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Breaking away from small-minded Mormonism

October 14, 2012

A lot of disaffected, ex-, post, or former Mormon conversations, blogs, and forum topics annoy me.

I don’t think that admitting that makes me any more of a believer in Mormonism, or an apologist for Mormonism (although I’ve had some people seriously argue that I engage in the sort of mental gymnastics that apologists do…so go figure.)

And to caveat, I understand many of the reasons why people disaffect. There is real pain. There is a real sense of betrayal. The institutional church (insofar as you can actually pin something down) defines itself as something that is not.

But still, I am annoyed.

I wish disaffected Mormons could see past the smallness of small-minded Mormonism for what Mormonism could be instead.

If I don’t try to frame this in specific terms, then I fear I will go round and round without really addressing anything. So, I’ll start with a concrete example.

From a recent Facebook discussion, someone posted the following as part of a comment:

…The Church as an organization, just like any other Corporation, promotes and rewards those who fall into line and obey. Don’t think that the Church is spending its money in the way a religion should, and therefore hold back your tithing? You can’t go to the temple. Temple ordinances are required to go to heaven. (Let’s stop playing games like “well, Terrestrial Kingdom is heaven, too! What brand of Mormonism teaches that anything but the third degree of the Celestial kingdom is anything worth anything?) Therefore, you don’t obey the Prophet, you don’t get exalted. 

Prophet tells you that you can’t drink Green Tea. You do it and are honest. Again, no temple. No Celestial Kingdom. 

The mental gymnastics required to be a “liberal” or “cafeteria” or, I guess the new moniker y’all prefer is “thoughtful” Mormon, are simply *not worth it* to me and, from what I can see, many others.

Now, for whatever it’s worth, I can see where the person is coming from. For most values of “Church” as an “organization,” I’m not going to deny that such organization promotes and rewards those who fall into line and obey. I’m not going to deny that the Church (for most values of “Church”) isn’t really a big fan of the cafeteria/uncorrelated/liberal approach — as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reminded those who were tuned in to General Conference recently. From his “The First Great Commandment” talk:

…I testify from the bottom of my heart, with the intensity of my soul, to all who can hear my voice that those apostolic keys have been restored to the earth, and they are found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To those who have not yet joined with us in this great final cause of Christ, we say, “Please come.” To those who were once with us but have retreated, preferring to pick and choose a few cultural hors d’oeuvres from the smorgasbord of the Restoration and leave the rest of the feast, I say that I fear you face a lot of long nights and empty nets. The call is to come back, to stay true, to love God, and to lend a hand.

I understand as well that to relate this sentiment as being “small-minded” puts me at odds with the church as an “institution,” and with the general authorities as the “brethren” (for many values of “institution” and “brethren”), and is probably hella offensive to a ton of “true believing” Mormons (for certain values of “true believing”).

But still, I will make that statement:

This is small-minded Mormonism. And disaffected, uncorrelated, unorthodox, liberal, post, ex, and former Mormons should see that and act accordingly.

To be fair, I think that many of these kinds of Mormons do think they are acting accordingly when they respond to these statements — and their action is to leave. To disaffiliate. As the Facebook commenter says:

The mental gymnastics required to be a “liberal” or “cafeteria” or, I guess the new moniker y’all prefer is “thoughtful” Mormon, are simply *not worth it* to me and, from what I can see, many others.

But to overuse a cliche expression, this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. (For certain values of “baby” and “bathwater”.)

Again, I don’t think I’m being some kind of apologist or whatever here. After all, I do not attend and do not believe. I’m not entirely sure I see the “baby” either.

…but I’m not basing it all on small-minded Mormonism.

Getting to the concrete example…

OK, even though I said I’d stick to a concrete example, I’ve gotten off track. But that comment from Facebook was really important, and I’ll get to it very shortly.

The one thing I’ll say to provide context is…if you’ve been reading me recently, you should be aware that I’ve been studying alchemy. I’m not studying how to transmute lead into gold, per se, but how to take the discourse of Mormonism from being a solid, static thing into a nebulous, constructed, plausibly deniable thing.

And this is where I get to the Facebook comment. Here, the guy says:

…Temple ordinances are required to go to heaven. (Let’s stop playing games like “well, Terrestrial Kingdom is heaven, too! What brand of Mormonism teaches that anything but the third degree of the Celestial kingdom is anything worth anything?) Therefore, you don’t obey the Prophet, you don’t get exalted. 

Prophet tells you that you can’t drink Green Tea. You do it and are honest. Again, no temple. No Celestial Kingdom…

Let’s buy the first first paragraph. OK. But what about the second.

In small-minded Mormonism, it seems completely sound.

But when you step out of small-minded Mormonism, there are a lot of cracks.

The prophet doesn’t tell me jack about green tea. Instead, what we have is a hodge podge of lego blocks — scriptures, statements from general authorities past and present, statements of lesson manuals, statements of people like the Mormon Newsroom, and so on and so forth.

This corpus says and demonstrates a lot of things, and we as individuals take (or are presented) various blocks and construct something that we call “Mormonism” out of it. When we have made our construct, it appears to us as if it’s the only way it ever could have been. That that is the only thing that Mormonism ever could have been.

So, I don’t deny that many people are going to take, “Prophet tells you that you can’t drink Green Tea” as a completely uncontroversial statement. I’m not going to deny that people would be able to amass a ton of lego blocks to support that.

But guess what: plenty of people amassed lego blocks to argue that Prophet tells us that we can’t drink caffeinated soda either. The Newsroom now tells us that he did not. (Or maybe, the Newsroom isn’t telling us that. Here comes plausible deniability, the inspired word of God.)

What I’m going to say is that both of these things are small-minded Mormonism. Whether you think it is disallowed or you think it is allowed is not what is small-minded…what is small-minded is this certainty about one way or another…this failure to acknowledge the murkiness…or this failure to acknowledge that this murkiness is legitimate. That people can legitimately interpret and construct Mormonism differently and that is not “mental gymnastics.”

But that’s not the only problem I have with the statement.

So, the first problem is that it’s not established that “Prophet tells me I can’t drink green tea.”

But the rest of the statement is problematic as well:

You do it and are honest. Again, no temple. No Celestial Kingdom…

This statement is a freakin’ non sequiturunless you construct Mormonism in particular ways and don’t suppose that they can be constructed in any other way. (Which, small-minded Mormonism would do exactly that.)

Let me parse what I’m thinking.

What would determine if there is “no temple”? Well, not being worthy for the temple. Not having a temple recommend. Not “passing” the temple recommend interview.

OK, so how would you be at jeopardy of not passing the temple recommend interview? Well, there are lots of ways, but the way that I suspect this commenter is getting at is via Word of Wisdom.

But here’s the issue: the recommend interview asks if you follow the WoW. It does not ask if you drink tea, if you smoke, if you drink alcohol, or whatever else. It asks if you follow the WoW.

So, here’s the issue — if you understand the WoW in such a way that Green Tea is allowed, and you are “honest,” then you are going to answer Yes, I follow the WoW.

But what about the Bishop/SP?

OK, so here let’s segue a bit. Suppose that you have an unorthodox/uncorrelated/liberal view of the WoW. Perhaps you understand it as not a commandment, but as a word of wisdom, and so on. Perhaps you appreciate its commentary on mild barley beverages. Or perhaps you simply recognize the ambiguity and traverse that ambiguity like the alchemical sorcerer you aspire to be.

Whatever the case, there is a problem with the interview. It’s not just about you. There’s your bishop or stake president or whomever sitting across from you, asking you the question. And chances are, they don’t have the same view as you.

So, what do you do? Especially if you want to be honest?

Some folks would argue that honesty requires that you fully disclose where you think your view and their view disagree. You can’t answer, “Yes” to the WoW question if you know that they will interpret that to mean x, when you know fully well you mean y.

This is the place I’ve been. If you’ve seen me on the boards, you should recognize that have usually been the one who argues for this view of honesty in disclosure.

…but here’s the thing…there are people who disagree with this position. And there is disagreement in a couple of interesting ways.

1) Perhaps honesty doesn’t require such due diligence. If the other person misinterprets what you mean, then it’s on them, right?

(Personally, I’m not too convinced about this…but only because I think that successful communication involves a sort of “receipt confirmation,” if you will. If you transmit a message, but it doesn’t reach its target or comes out garbled, that doesn’t seem like successful communication to me.)

2) Perhaps it’s not about what the bishop or SP thinks. I’ve read many people argue that the interview isn’t about you and the Bishop. It’s about you and God, with the Bishop facilitating. In support of this, I’ve heard stories where even when Bishops supposed or knew that a person was lying, they couldn’t say anything about that, because it was up to the interviewee to come forth.

(Now, I’m not so sure I buy onto this either. It seems so foreign and weird from my experience. But then again, as an alchemist, I have to recognize that turning lead into gold is foreign and weird stuff.)

Subversive Alchemical Mormonism

OK, with all of this talk of alchemy and stuff, that probably qualifies for “mental gymnastics.” Guilty, then.

But I just want people to try an experiment. Since I doubt that many disaffected/post/former/ex Mormons are up to doing it (since they cannot seem to break free from small-minded Mormonism), I have seriously considered going back to church to do this.

I would go on my own terms.

Now, there’s “going on your own terms” and then there’s “being stupid.”

Whenever I go on about Word of Wisdom stuff, people always respond, “Well, I dare you to have beer in your fridge! See how that will go over!”

To that, I say, that’s just being stupid. But that’s a different problem…one that Paul discussed:

8 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.[a]

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods,whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

Instead of “idols,” replace it all with “small-minded Mormonism.” And it. Still. Works.

Disaffected/post/ex/former Mormons should know that the culturally saturated understanding of the Word of Wisdom is problematic, ahistorical, and atheological. It takes a word of wisdom and turns it into a commandment, and takes vagueness and attempts to hyper-legalize it. Disaffected/post/ex/former Mormons should see this and recognize that it’s missing the mark.

…but in recognizing this, they should also recognize that there are some who are still beholden to this. They are still enslaved by that idea. And so they ought not wound their weak conscience.

Mental gymnastics? I call it just a bit subversive, and that’s why I kinda want to experiment with it. (Obviously, writing a public blog about this is counterintuitive, and that’s where I think many unorthodox/new order/stayLDS Mormons have gone wrong…no one could identify who a new order Mormon was, until new order Mormons started publicizing what they were doing online, and then leaving a trail to connect their identities.)

So I mean, it may be too late for me to try this. I know there are going to be plenty of people who read this and think that it’s the worst thing in the world. Plenty of believers who will read this and think it is absolute devilry.

But I mean, really: how far can you go and play it completely chill. How far can you play with the ambiguity, the plausible deniability, the gaps, and turn it into something your own?

I don’t think I could pull it off for very long. It would need a lot more patience, long-suffering, graciousness, humility, and discretion than I have practiced. I would long to yell out at some point. To protest something or other. To scream out, This is what I *really* think. But all of this requires a much more subtle approach. The approach of smiling and not saying a word, and being completely OK with it.

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24 Comments
  1. You, like most anyone who has been through a faith crisis, has re-defined mormonism in a way that allows you to do what you will with it. Some define it in a way that makes it easier to leave; sounds like you defined it in a way that makes it easier to stay. But don’t be annoyed by those who define it differently, or choose a different course of action.
    For me, I did throw the “baby out with the bathwater”- because there was no baby for me. I weighed the benefits vs. risks, and there simply weren’t enough benefits to staying, vs the risks of cognitive dissonance and intellectual honesty. We tried going to church and being “chill” anyways but I just wasn’t getting a THING out of it- so why go through that exercise? For me the question isn’t if I can sustain it or not (though I doubt I could- it’s just not sustainable in the long term), the question is why would I? I agree there is SO much good in mormonism- heck, my favorite things about myself come out of my mormon past. I definitely agree that different people interpreting doctrine differently does not make the overall religion less legitimate- we do all need to move away from small-minded mormonism and accept that there is some murkiness. That’s the nature of living in a mortal world. Unfortunately, my interpretation of mormonism is so far from the, um, standard, that it has removed any benefit from participating in the “standard”. Does that make sense?

  2. Jenn,

    Thanks for commenting. There’s a lot in this, so I’ll try to go through this in detail.

    You, like most anyone who has been through a faith crisis, has re-defined mormonism in a way that allows you to do what you will with it.

    I want to point out that this is not just what people who have had faith crises do…this is what EVERY SINGLE person does. That’s because Mormonism is not self-defining — so everyone has to define it themselves, and they have to do what they will with it. So, yeah.

    Some define it in a way that makes it easier to leave; sounds like you defined it in a way that makes it easier to stay. But don’t be annoyed by those who define it differently, or choose a different course of action.

    It’s not being annoyed that people define it differently. Rather, it’s that people define it differently and often foreclose the possibility of having defined it in any other way. In other words, the problem with the true-believing Mormon (for certain values of “true believing”) is not that he or she believes the church is true. Rather, it’s that he or she cannot see or empathize with those who do not believe the church is true.

    For me, I did throw the “baby out with the bathwater”- because there was no baby for me. I weighed the benefits vs. risks, and there simply weren’t enough benefits to staying, vs the risks of cognitive dissonance and intellectual honesty.

    I would just point out that you’re doing a different thing — you’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater because, by your own admission, there is no baby for you. I am fine with that if that is the case.

    For me the question isn’t if I can sustain it or not (though I doubt I could- it’s just not sustainable in the long term), the question is why would I?

    The answer that I’ve been playing around with is this: to not concede everything to the “true believing,” “orthodox,” “correlated,” etc., member (for certain values of…all of the above). In other words, to respond to your last line:

    Unfortunately, my interpretation of mormonism is so far from the, um, standard, that it has removed any benefit from participating in the “standard”. Does that make sense?

    Why concede to the “standard”? Like, you privilege the “standard” over your interpretation implicitly in this sentence. To be Mormon means to “participate in the standard”? Is that so? Why?

    • To your first few responses- grand, it sounds like you and I pretty much agree on most points already. Thanks for your response and understanding.
      To the last question- “To be Mormon means to “participate in the standard”? Is that so? Why?”
      And there is the rub. I have had a few non-member friends ask me why I’m, um, less mormon these days. I usually tell them it was just too rigid. “Oh yeah, the rules are pretty rigid”. No, I’m not talking about the rules at all. I’ve left church attendance and my old testimony far behind me, but I sitll haven’t touched alcohol, don’t shop on sunday, etc etc… It’s the BELIEF system that is too rigid. I would love to still attend the temple, I think there is something positive to gain there… but I can’t honestly answer the testimony questions in the interview, so I can’t go. I still might get something out of church, if there wasn’t so much participation expected- we all must embrace the correlated gospel. You either have to be silent, which I’ll admit I stink at, or be the outcast because I can only bare testimony that Joseph Smith did some good and some bad, so I will embrace the good and leave behind the bad. I can’t sit through a sunday school lesson on Brigham Young that ignores his wives, or some of the underhanded things he did in the early days after Joseph’s death (poor, poor Emma). And I really can’t stand sitting through Relief Society when somehow every week they manage to throw in a discussion of the evil of gay marriage. Basically, I don’t fit the mold well enough to mesh with my ward, even though it is full of lovely people. There just isn’t room for those who believe differently.
      So, do I go inactive and practice my brand of “mormonism” on my own? Well, kind of. Though I’m not sure it is close enough to mormonism to be called mormonism anymore. I needed a community so I attend the local unitarian church (no such thing as cognitive dissonance there because they don’t necessary believe in anything other than warm fluffy thoughts of love, fellowship and service.)

      So I guess the return question is, when does a differing interpretation cease to be mormonism? How far from the standard can you get without being something completely different? Or how far from the standard can you get and still be welcome to give sacrament talks, or raise your hand in sunday school?

  3. Jenn,

    I usually tell them it was just too rigid. “Oh yeah, the rules are pretty rigid”. No, I’m not talking about the rules at all. I’ve left church attendance and my old testimony far behind me, but I sitll haven’t touched alcohol, don’t shop on sunday, etc etc… It’s the BELIEF system that is too rigid. I would love to still attend the temple, I think there is something positive to gain there… but I can’t honestly answer the testimony questions in the interview, so I can’t go.

    But that’s kinda the thing that I’m talking about. The belief system is the most amorphous thing that there is. Every term is fraught with assumptions, but these assumptions are not solidified. What is a “prophet”? I don’t think anyone could say. There are lot of things people assume about what a prophet is, but these assumptions never stick through. So we have some people who think that a prophet can never lead the church astray (whatever “astray” means)…and some who think that the prophet doesn’t always speak as a prophet (sometimes as a man), and we don’t know what prophecy looks like, etc., etc.,

    So, even on a temple recommend question of belief, like say,

    “Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator”

    sure, why not? None of these terms are rigid.

    You either have to be silent, which I’ll admit I stink at, or be the outcast because I can only bare testimony that Joseph Smith did some good and some bad, so I will embrace the good and leave behind the bad.

    I understand this. I really do. But I guess my issue is that I’m learning independently that silence is not a bad thing. Silence is an ability we need to cultivate. But it’s not a capitulating silence. It’s a silence that fiercely recognizes our independence, but which recognizes it so well that we don’t *have* to speak it.

    One thing that I’m intrigued by is the possibility of a more subtle form of persuasion. Have you ever heard that phrase, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”? Well, I was thinking that as it would apply here.

    Basically, I don’t fit the mold well enough to mesh with my ward, even though it is full of lovely people. There just isn’t room for those who believe differently.

    I’m guessing that if you’re known as the person who serves, known as the person who is doing good things in the ward, etc., then your beliefs won’t matter nearly as much. I think that people often don’t build up this kind of social capital within the ward context as much as they could — e.g., people might be doing a lot of service work outside of the ward context, but they don’t try to bring it into the ward context.

    So I guess the return question is, when does a differing interpretation cease to be mormonism? How far from the standard can you get without being something completely different? Or how far from the standard can you get and still be welcome to give sacrament talks, or raise your hand in sunday school?

    My answer is something like: a differing interpretation ceases to be Mormonism only when all of the blocks that comprise that interpretation fail to be Mormon blocks. But I mean, the history of Joseph Smith doing good and bad *along* with the belief that prophets can be imperfect people — those are both Mormon lego blocks. The legacy of polygamy — that is a Mormon building block. But I mean, I think that people need to build more social capital before bringing these things up, and people also need to be aware of not wounding the weak consciences of fellow members — even if they think that those fellow members aren’t doing a great job of reciprocating.

  4. I think this is an excellent article. I believe that there are many “Mormonisms” because we all understand things differently. I’ve been in Sunday School classes where I’ve seen disputes over doctrinal issues.

    However, I feel that there is a “mainstream” in the church. Those in the mainstream do not agree on every issue but they do conform to some “basics” if you will. I feel that there is a lot of pressure to stay in the mainstream. The September Six moved out of the “mainstream” and they were excommunicated.

    It is true that the Church is more tolerant towards Mormon liberals today than it was in 1993 but it still has a long way to go.

  5. j hale,

    Thanks for commenting.

    I think that even to say that there is a “mainstream” in the church is going to be problematic. I mean, I don’t think that anyone is going to deny that there are “basics” to the church…but when trying to define those basics, it’s going to be VERY slippery. So, there are basics that we just “know” exist, but we can’t really put our finger down on them.

    At best, the “basics” are things relating to actions, rather than beliefs. That’s what ultimately got the September 6 in trouble. But even the actions aren’t so set-in-stone.

  6. “But that’s kinda the thing that I’m talking about. The belief system is the most amorphous thing that there is. Every term is fraught with assumptions, but these assumptions are not solidified. What is a “prophet”? I don’t think anyone could say. ”

    As a linguistics major, we studied a lot about whether words are defined by the speaker, or the listener… it’s subtle, but I’d say, particularly in a case like this, that if I, as a listener, know what the speaker means by a word such as “prophet”, and I know the speaker is making assumptions about my understanding of that word, then I do think it is dishonest to pretend I think he is asking me something different than he thinks he is.
    If my brother says in testimony meeting that “he knows Joseph Smith received a vision and was led by God to restore the only true and living church, and that it is the only means of salvation” (which I think I can say without reservations is a “mainstream” mormon belief)… I just can’t twist definitions enough to make that a statement I agree with (hint: the word “only” is my hang up). And not agreeing is fine- I totally don’t mind that we interpret events in church history differently. Unfortunately, HE does.
    I do agree that we all interpret the gospel differently, and we all pick and choose a bit which parts we adopt. But there absolutely is a “mainstream” mormonism- call it “correlated” mormonism instead, if you will.

    “I’m guessing that if you’re known as the person who serves, known as the person who is doing good things in the ward, etc., then your beliefs won’t matter nearly as much.”
    Alas, in many wards, and depending on how far your beliefs vary, this is not enough. I went from being the service-y RS secretary to being, um, a service project myself. Suddenly everyone is at my house with casseroles because my testimony is… different and they want to keep me in the fold. Then suddenly the casseroles stopped because apparently talking to me about the issues I was having was not exactly faith-promoting. I basically went from being one of the most known and befriended ladies in the ward to being treated like an inactive member (whose inactivity is contagious)… even though I still attended church, participated in service, and “followed the rules”.

    The problem is, many people are not secure enough in their beliefs to allow for others to believe differently. It’s a shame, but it’s the truth. I could not believe differently without threatening the beliefs of those who thought they believed the “mainstream” (even if they have no clue just how subjective that is). The church works hard, through correlation, to present the gospel as if there is just one gospel for everyone, and highly downplays (or even criticizes) the idea that we all project onto the gospel what we want/need it to be. Unfortunately, they’ve done a great job, because up until a year ago, I thought I believed in the same gospel as everyone else.

  7. Jenn,

    As a linguistics major, we studied a lot about whether words are defined by the speaker, or the listener… it’s subtle, but I’d say, particularly in a case like this, that if I, as a listener, know what the speaker means by a word such as “prophet”, and I know the speaker is making assumptions about my understanding of that word, then I do think it is dishonest to pretend I think he is asking me something different than he thinks he is.

    Very cool (your being a linguistics major)!

    But to go deeper, do you, as a listener know what the speaker means by a word such as “prophet,” or are you assuming a lot of stuff based either on your context with the speaker (however limited that may be)?

    Or, suppose that you can say that you know what a speaker means by a word such as prophet…does it ever occur to you that different speakers mean different things by the word, even though each speaker thinks they are meaning the same thing (unaware of the differences that either do not arise or are not appreciated in communication)?

    Or, suppose that you can say that you know what a speaker means by a word such as “prophet,” and regardless of the answer to the question about different speakers meaning different things…what if you as a listener recognize the incoherence or naivete or oversimplicity or unsketched out nature of the definition that the speaker is using. E.g., the speaker believes x about what prophet means, but he hasn’t thought fully about what x entails?

    (This line of questioning hasn’t even begun to touch the speaker’s assumptions about *your* understanding of the word, but I think similar questions could address that)…

    I guess the issue is not whether it is dishonest to pretend you think he is asking you something different than he thinks he is, but rather whether it is dishonest to pretend you think he is asking you something different than you think he is. I think that “pretending” would imply the latter question, not the former. Pretending is a statement about your perception, not theirs.

    But my statement about moving beyond small-minded Mormonism is to move past the series of assumptions that makes you have to “pretend” that is the case.

    Let’s frame it differently…without “pretend.”

    “Is it dishonest to think that he is asking you something different than he thinks he is?”

    I think when you get rid of “pretend,” then dishonesty loses its impact. At best, it can be misinformation. But I mean, that’s not really your problem.

    If my brother says in testimony meeting that “he knows Joseph Smith received a vision and was led by God to restore the only true and living church, and that it is the only means of salvation” (which I think I can say without reservations is a “mainstream” mormon belief)… I just can’t twist definitions enough to make that a statement I agree with (hint: the word “only” is my hang up). And not agreeing is fine- I totally don’t mind that we interpret events in church history differently. Unfortunately, HE does.

    But neither you nor he have clear definitions for “vision,” “God,” “only,” “true and living,” “means,” and “salvation.” So, even if you can say this without reservation is a mainstream Mormon belief, it doesn’t mean a whole lot.

    You say you don’t mind that he and you interpret events in church history differently, but would you say that you do mind not making your difference of interpretation explicitly clear to him? Why is that?

    To me, it seems like not minding interpreting events in church history gives you a superpower, if you will so use it. You can navigate more spheres than he can, covertly. Because, knowing that you interpret things differently, you don’t have to say anything about this difference.

    But it seems to me that many disaffected/ex/post/former Mormons do feel they “have” to say anything about this difference. Or else, you know, dishonesty.

    I do agree that we all interpret the gospel differently, and we all pick and choose a bit which parts we adopt. But there absolutely is a “mainstream” mormonism- call it “correlated” mormonism instead, if you will.

    Here’s the thing about correlated Mormonism. It is an illusion. It is a smokescreen. It is ambiguity “institutionalized” (for whatever value of “institution”). So, that’s the thing that gets me about saying there absolutely is a “mainstream” Mormonism and that this is correlated Mormonism…because the operating mechanism of correlation is to obfuscate. It allows diversity through plausible deniability.

    I basically went from being one of the most known and befriended ladies in the ward to being treated like an inactive member (whose inactivity is contagious)… even though I still attended church, participated in service, and “followed the rules”.

    I guess I’m still trying to figure out a way to break this cycle. I know some folks are able to do it, but I haven’t figured out what can be distilled from their behaviors…

    The problem is, many people are not secure enough in their beliefs to allow for others to believe differently. It’s a shame, but it’s the truth. I could not believe differently without threatening the beliefs of those who thought they believed the “mainstream” (even if they have no clue just how subjective that is).

    Fair enough. But I guess, why do the people who tend to believe differently so insecure that they have to be so radically “honest” about their different beliefs — especially when they know that those other members are not secure enough to react positively to that?

    The church works hard, through correlation, to present the gospel as if there is just one gospel for everyone, and highly downplays (or even criticizes) the idea that we all project onto the gospel what we want/need it to be. Unfortunately, they’ve done a great job, because up until a year ago, I thought I believed in the same gospel as everyone else.

    This last line. This is gold. This is what I’ve been working on for months and months. Playing with it, researching it, finding out all the ways it works.

    Correlation is supposed to present a standardized experience. As you put it, the “mainstream” or “one gospel for everyone.” This presentation seeks to criticize and downplay the individualism of the gospel — I will agree — and yet, still, it allows people to believe very different things, while thinking that they believe the same thing. It allows people to believe that their way is the one true gospel — even as they are incompatible with what others think. (Quiz: Is caffeinated soda OK or not OK? You have people on both sides who are vehement about their position…)

    It seems to me that what changes is that at some point, the disaffected member recognizes the discrepancy, and it becomes too much. But he or she is still beholden to this idea of ‘honesty,’ and so has to express the difference of opinion — and then everything else falls apart.

  8. I’ve become aware that I am in a peculiar position with how I relate to the church. My opinion about the present order of things is too critical for my mainstream peers [I admit there’s problems and suggest there are alternate ways of BEing an LDS] —

    But I’m far “too generous” for any of my astute-observing sisters and brothers [meaning I still believe the LDS church to be the church of Christ and don’t support a “OH, all is lost”, Corrupt-apostasy, JUMP ship” view of things].

    Do the criticisms that people raise about things like leader-worship, relying on corrupt works of the flesh, lack of prophecy and revelation coming from men sustained as prophets and revelators, usage of tithing funds to have sufficient for our needs and investing the difference for usury, etc., etc. have merit? Do I think they’re valid? Absolutely. But it is my belief that it is still the church of God that is doing those things. We have not ceased to be the Lord’s people because of these condemnable works. The church of Christ can remain “true” while being “dead” and “damned”.

    For the last couple years, there’s been a lot of attention on blogs about the “corporate Church”, [the ChurchTM, etc.] — and more especially since the whole City Creek Center was announced, built, and opened.

    Although it is true that none of us, except Thomas Monson, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints corporation — it’s my understanding that every latter-day saint was confirmed a member of “the church of jesus christ of latter day saints.”

    On the one hand, we know how to spell the name of the corporate Church, including where the capitalization and the dash goes [it’s a trademarked letterhead and defined in the corporate charter]. On the other, the name of the other church is never spelled, it’s only spoken as hands are laid on a person’s head and they are confirmed a member of it and commanded to receive the Holy Ghost. This latter church may, or may not, contain a dash and capitalization — we don’t know.

    Whenever I read the scriptures, I understand the word “church” as used by the Lord as always being in reference to a living body of people — not to some non-existent, non-living, non-corporeal, legal corporate entity.

    To me, there’s nothing wrong with or broken about the LDS Church corporation. It operates exactly how’d I’d expect a corporation to operate: a blood-sucking leech and infectious virus whose tendency is to do anything to sustain its own existence, come hell or highwater, let all in its path be damned and die. However, the LDS Church also engages in charitable enterprises and gives “good” advice in many instances. This is because members of the latter-day saint church of christ are employed by the corporation and temper its natural tendencies somewhat. If the LDS church members [not the corporation] ever become utterly corrupt, then the LDS Church will function just as any other corporations does. Nevertheless, as far as corporations go, the LDS Church is currently a fairly decent example of a “good” corporation.

    Yes, the LDS Church will be broken-up and dissolved. But who cares? So have and so will many other corporations. Corporations come and go. Such is the nature of the business cycle. Even the nations of the earth will be consumed and broken-up into their separate tribal affiliations.

    So, of real concern to me, is not the break-up of the LDS Church — but the break-up of the LDS church, the members dividing into a plurality of separate, wicked churches.

    That is where my focus is, on the LDS church — on the people. We cannot call the LDS church [people] out of the LDS Church, for they were never a part of her to begin with [Thomas is the only member]. If a call must [and will] be made, it will be to repent.

    Yes, there are corrupting influences in the church. Yes, there are false traditions and teachings, but there are also a set of nearly pristine scriptures with undiluted doctrines of God preserved for all to read and live in their fulness — if one feels so inclined. Yes, there is a priesthood with hard hearts and blind minds that have kept the powers of heaven from the people. But if those same priesthood should read that set of pristine scriptures and repent, then they would be endowed with righteousness and power from heaven.

    So, in my mind, the devil would never desire that anyone enter into fellowship with such a group of people — unless there was absolutely no way for them to use those scriptures and priesthood, repent and gain access to the powers of heaven. So, the strategy seems to be two-fold: (1) discourage any and all from joining “the church of jesus christ of latter day saints,” but if they do end up joining anyway, then (2) seek to corrupt them with false doctrines and teachings t keep them away from the scriptures and the holy ghost.

    To me, disaffected people leaving the church is a terrible and unwise strategy presently. We need salt and leaven [agents of change], not retreat. Retreat just concentrates what’s wrong with the church.

    If one is kicked out of the church by conspiring men, that’s a different situation — or if conspiring men are creating a hostile physical, emotional or spiritual environment, then surely one must do as the spirit dictates. But generally, the principle is always having the one leavening the mass.

    This, of course, will change as conditions among us change, and the general call to leave will go out, but currently, I do not hear the Spirit saying to the general populace of latter-day saints, “Leave the church!” Instead, I see the Spirit still working with the church, striving to get them to repent and come to Christ, and for all unbelievers to do the same.

    So, it’s best if we live the gospel ourselves, become leaven, and remain in the church, and also seek that all others live it, too, so that they become leaven. We must not call any of our gospel brothers and sisters out of the church of God, but invite them to fully live their religion, repenting and becoming leaven in the church. We must not dissuade men and women from joining with the church of God, but must invite them to fully live the religion, so that when they join, they, too, become leaven.

    We must assert our rights as confirmed members of “the church of jesus christ of latter day saints” and turn the tide in the Lord’s favor, that wicked and corrupt influences are exposed and fought against in the open — right smack in the middle of church, where listening people can be influenced, so that they can make an informed decision as to who they will follow, the Lord or “the Brethren.”

    That solidity of the priesthood authority leadership structure is really just an illusion, a house of cards, smoke-and-mirrors — having the appearance of being built on rock, when it’s really just hard-packed sand — something that will quickly buckle if people just stayed put in the church and fully lived their religion [as diverse as that may be].

  9. Retief permalink

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. I am a happily attending and believing mormon, although I did just teach the primary kids that everybody who’s been endowed has the priesthood. I have found lots of room for my interpretations in the ambiguity you mention. Hyper legalism is my arch-enemy. I am in a great culturally diverse and respectful ward, which helps.

    I do find that the discussions of many former mormons frequently make me wonder how they can have just been unhappy following non-requirements for so long. The self-imposed and artificial rigidity is distressing.

  10. Seth R. permalink

    I get this demand that I conform to “small-minded Mormonism” all the time from ex-Mormons during debates.

    I’ll try to advocate for some new, fresh and expansive way of viewing the doctrine and applying Mormonism to the world, and they’ll just wave me away and say I don’t matter because I don’t conform to their stereotypes about what Mormonism is “really all about.”

    Evangelical anti-Mormons demand that I continue to sound like a verbatim recording of the most abused things Spencer W. Kimball ever said about grace vs. works. Ex-Mormons demand I embrace McConkie’s views on evolution and the age of the earth. Etc., etc. And I’ve always noticed the selection of material that I am apparently “allowed” to use as a Mormon is almost always narrowed down to the material that the critic has the most easy time refuting.

    Interesting how that works out, isn’t it?

    I’m going to paraphrase something I said a long time ago on this blog (I think).

    It’s not your church anymore.

    You left. You didn’t want to be a part of it.

    But I still have to live here in this religion. And what I do with the theology, the doctrine, the culture, and so forth is – quite frankly – none of your damn business.

    The town is tearing down the old school playground and building a new one for a variety of very good quality of life reasons. And none of us give a damn about whatever sense of nostalgia all “the exiles” may have about the old swing set. We’re not going to be held hostage to the memories of people who are no longer invested in the community.

    We’re the ones who are going to be using the new swing set – not them.

    • Seth R. permalink

      A qualification is in order.

      A lot of the tone and grumpiness in the above comment is born from frustration. It’s a product of how I feel after having repeatedly been told by various busybodies what my own beliefs and faith tradition is supposed to mean to me and how I’ve been doing it wrong.

      It all has made me rather short-tempered.

      In reality, I’m more conciliatory.

  11. Retief,

    I guess the major thing is that for those disaffected members, the things they had problems with don’t seem like “non-requirements.” In fact, they might feel that their experience is being trivialized to have their biggest issues cast aside as non-requirements.

    Seth,

    But I guess the thing is that their stereotypes of what Mormonism is about is going to be a collection of (what they view to be) authoritative statements from leadership, past and present. In this way, I think many TBMs (for…whatever value of the term “TBM”) and disaffected Mormons are really just two sides of the same coin. And while each disaffected person is probably going to have a different view of what the church is, what it teaches, etc. (same is true of TBMs, for whatever value thereof), each will think that their version is the official, legit, authoritative one.

  12. Seth R. permalink

    Well, yes… And I’d just say that I deeply object to giving those two groups a monopoly on defining what the entire movement is.

  13. Seth,

    duly and frequently noted. BUT here’s the thing…you, and every “fringey” Mormon (ugh…I understand how problematic this term is…it reifies the idea that there is a monopoly on what Mormonism is even though I think we both strongly suspect that the TBM & exmormon “construction” is actually a *minority* or not-so-legitimate construction) aren’t doing a great job of convincing everyone else.

    • I’m convinced…

      • but you too are part of the fringe-in-name-only…

        • fringe-in-name-only” — that sounds interesting. What’s that? What exactly is the difference between being a fringe in-name-only and being genuine fringe?

          I’m just want to figure out where I fit …

          • Because “genuine fringe” implies that we have established a genuine non-fringe. The non-fringe is only illusionary, in my understanding, so the fringe is as well.

        • So — if both “fringe” and “non-fringe” are illusionary terms, with no real basis in a distinct group of people — then what’s it mean to even be “fringe [or non-] in name only“?

          Why even “label” at all if both parties are “name-only” and “illusionary”?

          • Justin,

            It’s not that “fringe” and “non-fringe” have “no real basis in a distinct group of people,” — it’s that the basis is inadequate, simplistic, and false at times.

            But I mean, it can still be helpful.

            Let me put it in a different way. The term “fringe” and “non-fringe” absolutely are coherent IF you think that there are clear defining lines and can group a majority of people in a cluster and then a minority of people outside (or rather, on the border…i.e., fringe) of that cluster. I am not saying that people cannot or do not think there are clear defining lines…I’m saying that they are doing so on inadequate data or convenience.

            I use “fringe in name only” as a term that acknowledges that many people find the term “fringe” coherent, but with a signal (“in name only”) to signal that I find the term problematic.

  14. Seth R. permalink

    Something interesting occurred to me just now.

    Why don’t people define Catholicism by what the majority of its adherents believe?

    Because, for the record, they don’t.

  15. Seth,

    Catholicism has quite a different public perception than Mormonism.

    I think that people are generally going to feel that Catholicism is something that (a) has official doctrine and theology rigorously promulgated at a centralized level, but (b) at local levels, is very syncretized and not that beholden to that central theology.

    vs. with Mormonism, people are either unclear about how the local and upper leadership work or they take for granted this idea that Mormonism is so well “correlated” that Mormons at the local level are basically hive mind extensions of the church office building or whatever.

    If you take the latter approach, then it’s a lot easier to think that Mormonism is what a majority of its adherents believe than to think that a majority of a religion’s adherents can be independent of what a central body says.

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