The fate of Believing Mormons and Menu Mormons
Bruce at Millennial Star wrote a post yesterday synthesizing two different members’ of the Community of Christ’s reactions to various events in the church’s (the CoChrist’s) history, and while I think that was intriguing on the whole, what really caught my eye were the four concluding paragraphs, which I will now proceed to copy and paste into this article:
I suspect the real lesson of the RLDS for us LDS is not that we should or should not give women the priesthood, nor even we should or shouldn’t <fill in the blank here with progressive ideal.> The real lesson of the RLDS Church for the LDS Church is that trying to simultaneously embrace everyone is not (currently anyhow) a road to long term religious vitality. While I am not prepared to say that religiously liberal beliefs are always a death wish (though often this is the case), there really is no doubt that as of yet no on has ever made a vital and growing religion out of this approach.
Some, however, have been more successful than others. The Church of England has capitalized on their more secular and cultural roots to embrace both religiously conservative and liberal points of view. But they have the added advantage of being a state religion supported by taxes. And I’m still not sure I’d call them a “success” either. In a similar fashion, Liberal Jewish religions have strong ethnic and cultural roots to pull upon.
Likewise, I suspect that three generations from now, there will still be a Believing Mormon community and a “Menu Mormon” community. Yet, I do not think these comparison are all fair. For example, I suspect a huge percent of the future Believing Mormon community will be decedents of Believing Mormons today. By comparison, I suspect that no matter how many generations you flash forward in time that the Menu Mormon community will always still be overwhelmingly first generation. The Menu Mormon community is, and probably always will be, a “Rejectionist Community” in that they theologically share primarily a common rejection of other people’s beliefs. If the LDS Church disappeared tomorrow, the Menu Mormon community would as well.
We should certainly have a strong desire to integrate those who “practice but do not believe” as far as possible into the LDS Church, but not at the expense of the religion itself. To me, this is the real lesson of the RLDS to the LDS. A religion (well, particularly Christian religions) exists to allow those that share a set of beliefs to strengthen each other’s beliefs. When the RLDS (and any liberal Christian sect) made a move towards trying to embrace ‘both sides’ they did so at the risk of no longer being a religion. Yet, I do not blame Religiously Rejectionist communities for wanting to integrate with their more conservative counterparts, for they lack a life of their own. I have not yet even worked out my personal answer to this very real dilemma, but I’m virtually certain the RLDSs approach is at least somewhat causally linked to their current situation.
Bruce’s framing of the “Rejectionist community” and of the interplay between it and the believing community was what interested me, if you didn’t catch it.
In the “Let’s be like Jews” fantasy that many people have about Mormonism, there is this idea that if secular Jews can find a place within the community (despite their secularity), then why can’t Mormons? But Bruce brings up a point that I think is true; secular Mormons are “first generation.” Not to say that Secular Mormons are all converts that dropped out…but rather that there are not going to be a whole lot of secular Mormons who come from secular Mormon families. Rather, the part of the Menu Mormon/New Order Mormon/non-believing cultural Mormon experience that binds us together is the fact that our families are not menu/new order/nonbelieving.
We are each first-generation pioneers “out of” Mormonism, but when we make that trek, we are unlikely to continue immersing out children in the Mormonism we grew up in, in the hopes that they will have the same experience we did (because most of us wouldn’t hope that on anyone.)
I don’t think it’s true that if the LDS church disappeared tomorrow, the Menu Mormon community would too. Certainly, there’d be a narrowing of who’d be in it. Some reasons wouldn’t make sense anymore (e.g., religious rejectionists of the church who were tied to it because of things like the church’s continuing involvement in politics wouldn’t really have a raison d’etre without a church to be involved in politics.) Nevertheless, others would still have reason to exist: supposing the LDS church disappeared tomorrow, that wouldn’t mean our memories would disappear (unless Bruce’s hypothetical includes that). And the thing that the rejectionist religious community for Mormonism (not just Menu Mormons but also former, ex-, post-Mormons, and Mormon Alumni) must do is process what a significant chunk of their life even means or meant.
But certainly, would we carry that on to our children? I don’t know about you, but for me, the answer is easily no. That will be just one part where I wouldn’t want my kids to be able to relate to me on. (I’d also like them to be perpetually ignorant about things like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., but I don’t those are going away any time soon. [and I'm not trying to equate the church on the whole with these, but I think the bad experiences that many face CERTAINLY are relatable])
There was one thing that Bruce said that kinda bothered me as was said:
Yet, I do not blame Religiously Rejectionist communities for wanting to integrate with their more conservative counterparts, for they lack a life of their own.
The thing is, for most of us, it’s not like we choose to gain a life of our own. The religious beliefs we are rejecting (without which we would have no shared reference) were in many cases foisted upon us. Even if not, we nevertheless invested a great deal of time and effort into them. I would not blame someone trying to salvage a great part of his life from being declared scrap.
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