It's long I'm sorry, but this is something I've thought a lot about.
I do not think that what we are talking about here is a question of obedience. I think it is a question of personality and respect. A question often asked is “are you a spirit of the law or a letter of it?”
Another way to put this comes from a GA; I’m sorry but I can’t remember of it was Maxwell or Holland. It was related to me by a best friend. She heard it first hand – over 10 years ago. The GA said that there are two kinds of members. The Iron-rodders and the liahonas. They are both good members, but they live the gospel differently.
The IR’s do just as the song states, they hold to the rod. They do not want to look beyond the path and the rod, the Gospel; they don’t see a need. They are meticulous in their step along the path. They fear that if it isn’t just right the Lord won’t approve. They like rules and mandates (exactly how many ear-rings they can wear and still be “good” or don’t stray from the manual in RS cuz that’s “bad”.) They are also often numbers and checklist people. “These are the exact steps I have to take to get to Heaven”. To cling to the path is safe, it’s righteousness. They feel that to look up from the path is to invite apostasy. They are loyal to the Plan and trust that the Plan will get them to Heaven. They feel that to ask questions is to doubt the Plan and therefore the Lord and therefore our Heavenly Parents. It’s very black & white to them. Unfortunately this means that if they leave the church they feel deceived and will likely not come back. Or they may even turn into anti-Mormons desperate to prove to others that the logic is wrong. I have found that Mathematicians, IT/computer people, and Businessmen or lawyers tend to be IRs.
Liahonas are those who carry the Gospel with them as a compass as they explore their surroundings. Wanderers. As Gandalf said, “not all who wander are lost” and as JG Kimball once said, “I like the strait and narrow path. I try to cross it as often as possible”. These members are seekers. They want to see the whole picture and to ask about it – to learn. They don’t like “cuz the manual says so” as an answer. They need reasons: “the Lord did it this way for this reasons so that these other things will happen.” For them asking questions is essential to eternal progression. It’s a moral imperative. It’s proving to our Heavenly Parents that we care and that we want to understand. “Ask and ye shall receive.” They trust that no matter where they go the Lord will be with them and will lead them and that no mistake is fatal. They seek spirituality from lots of sources not just “church approved”. They fully believe that anything good comes of God and that to dismiss it for not being from the Church is to dismiss the greater work of the Lord. Liahonas don’t like to be confined. They see the out-of-Gospel rule as pointless – for example Tithing counts, while the number of ear-rings you have doesn’t get you into or keep you out of heaven. They often view the ear-ring rules as closer to Satan’s plan of conformity than of the Gospel of love and feel sorry for the GAs who are forced to make these rules because of the IRs. They believe that your heart is what matters not your exterior or the numbers/checklists. These members may wander in and out of activity and they tend to wander away when hurt by something/someone in the Church – because the Lord doesn’t hurt us he saves us. They seek comfort elsewhere for a time. If they leave more permanently they often don’t make a show of it – it’s not worth it. They also tend to see value in some of the Church’s teachings so they don’t diss it. These members tend to be artist, scientists, historians and Humanities people.
An example of these types is Adam and Eve. Adam was a keeper of all of Father’s Laws, while Eve reasoned that what ever that thing called Knowledge was it was worth the risk of death – whatever that was. I’m not saying that all men are IR and that all women are LH’s, but I think that when a woman is a LH she tends to be vilified by leadership. Another example is Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. JS was a seeker of answers while BY was a that’s-just-how-it-is-get-over-it kind of guy. There is a place and time for both types.
I hope that this helps people understand that there isn’t just one way to be a member and that we need to respect that.
The terrible reality is that when these two groups collide it gets ugly. IR tend to decry the LHs as wrong and on the verge of apostasy and the LHs see the IR as controllers or exercisers of unrighteous dominion. The horrible thing is that the Church is dominated by IR I think because LH go away. I hope that this changes in time. The need is for greater respect of these differences. It’s the Gospel that matters not the “look” or numbers – these are just tools. However, even in Christ’s day there were these problems – Paul and Barnabas – and human nature hasn’t changed that much.