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The Mormon Fringes

April 4, 2012

In the latest Mormon Matters podcast, on Middle Way Mormonism, Jared Anderson said:

“Let me say first and foremost…I…do not feel more at home ANYWHERE than fringe Mormonism…I LOVE fringe Mormonism. I feel so happy here…I feel such a sense of belonging here..Mormonism on the periphery, both in and out…these are my peeps.”

I liked that and I just wanted to make sure that was in print somewhere.

That being said, whereas Jared lives on the fringe just *within* the church, I’m probably closer to the fringe just *without* the church (at least, on an activity perspective…I haven’t resigned or anything.)

Whether the “fringe” is a spot that one can stay in a permanent fashion (or whether one will always transition from the fringe one way or another), I think one thing people don’t realize is how much growth is possible from the fringe.

I think that a lot of faithful members think that disaffection is a process of giving up…but I don’t think that many disaffected members would describe things in such a way. Instead, the process of disaffection was about trying to keep things together, and then trying to salvage things when they realized that Humpty Dumpty could not be put back together.

But that’s not where that ended. Even if someone decides to leave the church as an institution, what Jared’s point emphasized to me (forgive me if this is really obvious), is that there are other communities and way to be Mormon. I mean, what else can someone describe my blogging every week on this subject? I went to a Mormon Stories Conference. I think I’m going to go to Sunstone this year (and that would be pretty different for me…for the Mormon Stories Conference, I didn’t even have to leave the city I was in…but for Sunstone, I will have to travel to a different state. And I’m the kind of person who would be content to live inside my room for the rest of my life as long as I had the internet, some books, and food.) The simple fact is that people can engage in Mormonism without ascribing religious importance to it.

I guess the problems are that the church doesn’t encourage this…who’s going to know about Sunstone, Dialogue, the Bloggernacle, or Mormon Stories unless they’ve happened to stumble into these things.

Another problem, however, is that people themselves don’t encourage this…So, for the most part, a lot of the discussion on being a “fringe Mormon” (or a middle way Mormon or whatever) is a kind of compromise solution. I guess the ‘fringe’ in fringe Mormon already implies that it’s a compromise, but what I mean is…a lot of people are only New Order Mormon or on stayLDS or on whatever these support sites are because they are trying to keep families together. Would people be as interested in renegotiating their Mormonism if they didn’t have any relationships on the line?

I know that I don’t have to worry about any potential family or friend fallout…but that hasn’t meant that I’ve disappeared, never to be seen in the Mormon universe ever again. But I wonder how many people who are kept “in” because of their relationships would stay on the fringe in they didn’t have those relationship concerns?

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13 Comments
  1. rockwaterman1 permalink

    I don’t have any relationship concerns to keep me in; my wife is of the same mind as me, as are my children and four out of five siblings. I remain Mormon because I embrace the theology. That doesn’t mean I feel it necessary to waste my entire Sunday attending meetings where the spirit is all but non-existent. But I consider myself a devout Mormon if devotion is measured by an appreciation for LDS scripture and the teachings of the Restoration.

    If, however, devotion to Mormonism is measured by one’s fealty to the corporate church or idolization of Church leaders, then you could consider me less of an acolyte. That’s where my ‘fringiness’ is manifest.

  2. Rock,

    i was going to make a sequel post to this one to address what you had written: there are so many Mormons whose blogs I read who, like you, embrace the theology, but would probably be considered “less of an acolyte” with respect to the corporate church.

    I should get to writing that post…

    • rockwaterman1 permalink

      That would be great; I look forward to reading it. I hope you’ll include a link to my blog!

  3. John Gustav-Wrathall permalink

    I suppose many folks would consider me a “fringe” Mormon. But the way you’ve described “the fringe,” it’s not something I really identify with. Rejecting the beliefs of Mormonism but somehow wanting to celebrate or stay connected to “Mormon culture,” however that’s defined, totally doesn’t interest me.

    I can relate somewhat to what rockwaterman1 says, except that my understanding of the theology makes it impossible for me to reject activity in or loyalty to the Church. I’m not about “idolizing” leaders or anything else… I’m not a fan of “correlation” either. But I accept human failings both in and out of the Church as part of the human condition, and as something that calls me to deeper engagement in the Church and to deeper commitment to try to perfect myself.

    And perfection, as understand it, is about patience, faith, hope, and love…

  4. John,

    I think that’s what I want to address in my follow-up post on the issue. Because there certainly does seem to be two “kinds” of fringe-ness…the one is as you described: rejecting the beliefs of Mormonism but somehow wanting to celebrate or stay connected.

    But the second is different: it’s more of being a fringe with respect to the institution, but still very much believing (even if one believes in a different way than the institution preaches).

  5. John Gustav-Wrathall permalink

    Yes.

    Though I think the whole category of “the institution” is problematic.

    Just to give a little example… This past conference, Elder Bednar gave a talk at the priesthood session in which he essentially said Mormon priesthood holders should “be better than other men.” We should set a better example. OK.

    Elder Oaks gave a talk in which he held up Roman Catholic orders and Protestant missionaries as examples of dedication and sacrifice to God that Mormons often fall short of, and from whom we could learn.

    So which is it? Are Mormons “supposed” to be the best? Or do we find spiritual excellence everywhere, and can Mormons properly look to people of other faiths as examples of the kind of faith we should be practicing?

    It’s just one small example… Lot’s of folks — including high-ranking leaders — have different ideas about what “the institution” is, or is supposed to be. This example actually isn’t so small, because depending on which lead you take, it can have a dramatic impact on how we relate to other people outside our faith.

    It’s one reason why I want to challenge folks who claim to be believers, but who reject “the institution”. In a very real sense, “the institution” is what we make it…

    • rockwaterman1 permalink

      Well, I’m not so sure the institution is what we make it, John. The church is what we make it, of course, because the church is all of us, the community of believers, the body of Christ.

      But the institution -and by that I mean management running things from Salt Lake City- seems to have co-opted the church, to the point that when most members refer to “the Church” they are not referencing the body of Christ, but those “in authority”, the de facto gatekeepers. We have no influence to make the church anything. The Church(TM) operates on the philosophy that “leaders lead, and followers follow.”

      Since 1959, the corporate gatekeepers decided that the lowly members shouldn’t even be allowed to know what the leaders are doing with their tithing money, which was always one of the key purposes of general conference since the beginning. Never mind we no longer get the opportunity to vote on expenditures. We aren’t even supposed to want to know.

      • John Gustav-Wrathall permalink

        Well, you’re basically talking about correlation, right? I agree, correlation sucks.

        But if correlation, or whatever management model you’re talking about, came into being, it can also be undone.

        The only way it will be undone is if people who disagree with it remain committed and loyal to and engaged in the Church.

        President Kimball sought a revelation on the priesthood because of relationships that he had with real people. Because there were black Church members who took their testimonies seriously enough to stay active in a racist Church.

        Relationships can change everything… Including the Church correlation system.

        • rockwaterman1 permalink

          I agree with you completely, which is why I stay engaged with the church. I’m not giving up on it.

  6. I guess we just have to follow Elder Christofferson’s methodology of discovering what is doctrine and what isn’t 😉

  7. John Gustav-Wrathall permalink

    Ha! I loved that talk, by the way. In fact, if I wanted Protestant friends of mine to understand how Mormonism is different from Protestantism, I’d probably give them a copy of that talk.

  8. I thought that talk was a huge copout. Nevertheless, it can and probably will be used by some whenever they don’t like what one GA said (e.g., Elder Nelson on SCIENCE!)

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