Most wards recently had the “Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy” lesson in priesthood and relief society. This lesson admonishes us not to criticize church leaders.

I’m tired of hearing this taught at church. The truth is that it’s OK to dislike certain things about the church. It’s OK to disagree with leaders. And it’s OK to say so. To suppose otherwise advances the lie that the LDS church is a cult. This, in turn, advances Satan’s program of undermining the church.

A friend of mine served on a school board, and she described to me how parents who approached her about concerns with school invariably (a) shared a common concern with other parents, and (b) were told by the school that they were the first person to express that reservation. This points to a pernicious contrivance to isolate dissenting parents, and to thereby manipulate and deceive parents in order to dilute accountability. I don’t believe that the church has this in mind when they say, “don’t criticize the leaders,” but the effect is the same: it makes each concerned member feel like she’s the only one. Thus, the policy isolates members who are unhappy with leadership and dilutes the accountability of church leaders.

Whenever I’ve discussed the bad experiences I’ve personally had with church leaders (e.g., getting sent home from my mission), I’ve received emails from members wishing to thank me for my candor, because they are grateful to learn that they’re not alone.

On many occasions I have criticized church leaders quite candidly. For example, I discuss the brow-beating, bullying behavior of my mission president at the MTC. I criticize Ezra Benson’s insanely idiotic notion that all history should be faith-promoting. I talk about the flaws in Christ’s moral teachings. I rail against the church’s use of church discipline to silence scholars whose research results in conclusions that are out of the mainstream. When people claim that I shouldn’t engage in this kind of criticism, they marshall all the arguments that are usually pressed into service to oppose things like freedom of speech or freedom of the press. I believe that as tithing-paying, faithful members, it’s important for us to speak freely about how we believe that the church should operate.

And this touches on a larger issue: I recall the way that the Vatican reacted to calls for reform after the priest-pedofile scandal. Rather than recognize the clear and pressing need to react to the situation in a way that alleviated the pain and damage being done to the Catholic church and its members, the Vatican seemed focused on preserving the appearance that the Vatican would make its decision without being pressured by outside interests.

Like the Vatican, many Mormons and Mormon leaders reflexively insist that inspired decisions are not the result of outside pressure. They refer to attempts to offer feedback as “steadying the Ark” or “counseling the brethren.” In fact, bickering over the potential source of a solution rather than on the solution itself is what I call “fiddling while Rome burns.”

This mindset shown by the Vatican and by leaders of our church embodies the fallacy that inspired decisions are somehow divorced from emergent priorities imposed by the real world — as though revelation exists in-and-of-itself and not to solve practical problems. This is fallacious, because it contradicts everything that we know about revelation.

So, for my part, I’ll continue to be candid about the church. And I respectfully disagree with the notion that criticism of church leaders is among “the bitter fruits of apostasy.” Having and expressing one’s own opinion — even about our church, even when it is dissenting — just isn’t that big of a deal.