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The Callout! Critiquing Neylan McBaine and Agitation for Change within Mormonism

August 22, 2012

Neylan McBaineNeylan McBaine’s talk at the 2012 FAIR Conference (entitled “To Do the Business of the Church: A Cooperative Paradigm for Examining Gendered Participation Within Church Organizational Structure“) has made its way around the various LDS-interest online blog spaces. What has been remarkable, in my opinion, about Neylan’s talk, is that it seems to appeal to people all across the Mormon belief map. In hindsight…I suppose it isn’t that remarkable — if you read Neylan’s post, you’ll see that it is relatively cautious. Although it talks about women’s participation within church organizational structure, it states neither the one extreme that there is nothing wrong whatsoever with the status quo of the church, nor the other extreme that the only way to resolve the ill in the situation is to ordain women to priesthood roles. As a result, while there are certainly folks who find fault with it on all areas of the map (from some who believe it doesn’t go far enough, and others who believe it goes too far), Neylan also appears to be able to bring together a wide coalition.

(At this point, I will shamelessly tell you all that you should read my Wheat & Tares co-blogger Bonnie’s post on priesthood power in the church…although this also has critics, I have also been impressed by its ability to reach a wider audience.)

Nevertheless, there’s been a couple of things that I’ve pointed out recently (such as, in By Common Consent’s discussion on the history of heterodoxy within the church, at another location in the same discussion, and in response to Matt’s Doves and Serpents post on unorthodox Mormons taking control of the public Mormon message — and why this isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

The first is the idea that the existence of, seeming prominence of, and lack of disciplinary action against unorthodox Mormons does not mean that they have institutional imprimatur or that the church institution (or certain elements of its membership) is more likely to accept them. The second is the church and its membership may not be ready or willing to accept what these unorthodox Mormons have to bring to the table, because they either may not see the value of what these members have to offer through their suggestions for change, or because they do not see the pressing need for any change.

For this discussion, I’ll base it primarily on J. Max Wilson’s latest critique of Neylan McBaine’s approach, sources, and so on.

I will say that I had a love-hate relationship with J. Max’s latest post. I mean, I guess “love” and “hate” are strong terms, but I resented J. Max’s post because it seems to marginalize, burn bridges, and deconstruct what I think would be a pretty worthwhile discussion for people within and without the church to have.

But still, I also appreciated some of that…I like deconstructing stuff too. Taking things apart, looking at how they tick. I think the difference between me and him is that I do it just to see how the clock works; J. Max does it to discredit the clock as being something not-quite-as-magical as people might once have thought. There are parts with which I simply can’t disagree with J. Max…generally because what he’s saying is so close to what I’ve already said before — so close that I wonder if J. Max reads my posts ever (which I highly doubt it).

I mean, let’s take this:

It’s important that people become careful consumers of information and the techniques these groups are using to artificially give their causes the appearance of widespread support, when in reality they often represent a small, interconnected agenda-driven group using blogs and media coordination to build disproportionate buzz and influence to manipulate perceptions.

As a broader example of perception manipulation, recent Gallup studieshave asked people in the U. S. what percentage of the population they believe is gay or lesbian and found that, on average, adults believe that 25 percent of Americans are homosexual. In reality, fewer than 5 percent Americans identify as gay or lesbian and it is possibly less than 2 percent. Only 4 percent of adults correctly estimated the number.

OK; I know that anyone could have read the Gallup study…but it’s like he had read my post discussing tipping points — especially as they relate to the Mormon pro-gay movement.

Or early in the post, when he writes:

One side-effect of having LDS church member Mitt Romney as a major contender for the presidency of the United States and the resulting media and public attention it brings is that it emboldens LDS dissidents and agitators to attempt to push for changes in the church. They know that the church is under the microscope right now and they take advantage of the extra attention because they believe that the church’s public relations sensitivities make disciplinary action or push-back less likely. So it is no surprise that we see increased agitation on issues like women’s roles in the church, homosexuality, and financial transparency.

This is kinda like when I told Ray the following on BCC:

I think one interesting thing I’ve heard from more cynical voices is that the church’s reluctance to excommunicate in a high-profile way may not be a reflection of changing global priorities…but rather, it’s a pragmatic choice in light of things like Romney’s presidential candidacy. If Romney were to lose and the media spotlight to redirect for a moment, these folks believe that the church might actually go back on a slash-and-burn campaign.

To which Ray said he didn’t believe it…Well, won’t we potentially find out in 2013?

But I digress. Much of J. Max’s post is to point out how virility or prominence doesn’t necessarily equate to numerical majority. And that’s certainly true. But I’ve gone a lot further into the numbers game — if you want to play the numbers game, you have to realize that most Mormons don’t even identify as such. They do nothing related to any practical definition of Mormonism.

Still, I think that everyone has his or her work cut out for him/her…the unorthodox/heterodox/liberal Mormon phenomenon may existed in some way, shape, or fashion, for the 180+ years of the church’s existence (and certainly orthodoxy — in some way, shape or fashion — has existed just as long), but that doesn’t mean that it has enjoyed institutional imprimatur, nor that it has enjoyed the support of other elements of the membership.

While Matt from Doves and Serpents seems somewhat optimistic about the impact of unorthodox Mormons on Mormonism, I would point out that it’s not like everyone is on board with this. It’s not like everyone is for a big tent, or that everyone is happy that there are prominent liberal/unorthodox/uncorrelated Mormons on the public scene.

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  1. I thought the most telling line in J. Max’s post was this parenthetical throw-away comment about two thirds of the way through:

    (And in reality God determines who holds his priesthood, not statistics)

    So he’s spending the whole post arguing that most women in the Church don’t mind the sexism. Or at least that Neylan hasn’t shown that many women are dissatisfied. But with this line, he’s essentially saying that even if it could be shown that a lot of women in the Church do care about the sexism, he would still feel justified in ignoring them, because he believes in the practical infallibility of Church leaders. If God wanted less sexism, he would already have instructed Church leaders on how to reduce it. That we haven’t heard anything from them means God likes the sexism.

  2. I got quite a different read from JMax’s post. He made the statement that we really have no data on how the majority of women in the Church feel. He took aim at her use of self-selected groups – bad data gathering – and representing the samples as … representative. I happen to agree. When we make a statement, and I think many of Neylan’s points are right on, we need to use good science if we’re going to say we’re using science. And I don’t think JMax is responding to your posts. These are long-standing issues for him.

  3. Ziff

    This of course assumes that if there is disparity in priesthood ordination among the sexes, that that equates to sexism…which I’m guessing that J. Max would not concede that point.

    In other words, he’s not going to say, “Well, even if many women find this problematic, God is ok with this sexism”…because he’s not going to see it as sexist.


    I do think that JMax is pointing out the flaws in the data, so no disagreements there, but I think that he is also arguing that we should be wary of these assertions if they do not affect the majority…which I disagree.

    I forget who it was that said this, or where, but even if this is a minority issue, the idea of leaving the 99 to get the 1 should still apply.

    at least, if that means anything.

    lol sad to hear jmax is probably not responding to my posts…although I guess that was obvious…so much for “cross-talking”…

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