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The Motte, the Bailey, and Gospel of Instagram

Beware those who would use your good heart to deceive you into accepting bad arguments.

The world is full of delightful people pursuing delightful accomplishments, and the gospel promotes love, hope, and unity. How blessed the day when we’ll be able to think only of lovely and praiseworthy things! Unfortunately, scripture’s plain warnings about sin and wickedness are still relevant, and we can’t just ignore them no matter how hard the Adversary argues “I am no devil, for there is none.”

Scriptures warn followers of Christ that evil uses good to deceive us. A devil who only ever said “come be evil!” wouldn’t get far. A devil who makes a persuasive case that evil is actually good is far more dangerous. Even when we know the difference between eternal truth and the philosophies of men, a dash of flattery, a threat to our social status, an accusation that we’re harming others can persuade us to reevaluate.  What used to seem clear-cut can become murky when the lines are deliberately blurred.  

The motte and the bailey. One common line-blurring tactic is the “motte and bailey” fallacy. Imagine a medieval fortress (the motte), surrounded by acres of fruitful fields (the bailey). The motte is easy to defend, so when attackers invade, the owner retreats into the stone fortress and stays safe. But no one wants to stay cooped up in a castle for long. They’d rather be out in the bailey, growing crops. The motte is a secure fortress. The bailey is insecure but offers much greater opportunity.

In a debate, the motte is an easily defended positionsay, “cruelty to animals is wrong.” Few would disagree. But wide agreement about cruelty to animals being wrong isn’t very useful to those who want to make big changes to law or policy. 

The bailey is a related, more expansive, less defensible position. For instance, a debater might say “because cruelty to animals is wrong, the law should force everyone to be vegan.” Mandatory veganism, not opposition to animal cruelty, is the debater’s real goal. But there are a lot of good-faith objections to mandatory veganism, so it’s much harder to defend than the motte. An opponent might respond: “It is possible to raise animals for food in an ethical way, and there are economic and medical reasons why mandatory veganism isn’t a good policy.”

Instead of defending the baileythat is, having a difficult discussion about the pros and cons of mandatory veganismthe first debater might instead retreat to the motte: “You’re just promoting cruelty to animals!”

Painting of Castle & Village Below | The Motte, the Bailey, and Gospel of Instagram | Public Square Magazine | The Motte and Bailey Fallacy | Motte and Bailey ArgumentThis is illogical and even silly: the motte and the bailey are very different arguments. You can’t just swap out one argument for another and expect people not to notice! That’s the fallacy. But when the topic is emotionally charged, it can be surprisingly effective. 

The debater pretended to have won the argument on the strength of the motte, despite not even trying to defend the bailey. Moreover, the debater turned the discussion into a personal attack on the opponent. Suddenly, the discussion was no longer about food policy, but about the opponent’s personal guilt for being cruel to animals. If this discussion happened in public, like on social media, it could easily turn into a pile-on about the opponent’s cruelty. Many opponents would quickly give up, despite having the logically stronger position. 

Eventually, a culture could develop wherein everyone accepts mandatory veganism as obviously correct, simply because no one is willing to attack the bailey, because they don’t want to be accused of animal cruelty. And others would be drawn into that culture and its activism in support of veganism because they want to feel courageous and righteous against the awful promoters of animal cruelty. Attacks push out opponents on one side, and flattery draws in new followers on the other.

Listening, learning, and loving does not mean accepting falsehood.

We see the same tactics and patterns being used to change minds and culture in the Church. Just as it would be painful to be accused of animal cruelty when you sincerely love and care for animals, it’s painful to be accused of being un-Christlike and disobedient to God when you are sincerely striving to follow Him. Just as it would be flattering to be praised for saving animals from cruelty, it’s flattering to be told you’re rescuing the vulnerable from church teachings and members that are harming them. Scripture warns us of the danger of flattery: “[Opponents of the church] did deceive many with their flattering words, who were in the church, and did cause them to commit many sins.”

The Gospel of Instagram. Much of today’s Latter-day Saint-themed social media is one big motte: God is love. I think of it as the Gospel of Instagram: I’ll Walk With You, Jesus Said Love Everyone, Love One Another. All this might have been lovely and a force for good, because it is absolutely true so far as it goes. But because it’s incomplete, it is too often being used to advance evil and deceive us. Channeling G. K. Chesterton, Elder Neal Maxwell once cautioned, “The doctrines of Jesus Christ are so powerful that any one of these doctrines, having been broken away from the rest, goes wild and mad. … The doctrines of the kingdom need each other just as the people of the kingdom need each other.”

The bailey is the concerted effort by many Latter-day Saint influencers and activists to undermine the doctrines of marriage and chastity. It’s a ubiquitous tactic: imply the church must change its doctrine, and instead of seriously considering the overwhelming theological, intellectual, and ministerial weakness of their position, retreat to the motte of “God is love.” Even more subtly, they might be wily about stepping out into the bailey of “church doctrine and leaders are wrong,” claiming they’ve never even left the motte of “we just need to listen to, learn from, and love our LGBT+ members.” 

But they have. 

Listening, learning, and loving are necessary. I seek to better understand how difficult it is to struggle with sexuality or identity, so I can better love and help. But when influencers imply we must listen in order to accept that gay sex is not sinful, that God condones gay relationships because of love, that God values romantic love and sexual attraction over chastity, that the celestial ideal of fruitful man-woman marriage is not the foundation of eternal life, that God gives individuals revelations contradicting church teachingsthey have left the motte. Listening, learning, and loving does not mean accepting falsehood. Making others more likely to commit sins, break their covenants, and estrange themselves from God is the opposite of love.

Consider a recent Instagram post geared toward a faithful LDS audience: “The Savior is trying to teach us. Bigotry is the opposite of unity. Jesus spent his entire ministry healing those who were subjected to bigotry. Loving those deemed unloveable, touching those called unclean … The Savior gave the parable of the father who clothes one son in robes and another son in rags. And the Lord asks what kind of man would look at the two and say, ‘I am just?’… We cannot clothe some in lovely robes of righteousness and others in rags of shame and say we are acting justly, on behalf of the Savior.”

This post appeals to good people trying to be loving and helpful. It’s important to understand how the author uses that goodwill to promote falsehoods

The motte: the Savior teaches us and reveals truth to us.

The bailey: the Savior is revealing contradictions of scriptural and prophetic teaching.

The motte: Bigotry is the opposite of unity.

The bailey: Unity means having positive and non-judgmental feelings toward everyone who claims their beliefs, behavior, and identity are approved by God, instead of lovingly inviting everyone to believe and embrace eternal truths. If you promote church teachings on chastity and marriage, you are guilty of bigotry and of fomenting disunity.

The motte: The Savior loved those deemed unloveable and touched those called unclean.

The bailey: Choosing to break the law of chastity is the same as being a leper ancientlya morally neutral condition that requires only compassion, never correction.

The motte: In the parable of the two sons, the Lord taught us to treat everyone with respect and not to favor some over others.

The bailey: Treating everyone fairly means no longer teaching that gay sex is sinful, and changing the law of chastity and the doctrine of marriage.

How many can bear the social and emotional cost of pushing back against this from a faithful position? Those who might try have already been called bigots in the post, accused of fomenting disunity in the Church, accused of violating a scriptural command to treat others fairly, and accused of thwarting Jesus’ healing mission. Many have learned from experience that raising concerns about the bailey (Jesus commands us to treat gay sexuality as morally equal to man-woman marriages) will only provoke a retreat to the motte (Jesus commands us to love everyone and treat them fairly)from which they’ll be attacked even more directly, called hateful and un-Christlike.

 We certainly can’t want or expect to correct every bad argument on the internet, and I’m not encouraging anyone to go argue on any post or page. But it’s crucial to understand that the ideas and tactics don’t stay on that page. The example I raise here is from a page with more than 17,000 followersever increasing as more people discover they enjoy the flattery of being told they’re promoting love and fighting bigotry. Many of those followers will replicate both the assertions and the attacks on their own social media, in their own conversations, in their own classes and congregations, and families. What starts on Instagram soon arrives in Sunday services, and many church leaders fail to push back as their faithful members are attacked for their faithfulness and tricked into rejecting true doctrine.

Accelerating activism and deeper deception. To be clear, it is absolutely true that those who suffer the temptation to break the law of chastity, but who believe and desire to obey God’s word, are worthy disciples who must be unequivocally loved and admired for their devotion. Church leaders have been very clear that feeling attraction is not a sin. But this can be used as another motte; activists will say they’re only advocating for those who are treated badly at church merely for having, but not acting on, same-sex attraction.

We must condemn all unkindness and help others learn to welcome and include gay members and friends. But beware the bailey. Most activists aren’t encouraging LGBT+ members to stay chaste, keep their covenants, and understand and accept church teachings. Instead, they’re encouraging everyone to forget the distinction between attraction and action and to pretend God has forgotten it, too. This is cruel to gay members who deserve to know the truth about eternal law and deceitful to everyone else trying to support them.

Another Instagram account proclaims its goal to “create safe spaces for LGBT+ students at BYU” and “amplify queer and other marginalized voices on and off campus to increase understanding and help create a kinder BYU”a fairly unobjectionable motte. Many of the posts are painful personal stories, rainbow- and Jesus-themed artwork, and offers of help and support for LBGT+ students. 

But they’re more daring in venturing out into the bailey. They helped organize a “family-friendly drag show” (as though a demeaning caricature of womanhood could ever be family-friendly). They recommended a list of gay, lesbian, and bisexual romance novels for Valentine’s Day. And they promoted a Teen Vogue article on “How to Have Queer Sex.” If you think directing BYU students to explicit advice about queer sex is an objectively bad thing to do, you stand accused of opposing “safe spaces,” “understanding,” and a “kinder BYU.” Most painfully, you stand accused of opposing the Savior’s love for those who need it most.

Perhaps it seems unfair or alarmist to tie the tamer advocates to the bolder ones. A former Bishop running a podcast urging love and understanding (and constantly implying the Church will change its doctrine, and that the Proclamation on the Family already allows for same-sex temple marriage), or a group of moms urging kindness and understanding toward their gay children (and promoting “revelation” that gay sex is approved by God), seem to be on a different level than offensive stunts like drag shows. But they all mingle on social mediathe more tame and the more extreme leave supportive comments for each other and introduce their audiences to each other. Their non-threatening persona serves as a gateway to direct their followers to more extreme positions.

God commands love, not niceness.

Because even the comparatively tame advocates believe the Church is wrong about marriage, chastity, and gender, they have no limiting principle to keep them from extremes, only a tactical judgment about how far they can venture out into the bailey before having to retreat back to the motte. They never advise against their followers’ increasingly extreme suggestions or say anything is simply wrong. Cross-dressing in the temple? Wrong-sex proxy ordinances in the temple? Non-binary gender identity as a loophole in the Church’s prohibition against gender transition? “Ethical non-monogamy” being approved by God because He loves polyamorists and wants them to be happy? Removing lessons about marriage from the Church’s youth curriculum? Replacing the common church term “brothers and sisters” with “siblings,” and abolishing sex-based church organizations like Young Men and Young Women, so as not to discomfit those who identify as non-binary? Encouraging church leaders to host “Transition Showers” to provide new clothes and cosmetics to members undergoing gender transitions? All have been advocated in a group that claims only to seek more love and understanding, with no pushback from the group leader who carefully cultivates a public persona of faithfulness.

Most worrying of all, the people advocating these harmful ideas are presenting themselves to unwary Bishops and Stake Presidents as “experts” on LGBT+ issues, asking to be called as “specialists,” “support group leaders,” or similar roles, or to bring in activist fireside speakers, so they can “train” members and leaders to adopt their views. That training will, of course, start from the motte of love and acceptance, then carefully step into the bailey of questioning or opposing true doctrine. In this way, more and more people will be deceived by falsehoods they are being taught at church, in settings authorized by priesthood leaders.

Love and law in the kingdom of God. In a scripture held as sacred by Latter-day Saints, the Lord commands his people to prepare for Zion by treating one another fairly: “let every man esteem his brother as himself.” In the very same verse, the Lord gives another crucial command, every bit as important in preparing for Zion: “practice virtue and holiness before me.” This is a perfect example of the balanced focus on love and law that prophets have been emphasizing in recent yearsand which Ty Mansfield recently explored in depth

By quoting only half of the verse, however, activists use scriptures like this as a motte. The bailey depends on the deliberately omitted context in order to undermine truth. In the Gospel of Instagram, “virtue and holiness” mean little more than “be nice,” where niceness indulges disobediencean insipid misinterpretation of the covenants and ordinances that are the only way to become like God. God sets bounds we are powerless to redefine. God commands love, not niceness. This may mean teaching unpopular truth and doing the hard work of helping others keep the commandments when it’s lonely and difficult. God prescribes spiritual discipline to prepare us for the Celestial Kingdom, not shallow slogans that idolize a false version of love at the expense of chastity.

The Lord hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Don’t be afraid of accusations. Take comfort that others have successfully withstood them, and are staying strong now. Don’t be afraid of losing friends and social status; you’ve covenanted to sacrifice far more than that for the Lord and His kingdom. He will bless you with power and love, and the wisdom to know how and when to effectively stand as a witness of God.

And may He bless us all with sound minds, impervious to accusations, flattery, and fallacy.

About the author

Cassandra Hedelius

Cassandra Hedelius has a law degree from the University of Colorado. She is board chairman of FAIR (Faithful Answers, Informed Response), homeschools her four children, and writes at
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