information come from a dissident, does it come from a competitor, or someone from our own faith? Does it fairly represent what other faiths believe? Stendahl encourages us to actually go to the faith itself to learn about it, and that’s what really we always want as missionaries, right? We want people to learn about the church from us and not from some anti-Mormon or dubious internet source. So, it only makes sense that you wouldn’t go to the Toyota dealer to get information about a Ford, but you’d go to the Ford.
The second rule states that if we’re going to compare, then we need to be fair in doing so. It’s so easy to single out the very best aspects of our faith and then juxtapose them to the worst of a different church, whether in terms of history, beliefs or practices. For example, it wouldn’t really be fair to paint the Catholic priesthood as a group of child abusers and compare it to our wonderful missionaries and leaders, as if there has never been anything wrong in the behaviors. We all know that missionaries have done some dumb things at some point or another.
But this doesn’t apply only to people. When it comes to doctrines and beliefs, do we just describe a different faith in terms of their most puzzling affirmations and then compare them to our most treasured ones? So think, for example, who among us would like plural marriage to be singled out as the first defining characteristic of the history of Mormonism? That doesn’t tend to be the first thing we want to talk about. This is not to say that we believe that other faiths are as true as ours. There’s an appropriate time to be analytically critical, to disagree, but what I think Stendahl is saying is that you cannot begin a valuable exchange with such a strong bias that shows only the good in your faith and the bad in the other.
The final rule, third rule, is that we need to leave room for appreciation and even admiration for something that another faith has that we may not have. This may be the most challenging principle for Latter-day Saints because, again, we like to think that our faith is complete. We may further wonder whether such positive attitudes toward an aspect of a different faith could be viewed as maybe disloyalty towards our own, as a sort of flirting with someone who’s not our spouse. I think the concern is legitimate and one that could indeed go too far. But what I would propose, however, is that you can find both positive human examples in other faiths and engaging theologies, narratives, practices, ideas, that can fit into the gospel without challenging your own faith.
For example, we have not been around very long as a church in comparison to other religions. There’s so much that you can learn from the historical experience of someone who’s been around much longer, both in terms of what to do and what not to do. Mormonism has historically been grounded in western cultural assumption and usually continues to be articulated in those terms. But there are many valuable aspects of eastern-Asian traditions that are not in conflict with the restored gospel, which, when you reflect upon them, could really enrich our understanding of its truly universal scope.
So personally, I have holy envy for a number of things that I find in different faiths. For example, the practice of meditation as a preparation for a more fulfilling prayer life, because it can help me to quiet down the anxieties of the day, to attune myself to the spirit as a result. I also have holy envy for how traditional Christians celebrate Easter. I think as Latter-day Saints, we could do more to make Easter special. But we don’t have a Holy Week that is involved with that. So personally, I find it beneficial to attend a Good Friday or a Holy Saturday service prior to Easter, to deepen the significance of the holiday for me.
As a whole, I see Stendahl’s rules as general principles that give us an important message — take the time to listen, to learn when you engage the religious other. And then after you do that, you can enter the realm of analysis with less prejudice. Say “no” where no needs to be said, and “yes” where yes should be said.
Laura Hales: I love the statement towards the end of your article. It’s probably my favorite part. You declare, “In short, we are special people, but not that special.” Can you briefly summarize, in about five sentences, why keeping that simple concept in one’s mind may help one become a better disciple of Christ?
Mauro Properzi: Okay. About five sentences. All right. To be a chosen people, or a people of the covenant, has its dangers. A responsibility to act as a blessing for others may be mistaken for divine favoritism. Or a preferential revelatory channel may be viewed as, incorrectly, I think, as an exclusive divine conduit of knowledge. As Latter-day Saints, we have been given much, indeed, and as such, as the hymn says, “We too must give.” But while the restored gospel makes us special in a way, we are not special in terms of how beloved we are by our Heavenly Father. To some degree or another, He can be found among all of His children because He loves all of them. To see his hand among our brothers and sisters will only strengthen, I think, our own faith in Him.
Laura Hales: Thanks, Mauro, for taking time out of your day to visit with us.
Mauro Properzi: Thank you.
Disclaimer: LDS Perspectives Podcast is not affiliated with The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The opinions expressed on this episode represent the views of the guests and the podcaster alone, and LDS Perspectives Podcast and its parent organization may or may not agree with them. While the ideas presented may vary from traditional understandings or teachings, they in no way reflect criticism of LDS church leaders, policies, or practices.