Why Keep Debating (Things Like the Provo Tabernacle)?

In the time since my last post and piece in the newspaper, I’ve had some great conversations with people both who disagree and agree with me. But one response that I’ve encountered repeatedly — and it’s a response that really bugs me — is the one that seeks to end the conversation.

More specifically, I’m talking about people who say “whatever our feelings on the issue, the decision is made so let’s move on and talk about other things.” I’ve seen this response again and again with respect to the tabernacle/temple issue, and I’ve encountered it generally in discussions about a wide array of questions.
I have some basic and fundamental issues with this argument. Most basically, I enjoy debate and think it’s healthy for the mind; people who can’t rhetorically defend their positions should grow up and learn to assert themselves.
More generally, I also think that cutting off debate once authority figures make a decision sets a dangerous precedent. Leaders — political, religious, civic, etc. — sometimes make mistakes and confronting them with hard questions is an important check. Modern movements like the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street protests operate under this principle, as did most revolutionaries of the past.
But I have an even bigger problem with this argument when it comes to something like the Provo Tabernacle. To begin with, there was never a public debate about the building despite it’s clear function as a public (if privately owned) resource. Even if the LDS church had a right to do with the building as they pleased, the public has the right to weigh the pros and cons of the final decision. (This was something I basically didn’t see anyone do. Even if the outcome was a net gain for Provo, every decision has pros and cons. Yet as far as I’m aware, I was the only person who — in my small way — publicly expressed the possibility that turning the building into a temple would have negative repercussions as well as positive ones. I know other people had this opinion, but I didn’t see it printed anywhere.)
I think it’s also important to have a debate because that debate can influence future decisions. For example, years ago Provo demolished two iconic buildings — the Hotel Roberts and a local catholic church. Some people were outraged and publicly expressed that anger via debate, and I think in the time since the city has gradually become more sensitive to its historic structures.
In other words, debating past decisions influenced the future. I think that if the debate about those past buildings had been even more robust we might have had a more balanced discussion about the fate of the Provo Tabernacle, even if the outcome was the same.
In addition, one specific reason that a debate about the Tabernacle is important is because the church constantly is altering its historic structures, and may revamp the existing Provo Temple in the very near future. It is important that we, as a community, discuss now what we want to do with our architectural heritage in the future. Even if the decision about the Tabernacle is over, the decisions about the Provo temple are not. The church is unlikely to change the facade of the building if the community opposes it, for example, and the elected city officials obviously have a say in what gets approved. (I have heard from reliable sources that the church did, in fact, weigh people’s reactions in its decision to turn the Tabernacle into a temple.)
In other words, if we want the LDS church to preserve history (or, I suppose, if we want the church to discard history, as I feel it often does), we need to debate that topic and formulate our opinions now. This principle holds true for most policy decisions that have public ramifications. No single event or decision is completely isolated, and an honest (and spirited) debate will only ever enrich our views, and our community.

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Filed under building, construction, Mormon, Provo, Provo Tabernacle, utah

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