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How to Stay LDS: Review and Response, Part III

August 18, 2009

This is the third part of a series about John Dehlin’s How to Stay in the LDS Church After a Major Challenge to Your Faith. Part I is here and Part II is here.

The meat of Dehlin’s paper is the presentation of more than 30 tips (!) on how to remain in the LDS church after becoming disaffected. So, let’s go through.

I have no problems with Accepting Imperfection. In fact, I enjoy comparing the imperfections of religions and the people associated to that of nations, corporations, and other organizations. But when we compare, there are stark differences. Namely, we don’t presume or prize absolute loyalty to many of these (e.g., corporations) or many of these things aren’t exactly voluntary associations (e.g., nations, to a certain extent). Nevertheless, we take for granted the ability to vote with our feet, money, and words. Most of our associations do not claim to be perfect or divine.

With Seeking to Understand, I agree that anger (if present) should be replaced. However, I’m not sure if it should be replaced with anything that would justify staying in or going back. The compassionate understanding for the members’ and leaders’ positions may (justifiably) include a belief that these people should move past their positions (in the same way Dehlin is advocating for people to move past potential anger.) Dehlin repeatedly raises the idea of the church’s” annoying” attributes as a necessary part of its perfection, often citing Eugene England’s “Why the church is as true as the gospel” (which really deserves an essay all of its own…also, PDF warning!) This is something I’ve pondered about independently…the idea of needing crucibles in our lives for development…but still, I’m wondering…is the LDS church a crucible that should be kept above the others?

No overt problems with Understanding the root causes of orthodoxy, but there are many issues with Understanding the brethren’s dilemma and The Responsibility of Leadership. As I discussed in part II, this is where I think Dehlin hits a wall with many ex-mormons because of their inordinately (and perhaps unrealistically) high valuation of truth and honesty.

I don’t think Dehlin’s characterization is overtly false. But this characterization leads me to ask: “Knowing this, why should I trust them to the higher level they would like me to?” If the brethren are more concerned about stewarding the church (with goals to minimize attrition to church activity and commitment, or stated positively, to maximize commitment and happiness for the greatest number of members), then that’s fine. But this concern makes them no more special than every other voluntary organization that is concerned about minimizing attrition to shareholder value. In fact, going by this “goal” alone, if I am not happy, I should make this known in whatever legitimate channels I can and “vote” with my deeds or words.

When John points out that “humans simply do not function” to erode their own bases of authority, again, I don’t think he’s incorrect. However, most organizations also don’t bite off more than they can chew, claiming divinity and truth.

So Dehlin’s claim is to argue that the ex-mormon’s demand for truth and honesty is unrealistic. After all, he points out, you wouldn’t advertise your worst mistakes either. But then again, you probably also don’t claim to have more truth, more honesty, more value than others. Dehlin recognizes that the church advertises these things, but beckons his readers to accept the premises of imperfect people and imperfect circumstances in order to riddle the conclusion that we should see past the advertising (why believe the Titanic builders about an unsinkable ship?)

But again, if we can’t or shouldn’t expect the church to be any different from any other organization, then why stay in the church? Yes, it is unreasonable to expect complete transparency…I don’t disagree with that part (despite the LDS church’s claim to divine authority). Rather, I simply point out that it’s just as unreasonable then to take the LDS church’s claim to divine authority for granted.

The beckon to treat devout Mormons with the same respect that you would those of other faiths is a good one. But still, I think Dehlin’s analogies with the Catholics or Muslims are coy. Of course, one doesn’t just go up to some random Catholic or Muslim and bring up their dirty laundry. However, if they brought the battle to you, through proselytizing to you or through holding you in pity, contempt, or lamentation for your differing beliefs, then it would not be rude to bring up these issues. The Mormon church, as a missionary church, as a church that uses its influence politically, is thusly ripe for the cause.

Dehlin advises those who stay in and who attend church to avoid the temptation to disrupt meetings. He points out that meetings are often not about education, but about obedience. (Think back now to children and family in the church: would a struggling member really want to have to constantly keep track of what the church were teaching his or her family, lest the church subverted his or her authority?)

In his section The True/False Binary Worldview, Dehlin asks: “What’s the point of a denomination at all, if it doesn’t consider itself to be “God’s one true path?” Or at least the best of all possible paths.” Indeed. What’s the point of a denomination if it is not God’s one true path?

John defends a practical understanding of the way the church institution operates: it is geared for growth and preservation. I think this is a good and realistic characterization of it and many other organizations. However, again, this does not justify sticking with it. Again, many struggling believers would not take for granted that the growth/life of the church is a good thing so why it should be grown must be proven.

But Dehlin doesn’t want to prove this. Rather, he wants lowered expectations. Lowered expectations aren’t bad — they just highlight the ever-present question of why one should go through this much to stay in the church?

Onward…to part IV!

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  1. Just finished Eugene England’s essay.

    Thanks for posting that. I think it hits on a crucial concept here – the guy who gets everything he wants in life is ultimately a lesser human being for it. It is through the conflicts in our life that we achieve depth of character and true godliness.

    Fascinating idea that the bigoted and insensitive lady bearing her canned testimony in church may be an essential component of your ultimate divinization. Or that being forced to minister to people you don’t particularly like is a crucial part of Christlike life.

  2. And as much as I hate to say it… I just don’t think that human beings typically seek out these crucial experiences even half enough when left to their own devices.

    The coercive and social-pressuring element of the Church seems invaluable here.

  3. I agree, Seth, but the question I’m wondering (and this is one where I may be with John and Eugene or without) is…what kind of conflicts are best for us and what kind of conflicts are less effective?

    Because I see two kinds of points. 1 is that you will see bigoted and insensitive ladies everywhere (so if they aren’t bearing a canned testimony about the church, they may be bearing it about environmentalism or whatever else that doesn’t float your boat). So, there is no need to seek and remain in the LDS church (or say it is “as perfect as” the gospel) based on a rather commonplace phenomenon.

    But the second point, where I might agree with England (which is why I need to write an article about it in specific) is that…the LDS experience may be better because it’s a controlled, set environment. My father would always say stuff like, “I’m stubborn sometimes, and you may not like my ways, but this is how life is like. The difference is that I care for you and the world doesn’t.” So, in this way, this “cultivated struggle” is better than just any old struggle. The struggle within the institution, even if it only serves to lead one out, may be more valuable than a struggle outside of the institution

    EDIT: relating to your second comment…this raises a question that could go two ways as well…about whether we *should* seek these kinds of experiences. One part of me says: “We will naturally face these experiences, because we have to deal with people and our environment every day. So it doesn’t even matter if we don’t seek these experiences.” And then the other part of me says, “We should seek these experiences so that we can finely tune certain things about us. Sure, you can get exercise throughout the course of the average day of work [more or less depending on the work you do], but working out at a gym is still specifically valuable because you’re conscious about the effort.”

  4. Can’t speak for others Andrew.

    I know that I personally would never meet these people if left to my own devices.

    The end.

  5. I’m beginning to wonder, especially with your line of work (which, as far as I know, isn’t cloistered from the world), what kind devices *you* have.

    I seem to have a magnet -_-

  6. “Meet” is the wrong word.

    I meet all sorts of course.

    But the bankruptcy process is very structured and limited. I help them with one of their problems. But I make it pretty clear that I’m simply a resource to solve that specific problem. You don’t want to blur the line, or the space you need to run a business vanishes.

    Church interactions are different. And I really don’t know where I’d possibly replicate all that left to my own devices. My suspicion is that I wouldn’t even bother.

  7. ah. So keep the job strictly professional…a wise move indeed.

  8. I enjoy performing a job that I can the real tangible help I’m giving people. And I am quite friendly (at least, I think so). But it is just a job at the end of the day. My passions lie elsewhere.

    Which is just as well, because it helps me stay objective about my cases. I’m rarely objective about the things I’m truly passionate about.

  9. “that I can see the real tangible help.”

  10. “What’s the point of a denomination at all, if it doesn’t consider itself to be ‘God’s one true path?’ “

    What’s the point of a restaurant at all, if it doesn’t consider itself to serve the best food in the world?

    What’s the point of a university at all, if it doesn’t consider itself to have the best academics?

    What’s the point of a person at all, if it doesn’t consider itself the most important in the world?

    On and on. I imagine an answer to one question would answer them all.

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  1. How to Stay LDS: Review and Response, Part IV « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  2. Sunday in Outer Blogness: Double Edition! | Main Street Plaza

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