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How to Stay LDS: Review and Response, Part V

August 19, 2009

This is the fifth 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, and Part IV is here.

Wow. This series has continued longer than I expected (especially since I haven’t written a series with more than 2 posts before)…so, I think I’ll skip a few sections and go to a section that I think is particularly troubling for Dehlin’s approach: Raising Children.

Raising Children is where Dehlin’s brand of Buffet Mormonism is tried against what the Mormon experience would be like without the thinkering — it is trying his great buffet experiment against the diet of fresh, vanilla Mormonism. So, what are Dehlin’s spiritual culinary tricks?First, he writes of three possible answers to give children concerning why they go to church. Rather than use the church’s own advertised claims of, “Because it’s the true one,” Dehlin offers the respectable, “Because it’s our culture; because we like it; because it’s as good a place as any to seek spirituality and community.”

So far, so good (although wouldn’t it get hairy if the parents didn’t like it?)

But next, Dehlin begins to anticipate (and address) one of the biggest concerns: what do parents do about the things that concerned them in the first place? His answer: De-program as necessary.

He provides a list of things that he found he wanted to de-program and disabuse his children of, but from some of these, I have to wonder how he accomplished the task. Some of these issues aren’t just things mentioned once or twice in a blue moon. Rather, it’s a paintstaking process to surgically remove doctrines and practices that are imbued in teachings, lessons, primary songs and talks. Dehlin raises a good point though: this is what parents have to do with everything else in lives (TV, movies, books, music)…and I’d like to agree that most reasonable parents don’t react by simply taking away these things. However, I also don’t think most parents thrust questionable things in their children’s faces repeatedly either.

But even Dehlin found out that this “pick things apart” method didn’t work so well…Too negative. (A stinging preemptive indictment of this very series, I fear). Instead, he learned that focusing on the positive would be much more effective (and perhaps I’ll do that too in our conclusion: part VI!)

Dehlin’s section, Physician, Heal Thyself, is excellent (notwithstanding…or perhaps especially because of the pocket zing on RfM). I think he’s a bit too hopeful in its application (I’m not trying to put words in his mouth, but it seems that the “hope” is that if one corrects other maladies in their lives, then perhaps they’ll return to the church and see that “it wasn’t so bad after all”) and he stuffs in another shoutout for Eugene England’s essay “Why the church is as true as the gospel” (PDF warning!).

I also agree with his section Supplement spirituality when necessary. In fact, it is my agreement to this general idea that drives me to ask: what’s the problem with extricating oneself from the church so that one is free to search and supplement without obligation or prejudice? I mean, for certain, “ex-mormon” or “apostate” has its own baggage with it, but it is a baggage that comes outside itself. “Mormon” has both outside and inside baggage. Both non-mormons and Mormons (especially general authorities) provide socially legitimized expectations of what Mormons should be or do.

John’s A place to serve, not to be served seems in the same hopeful vein as “Physician, heal thyself,” (look at yourself first) and has undertones that foreshadow Scott B’s “Elevated Expectations” on By Common Consent.

The most interesting section, in my opinion, is the one regarding Temple Recommends. I understand he isn’t advocating lying (and I’m not implying that), but his case for a more expansive view of the questions or the intentions behind the questions sometimes strikes me as tenuous. While someone else has come on this blog arguing that the Word of Wisdom is not meant to be a “0 tolerance” sort of thing, I can’t help but feel that the tactic of using the LDS tradition of ignoring the sections that talk about eating meat sparingly as a way to justify an occasional glass of wine at meals is simply duplicitous. (Then again, maybe this just reveals my black-and-white paradigm.)

John cautions his readers to avoid the tendency to abandon all faith. I would argue that this isn’t something that one chooses, but that’s another topic. Suffice it to say, what if one just doesn’t have it in them to believe the Book of Mormon is inspiring (much less historical), that Joseph Smith or Thomas Monson were/are divinely inspired (much less flawless), or  that God dwells anywhere (much less Mormonism)? Is hope good enough of a reason to live what is personally felt to be a lie?

Nearing the end, John provides a rather strong, if idealistic, reason to stay. We should stay to become the change we wish to see in the church. And I must concede that if this is a person’s goal, then this is one thing that he cannot do as effectively outside the church as he can within. A Mormon inside the church gets a credibility bonus that an ex-Mormon does not get (in fact, the ex- immediately may be discounted before she even speaks.)

The only response to Dehlin at this point that suffices simply points out the cynicism and defeatism of whoever levies it (“how can one make a difference? why should one try instead of letting a ship sink?”) And even I don’t want to admit to such defeatism.

So, in my next and final article in this series, I’ll wrap up all the good thoughts I have about John’s essay. (Seriously guys, remember that I actually don’t dislike John or his approach!)

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9 Comments
  1. FireTag permalink

    Very good series of posts that helps me understand where you’re coming from, Andrew.

    Of course, I can pretty much calculate that my church “ship” is going to slip below the waterline in 20-30 years (unlike yours), so I am moving on to trying to help people find lifeboats to continue to lead productive, hopeful lives.

  2. I’ve like your review so far. Oh and thanks for the PDF warning by the way. I hate those vile things!

  3. re Firetag:

    In light of the last thing you said (“I am moving on to trying to help people find lifeboats to continue to lead productive, hopeful lives”), I suppose the question that comes to my mind is if institutions (the ship) are integral to people finding productivity and hope…because it both seems strange and natural to say that people need to find “lifeboats” in the event of a sinking ship.

    re marcus:

    No problem; PDFs have the odd habit of crashing my browser every other time I open one, so if I have a lot of tabs open and I’m not expecting it, that’s annoying.

    • FireTag permalink

      I have a viewpoint that sees the “Community of Christ” as nothing less than a planetary civilization (and maybe more if the little green men ever arrive) rather than a denomination, despite my church’s name.

      I don’t view religion as a hierarchiacal structure that is supposed to stand between God and humanity, but merely one of the functional “organs” within that larger “body”. So I expect another ship to come along sooner or later if my ship goes down, but I’m perfectly happy to “get the function done” in the meanwhile cross-denominationally, secularly, or all of the above.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How to Stay LDS: Review and Response, Part VI « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  2. Sunday in Outer Blogness: Double Edition! | Main Street Plaza
  3. The role of parsing in Mormonism « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  4. Excuses for not blogging, part II « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  5. Is Mormonism a Social Game? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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