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right and wrong checkbox on a blackboardThe fear of Mormon intellectuals has raised its ugly head again, which is ironic considering Mormonism lauds the pursuit of knowledge as a way to worship the Creator. This time, the kick back pertains to the Gender Issue Survey being widely circulated on social media. The Millennial Star argues forcefully that the survey is, in essence, little more than a conspiracy crafted by intellectuals to promote agitation for female ordination. Those behind the survey, however, state their goal is “to capture a more nuanced view of gender issues in the Mormon church than is captured by existing (and often-cited) surveys.”(They specifically link to the 2011 Pew Research Survey of faithful, practicing Latter-day Saints and their views on women in the priesthood.) The great irony is, of course, that agitation against this survey, if successful, will guarantee skewed data. To those who are on the fence about whether or not to participate in the survey, I offer a few things for your consideration.

First, intellectual pursuit is doctrinal. Brigham Young said, “Every art and science known and studied by the children of men is comprised within the Gospel” (DBY, 246). And: “The religion embraced by the Latter-day Saints, if only slightly understood, prompts them to search diligently after knowledge. There is no other people in existence more eager to see, hear, learn, and understand truth (DBY, 247).”

Mormons need never fear the pursuit of knowledge. The Gender Issues Survey aspires to a broad pool that accurately reflects the population. No effort has been made by the authors to limit the participation of conservative or traditional Mormons, and yet some conservative and traditional Mormons seek to discourage participation from like-minded Saints. I encourage these disturbers of the academic process to think beyond their fear. The information gleaned could be used in many positive, Mormon-friendly ways. For instance, in retention efforts, in missionary efforts, in curriculum efforts, etc. Those among us who are trained social scientists are giving the rest of us the opportunity “to see, hear, learn, and understand the truth” of who we are. Participating in the survey, for me, is a way to express to my Heavenly Father that I want to better understand my people, and, therefore, myself.

But let’s get specific. The big concern seems to be that the survey questions are biased. The Millenial Star singles out this question as fitting that bill:

Which statement comes closer to your own view, even if neither is exactly right?

  1. A good Latter-day Saint should obey the counsel of priesthood leaders without necessarily knowing why.
  2. A good Latter-day Saint should first seek his or her own personal revelation as the motivation to obey.

The bias, the author contends, is evident because neither option is, in his mind, precisely doctrinal. Therefore, a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot adequately express his thoughts since his thoughts are strictly doctrinal. He views that as unfair.

The writer is making several faulty assumptions, not the least of which is that devout Latter-day Saints all think and practice their faith alike.  He seems, also, to assume that the survey must offer a precisely doctrinal answer (as he understands that) in order to be objective. However, the question clearly asks “which comes closer to your own view,” not which is your own view, nor which is closest to the official doctrinal view. In this way, the question forces objectivity to be practiced by the participant. Does that matter?

We tend to think of objectivity as something that is only the responsibility of the survey writers, but if the survey participants are not objective, if they respond according to an agenda, the results will not be objective either. It is, therefore, the job of the survey writers to develop questions that challenge the participant to carefully analyze his/her own thoughts, feelings, and behavior. And that, I suppose, is the rub that is generating discomfort in so many Latter-day Saints. Perhaps some of those who protest this survey are, at the root, unhappy because it does not allow them to offer answers that will skew the results to support their agenda (the church institution). They seem to see answering in a particular manner as a way to honor God. However, a better way to honor Him is to seek an increase in understanding, knowledge, and wisdom, three things this survey can lead to.

Mormons tend to want to cast things as black or white, as doctrine or not doctrine, as good for the church or bad for the church. It’s tidy. But this survey isn’t about black and white, or right and wrong. Its about human beings and human nature. We all know on some level it is not realistic to view life as either this or that. Humans are complicated, and to be honest, so is our canon, considering it is open to the same degree that Heaven is open.

A blog post at Mormon Women Stand urges its readers to answer the questions according to “God’s perspective.” I do the same. However, my perspective of God’s perspective is more expansive than that of the MWS author. I believe God wants us to pursue knowledge, including self-knowledge, and to strive to access the truth and wisdom that that knowledge carries. When we stand in front of our Heavenly Parents in the next life, we will be standing in front of a pair of intellectuals; they have attained all knowledge, all understanding, all wisdom, and all truth. It’s our job to emulate them.

Put your fear on the shelf. Take the survey. Start the conversation. Begin this journey.

Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand…(D&C 88:78)

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(For more information the survey, click here and follow the links. You will find biographies of the survey’s authors, as well as Frequently Asked Questions. Here you will find a form the survey authors have created for you to provide feedback about the survey.)

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