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Trying to figure out Uncorrelated Mormons

May 7, 2011

Mormon Stories

So, at Wheat and Tares, I’m calling on uncorrelated Mormons to talk about what it would look like for them to put their money where their mouth is.

I think I’ve talked about the middle way/new order phenomenon for a while…but not John Dehlin has a new (catchy) name for his take on it: uncorrelated Mormon. His goals are, as usual, pretty ambitious, as he has begun to create Local Communities of Support to supplement/augment the church experience.

And I understand why, from a perspective of compassion, it would make sense to recognize and sympathize with these people.

…but…more and more, I feel that the church — as a religion with truth claims and espoused values — has little reason to support Dehlin’s efforts or the uncorrelated Mormon ideal.

I made forays to New Order Mormon for the posters’ thoughts, and of course, I wrote a post at W&T, but I can’t help but feel as if by metrics the church would care about, many new order or uncorrelated Mormons are already lost.

I don’t think the church cares so much about difference in belief. However, I do think the church cares about certain actionable qualities. Does the member pay tithing? Is the member willing and able to serve in certain roles (for example, leadership, teaching)? Is the member willing and able to share the truth claims of the church?

It seems to me that while the uncorrelated Mormon may embrace his Mormonness, he or she embraces a Mormonness that may not serve the church’s goals.

For example, if one doesn’t believe in the truth claims of the church, then will one be a missionary? Does one have that incentive to share the Gospel with nonmember friends?

And if one disagrees with the way the funds would be employed by the church, would one have incentive to tithe?

It seems to me that even if people were allowed to “stay LDS” as uncorrelated Mormons, then they have so redefined their terms of engagement with the church as to make them functionally equivalent to someone who has left the church. (Of course, this depends on the metrics I have hypothesized being accurate assumptions).

I could be off. Maybe if x, y, and z happened (e.g., the church were more forthcoming about its history, about certain doctrines), then New Order Mormons and uncorrelated Mormons would have no problem paying tithing, returning to full activity, and preaching Mormonism to friends. But I somehow am skeptical of this.

  1. I have a bit of a different take.

    I think these local communities serve as a replacement for the LDS church’s own Fast and Testimony meeting. I think this is setting up a path for a new Mormon sect. The requirements that there has to be a meeting room that seats at least 100 people and the people in attendance have to be willing to pay to be there instantly puts the meeting in the “shape” of a Sunday ward meeting.

    Eventually at one of these meetings someone who hasn’t been to an LDS service in quite some time is going to ask for a priesthood blessing. It won’t be too long after that in which someone says “Sister Brooks, would you like to perform the blessing?” And not too long after that, someone is going to ask that Heavenly Mother fulfill the request.

    I think the minute people start offering the LDS priesthood to women you can expect excommunication from the “mainline” LDS church to start happening. That’s the line that can’t be crossed.

    All of this intellectualized stuff will be tolerated but looked down upon, but start messing with the churches ordinances and practices and it’s over.

  2. Tim,

    I have definitely raised up that idea (at least, indirectly) in some of the discussions I’ve been in (not really this one, although I think it is relevant). Interestingly enough, most people think the idea is “absurd” and “the most ridiculous, conspiratorial idea they’ve ever heard of.”

    I mean, charismatic guy with a sizeable following of people marginalized in their larger community trying to start a community to “supplement” and “augment” the experience in that larger community? Also trying to provide people a way to reclaim and recontextualize their identity in that larger community? I mean…I think I’ve seen the end of this movie before.

  3. Seth R. permalink

    Doesn’t the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) already offer what Dehlin is proposing here?

    I just don’t understand why Dehlin is still in the LDS Church. I mean, he doesn’t believe in most of it anymore, and he pretty much uncritically accepts just about every criticism of the LDS Church out there.

  4. Because Seth, it’s still his hooooome.

    • Seth R. permalink

      I guess, but he doesn’t seem to like it here much anymore. His last Facebook update announced he isn’t even going to church anymore.

      • One thing about home and family is that you’re stuck with them regardless of whether you like them or not.

        The issue is whether there is a Mormon identity marker that transcends or persists past one’s belief and activity.

  5. anonlds permalink

    As one who considers myself uncorrelated, but not a NOM. It would be much easier to let me stay in the church and not pull my family out of it if there was a more accepting environment. Just because I don’t believe certain things doesn’t mean I don’t believe in a lot of the goals of the church. Its just from a much more practical rather than a you’re not going to heaven viewpoint. My kids need a good peer environment to grow up in and the church provides that. It is hard to let them stay when I am villified though.

  6. anonlds,

    that’s really interesting. What do you think it means to be uncorrelated? How does being a NOM differ such that you consider yourself one but not the other?

  7. anonlds permalink

    Liahona is another lable I think would describe me. If you aren’t familiar google richard poll. I think most NOM, while on the bubble are on a path out of the church. Perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t view myself that way. I grew up knowing a lot of family history, so I have always known some of the troublesome things about the church that causes shock to others. The church is a big organization and change takes time, but I think they are moving the wrong direction. Hopefully the pendulum will swing back to a more “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” and I forget the exact JS quote, but something like “we don’t want to be like the methodist who enforce creeds that you will be asked out of the church for if you don’t believe” and move away from “obedience is the first law of heaven.” Obedience to gospel principles is important, but christ fought against the mentality of creating all sorts of additional rules on top of the commandments. I think Christ would be saddened by how people who don’t wear a white shirt or aren’t clean shaven are treated at church.

  8. anonlds,

    I am familiar with the Liahona/Iron Rod distinction. I guess what I never anticipated was that people would view “uncorrelated Mormons” and “NOMs” as being rather different (e.g., most NOM are on a path out of the church…but most uncorrelated Mormons are not?)

  9. anonlds permalink

    These semantic questions are always difficult and if you understand the Liahona/Iron Rod thing you understand I see nuance in everything. To me uncorrelated is a much broader generic term. NOM is a more specific term for people who frequent the NOM site. You can be an uncorrelated mormon and not realize it, but not a NOM which requires self-identifying. I agree there is significant overlap. I strongly disagree with the way cafeteria mormon was used in conference. Everyone chooses doctrines/concepts they believe in the church. You have to choose, because sometimes the church teaches things that are contradictory. Especially if you compare teachings from different eras. Maybe with John’s work the term uncorrelated will now become a movement and I will feel the need to distance myself from it. Its a pretty good word though.

    Correlation is more than just about having the books teach the same thing. It was about centralizing everything under the 12. In the process I think they changed some doctrine and reduced free agency. It is now a much more socialist institution than it has been. I subscribe to an older form of Mormonism where free agency and common consent meant more than if you break a commandment you will suffer the consequences.

  10. I guess the way I’ve always looked at it is that while there is a site for New order Mormons, the idea is more generalizable. (For example, there’s a site for “PostMormons” and “ExMormons,” but that doesn’t mean that the term is own by or, or that these terms imply postmormons and exmormons have to fit the stereotypes of people at these sites.)

    In such a way, it would be easy for me to say, “That person is a NOM” without them knowing it or frequenting the site.

    (For whatever it’s worth, I view NOM and uncorrelated Mormon as synonyms for things like cafeteria Mormon — notwithstanding the idea that everyone may have to pick and choose, because there are still certain configurations that would be understood as “orthodox”).

    I must say I have never heard correlation described as “socialism” creeping into Mormonism.

  11. anonlds permalink

    Socialism is everything being controlled at the highest possible level. It is about direct allocation of resources. I believe in free agency and that people should as much as possible choose how things are allocated through private markets. Correlation was all about taking away agency. It took the relief society and centralized it under the 12. (central planning is how communism works) It also goes to great length to censor those who who don’t support the decisions of the government. The government dictates what jobs people do. People often get put in jobs they are ill fitted for, when if they had the freedom to choose their job they would fit themselves in a job they could do more good at than in a forced system. The church and socialism have a lot in common, and more eloquent people than me have discussed it.

    To me the church has become too focused on appearances and not enough on actually doing good. We have service projects where we build hygene kits. They ask me to go to the store and buy toothpaste and donate it to the kits.

    The service of driving to the store and doing the purchasing actually has a negative effect. Had I just donated the money I paid for the toothpaste and gas I would have saved my own time and the church would have been able to negotiate a much better price if combined with lots of similiar donations.

    The goal isn’t to do the most good. The goal is to make people feel like they are contributing and that means lots of meaningless gestures of people driving to their local walmart and overpaying for the toothpaste, because all the real meaningful contributions have been sucked out of the church by too much correlation. Give the relief society some autonomy and let them do some real service.

  12. I guess I’m just too much of a heartless free-market capitalist, but I think you’re right Andrew. Every institution or individual responds to incentives. The church (or any organization) really has no incentive to water down its message for the sake of (for lack of a better term) dead weight. Especially when that means weakening the message for the “engine” of the church, its hardcore conservatives.

    And that’s where the free-market of ideas comes in. If you don’t like the message, just leave the organization and find a new one. Enough people leave, and the church would be forced to re-evaluate and revise its appeal/message or disappear. In 1000 years, we’ll be left with the churches/organizations that appeal to an even wider group of people. I believe that it’s a distinct possibility that this is a real mechanism through which God works. So, on that model, it makes no sense to want to stay in a church that doesn’t resonate with you – in fact, it means you’re actively preventing growth and progression.

    And that doesn’t just mean all churches get more and more liberal till we’re all Unitarians. There is power in a more conservative message sometimes. Andrew, you might be interested in this article:

    It’s kind of an economic model of religious strictness, showing that sometimes churches can become stricter to appeal to a wider audience. Anyway. Sorry about all the words and what-not.

  13. Syphax,

    I had read an article a while back about the strength of strict churches (from a view of religious economy), but this one is different. Thanks!

    Anyway, it seems to me that the church is in a bit of a different case than the Cali-Nevada Conference for the United Methodists…the CofChrist seems more apparent there (and I believe FireTag will get to writing an article any day now about how the parts of the church who are trying to reel the CofChrist back to more conservative, distinctive beliefs are the African congregations.)

    With the LDS church, it seems to me that we’re still…on the conservative/strict side of things, and people are leaving because the church isn’t liberal enough. The church is losing some of its distinctiveness by trying to downplay some of the early Mormon beliefs, but it’s not really losing a lot of conservative members over this.

    So, I mean, what’s supposed to happen? If liberal/NOM/etc., members bolt, will the church be pressured to liberalize? Will they make a more conservative message and make more liberal members bolt?

    Kinda like with discussions about the Laffer Curve, the question is: where are we on the curve right now?

  14. Well, I am not sure what they WILL do. I don’t even know what they SHOULD do. I just know that if they don’t appeal to a large amount of people, eventually they will go away.

    I think the thing about the curve is that perhaps it’s not complete because it’s relative, and there are other forces at play. I should probably give this some thought before I just try to put my thoughts down, but I’m going to put them down anyway. There are only a certain number of people who would even respond to the Church’s message (truth claims and what-not). So the bell curve is really centered on their POSSIBLE members (those who might intellectually/emotional resonate with Mormonism). And in that case, perhaps the Mormon church is right in the middle between conservative and liberal.

    But I have a fussy baby and I’m not sure I’ve fleshed this idea out yet.

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