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How to Stay LDS: Review and Response, Part IV

August 18, 2009

This is the fourth 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; Part II is here; Part III is here.


About the Buffet

I don’t have much against Faith (or hope) is an amazingly low bar. But there still needs to be justification for why one should hope within the church whereas anywhere else. When Dehlin writes, “We should not in any way feel embarrassed by the fact that we don’t know the church is true,” this still skews to the expectation that the church is true (and thus, there is knowledge that one doesn’t have that one can possibly be embarrassed about.)

This begins the troubling setup for Warmly embracing the title “buffet Mormon.” Again, I ask if someone can’t do all of these things just as well outside the church? My culture, after all, is still Mormonism. I am simply recognizing eating some take-out because it’s a sunny day outside the cafeteria.

The question is: why is the buffet still inside the church (the implied boundary is: “No matter what your idiosynchrasies of belief or activity, try to stay a member on the rolls.” Why?) The subquestion is: can buffet Mormonism even be viable?

Many ex-Mormons suggest that it can’t. Because while one can refuse to hold a black-and-white worldview, the church does teach this. Or while one can choose when and where to be obedient, the church does preach obedience. While one can be content to simply “hope” or “believe,” and consider herself no less a believer, the sad fact is the church can determine who is orthodox enough to fit its standards.

Dehlin’s first can of worms is Tithing. This, to many doubting members, represents one of the most contentious aspects, for while Dehlin advocates the ideal of full compliance with tithing, to members who are struggling, this is betrayal of one of the few options they take their stance: the ability to vote with their wallet. As ex-members will point out, one can say they believe whatever they want, but as soon as they put their 10% (or whatever %), they pay respect to the church in the most important way.

I am quite enamored of Dehlin’s suggestion for people who don’t feel comfortable to pay 10% to the church to still try to divert the X% to worthwhile causes. Maybe it’s just me, but this incredibly romantic and idealistic action appeals to me. I simply come crashing back to reality when I realize that this hampers the “Buffet Mormon” ideal, the church would interpret this fiduciary heresy as serving two masters, loving the one and hating the church.

The tithing issue actually very tangibly sums the dilemma: if a struggling or challenged member pays, they betray themselves. If they don’t pay, they betray their efforts at devout membership.

I feel John’s message regarding Sunday Meetings is good not just for those who face crises of faith, but for all members. Rather than attend the three-hour block every Sunday simply because of the perceived obligation, what if people attended only because they wanted to. (The goal for faithful members would be to want to attend as frequently as possible and make meetings attractive, inspiring, and enlightening for their fellow members.) If “obligation” or “necessity” could be divorced from Sunday meetings, then maybe I’m being romantic and idealistic again, but I think this would cultivate appreciation for the meetings, whether one attended once a year or every week.

Indeed, when I talk about a middle way outside of the church (one that avoids “complete abandonment”), I extend Sunday meetings to the disaffected. Even if one only attends once in several years, what’s wrong with that? One’s not being a member doesn’t preclude him from going occasionally…rather, it frees and unbridles him from even the threat of responsibility, necessity, or obligation.

I also agree with Callings in this similar vein. I mean, I understand that some callings are assigned to challenge people outside of their expertise, but I feel people should only accept if they want to, not because of intimidation from the bishop or a sense of obligation.

Same with the Temple. (Although here is a place where the “Buffet” of Buffet Mormonism can crash into the “Mormonism” of it — if one isn’t following the church’s inner standards for tithing or morality, then this option can simply become inaccessible.)

While I understand the idea behind Shelving the bad doctrine, from a practical standpoint, this seems to me to ripen the possibility for alienation. To maintain a shelf, one must consciously raise awareness of his heterodoxy and “illegitimacy” in the eyes of the organization. This isn’t just about historical doctrine (because most of that has been shunted aside and may not provide cause for worry nowadays)…but rather…how does one “shelve” the LDS doctrines about homosexuals, for example (even if they are slowly liberalizing), when political action is happening now? John says that one “should have much reason to hope” that particularly distasteful doctrines will be shelved soon, but how does one live hoping for an organization that simply is not?

Dehlin advises: Throw away all the guilt. But isn’t this easier said than done? Especially when the task one is embarking upon is to move head-first into the storm of orthodox Mormonism knowing that one is going against the current? And if we meet the kind of God John is formulizing, wouldn’t he just as well say, “Why did you stick with something you felt and knew better not to? Why didn’t you pay attention to what you had read or experienced?”

So, to Part V

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