Big Tent Mormonism -or- The Church of Anything Goes

In the wake of the Kate Kelly excommunication, there have been many posts about how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints should be big enough for … whatever.  Fill in the blank.  Basically the point is that a few people feel that the church should be more tolerant.

As I have thought of this, it strikes me that one definition that could be given of a church is that it is a religious organization that tells people what they ought to believe and how they ought to behave.  If a church were to cease teaching such things, it seems it would stop being a church in a meaningful way.  It may be a good social club, or a service organization, but not really a church.

Taken to an extreme, ‘big tent’ Mormonism would include any beliefs or behavior, and would cease to be much of a church at all.  A church of anything goes.

It is easy to see how this might appeal to some people.  Believe and act as you please, and continue in a hope for a fullness of salvation.  And not a soul shall be lost.  I hope you can see the source and force of my concern.

Boundary maintenance in not new or unique to this church.  Almost everyone does it.  Companies fire people for not behaving as the company feels they should.  You can get kicked out of a swimming pool for running, or asked to leave a library for being noisy.  Many examples of enforcing beliefs or behaviors could be cited.  To me the only reasonable question is not if the church should maintain some level of required behavior, but was this specific case sufficient cause for such an action.

I have read commentary on both sides of this event.  It seems that opinions often come down to whether or not one feels that Kate Kelly was just asking questions, or if she is an activist, recruiting followers to organize demonstrations to protest and pressure the church to change in the way she wants.

To me, I think the church did the right thing, and must continue to teach what one ought to believe and how one ought to behave in order to be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints instead of the church of anything goes.

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11 Responses to “Big Tent Mormonism -or- The Church of Anything Goes”


  1. 1 Jeff G July 25, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    I agree completely. “Big tent” toleration seems like a straightforwardly good thing when it comes to the political organizations for we have compulsory membership. When it comes to voluntary organizations such as a non-state sponsored church, there is no longer any obvious appeal to such inclusiveness. The burden of proof completely shifts to the other side.

  2. 2 Howard July 25, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Therefore, I will unfold unto them this great mystery; For, behold, I will gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if they will not harden their hearts; Yea, if they will come, they may, and partake of the waters of life freely. Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.

  3. 3 Eric Nielson July 25, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    O, ye nations of the earth, how often would I have gathered you together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not!

    I think your quote makes my point. We all need to repent, some simply will not.

  4. 4 Jeremiah July 25, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Maybe where we disagree is what must be repented of, and what is simply the glorious diversity of God’s sons and daughters.

  5. 5 Eric Nielson July 25, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Fortunately we have prophets and authorized priesthood leaders, along with the spirit, that can let us know how we should behave.

  6. 6 Stan Beale July 27, 2014 at 5:14 am

    What you say is simply a reductio ad absurdum argument. I would be very surprised if you could find any church member that would argue mass murderers or child molesters are entitled to church membership. Certainly I have never heard anyone supporting some type of “big tent” Mormonism ever argue “anything goes.”

    • 7 Jack July 27, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      The “big tent” extends way beyond the narrow boundaries of social ethics.There is plenty of room for an “anything goes” mentality in the broad hinterlands of the gospel.

  7. 9 Stan Beale July 29, 2014 at 6:03 am

    I violated one of my own rules in preparing my response. I did not use “weasel words” to limit what became an absolutist statement. You can always find one or more extreme examples and I should have taken more care . I should have included something like “Except for a very few outliers…”

    In sum, if I was back grading papers, you would have received a lower grade for the reductio ad absurdum argument that lessened the value of the bulk of your post and I would have received an even lower one for committing almost the same error.

  8. 10 Eric Nielson July 30, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Gee. Thanks Stan. I did acknowledge the extreme example in the post. And I would also claim that many of the big tent post following the excommunication were the absurd, with no reduction required. So my point was to expose the absurdity. If you and others see the absurdity then my goal has been accomplished.


  1. 1 The Church of Anything Goes: Tolerance of the Saints, Fallibility of Prophets, and Salvation by Grace Alone – These Three | Small and Simple Trackback on April 10, 2015 at 7:01 pm

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