In 1967 (the year I was baptized), Richard D. Poll delivered a sermon in the Palo Alto ward in which he coined the terms Iron Rod Saint and Liahona Saint. The sermon was reprinted in Dialogue and the Saints' Herald, and was also later published in the essay anthology A Thoughtful Faith (1986, Philip Barlow, ed.). What follows is the last of a four entries on the iron rod, the liahona, and impressions about Brother Poll's essay.
Brother Poll's response to his own 1967 article was published in Dialogue in 1983. Brother Poll summarizes one result of his original article, "The article did little, I confess, to make Mormons of the two tendencies feel more accepting of each other. Its most significant contribution. . . was to help make the Liahonas more accepting of themselves" (1983, p. 70).
Poll summarizes some responses he received, including defensive ones from self-declared Iron Rods and sympathetic ones from self-declared Liahonas. He then maintains his characterization and provides more texture to the differences between the two.
In a subsequent article, "Explorations in Mormon Social Character: Beyond the Liahona and Iron Rod", Jeffery Jacob (June 1989) attempts to categorize the social structure of the church even more by expanding on Poll's binary model. And I'm sure that others have also tried to characterize members of the church. (Frankly, I didn't get Jacob's article; it was far more technical that I was ready to try to comprehend.)
The key premise – and to me one of great value -- of Poll's analysis, however, was the faithfulness of both of his groups. They did not differ so much in the what but the how as it related to gospel living. He contends that both groups attend the temple, serve in the church in various positions, and attempt to lead honorable lives. He also notes that members of both groups also fall away.
In the end, if the symbols are to be helpful to us, I believe they are so personally. I can judge where I am on the spectrum, but I need not judge where someone else is. Recognizing that faithful members can be at either end or somewhere in between suggests to me that I can also be accepting of others as they are. It is not mine to judge someone's motives or even his or her actions. Even those called to judge do so within a relatively limited set of circumstances.
As a comment to my first post on this subject, one respondent said, "Creating dichotomies … seems to me more divisive than unifying, which kind of hurts the purpose of the Church." I agree that concentrating on differences is not always helpful, especially when we are trying to be "many members, yet but one body" (1 Corinthians 12:20).