Disclaimers | Links | Search | Contact
Why "Liberal"?
Why "Mormon"?
Why "Spirituality"?
Symbols and Icons
A Spirit of Discernment
Faith, Not Doubt
Does Historicity Matter?
Only One True Church?
A Place for Liberals?
Staying in the Church
Living outside the Church

A Place for Liberals?

Is there a place for liberals in the LDS Church? John A. Widtsoe once wrote that "the Church of Jesus Christ is preeminently liberal." But other church leaders have expressed quite negative attitudes toward religious liberals, sometimes referring to them as "so-called intellectuals."

Individual Latter-day Saints—including General Authorities—have always had different understandings of how to interpret the scriptures and how to put their religion into practice. Understandings along liberal lines are part of that diversity and can be traced back to the beginnings of Mormon tradition. However, liberal voices have always been a minority among the Saints. As in other denominations, where "conservatives" or "fundamentalists" struggle against "liberals" or "progressives," conservative Saints have moved against liberal teachings they perceive as undermining the true faith. Increasingly since the middle of the 20th century, tolerance within the church for liberal understandings of the Restoration has been reduced.

For individuals who believe that the Spirit speaks to them through liberal interpretations of Mormon tradition, the LDS Church may not feel very hospitable. Such individuals may feel that they must choose between being "closet doubters" and leaving the church altogether. People who practice a liberal Mormon spirituality need to be aware that for the foreseeable future, their relationship with the LDS Church will be, at best, complicated.

John A. Widtsoe: Under the true definition of liberalism, the Church of Jesus Christ is preeminently liberal. . . . Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not need to look elsewhere for a liberal Church.

Evidences and Reconciliations (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 45-46

Harold B. Lee: There are those in the Church who speak of themselves as liberals who, as one of our former presidents has said, "read by the lamp of their own conceit." . . . One time I asked one of our Church educational leaders how he would define a liberal in the Church. He answered in one sentence: "A liberal in the Church is merely one who does not have a testimony."

Stand Ye in Holy Places (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974), 353

Lowell L. Bennion: It is my hope and prayer that so-called conservative Latter-day Saints may learn to respect the so-called liberals in the Church and that liberal Mormons will respect and value the role of the conservative. After all, these terms are but labels imposed on people who are unique and human. Surely the gospel of Jesus Christ is big enough to accommodate more than one emphasis within its framework.

The Best of Lowell L. Bennion: Selected Writings 1928-1988 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), 27

Armand L. Mauss: [A]mong the Mormons . . . fundamentalist ways of thinking and acting seem to have become more common than earlier. . . . For people taught to think in this [fundamentalist] way, each new anomaly discovered in church teachings or scriptures, each new discovery of human frailty in church history becomes a crisis of faith. . . . [Y]oung people reared in the either/or style of fundamentalism, and also in a commitment to personal and intellectual honesty, will find such crises of faith very difficult to deal with, unlike the troublesome "intellectuals," who are by training and cognitive style actually better able to handle the relativity and ambiguities in religion. If the Mormon institutional pasture is not big enough to accommodate its intellectuals, then it will not be able to accommodate its disillusioned fundamentalists, either.

The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 191-92

This website is an independent effort to discern the Spirit's voice in LDS teaching. The site is not sponsored by the LDS Church. Quotations from the teachings of any individual should not be taken to imply that the individual does or would endorse this website or other statements made here.