Aug 132014
Piano Tone

If Mormonism is to survive—or at least to survive well—its leaders must become “tone deaf.” Musically speaking, the last thing you want an aspiring musician to be is tone deaf. Tone deafness is not an inability to hear sound; it is the inability to distinguish pitch. Have you heard the expression “Can’t carry a tune in a bucket?” The tone deaf person has difficulty hearing the difference between high and low notes, for example, on a piano or other instrument. A tone deaf person might enjoy singing (and singing with great gusto), but will sound very…well…awful. In fact, it might even cause mental anguish to someone listening.

There are situations, however, in which a little “tone deafness” might be beneficial. Take the recent experience of a BYU-Idaho Institute teacher who resigned from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for example. The instructor, Kirk Caudle, mentioned during an online optional class discussion that the account of Brigham Young’s *transfiguration* into the likeness of deceased leader Joseph Smith was “not entirely historical.”[1] Word got back to local church leaders that Mr. Caudle essentially had stepped outside the box and did his own thinking.

Reaction was quick. Caudle was called in by the heads of the school’s religion and online learning departments for a 45-minute dressing down. Leadership had no problem with the content of Caudle’s class material; they did, however, have an issue with his “tone.” Apparently his tone did not take on an obsequious enough timbre. Consequently, BYU-Idaho did not renew his teaching contract. Historical accuracy is not part of the LDS Church-approved curriculum, and thought-provoking discussion is not allowed, unless the discussion follows pre-screened and approved talking points.

As Henrichsen reports;

When Caudle pointed out that students enjoyed his classes, he was told, “We don’t care what the students think. We just want you to teach the curriculum.”

The issue of tone goes far beyond the bounds of LDS academia. Lay members of the Church are often warned about their tone when asking questions or are instructed to “tone things down” when caught speaking in such a way as to put the Church or its leadership in a negative light. If members pursue getting answers to their questions or concerns about LDS history, doctrines, or policies, they might be threatened with disciplinary action if a particular ward or stake leader doesn’t like their tone. If their tone isn’t taken down in pitch—to, oh, say a low grovel—the threatened discipline may very well ensue.

Members of the LDS Church are not the only ones who must pass the test of tonal temperance. Non-members, ex-members, and prospective members must all undergo scrutiny to assure they are not even a half-step off pitch. Not enthusiastic enough about Mormonism? You’re too flat. Ask a probing question about Mormonism’s history or doctrines? You’re too sharp; as presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee learned when he asked if, according to LDS teachings, Jesus and Satan are spirit-brothers (the answer is yes).

A spokeswoman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Huckabee’s question is usually raised by those who wish to smear the Mormon faith rather than clarify doctrine.[2]

So, who are the spiritual maestros filtering the timbre of “musicians” to ascertain if they are fit to participate in the “Mormon orchestra?” Who are the so-called experts who know the hearts and minds of those asking questions, giving information, or expressing opinions? Who determines whether one is trying to get clarification on a doctrine or trying to “smear the Church?” And does it really matter what the person’s motive is, even if it’s apparent? Truth is truth, right? If a teaching, doctrine, position, or historical event of the One True Church is actually an established fact, shouldn’t it be addressed with pride and candor, or in some instances with an apology and frankness?

Considering that members are leaving the Church in numbers that are of concern to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, perhaps a little tone-deafness would benefit the organization. Elder Marlin Jensen said at a Utah State University Fireside in November of 2011,

Maybe, since Kirtland we’ve never had a period of—I’ll call it apostasy—like we’re having right now.[3]

Instead, the Church is coming down hard on dissenters and information seekers alike. The ouster of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin[4] are recent examples, but the problem is more far-reaching than with persons of notoriety in Mormondom. Mormon missionaries are known for suddenly remembering impending “appointments” when questions by potential proselytes or street-preachers take on a tone of dissonance.

The freedom to ask questions with the expectation of receiving honest answers is foundational to a vibrant faith community. It engenders trust and builds confidence. “Coming clean,” as it were, usually garners respect from others. Perhaps the Mormon Church has too much to lose by employing candor and honest, open discourse, but it’s already losing on many fronts by its repeated resistance to transparency.

As it stands LDS leaders would “like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,”[5] with everyone—Mormon and “gentile” alike—praising “the man who communed with Jehovah.”[6]  And since that’s as highly improbable as a bass becoming a coloratura, Mormon leaders had best hearken to the countless individuals crooning (on or off key) the chorus of Billy Joel’s hit song, “Honesty.”[7]



[1] Henrichsen, C. (2014). BYU-Idaho religion instructor leaves church. Approaching Justice.

[2] Quaid, L. (2007). Huckabee asks if Mormons believe Jesus, Satan are brothers. Deseret News. December 11, 2007.

[3] Henderson, P. & Cooke, K. (2012). Special report: Mormonism besieged by the modern age. Reuters. January 31, 2012.

[4] Connor, T. (2014). Will Mormon podcast host John Dehlin be excommunicated. U.S. News. June 26, 2014.

[5] New Seekers. (1971). Buy the world a coke.

[6] Phelps, W. (2014). Praise to the man. Hymnal.

[7] Joel, B. (1978). Honesty. A matter of trust – the bridge to Russia.

Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you

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