Considering the demeaning parable from Elder Renlund about the spoiled boy leaving the boat and Elder Holland being furious with members who “bail” and imploring members to “Stay in the Boat” as well as The Old Ship Zion references from Brigham Young, Mormon church culture has a lot of imagery around boats, and staying in them. Marc Oslund, in his Mormon Stories interview, has a very interesting and valid point: Jesus never asked people to stay in the boat, he actually helped Peter leave the boat and miraculously walk on water!
The Old Ship Zion
Elder Ballard urges church members to stay in the boat. He reminds us that Brigham Young used the Old Ship Zion as a metaphor for the church, so staying in the boat equates to staying in the church.
President Brigham Young commonly employed “the Old Ship Zion” as a metaphor for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.Stay in the Boat and Hold On! By Elder M. Russell Ballard
“The Old Ship Zion” phrase is first by Brigham Young as found in the Jounal of Discourses:
I told the brethren, yesterday, that I was not afraid of men’s apostatizing when war and trouble are on hand, for then they will stick together. It is in calm weather, when the old ship of Zion is sailing with a gentle breeze, and when all is quiet on deck, that some of the brethren want to go out in the whaling boats to have a scrape and a swim; and some get drowned, others drifted away, and others again get back to the ship. Let us stick to the old ship, and she will carry us safely into the harbor. You need not be concerned.Brigham Young, Journal of Discources
Volume 6, p. 174
Brigham Young mentions it often enough later on too. Phrases like: “When all who constitute this kingdom are faithful to its requirements, it moves along; the old ship Zion will not stop; upon this we may be satisfied, and give ourselves no further trouble.” (vol. 11, pp. 250) and “It carries me, I do not carry the kingdom. I sail in the old ship Zion, and it bears me safely” (vol. 11, pp. 252)
Leaving the Boat with Jesus
We can go on and on about staying in the boat, but we’ve established this thought came from Brigham Young and has continued through church leaders today. What did Jesus have to say about boats? Interestingly enough, Jesus never told anyone to stay in the boat. Even in the stormy sea, he invited Peter to leave the boat and walk on the water! Peter followed Jesus out of the boat! Marc Oslund, former baseball player, and LDS seminary teacher now therapist, in his Mormon Stories interview with John Dehlin shared this concept beautifully.
I remember Ballard talking a lot about “Staying in the Boat!” And, I had this realization because I spoke at a Relief Society Conference. The theme was “Stay in the boat.” And it hit me. I’m like “Why do we need to stay in the boat?” What did Jesus teach? Jesus, literally is walking on water! Peter’s like “Jesus, let me come to you! Let me leave the boat, and come to the water.” What does Jesus say? Jesus says, “Come!”
And so now I’m, first off, I think that’s a beautiful visual of Jesus. If you can trust Jesus, you don’t have to worry about staying in the boat. Jesus is the source! Not the freaking boat! The old Ship Zion! Who cares!? Jesus is the one we’re going to focus, keep your eyes on jesus.
But then, I also started thinking, “Why are these guys enforcing boundaries with fear?” Like, Ballard, do you not read the New Testament? Like, you’re going to use this. I know Brigham Young said, “Stay in the Old Ship Zion, but Jesus said, “Leave the boat!” So, it became very contradictory, to me. While I’m reading these things and being like, “You guys are – just own it! You’re wrong! You’re wrong about things!”Mormon Seminary Teacher Loses His Faith – Marc Oslund Pt. 2 – Mormon Stories 1424
Then later in his interview, Marc comes back to this beautiful visual of Jesus.
If you were to ask me, “Do you believe in God?” I’m like, “I hope there’s a God… I hope that God exists but I can’t say that I know. I can’t. I hope that God exists. As for Jesus? The idea of Jesus being a revolutionary preacher, somebody who upended systems of oppression? That message is meaningful to me, but I don’t need to check in with that God. I don’t need to worry about covenants with that god.
Remember that realization I had? Jesus told people to leave the boat. That’s where I am. I’m leaving the boat! I followed Jesus right out of the church! You know what I’m saying? I think it was my commitment to Jesus that led me away from Mormonism. I don’t feel sad, because I don’t feel like a God worth loving, would be sad about where I’m at?Mormon Seminary Teacher Loses His Faith – Marc Oslund Pt. 3 – Mormon Stories 1425
The whole interview is spectacular and Marc discusses his experience as a nuanced seminary teacher and how he was marginalized for preaching Jesus and love over being a “good company man” and following current leaders blindly.
- Mormon Authorities Threaten Doubters With “Don’t You Dare Bail” Messages
- Elder Holland’s Taffy-Pulled Devotional – Don’t You Dare Bail & Stay in the Boat!
- Why did you leave? Tell your story or they will