“If you don’t pay your tithing and serve in the Church, you give up your right to bitch,” my father once told me. It was back when we lived in the old Liberty Stake in Salt Lake City, so I can’t have been more than nine years old. Mainly because it is the first time that I remember hearing my father cuss, it has stuck with me. Also, at some deep level I think that he was right. Figuring out why is a bit more tricky.
Clearly the right at issue here isn’t simply the legal or political right to voice one’s opinion. All citizens in a liberal society have that right, and denying it or making it contingent on Church service strikes me as deeply wrong. It also can’t mean that criticisms voiced by those who don’t serve in the Church or pay their tithing are invalid. With a few exceptions, the truth or falsehood of a statement does not turn on the identity of the speaker.
Rather, I think that an explanation lies in my father’s verb choice. I think that my father was referring to a particular kind of complaining about the Church. It is not simply the voicing of criticisms. It involves a real sense of ongoing grievance and wrong. It involves carping and complaining about that which you are involved in. For example, employees at a company can complain about the company in a way that mere observers never can.
There is more going on, however, than a simple definition. It is not just that insider-complaining by definition consists of complaints and criticisms by those who pay their tithing, and serve in the Church. Insider-complaining by one who doesn’t do such things is not non-sensical in the way that a married bachelor is non-sensical. The kind of complaining my father was talking about is something that the non-tithe paying and non-serving in the Church person can aspire to do. Indeed, it is something that many seek to do on the basis of heritage or past service. To be sure, the now lapsed but formerly faithful RM has a greater ability to be legitimately aggrieved than does a mere Gentile observer. Yet he doesn’t quite have the same entitlement to complain that someone who is fully engaged hase. He is no longer a participant, and whatever his past service he is now much more like the Gentile observer than his formerly faithful self.
I actually think that this matters. The reason is that listening is not simply a matter of understanding and evaluating reasons. It is also relational. When I listen to someone I adopt a particular attitude toward them, acknowledging that they have a claim on me. This is why when it comes to carping about the church, activity matters. Normally criticisms are entitled only to the respect of their reasons. Some complaining, however, has additional claims. The person who pays the present price to really carp is entitled to a hearing not simply because he or she might be right, but because he or she is a fellow laborer in the cause. It is a moral and rhetorical entitlement that the mere critic cannot claim.